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Newsweek: they get paid for that stuff ?

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I enclose two emails to some writers for Newsweek magazine. I didn't get any replies.

A word of explanation perhaps: I was buying a copy of "Hello" magazine (for someone else...!) and saw Newsweek on the same shelf (appropriate). I knew it would give me indigestion but I couldn't resist picking it up to see what they were up to. The expected allergic reaction took place and I had to send these mails.

To return to the subject of my mail: it is truly incredible that those guys get paid for that writing...particularly when you compare it with the quality of the Media Lens writing.

The other thing that struck me in this excercise was that I think MediaLens is right to focus on the more liberal media. There has been some discussion in the past along the lines "Media Lens should rather support the more liberal press as an ally, rather than focusing on when it get's it wrong". I think what my reading of that 'Newsweek' article showed me was that those guys are so far gone that it may be a waste of time communicating with them. Secondly, when you read Newsweek or the like, you know what to expect (or you should know what to expect). Whereas it is probably more important to point out the slips/ommissions and structural deficiencies in the more liberal press to avoid less careful readers taking everthing they print as "fair" or "less establishment".


The email addresses are:

Dear Fareed,

Re your 'Newsweek' article "The Best Ways to Beat Terror" of April 12th:

I wanted to explain to you why I felt this article was very weak in terms of it's analysis and contribution to our understanding of incidences of terrorism in the world, and consequently failed to live up to it's promise of presenting or even sketching, "The Best Ways to Beat Terror".

To summarize your article, you identify three main causes of terrorism: "the openess of free societies", "access to technologies of violence", and a "global ideology of hatred" fueled by a brainwashing militant, political Islam and Middle Eastern events notably "Israel-Palestinian tensions" and political and economic failures in "Western supported 'moderate regismes'". You go on to point out that the "war on terror" is badly named as there is no obvious state to attack and conclude that "the war on terror is really a war of ideas".

Let's take each of these causes one at a time.

You propose solving the "Openness of free societies" contribution to terror by imposing tighter security measures like "national identity cards" and the acceptance of "invasions of privacy". In addition "People with known connections to terrorists should be picked up, at least for detailed questioning, if not detention. ". I would argue that restricting civil liberties is more likely to allow the political class to get away with perpetuating the kind of deceit (what you refer to euphemistically as "errors over Iraq") that led to the invasion of Iraq. And thus contributes to an environment where violence is more likely. Policies of detention, such as Internment as practiced in Northern Ireland for example are often counter productive: by feuling resentment they help to recruit new terrorists.

However most inaccurate of all is your claim that "we need pre-emption, but of individuals more than of states". Compared to the contribution of states to violence, the contribution of "individuals" or terrorist groups is negligible. States wield enormous resources of destruction. Since it's creation the US has not hesitated to deploy it's armed forces. See William Blum's "Killing Hope" for a list of some of these interventions. Other Western powers such as Britain (eg. Kenya) and France (eg. Vietnam, Algeria) have also used their resources to wage violence with questionable cause. This is not to mention the sponsorship of state terror in other countries such as the US practiced in Latin America. The US stands convicted of acts of terror by the World Court for it's support of the Contras in Niicuragua. Also it was US sponsorhip of terrorism, namely the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, that led to the creation of Al Qaeida: confirming your assertion that "once you nurture ideologies thay become uncontrollable , even to the states that created them" but in a much more interesting case than that of Saudi and Pakistan that you choose to mention.

One could go on but the point is that as state terror is the main contributor to violence, we should be doing precisely the opposite of what you recomend: we should be seeking ways to put brakes on state sponsored violence. One way to do that is to promote orgnizations like the UN. Unfortunately the US's attitude to the UN can be summed up by Madeleine Allbright's gem "we will act multilaterally when we can and unilaterally when we must".

Your last point, the "global ideology of hatred" seemed promising at first as I think myself that this is the most important area to address. However you offer no recommendations at all for how to address the causes of this "hatred", which you give as being: militant Islam, "Israel-Palestinian tensions" and political and economic failures in "Western supported 'moderate regismes'". What you call "Israel-Palestinian tensions" has a large component of state terror (going back to my point above that states are the main culprits in perpetuating violence). Also, it doesn't seem to have occurred to you that US action in the Middle East, for example the first invasion of Iraq, the subsequent sanctions that punished the civilian population, the illnesses caused by the left over depleted uranium shells, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq may also contribute to this "hatred". In so far as the US should be held accountable for the predictable consequances of it's actions the US itself contributes and is responsible for a rise in this "hatred". And that is why I strongly disagee that "Tackling the threat they [stateless terrorists] pose is the key to security in this age".
I don't claim to have a magic "key" to security in our age but I can see some components that seem to me to be essential, that are totally absent from your article. First, a revitalization of democracy whereby politicians would act not in the interests of their big business constituents but in the interests of their fellow citizens. A look at the protests against the Iraq war before it started and the ousting of Aznar in Spain show the vast gap between what politicians do and what citizens would like them to do. The development of effective international bodies like the UN and the World Court and an Internationl Court of Justice which could act to curb abuses of power seem important. Finally, I would say the development of a critical, independently minded popular journalism to inform citizens accurately about events that affect them and their interests seems key. Examples are organizations like and where I'm afraid an article such as yours would not pass journalistic muster. It seems certain that accurately informed citizens would not tolerate the abuses of power that often lead to state sponsorship of violence. Eric Pape in a review of a book on Cambodia on page 57 of this 'Newsweek' edition mentions the question of deciding whether "moral cowardice is a crime against humanity". Reading that made me wonder whether the compliance and servility of mainstream journalists to state and corporate power doesn't also constitute a crime against humanity.

Robert Byrne.


Dear Karl,

Re your piece "The Perils of Interventionism" of 'Newsweek', April 12th :

The idea of your article seems to be to say that in the course of his career FDR learned some lessons of diplomacy, which ultimately served his longer term interests and that the present powers in Washington have something to learn from his approach:

"In short, FDR treated neighbors with respect, acknowledged past American blunders, saw that constitutions alone did not guarantee a democratic outcome and developed a multilateral structure that still matters in hemispheric affairs. All those principles seem relevant to a Washington struggling to understand why so many foreigners dislike us."

So I think your article is very honest about it's goal: which is to make some public relations recommendations to the Bush administration on how to learn some lessons from history to better mange it's international relations. In itself that is fine however I think there are two aspects to that that I find highly suspect.

Firstly, when I buy 'Newsweek' I expect to find reporting and journalistic analysis, not public relations material for the US government or any other body. I am beginning to understand that that expectation is misplaced. Indeed, this effect of the mainstream media serving powerful interests is entirely predictable according to the propaganda model of Hermann and Chomsky (cf Manufacturing Consent), but what's surprising is how blatant this has become in publications such as 'Newsweek'.

Secondly, I believe there is an active, dangerous component to your article. It is dangerous in that it actively contributes to misunderstanding and confusion about US foreign policy (this is the 'flak' effect of the propaganda model)--so in fact not only is your article a recommendation on public relations mangement but it also _acts_ as public relations for the current administration. For example, you say:

"We forget it was once a matter of course for Washington to intervene forcibly in the Western Hemisphere to change regimes, collect debts, restore order and preach democracy"

This comment is fascinating for two reasons. Let's suppose "we" refers to the US and European public. Well, with a mainstream media as intent on accurate and analytical reporting as 'Newsweek' is it's no wonder that the general public has a kind of historical amnesia!
Secondly, saying that "it was once" and then using the example of FDR suggests that since that time the US has eased off it's interventionist policies. This is utterly false as you are no doubt aware and the subsequent record of US intervention in Latin America had terrible consequences for the majority of the population. For example in the case of Haiti:

"Well, as this was going on, the Haitian generals in effect were being told [by Washington]: 'Look, murder the leaders of the popular organisations, intimidate the whole population, destroy anyone who looks like they might get in the way after you're gone.'... And that's exactly what Cedras and those guys did, that's precisely what happened - and of course they were given total amnesty when they finally did agree to step down." (Chomsky, Understanding Power, The New Press, 2002, p.157)

Also, as you mention Nicuragua, we should also note that the US stands convicted of state terrorism by the World Court for it's support of the contras.
I find your most revealing FDR quote of all to be the following:

"It is true, however, that we paid too little attention to making citizens more capable of control of their own government."

This is a wonderful piece of newspeak. Presumably FDR meant that in the process of imposing it's own will the US had failed to take appropriate measures to counter popular opposition. However the reality is that in fact the consistent focus accross all US interevention in Latin America was _precisely_ on who had control of the government.:

"The general point was clarified by Carter's Latin American adviser Robert Pastor, at the critical extreme:the US wants other nations to 'act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely'". (Chomsky, Year 501, South End Press, 1993, p.43)

So, to conclude I would say that your article actually fails even in it's questionable goal of helping Washington out with it's public relations: those guys need analysis that is based on or paints at least a tolerably accurate picute of reality and your article doesn't even do that.

Robert Byrne.

Mon May 03, 2004 1:33 pm
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