By Valerie Saturen and Gabriel Matthew Schivone
VS: You have discussed the phenomenon of using the passive voice within the mainstream media. In a
I think the active voice is absolutely essential in providing clarity to readers or listeners and viewers so that they understand who is responsible for these acts, and that we’re not dealing with acts of nature. There is state responsibility. So, “Palestinian villages were razed,” “houses were demolished.” Well, how were they demolished? Through some magic? Was it some Houdini magician that came along and was responsible for that? There are enormous political implications in the use of language. If you want to trash the environment, if you want to clear cut trees, then you call it the “Healthy Forest Initiative.” You say that you’re green, and you wave a green flag. If you want to pollute the air, you talk about “Clear Skies.” If you want to gut public education, you call it “No Child Left Behind.” I call it “No Child Left a Dime.” So the use of language is critical. Orwell, of course, was brilliant in describing this, particularly in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” And Chomsky and others have talked about how language is used to manipulate and control the public mind. So now we’re in a “War on Terror.” Everyone accepts that. In fact, on NPR this morning, they said “most Americans are unhappy with the war in
VS: I'd like to ask you about that. During the same interview, you described terms such as "beacon of democracy," “axis of evil,” and “the war on terror” as “terms of propaganda rather than terms of description.” Even those who challenge the narrative behind these catch phrases often find themselves using them, simply because this is the only terminology everyone understands. How does one avoid this pitfall?
By clearly defining its parameters and its reality, and then trying to create an alternative vocabulary. I always say, “The so-called War on Terror,” because it is not a war on terror. That’s like having a war on jealousy. How can you have a war on terror? If there are criminal acts carried out by individuals or small groups, then that is a matter for police, not for invasions and occupations of countries. I’m not a big fan of the
VS: As someone of Armenian descent, the Armenian genocide is clearly something close to your heart. You once stated that the Armenian genocide "is not an abstract, ancient history; it's our present and our daily life.” There remains a pervasive denial in
Well, it has brought an enormous amount of attention to
VS: Why is there such a strong taboo within
GMS: Let’s talk about the politics of terrorism. Eqbal Ahmad, who was a professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, observed in an August 1998 interview that “The
Well, you see the foresight and prophetic quality of Eqbal Ahmad, who is one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met—very creative, innovative, always looking for alternatives for existing situations and problems. Even while decrying, perhaps, a particular situation, he felt it incumbent on the role of an intellectual to provide alternatives, to provide answers, not just to critique. So that, I think, is very, very valuable. Everything he says in that quote, of course, has come true. The
GMS: I’d like to ask you about that. In an editorial in the London Tribune, in July of 1944, George Orwell observed “the voluntary reticence” in the pathology of the British press, deducing that: “Circus dogs jump when their trainer cracks the whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip.” I’m very interested in the subtleties of self-censorship, the inducements to which individuals conform to the party line, so to speak. Could you talk about this function, how it is instilled among journalists and in the front lines, in the notion of embedding?
It’s hard to come up with a more Orwellian phrase than “embedded.” In fact, you know, “sleeping with the enemy.” How can you have any distance and objectivity if you’re being protected by the people you’re supposedly covering? Structurally, it just reeks of such an inequality and imbalance that your ability to perform your task as a journalist is severely compromised, so I don’t give it any credibility at all. The whole system of censorship works through a series of perks, and it’s very seductive. If you play ball with power, you will be richly rewarded. Look at Bob Woodward—he lives in a
GMS: I’d like to talk about media, propaganda, and the State. In various lectures you’ve cited Reich Marshall Herman Goering: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and then denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” It's quite clear that wars of various sorts in our history have been carried out by the media or public relations campaigns inducing consent among public opinion, usually from fear and nationalism.
Let’s talk about the fundamental structure of corporate media in the
Well, that’s not entirely true about the electronic media, which is licensed by the federal government. Every TV station, every radio station, does in fact have that structural relationship with the State. Print media are not licensed in the same way that electronic media are. Today, in an age where 80% of Americans get 90% of their news from the electronic media, particularly television, that’s very significant. Ben Bagdikian has tracked the conglomeration, monopolization, and centralization of the media from 50 in 1983 to 5 today. This severely limits the ability of media to provide Americans with a broad range of opinions in order to get information and to understand what’s going on. Instead of having perspectives and views from A to Z, I’ve been saying for years we have perspectives from A to B. But now I’m revising that—it’s more like A to A squared. You get this representative from the Brookings Institute and this representative from the Heritage Foundation, and there’s a so-called debate, but this debate is entirely based on imbedded assumptions, like that the
VS: Due to the American role in the
The idea that the
There is no area in the world that is more subject to propaganda than the
David Barsamian is the host of nationally syndicated Alternative Radio and the recipient of many honors, including the Upton Sinclair Award, the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center Award, and the Cultural Freedom Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe. His many published works include Targeting Iran with Noam Chomsky, Ervand Abrahamian, and Nahid Mozaffari, The Future of History with Howard Zinn, The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile with Arundhati Roy, and The Pen and the Sword with Edward Said. His numerous in-depth interviews with Noam Chomsky have sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide.