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On Palestine, The Media Is Doing EXACTLY What It Did With Iraq
A look into real-time propaganda.
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Back in January, I wrote an article explaining propaganda and showing how it is alive and well in the United States. While many people think propaganda is when a government tells unbelievable lies, such as Kim Jong-II scoring 11 holes-in-one during a round of golf, it is actually more subtle and sinister.
Simply put, propaganda is a selective telling of facts with the goal of shaping a narrative. Propaganda can be outright lies, or it can be truthful, omitting certain details to give the audience an incomplete but preferable picture of events. For example, much of America’s WWII entertainment is propaganda. It doesn’t lie (America was on the right side of the conflict), but it frequently ignores the wartime contributions of the Soviet Union, China, and other Allied members that challenged capitalist hegemony after the war.
Once we recognize that propaganda isn’t grandiose lies but the selective telling of facts for the purpose of promoting a certain worldview, we can recognize how the American media routinely attempts to propagandize the population. While the attempt to control the narrative is a constant occurrence, it was most intense in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War.
In the years following 9/11, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and other well-established media outlets were swept up in the national hysteria. Afraid and wanting to show they were just as “American” as hard-right neocons, these institutions helped the Bush-Cheney Administration sell the war to the public. In doing so, they engaged in both types of propaganda, telling outright lies as well as omitting key facts from their reporting.
9/11 & The Media
In the run up to the invasion, the most repeated lie the media told was that Saddam Hussein kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq in the late 90s. This was repeated ad nauseam until it became “fact.” In reality, the U.N. pulled its weapons inspectors out under its own volition. Disturbingly, CNN, NPR, ABC, NBC, USA Today, Newsday, The Washington Post, and The New York Times all accurately reported the voluntary withdrawal of inspectors in 1998, but retold the events in 2002 to fit the narrative that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
In addition to the lies, they also gave their audiences a select set of facts that encouraged an invasion while omitting the ones that would raise caution. All throughout 2002, reports of Saddam Hussein’s very-real atrocities were commonplace in the mainstream press, inciting America to war. This isn’t deceptive per se, as the media should always tell the truth. But when the media failed to report the lack of evidence between Hussein’s regime and Al Qaeda, it gave its readers a warped view of the situation: to the average media consumer, Saddam Hussein was a vicious dictator (true) who helped carry out the murder of 3,000 Americans (false). With only half the picture, it’s no surprise the American people rallied to arms.
Another form of selective telling is the deceitful tactic of reporting an accusation as if it were a fact. For example, in September of 2002, The New York Times ran this piece, reporting a claim that Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons. This type of reporting is based on a fact — it is true the U.S. says Hussein wanted an A-bomb. But that is detached from whether or not he actually wanted one. As we know now, Iraq never had WMDs. But the U.S. claimed they did, and the NYT made sure it was the claim, not the reality, that made its way into public consciousness.
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There’s a famous quote that perfectly summarizes how the press fails its readers when it reports on unproven accusations such as these.
“If one person says it is raining and another person says it is not raining then a journalist should not simply quote them both. Instead, a journalist should look outside to ascertain the truth and relay it to the public.”
But The New York Times did not look outside. Instead, they reported what U.S. intelligence told them as if it were fact. And, as many said at the time and as we now know, all of these claims were bogus.
Since the Iraq War, the media has repeatedly claimed it has learned its lesson. Newsrooms, both those that work in print and on television, tell us that they recognize how they succumbed to sensationalism, nationalism, and the lies coming from The White House and the Pentagon. But as their coverage of Israel’s current assault on Gaza shows, the media did not learn their lesson. They are doing exactly what they did in 2002, and, just as happened then, innocent people will die because of it.
Ever since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th, the American press has reverted to its old ways like a college sophomore asking his mother to do his laundry while he’s home for Christmas break. Just as they did in 2002, the media has ruthlessly propagandized Americans with lies, selective truth-telling, and reporting unverified accusations from the American and Israeli governments.
Immediately following the attack, CNN journalist Sara Sidner reported that Palestinian fighters had decapitated forty Israeli babies. The story spread like wildfire. Soon, other outlets were echoing Sidner’s claim, turning the tale into an accepted fact that was even stated by President Biden.
And yet, this claim was a complete lie. A day later Sidner admitted it was false, but the toothpaste couldn’t be put back in the tube. Many pro-Israel advocates still cite “forty decapitated babies” as justification for the IDF’s bombing of Palestinian hospitals and refugee camps.
The conflict has also seen the media return to reporting unconfirmed allegations from military sources as if they were true. This was a favorite tactic of Dick Cheney in 2002, who would spew bogus intelligence to reporters, then go on TV and point to their reporting as “confirmation” of his unfounded accusations. We’re seeing the same pattern in 2023, as ostensibly reliable American news outlets are printing everything the Israelis say as if it were a fact.
While media lies have been common since the start of the conflict, most of the propaganda directed at Americans has been the selective telling of facts. What’s different between 2002 and 2023 is the prevalence of social and independent media. While omitting details bore the war effort great success in 2002, this time it’s different. Now, people can watch Israel drop white phosphorus on Palestinian neighborhoods while scrolling through TikTok. Able to see the conflict without the filter of corporate media (which admits its coverage is censored by the IDF), the world recognizes that Israel is not “defending itself” but is conducting imperialist aggression. Coupled with statements from Israeli politicians about Israel’s genocidal intent, such as the former Mossad Chief’s admission of a “Gazan Nakba” and the Heritage Minister’s push to nuke Gaza, it’s clear that Israel’s aim is not to protect innocent life but to conquer and cleanse historic Palestine.
Unable to explain-away the ongoing genocide, the American media has returned to selectively telling facts and reporting unverified accounts in an attempt to shift criticism away from Israel and back onto Palestine and its supporters. Instead of trying to deny the horrors of Israeli aggression we can see on our phones, they play up accusations against the Palestinian cause to muddy the waters and draw public support away from the increasingly popular call for a ceasefire.
No media figure has engaged in this more egregiously than CNN’s Jake Tapper. As I wrote about last week, Tapper has tried this obfuscation before, “covering” false accusations of antisemitism on college campuses. His latest report focuses on the alleged sexual assaults committed by Hamas fighters on October 7th.
In the clip, Tapper starts by calling the alleged rapes a “fact,” then admits he has no evidence they occurred.
“Sadly, often the evidence (of rapes) has been lost along with the victims.”
In the run-up to the Iraq War, the media reported the lack of evidence of WMDs as evidence Iraq was hiding WMDs. Every time weapons inspectors found an empty warehouse or factory that was supposedly a WMD plant, it was spun as evidence that “Hussein was going above and beyond to hide his nukes.” I call this the absence of evidence fallacy, in which one claims no evidence of a crime is actually evidence of a crime. It goes like this — As we found no evidence of the crime, that means the alleged perpetrator did a great job hiding the crime, which is how we know they did it. (If that sounds confusing, that’s because it doesn’t make any sense.) Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld perfectly encapsulated the absence of evidence fallacy with his infamous “unknown unknowns” quote in 2002.
“Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.”
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Though he speaks more eloquently than “Rummy,” this trickery is exactly what Jake Tapper is doing, calling the allegations a “fact” while saying there’s no evidence of it, which somehow proves the mass rapes occurred. After admitting he has no evidence of the crime, Tapper plows ahead. He cites an anonymous IDF soldier, a member of the IDF’s rabbinate, the Chair of Israel’s Civil Commission on Hamas’ Oct. 7th Crimes Against Women, and the CEO of the attacked “Unity Festival,” who can only speak about what he found after the attack. Tapper and his interviewees also reassure viewers that “it will take months to find evidence,” a bizarre claim considering they all report having seen evidence that could be easily photographed and shown to the viewers. Tapper ends by calling out the U.N. and the “international community,” positing that the reason there has been no international condemnation is because the victims were Jewish. The fact that Tapper aired this piece right as the IDF started a new public relations campaign about the assault is either a wild coincidence or another instance of the media coordinating its coverage with the interests of the national security establishment.
From top to bottom, the segment is a case study of American propaganda. I have no idea if there were mass rapes on October 7th. If there were, that deserves the strongest condemnation, which I will happily offer. (For anyone thinking about accusing me of supporting Hamas, I’ve written previously that I’m not a fan.) But just as I don’t know what happened on that day, neither does Jake Tapper. He starts by saying “We don’t have any evidence,” and then only offers alleged testimony of IDF officials, who have repeatedly been found to lie about the facts in Gaza. He doesn’t offer survivor or eyewitness testimony, or any photographs. Much like journalists cited anonymous sources and flimsy evidence in the run-up to Iraq, Tapper’s only “proof” of these crimes is the testimony of Israeli military officials, who have already started to walk back their claims about the alleged atrocities committed on October 7th.
Much like his distraction about alleged antisemitism on college campuses, Tapper’s latest reporting is a poorly-hidden attempt to try to pull well-meaning Americans away from supporting a ceasefire so Israel can continue its airstrikes. Regardless of the severity of the allegations, there’s still no evidence they occurred. The IDF is known to frequently lie about Palestinian atrocities to curry international support, and Tapper’s claim that no evidence is evidence is exactly what CNN said back in 2004. While reporting on a CIA report that concluded Iraq never had WMDs, CNN added the below incorrect caveat that Iraq “cheated” weapons inspections, implying that the reason WMDs were never found was because Saddam Hussein got rid of them.
Much like the media reported Hussein’s atrocities as a reason to invade Iraq, Tapper is covering Hamas’s alleged atrocities as justification for the murder of over 10,000 Gazans. He is selectively focusing on one fact* while ignoring the others that are much more crucial to understanding the current situation. He and many others have not covered the admission from Israeli officials that Israel is committing a second Gaza, Netanyahu’s empowerment of Hamas to counterweight the Palestinian Authority, or the repeated lies the IDF has put out to cover attacking hospitals. In doing so, Tapper, and many others in the American media establishment, are propagandizing Americans by telling them to focus on the unproven atrocities of Hamas while ignoring the ongoing atrocities Israel is currently committing.
Side Note: If you want to see what good journalism looks like, this BBC video clearly deconstructs the Israeli attempt at propaganda.
Make no mistake, this is the purpose of propaganda. Like a magician distracting you with his left hand while he switches the playing card with his right, propaganda directs public attention away from the important facts and fills our minds with lies and half-truths that shift the narrative back toward that favored by the professional political class. Jake Tapper, Sara Sidner, and every other journalist who wants to stay aligned with the national security establishment can’t run a story on why it’s okay for the IDF to raid a hospital (which they did the day before Tapper aired his segment). It’s inexcusable, and viewers would immediately recognize the ulterior motive. So, they attempt to shift focus away from Israel’s military aggression and back to the claims of Hamas atrocities.
Fortunately, the propaganda is less effective this go around. While there used to only be one medium to obtain information, today viewers can opt out of the corporate media environment and instead turn to independent outlets for honest analysis. Hopefully, this article has informed you about the nature of and tactics of American propaganda and equipped you protect yourself from deceit, no matter what the issue is or who is covering it.