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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 06:51 pm:   

Kathryn Wilham, who sent the following email to the Associated Press, has given me permission to post it here. She asks that I credit FAIR & Voice4Change with the facts she uses.

To: feedback@ap.org

As a long-time biomedical editor, I know a simple false dichotomy when I see one. The opposite of anti-war is pro-war; it is not pro-troops. And any good junior high English teacher, like my mother, would correct any student who made that mistake.

I am one of the hundreds of thousands of citizens expressing their opinions for or against the current war through marches and rallies across the country. Since many news outlets turn to the AP to help them cover these important manifestations of democracy, AP should stop using the terms "pro-war" and "pro-troops" interchangeably; this practice distorts the views of anti-war demonstrators like myself and fails to consider whether those on the other side of the street clearly identify themselves as pro-war in terms of this conflict.

I am confident that the overwhelming majority of participants at peace events, like myself, "support the troops," in the sense of being concerned for their well-being and hoping for their safe return.

"Support Our Troops: Bring Them Home" is a constant slogan at peace marches. We clearly differentiate between rank-and-file U.S. military personnel and the U.S. government whose policy of first-strike aggression is what we oppose. At the same time, I suspect that many of those who participate in what are called "pro-troops" rallies are not necessarily strongly in favor of the administration's conduct of this war. Many may really feel a strong need to show their emotional support for the everyday soldier being asked to give up her/his life, although they may not be totally in favor of the war itself.

If the media correctly labeled events as pro-war and anti-war, the dynamics would change considerably across the nation. Those who find themselves in the in-between state ethically and emotionally, would need to have a third type of gathering in which they could express their concerns about the conduct of the administration while at the same time loudly and clearly stating their support of the troops. (I suppose that
statement could be considered disingenuous since most of those at anti-war rallies would fall into this third category. My point is that like everything else in life, this issue is not as black and white as you are portraying it to be.)

In practice, the AP, some other news outlets, and the corporations (like Clear Channel) and citizen organizations who actually organize and lead the pro-war rallies often use "supporting the troops" as a synonym for "supporting the war"-- and use "pro-troops" as a shorthand to describe rallies and demonstrations that are, in many cases, explicitly pro-war events. "Pro-troops" is frequently used as the opposite of "anti-war," as if the only way to be supportive of soldiers is to advocate their involvement in war on Iraq.

As examples of the media perpetration of this false dichotomy, the day after bombing of Baghdad began, the AP ran a story (3/20/03) under the headline "Anti-War, Pro-Troops Rallies Take to Streets as War Rages."

Another story (3/22/03), about pro- and anti-war activities, was labeled "Weekend Brings More Demonstrations-- Opposing War, Supporting Troops." The clear implication is that those who call for an end to the invasion of Iraq are opposed to U.S. troops, as in the story "Protesters Rally Against War; Others Support Troops" (3/24/03).

This false dichotomy shows up in the body of stories as well. "In San Francisco, at least three pro-troop demonstrators who attended the rally were alternately yelled at and debated with by peace demonstrators," the AP reported on March 23. Another AP story (3/24/03) referred to "about 100 people-- half anti-war and half pro-troops-- [who] demonstrated on the Sagadahoc Bridge over the Kennebec River near Bath."

Other news outlets use the misleading formulation as well. "Perhaps you see police arrayed in riot gear keeping apart the pro-troop rally and the anti-war rally," CNN's Jeff Flock stated on March 22. A Sacramento Bee story (3/22/03) reported that while pro-war activists "said those who support the Bush administration have been less likely to stage large demonstrations because they are busy with the concerns of daily life, there have been large pro-troop rallies held across the country"-- as if only those who back the Bush administration are friendly toward those in the military.

The record of your coverage of this war and this use of language to distort reality persist as long as we have words and paper and disc storage. I beg you to consider the implications of your distortion of my values and actions, and to stop using this false opposition of anti-war/pro-troop.

Kathryn Wilham
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Josh Lukin
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 08:49 pm:   

Here's a guy standing up to the "journalism" one of your and Lucius's fellow Seattle celebrities, Timmi: <http://www.busybusybusy.com/b3_arc_03_0324_annex_2.shtml>
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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 08:56 pm:   

It seems that some of the media folks are consciously aware that their job is framing/"re-framing" events, ideas, & issues. Check out the transcript of Aaron Brown's interview (on CNN) of Daniel Ellsberg at <http://www.busybusybusy.com/b3_arc_03_0324_annex_2.shtml>.

Timmi
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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 10:47 pm:   

LOL. Is that serendipity, or what? I guess we were posting that link at the same time.

Timmi
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L. Timmel Duchamp
Posted on Friday, March 28, 2003 - 11:01 pm:   

Perhaps I need to note here that I don't mean to suggest that it is possible to present anything-- news, events, ideas etc-- without necessarily framing it. The journalist, like the historian, selects which facts to present & does so within a particular frame of reference. "Facts" may be objects with their own reality, but their very representation in language requires their being framed within a particular perspective. What I find pernicious in this purported coverage of the war-- apart, of course, from the media's lack of interest in verifying items of "information" provided to them by institutions with a vested interest in deception before presenting them as "facts" to the public-- is the media's anxious & zealous insistence on creating an ideologically totalized picture of political reality they apparently view it as their mission to force upon a public that doesn't always "get it." Political reality is *not* monolithic. The "news" media's insistence on representing it in that way (which is what the official press in fascist dictatorships typically do) will not make it so.

(Remember the Clinton impeachment? The news media-- print as well as television-- ranted & raved for months in frustration at their inability to get the public to "see" that lying about an adulterous act of fellatio was an impeachable offense. Pundits would say, repeatedly, that they didn't understand what was the matter with the public, had they no sense of moral decency? At least a few of us, lowly members of "the public" that we were, wondered what was wrong with the experts & pundits who had forgotten that the two presidents Clinton followed in office were caught committing a scandalous attack on the US Constitution. The media never once minded that Congress did not impeach *them.* Significantly, many of Reagan & Bush I's co-conspirators are now running the US's foreign policy. Their previous experience bungling US foreign policy in the Middle East does not seem to have imbued them with the slightest trace of uncertainty, much less humility.)

In a democracy, the news media-- which are beholden to the public for their operating licenses-- are by definition obliged to offer a range of viewpoints across the political spectrum-- & not just those opinions clustered at one extreme end of the spectrum. Aaron Brown's job, in a democracy, would be to represent & respectfully explore the opinions of not only the 70% that are said to be cheering for the war but also those of 30% of the US public who oppose the war. That is not, however, what Aaron Brown & CNN are doing. It would seem that CNN considers it the media's job to besmirch & misrepresent the concerns of 30% of the public in its single-minded quest to fulfill its monolithic vision of political reality.

To point out the obvious: thirty percent may be a minority, but it's a *large* minority. The US waged war in Viet Nam for years before that many people came to oppose it. The US has been waging this war for nine *days.* Right-wing hooligans may be tearing down anti-war yard signs all over the US, & CNN may be trying to depict the 30% minority as giving aid & comfort to "the enemy," but such measures won't stop three people in ten from saying that the emperor has no clothes.

Timmi
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Josh Lukin
Posted on Saturday, March 29, 2003 - 12:12 am:   

Yes --my own epiphany came when npr devoted an entire half-hour of All Things Tsittered (as my philosemitic wife calls it) to discussing the fact that the public wasn't interested in news on the Clinton scandals. That is, I realized that something other than the conventional wisdom's "we're going to report the things we think our audience has an appetite for" was going on here. Put that together with what's-her-name, the liberal Florida talk radio host's "Why do you think Honeywell, or Archer Daniels Midland, buys advertising time? Do they want you to buy a soybean from them? No, they want to control content," and you get evidence that can only be explained by a Chomskian, or Norman Solomonish, view of the press.

Interestingly, your analysis above reminds me of the points that Christopher Hitchens used to make to his journalism classes before he lost his mind completely. He contrasted the U.K. (and elsewhere) tradition of having left and right and middle newspapers with the US myth of "objectivity." I'm not aware that he did much analysis, however, of why commercial pressures of a century or so back seem to have given rise to the "objectivity" claim (i.e. the popular wisdom was, "Don't claim to take a stand and you can't alienate advertisers") in the US, while other countries were spared that particular hypocrisy.

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