WHY THE MEDIA LIE
© By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
In the first part of this article, we reviewed in detail the principal structural and institutional characteristics of the mass media, and concluded that these characteristics entail that the mass media is intrinsically subservient to elite interests. This is basically due to the fact that the mass media is ultimately an ideological institution framed by, and rooted in, the wider matrix of corporate elite power in society. As a consequence, the mass media largely propagates news and information in a manner that is distorted – and sometimes fabricated – in accordance with corporate elite interests and the ideological requirements legitimising those interests.
In this part, we intend to briefly examine how the mass media pandered to elite interests in reporting the September 11th terrorist attacks, thus leading to the propagation of highly distorted, and sometimes fabricated, news and information. This will thus provide a clear example of how the mass media usually operates, not as an impartial provider of untainted facts, but rather as a highly partial provider of ideological legitimacy to elite interests and policies.
Many opinion-makers deride the idea that the September 11th terrorist attacks could have been somehow linked to American foreign policy. To seek such connections may be seen as adding insult to injury, or unpatriotic. At the same time, it is clear that such an outrage could not appear simply out of the blue. We have the explanation of George W. Bush, that it was an attack on freedom by terrorists who hate freedom. While this makes an excellent formula for a speech to elementary schoolers, little evidence can be found to support such a simple theory.
In reality, the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon constituted an atrocious, and indeed predictable, backlash rooted in decades if not centuries of oppression. To avert future acts of terrorism such as this, it is essential to understand the causes of this backlash in the West’s ongoing terrorisation and repression of the majority of the world’s population.
But this is exactly what the mass media has refused to do. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, many mainstream commentators labelled Black Tuesday as the worst act of terrorism in history.1 For example, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, head of the US National Commission on Terrorism, declared that “this is a different order of magnitude... This is not only the worst terrorist attack in American history, it is the worst terrorist attack in history, period.”2
There is no doubt
that what occurred on
Since World War II, the US government has
given more than $200 billion in military aid to train, equip, and subsidize
more than 2.3 million troops and internal security forces in more than eighty
countries, the purpose being not to defend them from outside invasions but to
protect ruling oligarchs and multinational corporate investors from the dangers
of domestic anti-capitalist insurgency. Among the recipients have been some of
the most notorious military autocracies in history, countries that have
tortured, killed or otherwise maltreated large numbers of their citizens
because of their dissenting political views… US leaders profess a dedication to
democracy. Yet over the past five decades, democratically elected reformist
governments… were overthrown by pro-capitalist militaries that were funded and
aided by the
The ahistorical portrayal of the
Gaping Holes in the Official 9-11 Narrative
Despite a total
lack of evidence that would stand up in a court of law, media and academic
commentators prompted by Western government hints immediately speculated about
the involvement of “Islamic fanatics”. It was not long before,
Osama Bin Laden was labelled
the chief culprit. The inconsistencies and vacuous nature of the evidence
presented by the Bush administration and its allies to support its claims has,
however, been largely ignored by the mass media. But in a rare and insightful
piece published by the
Like almost everyone on earth, I want to
believe that the attack on
First there was the car. A man had
informed the police, we were told, that he’d had a furious argument with some
suspicious-looking Muslims in the parking lot at
Then there was the passport. The security services claim that a passport belonging to one of the hijackers was extracted from the rubble of the World Trade Centre. This definitive identification might help them to track the rest of the network. We are being asked to believe that a paper document from the cockpit of the first plane – the epicentre of an inferno which vapourised steel – survived the fireball and fell to the ground almost intact.
When presented with material like this, I can’t help suspecting that intelligence agents have assembled the theory first, then sought the facts required to fit it… The West, in the name of civilisation, was insisting that Bin Laden was guilty, and it would find the evidence later.
these reasons and many others (such as the initial false certainties about the
It is worth noting that although one of the hijacker’s passports, as Monbiot reports, allegedly survived the WTC inferno – consisting of fire and heat over a 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit – according to FBI officials, all the Black Boxes were in contrast totally destroyed and rendered unusable. The Black Boxes, constituting a Flight Data Recorder and a Cockpit Voice Recorder in each plane, are specifically designed to withstand massive explosions. According to ABC News:
Although investigators look for an entire black box, sometimes the only parts of the device that survive are the recorder’s crash-survivable memory units (CSMU). The CSMU is almost indestructible. It is housed within a stainless-steel shell that contains titanium or aluminium and a high-temperature insulation of dry silica material.
It is designed to withstand heat of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, salt water for at least 30 days, immersion in a variety of liquids such as jet fuel and lubricants, and an impact of 3,400 G’s. By comparison, astronauts are typically exposed to up to six Gs during a shuttle takeoff.5
Each plane has two
separate Black Boxes designed to be indestructible in the event of crashes,
which in total means that there were eight Black Boxes – since there were four
planes in total used in the attacks on US targets. Yet the FBI is asking us to
believe that while all eight Black Boxes were completely and utterly destroyed
in the crashes, a mere paper passport survived to be discovered a few blocks
away.6 CNN reported that: “The searchers found several
clues, he said, but would not elaborate. Last week, a passport belonging to one
of the hijackers was found in the vicinity of
This is only one anomaly out of many that have been ignored, leaving the official story accepted uncritically as unquestionable fact, by the vast majority of mainstream media outlets.10 The timely release of tapes depicting Bin Laden apparently admitting involvement in 9-11, served as a convenient propaganda exercise in buttressing the official narrative, while pushing its inherent incoherence down the memory hole. As usual with government claims in war-time, the mass media simply assumed that the tapes released by the Defense Department were genuine. But there is certainly reasonable room for doubt.
Sean Broughton, director of the London-based
production company Smoke and Mirrors and one of
ears, well accustomed to Arabic, half of bin Laden’s
words were inaudible. The translation was sometimes out of sync with the action
on screen. Bin Laden’s statements looked cut up and
edited. Cynics suggest the tape was a forgery made by Russian intelligence or
Indeed, even if one assumes that the tape is genuine, whether it really does provide “smoking gun” proof of Bin Laden’s culpability in the 9-11 attacks is extremely unclear. Richard Thomas, Director of Public Policy at the British law firm Clifford Chance argues that: “The tape which we have so far seen doesn’t actually contain hard evidence that Mr. bin Laden was the person who organized the attacks. He simply talks about his reaction to the attacks as they took place. And again, that wouldn’t be hard evidence that he was the organizing mind behind these dreadful attacks.”14
The Function of Terrorism in US Policy
The vacuous nature
of much of the evidence presented by Bush & Co. for Bin Laden’s
guilt – which then justified the US invasion of Afghanistan – indicates that
finding the terrorists responsible for the 9-11 attacks was not an integral US
objective. Indeed, the absence of decisive proof of Bin Laden’s
involvement suggests that fighting against terrorism has never been the real
concern behind the subsequent militarisation of
In this respect,
the scattered continued existence of Al-Qaeda plays a
functional role within world order, at least for the next few years. The
bin Laden did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. For the past four
years, his name has been invoked whenever a
To consolidate and expand US hegemony, and to fully counter its Russian, Chinese and European rivals, a massive threat is required to establish domestic consensus on the unrelentingly interventionist character of US foreign policy in the new and unlimited “war on terror.” The bogeyman of Osama Bin Laden’s international terrorist network thus plays, in the view of the Bush administration, a functional role within the matrix of US plans to increasingly subject the world order to its military, political, strategic, and economic influence.
The reaction of
For example, on the same day as the WTC and Pentagon terrorist attacks, a former US Secretary of State was paraded on CNN, advocating that the US adopt the very same policy of terrorism utilised by the 9-11 terrorists: “There is only one way to begin to deal with people like this, and that is you have to kill some of them even if they are not immediately directly involved in this thing.”18
The next day, the New
York Post echoed CNN’s sentiments: “The response to this unimaginable
New Threats for an Endless War
But the policy of worldwide mass murder and pillage must be dressed up as a global humanitarian crusade against terrorism in order to ensure public support for the policy. And this means manufacturing a suitable pretext for the policy. This procedure is deeply entrenched in the structures of the foreign policy making establishment. For instance, a mid-1941 memo from the War and Peace Studies Project of the Council on Foreign Relations during the Second World War – whose participants included top government planners and members of the foreign policy establishment – recognised that a formulation of a statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from a formulation of one defining the true national interest…
If war aims are stated, which seem to be
concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they will offer little to people
in the rest of the world... Such aims would also strengthen the most
reactionary elements in the
Today, this effect
is achieved through dressing up military
operations either as humanitarian interventions or as a war for self-defence. The maintenance of insanely high levels of
military spending, in order to support the unlimited militarisation
According to the facts in the public record so far, this was not an act of war and NATO Article 5 does not apply. President Bush has automatically escalated this national tragedy into something it is not in order to justify a massive military attack abroad and an apparent crackdown on civil liberties at home. We see shades of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which the Johnson administration used to provide dubious legal cover for massive escalation of the Vietnam War.23
On this basis, it is evident that in the near future, on the pretext of targeting scattered terrorist cells connected to Al-Qaeda, various countries around the world that are of strategic value to the United States will fall victim to Bush’s ‘new war’ for US hegemony. The escalating and contrived ‘clash of civilisations’ that may result from this cynical US policy, and the corresponding chaos and destruction, bear ominous implications for the future of humanity.
Indeed, the new
pretexts are already being conjured up. President Bush Jr. virtually declared
war on any country deemed by the
It is no
coincidence that the
The Guardian has also
commented on these developments and their military-strategic context: “Every
twist in the war on terrorism seems to leave a new Pentagon outpost in the
Asia-Pacific region, from the former
The Manufacture of Enemies
There is an
important context to the sudden discovery of such grave enemies to the
It should be noted
that during this period, while US military spending rocketed steadily on the
pretext of the necessity of defending the nation against international
terrorism, acts of terrorism against the US were in fact on the decrease
since the beginning of the 1990s. In particular, the number of terrorist
attacks perpetrated by Muslims against the
The new threat of ‘Islamic terror’ exemplified in the September 11th attacks thus plays a particularly important role within world order, permitting the United States to justify strategies by which to enforce US hegemony within the Middle East, as well as in Africa and Asia. The major reason that Western institutions have taken it upon themselves to subtly demonise Islam in this respect, is inseparable from the structure of the global politico-economic order – in fact it is a logical consequence of that order and its relations to the Muslim people throughout the world.28
Thanks to the efforts of media and academic commentators, it is commonly believed that there exists a vast, and in many ways unbridgeable, Islam-West divide, in which Islam at some significant level constitutes a fundamental danger to Western civilisation. Harvard political scientist Professor Samuel Huntington is well-known for articulating this belief in the form of an academically acceptable theory of international relations. His ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis is a particularly stark example of how Western academia attempt to justify the concept of an unfathomable Islam-West divide and a new inevitable Cold War with Islam.29 Tim Hames, a leading politician in the Republican Party who is very close to the Bush administration, claimed only one day after the attacks that Huntington’s thesis was dominating the US political scene.30 Huntington has most recently presented a crass summary of his already rather crass opinions in an article titled ‘The Age of Muslim Wars’ for Newsweek magazine. The article’s introductory synopsis asserts that:
Contemporary global politics is the age of Muslim wars. Muslims fight each other and fight non-Muslims far more often than do peoples of other civilizations. Muslim wars have replaced the cold war as the principal form of international conflict. These wars include wars of terrorism, guerrilla wars, civil wars and interstate conflicts. These instances of Muslim violence could congeal into one major clash of civilizations between Islam and the West or between Islam and the Rest.31
This is not the
place to discuss in detail the myriad of logical leaps, shoddy presumptions,
and lack of supportive data that hounds
The fact that
history is full of wars does not indicate that they were the result of
differences in religions or cultures between civilizations. Rather, a
scientific historical analysis demonstrates that the causes were power politics
and aspirations for hegemony, a fact deliberately played down by
Indeed, directly contradicting Huntington’s emphasis of the alleged potential rivalry from Islamic civilization is an authoritative study by the US Commission on National Security/21st Century, which records how the unique adaptability of Islamic to modernity is the very factor ensuring that such a confrontation will not occur as a simple result of civilizational dichotomies.33 Other Middle East specialists concur that “like their secular counterparts, on most issues many [Islamic-oriented political actors] would operate on the basis of national interests and demonstrate a flexibility that reflects acceptance of the realities of a globally interdependent world.”34
It is certainly a
shame that the esteemed Harvard scholar has to resort to regurgitating
chauvinistic myths to support his untenable position. There is, however, a
deeper context and pattern to this act of regurgitation by anti-Muslim
academics such as
Zbigniew Brzezinski is
well known as the creator of the American strategy to achieve hegemony, which
lies at the heart of American foreign policy. That battle for global hegemony
is going to be fought in
Brzezinski and Huntington are pursuing the same
political plan: They want the world to be ruled by one power and they want to
be part of that power ruling the world. It is no coincidence that Brzezinski sings the praise of
All of this is
merely the latest stage in a historic pattern, according to J. A. Progler – Assistant Professor of Social Studies at the
The long history of encounters between Western civilization and Islam has produced a tradition of portraying, in largely negative and self-serving ways, the Islamic religion and Muslim cultures. There is a lot of literature cataloguing (and sometimes correcting) these stereotypes… Images of the Other are prevalent in Western civilization, and have become firmly ensconced in the discourse of colonization and conquest, whoever the victims may be. Some images are rooted in Greek notions of barbarians, others born of the Middle Ages. They have been carried through the Reconquista and Inquisition, picked up during the age of colonial expansion, developed by Orientalists in the 19th and early 20th century, and continue on into the age of mass media and globalized political economy. But images don’t exist in a vacuum. They have uses…
Western image-makers, including religious authorities, political establishments, and corporate-media conglomerates, conceptualize for their consumers images of Muslims and/or Arabs in sometimes amusing and other times cruel or tragic ways. Upon closer examination, these images seem to serve essential purposes throughout the history of Western civilization. At times these purposes are benign, at others quite sinister. Often, there are tragic consequences for Muslims resulting from the socio-political climate fostered by images…
If Arabs and Muslims are extremists in anything, I believe that it is in the patience and tolerance they have shown toward persistent Western interventions until very recently. Islamic movements have much more important characteristics than intolerance and violence. A central concept is social justice.36
Beyond Images: Challenge Media Lies
The victims of the system of global apartheid – in which the Western powers control the world’s resources while the majority of the population toils under regimes of extreme oppression and deprivation propped up by the international community – are becoming increasingly intolerant of the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to attempt to survive. If we are to genuinely stop such acts of terror from being repeated, then we must dismantle the unjust system that creates such inhumane conditions from which individuals arise with so little hope that they feel compelled to use violence. A US response calculated to label and target everyone not “on our side” indiscriminately – parroted and trumpeted by a corporate-dominated media which is institutionally dependent upon the elite agenda and based on the same elite strategic principles and economic interests – will only exacerbate the systematic injustices of world order and create conditions conducive to a spiral of violence and war, from which no one will benefit. It is our responsibility to challenge media lies, and thereby challenge the ideological base of legitimacy that the media grants the unaccountable activities of the self-interested corporate elite. In doing so, we are challenging the very foundations of US/Western imperial policy throughout the world.
1. See for instance Wattie, Chris, ‘U.S. vows revenge’, National Post, 12 September 2001; Luxton, Peter, ‘Amid the Chaos, What’s Next for the Market’, Business Week, 11 September 2001; Gee, Marcus, The Globe and Mail, cited in ‘What the world’s press says’, The Guardian, 14 December 2001, http://media.guardian.co.uk/attack/story/0,1301,618880,00.html; National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/traveler/related.html.
2. Editor’s Note, ‘A Different Order of Magnitude’, Security Management, October 2001, www.securitymanagement.com/library/001128.html.
3. Parenti, Michael, Against Empire, City Light Books, 1995. See Chapter 3 ‘Intervention: Whose gain? Whose pain?’.
4. Monbiot, George, ‘Collateral Repair: How to Win the War
with Peace’, The Guardian,
5. ABC News report, http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/TechTV/techtv_blackboxes010917.html.
is worth noting that United Airlines flight 93 crashed into a field in
Zaman, Shibli, ‘FBI’s
Investigation of the WTC Tragedy Exposed’,
Morris, Stephen, ‘
BBC News, ‘Could the Bin Laden video be a fake?’,
Margolis, Eric, ‘Is the Gun Smoking? “Experts” Disagree on bin Laden Home
Knox, Kathleen, ‘
15. Monbiot, George, ‘The need for dissent,’ The Guardian,
16. For extensive discussion of the US bombing of Al-Shifa in the context of US relations with Sudan, see Ahmed, Nafeez M., ‘United States Terrorism in the Sudan: The Bombing of Al-Shifa and its Strategic Role in US-Sudan Relations,’ Media Monitors Network, 22 October 2001, www.mediamonitors.net/mosaddeq16.html.
BBC 2, Newsnight,
Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, CNN,
21. Shoup, Laurence H., ‘Shaping the Postwar World’, Insurgent Sociologist, Vol. 5, No. 3, Spring 1975.
For discussion see Said, Edward, Covering Islam: How the Media and the
Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, Vintage,
23. IPA News Release, ‘Another
See Ahmed, Nafeez M., ‘The 1991 Gulf Massacre: The
Historical and Strategic Context of Western Terrorism in the Gulf,’ Media
26. Hartung, William,
skillful online dissection of the myth of Islamic terrorism supported by the
media and academia, see the cutting edge web-site of the
28. For some insight into what is meant by this, see especially Said, Edward, Orientalism, Random House, New York, 1979; also see Said, Covering Islam, Pantheon, New York.
31. Huntington, Samuel P., ‘The Age of Muslim Wars’, Newsweek, January 2002, www.msnbc.com/news/672440.asp.
32. These policies and the countries in which they have operated have been discussed extensively by this author in thousands of pages worth of documentation, contained in successive research papers. These are available online at the author’s homepage, hosted by the Los Angeles-based Media Monitors Network, http://nafeez.mediamonitors.net.
See for example Esposito, John L., ‘The Islamic Factor’, in Marr, Phebe ed., Egypt at the Crossroads: Domestic Stability
and Regional Role, National Defense University Press,
35. Weiss, Nadia, ‘The Islamic World Targeted by the West? Clash of, or Dialogue Between, Civilizations?’, Current Concerns, No. 11/12, November 2001-January 2002, www.currentconcerns.ch/archive/20011103.php.
36. Progler, J. A., ‘The Utility of Islamic Imagery in the West: An American Case Study’, Winter 1997, Al-Tawhid: A Journal of Islamic Thought & Culture, Vol. XIV, No. 4.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a political analyst and human rights activist, specialising in Western foreign policy and its impact on human rights. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development (IPRD), an independent, interdisciplinary, non-profit think tank based in