November 1, 2011 · 0 Comments
By Michael McGehee:
When Charles Dickens began his classic Tale of Two Cities by writing, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair . . .” one might get the impression he was talking about modern propaganda and how the interpretation of events depends more on the actors at play than the play itself.
Take vetoes at the United Nations Security Council for example. For anyone who recognizes Ed Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s Propaganda Model as an effective means of explaining how the media operates you might expect the Western press to treat a veto by the U.S. differently than they would a foreign government that is not an ally, or who may currently be considered the “enemy.”
In explaining how it could be the best of times and the worst of times simultaneously, Ed Herman and David Peterson explain in their book The Politics of Genocide (Monthly Review Press: 2010) that, “The anomaly of disparate word usage (and differential attention and indignation) can only be explained by the adapation of the media and intellectual to the propaganda and public relations needs of the Western political establishment.”
The New York Times (NYT), in two articles by Neil MacFarquhar on U.N.S.C. vetoes managed to provide an instructive example of propaganda.
In MacFarquhar’s recent article, ”With Rare Double U.N. Veto on Syria, Russia and China Try to Shield Friend,” he starts out with this statement:
By vetoing a Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its oppression of antigovernment forces, Russia and China effectively tossed a life preserver to President Bashar al-Assad, seemingly unwilling to see a pivotal ally and once stalwart member of the socialist bloc sink beneath the waves of the Arab Spring.
But earlier this year MacFarquhar wrote “U.S. Blocks Security Council Censure of Israeli Settlements,” where he took a different approach by beginning with the statement that,
The Obama administration vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Friday condemning Israeli settlement building in occupied territory as illegal, choosing not to alienate Israel and risking the anger of Arabs.
Notice the NYT doesn’t state Obama “condemned” Palestinians to more land theft, or that President Obama”effectively tossed a life preserver” to Israel, or is “seemingly unwilling to see a pivotal ally . . . sink beneath the waves” of justice.
We are informed that China and Russia are “driven” to obstruction of justice because they fear “losing influence in the Arab world,” but in the case of the U.S. veto we are told that,
American ambassador, Susan E. Rice, said the veto should not be misconstrued as American support for further settlement construction, which the United States opposes. The issue should be resolved through peace negotiations, she said, and not mandated by a binding resolution.
China’s and Russia’s veto is made out as an obstruction of justice, and their feeling that they were “bamboozled after a resolution they thought was meant to protect Libyan civilians became what they condemned as a license to wage war on the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi” does not even get referenced until after MacFarquhar makes it a point to say that, “Russia enjoys military and commercial deals with Syria worth billions of dollars annually, plus its alliance and only reliable Arab friend give it an entree into the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations,” and that, “China worries that the reverberations from falling Arab despots will inspire civil disobedience at home,” whereas the U.S. veto is explained as being a technical matter where the U.S. feels the solution is better handled in another way. For “them” the reason for the veto is selfish and alterior, but for “us” it’s just a technical matter. The same explanation was given space as to why the U.S. opposes Palestine’s bid to be a state—though naturally the NYT doesn’t bring up Kosovo as a contradiction.
Interestingly enough, Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, blogged about the veto and provided something he said “you won’t find in any western media”: a translation of Russia’s speech explaining why they vetoed the resolution :
The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.
Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.
Im the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.
The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.
The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.
The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.
The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.
This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.
Murray was right. This detailed explanation of Russia’s veto is missing from MacFarquhar’s article. The ability to quote Russia is not beyond the New York Times. MacFarquhar demonstrated in his coverage of the tale of two vetoes—one by the US, and the other by China and Russia—that what determines the interpretation of events has more to do with the press providing “the propaganda and public relations needs of the Western political establishment” than what actually happened, leaving MacFarquhar crying, “It was the best of times,” when the U.S. vetoes a resolution, and, “It was the worst of times,” when Russia and China did it.