Clinton Wants More Propaganda; I Want Less

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared that other nations are doing a better job of propagandizing the world and that the United States needs to do more. However, we already invest far more in foreign propaganda than in domestic public media, and virtually nothing in domestic media trust busting. The distinction between our domestic and foreign public media is part of what makes them both so weak in credibility (the other part is the size of the lies they tell), and Bob McChesney is right that we should invest in public media at home that actually reports on the U.S. government as on all others, and then share that abroad (if we actually want to model democracy rather than peddle a load of lies).

The current U.S. corporate media cartel pushes propaganda at home of the sort Clinton herself buys into when she claims Iraq has WMDs and should be invaded, and of the sort Clinton stars in when her thugs beat up a silent protester in front of her and CNN posts the video along with a headline falsely stating that a heckler was interrupting her. (Do Americans believe the headline or their own lying eyes and ears?) What we need most is less propaganda and more awareness of it. Protecting, rather than prosecuting or torturing, whistleblowers and real reporters couldn’t hurt too.

I’ve written a book documenting centuries of war lies ( ) and virtually all of the war lies described in that book have been facilitated, if not created, by the news media. The CIA and other agencies have generated phony news. The U.S. military has killed unfriendly reporters. But for the most part government control of information is a much more subtle collaboration between propagandists and those who pass themselves off, even to themselves, as journalists.

War lies tend to be debunked much more quickly and thoroughly than most of us hear about (unless we frequent good blogs), because most of our news reaches us by way of a small number of corporations with interlocking boards. This cartel tends to prefer the war lies to the debunking. The pushing of war lies by major media outlets is not a new phenomenon, but the transmitters of the lies have grown more powerful in recent years. They monopolize the air waves and print outlets, and they utilize the manipulative techniques of propaganda. Propaganda of the sort that appeared for World War I as it was needed, and then vanished when it wasn’t, has now become a permanent fixture in the noise boxes in our living rooms. Interestingly, it was the propaganda and censorship during World War I that began the massive elimination of numerous small media outlets.

The corporate bosses in the world of big media have financial interests that benefit from wars. These bosses seek to maintain access to those in power by not challenging lies, hope to please their advertisers, and prefer the higher viewership that comes with wars. But ordinary employees — I hesitate to use the term ‘journalists’ — have an interest in war, too. They believe, or pretend to believe, that the pursuit of any given war is the most intelligent policy and that their professional standards require that they report what those in power say without disputing or even questioning it. In November 2004, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller spoke on a panel:

BUMILLER: That’s why it’s very hard to write those, because you can’t say George Bush is wrong here. There’s no way you can say that in the New York Times. So we contort ourselves up and say, “Actually”— I actually once wrote this sentence: “Mr. Bush’s statement did not exactly…” It was some completely upside down statement that was basically saying he wasn’t telling the truth. And I got an email from somebody saying, “What’s wrong with you guys? Why can’t you just say it plainly?” But there’s just—

LOREN GHIGLIONE (Medill School of Journalism, Moderator): Why can’t you say it plainly?

BUMILLER: You can’t just say the president is lying. You don’t just say that in the…you just say—

GHIGLIONE: Well, why can’t you? [laughter from the audience]

Bumiller spent some minutes trying to quiet the audience, to no avail. People thought a liar should be called a liar. They clearly imagined that journalism was different from stenography. You can get the president’s statements off his website. Shouldn’t a newspaper point out which parts are true and which are false? Bumiller ought to have explained that calling the president a liar would cost you your job at the New York Times.

Reporters who don’t think wars are a good idea and don’t show proper deference to the powerful don’t get assignments or promotions or keep their jobs. A good example of this can be seen in MSNBC’s cancellation of Jeff Cohen’s debate segments in October 2002. MSNBC also canceled Phil Donahue’s extremely popular program for being insufficiently pro-war, as was made clear in MSNBC executive memos. The New York Times had no tolerance for reporter Chris Hedges when he dared to speak out against war in 2003. Media workers who cheered for war, in contrast, kept their jobs or were even promoted.

Important and powerful guests are welcomed on talk shows and protected from any other guests who might challenge their propaganda. Norman Solomon’s excellent book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, reviews studies done by FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) of the percentage of guests on television shows who have been supporters or opponents of wars. During the first two weeks of the Gulf War, one-and-a-half percent of sources were identified as American antiwar demonstrators. Eight years later, during the first two weeks of the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, eight percent of the sources on ABC’s Nightline and PBS’s News Hour With Jim Lehrer were critics of the bombing. During the first three weeks of the 2003 War on Iraq, three percent of U.S. sources were antiwar. In each case, however, a huge percentage of guests were current or former members of the U.S. military.

The approach of the U.S. corporate media to war coverage is to feature lots of “experts” on war. By “experts” they clearly mean high-ranking military officials, current or retired. But if the question is whether or not to go to war, or whether or not to continue war, or whether or not to escalate war, then why aren’t experts at peace making as relevant as experts at war making? In fact, why aren’t they more relevant, given our supposed preference for peace, its legality, and the ongoing pretense of civilian control over our military? The military can offer expertise on how to start and fight a war, but should it be considered to have any authority on whether to start a war? What about interviewing former members of the military who have turned against war, or historians who could give a broader view, or scientists who could assess the likely environmental and human damage? Why are there no economists to consider the question of what we’ll pay for a war? Why are the only useful guests the people most interested in going to war? And then why must they be deferred to more as religious authorities than as apologists for controversial claims?

Cokie Roberts of ABC and NPR explained her approach to fact-checking:

“I am, I will confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff, and they say it’s true and I’m ready to believe it. We had General Shelton on the show the last day he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I couldn’t lift that jacket with all the ribbons and medals. And so when they say stuff, I tend to believe it.”

With such criteria for determining truth, there would be no value in interviewing spokespersons for the antiwar position, even though a large percentage of Americans agree with them. It would be obvious that they were lying since our country offers no peace medals and ribbons with which to decorate them.

Cokie Roberts may have meant to say that medals made her want to support what a general said, whether or not it was true. War reporters for 150 years have more often seen their role as serving the military of their nations than as serving readers or viewers’ need to know the facts. Sir Philip Gibbs, who reported on World War I for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, recalled in 1923:

“We identified ourselves absolutely with the Armies in the field.… We wiped out of our minds all thought of personal scoops and all temptation to write one word which would make the task of officers and men more difficult or dangerous. There was no need of censorship of our despatches (sic). We were our own censors.”

Two types of guests who are featured regularly on U.S. television are (1) current military officials, who can be expected to present the Pentagon’s official position, and (2) former military officials, who will supposedly give their honest opinions, which will stand a very good chance of lining up nicely with the Pentagon’s. In 2008, we learned that the distinction between these two major categories of guests was phony. The Pentagon had recruited 75 retired military officers and given them talking points, which they presented to the media as their own thoughts. Unsurprisingly, the views of the retired generals were not dramatically different from the media norm and no one noticed that anything unusual was going on. The eventual revelation of what was going on went largely unnoticed as well, and few policies were reformed.

The Pentagon continues to spend over a half a billion dollars per year on propaganda, including the production of video and print “news” stories not labeled as having been produced by the military. There is no evidence of any significant shift in the types of guests permitted on the air, and some of the well-known liars about the grounds for launching the War on Iraq are now more than regular guests. They are actually employed by the media: Karl Rove at Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Newsweek; John Bolton at Fox News; John Yoo at the Philadelphia Inquirer; Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris at Fox News. The careers of those journalists who have pushed war lies in the media have not been harmed either. Charles Krauthammer is still at the Washington Post and Fox. Judith Miller is no longer at the New York Times, but is happily employed by Fox and a “think tank.”

What has changed is that active war commanders have begun to serve more as their own pundits, or what Tom Engelhardt calls the wars’ narrators. Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus last year went on extended media tours, testifying unnecessarily before Congress, holding press conferences, and hitting all the talk show and interview venues, all while supposedly leading the troops in war. Making the “commanders on the ground” (to whom presidents routinely claim to defer when making decisions) the media voices of war created a situation in which the Commander in Chief’s subordinates could publicize their positions, thereby effectively giving the President orders rather than the other way around. In this way, the military compelled its commander to escalate the War on Afghanistan in 2010, and pressured him to delay or cancel planned withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Engelhardt noted that,

“[I]n late August [2010] commandant of the Marine Corps General James Conway, due to retire this fall, publicly attacked the president’s ‘conditions-based’ July 2011 drawdown date in Afghanistan, saying, ‘In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance.’

“Or consider that, while the Obama administration has moved fiercely against government and military leaking of every sort, when it came to the strategic leaking (assumedly by someone in, or close to, the military) of the ‘McChrystal plan’ for Afghanistan in the fall of 2009, nothing at all happened even though the president was backed into a policy-making corner. And yet, as Andrew Bacevich pointed out, ‘The McChrystal leaker provid[ed] Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leadership a detailed blueprint of exactly how the United States and its allies were going to prosecute their war.'”

Challenging a sainted active war commander is, of course, not just bad journalism but also a mortal sin of unpatriotism. You won’t see it very often in the U.S. corporate media. Nor will expanding our foreign broadcast propaganda help in this regard.


The U.S. corporate media (which, for you grammar mavens, I’ll be glad to treat as plural when it gives me some reason to) certainly behaves as if it is in that deferential frame of mind, carrying its subservience so far as to readily obey the wishes of the Pentagon or the White House to no longer use words or phrases or concepts that it has used for decades. Prior to 2004, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today almost always described waterboarding as torture. From that point forward they almost never did, and especially not when the waterboarding was done by the United States. What had changed? Those in power in Washington had put out the propaganda that they did not torture but did waterboard, thereby making waterboarding no longer torture. The use of language in the media is determined by its use in the corridors of power. If a change in usage permits a gruesome crime to be committed with impunity, well that’s just the price we have to pay for “objectivity.”

Adding a phrase to the media’s vocabulary is even easier than deleting one. During the five-and-a-half months leading up to the Gulf War in mid- January 1991, major U.S. media outlets printed and aired comparisons between Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler several times a day. Hussein had not become a worse dictator. Nothing new had been discovered about him or Hitler. The White House had simply ordered up a fresh supply of righteous and bloodthirsty indignation. And just three years after the New Republic had supported increased military “aid” to Saddam Hussein, the magazine obligingly altered a cover photo to make his mustache look more like Hitler’s.

Strict censorship is hardly necessary as a central tool of propaganda when the dominant media outlets are saturating the airwaves and newspapers with comparisons between your desired enemy and Adolf Hitler. As long as the war message is all over page one every day, inconvenient and contradictory facts can show up on page 18 once or twice without much harm being done, although the author of that back-page story will be unlikely to see his or her name on page one in the near future. An even stronger story can safely show up on the internet as long as most people don’t hear about it. Censorship won’t be required.

Of course, the war planners keep secrets. But the media outlets keep them as well, as part of the team. This wasn’t always the case. When Daniel Ellsberg released secret records of the War on Vietnam, the New York Times published them because it feared the shame of someone’s later finding out that it had not done so. By 2005, the media culture had changed — the New York Times was by then more fearful of the possible shame of having published a revelatory story. That year, the Times published a story on the government’s illegal warrantless spying programs, explaining that it had sat on the story for a year out of fear that it might affect how people voted in elections. The Times eventually printed the story because one of its reporters was about to make it public in a book, a book that contained several other important revelations the Times never touched. When foreign newspapers or U.S. websites or international whistleblowers make secrets known, the U.S. corporate media tends to behave as if little or nothing has happened, except perhaps to report on efforts to prosecute whistleblowers.

Media outlets will suppress inconvenient news as long as possible. They’re still suppressing the news that the attack on Pearl Harbor was expected and provoked. Nearly a dozen major print and television outlets suppressed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam for over a year until an independent news service forced the story out. The major media outlets similarly suppressed their knowledge that the Iraq War was based on lies, meanwhile promoting those lies and facilitating the war. When news that has been suppressed comes out years later, members of the media are not surprised by it and claim that it’s boring, trivial, and old news, even though they’ve never published it. At the same time (forgetting that less can be more) they often claim that the information is false.

In May and June 2005, the most repeated excuse by U.S. media outlets, including the Washington Post, for not covering the Downing Street Minutes and related documents demonstrating the dishonesty of the planners of the War on Iraq, was that the documents told us nothing new, that they were old news. This conflicted, of course, with the second most common excuse, which was that they were false.

Those of us trumpeting the story as new and important scratched our heads. Of course we’d known the Bush-Cheney gang was lying, but did everyone know that? Had corporate media outlets reported it? Had they informed the public of confirmation of this fact in the form of memos from top government officials in the United Kingdom? And if so, when? When had this particular piece of news been new news?

At what point did it become stale and unnecessary to report that Bush had decided by the summer of 2002 to go to war and to use false justifications related to weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism? Judging by opinion polls in spring 2005, we hadn’t reached that point yet. Much of the public still believed the lies.

If you went back, as I did, and reviewed all the issues of the Washington Post that had come out in June, July, and August 2002, you found that, while what was happening behind closed doors in Washington and London may have been known to the Washington Post, it certainly never informed its readers. In fact, during that three month period, I found a flood of pro-war articles, editorials, and columns, many of them promoting the lies the debunking of which was supposedly old news.

On August 18, 2002, for example, the Washington Post ran an editorial, an ombudsman column, and three op-eds about a potential U.S. attack on Iraq, as well as three related “news” articles. One article, placed on the top of the front page, reported on a memo that Secretary of “Defense” Donald Rumsfeld had sent to the White House and the media. “Defense” officials were worried that countries such as Iraq or Iran could use cruise missile technology to attack “U.S. installations or the American homeland.” The article contained the admission that “no particular piece of new intelligence prompted the warning.” What prompted the “reporting?”

The second Post article –- by Dana Milbank — urged Bush to hurry up and argue for an attack on Iraq before opponents of such an attack raised their voices too loudly. The headline was, “White House Push for Iraqi Strike Is On Hold: Waiting to Make Case for Action Allows Invasion Opponents to Dominate Debate.” While the article did touch on some of the opponents’ arguments, it mainly focused on arguments about how best to persuade the American public and European politicians to support a war.

A third article — by Glenn Kessler — was called “Rice Details the Case for War With Iraq.” It began:

“The United States and other nations have little choice but to seek the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said. ‘This is an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us,’ Rice told the BBC. ‘There is a very powerful moral case for regime change. We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing.'”

The Post’s editorial on August 18 urged the White House to make its case for war, and advised it to do so on the grounds that Saddam Hussein had refused to get rid of weapons. Here’s the last paragraph of the editorial:

“A preemptive war carries another danger: that it will seem to legitimize aggression by any stronger nation against a weaker regime in disfavor. It has long seemed to us that targeting the weapons of Saddam Hussein carries a legitimacy that other such attacks would not, because the U.N. Security Council more than a decade ago demanded that he rid himself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and he has refused to do so. That is also a case that the administration must make more persuasively.”

The Post’s ombudsman column on the same day was titled “Covering the War Before it Starts,” and lamented the Post’s biased coverage in favor of attacking Iraq. Unfortunately, this admirable observation was overshadowed by three much longer op-eds on the next page.

The best of them, David Broder’s, questioned the accuracy of CIA information on Iraq, briefly mentioned a few concerns, and then joined the chorus urging Bush to make his case.

The worst of the op-eds — which was placed at the top and center of the page, illustrated by a clenched fist with an Uncle Sam sleeve pounding on a map of Iraq — was by former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. The title was “If We Must Fight….” It didn’t call proponents of peace “assisters of terrorism,” as a Post column had done some months earlier, but it did assume there was no reason to work for peace.

Brzezinski offered advice to the President in a list of five recommended steps to war: First, Brzezinski joined the chorus in suggesting that the President must articulate some sort of reason for attacking Iraq. Second, Brzezinski suggested that the reason the President articulates must be that Hussein is producing weapons in defiance of the Security Council. (Brzezinski was good enough to add that Hussein did not use chemical weapons in the last war and that some reason must be provided to believe he would use them in the future). Third, the United States must take the lead in a new proposal for weapons inspections. Europe would support this, and Hussein would not, giving the United States a good excuse to attack. (Here we have Brzezinski plotting publicly as Prime Minister Tony Blair was privately to “wrong-foot Saddam” — the phrase Britain’s ambassador to the United States used privately in March 2002 to describe a process of manipulating Hussein into refusing inspections, thereby creating an excuse for war). Fourth, the United States must work for peace between Israel and Palestine, so that an attack on Iraq is not viewed together with the U.S.- backed Israeli assaults on Palestinians — a combination bound to anger quite a lot of people. And fifth, the United States should plan to occupy Iraq after demolishing it.

The Post’s final op-ed was by Charles “liberals are stupid” Krauthammer. He attacked the New York Times for its allegedly biased coverage against attacking Iraq. Krauthammer was upset that the Times had covered some of the stories that the Post’s ombudsman criticized the Post for not covering — including the expression of opposition to or concern about attacking Iraq on the part of various legislators and officials.

Remember this was the same “objective” media that had been so upset with President Clinton for missing a chance to launch a war on Iraq in 1998. This was the same media that didn’t blink when Bush’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card explained the delay until September 2002 of the most aggressive war propaganda by remarking, “You don’t introduce new products in August.” The war would be built on a planned marketing campaign, not resorted to as a last resort. This fact was not a scandal to be reported in the news or to legal authorities; this was what the Washington Post had repeatedly and publicly requested. The Post wanted war but wanted the President to sell the war well.

This was the same Washington Post that had written of the rising pro-war fever in the country in 1918: “In spite of excesses such as lynching [peace activists] it is a healthy and wholesome awakening.”


Media outlets reveal their anti-democratic inclinations when they conduct polls, because the results of the polls have little or no influence on the reporting. If the majority of Americans oppose a war, the war is still described in the media as necessary and inevitable, exactly as it would be if everyone supported it, perhaps more so.

Often poll results are themselves misleadingly reported. In October 2006, Newsweek found that a majority of Americans wanted President Bush impeached. While other pollsters had found the same thing, this news had not made it into any headline, and it never would. Newsweek buried the finding in an article about other poll results and reported it as follows:

“Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a “top priority,” but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done. (Five percent of Republicans say it should be a top priority and 15 percent of Republicans say it should be a lower priority; 78 percent oppose impeachment.)”

Who could read that and discover that a majority of Americans wanted Bush impeached? It says it, if you look closely enough, but you almost need a course in deciphering Newspeak.

Once in a while, a media outlet will actually claim to be checking the facts of a president’s speech for accuracy. One problem with this is that assumptions that the president and the media share are not checked. The validity of the assumption that possession of weapons constitutes grounds for war, for example, is never checked in a review of whether or not there are any weapons. Another problem is that in a long speech important parts can be overlooked, even as less important parts are “fact checked.” Nonetheless, it’s interesting to fact-check the media’s fact checkers.

After President Obama spoke from the Oval Office about the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan on August 31, 2010, Calvin Woodward and Robert Burns of the Associated Press published an article called “FACT CHECK: Is Iraq combat really over for US?” which included some facts of its own that were in dire need of checking. Woodward and Burns challenged the basic pretense that the “combat mission” was over, noting that “Peril remains for the tens of thousands of U.S. troops still in Iraq, who are likely if not certain to engage violent foes.” But the authors failed to mention the mercenaries and contractors that were also in Iraq in large numbers. The authors maintained that Obama’s claim to have met his responsibilities was debatable. They did not, however, consider the United States’ legal or moral responsibilities to cease, desist, confess, and make reparations.

The reporters claimed that Iraq “is expected” to “need” the U.S. military for years. But the passive voice allowed them to avoid stating who was doing this expecting. In fact, the treaty that President Obama said he would comply with requires the removal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. There’s a loophole for non-Department of “Defense” forces, such as those employed by the so-called State Department. There’s no loophole for the military, no matter who expects one.

The AP fact checkers also claimed that Obama had opposed the War on Iraq from the start, failing to mention that he funded it repeatedly as a senator and insisted on continuing it as a president. Remarkably, in his speech, Obama mentioned the negative impact of the financial cost of wars, and the AP had this to say:

“. . . the costly Iraq and Afghanistan wars have contributed to the nation’s budget deficit — but not by as much as Obama suggests. The current annual deficit is now an estimated $1.5 trillion. But as recently as 2007, the budget deficit was just $161.5 billion. And that was years after war expenses were in place for both the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. Most of the current deficit is due to the longest recession since the 1930s. . . .”

War expenses “were in place?” Woodward and Burns mean to say that the wars were already draining hundreds of billions of dollars each year, but what a terrible way to say it! The fact that we’ve wasted such sums in one year in no way lessens the impact of doing so again in the next. And doing so is not “in place.” It is a choice that must be made each time by Congress, even if Congress always makes the same choice.

Shifting the blame for budget deficits to the recession is also a bit slippery, since war and military spending, and their redirection of funds away from more useful areas, have no doubt contributed to causing the recession. The AP noted that Obama had at one point promised to withdraw all troops in 2009 and had frequently promised to withdraw “combat troops” within 16 months — “a promise essentially kept.” Actually, Obama’s quick promise at rally after rally had been to make ending the war the first thing he did, and this speech (the one being fact-checked on August 31, 2010, by the Associated Press) came after 19 months, not 16, of Obama’s presidency. Woodward and Burns also played along with the myth of the surge — on which see chapter nine.

I don’t mean to knock the novel idea of fact checking. The Associated Press should be applauded for trying at all. We just need someone to fact check the fact checkers.


Congress members behave as if once a war has begun, they must fund it forever. Similarly, many Americans behave as if once a war lie has been given credence, it must be believed forever. Even once lies are thoroughly exposed as lies and a majority of Americans comes to believe a war was based on lies, as happened with Iraq, a significant minority goes right on believing the falsehoods. I know from personal experience, and imagine you do too, that presenting some people with facts has absolutely no impact. They simply dismiss the facts or explain them away, their goal clearly being to hang onto their beliefs, not to believe what’s actually true.

Jacques Ellul may have figured this out by 1965, when he wrote: “He who acts in obedience to propaganda can never go back. He is now obliged to believe in that propaganda because of his past action.” Some recent studies suggest that this is a widespread phenomenon. In March 2010, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler reported on research they had done in 2005 and 2006. They considered the fact that many Americans “failed to accept or did not find out that WMD were never found” in Iraq, and the possibility that “journalists failed to adequately fact-check Bush administration statements suggesting the U.S. had found WMD in Iraq.” The researchers presented people with news articles correcting their misunderstanding. They found that among those who placed themselves to the right of center politically, exposure to the correction made them more likely to stick to their false belief.

In 2005, Nyhan and Reifler found this result among individuals on the right, but by 2006 it was only those who considered Iraq the most important issue facing the country who refused to have their erroneous beliefs corrected by the facts. The researchers hypothesize, reasonably enough, that the waning emphasis on Iraq WMDs in the media by 2006 and the Washington elite’s shift to other justifications for the war may have caused some people to attach less importance to clinging to their erroneous beliefs, even though they would have insisted they were true a year earlier. These individuals had not necessarily dropped their belief that the war was a good thing, just their belief that the most prominent original justification for it was factual. Likewise, they had not necessarily begun to doubt the sincerity of those who had lied to them, just the accuracy of what had been claimed. But how can we understand those who became more likely to believe a falsehood when their mistake was shown to them? Presumably they experience a combination of feeling threatened by the new information and distrusting the source of the written article containing the facts. Other studies have found that when an instructor orally, directly, and in an interactive manner confronts people with correct information they tend to accept it.

Studies have also found that individuals with higher levels of self- esteem are better able to accept information that contradicts what they had previously believed. This suggests, again, that people sometimes feel their reputation and image are threatened by the possibility that they might be wrong. This is a different sort of fear than a fear of communists, or of terrorists, or of the latest version of Adolf Hitler. It can perhaps be addressed more through early childhood education than through adult education. Education of the adult population, however, is clearly the most important factor in shaping public opinion. If the war lies were not all over the media, people would not learn them in the first place. If the corrections were heard over and over again, they would get through. If our communications system allowed the presentation of a variety of voices and viewpoints and feared promoting falsehoods more than it feared being insufficiently militaristic, we wouldn’t need to investigate the widespread phenomenon of engaged citizens certain of their beliefs but completely deluded.

Following World War II, the victors sought to prosecute Nazi propaganda as a war crime. The idea is not completely absurd. If freedom of speech does not permit you to shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater because somebody might get hurt, why should it permit you to shout things that will likely lead to much greater suffering? In fact, under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, treaties to which our nation is party are the supreme law of the land, and since 1976 the United States has been party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 20 of which states: “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”

Whether or not that prohibition is enforced and war lies are effectively banned from our media outlets, the lies can and must be banned from our minds. And those who seek to spread them must be shamed if not punished. We can counter the media’s promotion of war lies by learning to spot them, rendering them ineffective from the start.

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie” from which this is excerpted:

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