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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Censorship. What Censorship?

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Which is worse, censorship or self-censorship? Self-censorship is basically cowardly -- the leaving out of facts or glossing over of truths to satisfy those in power. The truth falls by the wayside, in favor of a 'narrative' more helpful to those in power.

Out and out censorship, on the other hand, represents those in power abusing that power. What you know is what you're able to appreciate -- what you don't know might as well have never happened.

The media has been practicing self-censorship. Despite the whining of right wing pundits that the media is playing up violence in Iraq and downplaying 'the good news,' the Iraq Study Group found that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq" and that, in one instance, the incidence of violent attacks for a day was undercounted by 1000%.

And 'good news'? Good news is seldom newsworthy -- 'house doesn't burn down' is never a headline. In the rare instance that the positive would be worth noting, the happy talk would be a jarring contrast to the violence -- "New School Built in Samara; Hundreds Killed by Death Squads in Fallujah." Even if there were a positive report for every negative one, the violence would capture our attention.

Since the media is self-censoring, it's important to note that actual government censorship is going on. The US Geological Survey being clamped down on, with scientists being old that the press office must be "alerted about information products containing high-visibility topics or topics of a policy-sensitive nature." In other words, no more bad news about the effects of oil drilling. On December 12, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that 10,600 scientists had signed onto a statement protesting the Bush administration's suppression of science. "Initially signed by 62 leading scientists, the statement now bears the signature of more than 10,000 scientists from all 50 states and several U.S. territories, including 52 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of Science winners, 194 members of the National Academies of Science, and science advisors to both Republican and Democratic presidents dating back to Eisenhower," according to UCS.

And the censorship of the press has begun, as well. Yesterday, The Guardian reported that a former CIA analyst was barred from publishing an Op-Ed critical of Bush policy in the middle east.

The White House yesterday faced fresh accusations of tailoring intelligence to suit its political viewpoint from a former CIA analyst barred from publishing a critical newspaper commentary on American policy towards Iran.

Flynt Leverett, a former Middle East analyst at the CIA and the National Security Council who has criticised the Bush administration for going to war with Iraq and for its handling of Iran, accuses the White House of pressing the CIA to demand sweeping cuts to an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times on Washington's policy towards Tehran.

[...]

His 1,000-word article was based on a longer published piece that the CIA had cleared without demanding any changes, and that is available on the net. At the website talkingpointsmemo.com, Mr Leverett wrote: "The White House inserted itself into the prepublication review process for an op-ed on the administration's bungling of the Iran portfolio."


"[L]ast week," Leverett told The Washington Note, "The White House inserted itself into the prepublication review process for an op-ed on the administration's bungling of the Iran portfolio that I had prepared for the New York Times, blocking publication of the piece on the grounds that it would reveal classified information.

"This claim is false and, I have come to believe, fabricated by White House officials to silence an established critic of the administration's foreign policy incompetence at a moment when the White House is working hard to fend off political pressure to take a different approach to Iran and the Middle East more generally."

The White House reaction was typical of censors -- "Censorship? What censorship?"

White House Transcript, courtesy of Think Progress (emphasis TP's):

QUESTION: Flynt Leverett — a former NSC official, Mideast expert; he also worked for the CIA — has charged that the administration has blocked publication of an op-ed he wrote for the New York Times simply because he’s critical of the administration’s Iran policy.

[WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TONY] SNOW: I doubt that. But Flynt has been plenty critical and plenty public in the past. I don’t know…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … now being blocked because he’s become increasing critical at a time when it’s politically important for the White House to have public support for its foreign policy.


SNOW: I sincerely doubt that, but I’ll try to find out. I don’t know anything about it except, come on, it’s not like Flynt has not been out publicly on a number of occasions questioning the administration.

QUESTION: But he says the CIA has cleared this particular piece, and the White House has blocked it. So my question is…

SNOW: The White House is not blocking his writings.


Snow doesn't know 'anything about it,' but he's able to issue a denial. Good trick.

A problem ( I won't say the problem, there are far too many to isolate only one) with censorship is that it throws everything you know about the subject into question. Is the only critical Op-Ed that the White House has blacked out? How could we possibly know?

By clamping down on the information the public receives, the White House is causing us to question everything we know -- or think we know -- about the middle east. Censorship is, in the end, just a form of propaganda.

If outright propaganda is a lie, censorship is a lie of omission.

--Wisco

1 comment:

Publicreader said...

A very perceptive essay. I think that outright censorship and self- censorship are inexorably linked because one tends to produce another. However, self-censorship should be the aim of all authoritarian states, since it costs less to administer. However, the good news is that authoritarian states are not altogether rational. I find the no Kyoto bit (read it first on NP) to be delightfully heavy-handed.