Propaganda

     Propaganda, a relative of journalism, is a powerful tool. It shapes the popular view and its effect is to lock politicians into set positions.
     Tired of BBC’s nightly difficulties with broadcast journalism, including the simple task of getting a voice feed from a reporter, I turned to CNN last week.
     I watched as Anderson Cooper featured one story for the entire hour about a “kidnapped” Israeli soldier alongside the certainly sympathetic image of a smiling youth.
     As someone who tries to put the right words in a string, I thought the words kidnapped and soldier did not go together.
     A reporter would normally write that a soldier was “captured.”
     So why would CNN and other TV news outlets describe an armed soldier as “kidnapped.”
     A captured soldier is the dreaded but regular byproduct of war. A kidnapping, on the other hand, is a particularly heinous offense in the domestic criminal code.
     Substituting one word for the other, over and over for an hour, cannot be a mistake. It is the choice of the wrong word in order to hype emotional reaction in a situation already fraught with anger and conviction.
     On that same day, scores of Palestinians, many of them women and children, were killed.
     If CNN was consistent in its choice of language, where wartime acts are described as violations of the domestic criminal code, the network would have called it murder.
     But they didn’t call it anything. That roll of ultimate loss did not deserve mention in the hour long newscast.
     That is propaganda. It limits discussion, it pushes towards a pre-determined conclusion, it puts the population and political leaders in a box. They have no room to maneuver.
     And it is a bad time to be out of options.
     In other stories out of the Middle East, Syrian rebels from ISIS were expanding their territory last week, routing the Kurds at one end of their enormous territory while on the same day taking a border station in Lebanon.
     Their faith-based organization has extraordinary reach, a great deal of discipline, and is on the march. The news stories noted the fighters’ tactic of beheading people and publicizing their exploits in slick productions on social media.
     Reacting in fear, Shiite militias from the other big branch of the Muslim faith are hanging members of the competing Sunni branch from bridges in Baghdad, noted a story about the kidnapping (the New York Times used the word correctly) and return of a Sunni politician.
     Within the weave of stories last week is the existing alignment of religious forces in the region, with wealthy Saudi Arabia helping Sunni forces and populous Iran helping Shiite forces.
     At one point, I took out an old pica ruler used for measuring print type and put it against a map on the computer screen. I wanted to figure out, using the map’s scale, the rough distance between the two attacks by ISIS forces.
     They had achieved overwhelming victories on the same day in two locations 600 miles apart. In measuring that distance, I realized the region is fairly compact, with Israel in the thick of it.
     After looking at that political tapestry and taking its measurement, I was reminded of a completely different news piece last week, about a factory explosion in China that killed 68 people when a spark ignited thick, metallic dust. The Middle East is like that factory, where the dust of religion, politics and arms is so thick that a spark could blow the whole thing.
     And into that hot and volatile mix, we are sending sparks.
     The one thing that our Congress accomplished before going home last week was to give additional hundreds of millions of dollars to the Israeli Army, on top of the vast array of powerful weapons supplied every year.
     That gift came after the administration resupplied the same army last week with mortar rounds that were running low because so many of the imprecise shells had been lobbed into heavily populated areas.
     And finally, into last week’s lineup came an odd little story.
     A hardline U.S. group, aligned with Israel’s position and pushing for sanctions against Iran, is accused in federal court in New York of defaming a Greek shipping magnate. Tripping along comes the U.S. Justice Department, saying discovery in that off-the-radar case might make the government uncomfortable.
     “Very curious,” said the federal judge hearing the matter.
     Curious indeed. Could our government be directly involved in propaganda favoring one particularly aggressive party in the Middle East while also supplying and resupplying it with powerful weapons.
     Nah, that would be the way to start a war. That we would have to enter.
     

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