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Shooting Gallery: From the cover of 'Target Iraq.' Solomon calls TV's abstract rendering of human figures 'a major disconnect.'

Solomon's Mind

Acclaimed media analyst Norman Solomon talks about coverage of Gulf War II and his new book, 'Target Iraq'

By John Malkin

Norman Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a consortium of policy researchers and analysts. His insightful critiques of the mass media have been featured in 10 books, including Unreliable Sources: The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media, which won the George Orwell Award for distinguished contribution to honesty and clarity in public language, and in a nationally syndicated column he has written since 1992.

Solomon came to Bookshop Santa Cruz last week to read from his latest book, Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You, co-authored by Reese Erlich. He spoke to Metro Santa Cruz several weeks ago in San Francisco about his views on media coverage of the war in Iraq and his new book.

Metro Santa Cruz: What has been your observation of U.S. media coverage of the war in Iraq?

Norman Solomon: The people under the bombs are not rendered as real in U.S. news media. So, we have this kind of through-the-looking-glass, objectified, abstracted, rendered-in-pixels sort of representation of people--if that. For me it is a major disconnect and I think that many people in this country and around the world feel that way. I think that we are very much into a newspeak zone. Not only in terms of what I call the voluminous hot air of the foundation of rationalizing the war, but really at a feeling level. The numbing, desensitization, euphemisms and the Orwellian language.

President Bush justified the war to a large extent by claiming Saddam Hussein was connected to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What evidence for that really existed?

Well, even the White House doesn't claim that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, but the administration does claim that Saddam Hussein has ties to Al Qaeda and terrorist networks. There is really no substantive evidence. The lack of a connection between 9/11 and Al Qaeda on the one hand and Saddam Hussein's regime on the other doesn't seem to have stopped the message from getting out there. It is just the power of repetition. Part of the essence of propaganda is repetition. So, after the umpteenth time of having heard that there is a connection between Saddam Hussein and terrorism such as that propagated by the Al Qaeda network, people tend to take that seriously and believe that it must be the case. That is pretty widespread, if we are to believe the polls. Maybe half of the people in the United States came to believe that.

In 'Target Iraq,' you describe your recent visits to Iraq, including with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall and actor Sean Penn. Tell me about what you saw and heard from the Iraqi people.

I didn't really hear a lot from Iraqi people. I did meet some and talk to a few. It is a police state. It is hard to gauge what the genuine feelings are. Certainly a lot of people in Iraq have hated Saddam Hussein, and at the same time getting bombed was not, generally, their favored scenario. I think that there is a dilemma there where Saddam Hussein has been holding hostages, so to speak, the population of Iraq, and the U.S. with Britain's help has proceeded to bomb the hostages. Which I think is a pretty terrible idea.

In the weeks leading up to this war on Iraq, the United Nations was not supporting it, and there were even stories about the United States government spying on member countries of the U.N. Security Council and attempts to coerce support from those governments.

Well, a lot of people in the upper reaches of the Bush administration really don't believe in the U.N. other than as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. And you have this rhetoric that the United Nations makes itself irrelevant, which is just a way of saying that to the extent that the U.N. doesn't bend to the will of Washington, it is irrelevant. And the U.N. is only relevant to the extent that it does the bidding of the man in the Oval Office. Well, that is preposterous. It is an absurd sort of a definition of what a world body should be.

Bush has said that this new war on Iraq is about bringing freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq. But what is the state of freedom and democracy in the United States?

I think there is diminishing freedom. Certainly we have the First Amendment. It is very precious and so forth, but there is a kind of repressive tolerance, to use a phrase that was written by Herbert Marcuse several decades ago, and the usefulness of the First Amendment depends on the energy that people utilize. It is kind of a use-it-or-lose-it-situation. Clearly this space for civil liberties has been narrowed since 9/11. The Ashcroft Justice Department has been putting in many restrictions, with help from Congress. We have some democratic freedoms, but they have been largely neutralized and suppressed under the guise of national security. After 9/11, that has been a very useful rhetorical and political tool for the powers that be.

What do you think is the importance of nonviolence in resisting war and bringing true democracy to the United States?

Bringing true democracy to the United States I think is going to be an ongoing challenge. I think it is going to be a very tough thing that involves utilizing the freedoms that we have, finding ways to make them real. Because just having them chiseled in stone or on parchment is not going to do it. We need ways to actualize, and that means activism and speaking out. It means bringing the First Amendment alive. I say that the corporations largely are sitting on the windpipe of the First Amendment. We need to push them off and enliven our capability to really have democratic discourse. Ultimately, that is our only hope. As Eduardo Galeano said when he was speaking at the First World social forum in 2001, "The greatest truth is the search for truth." I think that he is right. Truth is not something you just grab hold of. It is really a quest and a process that should be on going.

In the prologue to 'Target Iraq,' you quote from I.F. Stone: 'Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.' How much faith do you have, if any, in change through government systems and legislation?

Well, I am not an anarchist. I was more anarchistically inclined 20 or 25 years ago. I believe that we need government, but I think that it should serve people instead of the other way around. And it should be truly democratic. Unfortunately, that quote from I.F. Stone is all too real. I would say that it is not a matter of all governments lie all of the time. Nor is it a matter of conflating all governments. I think I.F. Stone's point is that we always must refuse to take on faith the statements of governments, because there is such an institutionalized preference for deception from government officials.

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From the May 7-14, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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