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Operation Iraqi Freedom: Misdirection in Action

The mainstream media connect almost every piece of news that we do get to see to the war in Iraq. Even apparently unrelated events, or only partially related events, are told against a backdrop of events in the Persian Gulf. The stories that don't fit this paradigm fade into the background.

Jo Rittenhouse and Elisabeth Hurst

Issue #63, April 2003

Today's (April 3, 2003) New York Times headlines are all about Iraq, except for two small remarks: that the Supreme Court ruled this week to uphold a law that allows states to require managed health care plans to accept any qualified doctor who wants to participate, potentially giving consumers more choices in their healthcare. Second, the Catholic Church is now eating itself: 'Boston Archdiocese Is Sued by San Bernardino Diocese' — A California diocese has sued the Archdiocese of Boston for damages resulting from the latter's failure to disclose a transferred priest's record of sexual abuse.

Either of these two have the potential to be lead stories. In fact, six months ago, anything regarding dioceses in the Catholic Church suing each other over sexual abuses would be front-page news. Were it not for Iraq, no doubt the story would be today. In fact, it is arguable even now that just knowing these two things is more important to our daily lives than knowing that a POW has been released or that another bomb fell on Baghdad. Where are the reports?

Shut it down

Unfortunately, there's no relation between these stories and the Persian Gulf. The mainstream media connect almost every piece of news that we do get to see to the war in Iraq. Even apparently unrelated events, or only partially related events, are told against a backdrop of events in the Persian Gulf. The stories that don't fit this paradigm fade into the background. If all the news that's fit to print never arrives on your doorstep, would you know what you were missing? Would you care?

Disappeared News

During late March and early April, 2003, the following barely reported events, unrelated to the invasion of Iraq, happened. Do any of these events impact your life?

  • The State of Texas defends its anti-sodomy laws in front of the US Supreme Court, potentially leading to the Court overturning its own 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick. Given how infrequently the Court is willing to overturn itself, its willingness to do so here could foreshadow its willingness to do so in future cases. Most important of those: Roe v. Wade.
  • In other Court news, the University of Michigan defends affirmative action in cases argued before Supreme Court, potentially affecting thousands of students' access to higher education.
  • New York City is possibly on the verge of bankruptcy in the wake of personal injury suits following the attack on the World Trade Center. Never mind all the money we all sent to New York two years ago to help take care of people, the City is still defending against suits.
  • The State of California successfully defends its "no drilling offshore" policy against the Bush administration, or, more to the point, the administration has decided to discontinue the fight in the face of a recent court decision which went against them. The same, however, is not true of drilling in Alaska. The House is already working on new energy legislation, including drilling in the Alaska wildlife refuge.
  • The great American pastime: Baseball season begins and the only question seems to be whether it's appropriate for it to have done so.
  • In the esoteric files, Egypt finds oldest evidence of mummification in the world when a 5000 year-old coffin is opened, and the bones inside are mostly intact. What are the ramifications of this discovery? We do not know because the article is hidden.
  • In New Mexico, two high school teachers are suspended for refusing to remove war-related artwork from their classroom walls (both pro and anti) after having taught their students about Iraq and the conflict over there. What, exactly, are teachers supposed to be doing in their classrooms anyway?
  • Don't forget that mass layoffs are still happening. The unemployment rate for March 2003 is expected to increase to 5.9%, and companies are expected to lay off another 29,000 people.
  • Then there's that pesky overtime pay that you were hoping to use to cover some of the bills. The Labor Department wants to cut off even more professionals from the right to get compensation for overtime, and the US government is acceding to the pressure of business groups and plans to allow companies to "offer" paid time off instead of money. Any bets on how optional that offer becomes?
  • The state of Oregon wants to limit your right to free speech. Take part in a war protest or exercise your right to free speech in any way that someone can interpret as an act that is intended to disrupt business, transportation, schools, government, or free assembly, and Oregon wants to treat you as a terrorist with an automatic sentence of 25 years in prison.
  • After all, we must fight terrorism in all of its guises. Even nuns who "deface" missile silos with crosses and who sing hymns and recite bible verses are threats to US national security. They could go to trial with a potential prison sentence of up to 30 years.
  • In another time, Elizabeth Smart's return to her family would be celebrated as a miracle. The events leading up to her kidnapping, and the backgrounds of her kidnappers would be investigated and described, and rehashed over and over again. However, the war gave Elizabeth and her family a measure of relief after their 15 minutes of fame. The media feeding frenzy was cut short, and the miracle of Elizabeth Smart has been superceded by the miracle of Jessica Lynch.

Misdirection by War

Politicians and the mainstream news media use the invasion of Iraq in the same way that magicians use misdirection. They use the invasion to distract the observations and therefore control the perceptions of the public. To direct the public away from certain realities, they misdirect them to perceive and believe one or more things are true when in reality they are false.

With some issues, such as the stock market, they point to the war and direct the public's attention away from the problems in the economy. For other issues, they use the war to actively deceive the public. George Bush brings the war into every speech, whether the topic is related or not. In the middle of an announcement of his plan to "strengthen Medicare", given by the President on March 4, 2003, he started by talking about terrorism and the war. Reading the speech, the economy doesn't appear until the ninth paragraph. The message is clear: everything takes a back seat to the most important issue, the invasion of Iraq.

No War in Iraq

The mainstream news media follows the President's lead. News programs begin with war coverage under a snappy title that imitates the names of reality TV shows or documentaries on the History Channel: "Operation Iraqi Freedom," "Showdown with Saddam," or "America at War." All those other stories we mentioned slide to the back pages of newspapers and websites, or get only a brief mention, if anything at all, on the television news. After all, there are only so many pages in newspapers that can be filled, only so much space on the front page of a website, and only so much time in a news program, even with the expanded time set aside for war coverage.

So, don't worry about the environment. Work against or for the war instead. The environmental problems will still be there when the war is over. Maybe a bit worse, but who notices the changes that the government made to the energy legislation while we weren't looking? A little drilling in Alaska. A little liability protection and some benefits to the energy companies. What do they matter when we need all that oil and gas to help fight the war in Iraq? Or is that terrorism? Never mind. We're sure they're all related somehow.

We need to see past the overwhelming presence of the invasion of Iraq. We can't afford to allow the government and mainstream news media to use this misdirection to distract us away from other events in the United States. If we ignore these events now, then we will have to work that much harder to undo the damage when the government and news media finally move the war to the periphery of our vision, and let us see what they've been doing while we've been distracted.

Maybe that fault line running underneath downtown Los Angeles can wait a couple thousand years; it's doubtful that much else can.

Jo Rittenhouse and Elisabeth Hurst watch television and read newspapers together, whether they're in the same house or in different cities.

Credit: Image courtesy IndyMedia Paris.

Copyright © 2003 by Jo Rittenhouse and Elisabeth Hurst. All rights reserved.