W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘CounterPunch’

More media myths from CounterPunch

In Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Furnish the war, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on July 24, 2011 at 8:30 am

CounterPunch touts itself as “America’s best political newsletter.”

It’s building a reputation for indulging in media-driven myths, too.

Since mid-March, essays posted at CounterPunch have:

CounterPunch has indulged yet again in media myth, in a commentary in its weekend edition about Rupert Murdoch’s troubled media empire.

CounterPunch claimed the tough old media mogul has “surpassed William Randolph Hearst,” press baron of the 19th and early 20th centuries, “in practicing yellow journalism.”

The commentary invoked the hoary media myth about Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain.

According to CounterPunch, Hearst said: “Get me the photos and I’ll get you the war.”

That was, CounterPunch added, “Hearst’s 1898 dictum to help start the Spanish-American War.”

Provocative tale. But it’s pure media myth.

Hearst’s vow is almost surely apocryphal, for reasons I discuss in my myth-busting book, Getting It Wrong, which came out last year.

Among the reasons:  The telegram that supposedly contained Hearst’s vow — a cable sent to artist Frederic Remington, on assignment to Cuba — has never turned up.

More significantly, as I point out Getting It Wrong, the anecdote about Hearst’s purported vow suffers from “an irreconcilable internal inconsistency.”

That is, it would have been absurd and illogical for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” because war — specifically, the Cuban rebellion against Spain’s colonial rule — was the reason he sent Remington to Cuba in the first place.

In addition, the Spanish colonial authorities who ruled Cuba closely controlled and censored incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic: They surely would have intercepted and called attention to Hearst’s incendiary telegram, had it been sent.

But in fact, there was, as I write in Getting It Wrong, no chance that telegrams would have flowed freely between Remington in Cuba and Hearst in New York.

So “furnish the war” (or, “provide the war”) wasn’t at all Hearst’s “dictum to help start the Spanish-American War.”

That Hearst helped bring on the war with Spain is a media myth, too.

It’s a myth dismantled in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies, in which I pointed out that the yellow press of Hearst and his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, “is not to blame for the Spanish-American-War.

“It did not force — it could not have forced — the United States into hostilities with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

“The conflict was, rather, the result of a convergence of forces far beyond the control or direct influence of even the most aggressive of the yellow newspapers, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.”

The proximate cause of the war was the humanitarian crisis created by Spain’s bungled attempts to quell a rebellion that had begun in Cuba in 1895 and had spread across the island by 1897, when Remington arrived in Havana on assignment for Hearst.


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Bay of Pigs suppression myth too rich and delicious to die away

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times on May 7, 2011 at 5:31 am

The tale of the New York Times censoring itself in the runup to the Bay of Pigs invasion 50 years ago supposedly offers timeless lessons about the perils of journalists surrendering to the agenda of government.

That anecdote, I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, is “often cited as an object lesson … about what can happen when independent news media give in to power-wielding authorities.”

Supposedly, in early April 1961, the Times spiked or emasculated a detailed report about the invasion preparations — and did so at the urging of President John F. Kennedy.

But as I discuss in detail in Getting It Wrong, neither Kennedy nor anyone in his administration asked or lobbied the Times to kill or tone down that report — which was written by a veteran correspondents named Tad Szulc, ran to more than 1,000 words, and was published April 7, 1961, above the fold on the newspaper’s front page.

Like many consensus narratives and media-driven myths, though, the Times-Bay of Pigs suppression tale is too neat and tidy, too rich and delicious, ever to die away.

A hint of that came yesterday at the online site of CounterPunch, which touts itself as “America’s best political newsletter.”

CounterPunch posted an essay that referred to the Times’ purported act of self-censorship, stating:

“Back in April 1961, the Times deleted from Tad Szulc’s story the time and place of landing of the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion because President Kennedy told the Times’ publisher it would not serve U.S. National Security interests. (David Halberstam, The Powers That Be, p. 448).”

It’s neat the passage was cited. But the citation doesn’t render it accurate.

Halberstam‘s Powers That Be, after all, is no authoritative source on the tale of the Times‘ self-censorship. Far from it.

Halberstam’s account claimed that Kennedy called James (“Scotty”) Reston, the Times’ Washington bureau chief, “and tried to get him to kill” the Szulc story.

Szulc of the Times

According to Halberstam, Kennedy “argued strongly and passionately about what the Szulc story would do to his policy” and president warned that the Times would risk having blood on its hands were the article published and the invasion a failure.

Heady stuff, but it never happened.

As I note in Getting It Wrong, there is “no evidence that Kennedy spoke with anyone at the Times” on April 6, 1961, the day Szulc’s dispatch was written, edited, and prepared for publication.

“The Kennedy Library in Boston says that the White House telephone logs reveal no calls were placed to Reston” or other Times executives that day, I write, adding:

“Kennedy had almost no chance to speak with those executives during the interval from when Szulc’s story arrived at the Times building in midtown Manhattan and when it was set in type.”

That’s because the president spent the last half of the afternoon of April 6, 1961, playing host to Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, on a lengthy cruise down the Potomac River to Mount Vernon.

The outing ended around 6:30 p.m., leaving Kennedy only a tiny window of opportunity to call Times executives before the first edition of the newspaper hit the streets.

Harrison Salisbury, a Pulitzer-winning Times correspondent and editor, offered in his book, Without Fear of Favor the most detailed account of the Times’ deliberations on the Szulc article. And Salisbury was unequivocal:

“The government in April 1961,” he wrote, “did not … know that The Times was going to publish the Szulc story, although it was aware that The Times and other newsmen were probing in Miami. Nor did President Kennedy telephone [Times President Orvil] Dryfoos, Scotty Reston or [Managing Editor] Turner Catledge about the story.”

The editing that Szulc’s story received served to improve its accuracy. The reference to the invasion’s imminence was removed, as it represented “a prediction and not a fact,” as Reston wrote years later.

(The story Szulc submitted included no reference to “place of landing.”)

The invasion at the Bay of  Pigs was launched April 17, 1961, or 10 days after Szulc’s story appeared.

In the interim, as I point out in Getting It Wrong, the Times “did not abandon the Cuba-invasion story ….  Subsequent reporting in the Times, by Szulc and others, kept expanding the realm of what was publicly known about a coming assault against Castro.”

So Szulc’s article of April 7, 1961, was no one-off effort. And it wasn’t sanitized at the request of the Kennedy administration, either.


Many thanks to Little Miss Attila
for linking to this post

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CounterPunch embraces bogus Lynch narrative

In Debunking, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post on April 30, 2011 at 7:46 am

Private Lynch, before Iraq

The Pentagon concocted a tale about the battlefield heroics of Jessica Lynch, a waiflike Army private then 19-years-old, and fed it to the news media in order to boost popular support for the Iraq War.

Voilá,  the dominant popular narrative about Lynch, the conflict’s single most famous soldier.

CounterPunch, a muckraking newsletter, embraced that bogus narrative yesterday in a lengthy essay posted online about the supposed effects of careerism in the U.S. military.

In invoking the Lynch case, CounterPunch asserted:

“The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan … have severely tested and frequently compromised the U.S. officer corps’ traditional values of duty, honor and country. This is obvious in the selective careerist- and agenda-ridden assertions to portray a false picture of events to the American public about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”

Several examples followed, including this claim about Lynch: “Americans were told Army Spc. Jessica Lynch fired her M16 rifle until she ran out of bullets and was captured. It was a lie.”

In fact, that statement offers “a false picture of events”: The Pentagon did not put out the story about Lynch’s supposed derring-do in the ambush of her unit at Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, in the first days of the conflict.

As I point out in my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, which came out last year, the Pentagon was not the source of the false narrative about Lynch.

It was the Washington Post that thrust the hero-warrior tale about Lynch into the public domain.

The Post did so April 3, 2003, in a sensational front-page article that appeared beneath the headline:

“‘She was fighting to the death.'”

The Post’s report said that Lynch, a supply clerk in the 507th Maintenance Unit, “continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting” at Nasiriyah.

The newspaper also said Lynch was “stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her position.”

The Post cited as sources “U.S. officials” whom it otherwise has never identified. As it should, to help dismantle the false narrative.

The Post’s sensational report about Lynch was picked up by news outlets around the country and the world.

For example, a columnist for the Hartford Courant newspaper in Connecticut suggested that Lynch was destined to join the likes of Audie Murphy and Alvin York in the gallery of improbable American war heroes. Lynch, the columnist noted, “does share qualities and background with her illustrious predecessors. Like them, she is from rural America, daughter of a truck driver, raised in a West Virginia tinroofed house surrounded by fields and woods.”

But the hero-warrior story about Lynch was thoroughly wrong.

Lynch never fired a shot at Nasiriyah. Her rifle jammed during the ambush. She suffered shattering injuries when a rocket-propelled grenade struck her Humvee, causing the vehicle to crash.

But she was neither shot nor stabbed.

Lynch was taken prisoner and treated at an Iraqi hospital where she lingered near death until rescued April 1, 2003, by a U.S. special operations team.

Meanwhile, the real hero of Nasiriyah, an Army cook-sergeant named Donald Walters, has received nothing that was remotely comparable to the attention given the false story about Lynch and her purported derring-do.

Walters is believed to have fought to his last bullet at Nasiriyah before being take prisoner by Iraqi irregulars. Soon afterward, he was executed.

It’s quite probable that Walters’ heroism was misattributed to Lynch.

And how do we know the Pentagon was not the source for the Washington Post’s bogus Lynch story?

We know from Vernon Loeb, who shared a byline with Susan Schmidt on the “‘Fighting to the Death'” article.

Loeb, now the Post’s top editor for local news, said in December 2003 on NPR’s  Fresh Air show program that he “could never get anybody from the Pentagon to talk about” the Lynch case.

“They wouldn’t say anything about Jessica Lynch,” he said.

“I just didn’t see the Pentagon trying to create a hero where there was none,” he added. “I mean …they never showed any interest in doing that, to me.”

Loeb also said:

“Our sources for that story were not Pentagon sources.”

He described them as “some really good intelligence sources” in Washington, D.C. , and added:

“We wrote a story that turned out to be wrong because intelligence information we were given was wrong. That happens quite often.”

Loeb on another occasion was quoted by the New York Times as saying:

“Far from promoting stories about Lynch, the military didn’t like the story.”

Despite Loeb’s insistent exculpatory remarks, the false narrative that the Pentagon made up the story about Lynch lives on, in large measure because it corresponds so well to the view that the war in Iraq was a thoroughly botched and dodgy affair.


Many thanks to Little Miss Attila
for linking to this post

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