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How the media lies: Looking at the world through a straw

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Picture: Mahmud Hams / AFP / Taken on October 26, 2023 – People search for survivors and the bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli bombardment, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 26. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, showed a map of the “New Middle East” to the United Nations General Assembly this summer, the writer says, showing Israel but no Palestinian territories. No Gaza, West Bank, Golan Heights, East Jerusalem. Palestine had been ethnically cleansed, wiped from the World Map, he says.

By Robert Freeman

Have you ever seen a one-sided coin? No? That’s because there isn’t one. And there is no world in a straw either.

The mainstream media lie to us every day. This is especially pernicious in the present case of Gaza. And the lying is not accidental or incidental. It is intentional, pervasive, relentless, and reckless. It’s one of the reasons US foreign policy so often results in failure: it is so often premised on lies. I call this phenomenon “Looking at the World Through a Straw.” Here’s how it works.

Imagine you’re looking at a photo of a man being measured for height. There he is in his undershirt, back against the wall, the ruler painted on the wall next to him. The nurse is dutifully taking notes on a clipboard. He’s 5’10” tall. Photos don’t lie, right?

But what you didn’t see in the photo was that the man was standing on a small stool. The stool is 6” tall. The man is really 5’4”. The photographer intentionally kept the stool outside of the frame of the photo to make the man look taller than he actually was. You were Looking at the World Through a Straw.

Until the media begin telling the true context in which the Gaza conflict occurs, and the true, horrifying facts of its occurrence, they are perpetrating a mass deceit on the world.

The media do this all the time. They decide the narrative they want to convey and anything that doesn’t fit that narrative gets left out of the frame. Reality is reduced to the view through a straw. This is profoundly deceitful but often, hard to detect.

Some immediate and enormously important examples of this …

We were always told that Vietnam was about fighting communism. The reality is that communism was a far secondary motive. The real motive of the Vietnamese was nationalism. They wanted their country back from the white Western invaders who had captured and occupied it since the 1860s.

At the end of World War II, Ho Chi Mihn, the leader of Vietnam, asked US President Harry Truman for help in evicting the French colonialists. He had great admiration for the US and how it had broken free of British colonial domination in its Revolutionary War in the 1700s. He wanted to do the same for his country.

But Truman needed the French to help fight communism in Europe so he told Ho to take a hike. It was the original sin — betrayal — in the US’ involvement in Vietnam. It assured that the US would never “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people and would, therefore, never be able to win the War.

With nowhere else to go, Ho turned to the Soviet Union which had just defeated Hitler in Europe. The US went on to kill four million Vietnamese in its failed effort to deny them the right to choose their own government, the very Democracy it so hypocritically, sanctimoniously trumpeted (and still does) as its international agenda.

These facts are still all but unknown in the US. They were, and still are, left out of the frame the media maintains to manage their preferred narrative about the War. We’re left looking at the War through a straw, a narrowing so severe it is impossible to form a coherent understanding of what it was all about and why it was The First War America Ever Lost.

Consider a second example of the media lying to us by forcing us to Look at the World Through a Straw: Ukraine.

The conventional narrative is that the Russian invasion was “unprovoked”. That adjective has been unceasingly applied to mainstream coverage of the War. And not without reason. It was Adolph Hitler, in Mein Kampf, who wrote on how to succeed with propaganda, “Make the lie big. Make it simple. Repeat it often. People will come to believe it.”

If you look at Ukraine through a straw, as if history began on February 23, 2022, it does, indeed, look like the invasion was “unprovoked”. Nothing big happened on February 23, 2022, the day before the Russian invasion. But if you scope out even a little, you see that the provocations were many, diverse, severe, and going back decades.

When George HW Bush wanted Mikhail Gorbachev’s help unifying East and West Germany, he promised Gorbachev that the US would not move Nato eastward, toward Russia, “not one inch”. But the moving east began under Bush’s successor, Bill Clinton. In 1999, he admitted Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to Nato. George W Bush admitted seven more countries. Obama, two more, and Trump, two more, still.

There was furious resistance to this eastward march by leading US foreign policy intellectuals. They were adamant that the move would be provocative, that is to say, provoking. This cadre of luminaries included George Kennan, the architect of the Cold War policy of Containment, William Perry, former Secretary of Defence, Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, former Ambassador to Russia, Robert Gates, former head of the CIA and future Secretary of Defence, and many, many others.

More than 50 former Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, diplomats and arms control experts wrote a letter to Clinton stating that moving Nato east would be “a policy error of historic importance”. They knew it would elicit the same defensive response — and for the exact same reason — that the US had mustered when the Soviet Union moved missiles into Cuba, in 1962.

But this enormous intellectual edifice, drawn from the top echelons of US foreign policy expertise, didn’t fit the narrative the media wanted to peddle about the War. So, it was left out of the straw. All we heard was the nauseatingly repeated refrain that the War was “unprovoked”. The truth is that Ukraine was one of the most nakedly provoked wars in history and the media lied profusely in claiming the opposite.

Gaza presents a final and even more egregious example of media lying by Looking at the World Through a Straw.

A cursory look at mainstream coverage has us hearing, by and large, about Palestinian savagery and Israeli victimhood, a sneak attack and existential dread. Let’s state for the record, unambiguously, that Jews have the right to live safely, securely, with full human and political rights, in the country of their choosing, and without fear of attack by anybody.

But there is never a media-given acknowledgement that Palestinians have exactly the same rights. And there is certainly no acknowledgement from Israeli officials that they do. And therein lies the problem.

There’s no coverage of why a caged mass of 2.2 million people, humiliated and denied political and human rights for decades, might strike back at their oppressors. Those discussions are outside of the straw of permissible discourse on the War, so never occur. But they are the overwhelming reason why Gaza — and the West Bank — are tinderboxes.

The first central fact of the situation in Gaza is this: Israel was founded in 1948 by the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinian natives. The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, who John Pilger called “Israel’s bravest historian”, wrote a book about it titled, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”. But it is not just history. Ethnic cleansing has continued uninterrupted ever since.

This past summer, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, showed a map of the “New Middle East” to the United Nations General Assembly. It showed Israel but no Palestinian territories. No Gaza, West Bank, Golan Heights, East Jerusalem. They had been ethnically cleansed from the land Netanyahu said that Jews will dominate “from the river to the sea” — [Jordan River to Mediterranean Sea].

Now we learn that an Israeli government-connected think tank has written a report explaining how the government can finish the ethnic cleansing: simply herd the 2.2 million residents of Gaza to the south and force Egypt to admit them to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Presto! No more Palestinians in Gaza. Which is exactly what the government is doing.

But, again, the historic and on-going facts of ethnic cleansing don’t fit the preferred Western narrative about the conflict so are left out of the straw. As with Vietnam and Ukraine, we are left without the ability to form a coherent, which is to say contextually valid, understanding of what is going on. Which is exactly the intent.

The second central fact of the situation which is never mentioned in the mainstream media accounts of the conflict, i.e., left out of the straw, is apartheid.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organisation B’TSelem, all charge that the Israeli state operates an apartheid regime to deprive Palestinians of basic human and political rights. It is not sporadic, benign, isolated, or incidental. It is systematic, savage, institutional, and intentional. It is one of the most revolting forms of state actions in all of history, which is why it is so universally reviled.

The result of decades of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are genocide: the destruction of a specific group of people based on ethnic, racial, religious, or other common traits. Raz Segal, an Israeli historian writing in Jewish Currents magazine, wrote recently that Gaza is “a textbook case of genocide”. He wondered how the West’s media could not be talking about it as the central focus of what is happening in Gaza.

Similarly, 800 legal scholars recently issued a public statement declaring that Israeli actions in Gaza likely amount to genocide. That is a hugely momentous charge, one that those 800 scholars would not make lightly. Surely it is weighty enough to be reported on by the mainstream media, right? Wrong.

The very word “genocide” is freighted with the horrors of the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were murdered. You would think that even the slightest chance it was happening here, now, with Jews as the perpetrators and not victims, would be newsworthy. Wrong, again. Left out of the straw.

What else is left out?

The Israelis are murdering — not killing, but murdering — 130+ innocent, defenceless Palestinian children every day. A week ago, we had an enormous, masturbatory, around-the-clock national fetish festival about how one lone psycho in Maine killed 18 people.

Here we have Israel, a state actor with complete US support, murdering more than 130 innocent, defenceless children every day, and seeming to be planning to keep it up for an unknown duration, and it never makes the nightly news. Shouldn’t that be the headline of every news story about the conflict, in every medium, every day, every hour, until this stops? Yet, it doesn’t register with the mainstream media. It doesn’t get included in the straw.

We could go on.

Killing thousands — soon to be tens of thousands — of civilians in collective punishment for the acts of a few fanatics. Killing civilians in collective punishment is a war crime according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. It’s not being reported as such, is it.

Nor are the crimes against humanity reported as crimes against humanity. That’s what cutting off the water, food, electricity, and food to 2.2 million people amount to. So are the intentional bombings of hospitals, schools, churches, mosques, escape convoys, relief agencies, refugee camps, and other places where people under attack shelter in hope of escaping the torrential death being rained down on them. They are crimes against humanity.

These are the essential facts of the background and the conduct of the conflict: ethnic cleansing; apartheid; genocide; war crimes; crimes against humanity; mass murder. The most heinous actions of a state actor that we know of. All are left out of the straw in favour of endless tear-jerking stories of Israeli suffering, Israeli angst, Israeli trauma, Israeli fear. Not that those aren’t real, but they don’t begin to explain what is going on.

By never covering these things, ever, the Western mass media are complicit in creating the environment where such atrocities have come to fruition, and where the potential for escalation into World War III is getting more real by the day.

Have you ever seen a one-sided coin? No? That’s because there isn’t one. There is no world in a straw, except the fantasy one fed to us by the media to keep us confused, passive, and impotent. Until the media begin telling the true context in which the Gaza conflict occurs, and the true, horrifying facts of its occurrence, they are perpetrating a mass deceit on the world, certainly on the people of the US At the very least they deserve our contempt and revulsion, and profound suspicion of their agenda and motives. They are not stupid. They are not neutral. Nor should we be.

Robert Freeman is Founder and Executive Director of The Global Uplift Project which builds small-scale infrastructure projects in the developing world to improve humanity’s capacity for self-development. He is the author of “The Best One Hour History” series which includes “World War I” (2013), “The InterWar Years” (2014), and “The Vietnam War” (2013.

This article was published on Common Dreams