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Greenwald writes: "American cable news has broadcast non-stop coverage of the horrific attack in Brussels. Viewers repeatedly heard from witnesses and from the wounded. Video was shown in a loop of the terror and panic when the bombs exploded."

Survivors of an airstrike in Yemen. (photo: Mohammed Huwai/Getty Images)
Survivors of an airstrike in Yemen. (photo: Mohammed Huwai/Getty Images)

Highlighting Western Victims While Ignoring Victims of Western Violence

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

26 March 16


merican cable news has broadcast non-stop coverage of the horrific attack in Brussels. Viewers repeatedly heard from witnesses and from the wounded. Video was shown in a loop of the terror and panic when the bombs exploded. Networks dispatched their TV stars to Brussels, where they remain. NPR profiled the lives of several of the airport victims. CNN showed a moving interview with a wounded, bandage-wrapped Mormon American teenager speaking from his Belgium hospital bed.

(photo: CNN)

All of that is how it should be: That’s news. And it’s important to understand on a visceral level the human cost from this type of violence. But that’s also the same reason it’s so unjustifiable, and so propagandistic, that this type of coverage is accorded only to Western victims of violence, but almost never to the non-Western victims of the West’s own violence.

A little more than a week ago, as Mohammed Ali Kalfood reported in The Intercept, “Fighter jets from a Saudi-led [U.S. and U.K.-supported] coalition bombed a market in Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah. The latest count indicates that about 120 people were killed, including more than 20 children, and 80 were wounded in the strikes.” Kalfood interviewed 21-year-old Yemeni Khaled Hassan Mohammadi, who said, “We saw airstrikes on a market last Ramadan, not far from here, but this attack was the deadliest.” Over the past several years, the U.S. has launched hideous civilian-slaughtering strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Iraq. Last July, The Intercept published a photo essay by Alex Potter of Yemeni victims of one of 2015’s deadliest Saudi-led, U.S.- and U.K.-armed strikes.

You’ll almost never hear any of those victims’ names on CNN, NPR, or most other large U.S. media outlets. No famous American TV correspondents will be sent to the places where those people have their lives ended by the bombs of the U.S. and its allies. At most, you’ll hear small, clinical news stories briefly and coldly describing what happened — usually accompanied by a justifying claim from U.S. officials, uncritically conveyed, about why the bombing was noble — but, even in those rare cases where such attacks are covered at all, everything will be avoided that would cause you to have any visceral or emotional connection to the victims. You’ll never know anything about them — not even their names, let alone hear about their extinguished life aspirations or hear from their grieving survivors — and will therefore have no ability to feel anything for them. As a result, their existence will barely register.

That’s by design. It’s because U.S. media outlets love to dramatize and endlessly highlight Western victims of violence, while rendering almost completely invisible the victims of their own side’s violence.

Perhaps you think there are good — or at least understandable — reasons to explain this discrepancy in coverage. Maybe you believe humans naturally pay more attention to, and empathize more with, the suffering of those they regard as more similar to them. Or you may want to argue that victims in cities commonly visited by American elites (Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid) are somehow more newsworthy than those in places rarely visited (Mastaba, in Yemen’s northern province of Hajjah). Or perhaps you’re sympathetic to the claim that it’s easier for CNN or NBC News to send on-air correspondents to glittery Western European capitals than to Waziristan or Kunduz. Undoubtedly, many believe that the West’s violence is morally superior because it only kills civilians by accident and not on purpose.

But regardless of the rationale for this media discrepancy, the distortive impact is the same: By endlessly focusing on and dramatizing Western victims of violence while ignoring the victims of the West’s own violence, the impression is continually bolstered that only They, but not We, engage in violence that kills innocent people. We are always the victims and never the perpetrators (and thus Good and Blameless); They are only the perpetrators and never the victims (and thus Villainous and Culpable). In April 2003, Ashleigh Banfield, then a rising war-correspondent star at MSNBC, returned from Iraq, gave a speech critiquing the one-sided, embedded U.S. media coverage of the war, and was shortly thereafter demoted and then fired. This is part of what she said:

That said, what didn’t you see? You didn’t see where those bullets landed. You didn’t see what happened when the mortar landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me. There are horrors that were completely left out of this war. … It was a glorious, wonderful picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news. But it wasn’t journalism, because I’m not so sure that we in America are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked like a glorious and courageous and so successful, terrific endeavor, and we got rid of horrible leader: We got rid of a dictator, we got rid of a monster, but we didn’t see what it took to do that. …

I think there were a lot of dissenting voices before this war about the horrors of war, but I’m very concerned about this three-week TV show and how it may have changed people’s opinions. It was very sanitized. … War is ugly and it’s dangerous, and in this world, the way we are discussed on the Arab street, it feeds and fuels their hatred and their desire to kill themselves to take out Americans.

In other words, the death, carnage, and destruction the U.S. invasion was causing was generating huge amounts of anti-American hatred and a desire to bring violence to Americans, even if meant sacrificing lives to accomplish that. But the U.S. media never showed any of that, so Americans had no idea it existed, and were thus incapable of understanding why people were eager to do violence to Americans. They therefore assumed that it must be because they are primitive or inherently hateful or driven by some inscrutable religious fervor.

That’s because the U.S. media, by showing only one side of the conflict, by presenting only the nationalistic viewpoint, propagandized — deceived — American viewers by making them more ignorant rather than more enlightened. As a result, when the trains of London and Madrid were attacked in 2004 and 2005 as retaliation for those countries’ participation in the invasion of Iraq, that causal connection (which even British intelligence acknowledged) was virtually never discussed because Western media outlets ensured it was unknown. The same was true of attempted attacks on the U.S.: in Times Square, the New York City subway system, an airliner over Detroit, all motivated by rage over Western violence. In the absence of any media discussion of those victims and motives, these attacks were was simply denounced as senseless, indiscriminate slaughter without any cause, and people were thus deprived of the ability to understand why they happened.

That’s exactly what’s happening still. Because I was traveling in the U.S. this week, I was subjected to literally dozens of hours of cable and network news coverage of the Brussels attacks. The most minute angles of the attack were dissected. But there was not one moment devoted to the question of why Belgium — and the U.S., France, and Russia before it — were targeted by ISIS (as opposed to a whole slew of non-Muslim, democratic countries around the world that ISIS doesn’t target), even though ISIS explicitly stated the reason and it is, in any event, self-evident: because those countries have been bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq and these bombings were intended as retaliation and vengeance. Nor was there any discussion of why ISIS seems to have little trouble attracting support among some in Western countries: As even a Rumsfeld-commissioned study found in 2004, it is in large part because of widespread anger among Muslims over ongoing Western violence and interference in that part of the world.

The point, as always, isn’t justification: It is always morally unjustified to deliberately target civilians with violence (see the update here on that point). Nor does it prove that the bombing of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unjustified or should cease. The point, instead, is that the war framework in which much of this violence takes place — one side that declares itself at war and uses violence as part of that war is inevitably attacked by the other side that it targets — is completely suppressed by one-sided media coverage that prefers a self-flattering, tribalistic cartoon narrative.

The ultimate media taboo is self-examination: the question of whether there are actions we take that exacerbate the problem we say we are trying to resolve. Such a process would not dilute the evil of ISIS’s civilian-targeting violence, but it would enable a more honest and complete understanding of the role Western governments’ policies play and the inevitable costs they entail. Perhaps those costs are worth enduring, but that question can only be rationally answered if the costs are openly discussed.

But whatever else is true, if we are constantly bombarded with images and stories and dramatic narratives highlighting our own side’s victims, while the victims of our side’s violence are rendered invisible, it’s only natural that large numbers of us will conclude that only They, but not We, are committing civilian-killing violence. That’s a really pleasing thing to believe, no matter how false it is. Having media outlets perpetrate self-pleasing and tribal-affirming — but utterly false — narratives is the very definition of propaganda. And that’s what largely drives Western media coverage of these terrorist attacks every time they occur in the West. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+82 # Moxa 2016-03-26 13:33
Yeah, but if we always tried to see things from the other person's perspective we might NEVER have wars. And then where would we be??!!
+52 # tedrey 2016-03-26 17:30
At peace?
+56 # Blackjack 2016-03-26 17:30
And we might show ourselves to be the total hypocrites that we are. Can't have that!
+22 # wrknight 2016-03-26 19:17
Quoting Blackjack:
And we might show ourselves to be the total hypocrites that we are. Can't have that!

But that's so typical. Whenever bad things happen to us, it's tragic. Whenever bad things happen to others, it's entertainment.

Recall the look on Dick Cheney's face when he learned about 9/11 and compare it with the look of pure glee while he was watching the invasion of Baghdad. (Shock and awe - remember?)
+33 # tigerlillie 2016-03-26 17:49
The news coverage has always been like that. The goal is to dehumanize the victims. Why? Racism and ethnocentric. Manifest Destiny rides on.
0 # tigerlillie 2016-03-26 17:55
Sorry, ethnocentric.
+5 # tigerlillie 2016-03-26 17:55
Damon autocorrect. Etnocentrism.
+13 # anarchteacher 2016-03-26 18:00
With the death of their paragon Walter Cronkite, the true collective face of the Establishment media was exposed once and for all. It is not the noble visage of an intrepid crusader for truth, but a sagging countenance, oily and obsequent by decades of lying and servility to their masters.

They are the regime presstitutes and compliant stenographers for the national security state.

But of course this is not how the press perceive themselves. They are not like you or me. They are a special class of beings. They are the Fourth Estate, an imaginary extension of the rigid class structure of pre-Revolutiona ry France from the Estates General.

In the Ancien Regime there was the clergy, the nobility, and lastly, the bourgeoisie and commoners. The Fourth Estate see themselves on an equal par with the first two elevated classes, and above the third. It is the aristocratic notion that gentlemen and ladies of the press serve a vaunted “public interest,” and do not soil themselves with activities of a rank and sordid commercialism.

Such endeavors would be a violation of their hoary journalistic ethics. They have a public trust to enlighten the masses in their duties to their betters, those who compose the state and their adjunct servitors in the kept press.

With the passing of Cronkite the stark reality is all too apparent, even to these lumbering dinosaurs.
+20 # wantrealdemocracy 2016-03-26 18:04
The real truth is worse than this article points out. Yes, we kill thousands and thousands of people in their homes, their schools, their places to worship God---the worst part is Why we do this.

We do it out of GREED. War is a profitable endeavor for our military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about fifty year ago. Seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

All of these wars in the middle east are in no way a form of defense---or even retaliation. The Muslim people DID NOT ATTACK US ON 9/11. They have NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. All these wars are based on lies and unbelievable greed. Killing people is just fine if you are making money.

Even the most uninformed people in our nation can smell the stench of corruption. The two major political parties have the exact same agenda--help the rich get richer.

If you have any sense of morals and ethics you must not vote for either of the two major parties. Vote independent and get out on the streets and demonstrate your disgust with all those people 'serving as our Representatives ' in the District of Criminals.

Our job is to get them out of our government.
+32 # tedrey 2016-03-26 18:28
Why do you ignore Bernie Sanders? Whatever the label, he's independent clear through. If he's got the guts to accept the Democratic label to win the prize for us, we at least can ignore the label, but give him our votes.
+8 # 2016-03-26 18:10
Biblical injunction is in order here. It all depends on whose ox is getting gored.
+16 # Indie 2016-03-26 18:31
Some of us are aware of the people our drones are killing. Some of us do know that certain countries are targeted because they have participated in some way in hurting the innocent in other countries. We can feel for those who are victims of terrorist attacks and understand their pain and that of their families, but we also know our governments are doing terrible things in our name. We have to work for peace in whatever ways we can.
+14 # nancyw 2016-03-26 19:17
All too true. We await the consequences of our sins. Unless we make our own regime change. Vote Bernie and all liberals in!
+3 # oakes721 2016-03-26 19:20
"What's GORE for the Goose
Is IGNORED by the Ganderer (Western Press)
+8 # m_marcus 2016-03-26 19:46
"By endlessly focusing on and dramatizing Western victims of violence while ignoring the victims of the West’s own violence, the impression is continually bolstered that only They, but not We, engage in violence that kills innocent people."

THAT is the whole story! I don't know whether this way of reporting was deliberate originally, but it has been going on for so long that the press itself has come to believe it.
The unfortunate fact is that the "other side" does exactly the same thing. That does NOT justify the West's behavior, but it is an important point to remember when trying to change the reality.
+14 # Femihumanist 2016-03-26 20:05
I worked with someone who had no problem with all of America's killing. "We had to have those wars, (and bombs, and other military...)".

When some of her relatives happened to be in the vicinity of the attack in Mumbai, a number of years ago, she was telling the story over and over and over.

When I pointed out that she had previously had no problems with war, her remarkable statement (and this was a very intelligent woman, I thought), was "but they are my family." I'll never forget that statement.
+7 # Promoting Peace 2016-03-26 20:42
If someone's life-condiditio n is very low, as in the state of hell, their world is extremely small and they don't even care about their own self.

They have no energy or ability to even think about other people, and often times they just want to end their own life, their own suffering, via suicide.

If their life-condition is a little higher than that, then they may only care about themselves and their immediate friends and family.

The higher their life-condition becomes, the bigger their world is. And, when in a state of enlightenment, they truly care about each and every person on this beautiful planet of ours, and beyond.
+9 # futhark 2016-03-26 20:05
It is time for all to read Mark Twain's "The War Prayer" to gain some insight into the cause of the seemingly endless cycle of hatred, destruction, and death that profits no one excepting those who make it their business to keep combatants actively killing one another.
+11 # Promoting Peace 2016-03-26 20:26
Many times I think, "how would I feel if droans were flying over my head daily & I never knew if they would kill me in an instance, or not.

This is inflicting terror on the people of these countries & it would be hell to live under these conditions. Doesn't that make "us" the biggest terrorists on this planet, bigger than ISIS could ever dream of becoming?

Even if initially the people we terrorise felt the US only went after the "bad" guys, there has been much evidence that this is not the case.

Either by accident, or intention, we kill untold amounts of innocent people, their friends, relatives, etc. Is it any wonder that we are so feared & hated by a most of the world's people?

One thing I have a hard time understanding is why someone with enough money, & a caring heart, doesn't start up a news network to tell the truth?

Fox Snooz was started up to promote BS so why can't someone do the same for the good of the world?

Not only could they give us the truth, they could also be extremely beneficial in getting the few un-corrupted politicians, like Bernie, elected.

Hopefully there are enough caring, concerned, citizens in this country that could support such a network.

I feel NPR tries, but they are limited due to their ties with the Government.

If anybody reading this has some "real" money, please give this some consideration.

The Press, Mass Media, has unbelievable power & we need to be using this to help straighten out this country of ours!
+7 # tedrey 2016-03-26 20:28
“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —
+10 # tedrey 2016-03-26 20:29
The War Prayer, Mark Twain, continued:

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

(Thank you, futhark)
+7 # Promoting Peace 2016-03-26 20:34
When the Challenger blew up and we lost those astronauts, the whole world morned, and it was rightfully a major tragedy for us.

But why were those seven lives so much more deserving of recognition than the hundreds of thousands of lives dying for various reasons, every year, in numerous parts of the world.

As a Buddhist, I feel all life is extremely important, and everyone deserves the utmost respect.

At the deepest level, none of us are any better than anyone else. We all hurt, blead, feel pain, have sorrows, as well as feel love, feel joy, have hopes and dreams. etc...

We need to conquer the three posions of Greed, Anger, and Foolishness within our own lives, encourage others to do the same, and start putting health and happiness ahead of money and greed!
-8 # Romesh Bhattacharji 2016-03-27 03:25
Do not wail about past woes, but wisely prevent the ways to wail in future. Many people have written about the root cause of such barbaric acts of ISIS being the Wests' exploitation and violence from the 1920s. But what now? Do we still, after every horrific act, blame the West?

Holy rollers like Glen ought to be more practical now. How to prevent killings of innocents everywhere.
+7 # tedrey 2016-03-27 03:52
1920s? What about the 1990s? the 2000s? the 2010s?
-1 # kalpal 2016-03-29 06:15
ISIS depravity is based entirely in Islamic teachings out of the Koran and in Sharia law was created with the intent of terrorizing and humiliating those being ruled under it. There is no stated rationale that exploitation by western powers compelled their murderous behavior. Rather a desire to regress to the good old days when Islam ran riot over other nations.

What underlies ISIS behavior is the notion that if they are not killed, they will kill and/or enslave the rest of the world.
+3 # Carol R 2016-03-27 04:38
We need to reinstitute the draft so that Americans care about what happens in war. It is way too sanitized. We are always the good guys.they are always the bad. I say, "STOP THE KILLING!'
+4 # newell 2016-03-27 11:27
White is right. For 500 years Europe has demonized and rained fire down on heathens of color so whites could take their resources, and they could learn about the blue-eyed Jesus, who the whites profess to love because he loved all colors, especially poor ones. Some people can see behind this curtain and some can not. But little has changed in 500 years except a few token concessions, including that the nobility are now called the 1%.
+2 # LarrySherk 2016-03-27 13:13
I am glad to see so many progressive and understanding comments. We must create a planetary community to smooth the rough sledding ahead of us as much as possible. We have to think about national borders and even private ownership of real estate. Every gun aimed at another person brings the same blowback. Survival requires some drastic changes in our thinking.

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