The recent TWA hijacking episode provided the latest occasion for the Reagan administration to display its single-minded devotion to the pursuit of world counterrevolution. There was no advantage in military action in Lebanon, pace Henry Kissinger Associates. But under the all-purpose rubric of “combating terrorism,” the boys in the White House lost not a moment to beat the war drums faster and louder against — why not? — Nicaragua. No one south of the Rio Grande had forgotten the US response in October 1983, after the attack against the Marine barracks in Beirut: Warships and troops headed for Lebanon were redeployed, and Grenada was “liberated.” That conquest proved to be a great tonic for the nation: The admirals got their souvenir AK-47s; Ronald Reagan got his revenge on the “evil empire”; and the US Army issued 8,612 medals celebrating the occasion — even though there were never more than 7,000 US military personnel on the island. This time around, the contras got back on the Congressional payroll, to the tune of $26 million, and Nicaraguan blood is flowing even more profusely than before.

Another consequence of the “war of the hostages” has been the campaign against the media, especially the major television networks, for its coverage of events. There is certainly much to criticize the networks for: the crude reductionist identification of “Shiite” as “terrorist”; the cavalier dismissal of those hostages who expressed some understanding and sympathy for the cause of their captors as demented victims of the “Stockholm syndrome.” There is indeed a syndrome here. It is the phenomenal capacity of the press to reduce the information and perspectives it purveys in accordance with signals from the White House — a “Plato’s cave” syndrome, perhaps, where what is news is not what is happening but what Washington says is happening.

Habitual obeisance to the daily press briefing is not sufficient for this administration or for its soulmates in Whitehall. Attorney General Edwin Meese and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher joined hands in London to propose “journalistic self-discipline” and a “voluntary code of restraint” in reporting “terrorist” incidents. To encourage the proper degree of “voluntarism,” the Justice Department subpoenaed all network footage, for the ostensible purpose of identifying the hijackers for prosecution. The Thatcher government fired a salvo of its own, pressuring the BBC to cancel a scheduled documentary on Northern Ireland which included an interview with an elected representative of the Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army.

Both steps have stirred some resistance and contention within the respective media establishments. It is doubtful that the networks will follow Meese’s advice to agree to “some principles reduced to writing.” But there is every reason to think that the news executives will take these admonitions to heart, and display even less interest in the future in seriously covering events and opinions that challenge administration orthodoxy.

One of the more illustrious demonstrations of media “independence” has been the story of the “Bulgarian connection.” This administration, from the president on down, has assiduously promoted the allegation that Mehmet Ali Agça, the right-wing Turkish hit man, tried to assassinate the Pope at the behest of the Soviet KGB. The New York Times and NBC have been the foremost purveyors of this fantasy made to order for Ronald Reagan’s crusade against communism, demonstrating Soviet control of the world terrorist network. The rest of the media has made little effort to challenge its credibility, even following the bizarre and outrageous performance of Agça during the Rome trial of his alleged Bulgarian co-conspirators, where he claimed to be Jesus Christ. This assertion, as Alexander Cockburn has observed, is perhaps the only one which still carries with it an undisputed certification of insanity. But for the American media, “the plot” still prevails. By far the best documented account of the entire affair is the special issue of Covert Action Information Bulletin 23 (Spring 1985), written by Frank Broadhead, Howard Friel and Edward S. Herman.

How to cite this article:

The Editors "From the Editors (July/August 1985)," Middle East Report 134 (July/ August 1985).

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