The Elephant in the Room: Militarism

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I spent years as a political pundit on mainstream TV – at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. I was outnumbered, outshouted, red-baited and finally terminated. Inside mainstream media I saw that major issues were not only dodged but sometimes not even acknowledged to exist.

Today there’s an elephant in the room: a huge, yet ignored, issue that largely explains why Social Security is now on the chopping block. And why other industrialized countries have free college education and universal healthcare, but we don’t. It’s arguably our country’s biggest problem – a problem that Martin Luther King Jr. focused on before he was assassinated 45 years ago, and has only worsened since then (which was the height of the Vietnam War).

That problem is U.S. militarism and perpetual war. 

In 1967, King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” – and said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Nowadays MSNBC hosts yell at Fox News hosts, and vice versa, about all sorts of issues – but when the Obama administration expanded the bloody war in Afghanistan, the shouting heads at both channels went almost silent. When Obama’s drone war expanded, there was little shouting. Not at MSNBC, not at Fox. Nor at CNN, CBS, ABC or so-called public broadcasting. 

We can have raging debates in mainstream media about issues like gun control and gay marriage and minimum wage, but when the elites of both parties agree on military intervention – as they so often do – debate is nearly nonexistent. Anyone in the mainstream who goes out on a limb to loudly question this oversized creature in the middle of the room known as militarism or interventionism is likely to disappear faster than you can say ‘Phil Donahue.’   

I know something about mainstream journalists being silenced for questioning bipartisan military adventures because I worked with Phil Donahue at MSNBC in 2002/03 when Bush was revving up the Iraq invasion with the support of Democratic leaders like Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid. That’s when MSNBC terminated us for the crime of JWI. Not DWI, but JWI – Journalism during Wartime while Independent.

JWI may be a crime in mainstream media, but it’s exactly the kind of unauthorized, unofficial coverage you get from quality independent media today and from un-embedded journalists like Jeremy Scahill, Dahr Jamail and Glenn Greenwald.

Unfortunately, many liberal journalists who were vocal about war, human rights and civil liberties during the Bush era lost their  voices as Obama continued and, in some cases, expanded Bush’s “War on Terror” policies. It says something about the lack of serious national debate on so-called national security that last month one of the loudest mainstream TV news questioners of the president’s right to assassinate Americans was Sean Hannity on Fox. That’s obscene. 

And it says something about mainstream TV that the toughest, most consistent questioners of militarism and defenders of civil liberties are not on a news channel – they’re on the comedy channel. A few weeks ago, I watched a passionate Jon Stewart taking on the U.S. military budget: “We already spend more on defense than the next 12 countries combined, including China, including Russia. We’re like the lady on Jerry Springer who can’t stop getting breast implants.” (On screen was a photo of the Springer guest.)

What our mainstream media so obediently call the “War on Terror” is experienced in other countries as a U.S. war OF terror – kidnappings, night raids, torture, drone strikes, killing and maiming of innocent civilians – that creates new enemies for our country. Interestingly, you can easily find that reality in mainstream media of allied countries in Europe, but not in the mainstream media of our country. Needless to say, it’s our country that’s waging this global perpetual war.

In a democracy, war must be subjected to questioning and debate. And not just on the comedy channel.

This column was adapted from remarks made April 6 at the National Conference on Media Reform in Denver.

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch groupFAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media - and a cofounder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org.

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5 comments on “The Elephant in the Room: Militarism
  1. And they quietly silenced Iran’s Press Tv, one of the few sources giving an alternative perspective on a hugely important issue.

    Naturally the American media has said nothing about that. Some defenders of free speech.

  2. Eisenhower’s warning about the “military/industrial/CONGRESSIONAL complex (he originally put Congress in that mix, but was persuaded to delete that linchpin group) ought to be chiseled on one one of the Washington monuments as it was a prescient, ignored foretelling of our future fiascoes. I would suggest the the monstrous rise in the defense budget’s (not to mention the “black budget” that is reputed to be a hidden, huge addition to what is public/congressional knowledge) relentless rise is in tandem with the loss of freedom, media independence and subservience of an apathetic public. Hard to have the first without the complicity and covering of the second. Sadly, several journalists have tried to alert the nation to the insidious rise of a unchecked military that is growing more like the satire, “Dr. Strangelove” with every concocted invasion we so silently allow. Chalmers Johnson, Gore Vidal and
    other courageous guardians of the diminishing Republic found no home in the corporate, bought and paid for media. The rapidity of the fourth estate into a laughable, Dr. Seuss fantasy world raises few to
    decry its replacement of news with “Man bites dog” mind rot. To accomplish this public ignorance, two
    stratagems were vital: destroy the media, so crimes of state could be wiped off the nation’s conscience and replaced with the current complicity, no holds barred, and secondly, destroy pubic education so the docile, ignorant public will continue to become universal. And due to the Pavlovian premise of rewarded response, any attempt to educate or at least hint that these drastic changes might be products of a well planned, global plot/conspiracy has been linked to tin hat nuts in the populace’s belief system.
    Sometimes, such jackals can preach “Water isn’t wet” and be cheered on by the Socratic mob.
    The internet is the sole light that illumines the darkness. No small wonder the elites are passionate about eliminating that last vestige of information. Flashing back to the world of 1970, the incredible
    transformation of the U.S. is breathtaking! Where will we be in ten years, with the destruction of the media and the other accomplished, Draconian goals that now run unchecked? It is a future that
    even Orwell could not envision!

    • The constantly gathering threats to the freedom of speech on the Internet have to be carefully and zealously watched. The ruling cliques will find some pretext to criminalize speech, eliminate websites that tell it like it is, and convert the informational value of the Internet to zero, a despicable carbon copy of the utterly useless and prostituted mainstream media.

      If Americans don’t stand up like a solid wall to tell these fuckers to back off, all is lost.

      Joan Canaris
      Chicago

      • How true! The inter-net’s future is OUR future. Silence the only real access to truth and the last “light” will be extinguished and we’ll sink into a existence that will quickly materialize into a serf/overlord paradigm.

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