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Manufacturing Public Opinion

Dalia Bedair

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In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful.

The autonomy to seek and overtly preach the truth characterizes the ideals that shape the American nation. Americans ought to capitalize on their unalienable right of freedom of speech. However, American citizens relinquish their right to formulate opinions. Instead, the American media assumes the role of dictating the stance taken on complex issues. After the catastrophe of 9-11, and the subsequent “war on terrorism,” the media?s ability to sway public opinion has proven detrimental to American Muslims.

Voted by the Islamic Human Rights Commission as the most Islamophobic media network, Fox TV differs from the mainstream only in degrees of racism.

Voted by the Islamic Human Rights Commission as the most Islamophobic media network, Fox TV differs from the mainstream only in degrees of racism.

The American media?s influence and corruption infiltrated every aspect of news coverage, shaping the nation?s opinion of Muslims. News anchors speculated about terrorist networks. Radio programs propagated false information about the tenets of Islam. Newspaper articles questioned the ulterior motives behind Muslim activism in America. In the end, the media successfully put a face to the vicious enemy behind the destruction of 9-11. Unfortunately, the media?s irresponsible coverage of the attacks, and analysis thereafter instilled fear in the hearts of Muslim Americans, who were blamed collectively for the attacks, rather than placing accountability on the few, deranged terrorists that transgressed.

Before one discusses whether the media is at fault for the current infringement upon Muslims? civil liberties and rights to activism, one must first assess what form media takes in America. Is media a free, independent enterprise? Contemporary American media leans more toward a monopoly. According to Ben Bagdikian, author of The Media Monopoly, in 1983 fifty corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the USA. However, from the year 2000, only six, large, privately owned corporations own 90 percent of mass media-the most prominent of them being General Electric (NBC), ABC and CBS. This small monopoly undertakes a colossal task, namely thinking for the American public. Through propaganda, media controls the thoughts and views of society, ensuring that the USA agenda is completed with unanimous support.

The American media “manufactures consent,” to use the term preached by Noam Chomsky, by censoring coverage of pivotal issues. In effect, the power of the media to marginalize Americans prohibits engaging “in a battleground of ideas.” Through lack of coverage, and biased reports on multifaceted topics, the American media, in many ways, deceives the public. First, the American media provides, what Chomsky calls the “necessary illusions” to appear as if Americans can influence media coverage by opposition. Secondly, Americans? freedom to agree or oppose certain policies proves illusory since the news fails to represent varied perspectives to complex issues. The issues are never truly addressed. Consequently, alternatives to complicated topics such as the declaration of war are never newsworthy.

Due to ignorance concerning both Islam and Muslims, American media outlets severely misrepresented Muslims after 9-11. The misrepresentation infiltrates mass media, resulting in a widespread trend of assault through local and international media.


Local Media

In the university setting, student?s freedom of speech and activism are among the most cherished and essential components to a college education. However, several articles and news coverage spark fear in the hearts of Muslims on university campuses. Muslim university students throughout the United States have been questioned and advised to limit activism. For example, Larry Johnson, Former State Department counter-terrorism director, encourages investigators to “monitor university affiliated groups? telephone calls, bank accounts.” Consequently, apprehension and a sense of constraint permeate Muslim student groups. With freedom of speech forsaken for “national security,” what is left for higher learning?
For Muslim Americans, regret is not enough, when the media controls the perceptions of a nation on war-footing.
On the local scale, mass media poses a severe threat on the Muslims? public image. Through radio programs and television news, the general public formulates a negative opinion not only of Muslims, but also of Islam. How can Muslims treated in a prejudiced manner question the average American, if government officials openly express their bigotry? For example, Rep. C. Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the House of Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, told Georgia law enforcement personnel they should “just turn [the sheriff] loose and have him arrest every Muslim that crosses the state line” (Washington Post, Nov. 20).

With regards to newspapers, two of the most vicious columnists, Ann Coulter and Daniel Pipes seized the opportunity to slander Muslims after 9-11. Syndicated columnist Ann Coulter wrote that the USA “should invade their [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Also on Coulter?s agenda was a proposed “mass deportation of Muslims.” Daniel Pipes, from the Commentary?s November issue, proves to be the most ferocious in his attacks. Pipes suggested implementing “vigilant application of social and political pressure to ensure that Islam isn?t accorded special status of any kind in this country,” such as ordinary religious accommodations in the workplace and inclusion in “affirmative-action plans.”

Americans are granted unalienable rights such as the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet according to local media, the right to liberty is restrictive, and based on one?s ethnicity or religious affiliation.

Radio and television display an infuriating misrepresentation of both Islam and Muslims. Labeling, such as “Islamic terrorists,” serves as one of the most detrimental tactics used to sway public opinion about the religion. The juxtaposition of the words propagates the fallacious assumption that Islam condones terrorist activity. Such labels increased the American public?s suspicion and hate crimes directed at Muslims.

Nevertheless, one mustn?t assume that the attacks on Muslims are due to external forces and Muslims are helpless victims. Quite the contrary, Muslims are also to blame for the fact that they don?t have a unified voice to answer such displays of bigotry. CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) emphasized that many media outlets such as NBC and The Los Angeles Times were looking for Muslim representatives. Once the media found a reputable Muslim source, stations requested Muslim clarifications on Islamic issues.


Manufacturing Consent

The attacks on Muslims appear less poignant when compared to the larger, more corrupt role that the media undertakes to control the American public. In a democratic society, the media must open a forum of debate on complex issues, such as alternatives to war. The will of the people is the foundation of a democracy. It is evident that the American public desires peace and stability; consequently, the role of the American media is to exhaust every possible alternative to maintain peace. However, the role of media during any tumultuous times of conflict in American history proves completely undemocratic.

Media outlets use their influence to instigate war and ensure the American public?s unanimous support by failing to present any other options. For example, during the Gulf War the American press failed to investigate the legitimacy of the conflict. According to “The Role of Media in International Conflict” by Christopher Young, during the Gulf War, “the media became the mouthpiece of the government, it gave up its privilege of free criticism, [and] reinforced the us-versus-them syndrome.”

With the aid of a multi-channel, multi-billion dollar disinformation industry, 'reality' in the USA is managed from cradle to grave.

With the aid of a multi-channel, multi-billion dollar disinformation industry, ‘reality’ in the USA is managed from cradle to grave.

For instance, in an attempt to a peaceful settlement of the Gulf War, France forwarded a proposal to the UN Security Council on January 14, 1991. Nevertheless, since President Bush refused to negotiate and saw war as the only solution, the American public wasn?t informed of the last-ditch effort for peace. The trend of media equating coverage with the American government?s agenda continues, resulting in the current war on Afghanistan.

In the novel 1984, George Orwell foreshadowed the tactics that the American media implements to control the masses. Slogans like “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength,” not only reside in fiction, they also reside in American media.

“Ignorance is Strength,” serves as the fundamental concept through which media outlets ensure that the American government?s agenda is complemented by unanimous support. Theoretically, the “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan consumes American society. Yet, minimal reporting of the war prevents Americans from discussing its legitimacy. The media learned from both the Vietnam and Gulf War that any media coverage that display the carnage occurring on enemy terrain, solicits opposition. With the retreat from Vietnam, the American government assessed that coverage of the reality of war sparked protests forcing the USA to withdraw. President Bush declared in the Gulf War in 1991 “By God, we?ve finally kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.” Thus, in Vietnam, the press tied the hands of the American military, so the media in Gulf War omitted facts that could hinder the onset of war.

Currently, the trend continues with President George W. Bush?s rhetoric of “heroes versus villains” encompassing coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Since the war is not fought on American soil, and there is no tangible coverage on television stations, Americans will remain victorious and armed with a clear conscience. Therefore, in accordance with the slogan, “Ignorance is Strength.”

“War is Peace” also coincides with the stories reported by American media outlets. In order to maintain peace, President Bush continues to propagate the need to continue fighting and center every American political issue around a war of which the American public knows little. One can deduce that peace will not exist until we bomb the “axis of evil” which includes Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Thus, war is the only road to peace.

Finally the most pertinent slogan that the American media directs specifically to Muslims is “Freedom is Slavery.” This slogan is not foreign to America. Throughout history, minorities, ranging from the American Indians to present-day Muslims, conceded in order to satisfy the need for a scapegoat in America. Throughout history, a series of injustices progressed, but the minority group changed. During World War II, Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps despite their allegiance to America. Their crime resided in their ethnicity and the need for the American government to bully a weak minority. Currently, Muslims are the minority of choice. In order to protect the freedoms of “all Americans,” Muslims should relinquish their civil liberties. All through the USA, the FBI has interrogated Muslims. Suspicion arose primarily because of Muslim?s ethnicity and religious affiliation. When did the right to liberty become conditional? Oh yes, freedom is slavery.

International Media

America displayed extreme hypocrisy when addressing Al-Jazeera network of Qatar on the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Al-Jazeera is the only media outlet in the Middle East that displays a reasonable amount of freedom of speech in reporting the Muslim view of the attacks. Due to the fact that Al-Jazeera was airing opinions opposed to American foreign policy, the State Department sent several requests to withdraw financial holdings from the company. Suppression of the only media airing Muslim opinions freely, compels one to question if America cherishes freedom of speech only to propagate its own agenda?

Also through watching Al-Jazeera network, one asks why there is more coverage of international affairs on an “Arab” network than on American media. In essence, support for the attacks on Afghanistan continues because the reality of the war is censored. To maintain unanimous approval, the “democratic” American media depicts an image of war laden with clean-cut politicians and devoid of death and carnage. Perhaps the lack of coverage is due to the fact that American heroism will not result from reporting the whole story, and in that case “ignorance is strength?”

The Muslim?s Role

Media controls American public opinion. The media presents the news as a dynamic tale with a villain and a hero. Accordingly, the events of 9-11 categorized Muslims as the foe. Through continual distrust of “Muslim patriotism,” and incessant requests from law enforcement and society to “prove” their American allegiance, Muslims are placed in a disadvantageous position. After the orchestration of flags on their homes, and limiting activism, Muslims are obligated to represent themselves in media. However, this is no easy task, for in many ways the American media serves as an impermeable monopoly. Nevertheless, tenacity and a unified Muslim voice will aid in correctly representing the Muslim perspective.

Several steps must be taken to ensure that Muslim rights protected. First, every Muslim who reads or hears coverage on Muslims or Islam must respond by calling the editors or television executives condemning any misrepresentation and praising any steps to promote awareness of Islam. Muslims must rid themselves of the idea that someone else, or another organization will take care of the problem. Secondly, networking and making connections with leading officials in the media is vital to maintaining a fair representation of Muslims and Islam. Collectively, Muslims must represent a critical force that monitors any slanderous speech. Finally, on a personal level, one must search for the truth about the reality of the world one lives, and open a dialogue to instill the “seeds of doubt” about the media. As Noam Chomsky stated in “Media Control,” “the picture of the world that?s presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality,” so it is up to the people of consciousness to remedy the inherent distortion.


Published Wednesday, January 28th, 2004 - 12:11pm GMT

Article courtesy of Abu Talib

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