The press sometimes will criticize US foreign policy as “ill-defined,” or “overextended,” but never as lacking in virtuous intent. To maintain this image, the news media say little about the US role in financing, equipping, training, advising, and directing the repressive military apparatus that exists in US client states around the world, little about the mass killings of entire villages, the paramilitary death squads, the torture and disappearances.


The brutality does not go entirely unnoticed. But press reports are usually sporadic and sparse, rarely doing justice to the endemic nature of the repression, rarely, if ever, showing how the repression functions to protect the few rich from the many poor and how it is linked to US policy. Thus when Time magazine devoted a full-page story to torture throughout the world, the US came out looking like Snow White.

Following the official line, the national media will readily deny that the United States harbors aggressive intentions against other governments, and will dismiss such charges by them as just so much “anti-American” propaganda and as evidence of their aggressive intent toward us. Or the media will condone the aggressive actions as necessary for our national security or implicitly accept them as a given reality needing no justification.

For instance, in 1961 Cuban right-wing emigres, trained and financed by the CIA, invaded Cuba, in the words of one of their leaders, to overthrow Castro and set up “a provisional government” that “will restore all properties to the rightful owners.” Reports of the impending invasion circulated widely throughout Central America, but in the United States, stories were suppressed by the Associated Press and United Press International and by all the major networks, newspapers, and news-weeklies. In an impressively unanimous act of self-censorship, some seventy-five publications rejected a report offered by the editors of the Nation in 1960 detailing US preparations for the invasion. Fidel Castro’s accusation that the United States was planning to invade Cuba was dismissed by the New York Times as “shrill… anti-American propaganda,” and by Time as Castro’s “continued tawdry little melodrama of invasion.” When Washington broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in January 1961 (after Castro started nationalizing US corporate investments and instituting social programs for the poor), the Times explained, “What snapped U.S. patience was a new propaganda offensive from Havana charging that the U.S. was plotting an ‘imminent invasion’ of Cuba.”

Yet, after the Bay of Pigs invasion proved to be something more than a figment of Castro’s anti-Americanism, there was almost a total lack of media criticism regarding its moral and legal impropriety. Instead, editorial commentary referred to the disappointing “fiasco” and “disastrous attempt.” Revelations about the full extent of US involvement, including the CIA training camp in Guatemala, began to appear during the post-invasion period in the same press that earlier had denied such things existed. These retrospective admissions of US involvement were discussed unapologetically and treated as background for further moves against Cuba. Perspectives that did not implicitly assume that US policy was well intentioned and supportive of democratic interests were excluded from media commentary.


The Nonexistence of Imperialism

While Washington policy-makers argue that US overseas intervention is necessary to protect “our interests,” the press seldom asks what “our interests” are and who among us is actually served by them. As we have seen in regard to Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and other cases, “defending US interests” usually means imposing a client-state status on nations that might strike a course independent of, and even inimical to, global corporate investment. This is rarely the reason given in the national media. Rather, it is almost always a matter of “stopping aggression,” or “protecting our national security,” or punishing leaders who are said to be dictators, drug dealers, or state terrorists.

References may occasionally appear in the press about the great disparities of wealth and poverty in Third World nations, but US corporate imperialism is never treated as one of the causes of such poverty. Indeed, it seems the US press has never heard of US imperialism. Imperialism, the process by which the dominant interests of one country expropriate the land, labor, markets, capital, and natural resources of another, and neo-imperialism, the process of expropriation that occurs without direct colonization, are both unmentionables. Anyone who might try to introduce the subject would be quickly dismissed as “ideological. Media people, like mainstream academics and others, might recognize that the US went through a brief imperialist period around the Spanish-American War. And they would probably acknowledge that ;there once existed ancient Roman imperialism and nineteenth-century British imperialism and certainly twentieth-century “Soviet imperialism.” But not many, if any, mainstream editors and commentators would consider the existence of US imperialism (or neo-imperialism), let alone entertain criticisms of it.

Media commentators, like political leaders, treat corporate investment as a solution to Third World poverty and indebtedness rather than as a cause. What US corporations do in the Third World is a story largely untold. In tiny El Salvador alone, US Steel, Alcoa, Westinghouse, United Brands, Standard Fruit, Del Monte, Cargill, Procter & Gamble, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, First National Bank, Texaco, and at least twenty-five other major companies reap big profits by paying Salvadoran workers subsistence wages to produce everything from aluminum products and baking powder to transformers, computers, and steel pipes- almost all for export markets and all done without minimum-wage laws, occupational safety, environmental controls, and other costly hindrances to capital accumulation. The profits reaped from the exploitation of a cheap and oppressed labor market in an impoverished country like El Salvador are much higher than would be procured in stateside industries. Of the hundreds of reports about El Salvador in the major broadcast and print media in recent years, few, if any, treat the basic facts about US economic imperialism. Nor does the press say much about El Salvador’s internal class structure, in which a small number of immensely rich families own all the best farmland and receive 50 percent of the nation’s income. Nor is much said about how US military aid is used to maintain this privileged class system.

What capitalism as a transnational system does to impoverish people throughout the world is simply not a fit subject for the US news media. Instead, poverty is treated as its own cause. We are asked to believe that Third World people are poor because that has long been their condition; they live in countries that are overpopulated, or there is something about their land, culture, or temperament that makes them unable to cope. Subsistence wages, forced displacement from homesteads, the plunder of natural resources, the lack of public education and public health programs, the suppression of independent labor unions and other democratic forces by US-supported police states, such things-if we were to believe the way they remain untreated in the media-have nothing much to do with poverty in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.


Doing the Third World

Despite a vast diversity of cultures, languages, ethnicity, and geography, the nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, with some exceptions, show striking similarities in the economic and political realities they endure. Lumped together under the designation of the “Third World,” they are characterized by (1) concentrated ownership of land, labor, capital, natural resources, and technology in the hands of rich persons and giant multinational corporations; (2) suppressive military forces financed, trained, equipped, and assisted by the United States-their function being not to protect the populace from foreign invasion but to protect the small wealthy owning class and foreign investors from the populace; (3) the population, aside from a small middle class, endure impoverishment, high illiteracy rates, malnutrition, wretched housing, and nonexistent human services. Because of this widespread poverty, these nations have been mistakenly designated as “underdeveloped” and “poor” when in fact they are overexploited and the source of great wealth, their resources and cheap labor serving to enrich investors. Only their people remain poor.

For the better part of a century now, successive administrations in the United States have talked about bringing democracy and economic advancement to the “less-developed” peoples of the Third World, when in fact, the overriding goal of US policy toward these countries has been to prevent alternate social orders from arising, ones that would use the economy for purposes of social development and for the needs of the populace, rather than for the capital accumulation process. The purpose of US policy has been not to defend democracy, in fact, democracies-as in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973)- are regularly overthrown if they attempt to initiate serious economic reforms that tamper with the existing class structure. The US goal is to make the world safe for multinational corporate exploitation, to keep things as they are while talking about the need for change and reform.

In all this, the US corporate-owned news media have bee, intentionally or not, actively complicit.


from the book

Inventing Reality


published by St. Martin’s Press, 1993

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