Jeff Cohen appeared on Free Speech TV’s “Just Solutions” this month to speak about wartime censorship in United States news media. While today’s empathetic coverage of Ukrainian civilians provides appropriate emphasis on the non-combatant casualties of war, such examinations were quashed 20 years ago when the U.S., rather than Russia, invaded a nation.
This is a transcript excerpted from his discussion.
Maeve Conran: You know, I’ve been thinking a lot, when the reports are coming out that Russia has imposed these laws, you could be imprisoned up to 15 years for essentially publishing anything that questions the dominant narrative, including even describing this as a war. Now, the U.S. didn’t imprison journalists as such, but people were certainly losing their jobs in the coverage of previous conflicts. You have direct experience of this when you question the dominant narrative, and when you use language that has not been approved, so instead of saying “collateral damage” you would say “victims of war.”
Jeff Cohen: No doubt. Again, during wartime, people did lose their jobs here, and it wasn’t a lot, but when someone loses their job at MSNBC, everyone in the building knows what happened and then engages in self-censorship. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, on the Phil Donahue show — which was the most watched program on MSNBC — when we were terminated three weeks before the invasion of Iraq, we were putting people on the air who were saying, “Look, this is going to be a violation of international law. This is going to be devastating to civilians.” For saying those things, we lost our jobs.
Today, I’m happy to say that the U.S. media is covering the violation of international law committed by the Russians. I’m happy to see its empathetic coverage of all these civilians that are being terrorized because of missiles and bombs dropping in their neighborhoods.
Well, this happened in spades far more severely when the U.S. was bombing Iraq. Now I’m seeing all this sensitive coverage — and again, I’m not criticizing today’s coverage, I’m criticizing what happens when the U.S. invades a country. And believe me, the U.S. will invade another country in the coming years; it’s what we’ve done for decade after decade. But when I hear about the pregnant women giving birth in shelters in terror, do you think during the weeks and months of shock and awe — one of the most violent bombing campaigns in global history that the U.S. committed over Baghdad and other places in Iraq — do you think that magically women in Iraq quit giving birth?
So, there’s this magical thinking when the U.S. is dropping the bombs. I mentioned the CNN directives telling people, all of their anchors and staff members and correspondents when the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan, that basically civilian deaths were off limits. It continued, Maeve, for 20 years.
You know, I was watching all of these summing up reports on TV news, and Lester Holt — who, when I worked with him at MSNBC, was basically a patsy for all the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq. Now he’s the anchor of NBC nightly news, and Lester’s not one of the worst journalists, he’s probably better than most, but he did this summing up of Afghanistan last April, and he called it “America’s Longest War.” And in his summing up report, he gives one, and only one, figure on the death toll: he says that the war caused 2,300 American deaths.
So here you have one, and only one, death toll, of the U.S. soldiers — not the civilians. He did not mention that at the conservative estimate, more than 70,000 Afghan civilians had died since the invasion of 2001. He didn’t mention a pretty recent United Nations report that showed that in the first six months of 2019, more Afghan civilians were killed by the U.S. and its allies than were killed by the horrific Taliban and its allies.
So again, the issue of civilian deaths, which should be forefront in every war’s coverage, is never emphasized when the U.S. is the culprit. And that’s why my head is spinning as I see some of these correspondents and anchors that I worked with 20 years ago. All of a sudden, they found it newsworthy that modern warfare is killing all these civilians and causing terror. Even if you’re not killed, imagine you’ve got kids in your home and bombs are dropping all over the place. We never heard that when the victims were Muslims, Iraqis, Afghans, or poor people in the tenements of Panama city when the U.S. invaded. Every journalist in the U.S. understood that it’s off limits to talk about civilian deaths and civilian trauma.
Image via Free Speech TV.