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The Exception to the Rulers
Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them
By Amy Goodman
By David Goodman
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THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULERS
the Media That
with David Goodman
To our Parents,
Who taught us to listen
Preface to the Paperback Edition
On December 6, 2004, Jeremy Hinzman, a 26-year-old soldier with the U.S. Army’s elite 82nd Airborne Division, explained to a packed hearing room in Toronto, Canada, why he fled the United States.
“When I took my oath as a soldier it was to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” he testified, as he explained why he was seeking refugee status in Canada. “I was faced with being deployed to Iraq to do what the infantry does, kill people, and I had no justification for doing so.
“They said there were weapons of mass destruction. They haven’t found any,” continued the sharp-jawed, crew-cut paratrooper from Rapid City, South Dakota. “They said Iraq was linked to international terrorist organizations. There haven’t been any links.” Hinzman told Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board that the war in Iraq was illegal and that he would have become a war criminal by fighting in it. Hinzman’s contention was supported by Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey, who testified as a witness at the hearing that he and his platoon killed “30-plus” innocent civilians in one forty-eight-hour period in Iraq.
“What they were doing was committing murder,” said Massey, a former Marine recruiter.
It was a devastating synopsis of the lies that have passed for truths during the Bush administration. Hinzman and Massey are not alone: More and more American soldiers have been speaking out and protesting against fighting a war that was based on fraudulent claims—and conveyed to the public by an uncritical media. By the end of 2004, the Pentagon reported that more than 5,500 American servicemen had deserted since the start of the war.
We wish we could report, a year after The Exception to the Rulers was first published, that things have changed for the better on the issues that we wrote about. To the contrary: The media continues to act as stenographers to power. Coverage of the Iraq war confirms how the media has failed in its role as a watchdog of government. The corporate media has acted as an echo chamber for officialdom. No one has paid a higher price for this failure than American servicemen and women and the long-suffering people of Iraq. By early 2005, some 1,500 U.S. soldiers had died, and as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in a war that has devastated Iraq.
A conflict that Bush administration officials predicted would be “a cakewalk” is now ravaging a new generation of soldiers. Nearly 20,000 American soldiers have been medically evacuated from Iraq. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, more soldiers have been injured in Iraq than during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, or the first five years of the Vietnam conflict. Even if the war ended tomorrow, the soldiers’ agony will continue for years: Some 17 percent of all returning Iraq war veterans show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and homeless shelters are reporting a rise in the number of homeless Iraq war veterans.
Since our book was published in 2004, the escalating scale of this preventable catastrophe—and the official admission that there were no weapons of mass destruction—finally moved a few members of the media establishment to take a closer look at how they have been doing their jobs during the past couple of years. It’s about time: With no credible evidence to back up the spectacular pre-war falsehoods that the media so helpfully trumpeted on the front pages, a little introspection was in order.
But those looking for a soul-searching mea culpa from the corporate media will have to wait. Here’s what the editors of The New York Times had to say about their Iraq war coverage in May 2004: “We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been.”
With thousands dead and dying in Iraq, the Times confession, buried on page A10 in that issue—in contrast to two years of front-page treatment for bogus government claims—was an insult to those who have paid the ultimate price for the government’s lies.
The editors of The New York Times blame the newspaper’s lapse of judgment partly on being “perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.” But the problem goes deeper, and continues today: Official claims are considered true until proven false, and grassroots movements—especially the peace movement—are caricatured or ignored.
Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz quantified just how lopsided his own newspaper’s prowar tilt was. “From August 2002 through the March 19, 2003, launch of the war, The Post ran more than 140 front-page stories that focused heavily on administration rhetoric against Iraq,” wrote Kurtz in August 2004. “Some examples: ‘Cheney Says Iraqi Strike Is Justified’; ‘War Cabinet Argues for Iraq Attack’; ‘Bush Tells United Nations It Must Stand Up to Hussein or U.S. Will’; ‘Bush Cites Urgent Iraqi Threat’; ‘Bush Tells Troops: Prepare for War.’ ”
Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, whose investigations once helped take down President Richard Nixon, offered this astonishing excuse for why his newspaper failed to challenge government falsehoods: “We had no alternative sources of information.”
Woodward might have found an alternative view had he thought to ask any of the leading critics of war or government dissidents. Or for a dissenting viewpoint, the Post could have sought out any one of the millions of Americans protesting against war. Instead, voices for peace were once again frozen out of the media, leaving the same group of prowar pundits, government officials, and retired generals to hold a one-sided debate.
Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks was candid in explaining his newspaper’s failures when he said, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’ ”
That helps explain why half of Americans still believed in late 2004 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda—notions that by then had been thoroughly debunked by everyone from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee to both of Bush’s hand-picked weapons inspectors, Charles Duelfer and David Kay.
Americans believe these lies not because they are stupid, but because they are good media consumers. As the Pentagon has learned, deploying the American media is more powerful than any bomb. The explosive effect is amplified as a few prowar media moguls consolidate their grip over the majority of news outlets.
Take the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair is the largest single owner/operator of television stations in the United States. It owns many ABC, NBC, and FOX affiliates and now controls news that reaches one-fourth of American households. Sinclair’s owners made 97 percent of their political donations in 2004 to the Bush campaign and other Republicans, and they have unashamedly pushed their agenda through their media outlets. In April 2004, Sinclair forbade its ABC affiliate stations to air a segment of ABC’s Nightline that was dedicated to showing the names and photographs of the 700 American soldiers who had died in Iraq up to that point.
Then in October 2004, Sinclair ordered its sixty-two television stations—including several in swing states—to preempt regular programming to air Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, a pseudo-documentary attacking Senator John Kerry that was paid for by a Bush family friend. A massive grassroots advertiser boycott campaign ultimately forced Sinclair to back down, and they instead aired a watered-down Kerry documentary a week before the election.
As for the 2004 presidential election, we will never know who actually won. That is because the result is unverifiable: 30 percent of the votes cast were on electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail. In one precinct in Ohio, only 638 people cast ballots; 4,258 of them voted for Bush. In Warren County, Ohio, election officials insisted that “Homeland Security” had issued a Level 10 national security threat, the highest threat warning in the country, for their county. They cited this as justification for locking down the building where votes were being counted, evicting reporters and poll observers. George Bush won 72 percent of the county’s more than 92,000 votes. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security later denied issuing such a warning for Warren County. In Carteret County, North Carolina, an electronic voting machine lost about 4,400 votes, forcing a new election. And reports of vote suppression were widespread, such as in predominantly minority neighborhoods that mysteriously lacked voting machines. While some of the vote tabulation errors around the country were corrected, the unverifiability of the vote and the wholesale disenfranchisement of communities can not be. Which is why, for only the second time in over 125 years, there was a congressional challenge to the certification of the Electoral College vote in January 2005.
Going to the voting booth in November 2004, did the average American even know that the Iraq war has been a catastrophe? Not if they relied on the corporate media, especially TV, for news. Trotting out the same generals, journalists, and officials who confidently parroted the administration line before the war, the networks now turn to them for an assessment of how things are going. And what a surprise: From where they sit, the war is right on track. The only problem is that for some bewildering reason, the rest of the world hates us. Consider this exchange on CNN, as reported by Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books: “On October 15  former General George Joulwan discussed with Wolf Blitzer the need for Americans to do a better job of explaining to Muslims how much they’d done for them over the years. Blitzer agreed: ‘I don’t think a lot of Muslims understand that over the past fifteen years, every time the U.S. has gone to war, whether in Kuwait, or Somalia, or Kosovo, or Bosnia, or Afghanistan or Iraq, it’s to help Muslims.’ Joulwan: ‘We’ve saved tens of thousands of them. We need to understand that, and so do our Muslim friends.’ ”
During the 2004 election, where were the Democrats on the Iraq debacle? They were crippled. Senator John Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, and most congressional Democrats supported Bush’s move into Iraq, even promising to send more troops into the quagmire if elected. Kerry infuriated many of his supporters and delighted the Republicans when he stated in August 2004 that had he known in 2002 what he knew today, he still would have voted to authorize Bush to use force.
The media dutifully reflected this narrow spectrum of “debate” between Democrats and Republicans about war and peace in 2004, and once again largely froze out alternative voices. Kerry appealed to Bush’s base, assuming that war opponents would have no choice but to support him. He lost on both counts: Bush’s base preferred the real Republican. People opposed to war were left with no major-party candidate who spoke for them. One result: Less than 60 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in 2004; Bush “won” with a mere 30 percent of the eligible votes. For a nation that equates elections with democracy, U.S. voter turnout ranks dead last among the leading industrialized countries. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the United States places 139th out of 172 countries for average voter turnout, lagging behind countries such as Italy, Albania, Namibia, and Mongolia, all of which boast voter turnouts of over 80 percent. As for Americans under the age of 30, half of them chose not to vote at all in 2004. Rather than galvanize his base, Kerry ran away from it.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once warned: “As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air—however slight—lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
America is now in that twilight zone. It is time for people of conscience to act—and they are. The oily politicians and the media that love them are confronting the limits of their power. Soldiers such as Jeremy Hinzman and Jimmy Massey are refusing to kill or be killed for a lie. Democracy works only when people can fully inform themselves and debate issues freely. When the people feel betrayed by those they trust to tell them the truth, they rebel. That is a good and hopeful thing: Democracy dies hard. People are tuning out the propaganda and turning to independent media and unembedded voices.
A new generation is becoming—what the media should be—the exception to the rulers.
—A. G., New York
D. G., Vermont
The Silenced Majority
THE TROOPS MARCHED SLOWLY up the road, their U.S.-made M-16s in the ready position. It was November 12, 1991, a day that would forever be seared into my memory, and into history. I was in Dili, the capital of East Timor, a small island nation 300 miles north of Australia. East Timor had been brutally occupied by Indonesian troops for sixteen years, since they invaded in 1975. The Indonesian military had sealed off East Timor from the outside world and turned it into their private killing field. A third of the population—200,000 Timorese—had died. It was one of the worst genocides of the late twentieth century.
I had just attended mass at the main church in Dili with Allan Nairn, journalist and activist, then writing for The New Yorker magazine. After the service, thousands marched toward the Santa Cruz cemetery to remember Sebastião Gomes, yet another young man killed by Indonesian soldiers. The people came from all over: workplaces, homes, villages, and farms. They traveled through a geography of pain: In almost every other building, Timorese had been held or tortured, disappeared or killed. Whether it was a police station or a military barracks, a hotel or an officer’s house, no place was beyond reach of the terror. Not even the church was safe. It was about 8 a.m. when we reached the cemetery.
We had asked people along the way: “Why are you marching? Why are you risking your lives to do this?”
“I’m doing it for my mother,” one replied. “I’m doing it for my father,” said another. “I’m doing it for freedom.”
In the distance, we heard an eerie, synchronized beat. Suddenly we saw them. Many hundreds of Indonesian troops coming up the road, twelve to fifteen abreast. People grew very quiet.
We knew the Indonesian military had committed many massacres in the past, but never in front of Western journalists. Allan suggested we walk to the front of the crowd, hoping that our presence could head off what looked like an impending attack. I put on my headphones, took out my tape recorder—I usually kept these hidden so as not to endanger Timorese caught talking to us—and held up my microphone like a flag. Allan put his camera above his head, and we went and stood in the middle of the road, about fifteen yards in front of the crowd. By visibly showing the tools of our trade, we hoped to alert the troops that this time they were being watched.
A hush fell over the Timorese. Those in the back could run, but the thousands of people in front were trapped by the cemetery walls that lined both sides of the road. The main sound was the rhythmic thump of boots hitting the road as the troops marched in unison toward the people. Children whispered behind us. Then, without any warning or provocation, the soldiers rounded the corner, swept past us, raised their U.S.-made weapons, and opened fire.
People were ripped apart. The troops just kept shooting, moving their guns from left to right, killing anyone still standing.
A group of soldiers surrounded me. They started to shake my microphone in my face as if to say, This is what we don’t want. Then they slammed me to the ground with their rifle butts and started to kick me with their boots. I gasped for breath. Allan threw himself on top of me to protect me from further injury.
The soldiers wielded their M-16s like baseball bats. They slammed them against Allan’s head until they fractured his skull. For a moment, Allan lay in the road in spasm, covered in blood, unable to move. Suddenly, about a dozen soldiers lined up like a firing squad. They put the guns to our heads and screamed, “Politik! Politik!” They were accusing us of being involved in politics, a crime clearly punishable by death. They also demanded, “Australia? Australia?”
We understood what was at stake with this question. In October 1975, Indonesian soldiers had executed five Australia-based television journalists in an attempt to cover up a military incursion leading up to the December 7, 1975, invasion of East Timor. On December 8, Australian journalist Roger East, the only other Western reporter left in East Timor, was dragged out of a radio station in Dili down to the harbor and shot.
Almost exactly sixteen years later, as Allan and I lay on the ground surrounded by Indonesian soldiers, we shouted, “No, we’re from America!” They had stripped us of our possessions, but I still had my passport. I threw it at them. When I regained my breath, I said again, “We’re from America! America!”
Finally, the soldiers lowered their guns from our heads. We think it was because we were from the same country their weapons were from. They would have to pay a price for killing us that they never had to pay for killing Timorese.
At least 271 Timorese died that day, in what became known as the Santa Cruz massacre. Indonesian troops went on killing for days. It was not even one of the larger massacres in East Timor, and it wouldn’t be the last. It was simply the first to be witnessed by outsiders.
“A Sanctuary for Dissent”
GOING TO WHERE the silence is. That is the responsibility of a journalist: giving a voice to those who have been forgotten, forsaken, and beaten down by the powerful. It is the best reason I know to carry our pens, cameras, and microphones into our own communities and out to the wider world.
I am a journalist from Pacifica Radio, the only independent media network broadcasting in the United States. It was founded in 1949 by a man named Lew Hill, a pacifist who had refused to fight in World War II. When he came out of a detention camp after the war, he said the United States needed a media outlet that wasn’t run by corporations profiting from war. His vision was of an independent network run by journalists and artists—not by “corporations with nothing to tell and everything to sell that are raising our children today,” in the words of journalism professor George Gerbner, founder of the “cultural environment” movement.
KPFA, the first Pacifica station, began in Berkeley, California. FM radio was in its infancy at the time, so KPFA had to make and give out FM radios in order for people to hear the station. As would happen so many times in the decades that followed, Pacifica Radio tried something no one thought would work—building a network based on the financial support of individual listeners. This marked the birth of listener-sponsored media in this country, a model later used by National Public Radio and public television.
The Pacifica network grew to five stations: KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York, WPFW in Washington, and KPFT in Houston. In 1970, KPFT became the only radio station in the United States to have its transmitter blown up. The Ku Klux Klan did it. In 1981, the KKK’s Grand Wizard claimed that his greatest act “was engineering the bombing of a left-wing radio station,” because he understood how dangerous Pacifica was.
Pacifica is a sanctuary for dissent. In the fifties, when the legendary singer and African-American leader Paul Robeson was whitelisted during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts, banned from almost every public space in the United States but for a few black churches, he knew he could go to KPFA and be heard. The great writer James Baldwin, debating Malcolm X about the effectiveness of nonviolent sit-ins in the South, broadcast over the airwaves of WBAI.
Today, Pacifica continues that tradition. My colleagues at WBAI, including Elombe Brath and the late Samori Marksman, have taught me how a local radio station can be the gateway to a rich world. Samori was a pan-Africanist who taught me so much about the history of Africa and the Caribbean. Elombe Brath has long provided a voice for leaders of African liberation movements. These men made the whole world our community. Great African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, and Julius Nyerere were local voices to WBAI’s listeners. In his role as WBAI program director, Samori would call me into his office under the pretext of discussing some bureaucratic minutiae. I would emerge three hours later, newly educated about a liberation movement in Africa or the Caribbean.
It’s still much the same. On any given day, you can listen to the news on CNN or National Public Radio, then tune in to a Pacifica station. You would think you were hearing reports from different planets.
We inhabit the same planet, but we see it through different lenses. On community airwaves, color isn’t what sports commentators provide, and it isn’t the preserve of a “diversity” reporter. We are a cross section of races, ethnicities, and social classes explaining the world we see around us.
Take, for example, my WBAI colleague Errol Maitland. In March 2000, while he was reporting live from the funeral of Patrick Dorismond—a Haitian-American who was shot and killed by police—Errol attempted to interview New York City police who were moving in on the crowd of mourners. We listened as he tried to question police, who then threw him to the ground. Errol was beaten by New York City police officers and had to be hospitalized for weeks. When I visited him in the hospital, I found him handcuffed to his bed. All for what? For reporting while black.
It was stories like Errol’s, in New York and around the world, that my WBAI colleague Bernard White and I took on each day for a decade on the morning show Wake Up Call. We heard people speak for themselves, instead of hearing them defined by officialdom. Bernard, a former New York City schoolteacher, has deep roots in the community. Whether in the classroom, on air, or as Samori’s successor as WBAI program director, Bernard’s idea of education is to have people tell their own stories, document their own lives.
I began hosting Democracy Now! in 1996, when it was launched as the only daily election show in public broadcasting. Listener response was enormous. Suddenly the daily struggles of ordinary people—workers, immigrants, artists, the employed and the unemployed, those with homes and those without, dissidents, soldiers, people of color—were dignified as news. I call it trickle- up journalism. These are the voices that shape movements—movements that make history. These are people who change the world just as much as generals, bankers, and politicians. They are the mainstream, yet they are ignored by the mainstream media.
After the 1996 election, we decided to continue the show as a daily grassroots political newshour. When the media began beating the drums of war after September 11, 2001, Democracy Now! expanded to television and became the largest public media collaboration in the country. We now broadcast on hundreds of community radio and public access TV stations. We beam out over satellite television and stream on the Internet at www.democracynow.org.*
Why has Democracy Now! grown so quickly? Because of the deafening silence in the mainstream media around the issues—and the people—that matter most. People are now confronting the most important issues of the millennium: war and peace, life and death. Yet who is shaping the discourse? Generals, corporate executives, and government officials.
In a media landscape where there are more channels than ever, the lack of any diversity of opinion is breathtaking—and boring. As my colleague Juan Gonzalez often says, “You can surf through hundreds of channels before you realize there is nothing on TV.” In a society where freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution, our media largely acts as a megaphone for those in power.
That’s why people are so hungry for independent media—and are starting to make their own.
VIBRANT DEBATE AND dissent exist in this country, but you are not reading or hearing about this in the mainstream press.
If you are opposed to war, you are not a fringe minority. You are not a silent majority. You are part of a silenced majority. Silenced by the mainstream media.
After 9/11 the media personalities on television—you can’t call many of them journalists—kept saying that 90 percent of Americans were for war.
- On Sale
- Apr 7, 2004
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Hachette Books