Chapter Two: THE ESTABLISHMENT IDEOLOGY
Before we get too much further into this book, I should probably define myself in a bit more detail. I realize we are all biased in one way or another, so let me explain the things that make up my biases.
I am a white male. I haven’t researched my ethnicity, but imagine I am descended from Western European immigrants.
I come from a “broken home”. My parents divorced before I entered grade school. I was raised by my mother and my grandparents.
I am a veteran. I was a pilot during the Vietnam War, flying the F-105G Thunderchief. I was based in Thailand, and flew missions over Vietnam and Cambodia during 1972 and 1973.
I am a product of public education in the United States. I attended public schools in Oregon and California, was a freshman at the University of California in Berkeley (Go Bears!), and graduated from the USAF Academy in Colorado. I attended graduate school at Purdue University (MS in Engineering) and got an MBA from Denver University. American taxpayers paid for most of my education, including my use of the GI Bill to attend DU.
My religious background is a bit muddy. I started out as a Presbyterian, but ended up a member of The Federated Church when we moved to a small town in Northern California (Crescent City). I think the town was not big enough to support both a Presbyterian and a Methodist constituency, so the two denominations joined forces as The Federated Church.
I married my wife in a Catholic ceremony, and have attended Catholic services with her since then. While I would technically classify my religion as “Protestant”, I have to say that I am not a religious person. I did not receive the “gift of faith”.
With that being said, I hope I have not alienated anyone. Like each of you, I consider myself to be a “normal person”. I am a work in progress, and am thankful to be able to enjoy the life experience.
But back to the story…
The year 2004 was an awakening for me. After that “CBS News Sunday Morning” episode I watched earlier, I was a changed man. Rather than simply listen to the news, I began to look for patterns and themes in the presentation. I had always assumed that our news organizations were dedicated to providing information and understanding, and to a great extent that is true. However, the “understanding” part of the mission is where things get sticky. One can be given information, but based on the techniques used in the presentation of that information, you can understand it in dramatically different ways.
Probably the most obvious example is in the coverage of the Middle East. Like most of you, prior to 2001 I had never heard of Al Jazeera. Although it is an established news network, it doesn’t disseminate much of its information in English, and all of us with Basic Cable TV service didn’t find it included in our list of channels.
All that changed after the United States began military operations in Afghanistan. We were treated to mob scenes of people showing their hatred for the United States. Often, the footage would be courtesy of the Al Jazeera network. It seemed that while the United States thought it was doing good things, the depiction through the lens of an Al Jazeera cameraman was something different.
I can remember news programs where commentators would try to explain the reason that the coverage by Al Jazeera took on such a different tone from the coverage of the other news services. The common perception was that the coverage was simply “cultural”. We in the United States expect a certain point of view, while people in the Middle East expect a different point of view. News networks (including Al Jazeera) simply reflect their respective dominant cultures.
I could accept that. I didn’t like that Al Jazeera was fanning anti-American sentiment, but if that’s what they had to do to stay in business, so be it. What was more interesting was that what I considered to be “anti-American sentiment” was perceived as the cultural norm by Al Jazeera. The right thing for them to do was to lace anti-American themes throughout their coverage.
When military operations began in Iraq, Al Jazeera stayed true to form. They embellished their coverage with footage of actual combat operations, this time showing images of urban fighters shooting at the enemy. The unspoken message of the images was that the enemy was the American soldier.
That theme seemed to be picked up by the BBC. During the fighting leading up to the fall of Baghdad, the BBC coverage depicted the American effort as being flawed, while the Iraqi resistance was depicted as being confident and determined. I can remember being frustrated by the coverage from the reporters embedded with U. S. forces that simply showed military vehicles moving through the desert. Their reports confirmed that military operations were being conducted, but the BBC reports provided context and theme: Americans were milling around in sandstorms while Baghdad was secure and confident.
I did a lot of channel-surfing, trying to get the full story. The coverage of Iraq was different depending on what channel you were watching. I gradually lost loyalty to any single network. I began to see differences in not only network coverage, but in the individuals reporting the news. Analysts had different perspectives, depending on their backgrounds. I began to choose favorites. I really liked Col. David Hunt. His gravelly voice and shoot-from-the-hip responses were refreshing. He exuded credibility and honesty.
Let me pause for a moment and summarize some thoughts. I grew up using newspapers and newsmagazines as sources for school reports. It never occurred to me that the reports might not be accurate. Similarly, the Six O’Clock News on television seemed to be an unimpeachable source. It provided a summarization of the events of the day, letting us know what was important in the world.
I was attracted to a news program based upon the style of the commentator or upon a signature segment that was fun. (Think in terms of Andy Rooney on “60 Minutes”.) The information presented was simply that: information. What I didn’t realize was that there was a theme associated with the information. There was a specific way in which the events of the day were being represented. That was the “substance” of the newscast. As long as the theme fit with my cultural perspective, I didn’t notice it. I could even be moved out of my comfortable space with an occasional jarring news message as long as it was temporary and not too frequent. Life was good!
But I have to say our American military involvement in the Middle East caused me to re-think my perceptions. Here were daily examples of people who hated me because I was born in America. Places of worship were being used to store weapons, and that was OK. Hospitals and schools were being used as fortresses, and nobody took exception. People were using beheadings and summary execution to make political points, and they were classified as freedom-fighters or “The Resistance”. All of a sudden, things going on in that part of the world were on the front page of the newspapers. Anti-Americanism was the cultural norm.
And what about the suicide attacks? This was a most difficult concept to understand. I like to think of these things as an aberration, but there was a whole culture that glorified them. Should that culture be celebrated for its diversity? What if that culture is dedicated to the proposition of destroying MY life? Must I be tolerant of such a culture?
Regardless of how I felt, there were a lot of people with a strong anti-American bias. I know it’s not everyone in the Middle East (Israelis being the most obvious exception), but the programs presented by Arabian TV certainly conveyed the impression that the cultural norm was to hate Americans. One felt comfortable if that was the way you felt. Others with whom you associated were anti-American, and even if you didn’t know them, you assumed they felt a hatred for America. Hating Americans was simply the expected thing to do. These were not abstract notions. Americans were being killed by people bent on performing individual acts of suicide to show their religious faith; people would strap on an explosive vest with the same sense of reverie as others might take communion. It was a jarring mindset to behold.
But if anti-American culture is the norm in the Middle East, what would be our norm in North America? Is there a dominant ideological culture here? What is The Establishment teaching us?
This is where things start to get interesting.
In North America, the dominant culture is anti-Republican.