Editor Margaret Sullivan Spins a Myth
Michael I. Niman ArtVoice,
March 20, 2003
Buffalo News editor Margaret Sullivan is at it again – with another shameless round of self-adoration and praise for her paper. Columns in the mainstream press, such as Sullivan’s Sunday, March 9th piece, entitled, “A healthy debate, and solid information, as war comes ever closer,” are usually designed to directly counter some unspoken truth or reality. In this case, the reality that it attacks head-on is that this has been a bad month for The News, which has been censured for its professional transgressions in two national publications.
National Shame for The News
The more noteworthy criticism came from the prestigious Columbia
Journalism Review, a nonpartisan industry watchdog.
They slammed The News “for
roaming too far from the journalistic range.”
Their complaint centered around a book written by The
News’ managing editor, Stephen Bell, and “sponsored by” the pro-Pataki
Business Council of New York State Inc. The
book, entitled, “Upstate New York: Corridor to Progress,” counters what the Columbia
Journalism Review describes as “the grim economic realities of Upstate New
York – the shut-down businesses, the lost jobs, the exodus of talent, the
disappearing services,” with a rosy-colored fantasy of a coming economic boom.
The Business Council’s president described
Observers see the purpose of
The other attack against The
News is in a piece I wrote for the
Is The News Half Empty or Half
This brings us to the current situation.
Sullivan is once again touting the public’s right to know what is going
on, and her paper’s role in informing us, as we go off to war.
She writes: “As the
Regarding her paper’s news coverage of the
This was to be Sullivan’s crown jewel of unbiased and
comprehensive reportage – but instead it reads like one of George W. Bush’s
coloring books. It follows Saddam
Hussein’s life as if the recent history of
1920 – British take control of
1960 – CIA launched failed attempt
1963 – Ba’ath party succeeds in killing Kassem and seizing power in a coup. They would later lose power themselves for a short while before retaking and solidifying their control over the country.
1972 – President Nixon meets with
the Shah of Iran. The Shah asks the
1973 – The OPEC oil cartel succeeds
in controlling the price of oil and increasing its political power over the
1975 – Shah decides to cozy up with
1980 – Iran-Iraq war begins. US supplies both sides. 1.5 million people die.
1983 (Early November) – US
Secretary of State George Shultz becomes aware of
1983 (Late November) – President
Reagan orders subordinates to do “whatever is necessary” to make sure
1983 (December) – Donald Rumsfeld
meets with Saddam Hussein in
1984 – US fails to condemn
1985-1989 – US supplies
1988 – Iran-Iraq war ends.
1989 – CIA asks Kuwaiti officials
1990 – Cold war ends.
Members of congress demand “peace dividend” in form of cuts to
military budget and increases in spending on domestic social programs.
President Bush Sr. resists military cuts while his popularity sinks from
the highs he enjoyed immediately after the
1990 (July 25) – US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, tells Saddam Hussein, “We have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts like your border dispute with Kuwait,” in effect giving Iraq a green light to invade Kuwait.
1990 (July 27) – President Bush Sr.
opposes sanctions against
1990 (July 31) – John Kelly,
Assistant Secretary of State repeats Glaspie’s assertion that the
1990 (August 2) –
1990-1991 – US drops 177,000 pounds
of bombs on
1998 – UN orders weapons inspectors
This information alone does not tell the whole story of Iraqi-US-UK relations. But that’s my point. Neither does the partial list of info-bits provided by the news. It’s only when you combine the two lists that we begin to get a picture of what is going on. The point, here, is that Sullivan is still not living up to her responsibility as an editor – yet she’s wasting a lot of valuable newsprint creating the myth that she is.
In her piece, she boasts about Jerry Zremski’s role in
covering the coming war. Readers of
this column might recognize his name. He’s
the writer who undercounted anti-war demonstrators by a factor of ten.
He’s now being “embedded… with US Army forces” who will be
Killing Real Journalists
Reporters who have entered Iraq on their own have already had their lives threatened by US military commanders, with Pentagon officials recently telling European journalists that US forces will lock on their satellite-uplink signals and fire upon them. When veteran BBC war correspondent Kate Adie questioned a Pentagon official about the deadly consequences, he replied, “Who cares… they’ve been warned.” Of course, The News’ Jerry Zremski will face no such problems as he files his official stories with the help of the Pentagon. But by playing by these rules, he ceases to be a journalist and The News ceases to be a newspaper. They’re just, as media critic David Barsamian puts it, “stenographers to power.”
The real problem is that the American corporate media now constitutes the most powerful anti-democratic (small “d”) force on the planet – with The Buffalo News entrenched in the middle of this posse. Warren Buffet, the owner of The News, is the second richest person on the planet as of today. His money is invested in the oil/energy sector, weapons, fast food, entertainment and so on – basically all the industries The News often gives too easy of a ride. Some reporters, such as Jerry Zremski, relish their kiss-assive roles. Many others, however, don’t – they’re just playing by a set of rules they had nothing to do with establishing.
It’s our job as media consumers to demand better – and if The Buffalo News won’t provide that balanced coverage, we must find it elsewhere. Our responsibility as citizens of a democratic society demands nothing less from us. Stay informed!
Dr. Michael I.
Niman’s previous columns are archived at http://mediastudy.com/articles.
Recent columns are available in PDF form at