When I talk about how US journalists lied in the coverage of the Civil War in the former Yugoslavia, the first thing the deniers try to do is paint me as some sort of Right-wing conspiracy loon of Serbian heritage who cannot handle the truth. Perhaps I am like Pamela Gellar. Maybe I am just in denial because I am some sort of deluded and hysterical woman who lies as women tend to be, according to those same deniers.
You can read my books about journalism, particularly Don't Believe It!: How lies become news or OutFoxed. I have researched the topic of media honesty for years -- and my conclusions are: (a) there is no conspiracy in journalism, just a bunch of lazy followers who all copy one another if they are not shamelessly cribbing from press releases, (b) Left-wing publications do it at the same frequency and severity as those on the Right, and (c) most collectives have been targets of hoaxes and propaganda at one time or another, from Muslims to Christians to atheists. People are people.
I had never pretended that in that war that Serbs wore the halos. In none of my hundreds of letters of complaint to various media outlets did I ever imply anything of the sort, unlike the other warring sides who had large public relations firms make the claim that this was a genocide and not a war.
At the time of the war, the leaders of both Croatia and Bosnia had written their own racist monographs, while the Serbian leaders, for all of their faults and opulence at their own people's expense -- never did. Even after the war, you still find Croatian sports teams chanting fascist expressions, and many wear the symbol that was born during their fascist phase during the Second World War. That would be like Germans strutting around in 2018 wearing Swastikas and then the news media ignoring it as if it weren't some sort of a trigger to Jews. Even in one recent Harvard study looking at racist attitudes in Europe, what remained silent, but showed in their findings was of all the European nations, Serbia was found to be the most tolerant. During Syrian refugee crisis, those Syrians who made it to Serbia found a refuge, and had openly said it, not that the media bothered to report it.
Serbia for decades had a significant black population. It also has a sizeable Asian population, but from the press coverage of the day, you would have never have known about any visible minorities because the Western news media completely ignored them, which, I admit, was a feat, such as covering Chicago or New York City for years and never showing a single African American or Latino. It was, as if, everyone in that broken down country was white, even the Muslim population (which most of them were, including members of my own family. I am an Orthodox Christian, but as I have repeatedly said, my background is mixed).
To understand how much of the confirmation bias skewered the press coverage of the war, I will skew World War Two to demonstrate: there were British soldiers who were the aggressors, killing and capturing thousands of Germans during the conflict.
All I did was ignore the fact that those Germans were soldiers and had decided to expand their nation at the expense of others, no matter what it took to do it.
And yet the Western media blithely did the same, and have never been made accountable for their intellectual sins against truth and reality.
The Yugoslav conflict was never about "nationalism". That was what culturally unschooled Western journalists decided because they saw Eastern Europeans as lesser people who weren't as worldly as they were, and because they had so very little going for them being primitive rubes and all, national pride was their only motive.
It wasn't. It wasn't even the motive for the Croatian slaughter of Serbs in the Second World War, where most of my grandmother's Bosnian Serbian family were murdered (my grandmother's mother was not Serbian, however). It was about grabbing land and taking material goods and money away from those they murdered. One set of soldiers stole one Jewish man's stamp collection because it was more impressive than that of their then leader, and when the jig was up, those same "nationalist" soldiers grabbed their ill-gotten gains, abandoned their homeland, beelined straight for the Vatican to find them new countries to live in without worrying about facing war crimes, or ever having to be accountable for their lunatic bigotry.
It was always about the money. It was about the money in World War Two, and it was about the money during the Civil War. War is war, and in war, the only thing that speaks in that anarchy is money.
Western journalism was always a primitive machine. It is akin to a calculator that can only add or subtract up to 2. It is binary by nature, and incapable of seeing complexity to nuance. Good guy, bad guy. Us, Them. Win, lose.
That's about it.
It is very easy for people whose reputation and lives were ruined by journalists to believe it is all a cabal and Illuminati controlling everything from the shadows, and that it is all a vast conspiracy, as Hillary Clinton believed herself when publicly confronted by a television personality about Bill's chronic exploding penis problem. The woman didn't study, toil through multiple universities, and enter the white collar and political worlds just to be remembered as the long-suffering wife who had to talk about her husband's active sex life with other women other than her to the whole world.
Conspiracy requires an element of sophistication and a proactive approach, the way Canadian supermarkets price fixed bread.
But journalists chase after stories. They are poorly trained. They are narcissists who crave attention and excitement as they tell people what to think. They copy each other as they gossip behind each others' backs. Conspiracy? Try incompetency.
It is the reason public relations firms could manipulate press coverage for so long. It is the reason political dirty tricks could unfold with unerring precision. There is no real challenge. Whoever reaches journalists first got to control the optics and the narrative.
It is like shooting fish in a barrel.
It is not as if journalists aren't conniving, but they are predictably conniving. Once upon a time when you could woo elusive sources to get that "exclusive" interview, the fawning praise and promises reporters spewed to snare their next catch could be obnoxious. Every once in a while, a newsmaker would leak those letters to prove a point. These days, he can just write on Facebook and bypass the press entirely, destroying the concept of exclusive for the profession.
Journalism's woes come from its own war with truth. It is about creating simplistic narratives that will get attention. It means spinning facts: enhancing them or down playing them in certain ways.
To understand how lies infect the information stream, let me take a quick detour into two seemingly unrelated topics and then explain how those structures were also present in journalism:
(1) About a decade ago, there had been a scandal as many dogs and cats died as a result of tainted food. There was a mass recall, but the funny thing was that different pet food companies had tainted product, as did cheap food and the most expensive. On the surface, it made no sense. How could all of these companies and products have the same problem, regardless of ownership and price point of the food? Wouldn't different companies have different suppliers, and wouldn't cheap food be made of something different than the expensive ones?
The answer was a shocking no. The companies all relied on the same company to provide the ingredients. Choice and diversity of product was an illusion. It was also an illusion that more expensive pet food was made of superior quality product. It all came from the same infected vat. The same super-source of the product was disseminated by various companies who used it throughout their entire line of wet food. You could have hundreds of different cans and pouches, but it was a forced choice: it didn't matter what you picked, it was tainted at the same point.
(2) The illusion of choice is also present in non-food products. For example, say you are in the market to buy a pair of sunglasses, and you go to a department store. You look at the label, and prefer Designer X over Designer Y because you think there is a difference in quality.
But are they different?
If they are owned by the same parent company, chances are, they are made in the same factory. The illusion is that you are giving your money to one label over another, when, in fact, they are lining the same pockets. Your purchase of Designer X means very little.
But look at the bar code and you will see a number -- the number indicates where it was manufactured, as in which factory. You may have two sunglasses from the same label, but they were made by two different third-party manufacturers who bid on different contracts -- and it is more than possible for two different companies to use the same manufacturers to make their competing products.
So you may decide to buy two sunglasses from rival companies, not realizing they were made in the same factory.
If you do not have the facts, you do not know what is real choice, what is forced choice, and what is, in fact, no choice.
This is your daily reality, from the food you eat to the clothes you wear to the smart phone you use.
And even the news you consume.
The above sleight of hand game to make you falsely believe you have variety and choice was glaringly obvious to me when I was a university student who was upset at the bigoted coverage of the Yugoslav conflict. I had been relentless in my writing to media outlets: I had written several letters every days for years. I never had a rest. My heart stopped whenever the music for a "news bulletin" came on. I was never "off."
At first, I just pointed out the inconsistencies, with those who answered being offended that I suggested that some of those scenes were staged by the warring sides for the benefit of journalists. Of course they were.
There so many glaring inconsistencies that I knew the Croats and the Muslims knew just how stupid and gullible those Western journalists were, and didn't actually try. One such faux attack had the Serbian cross all wrong.
See those four "Cs"? Their direction matters because each one represents a word in a motto (translated to roughly "Only Serbs will save themselves"...because no one else will bother to do it). The placement is symbolic, reminding Serbs to have each others' backs.
That cross has a long history. It is not some new-fangled thing thought up by Madison Avenue to sell more Burek or Pogacha.
Now, one television reporter in a story had shown a Serbian "atrocity" in his report, and claimed those soldiers left a symbol that it was them that looked just like this:
In what universe does a group of soldiers of the same nationality all not know how their ancient symbol looks like? The claim is absurd. Only someone who does not know the symbolism of the placement of the Cs would do such a thing. It is a Shibboleth.
So when you have people in 2018 dismiss the idea that they were given a stage show to win a war, they are being willfully ignorant. This is hardly the only example of it.
But there is a reason why the war in Yugoslavia has never been revisited -- because this was the war sold to the American people by the Left. This was Bill Clinton's war.
And journalists always took his side. They didn't just throw Serbs under a bus. They threw women under that same bus to protect him at all costs because he was white, a male, chummy with them, and was aligned with the Left and their narrative of always being more moral and right than anyone else on the planet.
Journalists usually go along with all wars, because wars bring in a steady stream of exciting stories and a spike in audiences, but there is a double standard in the modern age: Republican-led wars are to be supported until they are completed; then they are to be condemned. Democrat-led wars never get questioned.
When I see double standards, I usually begin to research to see how much and how far the deniers are willing to go to keep their narratives in check. If journalists were about finding truths in reality, then you have a hypothesis to test. In this case, the first order of business was to see where journalists were actually getting their information -- and when confronted with it, how would they counter it. Would they tell me they used first-hand primary sources, or would they rely on second-hand, or secondary sources.
It was a world of difference: one is direct evidence. The other is essentially hearsay.
When I wrote many of my letters, a flat-out asked where did the journalist find their information because what I had contradicted what they had. I was expecting a reply that said they interviewed eyewitnesses, soldiers, victims, and the like.
But it wasn't. For example, PBS's NewsHour Judy Woodruff had written to me to tell me her sources were two newspapers. That is not even a secondary source. If the newspaper relied on a wire service, and the wire service relied on a press release, then it doesn't matter how much media is out there -- they are all using the same source.
And as I continued writing letters and researching, I eventually discovered that just like the pet food scandal, journalists all relied on each other's reports as well as press releases. Very little of what was coming out came from primary sources. I was not the only one who noticed this peculiarity. Many independent researchers had said the truth was not coming out.
It didn't matter. Western journalism had their set narratives and copied each others, entrenching a narrative and there was no way they would admit they were fallible.
It was their war on truth. Passive pride was more important than facts, but it would eventually begin to erode on their own profession. If you spin narratives independent of facts for something as large as a war, then you do it for other things as well.
It began to alienate audiences, but they no longer had to stew in silence. Social media open the floodgates. People in power are pushing back as is journalism because free information prevents collective control. If you cannot control the stream of information, you cannot control the narrative, or manipulate outcomes.
But for journalism, it's too late. They never were in tune with the reality of their environment, and they were oblivious to the changing landscape. They used the same methods and mindsets, never realizing as they alienated people, those same people learned from it, and took advantage of social media to bypass the old guard.
Those lessons have been learned. But how a new system of information dissemination will thrive and replace the old guard is a new frontier -- for me, at least...