Living legend Noam Chomsky argues convincingly on behalf of Hume's Paradox, namely that there is more propaganda in democracies than in dictatorships. He says this occurs because control of thought is "more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states. (Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, 1992, Hill and Wang.)
Ironically, this perspective is not shared by many well-informed Americans. Yet the propaganda is all around us. On the subject of foreign policy, it is mere child's play to isolate the phenomenon.
For example, the news that two dissidents (Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Belo) from East Timor received the Nobel Peace Prize this year could have been a great opportunity for the mainstream press to come clean on US involvement there. The evidence that Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter abetted Indonesia's genocidal 1975 seizure of that tiny, oil-rich land is incontrovertible but is rarely mentioned inside this country.
With their initial coverage, the Washington Post (10/12/96) elected to print nary a word that might damage the reputation of one man we know as a clumsy golf fanatic; nor his successor, the humble, peacenik, Southern liberal. Quite contrarily, we are told "The award...confers greater legitimacy on a movement that Indonesia has labeled as illegitimate, insignificant, unrepresentative of the East Timorese population and prone to wild exaggeration of human rights abuses. Thus, the opinion of a government responsible for a bloodbath more deadly per targeted population than the Nazis managed is given a prominent platform to discredit the Nobel laureates.'# (It should be noted that Mary McGrory, of the Washington Post, (10/17/96), condemned the Clinton Administration's planned selling of nine F-16 jet fighters to Indonesia without mentioning the US role in backing the 1975 invasion. This perspective defined the extreme left of permissible opinion in our mainstream media.)
In keeping with the official doctrine, our wretched Sun instructs us in an editorial (10/12/96) that "The Norwegian committee that bestows the Nobel Peace Prize often surprises the world with their decisions...[It is] no stranger to controversy." In other words, the Nobel committee (which in the past has honored Milton Friedman and Henry Kissenger) has become an outfit on the wacko fringe of thought.
Let us not confuse propaganda with poor writing. It is no accident that the Sun chose a title ("Against Asian land grabs") for their editorial that suggests what happened far away is not our concern. Nor is it any surprise to read that "the controversy over East Timor...pales in comparison with regional confrontations that have been developing in recent months...in the South China Sea".
These coincidences occur with such frequency that one can only conclude that the Sun is trying to report on East Timor in the best possible light for Ford, Carter, the Indonesian generals, and the Fortune 500 companies who now stand to benefit from the booty obtained from killing, torturing and starving one third of the inhabitants of a tiny island.
Now, if the reader believes it was just local newspapers that served up propaganda on 10/12-guess again. The New York Times similarly offered a prominent position to mention that the Indonesian government dismisses the award given to Ramos-Horta. Below the news story the Times had a sidebar which offered a doctored version of the history of East Timor. In the first paragraph we are told that after East Timor gained its independence from Portugal, "civil war plunged it into chaos and Indonesia invaded, annexing the country a year later and imposing a harsh new rule." Now, I have never heard before that a "civil war" was taking place in East Timor prior to the invasion. However, it certainly seems like the juxtaposition of "chaos" and "invaded" is meant to imply that the East Timorese murdered by Indonesia's generals were saved from a far worse fate at home.
Later in the sidebar we're told told that "...[the US] maintains that there was never an act of self-determination by the Timorese and has repeatedly criticized Indonesia." So the US has criticized General Suharto?! For another opinion:
"Despite ten U.N. resolutions condemning the invasion and calling for Jakarta's immediate withdrawal, the United States has never seriously contested Indonesia's annexation of East Timor. Indeed, successive U.S. administrations have provided Jakarta with hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance... (Matthew Jardine, Knight-Ridder, 10/13/95)."
In addition, when Suharto visited the White House early in the Clinton Administration, our President (who is well-connected to Indonesia's big business) declared him to be "our kind of guy." Also, we're selling him those F-16s. But these are mere facts, and hardly "news fit to print."
Elsewhere towing the line was the Associated Press, which likewise gave Indonesia a forum without mentioning US involvement. The Richmond-Times Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and the Miami Herald took the AP feed without further comment. The Boston Globe took it and added an editorial which again failed to mention the US role. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution failed to mention the US role in its news commentary, and reprinted the previously mentioned Washington Post's commentary. And, the Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted the WashPost's commentary with no further comment.
In such a fashion, propaganda spreads like wildfire in the US. And, judging from the number of independent sources all suppressing the US role in yet another foreign massacre, one could safely conclude that more propaganda is seen here in the US than in a dictatorship, which typically has only a couple of news sources under state control.
These and many other astonishing discoveries are possible when one reads material, such as the writings of the great Noam Chomsky, that is outside the mainstream.
The mainstream press's coverage of the U.S. role in the plight of East Timor reveals how propaganda can spread easily in a free society.