Opponents of the war against Serbia argue that much of what passes for news these days is really a kind of war propaganda, that NATO puts out misinformation and the media disseminates the stuff uncritically.
A case in point is the coverage of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. I download wire service reports from the AOL world news database accessible at aol://4344:30.WORLD.338815.464449182 if you are an AOL member. This allows me to see exactly how wire services and newspapers change the news from hour to hour. Very instructive for studying how misinformation is disseminated.
Studying misinformation is a special interest of mine. If you’d like to see some of my previous work in this area, send me a note and I’ll email you The Emperor’s Clothes, which analyzes how the NY Times misinformed its readers about the bombing of a Sudanese pill factory in August, 1998. firstname.lastname@example.org
Before we examine the news coverage of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy, let me recount a very interesting report from a Chinese intellectual, currently at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute, who spoke on May 8th at the weekly Boston anti-war rally (held at 3:00 every Sat. in Copley Square).
The man had conferred with people overseas and thus had direct knowledge of the attack on the Chinese Embassy. He said three missiles had struck the Embassy compound, hitting three apartments where one or both adult family members was a journalist. The missiles apparently carried a light explosive charge.
Why NATO Targeted Chinese Journalists
Why, asked the speaker, did all three missiles strike journalists’ apartments? Clearly, he said, the goal was to punish China for sympathizing with the Yugoslav people against NATO. More specifically, the intention was to terrorize Chinese newspeople in Yugoslavia, thus silencing yet another non-NATO information source.
Does that seem too nightmarish to be true? Keep in mind, NATO has consistently bombed Serbian news outlets with the stated intention of silencing sources of "lying propaganda." Why would it be so far-fetched for them to do the same to Chinese newspeople?
Perhaps NATO wants to silence ALL non-NATO reporting on the war, even at the risk of starting WW III. Or perhaps NATO, or a part of NATO, such as the US government, wants to provoke a fight with China before China gets too strong to be crushed. Let’s take a look at the "news" coverage.
Sorry, Wrong Building
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea’s first response to the Embassy bombing was a) to apologize and b) to explain that the NATO missiles had gone astray. NATO had intended to hit a building across the street, a building that houses what SHEA called the "Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement."
Said Shea: "’I understand that the two buildings are close together."'(Reuters, May 8)
If they ever catch the terrorists who bombed the US Embassy in Kenya and bring them to trial, could their legal team utilize the Shea Defense which consists of a) first you say I’m very sorry and b) then you say you meant to blow up the building across the street?
But getting back to the "news" — according to Shea the Chinese Embassy is close to the "Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement." But the Chinese Embassy is in fact located in the middle of a large lawn or park in a residential neighborhood and:
"The embassy stands alone in its own grounds surrounded by grassy open space on three sides. Rows of high-rise apartment blocs are located 200 (600 feet) metres away and a line of shops, offices and apartments sits about 150 meters (450 feet) away on the other side of a wide tree-lined avenue, [called]…Cherry Tree Street." (Reuters, 5/8)
What Nearby Building?
Apparently realizing that a "Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement" would not be placed in an apartment complex — or on a 1000 foot lawn – NATO spun a new story a few hours later:
"Three NATO guided bombs which slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade overnight struck precisely at the coordinates programmed into them, but it was not the building NATO believed it to be.
‘They hit bang on the three aim points they were given,’ a military source said….
[NATO military spokesman General Walter] Jertz declined to say what sort of weapon hit the Chinese embassy, except that it was ‘smart’ or guided munitions and not free-fall bombs. He denied planners were ‘using old maps, wrong maps.’" (Reuters, May 8)
OK. Three smart missiles or bombs hit the three locations they were supposed to hit. It was a misidentified target. And the Pilot(s) wasn’t misled by old or bad maps.
On the face of it, what is the likelihood of NATO picking target coordinates that just happen to coincide with three apartments occupied by journalists? I mean, one computer-guided bomb destroying a journalist’s home would not be unlikely. But three hitting three journalists’ homes?
Too Many Spokesmen
In the same Reuters story, another expert suggests it would be highly unlikely for NATO to make the kind of mistake Jertz is suggesting: "’Target identification and pilot preparation would have been extensive in this case, because of the military importance of the intended target and because Belgrade is heavily defended by Serb forces,’ [Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald, a strategic planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff] said at a briefing for reporters.
‘`’The way targeting works … the higher the threat, the more valued the target, the more time you would study it. The more time you have to study it, the better,’ Wald said."
Based on what Wald is saying here, isn’t it pretty much unlikely that an embassy would be mistaken for a "Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement?"
Too Many Names Which brings us to yet another problem. Because in the same May 8 Reuters Story the name of the place which NATO intended to bomb mysteriously changes – not once but twice. Read the following quote from General Jertz carefully:
"Careful to avoid making excuses, NATO military spokesman General Walter Jertz said NATO went after the target because it thought it was the weapons warehouse of the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement.
‘The information we had was that in this building was the headquarters of the Directorate, and we have no evidence that we were misled,’ he said."
So now the thing they thought they were bombing was:
a) the Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement;
b) Weapons warehouse of the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement; and
c) the headquarters of the Directorate.
No wonder they couldn’t be misled. They couldn’t even name the place.
And Too Many Missiles
NATO’S next spin-control effort was an attempt to simplify things. Retelling the story again a bit later on the 8th, AP reported that: "The precision-guided weapon that hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade apparently did just what it was told. .."
One weapon. That does make things more believable, unless of course the reader has seen the previous stories that refer to Three missiles. Since few people read multiple news stories about the same topic, and even fewer read them carefully, moving from three to one missile is a pretty safe gambit. But the problem still remained: how could NATO targeteers, pouring over their maps, not notice the label CHINESE EMBASSY on a building they were planning to bomb?
The Maps! It Was The Maps!
NATO’S answer: switch positions on the map question. What was the source of "the erroneous B-2 bomber attack, which dropped several satellite-guided bombs on the embassy"? Here’s the next explanation:
"In mistakenly targeting the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade Friday night, US intelligence officials were working from an outdated map issued before China built its diplomatic compound several years ago, American and NATO authorities said yesterday.
‘The tragic and embarrassing truth is that our maps simply did not show the Chinese Embassy anywhere in that vicinity,’ a senior NATO official said." (Washington Post, May 10)
Let’s consider the implications of what we’ve just read. First, the Post accepts without question NATO’S assertion that the embassy bombing was accidental. Indeed the Post doesn’t mention the highly newsworthy fact that the news accounts are so mutually contradictory. Doesn’t that tell us something about these news agencies, about their attitude toward NATO and this war? That they are really part of NATO’S public relations effort, dutifully reporting whatever they are told without pointing out the implications of NATO’S ever-evolving explanations. Doesn’t that suggest that we should be very skeptical about other media coverage – for example, the stories "proving" the Serbs are committing genocide?
Second, the claim that using "old maps" was the problem flatly contradicts an equally confident assertion made about 36 hours earlier by a NATO spokesman, General Jertz. You remember: "He [that is, Gen. Jertz] denied planners were ‘using old maps, wrong maps.’" (Reuters, May 8)
Third, consider the phrase "outdated map issued before China built its diplomatic compound several years ago." This phrase suggests NATO was using map-books or perhaps fold-up maps, the kind you take on a road trip. Is it conceivable that NATO would be using such ancient technology? What’s the matter, they can’t afford computers? They have no technical staff? We are after all talking about the combined armed forces of the US and most of Europe. The whole focus of their attack on Serbia is aerial bombardment. Aerial bombardment depends primarily on maps and intelligence. Doesn’t it fly in the face of rudimentary common sense — indeed of sanity — to believe that this super-technological military force would have anything but the most sophisticated mapping facilities, updated with satellite photos and local intelligence reports hourly, all of it in computerized war rooms with giant screens, scores of technical personnel, etc.
And isn’t it equally obvious, that that one thing such an armed force would have at its finger tips would be exact information about sensitive installations — such as diplomatic facilities — precisely to make sure they did not get bombed?
Unless of course NATO wanted them to be bombed.
And of all the diplomatic facilities in all of Yugoslavia, wouldn’t the one to which NATO would pay the most attention be the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade – both because of China’s immense world-importance and because it is Belgrade’s chief ally?
Of course NATO had up-to-date maps of the area around the Chinese Embassy. And of every square inch inside the Embassy and complete dossiers on all the people working in the Embassy as well.
Fourth, since NATO claims it decided to bomb the Embassy because of what the targeteers saw on these "old maps" – just what did the targeteers see? We are told they didn’t see the Embassy. Did they see something else they wanted to attack and destroy? Just what was this something else? Was it a building which housed some military facility? In the middle of a 1000 foot lawn in a residential section of the city? And if there is such a map with such a building, why doesn’t NATO produce this ancient document, and show it to us?
Fifth, the story says the bombs were delivered by a "B-2 bomber." The B-2’s fly out of a US base. (See The Toronto Star, 04-25-1999.)The base is in Missouri, so let us "be from Missouri" for a moment, and ask a couple of Missouri (that is skeptical) questions:
a) Keeping in mind that NATO has air bases in Italy – right near Yugoslavia – as well as aircraft carriers in nearby waters, is it really believable that the US government would send a super-expensive plane on an eight hour flight to deliver three smart missiles or bombs to a relatively minor site in Yugoslavia? (I say relatively minor because it took NATO two days to even get clear on the name of the institution they meant to bomb…)
b) Having made the unbelievable decision to send this plane on that mission, is it believable that the US military would do such a thing based on the information contained in some "outdated maps issued" years before?
And sixth — did you notice we are once again talking about multiple bombs or missiles?
Let Us Now Review NATO’s Stories
According to NATO there were three — NO, there was only one — smart bomb that hit the Chinese Embassy by mistake because it missed a building across the street that houses the "Federal Supply and Procurement Office."
NO, that wasn’t the problem. The missiles (because we’re back to three missiles again) didn’t miss — they hit right on target except it turned out the target was all wrong, wasn’t the Federal Supply and Procurement Office at all, it was the Chinese Embassy and somehow the targeteers got it all confused. But one thing is definite: the mix-up was not the result of using old maps.
But that’s not right either, because if a target is important a great deal of care is taken, and given that this was such an important target, even more care would be taken to make sure it really was the a) Federal Directory for the Supply and Procurement and … NO, that should be the b) Weapons Warehouse of the Federal Directorate for Supply and Procurement … NO, that isn’t right either. It wasn’t just a warehouse, it was the c) HEADQUARTERS of the Directorate and…
NO! Forget everything we’ve said so far. It was the maps. The maps were very old so you couldn’t tell that the building on that site was an Embassy. And there were three missiles, of course. Who ever said anything about there only being one?
And as for sending a B-2 bomber half way around the world to carry out this mistaken attack on a target whose name nobody can get straight, all I can say is: what damn fool went and admitted it was a B-2 bomber?
A Lawn, And Other Military Targets
This writer has spoken to a Serbian gentlemen whose family lives a few blocks from the Embassy. He says the Embassy was built 4 or 5 years ago and that prior to the building of the Embassy, the only thing there was: a park.
A letter from an American living in Belgrade says the embassy is in area called New Belgrade (Novi Beograd), developed from sand marsh land after World War II. She confirmed that the land on which the Embassy sits was unoccupied before it was built. However, she says "park" is too fancy a term, that it was just a huge lawn, with very few trees.
Therefore the notion that NATO could possess a map drawn before the Chinese Embassy was built which showed any building occupying the land on which the Embassy now stands is simply impossible. There was nothing there. Therefore NATO is lying.
Since NATO is lying, what are we are left with? There is the Chinese gentleman’s explanation. There is the possibility that this bombing is an intentional provocation, perhaps aimed at challenging China before China gets too big. There is the possibility that NATO and/or the US government was "delivering a message" to China — and to other would-be independent governments — that independence will be punished with death.
Also, keep in mind that the bombing occurred at the perfect time to disrupt German Prime Minister Schroder’s visit to China. The trip had economic motives and was also an attempt by Germany to enlist China in helping "settle" the war on terms favorable to Germany.
When Schroder returned from China he gave a press conference on May 19. Here’s what the NY Times says:
"At his news conference, even before he took questions, Mr. Schroder also challenged Washington’s official explanation for the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade – that target analysts relied on a faulty street map — by renewing his demand for a formal NATO inquiry into the bombing.
"Diplomats here say that Mr. Schroder, who just returned from China, was angry that a trip he had long planned to herald his chairmanship of the European Union was transformed into an official apology for the embassy bombing." (NY Times, 5-20-99)
Was the attack intended to ‘send a message’ not only to Beijing, but to Bonn?
In any case, it seems clear that the attack was planned, and that to make sure it went precisely according to that plan, the most sophisticated plane available was sent thousands of miles to deliver three bombs. NATO deliberately attacked the Chinese Embassy, killing 3 people. This was a high-tech execution.
The question is: What will NATO do next?
PS – This document has been read by several thousand people by now, and I’ve received quite a few responses. Perry, an American grad student in California writes: "Talking to people about the Embassy bombing, I’ve noticed how the lies which you point out actually *dovetail* in the mind of many people – 1) old maps; 2) nearby target. People naturally put this misinformation together and "create" meaning! The common interpretation is as follows: There was a military target which US/NATO was trying to hit, but because of "old maps" they got confused and bombed the wrong location. Now I know that this line doesn’t make any sense, but I can’t tell you how many people have repeated it to me. Very effective propaganda; we can almost call it ‘art.’"
This recalls a point I made in my analysis of NY Times coverage of the bombing of the pill factory in Sudan. In that analysis, I pointed out that several days after the bombing of the Sudan factory, the Times "floated" an entirely new explanation for U.S. actions. A page 1 story claimed that not only had the pill factory secretly manufactured nerve gas – but Iraq was behind the whole thing. This justification apparently didn’t fly because it was repeated in a minor story one more time, then dropped entirely.
Five days later, the Times printed a letter from a gentleman who commented on this "Iraqi connection" as if it were an established fact. And the thought occurred to me that these bits of non-fact stick in our heads, interfering with our thinking the way graphite flakes interfere with electrical generators, and this nonsense, multiplied a thousand-fold, forms a kind of smog, preventing us from seeing the surrounding mountains of evidence: that the US government has murdered people and lied about the deed.
Jared Israel – Note to reader: If you wish to see the complete text of the articles I have quoted from, drop me a line and I’ll be glad to send them to you. Jaredi@world.std.com