Publishing Edward S. Herman
It is with great sadness that we publish news of the death of Edward Herman on November 11, 2017. His articles on media, the economy, foreign policy, Doublespeak (and my favorite, “Nuggets from the Nuthouse”), have appeared in almost every monthly issue of Z magazine from his first article in Volume 1, 1988 to his last in Volume 30, 2017.
Over the years we established a publishing routine. I would get an email from Ed telling me he, “had something interesting for the next issue, I think you’ll like it,” followed by, “what’s my deadline?” I’d email him the deadline and he would email back that he could make the deadline (he always did) and he would add: “Let me know if you decide to use it.” Was he kidding? We were already proofing it and locating some graphics.
This exchange was repeated every month until September 29, when he emailed the following at around 5:59 PM: “Lydia, I haven’t been well and won’t be putting out an article this month. I’ll let you know in the future if I am able to get back in business.” He signed off in the usual way–old comrade, ed herman
A few days later I got the news—he won’t be emailing to “get his deadline or sending his articles anymore..
In any case, we had the privilege of publishing Edward Herman’s articles for 30 years. In his memory we are publishing excerpts from Ed’s second Z article titled“ Moderates and Extremists” which appeared in the March 1988 issue of Z. hopefully other reprints will follow. Thank you, ed, from your old comrades at Z.
Moderates and Extremists
Whenever I run into the words “moderate” and extremist” in a news article, my first reaction is contempt for an author who will use such vague and emotive language. My second reaction is to alert myself for the bias that the author is about to display. He/she is going to identify the good guys, bad guys, and political presumptions and framework of the news report or commentary. By definition, extremists “go too far” and moderates are “within reasonable limits, not excessive or extreme.” (American Heritage Dictionary) That is, the dictionary itself says the words are judgmental, involving a value statement and rating. This would seem to suggest that this usage is incompatible with “objective” news.
The reconciliation with “objectivity” is based on the assumption that the words refer to positions on a political spectrum, with moderates in the middle representing consensus views of wide acceptability and extremists at the outer ends of the spectrum expressing unacceptable news. There are several problems with this line of argument. One is that the words are still value loaded. They don’t merely indicate a position on the political spectrum. Moderate implies reasonableness; extremist unreasonableness, in some substantive sense, not merely positions in a lineup. For this reason alone the words violate rules of objectivity and their use in news reporting testifies to writer incompetence and/or bias.
Moderates and Extremists
Another problem with the “objective” use of “moderate” and “extremist” is that the positioning of people on the political spectrum is difficult and arbitrary, so that the words are virtually designed to allow a labeling in accord with the political agenda of the writer (and derivatively, of the media proprietors and powerful groups who influence media priorities). Who decides what parties and views are included in the spectrum on which we are seeking a midpoint? How is a “consensus” determined? Is there any reason to suppose that these matters are carefully and objectively examined by reporters and commentators who talk about moderates and extremists?
Home Grown Varieties
In their Right Turn, Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers show that public opinion polls in the late 1970s and into the 1980s indicated that the general public wanted income redistribution away from corporations and the wealthy to the less affluent, less foreign interventionism, strong environmental protection, and, except for the period of the Iran hostage crisis, and the huge pro-arms campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s, smaller defense expenditures and higher social welfare outlays. It would seem that “consensus” programs approximate those espoused by Jesse Jackson. In the mass media, however, Jackson is an extremist, explicitly or by implication, not a moderate. The “moderates” are the democrats who stress their commitment to a strong defense, moderate interventionism and “realism” on welfare budgets and income distribution. What the public seems to want and what the “moderates” offer appears to be askew.
However, what the various monied interests who support the Democratic Party want are very well correlated. My conclusion is that “moderate” “and extremist” as used by the U.S. mass media have no necessary connection with public interest or public demands but reflect what the powerful approve. We may formalize this as follows:
MODERATE: A spokesperson and representative of the “consensus”—or sponsors of corporate PACs.
EXTREMIST: An advocate of change disapproved by the corporate consensus.
Also, someone taking a position significantly different from my own, as in “I deplore the actions of extremists on both sides—those who blow up schools and those who want to keep them open.” The quote is based on a 1950s cartoon by Jules Pfeiffer showing Eisenhower at a press conference taking a middle of the road position between two sets of extremists.
In earlier years, special interests meant narrow groups, mainly business groups who seek political privilege by lobbying and bribery. Recently, special interests has come to mean blacks, women, Hispanics, labor, unions, farmers, and others who add up to a very substantial majority of the population. At the same time, business interests are no longer included in the catagory—and by an unspoken new premise—their interests have become synonymous with the National Interest. This premise is based on the fact that many politicians cannot imagine a solution to economic problems other than by making things attractive for business investment; and if they did propose an alternative solution, their campaign funding would dry up. Thus when “moderate” Democrats urged a strong defense and a hard-nosed realism on spending for the majority, we can see that their moderation is attuned to the corporate consensus and thus, in the new semantics, to the National Interest, as opposed to “special interests.” In the vision of the U.S. mass media, extremists and spokespersons for special interests have another distinguishing characteristic, namely, they are self-interested, self aggrandizing, with a predilection for self-promotion,” an ego problem,” always an “I person” and perhaps just “out for himself” as Jesse Jackson was described. These characteristics of extreme self-interested- ness are not found in moderates, who are pursuing larger ends.
Third World Moderates
In a Third World context, media doublespeak identifies as a “moderate” anybody who will serve the interests of U.S. power. A doublespeak definition of a moderate is: a foreign political or military figure—not necessarily popular with his own people—who guides his own country. (Frequently used as an antonym to moderate is demagogue: a foreign military or political figure who refuses to play ball with us). This usage and the underlying imperial reality has produced a remarkable array of goons of convenience who have been designated moderate by the U.S. mass media.
In the Christian Science Monitor of February 6, 1987, General Suharto of Indonesia is referred to as a “moderate leader.” Likewise the London Economist, whose long-standing subservience to U.S. power makes it an honorary member of the U.S. media, described Suharto as “a heart benign.” In fact, Suharto came into power in 1965 on the wave of an outburst of terrorism that involved the murder of between 500,000 and a million people, a large fraction landless peasants. He and his coterie are also strong contenders for honors as the greatest thieves in history
An illustration of how far the media will go in labeling as “moderates” extreme terrorists whom the establishment perceives as serving U.S. interests may be seen in a retrospective look at press treatment of the Argentinean generals of the years 1976-83, focusing on two key figures who were tried and convicted of mass murder by the Alfonsin Government.
All through this period the Times used “terrorist” to refer to dissident terrorists of the opposition—never to the forces of the state torturing and killing thousands considered moderates, populists with good intentions regardless of “excesses” and even “representing the Argentine people’s hopes for a democratic future.”
How then to explain the 60 detention and torture centers and the 10 to 30,000 murders? For Argentina and later El Salvador, the Times (and other major media) rolled out the number one “trick-and-kill” deception of the conjoint state and media propaganda system: namely, that the “moderates” in high office are regrettably unable to control the “extremists” under and affiliated with them, who seem to be doing a great deal of killing. But the moderates do not condone these murders and are striving to improve things. We must therefore support them in their valiant struggle to contain their subordinates and agents. This droll exercise in apologetics can be seen in an editorial in which Juan de Onis asserted that “the military junta headed by Lieutenant General Jorge Rafael Videla, Commander in Chief of the army, has been unable to control the right-wing extremists.”
When General Vides Casanova was named defense minister in 1983, Lydia Chavez—a reporter for the Times—noted in the Times that he “is considered a political moderate and was named commander of the National Guard in 1979 in an effort to end its reported “excesses.” Chavez did not say who considers him a “moderate” nor was she specific on the reported excesses or whether Vides Casanova remedied them. She failed to mention that he had been D’Aubuisson’s boss and was head of the National Guard at the time the National Guard intercepted, raped, and murdered four American religious women. Former intelligence officer Roberto Santivanez described in detail the circumstances of these murders, including the facts that Vides Casanova’s cousin in the National Guard had given the order to kill, and that Casanova knew about it and was important in the cover up.
It is interesting to see that Daniel Ortega was never a “moderate” to the U.S. press, although there were parties and candidates to his left and right. “Moderate” has that implication of approval that the media are not about to give to a man uniformly condemned by the establishment (in contrast with individuals like Suharto). If Ortega had been busily murdering unarmed peasants in the interest of “freedom,” it would have been a different matter. As it is, the poor man must remain an unelected dictator, by decree of a very efficient propaganda system.
In the 1982 election in El Salvador there was a serious threat that Roberto D’Aubuisson would become head of state. This was averted only by strenuous U.S. arm twisting. Would D’Aubuisson have become a “moderate” if he had made it to the top? The answer is surely yes; the historic evidence shows that there is no level of criminality that cannot be made respectable by the Free Press in recognition of service to the godfather. In fact a close look at the Salvadoran scene in 1982 shows the groundwork was already being laid for the moderation of D’Aubuisson as a string of U.S. officials began to stress the “variety” within his Arena Party, the reasonableness of its policies, and the fact that “Anyone who believes in the democratic system should give him the benefit of the doubt.” The press, as well, began to accommodate to the new agenda. The 1982 interview in a Mexican paper (El Dia) in which D’Aubuisson lauded the Germans for their efficiency in handling the Jewish problem was suppressed by the elite media.
An article by Warren Hoge in the New York Times captures the new look of a fascist in process of becoming a moderate, “Rightist Flag Bearer,” is accompanied by a flatteringly thoughtful picture of D’Aubuisson, and the article criticizes him gently for his “impulsiveness and desire for confrontation” and the fact that “his behavior was uneven.” These are not the words the Times would chose in describing Carlos the Jackal or any other killer who was not integrated into the Free World. Dean Hinton is cited observing that D’Aubuisson “has leadership qualities.” Deep in the article, Robert White is quoted as saying that D’Aubuisson is “a pathological killer and probable organizer of the assassination of Archbishop Romero.” But the overall thrust is low-key, non condemnatory, of a man I have no doubt the Times and its confreres would swallow as moderate had he moved to the top of free El Salvador.