By Robert F. Seibert


Words Are Important


Monday, November 27, was an important day in our history.  On that day, one of the giants of the American mass media, NBC NEWS, defied the cynical consensus of the industry and began referring to the war in Iraq as a CIVIL WAR.  Other television networks are expected to follow suit.


As logical and compelling as the supporting evidence is, this was not an easy decision for the network to take.  In doing so, it has defied the Orwellian double-speak that has dominated American media for over two years.  And most assuredly, NBC News will incur the absolute enmity of this administration.  Watch for a counter-attack of biblical proportions over the next few weeks. Remember Dan Rather.


What is most amazing about this decision is the timing.  Knowledgeable critics of the war, that is critics knowledgeable of Iraq and attentive to the global media, have known for months, even years, that we were engaged in a civil war in Iraq.  The evidence is as clear as the nose on the president’s face (think Pinocchio).  Military conflict over control of the government, communal and regional violence, ethnic cleansing, death squads, attacks on the economic and social infrastructure, and sectarian reprisals against civilians have constituted a civil war for at least the past eighteen months.  Why then, the slowness of television to embrace this terminology?


Fear of the government, our government, I would guess.  Fear of reprisals, fear of accusations of disloyalty, of giving aid and comfort to our enemies.  Fear of falling short of the standards of the “patriotism” that flows from this administration and the climate it has created.  Fear of losing access to the offices and officials necessary to routinely report the public’s business.  Fear of fear itself.


Wittingly, or unwittingly, NBC has engaged in what the ancient Chinese referred to as the “rectification of terms.”  In the old Confucian philosophy, things went bad when words lost their meaning, when terms were redefined to mean their opposites.  When war becomes peace, for example, or tyranny becomes justice. We do this all the time.  Examples are particularly legion in the political realm.


Some current examples follow.  One is the tendency to call everyone that disagrees with us “evil” whether they are or they aren’t.  Evil is so bad that you shouldn’t talk to anyone that is evil, study anyone that is evil, negotiate with anyone that is evil. As Pansy Yokum used to proclaim in Al Capp’s legendary cartoons, “Good is better than evil because its nicer.”  That pretty much sums up the intellectual basis of our contemporary foreign policy, and it is way past time for our national media to recognize it.


And as long as NBC has begun the process of rectifying terms, it should continue the process.  It can begin by calling lies Lies, and liars Liars.  I think almost anyone knows where that would lead.


As long as we’re rectifying terms, lets add one more.  Speak truth to power.  Keith Olbermann has been doing this for several weeks now in his special commentaries on MSNBC.  Keep up the good work Keith.