Weapons of Mass Distraction
“Alternative Radio” host David Barsamian says millions are tuning out mainstream media
By Simon McCormack
The United States is a threat to Iran, rather than the other way around, says journalist David Barsamian. For 30 years, Armenian author Barsamian has provided a platform for progressive voices.
Based in Boulder, Colo., this champion of the left has hosted “ Alternative Radio” for three decades, and the program can now be heard on some 125 radio stations around the globe. Barsamian's four books cataloging his series of interviews with progressive icon Noam Chomsky have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Though he often lets others do the talking on his radio show, Barsamian doesn’t keep quiet about his beliefs. He's become an accomplished speaker who travels the world delivering numerous speeches each year.
Barsamian spoke Friday, June 13, at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. The radio host says he's wary of what he calls the "steady drumbeat of war." He suggests that steady pulse could propel America into a conflict with Iran neither country can afford. He long ago became disenfranchised with what he calls "the corporate media" but is encouraged by signs that he's not alone. Before traveling to New Mexico, Barsamian took the Alibi's call.
You've often addressed the issue of propaganda. Can you talk about its use in America?
One of the things about propaganda is it's never labeled as such. It's always attributed to enemies of the U.S., because we don't do propaganda. The second thing is to see how messages are carefully crafted and then repeated over and over again.
It may surprise you and your readers to know that many Americans still believe Saddam Hussein and Iraq were responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11. The only explanation for that, despite the mountains of evidence refuting it, is the use of propaganda. Another one of the elements is the use of some facts that are correct. So you can have: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran. Iran is a country of 70 million people. The next step is: Iran is a threat to the United States. Two of those things are true, but the last isn't.
You don't believe Iran is a threat to the United States?
On the contrary, the United States is threatening Iran with military action. The debate now in the corporate media is how much of a threat is Iran? And what should the U.S. response be? It's so preposterous, words almost fail me. The U.S. spends $1 trillion a year on the military. Iran spends $5 billion. That's how much the U.S. spends in two weeks in Iraq. There's a steady drumbeat of war talk coming from Dick Cheney and Bush, threatening Iran with military action. They're blaming Iran for the catastrophe of Iraq and the problems in Afghanistan, and it's really the pot calling the kettle black.
Do you think people have learned some lessons from the mistakes that led to the Iraq War that could help us avoid another conflict?
You called Iraq a mistake. It's not a mistake, it's a crime, perpetrated by criminals who should be held accountable and should be prosecuted.
I certainly hope so. I've been dedicating myself for the last five years, crisscrossing the country, giving hundreds of talks and producing radio programs so that these kinds of crimes aren't committed again. But you fell into the trap that all the media falls into. You called Iraq a mistake. It's not a mistake, it's a crime, perpetrated by criminals who should be held accountable and should be prosecuted. It wasn't a strategic blunder, it was a major war crime. I've been screaming to the rooftops about that.
To what extent do you think progressive voices should use the mainstream media to try to get information to the public?
Whenever possible. I’ve been on National Public Radio, CNN and the New York Times. We should try to penetrate it whenever we can. But it’s not a long-term strategy for success. What I’ve done is built up my own organization, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary.
What are your thoughts on the major-party presidential candidates, and what do you make of Sen. Barack Obama's appeals for change?
I can't recall any presidential candidate who was running for office saying he wasn't for change and running against Washington. It's a familiar trope, but McCain will have a much more difficult time making this argument. He has chosen to ally himself with the failed Bush economic and war policies. That's going to be his undoing, I believe.
But in terms of issues of U.S. imperialism—another term never used in corporate media—there's very little difference between the two major parties. They differ on tactics, but not on strategy. For example, an embedded assumption in both parties is that the United States has the right to invade, occupy, attack and bomb any country it sees fit to do so.
Do you favor an approach to politics in which a person is most interested and involved at the local grassroots level and less involved in something like the presidential race?
I think you should be interested in both, but where you can make the most difference is at the local level. School boards, city councils—that's where you can actually enter the political process without the kind of money that you need at higher levels.
Do you see any encouraging media trends?
Young people in droves are leaving the corporate media because they don't believe it. There's been a huge growth in documentaries, blogs and new media that didn't really exist a few years ago. Television and newspapers in particular are losing viewers and readers, and it's because people are fed up with the lies. The corporate media is a weapon of mass distraction, instead of a weapon of mass instruction.
Why do you say the corporate media is a weapon of mass distraction?
Because the media is a big reason why, in America, yesterday is history, last week is ancient history and last month is paleophytic.
You can hear “Alternative Radio” every Saturday from 6 to 7 p.m. on KUNM 89.9 FM.
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