the view from America

Gabriella Modan modan.1 at OSU.EDU
Sat Mar 29 22:25:51 UTC 2003

Along with Paul, I think that our role as discourse analysts is to use our
skills to write our governments, to press the international media to have
more coverage of anti-war voices, and to be out in the streets.  (And maybe
to help the anti-war movement come up with some better chants, but that's a
different topic.)  From what I see going on here in the States, the need is
not to educate people about how the government is manipulating language to
get support for the war -- everybody here knows that. When Rumsfeld says
explicitly in a nationally televised press conference that the Bush
administration is actively using disinformation tactics, no one is fooled
by the Orwellian language. Even Americans who support this war are not
convinced by the US administration's rhetoric, as this quote from a column
by Marc Fisher, a Washington Post columnist, shows:

         As the bombs fall and natural doubts about the use of brutal force
rise, it's important to look beyond our president's inability to
communicate the arguments for this  war.  Listen instead to Tony Blair.
Britain's leader leaves the cowboy talk and prayerful posing to the
Americans. He makes no phony link to 9/11. (WPost 3/22)

The problem is not a lack of discourse analysis, particularly as there are
people out there who are doing it in both alternative and mainstream media
-- like George Lakoff's article on Alternet, or the articles by Washington
Post columnist Paul Farhi about language, media, and war, such as:

The Soothing Sound Of Fighting Words (Washington Post)
By Paul FarhiPage C01, Mar 26, 2003

Most of the corporate media coverage here, particularly tv coverage, is
atrocious -- very pro-Bush, with little coverage of the widespread dissent
that's actually going on.  But I think it's worthwhile to point out that
it's not all that way.  National Public Radio (which is kind of the New
York Times of the US radio world), for example, has been giving a lot of
coverage to military and 'defense' professionals explaining why they oppose
this war.  One show on National Public Radio even has an "Ashcroft Alert"
segment where they basically do critical discourse analysis of various
Department of Justice initiatives such as the National Security Enhancement
Program and the Total Information Awareness Network (which is probably
logging this message as I type it). And there's been a fair amount of
critique even in the mainstream media of the practice of 'embedding'
journalists, and of the lack of coverage of dissent.  I think we need to
make ourselves available to do this kind of discourse analysis for a lay
audience, which means also -- at least of the American media -- learning to
talk in soundbites.  I think it's also important to recognize that there
are journalists even in the mainstream media who are doing some pretty good
analyses of media discourse and some of the factors that influence it.  For
example,  Farhi's article about media consultants pushing patriotic stories
and symbolism:

For Broadcast Media, Patriotism Pays
Consultants Tell Radio, TV Clients That Protest Coverage Drives Off Viewers
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 28, 2003; Page C01

Unfortunately, however, this critique is not having the effect of having
more widespread coverage.  Because of that, I think it's worthwhile to
mention the kind of anti-war protests that are going on here.  I would be
interested to know what kind of coverage this stuff is getting in other
parts of the world.  So here are some of the things going on:

It's true that there's more support for the war here now than there was
before the US invaded Iraq (which is a complicated issue related to the way
that Vietnam vets were treated when they returned, and to the fact that for
so many people, particularly poor people and people of color, the military
offers opportunities that are not readily available elsewhere, such as
payment of college tuition in a country where education is so poorly
funded).  But there's also a very strong anti-war movement. There are
protests all over the country almost every day, thousands of people willing
to be arrested in order to close down major avenues in New York, DC,
Chicago, San Francisco, to stop business as usual. High school and college
students are staging walkouts to protest the war. The American ambassador
to Greece resigned over it. Last weekend the American Association for
Applied Linguistics passed a resolution to be circulated to the media about
using linguistic expertise to critique the kind of statements that are
coming out of the Whitehouse.  (I don't have the text, so I might be
mischaracterizing it somewhat, but it was along those lines.  If I can find
it I'll post it later to the list.)  In the city that I live in (Columbus,
Ohio), there are at least 3 protests every week, at three different
locations in the city. There's also a strong organizing effort going on
online to get people to contact their congresspeople (such as
and  A month or so ago Move-on organized a virtual
sit-in in Washington where people called their senators to protest the war,
and so many people called that the circuits were jammed all day.  What's so
disheartening about all of these activities is that the government (with
the exception of a few vocal congresspeople) is not interested.  My senator
made a statement that his office received 200,000 phone calls against the
war, when usually they receive about 1000 calls a day, and when asked what
his response was, he said basically that despite the expressed will of his
consituents, he believed that Bush's approach was a sound one and he
supported it.  (And the irony of George Bush bringing democracy to anyone
else in the world is not exactly lost on the American electorate.)

I guess my point in writing this is to say that as discourse analysts we
need to take/keep taking direct action -- analyzing media and government
texts with our students, contacting  -- as individuals or as professional
organizations -- media outlets to push for less biased reporting -- many
newspapers and radio networks have ombuds (National Public Radio even has a
link on their homepage for "views on NPR coverage on war in Iraq"), and
taking to the streets.  (Or maybe, although it goes against scholarly
distance, we should start working with people who are doing anti-war PR,
putting what we know about language and power to partisan purposes.)  Those
of us in the US protesting this war want you to know that we exist, and
anything people can do to spread the word about the US anti-war movement
would help -- or at least it can't hurt for the world to know that Bush
does not even have solid support 'at home' for this war.  Also, if the US
anti-war movement is getting covered well in other places, maybe that will
rub off on the American media.  It took years for this kind of grassroots
movement to get the US military out of Vietnam, and it'll probably take
years to get the troops out of the Middle East, but direct action is what
it takes.

Galey Modan

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