Lebanese American University


Media activist skewers U.S. ‘propaganda’ machine

In a fiery lecture, Armenian-American journalist David Barsamian takes the U.S. media to task on ‘censored’ coverage of Middle Eastern affairs, from Iraq to Palestine.

“Censorship is largely by omission, not commission,” said journalist and political activist David Barsamian to a diverse group of students, professors, and guests at LAU’s Adnan Kassar School of Business on February 19, brandishing a copy of the previous day’s New York Times. “The news we read today in American mainstream media doesn’t give any context,” Barsamian continued, likening it to little more than propaganda.

The fiery lecture, organized by LAU’s Armenian Club and the Department of Communication Arts, examined a disturbing disconnect between the actions of the United States government and how they are reported in mainstream media.

Barsamian invoked a wide variety of examples to illustrate this chasm between appearance and reality. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is seen as one of the nation’s finest presidents by many Americans, Barsamian argued, when he should be considered a war criminal. “Many problems in the Middle East today can be traced back to Reagan’s foreign policy in the 1980s,” he went on to say, showing a photograph of Reagan’s White House meeting with the Afghan mujahideen who would later participate in the formation of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “Reagan referred to these men as ‘freedom fighters,’” Barsamian told the rapt crowd.

Citing more recent examples to make his point, Barsamian referred to an interview conducted by the U.S. government-sponsored Public Broadcasting Service with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on American security and terrorism. The interview was a sham, said Barsamian, “there was a critical omission. The interviewer didn’t challenge any embedded assumptions; rather the assumptions were simply repeated over and over again.”

“The only choice given to the American people is how many troops should invade a country, not whether they should invade the country at all,” Barsamian remarked.

During a question and answer period, enthusiastic students turned the discussion toward issues immediately relevant to Lebanon. Asked about his views on the question of Palestine, Barsamian said “there’s no issue more distorted in the U.S. than Palestine,” a distortion especially apparent in the use of news photographs. “If an Israeli settler is killed,” he pointed out, “the image will be of the grieving parents,” whereas if a Palestinian is killed, an image of armed protestors will more likely be used instead.

The journalism entrepreneur, who runs the Alternative Radio news service, spoke eloquently, and optimistically, about Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide. Barsamian’s mother was one of the only children in her family to escape when the Turks came to her village, a few kilometers north of Diyarbakır in Eastern Turkey. On a trip last year to commemorate the centenary of the genocide, Barsamian reported seeing “cracks in the edifice” of Turkey’s denial. “More and more people are coming forward with new information,” he said.

As a final note, he reminded the crowd that “we can’t bring back those lives lost in Armenia. But we can turn our attention to the lives now being lost in Syria and Iraq.” 


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