Thursday, April 21, 2005


By Ted Rall
Tue Apr 12, 7:58 PM ET
An Examination of the Propaganda of Nomenclature

NEW YORK--If you read newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television, you know that the media has assigned Muqtada al-Sadr a peculiar job title: radical cleric. "Gunmen fired on supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Friday," reports the Associated Press wire service. National Public Radio routinely refers to "radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr." "The protesters were largely supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr," says CNN. Even Agence France-Press refers to him the same way: "Followers of a radical Shiite cleric marched in Baghdad."

I wonder: Does he answer his phone with a chipper "Muqtada al-Sadr, radical cleric!"? Does it say "radical cleric" on his business card?

It's a safe bet that neither al-Sadr nor his Iraqi supporters considers him particularly "radical." And, if you stop to think about it, there's nothing inherently extreme about wanting foreign troops to leave your country. Radical is a highly subjective word that gets thrown around without much reflection. What's more radical, invading another nation without a good excuse or trying to stop someone from doing so? But that's the problem: the media has become so accustomed to absorbing and regurgitating official government propaganda that they never stop to think.

A Google News search of the terms "Muqtada al-Sadr" and "radical cleric" brought up 616 news and opinion stories, the latter derived from the former. Despite the prime minister's obvious status as an American-appointed puppet, "Iyad Allawi" and "collaborationist" yielded zero results. The message is clear: al-Sadr, and by extension Iraqis who oppose the U.S. occupation, are marginal wackos. Those who support it are referred to by questionable legitimatizing honorifics--prime minister, in Allawi's case--because the U.S. government called a press conference to announce him as such.

Repetition is key to successful advertising. The American media uses repeated arbitrary labeling in its supposedly impartial coverage in a deliberate campaign to alter public perception. Americans were meant to feel less sympathy for an kidnapped Italian woman shot by U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint in Iraq after the talking heads repeatedly referred to her as a "communist journalist." A Fox News reporter in the same story would never have been dubbed a "neofascist journalist." John McCain (R-AZ) might become president someday but "maverick senator John McCain" probably won't. Ralph Nader's name rarely appears in print without the unappealing word "gadfly" or a form of "crusading." Why not describe figures in the news using terms that aim for neutrality, like "Italian reporter" or "former Green Party candidate Ralph Nader"?

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