Nuking the Freeze


THE RESULTS FROM election night 1982 have already been touted by the print and broadcast media as a sort of referendum on Reaganomics," in which the number of liberal Democrats elected across the country sent a message to the President that his policies have lost popular support. Unfortunately, the emphasis on Reaganomics have obscured another important issue. Nine states and 21 cities had actual ballot questions about whether there should be an immediate moratorium on the production and development of nuclear weapons the largest referendum in American history. The disarmament movements has gained a staggering amount of political strength nationwide in the last year, only to discover that its most dangerous and elusive loss turn out to be in the newsroom, not the Pentagon.

Most commonly, the anti-militarism movement is simply denied serious coverage. One Boston television station on election night repeatedly announced it was about to review the results of various state referenda, and then gave updated information on every question but the one calling for a nuclear weapons freeze. On national TV the morning after elections a freeze question organizer was interviewed lot about two minutes toward the end of the CBS Morning News show. Although 25 percent of American voters took part in the closest thing the U.S. has ever had to a national referendum the night before the CBS interviewer commented that the freeze question wasn't a top priority item for voters.

Sociologist Robert Spiegelman, in the summer 1982 issue of the journal Social Policy, presented an article dealing in depth with how the media tend to minimize or ignore the seriousness of recent mass anti-militarism activities Spiegelman notes, for example, that press accounts of the nuclear freezer rally in New York last June focused on the trivial aspects of the gathering. "The mainstream broadcast media presented the huge rally in a relentlessly upbeat mood. Their unmodulated celebration of the rally's size and good behavior smothered and obliterated the urgency and terror that brought so many together.

The substance of the June rally never made it to most news reports David Livingston, a United Auto Workers leader, denounced the American nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as intended to intimidate the Soviet government not save lives by ending the war. But the New York TV network affiliates passed up such statements in favor of an interview with the city's mayor. Ed Koch, who said. It's terrific to try to affect the conscience of the world. It's just regrettable they didn't have a similar demonstration in Moscow. Koch initially did not support a freeze resolution and he was not in cited to speak at the rally.

When not down playing the seriousness of the disarmament movement the media tends not to make clear the obvious connection between the issues of nuclear war and nuclear power Massachusetts voters Tuesday dealt with a referendum question on whether to ban nuclear waste disposal in the Commonwealth, but there was virtually no mention of how the need for radioactive dumps" directly depends on the amount of nuclear weapons produced Energy Secretary James Edwards has announced that 17,000 atomic warheads will be made in the next five years. The national problems of inadequate waste disposal procedures can be expected to worsen soon, because building nuclear weapons requires the production of plutonium waste by reactors. By covering nuclear energy and nuclear arms as separate issues, the press obscures the implications of the arms build up.


MOST IMPORTANT, media treatment of disarmament focuses on the issue of nuclear holocaust and excludes the accompanying issue of imperialism and intervention in Third World countries with U.S. conventional weapons and the economic foundations that make preparation for war so profitable to a few corporations. Such concerns inevitably get lumped together under the title of "unilateral disarmament "Press legitimacy goes only to liberals such as Senators Kennedy and Hatfield, whose freeze proposal actually calls for a continued escalation of the conventional arms race.

Spiegelman points to a disturbingly plausible reason the media attempts to dismember, discredit and distort anti-militarist politics "The major mass media are intimately linked to the military-industrial-banking-complex, which has every thing to lose it as Brecht put it in Mother Courage, 'peace breaks out "'Morgan Guaranty Trust (MGT) holds top percentages of voting stock in the Washington Post (MGT is the third most powerful voter), the Gannett Newspapers. CBS, Time, and ABC. The bank also holds the leading percentages of voting stock in defense corporations such as United Technologies (where MGT holds the number-one voting position). General Dynamics (third position). Hughes and Northrup, and also makes major loans to Boeing, Lockheed, and Grumman.

On a more straightforward level, the mainstream media enjoy uncomfortably close links to the military establishment. Leslie Gelb became to the New York Times national security correspondent after serving in the Pentagon during the Johnson Administration, he left the paper to occupy a high national security position for President Carter and was replaced by reporter Richard Burt, who now serves as Director of Political Military Affairs in the Reagan State Department.

Leaders of the disarmament movement must recognize the mainstream media as the enormous obstacle they have become, or progress against militarism will be slow, uncertain and ultimately doomed to failure. Unless the institutionalized biases of the press end, the freeze and disarmament proponents will continue to find themselves grappling with the ghostly, subtle power of omission and distortion.

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