Reed Irvine - Editor
|February B, 1982|
SAVAGING EL SALVADOR
Human Events and The Village Voice have little in common beyond the fact that they are published weekly in tabloid format. Human Events is conservative and the Village Voice is radical, but they agree on one thing in recent issues. That is that a propaganda war favoring the Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador was waged by important elements of our press in the latter part of January.
The reason for this was described by the Village Voice as follows: "Reagan is asking Congress to vote through more money to finance U.S. military assistance, and on Thursday (January 28) the president certified that the Duarte regime has made significant advances in the curbing of human-rights abuses. The U.S.-backed elections in El Salvador are coming up at the end of March, and once again the administration is keen to promote the line that this farcical affair has something to do with democracy, and that the true saboteurs of the democratic process are the guerrillas."
In Human Events, Daniel James, an authority on Central America, wrote: "An extraordinary propaganda campaign has been under way in this country since mid- January to dissuade the United States from lending further military or even economic aid to the embattled Salvadoran civilian-military junta. Orchestrated by El Salvador's Marxist-Leninist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), the crusade has had as its objective the intimidating of President Reagan into not certifying that the junta was making progress in the area of human rights and, failing that, persuade Congress to oppose such certification and so create 8 political liability for the Republicans in the 1982 congressional elections."
James went on to say, "Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of the FMLN's propaganda offensive has been the degree to which the U.S. media, led by The New York Times and The Washington Post, have lent themselves to it... Indeed, some news dispatches appearing in The Times and The Post seem indistinguishable from broadcasts over Radio Venceremos, the FMLN's chief propaganda organ, judging by their content."
The Village Voice agreed that The New York Times had provided a powerful propaganda assist to the guerrillas. It was particularly impressed with "a remarkable threepart series from Ray Bonner, reporting on his trip in the guerrilla-controlled province of Morazan."
Ray Bonner of The Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of The Washington Post had been given a guided tour of parts of Morazan province by the guerrillas.
Their stories about their observations began to appear in the two papers just before President Reagan had to notify Congress on January 28 whether or not El Salvador was eligible for our aid. It is not clear from their stories just when they made the tour. But Guillermoprieto's sensational story about a massacre in the small town of Mozote was dated January 14. It was published by The Post on the front page on January 27. The Times carried a similar story, obviously by Bonner but without his by-line, the following day on page A-12, with no indication that it might have been written two weeks earlier.
Appearing as they did just when the President was formally certifying that El Salvador was making enough progress in the human rights field to merit continued receipt of U.S. aid, these stories were vigorously exploited by critics of El Salvador in Congress. Karen OeYoung, foreign editor of The Washington Post, has denied that the story was held up for publication in order to try to influence President Reagan's thinking on El Salvador aid. She said on a radio talk show that the story was published as soon as it reached Washington. Maybe so, but Mozote is only a few miles from the Honduran border, and it seems unlikely that it would take the reporters nearly two weeks to get to a city with a teletype machine. Reporters are supposed to be competitive, dashing to the nearest telephone or teletype to get in their hot story. Here we have reporters from two rival papers who view the scene of what they take to be the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children in early January, and their stories are not run in their papers until January 27 (Post) and January 28 (Times). If they weren't held up in Washington and New York, it would appear that the reporters themselves delayed the stories by mutual agreement.
Guillermoprieto's account of what transpired at Mozote is based on interviews with three survivors of the alleged massacre, a housewife and two teenage boys. The housewife said that all the men, women, and children in the village were herded into the village square by government troops and then taken away and shot. She said she had counted about 80 men and 90 women, not including children. She said there were about 500 living in the village, but the guerrillas had warned the villagers that an army attack was coming and advised them to get out. She said they stayed because they didn't fear the soldiers.
Bonner of The Times turned up different figures. He reported that the villagers compiled a list of 733 men, women and children who were murdered by the soldiers. He then added that the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador had put the total at 926. Bonner said the number of dead in Mozote was 482, including 280 children, according to the list compiled by the peasants. That left 251 that were presumably slain in other villages to bring the total up to 733. However. Bonner cautioned that it is not possible to determine independently how many people died or who killed them.
Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas O. Enders, said in testimony before a House subcommittee on February 2 that two Embassy officers had been sent to investigate the reports of the massacre at Mozote. He said: "While it is clear that an armed confrontation between guerrillas occupying El Mozote and attacking government forces occurred last December, no evidence could be found to confirm that government forces systematically massacred civilians in the operation zone, nor that the number of civilians killed even remotely approached the 733 or 926 victims variously cited in press reports. In fact, the total population of El Mozote canton last December is estimated locally at only 300, and there are manifestly a great many people still there." That portion of Mr. Enders' testimony did not find its way into either The Post or The Times.
Both Bonner and Guillermoprieto reported that they had seen "dozens" of corpses that were still unburied at the time of their visit. Guillermoprieto explained that the peasants had buried some of the bodies, but the guerrillas had asked that they not be buried until outside observers were brought in to see them. Bonner said that most of the bodies he saw were buried under burned out and collapsed roofs in some 20 mud brick huts. Neither he nor Guillermoprieto reported seeing any mass grave containing those hundreds that the Post reporter's informant had said were marched out of the village square and shot. Although both reporters had heard the story from the same housewife, they told it differently. Bonner said many of the victims were shot in their homes, which was consistent with his seeing the bodies there. Guillermoprieto also said she observed lots of bodies in the church and in the huts, but she did not try to reconcile that with the housewife's account of the people being taken out of their homes and shot.
The Times quoted Col. Alfonso Cotto of the Salvadoran armed forces as saying that the stories about hundreds of civilians having been killed were totally false and were fabricated by the guerrillas. The military sweep in Morazan had taken place between December 8 and December 21. The guerrilla radio had announced on December 27 that 192 non-combatants had died at El Mozote. but on January 2 they raised that to 472. The number has continued to grow with the telling.
Attacking the El Salvadoran government with atrocity stories is only half of the propaganda job. In addition, it is important that the guerrillas be painted in a heroic light. Raymond Bonner was adept at this. The Village Voice was pleased because his first report on the guerrillas "lengthily confuted administration claims of Cuban outsiders running a terrorist war with Soviet supplied guns." Bonner reported that the peasants and their leader's in Morazan "contend that theirs is an indigenous revolution spawned by decades of political and social injustice." Nothing appeals to the American intelligentsia more than the Jeffersonian revolutionary who provides schools and hospitals to the sturdy farmers. And so Bonner tells his readers "the guerrillas have set up schools for children, health clinics and hospitals, military schools and a radio station. Peasants are cultivating corn, sugar cane, beans and other crops and grazing cattle."
Of course they must be shown to be good God-fearing men and women. Bonner writes: "The immense majority of the guerrillas are Christians, according to the Rev. Rogelio Ponseele, a 42-year-old Belgian-born Roman Catholic priest who has been in the mountains with the guerrillas and their families since Christmas Day 1980. He has baptized more than 200 of their children, he said. 'They are motivated by their Christian faith' to try to bring democracy to El Salvador, Father Ponseele said in an interview."
The notion that they are backed and armed by Cuba and Nicaragua must be disposed of. Bonner writes: "None of those questioned said they knew of anyone, including the senior commanders, who had been to Cuba or Nicaragua for training. 'It is an insult to say that Cubans and Nicaraguans are helping us,' a 27-year-old soldier said. 'We are campesinos, but we can do it ourselves.'" The guerrilla leader is quoted as saying that as far as he knew, no arms from Cuba or Nicaragua had been received by the guerrillas. He explained that they simply bought their arms on the market with all the money they were taking in from "kidnappings, bank robberies, and 'war taxes' imposed on businesses."
Finally, it is vital that the guerrillas be shown to be dedicated fighters who are battling for their ideals in contrast to the corrupt government troops who fight only because they are conscripted or because they are paid. This Bonner tackled in his third report on January 28. He quoted a 19-year-old platoon commander who said, 'Even though the enemy has planes, bombs, more powerful weapons, and American advisers, we will win because we have the support of the people." He added: "Also, he said the army soldiers are fighting because 'they are paid to, are obligated to.' The peasants are fighting because they want to."
And, of course, the guerrillas are humane, reasonable men who will be generous in victory to the vanquished. Bonner says they don't kill their prisoners, because (a) this will encourage others to surrender to them and (b) after they win they will want to integrate their troops with the regular army and so they want to minimize the ill will generated by the war. Furthermore, they want to minimize the killing. He quotes a guerrilla with a sixth- grade education as saying, "We're ready to negotiate, to seek a political settlement, so that fewer people will be killed, but the enemy doesn't want one. So the only way is to continue fighting."
It is obvious that Raymond Bonner is a worthy successor to Herbert Matthews, the famed Times correspondent who did so much to help popularize Castro in this country, thus helping him get the support he needed to take over Cuba and make it into a Soviet puppet, it is little wonder that following his massive reports in The Times on the guerrillas, The Village Voice wrote: "It's clear that, at least for the time being, the administration has lost the propaganda war." That conclusion was reached only from reading The Times. The Washington Post did the same thing, using stories by Alma Guillermoprieto, John Dingee and foreign editor, Karen DeYoung. Miss DeYoung was made foreign editor of The Post in recognition of her great contribution to bringing about the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua by the same kind of reporting that we are now seeing coming out of El Salvador.
One of the tricks being used regularly by our propagandists of the press against El Salvador is the misrepresentation of the responsibility for the violence there. In his story on the alleged massacre at Mozote, Raymond Bonner mentioned that the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador had put the number of victims at 926. Bonner says the Commission "works with the Roman Catholic Church." It is frequently quoted in the press as an authoritative source for the number of deaths from political violence in El Salvador. Captured documents have shown this group to be under control of the Marxists. Its head, Marianela Garcia Villas, has long supported the violent left according to the Salvadoran embassy in Washington. One of its members, Norma Guevara, was arrested in Texas last July on charges of smuggling arms. The State Department says it is "an insurgent propaganda vehicle." Nevertheless this group continues to be treated by our media as a reliable source of information.
Another group that is frequently cited in connection with data on deaths is the "Legal Aid Office." This is usually referred to as the Legal Aid Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador. In an article in the Washington Post of January 27 that ran alongside the story of the alleged massacre at Mozote, John Dinges discussed the Legal Aid Office breakdown on responsibility for violent deaths. It attributed 60 percent to joint actions of the army and security forces and 35 percent to unidentified paramilitary gangs. Dinges added: "There is no category for victims of leftist violence--a deficiency that has evoked criticism of the office by Sun Salvador's Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas." The Legal Aid Office was once connected with the Church, but that connection has been severed. Acting Archbishop Rivera y Damas has criticized this group severely for its political bias and has denied it any right to speak for the archdiocese.
A third source for death data is the Central American University, which is run by the Jesuit order. In his testimony, Assistant Secretary Enders said that it is easy to tell where this group stands from the fact that it has a category called "ajusticiados," meaning persons "justly executed" by the guerrillas.
There are many flaws in the media coverage of El Salvador, but the greatest is the failure to put the struggle there in proper perspective. El Salvador is a replay of Nicaragua, just as Nicaragua was a replay of Cuba. It was just three years ago that we were getting the same kind of stories out of Nicaragua from Karen DeYoung of The Washington Past and Alan Riding of The New York Times that we are now getting from their counterparts in El Salvador. We were told that the Sandinistas were the salt of the earth, dedicated idealists who were going to bring democracy and human rights to Nicaragua. They kept repeating and our reporters kept reporting that they were not Marxist- Leninists, just Sandinistas. As late as June 26, 1979, Karen DeYoung was knocking the charge that Cuba was supplying arms to them.
Those who bothered to examine the evidence knew that Cuba had trained and armed the Sandinistas. It was not hard to predict the kind of government they would impose on Nicaragua if they won. The Carter Administration, which was determined to get rid of Somoza, foolishly ignored the abundant evidence that it had in its own intelligence reports and made no effort to alert Congress or the American people to the danger. With a few exceptions, the media cooperated with the administration. The Washington Post refused to publicize the one secret CIA memo exposing the Cuban role that was leaked to the press at the end of June 1979. That memo not only told what Cuba was doing in Nicaragua, but is also accurately predicted what Castro had in store for El Salvador and Guatemala.
Now that the Sandinistas are in the process of imposing a Marxist dictatorship on Nicaragua, our Big Media have little to say about what is going on there. The intense interest in the human rights situation in Nicaragua that they displayed back in 1978 and 1979 has died out. The Times didn't even take the trouble to tell its readers about the report on Nicaragua issued by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last July. Karen DeYoung did a story about that report for
The Post. It was carried deep inside the paper. It began with the statement that extreme rights abuses had been virtually eliminated in Nicaragua, although there were "unjustifiable limits on political, press and judicial rights." Not until her tenth paragraph did Miss DeYoung get around to talking about some of the very serious human rights problems that the Commission observed in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.
Now the Sandinistas have adopted a program of killing and uprooting the Miskilo Indians who inhabit the eastern part of Nicaragua. Washington Post reporter John Dinges has provided us with an account of what is going on based almost entirely on what he was told by the Sandinista vice minister of the Interior. We are told "about 20 villages that once held about 10,000 people were emptied." Dingas adds: "Rivas said the villagers cooperated and that there were no injuries. He said that an undetermined number of Miskitos crossed the Coco River that forms the border with Honduras before troops could evacuate them."
Was there ever a more antiseptic description of a great human tragedy than that? Ten thousand Indians who had lived in peace under Somoza now find themselves suddenly torn from their homes. No one resisted, we are told. A few--an undetermined number--ran away before they could be "evacuated." A nice euphemism.
In this view, the Indians, not the Sandinistas, commit atrocities. Dinges obligingly conveys that message for the Sandinista vice minister of Interior. who showed the reporter a videotape of an Indian confessing that he had taken part in an attack on a village and had watched while his comrades "drove a stake into the throat of a wounded soldier and mutilated the genitals of another." Dinges doesn't want us to shed tears over any treatment the Sandinistas might decide is appropriate for such savages.
Dinges explains why his story is told only from the information supplied by the vice minister of Interior. The government, he says, has turned down requests from reporters to travel to the area inhabited by the Indians. And that's that. These intrepid reporters have no trouble getting into Mozote, guided by El Salvadoran guerrillas, but they don't seem to have the same ability to locate the Indians who have fled into Honduras and who might just possibly be willing to tell and even show them what is happening to their people in Nicaragua.
The Dinges story is basically a justification for anything, including mass uprooting of people from their ancient homes, that a leftist government chooses to do to smash the resistance of those who oppose it. Most of the story was about the "counterrevolutionary" acts and attitudes of the Indians and their leaders. In discussing the treatment of Protestant clergymen working with the Indians. Dingas wrote: "Rivas named 10 Moravian clergymen he said were prisoners or wanted by the police in connection with the insurgency. He said. 'The Moravian church, as a church, was involved in the counterrevolutionary action. The pastors persuaded the young people to go over into the camps, preaching a primitive brand of anticommunism.'"
Atrocity stories play an important role in wars. They can be used to fire up emotions against the enemy. They can be used to undermine morale and home front support of one's own side or one's allies. The use the media make of atrocity stories is a pretty good indication of which side they want to see triumph. In World Wars I and II, our press focused on the atrocities committed by the Germans and Japanese. Little or nothing was said about those committed by our own forces or by or allies. One of the most shameful cover-ups of World War II was the failure to report the Soviet murder of 10,000 Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest in 1939. That was concealed from the public to avoid undermining support for our Soviet ally.
In Vietnam, nothing was a better indicator of the sympathies of the media than the contrast between their coverage of the My Lai massacre by American troops and the Hue massacre by the communists. At Hue some, 3,000 bodies of non-combatants who had been murdered were found. Another 2,000 who had disappeared were never found. Our media showed almost no interest in those corpses. There were very few stories in the papers and none on television. Most Americans today have never heard of the Hue massacre. But everyone knows of My Lai, where perhaps 100 Vietcong non-combatants were killed by our forces in an attack on a Vietcong village. My Lai became one of the big stories of the war.
The Hue massacre told more about the Vietnamese communists and how they would govern than the My Lai massacre told about the United States. That was not a lesson that our media wanted to drive home.
Similarly in Central America today, the Sandinista treatment of the Miskito Indians is a good indicator of how the communists can be expected to treat those who resist their rule if they win out in El Salvador and Guatemala. Of course, the Sandinista action in imprisoning over 7,000 people after they took over is an equally good indicator of what lies in store if their ideological counterparts win in El Salvador.
There are other important portents of the future to be found in Nicaragua--the ruining of the economy and the huge military buildup come readily to mind. Big Media refuse to show what is going on in Nicaragua. They refuse to focus attention on the certainty that we will have several more Nicaraguans if we don't halt the metastasis of the cancer. That is the most serious flaw in the reporting on Central America.
Write to your newspaper and point out that El Salvador is simply a replay of Nicaragua. Ask them to give greater attention to what is going on in Nicaragua and to show its relevance to what is happening in El Salvador and Guatemala.
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THE STRUGGLE FOR EL SALVADOR IS ESCALATING BOTH IN EL SALVADOR AND IN WASHINGTON. The guerrillas, armed by the Soviet bloc, have stepped up their campaign of sabotage in recent months. Their destruction of power plants and the Golden Bridge across the Lempa River has done the country enormous economic damage. The successful attack on the Ilopango airbase on January 27 damaged or destroyed at least 5 of the Huey helicopters the U.S. had loaned E1 Salvador as well as 3 of the 16 Jets in the Salvadoran Airforce. Costly as these actions have been, they do not pose nearly as great a threat as the success the far left is having in the propaganda-disinformation war here in the United States. We discuss this in the lead story in this issue of the AIM Report, concentrating on how The New York Times and The Washington Post have permitted their news columns to be placed at the service of the Salvadoran guerrillas. We have not even given a complete rundown on all the articles they have run that have helped the leftist propaganda offensive.
DANIEL JAMES HAS PROVIDED A MORE COMPLETE CATALOG IN HIS ARTICLE, "THE MEDIA CRUSADE to Sink E1 Salvador," in the February 13, 1982 issue of Human Events. James analyzed 23 stories in The New York Times and 18 in The Washington Post that had been published from January 11 to February 2 on E1 Salvador. Of the 23 in The Times, he found that 16 were "perceptibly pro-guerrilla" and only 7 were pro-junta or pro-U.S., with two of the latter only marginally so. For The Post, the count was even more uneven. James classified 13 stories (72%) as pro-guerrilla and only 5 as pro-Junta or pro-U.S. The big push came in the last week of January, when President Reagan was scheduled to announce whether or not he would certify El Salvador as eligible to continue to receive U.S. aid. That is a step that he was required to take by law, if the aid was to continue. The news editors of The Washington Post were so excited about this that on January 29 they used the President's decision to continue the aid as their lead story for the day. Almost every other paper that I saw thought that the lead story for the day was the freeing of General James Dozier and the capture of his Red Brigade captors in Italy. At least The Post did put the Dozier story on page one above the fold.
INTERESTINGLY, THE WASHINGTON POST RAN AN EDITORIAL SUPPORTING REAGAN'S CONTINUATION of aid to E1 Salvador. They said that those who don't agree have the responsibility of making the case "that it's acceptable to the United States if E1 Salvador goes the Cuban way." The New York Times did not see it that way. In a February 5 editorial they said: "As a practical matter, Congress may have little choice but to give some more help to a floundering and repressive regime. Pulling the plug would forfeit what chance remains for a settlement among democrats on both sides of the barricades, averting another Castroitic thorn. But if Congress feels compelled to go along one more time, it needn't swallow the story." (my emphasis). The Times editorialist clearly has doubts about Cuban and Soviet involvement in E1 Salvador. Hew rites: "No Cuban 'advisers' or sizable caches of Soviet weapons have been seen by American correspondents in E1 Salvador." Does he really think that the guerrillas are going to introduce Cuban advisers to Ray Bonner? Doesn't he recall that last year's white paper pointed out that the Soviets were taking pains to obtain American or other Western weapons for El Salvador, going as far away as Vietnam to get them? If he doesn't know that, he shouldn't be writing editorials on the subject for The New York Times. An earlier editorial, on January 31, had cited the alleged massacre of 700 at Mozote and the alleged responsibility of the Salvadoran military for 12,500 murders in 1981 as proof that our aid is not helping human rights. Indeed, it even charged that the U.S. bore some responsibility for the Mozote "massacre."
ALL OF THIS WAS TOO MUCH FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. ON FEBRUARY 10, THE JOURNAL devoted its entire editorial space to a review and critique of press coverage of E1 Salvador, zeroing in particularly on The Times. They said the Mozote tour by Bonner and Guillermo - prieto was "a propaganda exercise." They noted that The Times had run a story on February 4 labeled "news analysis" which had raised questions about how American diplomats gather information abroad, but had not raised the same question about newspaper reporters. This was a reference to the embassy's efforts to check Bonner's story about Mozote. I especially liked The Journal's reply to a nasty column in The Times by Sydney Schanberg attacking Asst. Secretary of State Tom Enders for the role he played in Cambodia during the war. Enders had been a briefing officer in the embassy there. Schanberg suggested he had not been truthful about the bombing in Cambodia and implied that he therefore could not be believed about El Salvador. The Journal pointed out that Mr. Schanberg, who was The Times reporter in Cambodia, had been warned by an embassy official that if the Khmer Rouge took over "they would kill all the educated people, the teachers, the artists, the intellectuals, and that would be a step backward toward barbarism." Mr. Schanberg obviously didn't believe that. It was his by-line on that famous story datelined Phnom Penh, April 13, 1975, which was headlined: "Indochina Without Americans: For Most a Better Life."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REVIEWED A LITTLE HISTORY THAT THE EDITORS OF THE NEW YORK Times ought to keep in mind. There was the misjudging of the Bolsheviks in Russia by American intellectuals like John Reed. Theodore White, the Time correspondent in China, now admitting that he was wrong on the Chinese communists and George Orwell's disillusionment with the communists in Spain followed the same pattern. The Journal says: "More recently, Herbert Hatthews's glorification of Fidel Castro in the 1950s became a permanent embarrassment to the New York Times. David Halberstam (also of The Times) and successors played a key role in ridding Vietnam of the supposedly repressive Diem regime, only to help usher in an even bloodier future. Iran is now free of the Shah's secret police and Nicaragua of Somoza; instead we have Khomeini killing the infidel and the Sandinistas closing La Prensa and imprisoning business leaders for 'antirevolutionary' utterances."
"ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO WATCH THIS SCRIPT REPLAYED AGAIN IN EL SALVADOR, OR CAN we in the press succeed in bringing some perspective to the story?" asks The Journal. That is the question the publishers, editorial writers, and reporters of The Post and The Times ought to ponder very seriously. All they have to do is look at the wreckage, carnage and misery that followed in the wake of those reporters who misrepresented the communist aims and probable conduct in countries ranging in time from Russia to Nicaragua. It ought to give them pause as a new generation of reporters from the Herbert Matthews School sets out to do the very same Job on El Salvador.
I HAD PLANNED TO TAKE UP THE NBC REPEAT OF THE MISLEADING JON ALPERT INTERVIEW of Salvadoran soldiers. Many of you have written about it. I have a long letter from NBC, but I'll have to turn to that in our next issue. I also have some very important additional material on the CBS slander of Gen. Westmoreland. We will have to take that up later also. The Journal editorial appeared Just as we were going to press. It fitted so well with what we had already written that I had to devote this space to it.