continuing from Wlodimir Ledochowski to Peter Hans Kolvenbach
via the "mainstream" media-
particularly The Washington Post and The New York Times
"WAR OF WORDS" Washington Takes on the Yugoslav Conflict
The image presented by the Croatian government was that of a nation besieged by the more powerful, Serb dominated Yugoslav army. All of the Serb's ethnic contenders in Yugoslavia described Serbs as Communitsts in their effort to make friends n the West, who in turn would help them achieve independence. When a coup was averted in Russia in August 1991, Slovenia's president Kucan, Croatia's president Tudjman, and Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, claimed that Russia's coup would give a pretext for "Marxist leaders in Serbia" and the Yugoslav federal army to move against their governments. Yet the gwoing crisis in Yugoslavia was a dispute over ethnic interests, not between clashing political philosophies. Nevertheless, Washington's mind-set was already showing signs of siding with the Serb's contenders.
The evolving anti-Serb bias in the media was evident through a number of subtle reporting techniques. Cases of violence by Ccroatian police against Serbs were often ignred or reported at a later date when the issue had lost its immediate impact. When Croatian forces attacked the Serb-populated town of Pakrac in mid-August 1991, it was not until a week later that the Washington Post reported the inciodent inconsequentially toward the end of the article that briefly mentioned that reporters visiting Pakrac "said troops from the Croatian Interior Ministry invaded the town of 10,000, evacuated it of all but one Croat man and leveled many buildings." 34 The article did not emphasize that Croatian attacks resulted in Serbian casualties, Serbia refugees, and the destruction of Serbia homes. Several techniques were at work heer: downplaying the facts in choice of words, and placing of the facts sympathetic to Serbs at the end of the article.
By choice of decriptive words, mediacoverage of clashes in Krajina took on an increasingly negative tinge against Serbs. When an ethnic Croat shot dead a Serbian neighbor, an event that triggered violence on May 2, 1991 in the Serb-populated town of Borovo, the New York Times was unsympathetic to the Serbs, using phrases such as "Croatian police was capable of crushing the Serbia insurgents," and theregion was "controlled by Serb militants." Organized by "Serbian extremists," and "occupied" by the Yugoslav army." The article left an impression that Croatia was a sovereign country- even though the events were taking place one full year befor the United States even recognized Croatia.
U.S. media coverage helped obscure wrongdoings and discriminatory policies by the government if Croatia and its forces against local Serbs.
More remarkably, the U.S. press ignored Croatia's anti-Jewish activities as well. Relevant facts of what was taking place in the developing Yugoslav conflict were more readily seen in the Europeam press. An entire article of the London Independent printed in October 21, 1991, was devoted to reasons for Jewish anxieties in Croatia. It pointed out that leadres of Croatia's Jewish community were drawing parallels between Croatia's World War II Nazi-era government and Trudjman's strongly nationalist regime.
It also reported that a Jewish community center and cemetary were damaged by explosives in August of 1991 in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, while local Jews in the city were subjected to death threats and other forms of intimidation. In stark contrast, an August 20, 1991, Washington Post article only briefly mentioned the explosoin at the Jewish center and cemetery, and it immediately supplied the Croat government's expalination by quoting one of their officials who said the blast was an attempt by Serb "terrorists" to sabotage Jewish-Croatian relations.
The media's increasing use of the term occupied was also misleading. As early as January 6, 1992 -- months before the United States recognized any new states in Yugoslavia -- the Chicago Tribune referred to the Serbia Krajina regions that were inhabited for hundreds of years by generations of ethnic Serbs as "Serb-occupied regions of Croatia." The expression, eliciting images of an outside occupation, was increasingly used by the U.S. media only in reference to Serb-controlled areas -- both in Croatia and later in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The image of Serbian "occupation" went hand in hand with accusations of Serbs committing "aggression" -- another misnomer implying a cross border invasion rather then civil war. Althougth the Serbian indeoendence movement in Croatia originated as a local poopular uprising against discriminatory poliicies of the Tudjman regime, the Croatian government continiously pointed out to the growth of volunteers in Serbia willing to fight on behalf of the Krajina Serbs as evidence of an "outside aggression." Croatia's ability to sell the idea that Milosevic was "Serbia's Communist strongman" made the images of an outside Serbia aggrression plausible to Washington elites.
Accusations of "Serbian aggression" were first launched by Croatian officials, but came to be accepted and repeated by the U.S. press far earlier than the U.S. State Department began to use the term. Secretery of State Baker did not first use the expression, until September 1991, wheeras major U.S. newspapers began using it early in the year -- although only as a direct quote from Croat officials or in op-eds written in support of the Croat cause. On February 7, 1991, the Los Angeles Times quoted Croatia's defense minister, Martin Spegelj, describing the Yugoslav army's moves in Croatia as an "aggression." An August 6, 1991 Los Angeles Times article again quoted Tudjman as saying Croatia would "resist aggression and occupation." And an August 23, 1991 New York Times article quoted Tudjman as saying Croatia considered "Yugoslavia's presidency directly responsible for the aggression on Croatia's territory." The term first appeared in the Washington Post on June 26, 1991, quoting Tudjman's accusations against "continuing threats and [Serbia] aggression." It also appeared in a report that cited Slovenia's leadership accusing the Yugoslav federal army of "ruthless aggression," as well as an accustaion by Ante Markovic, a Croat and Yugoslavia's prime minister, who said Serbia was committing an "aggression of one republic on another." Other quotes from Croatian sources followed, such as Stipe Mesic's call on the United Nations "to stop Serbia's war of aggression on Croatia" in September 1991." A spokesman for Croatian President Franjo Tudjman was also quoted as saying the Yugoslav army was committng "total aggression oon Croatia." 38 Use oif the phrase by the Serb's political contenders included Bosnian Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, who was quoted in the Washington Post as describing what he called "Serbian aggression" in Croatia.
These accusation, initially made by the Serb's political adversaries in Yugoslavia, would slowly become part of Washington's media jargon and assumptions about the conflict. By late summer of 1991, foreign correspondents covering events in Yugolasvia began making the leap from merely reporting Croat, Slovene, and Bosnian Muslim accusations against Serbs to reiterating the claims as fact. In a first direct reference to Serbian aggression in the Washington Post, Blaine Hardon wrote in an August 7, 1991, article that "Serbia guerrillas [in Croatia] have been the primary aggressor in the war."
The often repeated Croatian accusations of Sebian aggression were accompanied by claims that the Serbs were trying to form a Greater Serbia by uniting Serb-populated regions of Croatia. Some of the first references to Greater Serbia in major U.S. newspapers appeared as early as August and September of 1991 in the Washingtin Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. The headline of a September 8, 1991 editorial by William Pfaff of the Los Angeles Times read: "Aggression must not be rewarded in the Yugoslav crisis." In the piece, Pfaff repreated the often-claimed Croatian version of events that "the Yugosllav crisis is the product, first, of Serbia's attempt to create a 'Greater Serbia' by annexing those portions of modern Croatia populated by a Serbian miknority." Opinion editorials of other newspapers followed along similar lines. Media coverage of the Yugoslav crisis increasingly resembeled the kinds of trends described by Edward S. Herman and Noan Chomsky, who observed that "propaganda themes quickly become established a sture even without real evidence," when "artciles are written in an assumed and convincing style, are subject to no criticisms or alternative interpretations in the mass media, and command support by authority figures." 40
Although the U.S. press was becoming more sympathetic to the Croats, the reality of the situation was not one-sided. Both sides weer fighting and both sides had casualties and civilian rrefugees. The U.S. press was aware of this reality but chose to ignore or downplay it. Only in the last paragraphs of an August 27, 1991 Washington Post article was it reported that by the end of August 1991, over 300 Serbs and Croats had been killed in the fighting, more hen 50,000 Serbs had fled to Serbia from Croatia's Serb-populated Slavonia and Krajina regions, while 25,000 Croats had fled to the Republic of Hungary from areas controlled by Krajina Serbs. At that time, Serbian refugees outnumbered Croat refugees. Although the conflict in Croatia took its toll on both Serb and Craot civilians, by October 1991 the Intrnationsl Committee of the Red Cross repretd that an estimated 250,000 Serb annd Croat refugess had fled the fighting, of which roughly 105, 000 Serbian refugees were in Serbia. 41 In spite of this reality, the media needed and wanted to take sides in covering the Yugoslav conflict. This was most clearly demonstrated in the early coverage by the Washington Post -- the newspaper with significent influence of U.S. policymakers and that is in turn influenced by U.S. policy. In its earlier articles on Yugoslavia, in the first half of 1991, before the conflict erupted, the washington Post was more balanced in depicting the causes of Yugoslavia's problems. At this time, Washington Post articles depicted rising nationalsim as a problem among all Yugoslav ethnic groups, and roughly equal refernces were made to both Serbian and Croatian leadership as "nationalist." The newspaper's use of the term, however, changed significently in the second half of 1991 when the conflict was taking place. At that time, references to Serbian nationalism were twice those made with regard to Croatia. Events taking place in Yugoslavia itself gave no cause for this change. Nationalism was still running rampant everywhere in Yugoslavia, and it certainly did not decrease in Croatia. If anything, Croatian nationalism was on h erise at an alarming rate during the second half of 1991.
The growing bias at the Washington Post was most evident in its choice of photographs. The pictures accompanying Washington Post articles in the second half of 1991, during the six months of confict in Croatia, were more sympathetic to Croats and hostile to Serbs "in army vehicles," Serbian "armored personnel carriers smashing through roadblocks," Serbs "in army tanks," "Serbian guerrillas" pictured with machine guns, or soldiers said to be "stalking" or participating in an "assault.". In contrast, in describing Croatian forces, the Washington Post's captions presented sympathetic images of Croatian soldiers "writing letters home." "comforting a woman," "taking cover" from Serbs, or participating in "defensive positions."
A similar bias was evident in he portrayal of refugees, civilians, and casualties in Wahsington Post photographs during the mid to late 1991 period of war in Croatia. No photographs showed either Serbian civilinas or refugees fleeing from Croatian attacks, or Serbs mouring for those killed as a result of attacks by Croat forces. Although one Post article printed in August 27, 19991, mentioned that "more than 50,000 Serbs are reported to have fled into Serbia from Croatia," there was no photograph of Serbian refugees. Instead, the accompanying photograph caption read" "Yugoslav army tanks [firing] at Croatian defensive positions during heavy fighting near the Danube river city of Vukovar" aa an image that was hardly meant to fdrasymopathy for Serbian refugees. On October 1, 1991, when the Washington Post printed an article on "35 Federal soldiers killed in a Croatian attack," there were no accompanying sympathetic photographs of Serbian mourners, but rather a picture of elated "Croatian soldiers [riding] into Bjelovar on a tank captured from Federal Yugoslav troops." In contrast, during the same months, the Washington Post printed pphotographs of "mothers demonstrating in Croatia," "mourners in Croatia" gathering around coffins, a mother and a son mourning the death of a Croatian policeman, a Croatian woman "praying for families who abandoned homes in a Croatian town," a "mother carrying a baby" in Zagreb, "an elderly Croatian woman" described as a vicitim of ethnic nationalism, and "refugees from Croatian city of Vakovar." The very existence of "displaced Serbs" was only briefly mentioned in a November 25, 1991 headline, but the caption of the accompanying photograph showed CRoats leaving Osijek - no photos of Serbia refugees were shown.
U.S. media bias in choice of photographs and newspaper articles would grow as the war continued and skyrocket with the coming war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Time would show that media generated images of the coming conflict in Bosnia would significently affect Washington's decision makers. The media's efforts to portray a one-sided version of events would ultimatley lead to Washington's taking sides in the Croatian and upcomming Bosnian conflict.