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It’s not as if there is a complete dearth of criticism of the
U.S.-NATO war of aggression against Serbia and Kosovo in the mainstream
media — although you’ll never hear it characterized as I just did. A
few well-established establishment figures who have mild reservations
about the war might get air time once in a while. But for the most part
the American “free press” has marched not just obediently but
enthusiastically off to war, accepting official briefings at face value
and — most of all — never seriously questioning official motives for
starting the war.
The tendency of most of the media, especially those based in the
Imperial City, to be what some of us have called a “courtier press,”
dancing attendance and showering flattery on the powerful rather than
afflicting the comfortable, is a pattern of long standing and is part of
the reason for this almost unquestioning endorsement of the war. It
should also be noted, however, that beyond the impulse to cozy up to
power — to take care not to offend long-term sources and leakers
without appearing to be too much of a toady — most of the media and the
people who inhabit the media have a strong vested interest in wars.
It’s hardly news — although it won’t be mentioned until months after
the fact in the professional journals that practice media criticism by
missing the obvious most of the time — that CNN in particular sees its
ratings surge when there’s a war or major crisis. When there’s no war,
Monica or O.J. trial, CNN’s ratings decline almost to the vanishing
point, raising serious questions about its long-term economic viability.
So the network has a vested interest in international crises. The big
three broadcast networks do as well, although perhaps with not as much
What is true for networks is true of the newsies who work for them.
The traditional way to earn your spurs as a journalist (and enhance your
earning power), especially in broadcast, is to cover a war reasonably
well or at least memorably. From Edward R. Murrow to David Halberstam to
Peter Arnett and Christine Amanpour, war correspondents are the
darlings. Without wars to cover journalists might have to find other
ways to distinguish themselves or to stand out from the pack.
So perhaps it’s not all that surprising — dismaying as it may be —
that certain aspects of the war in Kosovo, while not completely ignored,
have not received the kind of attention you might expect from a
genuinely independent, critical and self-critical media.
For example, the character, connections and funding of the Kosovo
Liberation Army, the guerrilla army in rebellion against the Milosevic
regime in Serbia, has received little attention. There have been some
stories about the group’s close ties to Albanian drug smugglers and
criminal gangs, which seem to provide most of the funds for weapons and
operations. The Albanian region is apparently a key conduit for drugs,
especially heroin, smuggled from the Middle East into Europe and many of
those involved in the KLA have been involved in the trade as well.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the KLA as a whole is involved in
criminal activity or that the cause of Kosovan independence is rendered
suspect because of the criminal connections. As long as governments
choose to make certain drugs illegal there will be a confluence of
interest between drug traffickers and clandestine or underground
political or revolutionary movements — and international intelligence
services. All of them have an interest in access to large amounts of
hard-to-track cash, weapons, secure but secret transportation routes and
places to hide things and people from official scrutiny. So drug
trafficking, intelligence operations and revolutionary politics are
bound to go together, as they have for decades.
The London Times has documented the KLA-drug connection and Newsweek
has mentioned it in passing. But since the bombing began the story has
been downplayed or ignored in most of the U.S. media.
There’s also been little mention of the fact that despite the poverty
of most of its inhabitants, Kosovo is not without economic resources
that could constitute a prize of some value. The Stari Trg mining
complex, owned by the state-owned Trepca mining company is a rich source
of lead, zinc, cadmium, gold and silver. Kosovo also has some 17 billion
tons of coal reserves, the main source of energy for power plants
throughout Serbia-Yugoslavia. The value might not approach the value of
the oil in Kuwait, but it is considerable. Could it be that the war is
at least as much about control of natural resources as it is about
self-determination and humanitarian impulses?
A genuinely independent press might look behind official platitudes
to delve into such possibilities, as well as asking pointed questions
about what leaders in the United States and NATO countries — not to
mention defense industries — stand to gain from a lovely little war in