Radical media, politics and culture.

Jack X, "The Ward Churchill Example"

Jack X writes:

"The Ward Churchill Example
Media Profits and Manipulation as Pathology

Jack X

On September 11, 2001, immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, renowned author and academic Ward Churchill wrote a stream of consciousness essay in response to the events. The essay, titled, “Some People Push Back” on the Justice of Roosting Chickens, was written at a point in American history when emotions ran through the roof, and it seems that Churchill felt the need to put a logical argument on the table concerning a dangerous United States foreign policy. In the article, he very correctly pointed out that, as the inhabitants of the land occupied by the United States, we bear responsibility for the actions of the US government. As Churchill states in the piece, “All told, Iraq has a population of about 18 million. The 500,000 kids lost to date thus represent something on the order of 25 percent of their age group.” This statement was said over two years before the 2003 invasion of Iraq which has accounted for exponentially more civilian casualties.Even those of us who provided resistance to the Iraqi bombings and the eventual invasion bear responsibility for the United State’s actions. The resistance was not strong enough. Having marches and protests leading in circles was not enough. As Churchill notes, “Be it said as well, and this is really the crux of it, that the ‘resistance’ expended the bulk of its time and energy harnessed to the systemically-useful task of trying to ensure, as "a principle of moral virtue" that nobody went further than waving signs as a means of ‘challenging’ the patently exterminatory pursuit of Pax Americana.” In short, we cannot feel satisfied that we did enough while the bombings are still ongoing. There is no suburban refuge for the current victims of widespread murder in Iraq. After Churchill’s essay was published and war was declared, the murder only had a chance to be further legitimized to the American public under the guise of an immanent threat from weapons of mass destruction.

Needless to say, the weapons never materialized, but the justification had been enough to declare state sponsored terrorism. Only, in the eyes of media conglomerates and politicians, it is not terrorism when it is enacted by a modern Western government, namely the United States. The most inane part of this argument is when opponents of the current war are decried as supporters of Saddam, or even fundamentalist terrorists. Many journalists and politicians seem to claim that opposing one form of State terrorism necessitates supporting a secular but undoubtedly dictatorial regime or even fundamentalist terrorism.

Despite the clear intentions of Churchill’s essay to put irrational United States foreign policy up for debate, the national media exploded over his essay just this past week. Churchill had been invited to speak at Hamilton College in upstate New York, and before having the opportunity to lecture Churchill was ruthlessly attacked by a conservative campaign. The college eventually gave in to bad media coverage and cancelled the lecture. Churchill was also put into a position where he found it necessary to resign his chair position in the Ethnic Studies department. This model is all too familiar after many years of conservative students crying afoul on free speech grounds when academics openly oppose patriarchy or heteronormative values. These attacks have been well calculated and have often enlisted the ranks of conservative government members such as the Nickel and Dimed controversy at the University of North Carolina where a book by Barbra Ehrenreich was seen as too controversial in a voluntary first year summer reading program. Now they have taken it one step further and blatantly attack academics for speaking against US foreign policy.

After Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News picked up the story from Denver based conservative radio, the story reached heightened national coverage. They claimed that Churchill supported the attacks on the World Trade Center, precisely because he argued that this was a predictable response from a region which has seen many of its civilians wasted away as expendable in an ongoing culture war. His flaw, according to these mainstream journalists, seems to have been that he was surprised it took this long for there to be such a violent response from a region which has seen US direct murder on the level of genocide.

In an essay titled, What’s Left for American Universities, O’Reilly said, “Churchill, as you may know, is the University of Colorado ‘Ethnic Studies’[sic] teacher who wrote an essay saying that those Americans killed inside the World Trade Center on 9/11 were not actually civilians, they were ‘little Eichmanns’ (as in the nazi Adolf)--people who hurt innocents because they worked for large corporations. Churchill went on to call the 9/11 killers legitimate ‘soldiers.’” The quote about “little Eichmanns” was obviously taken out of context. In the original essay, Churchill argued that technocratic professionals whose day to day business relies on the spread of global capitalism are responsible for the unrelenting State terrorism direct by the United States.

This quote and several others have taken out of context and repeated all over local and national press affiliates such as CNN. O’Reilly goes on to state, “All over the country far left ravings on campus are acceptable and sometimes even embraced by fanatical faculty. Legitimate dissent has degenerated into hate speech and vile descriptions of America. Many of these so-called teachers, like Ward Churchill, have tenure, a dastardly con that protects teachers for life.” In effect, O’Reilly has deemed himself the judge of acceptable and legitimate dissent, and even more so, he has directed the term “hate speech” towards a critique against a political system which is responsible for an immeasurable number of deaths in various “police actions” and wars.

Once again, opposing one form of terrorism, sponsored by a State, seemingly implies the support of another form of terrorism. As Churchill states in the piece, “One might rightly describe their actions as ‘desperate.’ Feelings of desperation, however, are a perfectly reasonable – one is tempted to say ‘normal’ – emotional response among persons confronted by the mass murder of their children, particularly when it appears that nobody else really gives a damn…”

Controversial rightwing speakers and writers, such as Anne Coulter, lecture at universities without such a public spectacle resulting in a termination of the event. Why has there been so much controversy over a single critique of US foreign policy? For one, there was a spectacle to be made once cable news network journalists such as Bill O’Reilly were able to take small quotes out of context. Churchill does not have the infrastructure or reach of cable networks to put his own perspective out. When he attempted to appear as a guest on Paula Zahn’s CNN show, his perspective was reduced to chopped sound bites and misguided journalist prodding. It was clear by the direction of the report that Zahn intended on maintaining the media spectacle, not give Winston Churchill an opportunity to make his perspective clear to the American public.

The Churchill example has only further shown us as a political movement what we already know. We need to keep building a strong anarchist, anti-authoritarian, and generally alternative media movement to counter the homogeny of mainstream media sources. This is a real opportunity for us to present our ideology well beyond a small clip of another protest in another large city. The IndyMedia movement, after the 1999 Seattle protests, was a massive breakthrough, but this alone is not enough. Also, the IndyMedia movement itself needs to be refined and furthered. Without an opportunity to speak our perspectives, we will be seen as nothing more than mindless activists.