James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Monday, July 12, 2004

An important story you'll never see printed

While reading a newspaper article about the horrors in the Sudan, I was struck, as I am every so often, but the utter, apparently deliberate, failure of the press to address an extremely important aspect of such situations.

The Sudan story, of course, involves yet another government encouraging and materially supporting the incomprehensibly brutal murder of countless of its citizens -- men, women and children. As is so often true, the divide between the butchers and their victims is ethnic.

Sudan is hardly the only current locale for senseless slaughter, of course, simply the most prominent at the moment. In Chechnya, private armies well supplied with mortars, guns and sundry killing machines continue to bloody the Russians. Afghanistan “war lords” rule their own regions of that sick, “liberated” country in any way they choose, and to enforce their rule with unchecked brutality. With a little thought, you certainly can name half a dozen other such situations around the world.

But here’s the puzzler: In none of the numerous articles about the Sudan, or any of the other bloody cesspools of this world, is there any mention of where the armaments come from. You won’t find a single word about who is manufacturing and selling the killing devices to the butchers, let alone any sense of the size of their profits, or the degree to which the arms dealers and makers are subsidized by their (our) governments.

It is obvious beyond any argument that almost any weapon short of nuclear bombs is available to anybody who can pay the price. Drug dealers, “war lords,” and human maggots in control of quasi governments around the globe have access not only to rifles and machine guns, but to armored vehicles, attack helicopters, all sorts of armor-piercing and antiaircraft missiles. You name it: If it kills, and if a potential buyer has the cash, it can be purchased.

But who is building that stuff for the killers, and who is selling it to them? So far as I can tell, and I’ve looked, not a single news outlet in this country as has raised those questions, let alone made serious effort to find answers.

You will, of course, find very occasional mention of the fact that the United States is the world’s biggest arms peddler, that Russia is now low, now high on the list of makers and sellers, that France is a big supplier of high tech weapons. But the stories never tell you to whom they are selling, though the implication always is that the buyers are “legitimate governments.” No specific information and no documentation is provided.

For the past 20 years or so, which include many years during which I was still a full-time news guy myself, I have been prodding newspaper editors to get that story done. My recollection is that I have raised the question very seriously with some editor or another every 18 months to two years. Sometimes I got nothing more than a short, blank look, at other times the editor made that phony-serious face that unmistakably says, “I want you to think I’ll consider this, but I won’t.”

OK. I readily concede that it would be an extremely difficult story to do. It would take a great deal of reporting time, and newspapers today mostly just want their pages filled, preferably with fluff that will amuse and calm readers and will not upset any large groups. Also, the arms manufacturers are more secretive than the Mafia, the dealers are even more so, and both sets of miscreants are protected by various politicians and governments, including our own. (Hey, they are very, very, very big earners, and they pay extremely well for protection, in campaign contributions and undoubtedly beyond that. And they’ve done a good job of conning large segments of the public about their role in “keeping democracy free.”)

For all that, it could be done. A team of good reporters, or even one very good, very courageous reporter could do it.

Don’t expect to see that story, though. The press has chosen deliberately to classify it as untouchable. We can only speculate on the reasons for that decision, but there no longer is any doubt that it has been made.