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MEDIA HYPE FOR ANOTHER "AMERICAN CENTURY"

By Norman Solomon
Special to The Putnam Pit
        In the nation's biggest news weekly, the final headline of 1999 posed a
question that preoccupies many journalists these days: "A Second American
Century?"

        Providing some answers on the last page of Time's Dec. 27 issue, pundit
Charles Krauthammer was upbeat. "The world at the turn of the 21st century
is not multipolar but unipolar," he wrote. "America bestrides the world
like a colossus." We are supposed to see this as a very good situation.

        "The main reason for the absence of a serious challenge to American
hegemony is that it is so benign," Krauthammer went on. "It does not
extract tribute. It does not seek military occupation. It is not interested
in acquiring territory." With such declarations, Time magazine echoes its
founder, Henry Luce, who coined the "American Century" maxim six decades ago.

        Like his colleagues in the punditocracy, Krauthammer recognizes that
foreign rivals are restless. ("The world is stirring.") Yet the outlook is
favorable: "None have the power to challenge America now. The unipolar
moment will surely last for at least a generation."

        Many other media outlets are also buoyant. "There's every reason to think
the upcoming 100 years will prove to be yet another American century,"
according to the Dec. 20 issue of Fortune magazine.

        On 1999's last telecast of the CBS program "Sunday Morning," a confident
pronouncement came from Harold Evans, editor of U.S. News & World Report as
well as the New York Daily News: "I would be prepared to say it will be
another American century."

        When prospects for the next century seem murky, the media fixations
usually revolve around whether the United States can overpower the world --
not whether it should.

        Three days before 2000 began, a front-page Christian Science Monitor story
appeared under the heading "Where America Stands Among World Empires." The
newspaper emphasized that "questions persist: How long will U.S. dominance
last and how does it compare with past civilizations?" Circumscribed
questions yielded narrow answers: The lengthy article could spare only
fleeting references to downsides of American power in recent decades, such
as massive carnage in Vietnam and deadly U.S. aid to the Nicaraguan contras.

        In sync with the prevalent media assumption that Uncle Sam's global reach
is overwhelmingly benign, the Monitor reported: "Some observers remain
optimistic that the 21st century could be 'American' as well, particularly
if the development of markets is seen as more important than armaments in a
nation's future arsenal."

        There is some truth to the claim by Time's Krauthammer that the
present-day U.S. government "does not seek military occupation" and "is not
interested in acquiring territory." Rather than sending in the army and
marines, policymakers prefer to assist with the deployment of Citibank,
Microsoft and the like. While military prowess remains crucial, today's
cutting edge for global domination is relentless economic leverage -- what
the Christian Science Monitor discreetly calls "the development of markets."

        To those holding sway in Washington, foreign policy should aim to secure
all economic beachheads. In the process, as college history instructor Paul
Street wrote in the November issue of Z Magazine, "the United States must
therefore monitor and police the planet with more diligence than ever."
Despite all the talk about a world transformed, he contends, "globalization
still depends on American militarism." The prevailing idea is to use
military power "to create a favorable global milieu for international
investors."

        Common journalistic euphemisms make a lot more sense when held up to the
light of such analysis. While the interests of international investors are
routinely equated with the interests of humanity, the economic power
structure means fabulous wealth for a few and untold poverty for many. In
medialand, key owners and advertisers continue to gain enormous profits.

        For the record, the last Time magazine of the 20th century included 27
full-page advertisements for products from the computer industry -- along
with 17 pages of ads from car makers, 16 from financial-services firms, 14
from pharmaceutical giants, four from oil companies and four from cigarette
makers.

        It's no surprise that media conglomerates like Time Warner are extolling
the last "American Century" and encouraging us to hope for another one. But
history is not destiny.

_________________________________________________

Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of
Highly Deceptive Media."

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