Peter Brock's pro-Serbian articles in Foreign Policy merely echo the misleading lies he displayed in the Serbian Unity Congress's March 1993 Unity Herald. Foreign Policy editor Charles William Maynes was misled about Brock's leanings. Several factual errors in Brock's articles are revealed.
In March 1993 Peter Brock drafted a plan to save the Serbs--from the media. The P.R. strategy was published seven months later in Unity Herald, the quarterly journal of the Serbian Unity Congress (SUC). Referring to America's leading Serbian-American lobby group as "we" and "us," Brock urged the organization to create "an informed, operational, fully funded, fully professional" "media institute" in Belgrade. This would counter a "fanatical" anti-Serb media and "reconstruct" Serbia's image.
Yes, this is the same Peter Brock who presented himself as an arbiter of media bias in the pages of Foreign Policy not long ago. He attacked the press for "negligence" and "pack journalism" designed to demonize the Serbs and trigger Western military intervention against them. Journalists who had covered Bosnia (including me) cried foul (see "War Stories," Washington Diarist, TNR, January 3). But thanks to Foreign Policy's imprimatur, Brock's charges were absorbed into the Bosnia literature. The Arizona Republic reprinted the article. Its appearance in Zurich's Die Weltwoche touched off a controversy in Central Europe. It has been published again this summer in a book by a Berlin press. Alexander Cockburn cited Brock as an authority on anti-Serb media bias in a recent Nation column.
Neither critics nor supporters knew that the man identified as an editor of an El Paso, Texas, newspaper had been a P.R. adviser to a group that boasts of its close contacts with Bosnian Serb leaders and of its "research and financial support to authors, journalists and academics." Not surprisingly, the source for much of the Foreign Policy article turns out to be the Serbian regime itself. Hence the article's many false or distorted charges. It is, essentially, a hoax.
Brock himself tipped his hand about his reliance on the broadcasts of state-run Belgrade Television, the propaganda organ of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic notorious for inventing reports of atrocities against Serbs. In the Foreign Policy piece, he claimed that an August 1992 Time magazine photo of a starving Muslim at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp was "in fact" a Serb with tuberculosis who had been arrested for looting. In fact, the man is Fikret Alic, a Muslim.
Caught in this goof by Time reporter Jim Jackson, Brock changed his story: he meant to refer to a picture in the same week's Newsweek. But in Foreign Policy, Brock had written of details that were only in Time, such as the caption and the fact that the purported Serb appeared "more emaciated than others who wore shirts in the picture." No one whose arms and torso are visible in Newsweek is wearing a shirt. In this "correction," published as a response to a letter from Jackson, Brock revealed he got the charge from Belgrade TV. Two other Brock claims of misidentified Serb victims--in another Newsweek photo and on BBC television--also came from Belgrade TV, according to Jonas Weiss, Foreign Policy's fact-checker.
Such alleged cases of mistaken identity, so central to Serb propaganda, are also a leitmotif of the Foreign Policy article. Brock asserted that the Western media identified children aboard a Sarajevo bus hit by sniper fire in August 1992 as Muslim. The fact that there were Serbs on the bus went unreported, he claimed, until "much later." Brock added that, at a funeral for the children, "television reporters" said one child was Muslim, despite "the unmistakable Serbian Orthodox funeral ritual."
Almost every word of this allegation is false or grossly distorted. The Children's Embassy organized a bus evacuation from Sarajevo to Germany for fifty orphans in August 1992. The bus was shot at by snipers; two children died. The bus eventually made it out--after Serb paramilitaries had seized nine child passengers, claiming they were Serbs and should live with their own kind.
Brock is dead wrong that the media asserted the children were all Muslim. The presence of Serbs was reported at the time of the incident by the Associated Press and by The Daily Telegraph and Independent of Great Britain. After all, a main part of the story was the kidnapping of Serb children. Press reports on the funeral did identify one murdered child, accurately, as Roki Sulejmanovic, age 1, a Muslim. The other child, Vedrana Glavas, age 2, was identified, also correctly, as a Serb. Jim Bitterman of ABC News centered his story on Vedrana, referring to her as a Serb.
On April 12, 1993, Serb artillery killed dozens of refugee civilians in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica. Brock charged the media with ignoring "allegations" (by whom he does not say) that Muslim troops provoked the fusillade by firing "tanks" at the Serbs first. Three U.N. workers who visited Srebrenica near the time of the massacre told me the Bosnian army only had one tank, which was in disrepair. Louis Gentile of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, who witnessed the April 12 shelling, said all had been quiet until the Serbian fire. U.N. military observers on the scene confirmed to him that the Serbs had shot first. But even if Brock's version were true, how could fire from inside the enclave justify shelling civilians in retaliation?
Even when Brock attacked inflated statistics of rapes of Muslim women by Serb soldiers (a reasonable point), he lapsed into falsification. The article says that a 1993 report by U.N. human rights rapporteur Tadeusz Mazowiecki "mentioned a figure of 2,400 [rape] victims ... based on 119 documented cases." Actually, the report did not contain the number 2,400 anywhere. It cited 119 rape-induced pregnancies, speculating that some 12,000 total rapes could be derived from that number. Brock has declared that he is "not connected" to any "Yugoslav group." He maintains that his work for the SUC is "no compromise" of ethics. He says the only money he got from the SUC was a reimbursement for travel and lodging to speak at its annual conventions at the Grand Hyatt in New York in 1993 and at the Town & Country Hotel in San Diego in 1992. The "we" and "us" in his Unity Herald article, he claims, were stuck in by the editors. He doesn't mind, though, "because I sympathize generally with their plight." Ljiljana Obradovich-Knezevich, the editor of Unity Herald, told me she "didn't make any changes." As for the evidence that his media critique is a compendium of inventions, Brock refused to comment.
How did he get published in Foreign Policy anyway? Rather easily. Charles William Maynes, the editor of the journal, was receptive. In his own writings, Maynes has argued that intensive coverage of horrors abroad--the so-called CNN Factor--threatens to push the United States into foreign quagmires. Maynes had heard and believed claims of media bias against the Serbs from U.N. diplomats and from David Binder, a veteran New York Times reporter who covers Europe from the paper's Washington bureau. Binder suggested Maynes ask Brock to write the piece, and Maynes did so.
For his part, Maynes says Brock assured him he was not in the pay of any group. Maynes insists that U.N. officials he has talked to confirm a pro-Muslim press bias. Presented with evidence showing much of what he published is false, he stood by Foreign Policy's fact-checking. Maynes argues that the Serbs have a case, and he simply gave it a forum. "The views and information [Brock presented] merited public consideration," he replied to a critical letter from Newsday's Roy Gutman. "I would publish it again," he told me.
This concept of even-handedness is of questionable value in dealing with the starkest moral drama in Europe since 1945. On June 8 Foreign Policy sponsored a debate between Binder and Brock on one side and Edward Vulliamy of London's Observer and me on the other. The most chilling moment came when Binder praised The New York Times's use fifty years ago of a Nazi news dispatch about D-Day. This, he contended, was a model of balanced reporting. Where is the Serbian agency Tanjug quoted today? he demanded.
Now that Bosnian Serb leaders have rejected the five-nation Contact Group peace plan--an action even Milosevic blamed on their greed and fear of war crimes trials--the need for apologists and propagandists to make their "case" will no doubt grow. And now that Bosnian Muslim forces, radicalized by their country's ordeal and fortified by new weapons, have gone on the offensive, the news will focus more and more on their abuses. The need to remember how this cycle began will increase, too. The Muslim "case" is that they were victims of aggression and ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. This "view" and that of the Serbs are indeed very different. But they aren't equally true. The suggestion that Serb war crimes are just a figment of media bias is not a "view that merits public consideration." It is a lie.
See also a letter from Michael Sells to the editors of Foreign Policy regarding Brock's article.
See also discussion of Brock's role at The Serbian Unity Congress and the Serbian Lobby.