How did the Serbs come to be viewed as fascists in this conflict? This
characterization has now become an accepted fact, an issue beyond debate.
It makes U.S. motives seem unimpeachable and on the side of good against
In April 1993 Jacques Merlino, associate director of French TV 2,
interviewed James Harff director of Ruder Finn Global Public Affairs, a
Washington, D.C-based public relations firm. The interview shows the role
of the corporate media in shaping a political issue.
Harff bragged of his services to his clients--the Republic of Croatia, the
Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the parliamentary opposition in Kosovo,
an autonomous region of Serbia. Merlino described how Harff uses a file of
several hundred journalists, politicians, representatives of humanitarian
associations, and academics to create public opinion. Harff explained:
"Speed is vital . . . it is the first assertion that really counts. All
denials are entirely ineffective."
In the interview, Merlino asked Harff what his proudest public relations
endeavor was. Harff responded:
"To have managed to put Jewish opinion on our side. This was a sensitive
matter, as the dossier was dangerous looked at from this angle. President
Tudjman was very careless in his book, Wastelands of Historical Reality.
Reading his writings one could accuse him of anti-Semitism. [Tudjman
claimed the Holocaust never happened.] In Bosnia the situation was no
better: President Izetbegovic strongly supported the creation of a
fundamentalist Islamic state in his book, The Islamic Declaration.
"Besides, the Croatian and Bosnian past was marked by real and cruel
anti-Semitism. Tens of thousands of Jews perished in Croatian camps, so
there was every reason for intellectuals and Jewish organizations to be
hostile toward the Croats and the Bosnians. Our challenge was to reverse
this attitude and we succeeded masterfully.
"At the beginning of July 1992, New York Newsday came out with the article
on Serb camps. We jumped at the opportunity immediately. We outwitted three
big Jewish organizations--the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League, The
American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress. In August, we
suggested that they publish an advertisement in the New York Times and
organize demonstrations outside the United Nations.
"That was a tremendous coup. When the Jewish organizations entered the game
on the side of the [Muslim] Bosnians, we could promptly equate the Serbs
with the Nazis in the public mind. Nobody understood what was happening in
Yugoslavia. The great majority of Americans were probably asking themselves
in which African country Bosnia was situated.
"By a single move we were able to present a simple story of good guys and
bad guys which would hereafter play itself We won by targeting the Jewish
audience. Almost immediately there was a clear change of language in the
press, with use of words with high emotional content such as ethnic
cleansing, concentration camps, etc., which evoke images of Nazi Germany
and the gas chambers of Auschwitz. No one could go against it without being
accused of revisionism. We really batted a thousand in full."
Merlino replied, "But between 2 and 5 August 1992, when you did this, you
had no proof that what you said was true. All you had were two Newsday
articles." "Our work is not to verify information," said Harff. "We are not
equipped for that. Our work is to accelerate the circulation of information
favorable to us, to aim at judiciously chosen targets. We did not confirm
the existence of death camps in Bosnia, we just made it widely known that
Newsday affirmed it.... We are professionals. We had a job to do and we did
it. We are not paid to moralize."
(Sara Flounders, "Nato in the Balkans", can be ordered from