Sadkovich, James J. – The U.S. Media and Yugoslavia, 1991- 1995

The U.S. Media and Yugoslavia, 1991- 1995. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998. xx, 272 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Tables. $69.50, hard bound

     This self-proclaimed “eclectic, a little bit improvised” (xii) and “incomplete” account of “why U.S. media did the job it did covering Yugoslavia’s dissolution (ix) is not eclectic at all. This book is rather like an artfully created mosaic of U.S. media coverage of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, with each piece of the mosaic carefully chosen, polished, and put into just the right place. In contrast to many similar works on the Yugoslav crisis and the subsequent war in Croatia and Bosnia, this book does an excellent job in locating and identifying sources that shaped the knowledge and opinion of the American public immediately before and during the war.

     Of particular value is the author’s discussion of the large body of media and mass communication theories, together with a skillful application of the same, in order to address systematically the most important issues and to highlight the ways in which “media short circuited The U.S. Media and Yugoslavia, 1991- 1995the ethical and moral sensibilities of audiences” (xv). The author not only shows craftsmanship in manipulating the intellectual tools at his disposal to create his own map, but does so by supporting his arguments with superbly rich interdisciplinary scholarly, academic, and media sources. In this way he manages to lay before the reader the completely exposed “body” of the media as it is today, while also writing an “alternative history” of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

     Although the first chapter reveals to us the power structure within the media, in chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 Sadkovich addresses such diverse issues as stereotyping and visual association and the dehumanization of polemical discourse. At the same time he shows how electronic news sources and news services homogenize news editorial style, tending to circulate some meanings and exclude others. In chapters 2, 3, and 8 the author points to the elusive nature of the media, depicting the work of journalists as routinized, stylized, and bureaucratic. He also argues that, in their desire to shock, journalists often promote a superficial and conformist view of what is otherwise a legitimate human interest story. In this way, the constant profusion of messages that incite, instead of messages that question, can easily lead us to accept the unacceptable and to consider violence as a matter of course, just as the constant portrayal of atrocities, detention camps, and interviews with rape victims led the audience to accept that kind of violence as “natural” to the war in Croatia and Bosnia. By treating this naturalization of violence as acceptable (because of long tribal hatred), the media does not allow the war to be portrayed within its sociohistorical and political context.

     For an “outsider,” who “consumes news and is consumed and confused by it” (xii), Sadkovich achieves exactly what he intended (especially in chapters 9 and 10): to expose the role of the U.S. media in the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the war in Croatia and Bosnia, and to counterargue every point where Croatia and Bosnia were treated unjustly by those who reported or wrote about it. It is a justified and well-supported critique of some media, academic, and scholarly sources, a critique that manages to show clearly the bias of U.S. media toward Serbian sources. For a long time before and after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Serbian sources were favored as reliable not because they were, but rather because of a legacy of skillfully executed propaganda from former Yugoslavia and the art of political public relations that was coming from Belgrade. The author, through numerous examples, fulfills his intention of showing that the Serbs were for a long time given the benefit of the doubt, while the Croats were ascribed the position of fascists and Nazis, with the added disadvantage of Catholicism, and the Bosnians were not to be trusted because of the danger of Islamic fundamentalism. He also argues that U.S. official spokesmen and media alike obfuscated the question of genocide, and that by making Slobodan Milo{evi} its agent and Serbia its base for peace in the Balkans, the west has precluded any serious effort to identify and bring to justice those who were ultimately guilty of “crimes against humanity,” and that in all of the above “no medium and no publication passed the ethical tests of fairness and completeness” (p.72).

     By partially chronicling the U.S. media accounts of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and by noting the books published on the same subject, together with an extensive bibliography, this book provides a precious source of information, but its dense style makes it at times difficult to read. As nearly every page offers extensive documentation based on years of research and is supplemented by an abundance of notes, it is very difficult if not impossible to do it justice in this short review. The only way to grasp the complex arguments put forward by this exceedingly well informed scholar is to read the book. This study is a must for anyone interested in the representation of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, but it should also prove of great interest to students and theorists of the media and mass communication and to media practitioners in general. DONA KOLAR-PANOV Sts. Cyril and Methodius University, Skopje, Republic of Macedonia From Slavic Review, Vol. 58, No. 2, 1999, pp. 473-474.

     JAMES SADKOVICH, The U.S. Media and Yugoslavia, 1991- 1995. Westport, Connecticut and London: Praeger, 1998. Pp. 296 Pages/ Price $69.50// To order – Phone: 800-225-5800

     Sadkovich’s book makes him one of that small group of committed commentators who believe that what happened in the Balkans (in the 1990s) actually matters. He provides a committed, almost forensic, investigation into how the West so easily managed to come to terms with the reappearance of genocide in Europe. This book punctures many of the conceits which allowed the West to believe that it was doing all it could do to stop the killing. Sadkovich shows that actually the West did as little as possible…(and) how the West could get away with doing as little as possible. This is an important book. It should be read by everyone who cares about what happened in the Balkans. But, much more importantly , it ought to be read by all those media workers, intellectuals, and bureaucrats who allowed genocide to occur without a whimper of protest.” Keith Tester Professor of Social Theory University of Portsmouth