It’s Time to Talk About the Media

MSNBC-PutinTrump-Power-Play--1491941048

(Putin/Trump Power Play.  Screenshot: MSNBC; https://theintercept.com/2017/04/12/msnbcs-rachel-maddow-sees-a-russia-connection-lurking-around-every-corner/)

With the CIA chief Michael Pompeo announcing last week that the agency is looking into bringing charges against Wikleaks founder Julian Assange and the publication of an expose at The Intercept quantifying just how much Rachel Maddow – who used to be a decent journalist – has now jumped the shark with respect to her obsession with hammering away on the Russia-Trump conspiracy – even though there is still no evidence of such 6 months after the election – it’s time to talk about the problem with the mainstream corporate media.

First of all, when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks, I’m amused at how people go from loving them to hating them and back depending on how they are perceived to be somehow helpful to Trump or not. Many liberals and lefties years ago were singing Wikleaks’ praises when it was exposing the crimes of the Bush administration.   Many of these same liberals turned on Assange/Wikileaks like a mad dog when they started exposing material that made Clinton look bad and was perceived to somehow be helping Trump.  Trump himself, and later Pompeo, praised Wikileaks when its published materials were perceived to be in their political interests.  Now Trump’s CIA has declared war on the organization for releasing a trove of CIA documents that reveal the extent of its’ ability to illegally spy on Americans and conduct cyber warfare in such a way as to make it look like it is originating from a foreign government (Russia or China) – i.e. false flag attacks that can lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions between nuclear-armed powers.

Of course, anyone who has done their homework on the history of the CIA’s machinations since the end of WWII will not be surprised at any of this, only the technology has changed and makes things even more dangerous.

It seems to me that if Assange and Wikileaks is able to piss off all sides, then that proves their independence which is something that real journalistic outlets are supposed to practice:  report and expose without fear or favor.

Here is what James Goodale, attorney who represented the New York Times in the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, had to say in his 2013 book, Fighting for the Press, about the implications of the U.S. government prosecuting Assange (thanks to Alex Emmons for drawing attention to this on his Twitter feed recently):

Assange sought out secret information by setting up a private website for the anonymous transmission of information to him.  Journalists asking sources to reveal secrets is the essence of journalism.  The only thing that has changed is that online chats and a digital submissions system have replaced meeting over a cup of coffee and a P.O. Box.  Charging Julian Assange with conspiracy to commit espionage could be more accurately characterized as charging him with a conspiracy to commit journalism.

While Assange’s role may seem to be passive compared with the image of hard-driving reporters of the past, journalism is quite different today.  News is gathered through the use of the Internet with reporters sitting at their desks.

This is in contrast to someone like Rachel Maddow – a sad figure because it is clear from her past journalism that she knows better.   Her reporting on the Flint water crisis and other issues showed that she had the skills and intelligence to be a great investigative journalist.   Now she has sunk to appearing as an obnoxious smirking sock puppet on behalf of the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party by using her MSNBC show as a platform from which to obsessively pontificate on innuendo about Russia and its alleged compromise of the Trump presidency.  It might be different if there was actually some substance to what she says and the nefarious connections she draws, but there isn’t and Aaron Mate at The Intercept has quantified just how much time she has spent beating the Russia drum:

The Intercept conducted a quantitative study of all 28 TRMS episodes in the six-week period between February 20 and March 31. Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.

That figure is conservative, excluding segments where Russia was discussed, but was not the overarching topic.

Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).

People in Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean water, half of Americans are effectively poor, 1/3 of Millenials are living with their parents due to economic stress, even when they have an education, more oil and gas pipelines are failing and spilling fossil fuels into America’s waterways, and we’re still illegally involved in military interventions in at least 7 nations.   Trump not only has the lowest approval ratings of any US president this early into his term, but recent polls show that people think the Democratic Party is even more out of touch than Trump. Yet Maddow spends over half of her time flogging conspiracy theories about Russia:

Maddow has acknowledged that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are unverified. But she has ignored claims that cast them in a more skeptical light. For instance, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News on March 5 that U.S. intelligence has “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia. On March 15, former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton surrogate Michael Morrell said “there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.” Those statements have gone unmentioned.

Considering how much Maddow and other liberal pundits hate Trump – and there is plenty of reason to despise many of his policy positions – the anti-Trump rhetoric was finally muted when he had American missiles fired illegally into a sovereign nation earlier this month on the pretext of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province blamed on Assad.  Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning media watchdog, counted how many editorials in major corporate media outlets criticized the airstrikes within days of the event:

Of the top 100 US newspapers, 47 ran editorials on President Donald Trump’s Syria airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, seven ambiguous and only one opposed to the military attack.

In other words, 83 percent of editorials on the Syria attack supported Trump’s bombing, 15 percent took an ambivalent position and 2 percent said the attack shouldn’t have happened. Polls showed the US public being much more split: Gallup (4/7–8/17) and ABC/Washington Post (4/7–9/17) each had 51 percent supporting the airstrikes and 40 percent opposed, while CBS (4/7–9/17) found 57 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

A list of the editorials with quotes showing support or opposition can be seen here. The list of the top 100 editorial boards in the country was taken from a 2016 Hill piece (10/5/16) on presidential election endorsements.

Eight out of the top ten newspapers by circulation backed the airstrikes; the Wall Street Journal (4/7/17), New York Times (4/7/17), USA Today (4/7/17), New York Daily News (4/8/17), Washington Post (4/7/17), New York Post (4/10/17), Chicago Sun-Times (4/7/17) and Denver Post (4/7/17) all supported the strikes with varying degrees of qualification and concern.

The San Jose Mercury News (4/7/17) and LA Times (4/8/17) were ambiguous, highlighting Trump’s past opposition to bombing Syria and insisting, in the Mercury News’ words, that he get “serious about setting policies and pursuing diplomacy.”

The one editorial that expressly opposed the attack, in the 15th-ranked Houston Chronicle (4/7/17), did so mainly on constitutional—not moral or geopolitical—grounds, writing, “As we said a year-and-a-half ago, the president cannot and should not use military force against Syria without a legislative framework.”

The Chronicle—like all of the editorials on the list—accepted the government of Bashar al-Assad’s guilt in the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, omitting qualifiers such as “alleged” or “accused.”

A consistent theme in the bulk of the editorials was that the airstrikes were necessary, but Trump needed a broader strategy as well as a constitutional or congressional “framework.” As FAIR (4/7/17) noted last week, the editorial and op-ed pages of top five newspapers in the country were uniformly in support of the airstrikes in the day after the attack, offering up 18 positive columns and zero critical.

Some spoke in emotional or visceral terms, most notably the New York Times (4/7/17), which insisted “it was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction” at the attack. “The US decision to launch cruise missiles at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s airfield felt good,“ the Denver Post (4/7/17) wrote.

This emotional satisfaction was presumably in response to Assad’s alleged atrocity of gassing civilians, including children.  These victims needed to be avenged and the moral balance restored, the thinking went.   However, as political comedian Jimmy Dore points out, terrorists (called rebels by western media outlets) lured and bombed up to 80 children in an atrocity last week in Syria.   Dore points out how the western media treats this intentional atrocity against children with far less outrage and no retaliatory moves being suggested for Washington to establish moral balance in the universe.   Any group or individual who intentionally targets children cannot be called a rebel but is more appropriately labeled a terrorist.  However,  Dore shows examples of western journalists refraining from using the term terrorist and insisting on referring to the perpetrators as “rebels.”    Furthermore, calls are made to wait for further investigation of the incident.

Why are these incidents treated so differently by the mainstream western press?   To watch the video, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xIXiSq3K_c

There are explanations for why these incidents would be treated differently and they require an understanding of how the corporate MSM works in the U.S.   Below I reprint an article I wrote for OpEd News a while back on the topic:

American Propaganda and the Mass Media

By Natylie Baldwin

Edward Bernays and the Manipulation of the Public Mind

 

Edward Bernays was the nephew of pioneering Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.  His parents had settled in the U.S. and Bernays grew up American, but came to be deeply influenced by his uncle’s ideas about the unconscious, its role as the repository of repressed sexual and aggressive impulses and its potential use as a means of manipulating the masses.  Bernays was also influenced by social psychologist Wilfred Trotter’s theories on crowd psychology and the “herd instinct.”

 

During WWI, which threw Freud into a deep depression because he saw it as confirmation of his worst fears about human behavior, Bernays was working as a press agent and was asked to assist the war effort by participating in the American government’s committee on public information, known as the Creel Committee.  His great contribution was effectively promoting president Woodrow Wilson’s narrative of the war as a fight to spread democracy to Europe.  During the Paris Peace Conference, Bernays would see first-hand the success of his propaganda efforts as the Paris crowds greeted Wilson as “a liberator of the people.  The man who would create a new world in which the individual would be free.”

 

Inspired by the achievements of propaganda during wartime, Bernays, looking to make his fortune, set to work on turning Americans from citizens into passive consumers who would be controlled by channeling their unconscious desires into a constant quest for goods and services that they would associate with their deepest yearnings for beauty, freedom and fulfillment.  Bernays would come up with tactics to bombard the public with messages that would cement this objective.

 

One of his first successes involved helping the tobacco industry expand their market by breaking the taboo against women smoking in public.  After soliciting the advice of the top psychoanalyst in America who told him that cigarettes were a phallic symbol and represented male sexual power, he realized that if cigarettes could be associated with challenging men’s power, women would respond positively to smoking as it would be connected to the ideas of freedom and rebellion – two of the most common marketing concepts to this day.

 

At the annual Easter Day Parade in New York City, Bernays staged a memorable event in which a group of “rich debutantes” lit up cigarettes in theatrical fashion at Bernays’ pre-arranged signal.  He had tipped off the media that a group of “suffragettes” would be lighting up what they called “torches of freedom.”  As Bernays knew, who could argue against freedom in America?  By associating cigarettes with freedom to women, Bernays had helped the tobacco companies hit the jackpot.

 

Bernays and his insights soon became indispensable to corporate America, which was worried that consumer demand for their products would plateau as mass production had been mastered and people at the time tended to buy goods based on need and durability.  Only a small group of wealthy people could buy a significant number of luxury items.  Consequently, to continue growing their markets, they needed to “transform the way the majority of Americans thought about products” as Paul Mazen, a Leahman Brothers Wall Street banker said.  Mazen turned to Bernays for implementation of this transformation.

 

As Peter Solomon, investment banker for Leahman Brothers, said about Bernays in the documentary film Century of the Self:

“Prior to that time there was no American consumer, there was the American worker.  And there was the American owner.  And they manufactured and they saved and they ate what they had to and the people shopped for what they needed.  And while the very rich may have bought things they didn’t need, most people did not.  And Mazen envisioned a break with that where you would have things that you didn’t actually need, but you wanted as opposed to needed.”

 

As the New York banks financed the spread of chain department stores across the country to serve as oases of consumerism, Bernays came up with many methods of product promotion that would become pervasive later on, such as linking products with movie stars who were also his clients, adorning those same movie stars in clothes and accessories made by other corporate clients during public events, and prominently placing products in films.

 

He also paid psychologists to issue reports claiming that certain products and services were good for people’s well-being and celebrities to push the idea that clothes were not merely necessities but a means of self-expression.  This became known as the “third party technique” of conferring legitimacy by what appears to be a disinterested party or an authoritative source.

 

The dramatic growth in consumerism that Bernays actively facilitated contributed to the stock market boom.  After it crashed in 1929, however, challenges were presented to the idea that Americans were consumers rather than citizens as the consumer boom could no longer be sustained and Franklin Roosevelt’s administration actively lobbied against it as part of the New Deal program.   Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in a letter to Roosevelt described Bernays and his PR colleagues as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.”  Unlike Bernays, Roosevelt and his colleagues believed that people could be trusted to make rational decisions if their fears, desires and insecurities were not manipulated in other directions as reflected in Roosevelt’s famous admonition, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

 

Bernays eventually saw his ideas transferred into the realm of political philosophy as renowned political writer and repentant former socialist Walter Lippmann, who had served with Bernays on the Creel Commission, began to apply Freud’s ideas to a need to control the masses politically, viewing the Russian Revolution as an example of the dark forces of the rabble being unleashed.  Bernays was intrigued by Lippmann’s interpretation of his uncle’s ideas – contained in Freud’s books which Bernays professionally promoted in the U.S.  Lippmann had begun to openly question the feasibility of democracy:

 

The lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one.  In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.

 

In his 1922 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann stated plainly:  “The public must be put in its place [so that we may] live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”

 

In 1930’s Germany, the Nazis were also asserting that democracy was not feasible and Joseph Goebbels, who emerged as the Nazis’ pre-eminent propagandist, had taken note of Bernays methods of public manipulation based on Freudian theory as a way to channel the desires of the population in a particular direction favored by the leaders.  Goebbels reportedly admitted putting Bernays’ book Crystallizing Public Opinion to use in the regime’s genocidal campaign against the Jews in terms of creating a public environment of hatred and scapegoating.

 

Having honed his propaganda skills since WWI, Bernays would once again provide his services on behalf of the martial ambitions of the U.S. government.   He served as an advisor to Eisenhower and believed that the best way to deal with Americans’ fear of Communism and the nuclear arms race was to manipulate those fears to support America’s mobilization in the Cold War.

 

In 1954, Bernays assisted the CIA’s overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, a democratic socialist with no ties to the Soviet Union.   The CIA had a propaganda program in place called Operation Mockingbird, in which numerous journalists and editors – both paid and unpaid – published and broadcast stories sympathetic to the increasingly aggressive and unaccountable agency.  Led by Frank Wisner, Operation Mockingbird was also used to suppress reporting that would expose the agency’s nefarious covert activities or present them in a negative light.

 

Bernays’ role was to create a narrative that portrayed the coup as the popular overthrow of a Communist dictator and puppet of Moscow whose removal represented the spreading of democracy.  In reality, Arbenz’s ouster was to preserve the profits of United Fruit Company, a company that Bernays had worked for in a PR capacity since the 1940’s while the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, had made investments in United Fruit in his earlier years as a lawyer at the Sullivan and Cromwell firm which served as United Fruit’s corporate counsel.

 

Bernays exploited the ignorance of most Americans in relation to foreign affairs as well as the Red Scare of the McCarthy era by planting false stories in American newspapers and magazines, providing phony “intelligence” sources to the media, and bringing members of the press on a carefully orchestrated “fact-finding” mission to Guatemala paid for by the United Fruit Company.

 

As PR Watch noted in a 2010 article, “Bernays’ carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita’s [then known as the United Fruit Company] interests and was internationally condemned.”

 

Bernays biographer, Larry Tye, commented in Century of the Self:

 

“[Bernays] totally understood that the coup would happen when conditions in the public and the press allowed for a coup to happen and he created those conditions.  He was totally savvy in terms of just what he was helping create in terms of the overthrow.  But ultimately he was reshaping reality, and reshaping public opinion in a way that’s undemocratic and manipulative.”

 

Bernays’ propaganda narrative, combined with CIA director Allen Dulles’ ability to restrict the travel of independent journalists to Guatemala, ensured the success of the coup.  Arbenz’s overthrow led to a decades-long civil war that resulted in 200,000 dead and 100,000 disappeared.

 

Bernays rationalized his work at manipulating the masses – or “engineering consent” as he referred to it – as necessary to control what he saw as the dangerous and irrational forces that guided human behavior, particularly in large groups.  Bernays’ daughter, Ann, said the following about her father in Century of the Self:

 

“What my father understood about groups is that they are malleable.  And that you can tap into their deepest desires or fears and use that to your own purposes.  I don’t think he felt that all those publics [sic] out there had reliable judgment; that they may very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing.  So they had to be guided from above.”

 

Subsequent psychological studies as well as observation of humans throughout history demonstrate that they are indeed malleable and capable of a wide range of behaviors; but there is nothing indicating that humans are doomed to act like brutal mobs or genocidal maniacs unless they are led in that direction by powerful social forces.

 

Bernays’ work and the philosophy underpinning it have paved the way for the cynical use of grand ideas like freedom, democracy and human rights to sell mindless consumption, wars, coups, color revolutions (i.e. contrived regime changes under the pretense of spreading democracy or “western values”), and instability – all in the service of a small group of people who benefit.

 

The CIA, NED and Democracy Promotion

 

The CIA, in fact, engaged in numerous covert actions in the decades following WWII to effect what is now referred to as regime change – assassinations, coups, civil wars and destabilizations – throughout the third world as historian and former State Department official, William Blum, has documented in several books and essays, along with other researchers and CIA whistleblowers.   These actions involved killing, torture, destruction of infrastructure, delayed development, and impoverishment in the target countries.  In most cases, the victims were guilty only of supporting policies that were anathema to the American political class, such as socialism, economic populism and national sovereignty in terms of control of natural resources and financial assets.

 

Congressional hearings in the 1970’s, led by Frank Church, combined with a brief window of relative media openness, exposed some of this ugly program to the American people.  Rather than cease these kinds of actions, the American political establishment’s response to the negative publicity was to create a separate entity that would take over for many of these covert operations.  An entity that would obscure the nature of its activities under the guise of spreading democracy and would be funded by the U.S. Congress.  In 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was born and Allen Weinstein, who helped write the legislation that brought it into existence, admitted in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

NED funds many innocuous sounding groups, both domestic and foreign.  One such domestic group is Freedom House.  While receiving the majority of its funding from NED, Freedom House presents itself as an objective nonprofit interested in freedom, democracy and human rights and publishes regular reports rating various countries on these supposed criteria.  However, upon closer examination, the ratings tend to reflect well on those countries aligned with U.S. economic and geopolitical interests and poorly on countries that are rivals.  Freedom House’s assessment of the American media’s coverage of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War and its recent assessment of post-coup Ukraine are evidence of its lack of credibility in measuring a free and democratic media, among other issues

In the international arena, NED has funded numerous “opposition” and “democracy” groups in Russia (before being booted out by the government), Venezuela and pre-coup Ukraine.  These groups are not funded out of the goodness of the U.S. government’s heart to advance human rights and authentic democracy but to create tension that is to be ratcheted up in the hopes of culminating in a coup, civil war or other destabilization to remove or undermine governments that are viewed as a threat to the interests of the oligarchy that, according to a 2014 academic study, now officially governs the U.S.

For all of uncle Freud’s faults – such as his stultifying preoccupation with sex and violence – he never intended for his theories to be used in this fashion, serving as the basis for justifying a never ending sequence of actions that caused him so much worry for mankind:  war.  Freud, who did not like American culture, expressed disgust when Bernays encouraged him to write articles for clients in the popular media, which Freud perceived as a cheapening of his work.

 

Bernays, on the other hand, was a manipulative, arrogant and self-aggrandizing man who essentially believed that humans were too stupid and too dangerous to be trusted with the truth or self-governance.  He was an elitist who was right at home with the oligarchs and hawks of his day and their agenda of control, consumerism, militarism and ignorance.  What’s more, he was paid handsomely for his work, in both money and stature.

 

It should be noted, of course, that fear of the rabble was articulated centuries prior to Freud, Trotter and Bernays – although its underlying psychological dynamics may not have been clearly understood.  This included a segment of the founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton and John Jay whose ideas justified an effective rule by the elite.

 

Going back even further, David Hume made observations in the 17th century about the need to control the opinions of the masses to protect the rule of the few in light of the English political upheaval which saw demands for universal education, democratization of the law, and social protections.  Noam Chomsky has delineated the line of political thought stretching from Hume to John Locke to today:

 

“In the contemporary period, Hume’s insight has been revived and elaborated, but with a crucial innovation:  control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states.  The logic is straightforward.  A despotic state can control its domestic enemy by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business.  These prominent features of modern political and intellectual culture merit a closer look. (emphasis in original)”

 

French writer and political analyst, Jean Bricmont, expounded on the dynamics of this strategy of propaganda control in the seemingly free and open societies of today in his 2007 book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War:

 

“Today’s secular priesthood is made up of opinion makers, media stars of all kinds, and a considerable number of academics and journalists.  They largely monopolize public debate, channeling it in certain directions and setting the limits on what can be said, while giving the impression of a free exchange of ideas.  One of the most common ideological reinforcement mechanisms is to focus debate on the means employed to achieve the supposedly altruistic ends claimed by those in power, instead of asking whether the proclaimed aims are the real ones, or whether those pursuing them have the right to do so.”  (p. 32)

 

The Mass Media – Who’s Platform?

 

That secular priesthood with its opinion makers, academics and journalists must have an effective and pervasive platform through which to inculcate and constantly reinforce their message on behalf of the oligarchy that now effectively controls all substantive public policy in the U.S. while the populace is reduced to participating in dog and pony show elections at regular intervals.

 

Award winning journalists Robert Parry, Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts have been marginalized by the corporate mass media after refusing to go along with the false narratives presented in connection with economic and foreign policy.  They each tell a similar story in terms of their exile after refusing to toe the line on U.S. support for violent militias and destabilization in Central America in the 1980’s, the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 and the misrepresentation of economic conditions in the U.S..  Their experiences indicate there are three things that a journalist who wants to have a long-term and lucrative career will generally not report on:  1) stories that will offend the corporate media owners, 2) stories that will offend the corporate media advertisers, and 3) stories that will jeopardize their relationships with those in power.

 

Enabled by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which saw a major deregulation of mergers in the media industry, 90% of what most people read, watch, or listen to in the U.S. comes from an entity that is owned by 1 of 6 corporate conglomerates:  Comcast, Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and CBS Corporation. Each of these six conglomerates, in turn, has financial relations through boards of directors who have ties to other corporate interests, namely the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), Fossil Fuels, Banking, Big Ag, and Big Pharma. A few examples include:  Disney has relations with Boeing and City National Bank; NBC with Honeywell, Chase Manhattan, and New York Stock Exchange; Viacom with Honeywell, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan, Morgan Chase and Pfizer; CNN/Time with Chevron, Citigroup, and Pfizer; News Corporation with Phillip Morris, Rothschild Investments and New York Stock Exchange; New York Times Company with Alcoa, Bristol Myers Squibb, Carlyle Group, Chase Manhattan, Lehman Bros., and Texaco; Wall Street Journal with Clear Channel, Pfizer, Texaco and Shell Oil; Knight Ridder with Bank of America, Eli Lilly, GE, Raytheon and Phillips Petroleum.

 

 

The Mass Media – Mechanisms of Control

 

The experiences of journalists like Hedges, Perry and Roberts should come as no surprise according to the propaganda model outlined by analysts Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent:  The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  Their model identifies five sets of filters that represent the methods by which a private and reputedly “free” media actually serve as the means by which the population is conditioned to believe what the elites who control American society want them to believe:  that America is governed by a fair, democratic and legitimate system, despite actual evidence to the contrary.  We will focus on the first three filters below.

 

The first filter, which we’ve already discussed, is the corporate ownership of the mass media.  The corporate boards hire and/or approve editors who will enforce acceptable narratives based on their interests.

 

A second filter of corporate control related to profit motive that is less obvious is the media’s reliance on advertising to make money rather than selling a quality news product.  Newspapers, magazines, broadcast and internet programming make most of their money from selling space to corporate advertisers, which consequently drives the motivation to produce content that will grab people’s attention in order to attract advertising dollars. Thus, the emphasis is on sensationalist stories focused on sex, violence and celebrities. According to the Pew Research Center’s Journalism & Media project, “69% of all domestic news revenue is derived from advertising.”

 

The third filter involves the reliance by journalists on representatives of the government and corporate elites as sources of inside information, along with “experts” who often represent elite interests in the tradition of those created by Edward Bernays.   As Chomsky and Herman state:

 

“The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest.  The media need a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news.  They have daily news demands and imperative news schedules that they must meet.  They cannot afford to have reporters and cameras at all places where important stories may break.  Economics dictates that they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular press conferences are held.  The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, in Washington D.C., are central nodes of such news activity.  On a local basis, city hall and the police department are the subject of regular news beats for reporters.  Business corporations and trade groups are also regular and credible purveyors of stories deemed newsworthy.”    (pp. 18-19)

 

Government Elites

 

With respect to government and military elites, numerous “news” shows allow a bevy of retired military leaders – many of whom have financial relationships with defense contractors – to provide commentary and analysis in connection with foreign policy, commentary and analysis that inevitably rationalizes a military solution of some sort with most “debate” turning on just how much military power or which military tactics to use.  Very seldom are academics, activists or journalists allowed to air alternatives to militarist policy, despite the availability of people who could articulate the benefits of such policies while providing historical, cultural and geopolitical context that is often missing in a typical broadcast of shallow and self-serving sound bites.

 

Other pundits and journalists will sound articulate and provide a compelling narrative, but due to the fact that the average American doesn’t know much about countries like Vietnam in the 1960’s or today’s Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Russia, they won’t know enough to realize what they’re being told is false or seriously distorted.

 

One case in point is the Ukraine crisis which touched off a civil war in early 2014.  The American media narrative relied upon the repetition of two main ideas:  1) the portrayal of the color revolution instigated by the West – with Neo-Nazis as the muscle and an Association Agreement from the EU filled with empty promises as the catalyst – as aggression by Russia; and, 2) the demonization of Russian president Vladimir Putin, mostly based upon distortions, exaggerations, innuendo and outright falsehoods.  Victoria Nuland and her NED cronies, who helped shape the narrative in western Ukraine during the color revolution and have contributed to shaping it in the western media ever since, have taken Bernays’ playbook and refined it.

 

One of the mass media’s favorite authorities on the topic of Russia and Ukraine is Anne Applebaum.  By way of background, Applebaum is a widely published author and columnist, formerly with the Neocon think tank American Enterprise Institute, and has worked with NED – an organization she describes as “independent.”  She has also taken a position with the Legatum Institute in London where she churns out anti-Russia propaganda with her Neocon playmates Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss.  Legatum was founded by Christopher Chandler, who made billions off of the corrupt voucher program in Russia during the Yeltsin years.  Applebaum is also the wife of Radoslaw Sikorski, who was the foreign minister of Poland until last year.  Sikorski gained notoriety when he told Politico reporter Ben Judah that he overheard a 2008 conversation between Putin and the Polish leader in which Putin suggested that Ukraine be divided up between Russia and Poland.  It didn’t take long for Sikorski’s story to fall apart and he was forced to publicly retract the allegation and apologize to the Polish government.

As Moscow based investigative journalist John Helmer has reported, there is controversy in Poland surrounding Applebaum’s income shooting up from $20,000 in 2011 to $565,000 in 2013 with no details provided as to where the surge in income came from and whether it was related to her husband’s political activities.  Helmer’s Polish sources express a suspicion that Applebaum is receiving money from revived US government programs that have as their objective the dissemination of anti-Russia material.  Helmer’s attempts to find out from Applebaum’s publishers and the Legatum Institute if the significant income increase was attributable to their compensation were stonewalled.

 

Notorious Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s family nonprofit, Institute of Modern Russia, has admitted that it is working with Applebaum through the Legatum Institute on a “series of studies” on Applebaum’s persistent themes relating to Russia, including its “postmodern dictatorship.” The papers were used as the foundation for public panels, including one in Washington D.C. co-sponsored by NED.   Several scholars and writers who specialize in Russia and geopolitics have expressed concern about one of the papers that was hailed at these panels, “The Menace of Unreality,” which attempts to legitimize what amounts to censorship of any reporting or analysis of Russia and related issues that does not adhere to the narrative outlined by government officials and their mass media lapdogs.

 

Applebaum flogged the same anti-Russia and Putin demonization themes during the Munk debates in Canada in April of this year.  In arguing on behalf of the position that the West should continue to keep Russia in the naughty corner and eschew engagement, Applebaum turned reality on its head.  In regards to Putin’s relations with the West, notably the U.S., she claims that the West bent over backwards to welcome Putin and Russia into its paradise of peace, prosperity and democracy only to have Putin cheat, steal and aggress on his neighbors – accusations that take particular temerity given the enriching schemes by the Legatum Institute’s founder in the 1990’s, an era that Applebaum thinks was better for Russia.  The truth, as documented by Stephen F. Cohen (one of her opponents in the Munk debate), Jack Matlock, and Angus Roxburgh (among others) is that Putin made numerous attempts to have a mutually respectful and cooperative relationship with the U.S. and received little for his efforts except for several swift kicks to the shins in the form of NATO expansion, unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, provocations on his borders and interference in Russia’s internal affairs on a level that would never be tolerated by the U.S.  Despite Applebaum’s gross distortions, her side swayed the audience and won the debate.

 

In addition to NED darlings like Applebaum, there is a possibility that the CIA has revived or never really shut down its Operation Mockingbird program.  A recent book by Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the former editor of a major German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has stated that numerous journalists and editors in the German – as well as other European – mass media are on the payroll of the CIA.  He describes how he put his name to and published articles that were actually penned by the CIA, articles that pushed whatever militarist narrative the U.S. political elites and security apparatus wanted.  The book, Bought Journalists, has been a best-seller on Amazon but the mass media in both the US and Western Europe have dummied up instead of reporting on the book or its allegations.  One is left to look to the independent and non-western media to learn about its existence.

 

Corporate Elites

 

“Marketing is a battle of perception, not products.  The truth has no bearing on the issue.  The role of public relations is to deliver the exact same thing as advertising.”

-Jack Trout, advertising executive

In terms of the separate but often related interests of corporate elites, Investigative journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, in their book Trust Us, We’re Experts, discuss what could best be described as corporate prostitutes serving as experts and the methods they use in framing Americans’ understanding of a range of issues affecting their health, finances and public policy.

 

Corporations and the PR firms they hire make abundant use of the “third party technique” pioneered by Bernays. One of the most common tactics is the use of astroturf organizations that confuse the public with names that sound like they represent the public interest but are actually front groups for corporations.  These front organizations often do their work with the assistance of mass media outlets that disseminate their propaganda by citing their biased and bogus data, without always disclosing that corporations are really behind the groups.

One of the earliest examples of this type of entity was the Air Hygiene Foundation (later known as the Industrial Hygiene Foundation and then the Industrial Health Foundation).  The foundation was initiated in 1935 by Andrew and Richard Mellon in the aftermath of the Hawk’s Nest scandal to counter the exposure of the deadly effects of silicosis on the health of workers and the potential for financial accountability in the form of lawsuits and regulatory changes.  Leading scientists and public officials were recruited as members and trustees of the foundation and were quoted in trade publications and the media, lending a veneer of legitimacy to their agenda.

The Hawk’s Nest scandal saw the death of up to 2,000 poor black workers from silicosis through the reckless working conditions of Union Carbide in a West Virginia project involving the digging of a tunnel through a mountain that was almost pure silica.  The negligence was compounded by the company doctors’ refusal to disclose what ailment the workers had contracted after the development of symptoms.  The dangers were well known to the company as engineers and managers regularly took precautions while in the tunnels, such as wearing masks or respirators.

During Roosevelt’s administration, the court system had finally begun to shift away from its early bias by which employees were rarely able to effectively hold their employers legally accountable, even for the most egregious abuses.  The industry begrudgingly began to limit some of the worst abuses.  As Stauber and Sheldon state:

“With the Air Hygiene Foundation, industry had found an effective propaganda formula:  a combination of partial reforms with reassuring “scientific” rhetoric, under the aegis of an organization with a benevolent, independent-sounding name….By 1940, the AHF had 225 member companies, representing such major polluters of the day  as American Smelting and Refining, Johns-Manville, United Steel Company, Union Carbide, and PPG Industries….In 1941, it changed its name to the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, broadening its agenda beyond dust-related diseases to encompass other industrial health issues.  By the 1970’s, it had more than 400 corporate sponsors, including Gulf Oil, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Kawecki Berylco Industries, British Beryllium, Consolidated Coal, Boeing, General Electric, General Mills, Goodyear, Western Electric, Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Mobil Oil and Dow Chemical.” (p. 79)

Similar campaigns were run by industry with regard to asbestos and leaded gasoline and, more recently, with genetically modified foods and pesticides.  In each case, industry knew full well the serious dangers associated with their products and practices.

In addition to the use of astroturf groups, PR firms often provide a range of services with the goal of using various tools in the art of deception to protect and/or further the interests of their corporate clients.  These include advising clients how to evade substantive interaction with the public and questioning by journalists or activists, and how to mislead based on the avoidance of words that the public reacts unfavorably to – in other words, obfuscating to the point of rendering the truth irrelevant.  Some firms even conduct spying operations on genuine public interest groups and advocates with the goal of blackmailing them or attacking their credibility.

But one shouldn’t underestimate the mileage PR firms get out of more mundane methods, such as inundating media outlets with press releases that portray their corporate clients in the best possible light.  Instead of being treated with sufficient skepticism, corporate and PR press releases are often used as the basis of articles and reports as newsrooms cut back their staff and budget for investigative reporting.  As a 2014 survey by Business Wire revealed, the vast majority of journalists rely on press releases to provide them with breaking news (77%) and factual support for articles (70%).

 

There is even a term now for this kind of press release-based reporting, “churnalism.”  In fact, it was recognized as a serious enough problem by the Media Standards Trust to motivate the creation of a website, churnalism.com, which provides a “churn engine” that viewers can paste press releases into and find articles in the database that quote directly from or heavily rely upon “reproduced publicity material,” receiving a high score on the churnalism meter.

 

As Chomsky and Herman point out, all of this reliance upon elite sources and “experts” is cost-effective, not only in terms of newsrooms starved of staff and resources to perform due diligence and provide a truthful and balanced journalism, but also in terms of the media protecting themselves from powerful moneyed interests who can afford to punish media outlets through libel litigation or government agencies that can suspend licenses and permits for broadcasters to operate.  All of the aforementioned mechanisms contribute to perverting what journalistic “objectivity” means in practice.

 

Americans’ Growing Distrust of the Mass Media

 

Ironically, those bombarded constantly with propaganda, especially when it becomes more and more obvious as reflected in numerous reports over the past 18 months originating from official government sources that Russia had invaded Ukraine only to have the photographic evidence debunked within days or even hours, are bound to reach a point of distrust.  According to a September 2014 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the mass media is at an all time low of 40%.  Moreover, British studies requested by Sputnik News reveal that most westerners, including Americans, are suspicious of mass media’s coverage of the Ukraine war and would like to be provided with alternative media sources.  This probably explains why RT’s YouTube channel was leaving Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC in the dust by 2012 and by the end of 2014 had been viewed over 2 billion times – triple that of CNN or Euronews, even though it has a smaller budget than the Western international media outlets, despite histrionic claims to the contrary.

 

This sentiment no doubt reaches beyond foreign policy as more Americans recognize that the narrative being pushed on them by the mass media doesn’t resemble what they see and experience on a daily basis:  increasing economic insecurity, a degraded environment, spending on more wars than they can keep up with, and the social and cultural decay that inevitably emerges with rule by a militarist oligarchy.

13 thoughts on “It’s Time to Talk About the Media”

  1. Thanks, Decker. The media is a huge and frustrating problem for those of us trying to advocate for humane and reasonable policies.

  2. WOW, you must of had the weekend off. Yep all the usual suspects in controlling the lame stream media. I was lucky enough to have a father that pointed this out to me when I was 16 and that was 54yrs ago. He was a WW 2 vet but did all he could to keep me from Nam and I did miss it by going into the ANG in Calif. I even was let out early when my neighbor who a B. General was able to get my early release and even he pointed out to me the same things my farther did.

    Say Hi to Russian citizens for us.

  3. Thanks, Jo. It’s great that you had a father who was so discerning and had such independence of mind. Both my parents were non-partisan and independent-minded and I think that helped me to be the same. I’m always amazed at how many “educated” people I encounter who don’t think critically about a lot of this stuff and seem to have a really hard time thinking outside of these mental boxes they’ve been provided.

    I will definitely send greetings from America to Russians I see next month. I remember that all the Russians I talked to last time always made a distinction between regular Americans (whom they have no ill-will toward and even admire for their openness and creativity) and our government.

  4. Now is the time to talk about what we are actually talking about. “Climate contrarian” obfuscates. Climate-change denier” does not. And because climate change is scientific fact, not opinion, this matters. Now is the time to elevate the art of questioning. Is the only valid resentment in America that of white males? If we are to be sympathetic to the idea that economic anxieties lead to questionable decisions, does this apply to all groups? Who exactly are the elite?

  5. Thank you for writing an excellent article that explores the links between Edward Bernays, mass media, and propaganda.
    ‘The Century of the Self’ is a very enlightening series and well worth a watch on YouTube. Bernays ceratinly figured out human nature and how to push people’s buttons.

    P.S. It’s Lehman, not Leahman 🙂

  6. “I remember that all the Russians I talked to last time always made a distinction between regular Americans (whom they have no ill-will toward and even admire for their openness and creativity) and our government.”

    This is the very essence of the dichotomy you discuss, in which there is a massive difference in the media response to Trump’s manifestly-illegal – both from the standpoint that he did not obtain Congressional approval and the unsubstantiated trigger incident – missile strike against Syria. By a landslide majority, national media sources roundly approved of the military action…but there is, in reality, almost no public support at all for further American military engagement. Except for the usual hoarse screaming from the tiny majority of foam-splattered interventionists, and the more subdued agitating of the not-much-larger minority of cynical influence-peddlers, practically nobody in the USA is interested in taking on another foreign entanglement in the totally-hyped and sadly-prostituted names of freedom and democracy.

    It’s not hard to draw a direct line from that point to lack of public support on the one side plus overwhelming political support for military engagement to the inevitable conclusion – the American mass media is not vested, even slightly, in supporting the public interest. On the contrary, it is wholly committed to supporting political strategics, to the deliberate exclusion of the public interest.

    The only thing which remains astonishing is the brazen manner in which they pretend to speak for us.

    I like your style, Natylie, and have added your link.

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