Once in a while one runs into articles that seem to fly against convention wisdom, that seem to tear at the veil of world injustice, that seem to open one’s eyes to provide insight into the causes of so many of today’s ills. This article titled Why There is So Much Pro-War Reporting from “the Big Picture” blog is one of them.
In reading this article, I note how the article also parallel a lot of what Norm Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent) and David Swanson (War is a Lie) have written about pro war sentiments. Yet, I still feel that this article is flawed in so many ways. We are only scratching at the surface of, not diving deep into, the problem.
The article points to 5 major reasons why free media is not so free, and why it’s so pro-war.
1. Self-Censorship by Journalists
Initially, there is tremendous self-censorship by journalists.
Self-censorship is commonplace in the news media today …. About one-quarter of the local and national journalists say they have purposely avoided newsworthy stories, while nearly as many acknowledge they have softened the tone of stories to benefit the interests of their news organizations. Fully four-in-ten (41%) admit they have engaged in either or both of these practices.
You can rock the boat, but you can never say that the entire ocean is in trouble …. You cannot say: By the way, there’s something wrong with our …. system.
2. Censorship by Higher-Ups
If journalists do want to speak out about an issue, they also are subject to tremendous pressure by their editors or producers to kill the story.
Fully half of [the investigative journalists surveyed] say newsworthy stories are often or sometimes ignored because they conflict with a news organization’s economic interests. More than six-in-ten (61%) believe that corporate owners exert at least a fair amount of influence on decisions about which stories to cover….
The media has a strong monetary interest to avoid controversial topics in general. It has always been true that advertisers discourage stories which challenge corporate power. In 1969, Federal Communications Commission commissioner Nicholas Johnson noted that tv networks go to great lengths to please their sponsors.
Some media companies make a lot of money from the government, and so don’t want to rock the boat.
[For example], the company that owns The Washington Post is almost entirely at the mercy of the Federal Government and the Obama administration — the entities which its newspaper ostensibly checks and holds accountable. “By the end of 2010, more than 90 percent of revenue at Kaplan’s biggest division and nearly a third of The Post Co.’s revenue overall came from the U.S. government.” The Post Co.’s reliance on the Federal Government extends beyond the source of its revenue; because the industry is so heavily regulated, any animosity from the Government could single-handedly doom the Post Co.’s business — a reality of which they are well aware:
The Post is hardly alone among major media outlets in being owned by an entity which relies on the Federal Government for its continued profitability. NBC News and MSNBC were long owned by GE, and now by Comcast, both of which desperately need good relations with government officials for their profits. The same is true of CBS (owned by Viacom), ABC (owned by Disney), and CNN (owned by TimeWarner). For each of these large corporations, alienating federal government officials is about the worst possible move it could make — something of which all of its employees, including its media division employees, are well aware. But the Post Co.’s dependence is even more overwhelming than most.
In addition, the government has allowed tremendous consolidation in ownership of the airwaves during the past decade.
3. Drumming Up Support for War
In addition, the owners of American media companies have long actively played a part in drumming up support for war.
It is painfully obvious that the large news outlets studiously avoided any real criticism of the government’s claims in the run up to the Iraq war. It is painfully obvious that the large American media companies acted as lapdogs and stenographers for the government’s war agenda.
One of of the reasons is because the large media companies are owned by those who support the militarist agenda or even directly profit from war and terror (for example, NBC was owned by General Electric, one of the largest defense contractors in the world … which directly profits from war, terrorism and chaos. NBC was subsequently sold to Comcast).
Another seems to be an unspoken rule that the media will not criticize the government’s imperial war agenda.
And the media support isn’t just for war: it is also for various other shenanigans by the powerful.
4. Access to Government Officials, Insiders, and the Powerful Elite
Dan Froomkin, Brett Arends and many other mainstream reporters have noted that “access” is the most prized thing for mainstream journalists … and that they will keep fawning over those in power so that they will keep their prized access.
But there is another dynamic related to access at play: direct cash-for-access payments to the media.
For example, a 3-time Emmy Award winning CNN journalist says that CNN takes money from foreign dictators to run flattering propaganda.
That may be one reason that the mainstream news commentators hate bloggers so much. The more people who get their news from blogs instead of mainstream news sources, the smaller their audience, and the less the MSM can charge for the kind of “nonconfrontational access” which leads to puff pieces for the big boys.
5. Government Censorship
Finally, as if the media’s own interest in promoting war is not strong enough, the government has exerted tremendous pressure on the media to report things a certain way.
If they criticize those in power, they may be smeared by the government and targeted for arrest (and see this).
Indeed, the government treats real reporters as terrorists. Because the core things which reporters do could be considered terrorism, in modern America, journalists are sometimes targeted under counter-terrorism laws.
The government spies on reporters.
Not only has the government thrown media owners and reporters in jail if they’ve been too critical, it also claims the power to indefinitely detain journalists without trial or access to an attorney which chills chills free speech.
After Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, journalist Naomi Wolf, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and others sued the government to enjoin the NDAA’s allowance of the indefinite detention of Americans – the judge asked the government attorneys 5 times whether journalists like Hedges could be indefinitely detained simply for interviewing and then writing about bad guys. The government refused to promise that journalists like Hedges won’t be thrown in a dungeon for the rest of their lives without any right to talk to a judge.
An al-Jazeera journalist – in no way connected to any terrorist group – was held at Guantánamo for six years … mainly to be interrogated about the Arabic news network. And see this.
Wikileaks’ head Julian Assange could face the death penalty for his heinous crime of leaking whistleblower information which make those in power uncomfortable … i.e. being a reporter.
Of course, if the stick approach doesn’t work, the government can always just pay off reporters to spread disinformation.
Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the CIA has already bought and paid for many successful journalists….
Indeed, in the final analysis, the main reason today that the media giants will not cover the real stories or question the government’s actions or policies in any meaningful way is that the American government and mainstream media been somewhat blended together.
I have three major problems with this article.
First, this idea that main stream media is at peril of losing to bloggers who will bring out truth is a farce.
Bloggers do not have the resources to dig for information that provide context and insight. Social media parrots and magnifies, but rarely does it reflect. Diligent bloggers may from time to time dig up juicy interesting bits of information. But bloggers in real life will for the most part use it to promote their own agenda – foster their own viewpoint. They will select, distort facts to promote their advance their own opinions. Few is capable of bringing forth the type of coherent understanding or insight needed to change the status quo. This is what Assange noted before and why he decided to share information from wikileaks with mainstream media first, which then re-releases the information to be combed through by the public and the disparate bloggers.
In any case, bloggers or journalists, they will all still be beholden to those in power. They both still need access (for privileged information that the masses salivate over). And when the successful ones become bigger, they are beholden to the same powers that be and economic dynamics as mainstream media. Marginal bloggers may not be similarly beholden. But to the extent they do gain traction and become influential, they need to cultivate access just like the big guys. And when they start banding up and pooling resources, when they try to cater to the same public for eyeballs, they will come to act like any of the big guys and act like any other special interest organizations or large corporate organizations- with its own ecosystem of patrons to satisfy and please.
Bloggers may compete with mainstream media for people’s attention for editorialized materials, but they do not displace them as the primary source for information.
Second, there is this continual reference to government tyranny – to the government as the bad actor, and the people as its victim.
I don’t dispute the government can be bad. It can. Government in general is also the more powerful. In fact, in general, interaction between government and individual citizens is such that the individual citizen typically has much less power and leverage than the government. The government thus not only have a fiduciary duty to the people, but it has special responsibility to exercise its exercises fairly, carefully, justly.
Still it is a Western thing to view the people and the government as separate. In truth they are two side to the same coin. The existential reason for government to exist is to serve the people. The mandate of the government is to provide for the people. A people without government is a powerless people. The powerful will enslave the weak. Selfish motive will go unchecked. The people will also be vulnerable to attack from organized foreign power.
“The people are like water, the ruler is a ship on that water. Water can carry the ship; water can overturn the ship,” so goes a Chinese adage. No government can survive for long without the support of the people, and no people can prosper without an effectively functioning government. That was the core of Chinese political philosophy for thousand of years, as is also the recent experience of the Chinese people.
The problem with the West today lies not just with its government, as the article intones. Instead the problem lies with its entire polity – the government as well as its people’s unconsciousness – a unity that cannot be separated.
We have this political vernacular of tyranny as some uncivilized act of undemocratic societies, of societies lacking rule of law. That’s BS. This article makes it seem as if tyranny is a problem with those in power – when tyranny has always been a face of the Western people-polity – the U.S. included – for centuries. The West has been unleashing tyranny on the world – through colonialism, imperialism – for centuries. (The U.S., even when it became a nation, continued (accelerated even) – the program to exterminate native Americans.) Its own tyrannic practices at home inequality at home (social, economic, political) has been masked and sustained by spoils it has been able to pillage from the rest of the world.
Tyranny has been conveniently used to disassociate Western polities of the responsibility for the bad things that result from people’s blindness, complicity, lack of vision for justice. As such, tyranny as we use it today is more political propaganda than anything else. As example, people like to look to Hitler as the ultimate of tyranny and blame all the bad things. But for Hitler’s time, Hitler is but the boat that rides the swell of people’s attitude – Arianism, racism, militarism, colonialism.
The West as a people-polity is unconsciousness of past history, of world culture and world events, of the current trajectory of history. Tyranny starts and rests with the people. It’s rarely just a problem with the system – with the people higher up.
Injustice is a more comprehensive notion than tyranny – a harrowing concept invented to scapegoat problems away based on the lack of certain superficial features of government and and at the same time to extol those features. To achieve justice (an ever evolving concept; truly a journey rather than a destination), we can neither worship the people nor dismiss the government. We need to hold the people accountable to be worldly, knowledgeable, to be moral and ethical. We also need to hold government up to their task of achieving justice, of working for the people, and not outsource them to some vague “fourth branch” or “civil society” that comprises of powerful elite and special interests – which brings to my final point.
Third, this article seems to presume the journalists as holding the light – as the gatekeeper of information. Why?
A society trains doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, carpenters, plumbers, etc. Each undergoes extensive training and education. The last time I checked, compared in context, the educational requirement of a journalist falls near the middle, or perhaps on the bottom half of other professions. Why should we as a society trust these as the gatekeeper of information – as independent watchdog of government? Why should we elevate media to be a so-called “fourth branch” or “fourth estate” of a government (the first three being a legislative branch, a executive branch, and a judicial branch)?
Some people may want to outsource most checks on government to the media and civil society. But what of media, bloggers, and the broader civil society? Aren’t they really just an amalgamation of special interests, each with its own special agenda?
There are many mega corporations – with revenues many times the sizes of nations – in the world that manage themselves very well. Shareholders demand company leaders to manage the company efficiently and effectively. And many excellent companies are indeed run very well. If government can manage itself well, why we should not hold them up to the task?
In the end, the best way to police the government is not to limit government and outsource management to some vague community of “free press” and “civil society”. Instead it is to have a government that exhibit strong morals – that have strong systems for internal checks. Oh, but absolute power corrupt you say? We need something independent.
To which I respond: the government is the only entity that is universally accepted to have a fiduciary duty to the people – not churches not media, not environmental organization, not the red cross, or any of other NGOs. It makes sense to work for a system that have the government at the center, and civil society that work to help in coordination with the government, not against.
With this said, I am not saying we should entrust everything to the government. When a government does go bad, it’s nice to go the secondary options. Depending on specific historical, political, social contexts, that may be the church, it may be the press, poets, writers, or some other “civil” entities. But we shouldn’t get things ass backwards and now depend them to be primary – as they can’t. The government is the primary bearer of responsibility to the people. To say anything else is to speak special-interest speak.
Finally: my personal take on why there are so many pro-war story is to re ask the question why the West is so pro war? One can surely trace the cause from the government and the special interests. But I think I can trace the cause deeper – to the unconsciousness of the typical Western citizen – its uncaring attitude about the rest of the world, the suffering of the rest of the world, and its willingness to take advantage of the rest of the world for its own good. When others resist, we brand them terrorists. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs can die if it protects Western special interests around the world. We can blame marketforces… But it’s deeper. A people’s character, sense, and atittude ultimately explains why there are so many pro-war stories.