It has been twelve weeks since my last confession, I mean posting — which is a longer time than I was intending, and probably a lot longer than any reader will have been expecting, given the ‘cliffhanger’ ending of that piece (all of which you can see here, if you need or want to).
If anyone is wondering about the reasons for this hiatus, I’m sorry to say that these were the usual boring ones: first, I’ve had a lot of other claims on my time; secondly, there’s this steam-driven computer of mine, which doesn’t handle the latest WordPress software at all well, and requires me to spend precious hours wrestling with it to no visible result (or, on a couple of glitchy occasions, a prematurely visible result…)
Picking up the threads of my argument after such a break isn’t going to be all that easy for any of us; but let me have a go at it, and we’ll see how we get on…
What I tried to draw preludial attention to in that last posting was the widely undiscussed fact that our news media — notionally ‘free’ and ostensibly ‘feral’ — actually function as the obedient mouthpieces for a complex of state-corporate interests whose priorities and preoccupations have nothing whatsoever in common with yours or mine. In particular, we have the newspapers — nowadays online as well as on paper — whose inevitable reliance on various forms of state patronage (access is granted for services rendered); absolute dependence upon corporate advertising (the ‘cover price’ doesn’t cover much); and immense usefulness as propaganda playthings (why else would billionaires fight to lose money owning them?) all mean that the deepest structural factors ensure that the picture of the world presented by our press is one distortingly refracted through the self-serving agendas of an unaccountable micro-elite.
In such a situation, the ‘media plurality’ visible on our news-stands is as every bit as fraudulent as the range of pseudo-choices facing us everywhere from the shopping centre to the voting booth. The absolute dominance of elite interests means that the essential difference between a vicious hate-comic like The Sun and a cynical purveyor of pseudo-liberal pablum like The Guardian lies merely in the style of delivery: one of them will exult maniacally in the West’s imperial violence and neoliberal larceny; the other will delicately wrap the very same crimes in a cloak of regrettable necessity. As a result, our so-called ‘mainstream’ press actually constitutes a ministream: the spectrum of allowable opinion is narrowed to the point where the interests of concentrated private capital and the corporate state are presented as the only realities — and the range of political possibility thereby shrinks to encompass nothing beyond different flavours of compliance.
Thus it is that our press, supposedly existing to provide its readers with the information they require in order to be thoughtful citizens and responsible voters, is actually engaged in precisely the opposite activity. Simultaneously power-seeking and power-serving, this branch of the state-corporate media operates by way of what appear — at least to me! — to be three different varieties of falsification, which I will enumerate here. (No, I wasn’t originally planning to do this; but now that I’m revisiting the topic, I might as well. Plus, several emailed reactions to that last posting made it clear that even a few smart persons of my acquaintance really didn’t ‘get’ what I was talking about: with luck, this explanation will help them…)
Here are my three central falsifications of the state-corporate press, in no particular order:
(i) ‘His Master’s Voice’: journalism is replaced by stenography. State-corporate power speaks in its own interests; a press plugged into the very same network of interests copies it all down and sells it to you. (Remember: you are expected to buy this stuff with your own money!) No substantial questions get asked; no serious doubts are even entertained: the whole point is to establish an unchallenged narrative framework that justifies the agendas of the relevant elites — even where this means that elementary facts and obvious objections have to be permanently suppressed.
The reason that this power-friendly stenography constitutes such an unforgivable pollution of our public discourse is that by presenting the elite-approved speaker’s words as ‘obviously’ true, and their ostensible aims and agendas as ‘obviously’ the real ones, the press allows the elites to take effective control of the entire field of mainstream — sorry, ministream — debate: anyone who wishes to depart from or disagree with the elite consensus finds that they are actually compelled to do so within the approved framework — or risk being taken for an incomprehensible eccentric or some kind of traitor. (And that is something I know for a fact. ‘Saddam-lover’; ‘conspiracy theorist’; ‘friend of Assad’; ‘visceral America-hater’; ‘loony’: you name it, I’ve been denounced as it…)
As for ‘demonstration examples’, I’d actually prefer readers to go and hunt out their own; but if anyone wants a few desperately simple ones to start them off, let me provide the following. Every time you see a statement such as ‘David Cameron hopes. . .’, ‘The President believes. . .’, ‘The Home Secretary fears. . .’, you are in the presence of media stenography. Similarly — switching from the named and personal to the anonymous and institutional — every time you are fed something that goes ‘The Pentagon is convinced that. . .’; ‘It is widely held in government circles that…’; ‘A source within the Department revealed that…’, then you are, likewise, in the presence of mere stenography, of eager complicity posing as journalism. Of course, there are occasions when ‘anonymous sources’ are valuable and deserve to be reported as such. However, the acid test is whether or not a given set of unattributed revelations serves elite interests: if — as is almost always the case! — it does, then what you are being presented with is an act of manipulation through the ‘mainlining’ of untraceable fabrications, rather than any kind of courageous whistleblowing or leaking.
Now, something that normal, decent people don’t usually have the suspicion and guile to be able to notice is the way this astonishing parade of seeming media gullibility suddenly comes to a stop whenever discussion turns to any of the West’s enemies du jour — a collection that expands to include anyone or anywhere insufficiently compliant with the dictates of the West, by which I mean Washington, by which I mean the concentrated private capital in whose interests Washington acts. Looking at a (web)page of our daily paper, we see a piece about an ‘enemy’ — and all at once we find that our press has magically rediscovered its scepticism, its distance, its hard-nosed independence. And if you want an example of that, I can give you one that crossed my screen literally five minutes ago. Here’s a screenshot from the UK’s leading ‘left-of-centre’ warmongering corporatist broadsheet:
Now, I’m not linking to the original page, because (i) I don’t want to send traffic to The Guardian, and (ii) this blog isn’t an outlet for weapons porn. And in any case, all my point really requires me to do is direct attention to the richly revealing piece of text below the photo. Go through it with me — and watch, amazed, as we witness a sudden outbreak of journalism…
The Russian defence ministry releases further footage purporting to show Russian ships in the Caspian sea launching cruise missiles, aimed at alleged Syrian militant positions. [. . .] The Defence Ministry claims a number of Islamic State oil facilities have been destroyed in recent strikes.
See what they did there…? No trace of ‘stenography’ at all! If you have a free moment and a functioning imagination, try and pretend that your elite-serving faux-left disgrace — or any other of our mainstream, I mean ministream news outfalls! — had actually written something like the following:
The Pentagon releases further footage purporting to show US ships in the Mediterranean launching cruise missiles, aimed at alleged Syrian militant positions. [. . .] The Pentagon claims a number of Islamic State oil facilities have been destroyed in recent strikes.
That too would be journalism. It just happens to be unthinkable within our proudly free and structurally pro-US state-corporate media system. (A system within which, as has just been hilariously revealed, American TV will happily use Russian airstrike footage as if it showed US attacks on ISIS oil transporters…)
Needless (perhaps) to say, it isn’t merely by the addition of words like ‘purported’, ‘alleged’ and ‘claimed’ that our press maintains a strong ‘wall of separation’ between the saint-like honesty and truthfulness of all elite-approved figures and the obvious stinking mendacity of anyone who won’t roll over in front of them. Another important tactic is to present the official enemy’s words in forms distorted by selective quotation or garbled by tendentious mistranslation — or, in the vast majority of cases, simply not to present them at all. Me being me, I keep a little collection of things we should have seen in our papers and didn’t — of which the one most relevant here, given my previous posting about our media’s airbrushing of the West’s criminal role in destroying Libya and exacerbating the current ‘migrant crisis’, is the following:
Now listen, you people of NATO. You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe, and in the way of Al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You‘re breaking it. You’re idiots, and you will burn in Hell for thousands of migrants from Africa and for supporting Al-Qaeda. It will be so. I never lie. And I do not lie now.
(via TASS; https://archive.is/v2eLd; punctuation corrected by MD)
To see that text, you and I would have had to look in the Russian daily Zavtra, back in May 2011 — where we’d have discovered that it was an open letter written by the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (whose bloody end a few months later — captured, tortured, sodomised with a bayonet, and then murdered with his own gun — was reported with lip-smacking satisfaction by a dementedly joyous Western media). A reader-serving press would have printed and discussed that text at the time, and drawn attention to its truthfulness and prescience thereafter; a power-serving press, on the other hand, wouldn’t — and still hasn’t. Don’t hold your breath, either: our journalists are all too busy — being the stenographers and megaphones of power.
(ii) ‘Never Connect’: power-threatening explanation is out; power-serving amnesia is in. State-corporate power commits appalling acts of international crime and mass murder whose spiralling consequences are more appalling still; a press plugged into the very same network of interests steadfastly refuses to join the dots and fights all efforts to correctly explain causation and apportion blame and responsibility.
Again, folks seeing my elegant formulation will be wanting me to provide ‘demonstration examples’ that show what happens in the press when frictionless conformity to the agendas of political and corporate power leads to a complete disconnect between underlying reality and media surface. So let me discuss a particularly nauseating case from the last few days.
The murderous rampages that ended so many innocent lives in Paris on November 13 generated a vast quantity of press coverage and comment that, in its combination of the sinister and the absurd, can quite reasonably be described as Kafkaesque. As one example that must stand for obscenely many, here is the front page of The Independent from a few days after the attacks. The fact is that if you know anything at all about French foreign policy since 2011, you’ll know that Presidents Nicholas Sarkozy and François Hollande have constituted a leading force for destruction and destabilisation in North Africa and the Middle East. Sarkozy was an energetic instigator of NATO’s 2011 destruction of Libya (for a truly horrifying summary of the results, see here), while in 2012 Hollande’s determination to effect illegal regime change in Syria saw him violating an EU embargo on supplying arms to Syrian insurgents — since which time he has continued to equip and support anti-Assad factions in spite of everyone’s discovery that the gifts from the French taxpayer were ending up in the worst hands imaginable. Happy to be seen bombing the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq, he was remarkably reluctant (until last week!) to bomb ISIS/al-Nusra in Syria — clearly hoping that a strengthened ruthless terror force there would be useful in removing Assad. He and his government are also thick as thieves with the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey — both of which are sponsors and facilitators of ISIS. As a result of all this, Hollande has achieved the astounding feat of making the people of France the enemies of ISIS while simultaneously acting to increase that group’s murderous capabilities — with a proportion of his actions not only flatly illegal, but also concealed from the very population they put at risk.
Now, a reader-serving press would want its public to know what is and has been going on, the better to understand and respond to a prima facie case of ‘blowback’. What is more, it would marshal all the shocking facts in order to condemn the wicked recklessness of a cynical and incompetent political opportunist whose actions had placed his largely unknowing population in totally unjustifiable danger. And do we see this? Of course we don’t. We have an elite-friendly press, a power-serving press, a shamelessly pro-war press (weapons, war and invasions are, after all, how the elites make the really big money) — and as a result, what we actually see is a supposedly proud and reputable broadsheet like The Independent granting a contemptible political bottom-feeder all the front-page space and gravitas he needs to posture as a ‘serious statesman’, all past deeds, all context, all relevant reality erased.
In such circumstances, the headline-writer’s decision to make warmongering capital out of an anachronistic line from La Marseillaise can only be considered darkly comic. ‘To arms, citizens’, it shouts — in nitwit defiance of the fact that it is the possession and use of ‘arms’ that has been the very problem, right from the start. If The Independent was really determined to find a French utterance appropriate to the subject and the occasion, ‘J’accuse!‘ would have done splendidly.
As for the further benefits to the elites of their never having to face a competent media analysis of their culpability, these are many and mutually reinforcing. A population denied proper information can be relied upon to come to stupid political conclusions and make self-harming political choices. Thus in the last few days we have seen a Daily Mail poll apparently showing that fully 60% of the UK population — now obediently fired-up with elite-serving blood-lust — describe themselves as in favour of a military attack on Syria. Last time I looked, that very same population was deeply upset at the number of ‘migrants’ pouring out of an already shattered Syria and landing (if they were lucky!) in Europe. Quite what the refugee situation will be like once everything required to keep Syrian society functioning has been energetically bombed by 15 different air forces is a question that the average British voter has not been encouraged to consider.
Ponder also the value to the elites of being permitted to plant ‘Day One’ at whatever place on the timeline best suits them. Inevitably, they want ‘Day One’ to be located at the point when they were attacked — and the complicit media’s complete erasure of context and history guarantees that this happens . . . with the equally inevitable result that what happens on ‘Day Two’ is universally whitewashed as merely a sorrowing Western victim ‘striking back’ at a merciless attacker who ‘hates our freedoms and our values’, etc. Generally speaking, of course, the original, primary attack or intervention was further back in time and carried out by the West (inevitably: no other collection of nations has a trillion-dollar budget for neo-imperial mayhem and murder); but with the help of the state-corporate media, every vicious or violent act by the West is either concealed from view, or painted as ‘a response’.
And on this very subject, let me present you with two newspaper front pages — both alike in front-pageyness, but with one of them showing a real headline, and the other carrying a headline that not only didn’t appear, but is in fact completely unthinkable within our media culture — which is why I had to make it myself, using a simple graphics program.
Here’s the first one. To any honest observer who knows a little of the foreign policy back-story and is also prepared to overlook the weirdness of the official narrative (IS kills Russians with a bomb of expert-wowing sophistication — then attacks Paris using an oddball assortment of French and Belgian malcontents…?), it can be seen to be accurate, truthful, and factual: as any analysis will show that isn’t equivalent to the oily panderings of a court historian, ‘IS strikes back against France‘ is indeed what appears to have happened on November 13.
And now here’s the second one: ‘France strikes back against IS‘. In terms of honesty and factuality, this version of the headline is distinctly compromised and much inferior to the other: ‘Day One-ism’ is clearly in evidence, along with everything thereby implied about the erasure of history and context. In terms of its effect on the reader, too, it is markedly different from the other. The first version risks raising questions in the reader’s mind about what the perfidious French might have done first, about what the elites have been up to. The second version prompts no such inconvenient reflections: it is a simple celebration of elite resolve and glamorised military violence — and, as such, is bound to go down well. After all, why are taxpayers voting and forking out for weapons systems, if not to place themselves in the hands of a resolute political elite that’s able to ‘strike back’ when ‘retaliation’ is called for…?
Naturally, the real and genuine front page from the November 15 issue of Metro — the billionaire-owned urban freesheet from the Daily Mail stable (and apparently the third most-read paper in the UK) — is the second version: yes, the compromised, context-denying, misleading and power-serving headline is the one people actually saw. The honest and factual headline is the first one — the one that had to be manufactured by yours truly. You’re welcome.
Interestingly, just as stenography gives way to scepticism once the actions of ‘the other side’, are under discussion, so is the refusal to ‘join the dots’ of causality and consequence suddenly replaced by a determined search for connection and explanation as soon as attention turns to an official enemy. And, likewise, the results of such a transparent volte-face would be strictly hilarious were it not for the associated tragedy. For example, consider the fact that within the conjoined worlds of our politics and our media, it would be quite impossible — or, failing that, a career-destroying offence! — for a journo or a pol to look at the recent attacks in Paris and describe them as ‘a humiliation‘ for the French President; to explain them as ‘a direct consequence of France’s involvement in Syria‘, or to express the hope that, as a ‘warning shot‘, they might lead President Hollande to be ‘more flexible‘ in future talks and negotiations. To suggest any of those things in the political-media sphere would be completely contrary to the Western elites’ playbook — and anyone of any prominence who spoke or wrote in that fashion would rapidly be hammered into the ground by the condemnation of every
mainstream ministream news and comment outlet in the hemisphere.
Yet where official enemies are under discussion, dots of every undermining kind may be joined freely and without criticism — and the resulting picture held up before the widest audience. Therefore, when what appears to have been a comparable example of ‘blowback’ saw that airliner full of Russian citizens blown out of the sky over Egypt on October 31, the victims had barely been scraped into buckets before our elites and their media were extracting maximum propaganda value from their horrific deaths.
Thus we soon witnessed the BBC’s John Sopel on News at Ten referring to the plane’s destruction as a ‘humiliation‘ for President Putin; saw the Daily Telegraph‘s Janet Daley on a TV panel describing the outrage as ‘a direct consequence of [Russia’s] involvement in Syria‘; and read a New York Times interview in which the UK’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond not only said he hoped the crash would persuade President Putin ‘to take a more flexible posture in the Syria talks‘, but also wondered aloud whether this ‘warning shot‘ would create in the Russian leader ‘a greater willingness to engage‘. Yes, really!
Loathsome indeed. But if you’ll allow me to prognosticate for a moment, it does seem to me that we are about to see cracks appearing in this particular ‘wall of separation’. Not, of course, in the part that buttresses the West’s myths about its leaders being proud, brave and steadfast, and not at all the sort of people who ‘give in to terrorists’ (a myth that is the exact inversion of the truth) — but the part about their violent actions never being responsible for violent reactions. Here I predict a certain amount of change — and for two reasons.
First, my impression is that even the most misinformed and confused people in the country — i.e. those who get their information from the ministream press — are beginning to notice the long-suppressed reality. And, paradoxically enough, something that has helped to bring this about is nothing other than the endlessly hyped-up media coverage we get of murderous attacks on Western civilians by non-state actors around the world — coverage whose underlying motivation is the elites’ desire to generate sufficient fear and hatred that the populace will shed tears of delighted relief when the next tranche of rights and freedoms is stripped away from them in the interests of, uh, ‘security’. In short, the bigger and more lurid the dots you paint, the more likely it is that people will connect them for themselves.
My second reason is more contemptible, but no less real or powerful for that: it’s that for various historical reasons, anglophone culture finds it remarkably easy to view ‘the French’ — and especially the French elites — with suspicion and contempt. (Think back: a few lines ago I referred to ‘the perfidious French’ — and you didn’t bat an eyelid…) Thus certain things unthinkable and unexpressible turn out to be just that little bit less unthinkable and unexpressible in connection with a President of France — even one who isn’t seen as a ‘cheese-eating surrender-monkey’, as the once-popular phrase had it.
Add these two realities together, and the situation is a tricky one for our journalistic lackeys to handle — since what it means is that they must choose between two unappealing alternatives: either they look increasingly wrong and ridiculous as they continue repeating an outdated mantra, or they are seen shifting their positions so as meet their increasingly savvy readership half way. If I’m right about all this, what we’ll witness in the next several weeks will be the creation of a new stream of press comment and analysis in which the people who previously screamed ‘WHAT?! ARE YOU TRYING TO JUSTIFY TERRORISM…?!?’ now find themselves saying ‘Well, it’s actually a complicated question. . .’ Thus will the opinionators of the ministream attempt to remain ‘credible’ — and to retain control over the discourse.
All the same, it’s impossible to talk about double standards on this level of vileness without feeling personally sullied; so let me end this section here and move on to the last of the items on my list of press falsifications.
(iii) ‘There Is No Alternative’: the ‘reporter’ is a gatekeeper; the ‘commentator’ is an enforcer. State-corporate power can rely on the press to act in their shared interests by establishing favourable narrative frameworks and by normalising helpful forms of motivated amnesia — but neither of these strategies will prevent members of the public from producing or examining ideas and ideologies harmful to elite interests. To achieve this necessary element of control, the press devotes enormous energy to making sure that any meaningful alternative to elite-serving orthodoxy is rapidly surrounded with a matrix of ridicule, slander and stigmatisation sufficient to undermine its status and credibility in the mind of the reader. Thus is any intellectual and ideological challenge attacked without discussion of its real content — and neutralised by ‘toxification’ on a largely emotional and non-intellectual level of discourse.
Once again, folks will be wanting me to substantiate this with an instance or two — and, while there is no shortage of examples, I’m simply going to remind people of what has been the elite press’s months-long, full-spectrum assault on the Labour politician Jeremy Corbyn — an example of media ‘gatekeeping’ and ‘enforcement’ so superficially baffling in its irrational vehemence that, here too, one finds that perfectly normal people are spontaneously becoming aware of what is really going on.
A full discussion of the press’s treatment of Corbyn since he first began to seem a likely winner of this summer’s Labour party leadership contest would take me many thousands of words, so allow me merely to highlight a single aspect. Recall all those occasions when the elite media has concerned itself with the spreading or creating of accusations that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘simply unelectable’. Now, when media barons are faced with a hostile party leader whose views and values are electorally suicidal, one would rationally expect that the very last thing they would bother to do is try and convince the party that saw fit to choose him that it needed to find a leader more likely to bring it to power. Stands to reason, I think you’ll agree.
If, confused by this seemingly self-undermining piece of elite behaviour, one consults Doran’s Dictionary of Media Garbage, one discovers that, in media-speak, the word ‘unelectable’ doesn’t mean what it says. For a start, it’s a description that’s reserved for people who have been diagnosed as ‘unlikely to serve elite interests‘ — and what it really means is the precise opposite of what it appears to mean. What the elites are, in fact, terrified of is the extent to which Jeremy Corbyn’s position on a whole raft of issues could make him very, very electable indeed. The elite’s problem with Corbyn is not that he isn’t in tune with people’s views, it’s that he’s in tune with the wrong people’s views — and, if not crushed as soon as possible, might well enable that large majority of ‘wrong people’ to start taking back our politics from the micro-elite that has spent such huge amounts of money buying it.
After all, if it genuinely were the case that Corbyn’s political convictions and policy choices not only ‘fail to resonate with the voter’ but are even ‘anathema to the great British public’, then all an antagonistic press would actually have to do is print the whole lot in a big list — and then sit back and watch with smug satisfaction as readers in their tens of millions vomited into bags at the sight of everything Corbyn stood for. The fact that what the press has produced instead has been an unending stream of irrelevancies, slights, smears, fabrications, exaggerations, manufactured provocations, scaremongerings, and bought-in hit-pieces — elite-serving stenography and obedient amnesia abounding! — should be all the confirmation that my thesis requires.
As for the degree of sheer panic that Corbyn’s ascendancy has provoked in elite circles horrified at the possibility that he might disrupt ‘normal’ politics — i.e. the game in which three or four scarcely distinguishable varieties of warmongering neoliberal privateer disagree mainly over the question of how nakedly they want the ongoing process of elite looting and larceny to continue — one simply has to observe the extent to which the supposedly ‘sober, thoughtful and responsible’ end of the billionaire press continuum is now continually soiling itself in public without any apparent awareness of what it is doing.
If anyone wants a final illustration to rub this in, here is something from the Daily Telegraph — the leading and long-established national daily broadsheet without which no dog’s basket is complete. I don’t think a clearer demonstration will be found of the elite media’s total contempt for democracy than this example — revealing as it does the way in which, when the Telegraph‘s staff felt obliged to use its front page to show an image of the man whose 250,000 votes give him the biggest mandate of any party leader in British political history, they spent time, effort and money sourcing a photograph that made it look like he has Mickey Mouse ears.
If you haven’t yet seen evidence of all the depths of cynical opportunism and mendacity that are now regularly plumbed by our ministream press in their campaign against Corbyn and the resurrection of political choice that he represents, you can turn to pretty well any issue of The Guardian from mid-September onwards: the number of pieces in which the UK’s ostensibly ‘left-of-centre’ broadsheet attacks the UK’s only left-of-centre party leader is now in the low hundreds, so you won’t have any difficulty finding some. If you want to watch the gatekeepers and enforcers still in desperate ‘overdrive’ however, you’ll need to be quick: the legions toiling away in the paid service of unaccountable wealth and unelected power are guaranteed to win in the end. Unless, of course, we all decide to boycott entirely the elite-serving press — and watch it crumble to nothing in no time at all…
And the tragedy of all this is that such a thing would be so incredibly easy to do. . .
If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making an anonymised micro-donation in return! Micro-donation — 50p, 50c, whatever — is the way to sponsor the creation of quality content outside the control of corporate-owned and power-serving media structures. To micro-donate to me, with guaranteed anonymity, simply click on the button… Thanks!