December 4, 2009
McClatchy and several other large news sources are exceptions which
have reported well on the
Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
There are five reasons that the mainstream media is worthless.
1. Self-Censorship by Journalists
Initially, there is tremendous self-censorship by journalists.
For example, several months after 9/11, famed news anchor Dan Rather told
the BBC that American reporters were practicing "a form of self-censorship":
There was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tires around
peoples' necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will
be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put
around your neck.
Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the
toughest of the tough questions... And again, I am humbled to say, I do not
except myself from this criticism.
What we are talking about here - whether one wants to
recognize it or not,
or call it by its proper name or not - is a form of self-censorship.
agreed that there is self-censorship in the American media,
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.
As former Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin wrote in 2006:
Mainstream-media political journalism is in
danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the
Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes
from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this
green earth to do....
There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as
those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the
fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in
precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.
If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start calling bullshit more
often, then we do risk losing our primacy - if not to the comedians then to
I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate
bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter - whatever their beat.
We just need to get the editors, or the corporate culture, or the
self-censorship - or whatever it is - out of the way.
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.
The Pulitzer prize-winning reporter who uncovered the Iraq prison torture
scandal and the Mai Lai massacre in Vietnam, Seymour Hersh,
"All of the institutions we thought would
protect us - particularly the press, but also the military, the
bureaucracy, the Congress - they have failed. The courts... the jury's
not in yet on the courts. So all the things that we expect would
normally carry us through didn't. The biggest failure, I would argue, is
the press, because that's the most glaring...
Q: What can be done to fix the (media) situation?
[Long pause] You'd have to fire or execute ninety percent of the editors and
executives. You'd actually have to start promoting people from the newsrooms
to be editors who you didn't think you could control. And they're not going
to do that."
In fact many journalists are warning that
the true story is not being
this announcement and this talk.
a series of interviews with award-winning journalists also documents
censorship of certain stories by media editors and owners (and
There are many reasons for censorship by media higher-ups.
One is money.
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.
Indeed, a 2003 survey reveals that 35% of
reporters and news executives themselves admitted that journalists
newsworthy stories if,
“the story would be embarrassing or damaging to the
financial interests of a news organization’s owners or parent company.”
In addition, the government has allowed tremendous consolidation in
ownership of the airwaves during the past decade.
Dan Rather has
slammed media consolidation:
Likening media consolidation to that of the banking industry, Rather claimed
that “roughly 80 percent” of the media is controlled by no more than six,
and possibly as few as four, corporations.
This is documented by the following must-see charts prepared by:
And check out
this list of interlocking directorates of big media companies
from Fairness and Accuracy in Media, and
this resource from the Columbia
Journalism Review to research a particular company.
This image gives a sense of the decline in diversity in media ownership over
the last couple of decades:
The large media players stand to gain billions of dollars in profits if the
Obama administration continues to allow monopoly ownership of the airwaves
by a handful of players.
The media giants know who butters their bread.
there is a spoken or tacit agreement: if the media cover the administration
in a favorable light, the MSM will continue to be the receiver of the
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.
Veteran reporter Bill Moyers
criticized the corporate media for parroting
the obviously false link between 9/11 and Iraq (and the false claims that
Iraq possessed WMDs) which the administration made in the run up to the Iraq
war, and concluded that the false information was not challenged because:
"the [mainstream] media had been cheerleaders for the White House from the
beginning and were simply continuing to rally the public behind the
President - no questions asked."
And as NBC News' David Gregory (later promoted to host Meet the Press) said:
"I think there are a lot of critics who think that... if we did not
stand up [in the run-up to the war] and say 'this is bogus, and you're a
liar, and why are you doing this,' that we didn't do our job. I respectfully
disagree. It's not our role"
But this is nothing new. In fact, the large media companies have drummed up
support for all previous wars.
For example, Hearst
helped drum up support for the Spanish-American War.
And an official summary of America's overthrow of the democratically-elected
president of Iran in the 1950's states,
"In cooperation with the Department
of State, CIA had several articles planted in major American newspapers and
magazines which, when reproduced in Iran, had the desired psychological
effect in Iran and contributed to the war of nerves against Mossadeq."
The mainstream media also may have played footsie with the U.S. government
right before Pearl Harbor.
highly-praised historian (Bob Stineet)
argues that the Army’s Chief of Staff informed the Washington
bureau chiefs of the major newspapers and magazines of the impending Pearl
Harbor attack BEFORE IT OCCURRED, and swore them to an oath of secrecy,
which the media honored (page 361) .
And the military-media alliance has continued without a break (as a
says, "viewers may be taken aback to see the
grotesque extent to which US presidents and American news media have jointly
shouldered key propaganda chores for war launches during the last five
As the mainstream British paper, the Independent,
There is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass
media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it
and to expose it. The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to
do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the
production of our news.
The article in the Independent discusses the use of "black propaganda" by
the U.S. government, which is then parroted by the media without analysis.
For example, the government
forged a letter from al Zarqawi to the "inner
circle" of al-Qa'ida's leadership, urging them to accept that the best
way to beat US forces in Iraq was effectively to start a civil war, which
was then publicized without question by the media.
So why has the American press has consistently served the elites in
disseminating their false justifications for war?
One of of the reasons is because the large media companies are owned by
support the militarist agenda or even directly profit from war and
terror (for example, NBC - which is being sold to Comcast -
was owned by
General Electric, one of the largest defense contractors in the world
- which directly profits from war, terrorism and chaos).
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.
For example, a BBC documentary
There was "a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by a group of right-wing
American businessmen... The coup was aimed at toppling President
Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans.
plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in
America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s
Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies
of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression."
"the tycoons told the general who they asked to carry out the coup
that the American people would accept the new government because they
controlled all the newspapers."
Have you ever heard of this scheme before? It was certainly a very large
one. And if the conspirators controlled the newspapers then, how much worse
is it today with media consolidation?
For $25,000 to $250,000, The Washington Post has offered lobbyists and
association executives off-the-record, non-confrontational access to "those
powerful few": Obama administration officials, members of Congress, and
first - even the paper’s own reporters and editors...
The offer - which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator
for private lobbyist-official encounters - was a new sign of the lengths to
which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most
newspapers are struggling for survival.
That may be one reason that the mainstream news commentators hate bloggers
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 "non-confrontational access" which leads to puff pieces for
the big boys.
5. Censorship by the Government
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.
Indeed, at times the government has
media owners and reporters in jail if they've been too critical. The media
companies have felt great pressure from the government to kill any real
questioning of the endless wars.
For example, Dan Rather
said, regarding American media,
"What you have is a
miniature version of what you have in totalitarian states".
"all wars are based on propaganda."
And the head of CNN
There was 'almost a patriotism police' after 9/11 and when the network
showed [things critical of the administration's policies] it would get phone
calls from advertisers and the administration and "big people in
corporations were calling up and saying, 'You're being anti-American here.'
Indeed, former military analyst and famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower
said that the government has ordered the media not to cover
Ellsberg seemed hardly surprised that today's American mainstream broadcast
media has so far failed to take [former FBI translator and 9/11
whistleblower Sibel] Edmonds up on her offer, despite the blockbuster nature
of her allegations [which Ellsberg calls "far more explosive than the
As Edmonds has also alluded, Ellsberg pointed to the New York Times, who
"sat on the NSA spying story for over a year" when they "could have put it
out before the 2004 election, which might have changed the outcome."
"There will be phone calls going out to the media saying 'don't even think
of touching it, you will be prosecuted for violating national security,'" he
* * *
"I am confident that there is conversation inside the Government as to 'How
do we deal with Sibel?'" contends Ellsberg.
"The first line of defense is to
ensure that she doesn't get into the media. I think any outlet that thought
of using her materials would go to to the government and they would be told
'don't touch this...'"
Of course, if the stick approach doesn't work, the government can always
pay off reporters to spread disinformation.
Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein says the
CIA has already bought and
paid for many successful journalists. See also this New York Times piece,
this essay by the Independent,
this speech by one of the premier writers on
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.
Can We Win the Battle Against Censorship?
We cannot just leave governance to our "leaders", as "The price of freedom
is eternal vigilance" (Jefferson). Similarly, we cannot leave news to the
We need to "be the media" ourselves.
"To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of
- Abraham Lincoln
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Powerlessness and silence go together. We...should use our privileged
positions not as a shelter from the world's reality, but as a platform from
which to speak. A voice is a gift. It should be cherished and used."
- Margaret Atwood
"There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is
the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at
points in history and creating a power that governments cannot suppress."
- Howard Zinn (historian)
"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to
- Thomas Jefferson