Major Source of 'Fake News'? The US Government
November 27, 2016
John W. Whitehead / Rutherford Institute and AntiWar.com & James W Carden / Consortium News
There's garden variety fake news -- titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an active imagination -- then there's the more devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the US government. The US mainstream news media often holds itself out as the world's gold standard, home for careful reporting and diverse opinions compared to Russia's monolithic propaganda, but the reality is quite different.
When It Comes to Fake News, the US Government Is the Biggest Culprit
John W. Whitehead / Rutherford Institute & AntiWar.com
"We Americans are the ultimate innocents. We are forever desperate to believe that this time the government is telling us the truth."
Former New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg
(November 25, 2016) -- Let's talk about fake news stories, shall we?
There's the garden variety fake news that is not really "news" so much as it is titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an active imagination. These stories run the gamut from the ridiculous and the obviously click-baity to the satirical and politically manipulative.
Anyone with an ounce of sense and access to the Internet should be able to ferret out the truth and lies in these stories with some basic research. That these stories flourish is largely owing to the general gullibility, laziness and media illiteracy of the general public, which through its learned compliance rarely questions, challenges or confronts.
Then there's the more devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the US government.
In the midst of the media's sudden headline-blaring apoplexy over fake news, you won't hear much about the government's role in producing, planting and peddling propaganda-driven fake news -- often with the help of the corporate news media -- because that's not how the game works.
Because the powers-that-be don't want us skeptical of the government's message or its corporate accomplices in the mainstream media. They don't want us to be more discerning when it comes to what information we digest online. They just want us to be leery of independent or alternative news sources while trusting them -- and their corporate colleagues -- to vet the news for us.
Indeed, the New York Times has suggested that Facebook and Google appoint themselves the arbiters of truth on the Internet in order to screen out what is blatantly false, spam or click-baity.
Not only would this establish a dangerous precedent for all-out censorship by corporate entities known for colluding with the government but it's also a slick sleight-of-hand maneuver that diverts attention from what we should really be talking about: the fact that the government has grown dangerously out-of-control, all the while the so-called mainstream news media, which is supposed to act as a bulwark against government propaganda, has instead become the mouthpiece of the world's largest corporation -- the US government.
As veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward blew the lid off the Watergate scandal, reported in his expansive 1977 Rolling Stone piece, "The CIA and the Media":
"More than 400 American journalists . . . in the past twenty five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency . . . There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services . . .
"Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters . . . In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America's leading news organizations."
Bernstein is referring to Operation Mockingbird, a CIA campaign started in the 1950s to plant intelligence reports among reporters at more than 25 major newspapers and wire agencies, who would then regurgitate them for a public oblivious to the fact that they were being fed government propaganda.
In some instances, as Bernstein shows, members of the media also served as extensions of the surveillance state, with reporters actually carrying out assignments for the CIA.
Executives with CBS, the New York Times and Time magazine also worked closely with the CIA to vet the news. Bernstein writes: "Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Aassociated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald Tribune."
For example, in August 1964, the nation's leading newspapers -- including the Washington Post and New York Times -- echoed Lyndon Johnson's claim that North Vietnam had launched a second round of attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. No such attacks had taken place, and yet the damage was done.
As Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, "By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War."
Fast forward to the early post-9/11 years when, despite a lack of any credible data supporting the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the mainstream media jumped on the bandwagon to sound the war drums against Iraq.
As Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian put it, "our government . . . used its immense bully pulpit to steamroll the watchdogs . . . Many were gulled by access to administration insiders, or susceptible to the drumbeat of the government's coordinated rhetoric."
John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for Knight-Ridder, one of the only news agencies to challenge the government's rationale for invading Iraq, suggests that the reason for the media's easy acceptance is that "too many journalists, including some very famous ones, have surrendered their independence in order to become part of the ruling class. Journalism is, as the motto goes, speaking truth to power, not wielding it."
If it was happening then, you can bet it's still happening today, only it's been reclassified, renamed and hidden behind layers of government secrecy, obfuscation and spin.
In its article, "How the American government is trying to control what you think," the Washington Post points out "Government agencies historically have made a habit of crossing the blurry line between informing the public and propagandizing."
Thus, whether you're talking about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the government's invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, or the government's so-called war on terror, privacy and whistleblowers, it's being driven by propaganda churned out by one corporate machine (the corporate-controlled government) and fed to the American people by way of yet another corporate machine (the corporate-controlled media).
"For the first time in human history, 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," writes investigative journalist Nick Davies. "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."
If the mass media -- aka the mainstream media or the corporate or establishment media -- is merely repeating what is being fed to it, who are the masterminds within the government responsible for this propaganda?
The Pentagon has now designated "information operations" as its fifth "core competency" alongside land, sea, air and special forces. Since October 2006, every brigade, division and corps in the US military has had its own "psyop" element producing output for local media. This military activity is linked to the State Department's campaign of "public diplomacy" which includes funding radio stations and news websites.
This use of propaganda disguised as journalism is what journalist John Pilger refers to as "invisible government . . . the true ruling power of our country."
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we no longer have a Fourth Estate.
Not when the "news" we receive is routinely manufactured, manipulated and made-to-order by government agents. Not when six corporations control 90% of the media in America. And not when, as Davies laments, "news organizations which might otherwise have exposed the truth were themselves part of the abuse, and so they kept silent, indulging in a comic parody of misreporting, hiding the emerging scandal from their readers like a Victorian nanny covering the children's eyes from an accident in the street."
So let's have no more of this handwringing, heart-wrenching, morally offended talk about fake news by media outlets that have become propagandists for the false reality created by the American government.
After all, as Glenn Greenwald points out, "The term propaganda rings melodramatic and exaggerated, but a press that -- whether from fear, careerism, or conviction -- uncritically recites false government claims and reports them as fact, or treats elected officials with a reverence reserved for royalty, cannot be accurately described as engaged in any other function."
So where does that leave us?
What should -- or can -- we do?
I'll close with John Pilger's words of warning and advice:
Real information, subversive information, remains the most potent power of all -- and I believe that we must not fall into the trap of believing that the media speaks for the public. That wasn't true in Stalinist Czechoslovakia and it isn't true of the United States.
" In all the years I've been a journalist, I've never known public consciousness to have risen as fast as it's rising today . . . yet this growing critical public awareness is all the more remarkable when you consider the sheer scale of indoctrination, the mythology of a superior way of life, and the current manufactured state of fear.
[The public] need[s] truth, and journalists ought to be agents of truth, not the courtiers of power. I believe a fifth estate is possible, the product of a people's movement, that monitors, deconstructs, and counters the corporate media. In every university, in every media college, in every news room, teachers of journalism, journalists themselves need to ask themselves about the part they now play in the bloodshed in the name of a bogus objectivity.
"Such a movement within the media could herald a perestroika of a kind that we have never known. This is all possible. Silences can be broken . . . In the United States wonderfully free rebellious spirits populate the web . . . The best reporting . . . appears on the web . . . and citizen reporters.
The challenge for the rest of us is to lift this subjugated knowledge from out of the underground and take it to ordinary people. We need to make haste. Liberal Democracy is moving toward a form of corporate dictatorship.
"This is an historic shift, and the media must not be allowed to be its façade, but itself made into a popular, burning issue, and subjected to direct action. That great whistleblower Tom Paine warned that if the majority of the people were denied the truth and the ideas of truth, it was time to storm what he called the Bastille of words. That time is now.
The West's Media Delusions
James W Carden / Consortium News
(November 23, 2016) -- In a wide-ranging and necessary survey of Russian political programming, Dr. Gilbert Doctorow, himself a frequent guest on those shows, observes that:
"The charges -- that Russian media are only an instrument of state propaganda directed at the domestic population to keep Russian citizens in line and at foreign audiences to sow dissent among Russia's neighbors and within the European Union -- are taken as a matter of faith with almost no proofs adduced. Anyone who questions this 'group think' is immediately labeled a 'tool of Putin' or worse."
Dr. Doctorow has launched an important conversation in light of the release of yet another alarmist media report, this time by a British neoconservative group named (oddly) after a long deceased Democratic Senator from Washington State (Henry "Scoop" Jackson), which seeks to stifle debate on Russia policy in the West by smearing dissenters from the Russia-bashing conventional wisdom as "Putin's useful idiots."
Doctorow's experience with the Russian media therefore serves a double use: to combat willful Western misconceptions of the Russian media landscape as well as to serve as a useful point of comparison with US media outlets and their coverage of Russia.
If we take the example of the purportedly liberal cable news outlet MSNBC, we find, paradoxically, that the hard-right neoconservative stance toward Russia goes virtually unopposed. Regarding Russia, in comparison with their principal center-left cable news rival CNN, which, to its credit occasionally makes room for the minority "detente" point of view, MSNBC leaves about as much room for dissent as the Soviet-era Pravda -- actually, perhaps less.
As it happens, there was a similar disparity when it came to the way the two networks covered the US presidential election. While CNN went about bringing much needed balance to its coverage, albeit in the most inept way possible -- by hiring paid flacks from each of the campaigns to appear alongside actual journalists, MSNBC (like Republican rival FOX News) wholly dispensed with any pretense of objectivity and served as little more than as a mouth piece for the disastrous Clinton campaign.
As such, the "liberal" network found itself in the vanguard of the new McCarthyism which swept the 2016 campaign, but which has, in fact, been a feature of the American debate over Russia policy since at least the beginning of the Ukraine crisis in late 2013 -- if not earlier.
Examples abound, but perhaps the most striking case of the neo-McCarthyite hysteria which MSNBC attempted to dress up as its legitimate concern over US national security was a rant that Rachel Maddow unleashed on her audience in June when Maddow opened her show with a monologue dedicated to the proposition that Donald Trump was in league with Vladimir Putin.
Maddow, in her signature smarter-than-thou tone, informed readers that the "admiration" between Putin and Trump "really is mutual. I mean, look at this headline, 'Putin praises Trump. He`s brilliant and talented person.' 'Putin praises bright and talented Trump.' 'Vladimir Putin praises outstanding and talented Trump.'
"There was some controversy over how to exactly translate Putin`s remarks, but Putin took care to flatter Donald Trump publicly, exactly the way Donald Trump likes to be flattered, and that`s apparently enough for Donald Trump, that`s all he needs to hear, that`s all he needs to know, to tell him, how great Vladimir Putin is.
"Putin likes Trump, he must be smart, must be great. So, that is the very, very unusual context here, that you have a Republican presidential nominee who is very, very susceptible to flattery. It`s the most powerful thing in the world to him. If you compliment him, he will never forget it and that`s kind of all he needs to know about you."
Maddow went on in this vein for quite a while longer (meaning: little actual content but lots of "very, very's" and eye-rolling). But her central insight, such as it was, was little more than a regurgitation of Democratic National Committee talking points.
To no one's surprise, Maddow's accusations were repeated almost verbatim in the press releases issued by the Clinton campaign, which accused Trump of being little more than a Russian fifth columnist.
Maddow's evidence-free, innuendo laden June rant took on an added importance because she was the messenger. After the risible, self-important sports journalist Keith Olbermann left the network in 2011, Maddow took over as the network's house intellectual. So her words carry weight with its viewers in a way, say, Mika Brzezinki's do not.
Nevertheless at no point at which I am aware did Maddow ever host a guest who pushed back against the still unproven charges that the Russian government had interfered in the US election or that Donald Trump was, in the words of former CIA functionary Mike Morell, an "unwitting agent of the Kremlin" -- never mind that as recently as Nov. 15, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker admitted he had "no proof" of Moscow's interference in the US election.
While it is unclear whether MSNBC's Joy Reid is seen as "serious" a voice as Maddow, it is unquestionable that she has emerged as the network's most enthusiastic practitioner of the new McCarthyism.
Days before the election Reid hosted Newsweek's increasingly unhinged Kurt Eichenwald and former Naval officer Malcolm Nance who has repeatedly and without evidence claimed the Wikileaks-Podesta emails were fake.
Why, asked Reid, are the Russians backing Trump? As if that assertion was beyond dispute. Well, said Eichenwald, "They hate Hillary Clinton . . . " Oh. Reid then went on to wonder why the FBI is down-playing the intelligence community's allegedly deep concern that Russia was interfering in the election.
Days later, right after the election, Reid re-assembled a panel featuring Nance, the reliable Putin critic Nina Khrushcheva and Esquire's Charles Pierce to reinforce the message that MSNBC had been pushing since the summer: that the Russian government had its hand on the scale of the US election. Pierce, in particular, was apoplectic.
That Reid's roundtable featured Pierce made a good deal of sense. Throughout the campaign, Pierce has been determined to draw a direct link between the Trump campaign and Putin. A sample of his output helps tell the tale.
On July 24, Pierce published "Donald Trump's and Vladimir Putin's Shared Agenda Should Alarm Anyone Concerned About Democracy" in which Pierce speculated that "Trump seems increasingly dependent on money from Russia and from the former Soviet republics within its increasingly active sphere of influence."
In his offering of Sept. 9, Pierce protested that "It's not 'red-baiting' to be concerned about Russian interference in our elections." Pierce, perhaps moved to madness by The Nation editorial "Against Neo-McCarthyism," sounded as though he were channeling the ghost of James Jesus Angleton, asking, "Are we supposed to believe that Donald Trump really went on RT television by accident? That nobody on his staff knew that the Russian government's American network picks up Larry King's podcast?"
About a month before the election, on Oct. 11, Pierce informed readers of the once-great Esquire, "Vladimir Putin Is Determined to See Trump in the Oval Office." Still worse, according to Pierce, "There is little question now that Vladimir Putin is playing monkey-mischief with the 2016 presidential election, and that the Trump campaign is the primary beneficiary of that."
All of the aforementioned is to demonstrate that the American media's much touted pluralism is little more than a fiction when it comes to reporting on Russia.
The diversity of Left-Right voices on the political spectrum that Doctorow has encountered in Moscow indicates that the widespread perception that Moscow's political culture is monolithic compared to that of the Washington's is, at the very least, challengeable.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord's eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
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