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Smearing Stein: Media as Propaganda

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Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, has been the sudden target of attacks from all corners of online media since the official end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign at the Democratic National Convention. Outlets like the Washington Post, New York Magazine and Gizmodo have assaulted Stein by using out-of-context quotes to assail her, wrongly, for being anti-vaccination and anti-WiFi, which is a code for being “anti-science.” This allows us a unique opportunity to confirm the structural role of the media as hypothesized by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent: that the media is a propaganda arm for the elite and powerful, and is used to condition us to accept the bounds of socio-political discourse as set by the ruling class. It also shows us the desperate need we have for an alternative media culture to counteract mainstream discourse.

The attack on Stein (and not, conveniently, on Gary Johnson), is linked to the need by the elite to de-legitimize A.) critics of neoliberal policies and B.) potential alternatives to the political status-quo. Trump and Clinton have had and will have no discussion about thirty years of neoliberalism and austerity. Sanders gave a voice to those within the Democrats who were willing to question, but since his defeat momentum on the left has shifted to Stein and the Green Party. It is, granted, still early, but the outpouring of support means there is a possibility the left could begin to regroup outside the Democratic Party. Real success for Stein could mean a permanent presence on the national stage for the left, to which a president Clinton or Trump would have to answer and which would be able to build an entirely different ideological discourse in the United States.

What is the role of the media in this scenario, one that explains the current froth about Stein? Although the public is rarely allowed a glimpse behind the curtain, almost all media in the United States is controlled by just a few large corporations. In the era of mass communication, the media has usurped the role formerly played by the Church as a primary source of information and the bounds of discourse. Private corporations are interested in making a profit, and ensuring the economy continues to produce those profits. Marx once opined that “the ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class,” and in an era of (potential) mass political upheaval, the media plays an active role in silencing dissent to those ideas. Indeed, they are linked to the continued profits generated by the political order. Political candidates and parties that challenge and threaten to upend this are typically subject to vigorous criticism if they threaten to shift the political discourse or take power: witness the barrage of negative stories and editorials on leaders like Hugo Chávez or new political parties like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain.

These attacks on Stein are produced and then echoed by a online media constructed to reach an educated, young segment of the population that has nevertheless begun to consider rejecting Clinton (and Trump) on election day.

Chomsky notes that 20-30% of the populace is highly indoctrinated so as to function as system-managers, and that these tend to correspond to the college-educated. The remaining 70-80% are fed a steady diet of entertainment programming to induce sheer apathy in politics, even though today the propaganda fed to the managerial class often takes the form of info-tainment, and news departments are filled with pundits and not reporters.

This is exactly the function of the skewed negative articles on Stein: the huge bloc of people who rejected Clinton (and Trump) are young and only loosely tethered to party affiliation. Much of the rest of the world has seen a sudden explosion in new left-wing parties winning legislative seats because the young generation has seen job prospects vanish and incomes flatline while the 1% continue to enjoy robust growth in wealth. To take quotes out of context and paint Stein as anti-science to a population segment that is highly educated really means A.) her ideas are beyond the pale and B.) she is no better on these issues than the Republican Party.

These scare tactics do not engage with the Green Party or Stein’s platform. Indeed, it is hard to call the people who wrote them journalists, as proper procedure for writing a story on a presidential candidate whose statements require clarification is to engage them or their media team in extended conversation. This is usually how it works for Clinton or Trump, but apparently not for Jill Stein. It is far easier to conduct a smear campaign when the subject is given no chance to respond.

It is important for concerned activists, citizens and voters to treat with skepticism the propaganda campaign being rolled out against Stein in the next three months. Read full quotations and speeches, doubt sensationalist headlines, and let editorial boards know your displeasure at such tactics. Realize we need to resurrect an independent press, and that a century ago papers like Appeal To Reason were not only openly socialist but able to break with established orthodoxy because they weren’t beholden to investors with a stake in the status quo.

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Peter A. LaVenia has a PhD in Political Theory from the University at Albany, SUNY and is a member of the New York State Green Party’s executive committee. He can be reached on Twitter @votelavenia and at his website, unorthodoxmarxist.wordpress.com.

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