If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!
“Objective journalism is one of the main reasons that American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long”
– Hunter S. Thompson
The non-profit journalistic and publishing organization WikiLeaks released on 22nd July 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments sent from or received by Democratic National Committee (DNC) personnel. The emails exposed numerous instances of unprofessional, unethical and possibly illegal behaviour, including concerted attempts to undercut Bernie Sanders as well as clear favouritism toward Hillary Clinton.
Specifically the emails exposed – among thousands of other things – the DNC conspiring to create false Trump information and release it with Reuters; DNC Hillary supporters infiltrating the Sanders campaign; a super PAC paying young voters to push back online Sanders supporters; a mole working inside the Sanders campaign; bringing up Sanders’ religion to scare southern voters; possible money laundering by moving money back and forth to bypass legal limits; a Politico writer sending his stories to the DNC before he sends them to his editor; feeding CNN the questions they want to be asked in interviews; and the DNC requesting the pull of an MSNBC commentary segment.
It will come as no surprise therefore that the US establishment has brought forth enormous pressure on the government of Ecuador to force Julian Assange – the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks – out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London, an act that would lead to his certain arrest at the hands of the UK authorities. To its credit, Ecuador has reaffirmed its commitment to providing political asylum to Assange.
At the same time, after four years of stalling, Swedish prosecutors have this week expressed their intention to question Assange within the embassy, something they could have easily done at any time. Indeed, those believing that (Swedish prosecutor) Marianne Ny really has at heart the best interests of the two women involved in the case must now ask themselves why she would therefore allow some of her investigations into allegations of sexual assault to be dropped – as they were last year – because the deadline for bringing charges expired. Given that Sweden is now willing to interview Assange in the embassy, why could they have not done this sooner for the sake of the women involved? The only possible conclusion is that this – as long stated by several serious analysts – is a purely political investigation and that Assange is right to fear for his security.
Along with a few other journalists, most notably John Pilger, we have exposed on several occasions the farcical case against Julian Assange. In June 2014, to mark the second anniversary of Assange’s embassy refuge, this I noted the following:
Readers who are open to the possibility that they may have been misled on this issue should first follow these links and read/watch in full:
A FAQ here explains some of the general circumstances of the case.
This short animated video also provides a clear, informative summary.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the often hostile public reaction to the plight of Julian Assange is the assumption by so many of benign intent on the part of the US and its close allies, the UK and Sweden. Despite the mass intrusive surveillance apparatus exposed by Edward Snowden, under the umbrella of which strategies reminiscent of the East German Stasi have been laid out for the world to see; despite the long documented history of illegal, covert operations undertaken by agencies of the United States like COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, Operation CHAOS and many others; despite dozens of illegal interventions and bombings of foreign sovereign nations; despite multiple CIA-sponsored coup d’etats that replaced democratically elected leaders with murderous dictators; despite the numerous fake FBI terror plots to justify the  dedication of [vast] resources to the ‘war on terror’; despite the quite insane double standards displayed in the ‘intelligence’ arena…despite all these documented realities, perplexing it is indeed that any serious person could assume any benign intent whatsoever. Indeed, given the above list, an intelligent person would surely assume the precise opposite.
One major PR strategy adopted by the Clinton campaign in response to the DNC leaks has been to blanket ‘blame Russia’. Given the extensive links to the major media organizations exposed within the leaks, it will come as no surprise that pet journalists and pundits have been parroting the same line. This ‘shock-and-awe’ strategy is effective in that it feeds off the already strong anti-Russia feelings that have been whipped up in recent years on multiple fronts while simultaneously deflecting attention from where it belongs (the substance of the leaked emails) onto a tried and tested smear target: Vladimir Putin.
A notable aspect of this furore is the highlighting of the reflexive response of mainstream and establishment figures to actions that expose the endemic corruption of the system upon which they symbiotically depend to exist. Corporate media journalists tend to make much of their ‘objectivity’ – the perceived lack of bias in their reporting. At the same time, they deride other media organizations like Russia Today or TeleSur, especially when they carry stories that run counter to the official Western narratives that they personally sustain.
The standard tactic for enforcing this objectivity and lack of bias is to introduce a story in a calm, professional manner aided by high-quality graphics and studio designs along with – when necessary – ominous, breaking-news sound effects. Deeper analysis is then supplied with the help of two or more pundits or ‘experts’, some holding conflicting views. In the case of the DNC leaks, for example, a Clinton campaign staffer could feature against a Trump spokesman. In this way, the advertised and guaranteed objectivity (‘fair and balanced’) is upheld as two differing perspectives are aired.
To casual news viewers, this approach will (falsely) appear unbiased and objective. In the DNC-leak scenario, while the two pundits may hold conflicting – even opposing – views, they will both nonetheless reside comfortably within the neoliberal consensus. The Clinton side will blame (without evidence) Russia for the leak; the Trump side will say (correctly) that such an assertion is an attempt to deflect attention from the substance of the emails. Neither side will ever address the deep corruption that exists in both of the main parties, and indeed at all levels of government; nor will they express any suggestion that there may be other ways of running democratic elections – or indeed societies – beyond the sick two-party duopoly; the utterly discredited status quo.
This is pseudo-journalism, in that it does not challenge power or hold it to account. It merely discusses topics of current interest within a neoliberal framework that is never questioned. On the rare occasions more radical voices do reach the mainstream, they are habitually smeared or simply sidelined or ignored. This is further played out on social media, with even polite radical dissent or suggestions of alternative approaches met with scornful, derisive and sometimes contemptuous dismissals by mainstream journalists.
And all the while, ad revenues must be maintained with manufactured conflict and exaggeration.
News plus one – a slick product for sale. A tool incapable of engendering progressive change; used instead to promote and entrench the aims and needs of profit and power.
This unshakable faith within the establishment/corporate media clique in its own objectivity and the contempt it holds for Russia Today and other Western-narrative-challenging outlets is laughable with several serious studies proving severe systemic bias. Only this week a BBC Trust report found that ‘[t]he BBC has a “high dependency” on the governing party for statistics, with Conservatives representing nearly three-quarters of all statistics it cites from politicians, according to a report by the corporation’s governing body. [The report] also said that the corporation’s journalism needed to do more to “go beyond the headlines” and be more wary of reporting figures “straight from a press release”.’ Other studies ‘continually show a strong pro-Israeli bias’ in reporting of the Middle East conflict within Western media. Still more have found ‘persistent’ bias against Jeremy Corbyn at the BBC and other outlets. And few supporters of Scottish independence will have fond memories of the coverage provided in the run-up to the referendum.
Ironic it is then that the media treatment of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is such a fine example of this fake objectivity. Although all react to accusations of bias or (self)-censorship with indignation or even anger, professing strong independence of their editors, and the certainty that they have the freedom to write what they like, corporate media journalists almost without exception trip over themselves to demean, ridicule and personally insult Assange and his plight, thereby doing a fine job for the instigators of the epic crimes exposed by WikiLeaks by deflecting attention from them to such an easy target. While some journalists may express an acceptance of the need for organizations that protect whistleblowers, they nevertheless faithfully serve imperial interests by pushing the debate towards trivial matters of personal dislike: even a cursory internet search will yield hundreds of catty articles focusing on petty, personal concerns while ignoring the elephant in the room – the exposed criminality.
A simple thought experiment. A mysterious file containing the DNC emails is surreptitiously slipped onto the desk of a journalist (let’s call him Jack Smith) at a major corporate media outlet like the New York Times. How will Jack react when he picks up the file and discovers its contents?
Once verified as genuine, the first words entering our hero’s head are likely to be: ‘epic shitstorm on a galactic scale’. Jack would realise instantly the implications of dropping a bomb like this into the middle of Hillary Clinton’s campaign at such a crucial juncture; the enormous damage that could be caused to one of the most powerful and connected people in the world. Does anyone seriously believe that Jack would go ahead and write an expose – the scoop of the year – all the while dreaming of Pulitzers?
First, he knows that he has to get past the bosses in full awareness of the fact that editors at the NYT don’t get there by being political imbeciles. Does he go rogue and write independently, finding an alternative publisher? He’s seen the contents – the emails contain clear, smoking-gun evidence of systemic corruption and favouritism at the DNC. There is no question that this is in the public interest, particularly in light of the fact that Clinton is the clear bookies’ favourite to win the presidency. The people of America surely need to know what their potential president and her party machine have done to deliberately sabotage the only serious opposition, Bernie Sanders, who enthused and inspired millions of especially young people disillusioned with the neoliberal order.
Jack remembers why he entered journalism. The people’s right to know. Truth to power, and holding it to account. However, this is surely too much of a hot potato. He has a mortgage, kids in private schools, medical bills, a great job at the most famous newspaper in the world…and he knows all too well what can happen to journalists who upset the wrong people. A very early retirement to spend more time with the family and likely future blanket ostracism from corporate media is a real possibility…perhaps even worse.
No, Jack decides to pass this one on to his bosses and let them handle it…and then goes back to his detailed analysis of the outlandish pronouncements of Donald Trump. After all, Jack reasons, the public also needs to know about the dangers of a Trump presidency.
Fortunately we don’t need a thought experiment to know what NYT editors do with politically embarrassing information, especially if it could hamstring an establishment candidate, and even if the information is essential for public viewing before the election:
A column by New York Times public editor Byron Calame August 13  reveals that the newspaper withheld a story about the Bush administration’s program of illegal domestic spying until after the 2004 election, and then lied about it.
On December 16, 2005, the Times reported that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor thousands of telephone conversations and e-mails in the US without court approval. At the time, the Times acknowledged that it had, at the urging of the Bush administration, withheld publication of the story, saying it held its exposé back “for a year.” This time frame suggested that the newspaper made the decision to withhold publication of the story after the 2004 presidential election.
Such a delay was, in itself, unpardonable, and provoked angry criticism. Now we learn, from an interview with Executive Editor Bill Keller conducted by Calame, that internal discussions at the Times about drafts of the eventual article had been “dragging on for weeks” before the November 2, 2004, election, which resulted in a victory for Bush.
“The process,” the public editor notes, “had included talks with the Bush administration.” A fresh draft was the subject of discussion at the newspaper “less than a week” before the election.
Involved here is not a trivial sex scandal or some moral peccadillo committed by one or another of the major candidates. At issue was a major policy question—one that goes to the core of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and basic democratic rights.
The electorate had the right to know that the incumbent president was systematically breaking the law in order to secretly wiretap, without court warrants, the communications of American citizens. As the Times was well aware, similar illegalities—although on a smaller scale—were among the charges leveled against Richard Nixon in the second article of impeachment, entitled “Abuse of Power,” approved by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in July 1974, leading to Nixon’s resignation the following month.
Consider now what an independent journalist (John Smith) would do? To a large degree it would depend on his courage, as John would publish this story knowing that revealing such information would trigger a deluge of smears and false accusations. He would almost certainly face calls for criminal investigation for hacking, not to mention the inevitable accusations of ‘working for the Russians’. Charges of ‘interfering in democracy’ would be levelled. Fellow journalists would run a mile, either refusing to comment or roundly denouncing him and his perceived motives, of which money will be prominently aired. All evidence-free of course. A brave journalist will go ahead anyway, or perhaps take a more prudent route and send the files anonymously to an organization like WikiLeaks.
This thought experiment demonstrates why WikiLeaks is so essential for true transparency and sometimes accountability…and why corporate media journalists stay exactly where they are, sometimes carving out glittering, prize-filled careers and automatic access to the rich, famous and powerful.
The John Smith scenario may sound familiar. Julian Assange has experienced almost all these smears and false accusations since releasing the information, as a quick glance at the replies to the tweets on the WikiLeaks twitter feed will demonstrate.
Despite claims by US ‘experts’ to the contrary, there is no evidence that Russia is the source of the leak, and indeed no such evidence has been presented by the US, despite NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden recently commenting that it would be easy to provide. Others accuse Assange of a personal vendetta against Clinton, and that he is using the leak to damage her campaign, thereby putting the ‘objectivity’ of WikiLeaks in jeopardy.
Assange has made no secret of the fact that he has no love for Clinton, and has openly admitted that the leak was timed for maximum impact. However, it is this second accusation that so clearly demonstrates the deep infection into the public consciousness of the neoliberal pathology. Those making such an accusation have lost their perspective. They instinctively grope for the fake objectivity requirement manufactured by and utilized by the corporate media for decades. Here we have information that seriously puts into question the suitability of a major candidate for the highest possible office, from which she will wield vast executive power over 300 million plus Americans as well as significant influence over the lives of billions of people around the world. But to these accusers, this information requires ‘balance’. Calls to hack Donald Trump’s tax returns and bewilderment at why Assange is ‘standing in the way of the one person who can stop Trump’ abound among both the liberal commentariat and large numbers of ordinary citizens.
To any right-thinking person, it is self-evident that this information must be publicised before the election, and that it also must reach as many people as possible. The best way to do that is to publish at a time when the eyes and ears of the world are fixed upon the subject of the leaks. Balance has nothing to do with it. It is source material that all are free to read themselves containing essential information that is clearly in the public interest. Are Assange’s accusers actually suggesting that he should have hung on to such explosive information until after Hillary is safely ensconced in the White House?
Those doing so should seriously consider a career in corporate journalism:
“Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip. But the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip”. – George Orwell, 1944
These words of Orwell can, it seems, be applied not only to journalists, but now also to millions of ‘consumers’ of the corporate media.
For anyone who believes that Assange is a ‘rapist’ who is ‘evading justice’ and is ‘holed up at the embassy’ because he is a ‘coward’; indeed, anyone who focuses on the actions and personality of Assange instead of the content of the leaks published by his organization…for you the message is this: You will not realise it (yet) but you have been successfully co-opted into the propaganda efforts to deflect attention from the numerous, horrific, documented crimes of imperial interests and the deep corruption of major institutions and their top officials. The people responsible for disseminating this propaganda will laugh at how they have successfully transformed you into a pack of animals baying for the blood of one man whose ‘crime’ has been to shine a spotlight on the corruption they are paid well to obscure. They will chortle with delight at your almost complete lack of interest in the decades upon decades of mass murder, torture, rapes, oppression and illegal coups that have been carried out in your name with your taxes and with the help of officials you have voted for, while you focus your ire instead on one of the most obvious set-ups (that of Assange) ever…along with all the other tried-and-tested distractions. The only thing that may astound even them is how easy it has been to manipulate you.
In the internet age, ignorance really is a choice – the choice between being a manipulated dupe and a free thinker. Quite literally, millions of lives depend on it. What will it be?
Simon Wood’s writing can be found on The Daily 99.99998271%