Gatekeepers and Starting Points

There’s a battle going on among some of my politically awake progressive friends.  In one camp, there is the view that we need leaders who can work inside the system, who have access to the traditional power structure of the partisan duopoly and can use it to mobilize the masses.  And so when they take positions that are clearly awful, they should be given a pass, or at least not written off altogether.  Perhaps they are being made to do so by the establishment powers-that-be, and need to play by their rules in order to make any progress whatsoever.

In the other camp, there are those who feel the aforementioned leaders need to be rejected wholeheartedly.  The label “gatekeeper” is applied to them, and the implication is that they are doing more harm than good, by establishing credibility and then taking the despicable position on certain key issues, thereby squelching dissent.  Gatekeepers generally look independent and against-the-grain, and present the image of standing up against the system, but they ultimately don’t go far enough when it counts the most.  Some may even argue that the politician is an intentional tool of the establishment to accomplish this, whether or not he or she is complicit or aware of it, i.e. controlled opposition.  Their purpose is to throw potential revolutionaries a bone in order to preempt them from enacting any more meaningful change.

Yes, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am talking about Bernie Sanders…mostly.  But it’s an argument that can be extended beyond politicians themselves as the subject, to members of media.  Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, for example, has also been labeled as gatekeeper, most recently for her establishment narrative on Syria, in support of the “moderate” Al Qaeda/Al Nusra rebels, and in full scale demonization of Assad.  But it wouldn’t be the first time Goodman has fed us the State Department/Pentagon line on regime change, if you revisit her reporting on Lybia before we ousted Qaddafi.  Nor is it the first time Bernie Sanders, who recently reiterated his “Assad must go” position (while taking the confusing stand that Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike was wrong, but only from a procedural and effectiveness standpoint) has been awful on foreign policy and imperialistic in his words and actions.

It is the dangers of media gatekeeping on which I wish to focus for this piece.  Politicians come and go with each term, and it does not seem likely that Sanders will run for President again, given his age.  Plus, his own party seems to marginalize him, or at least his supporters, as per the DNC lawsuit and attorney Bruce Spiva’s recent brazen we’re-not-required-to-be-neutral statements.  But media members have a lasting influence.  Just ask Joey Scarborough, who turned down a run for office, in part for that very reason.

I began with an implication that those progressives who were having this discussion are “politically awake.”  I don’t mean to exclude those who are not having the discussion as being unawake.  Perhaps it is just that people have different backgrounds, different enthusiasm levels for politics and truth, and the views they are exposed to vary in limit.  And thus they have different starting points.  I would like to help them understand where many of us are coming from, by describing 3 important starting points we share:

Cynicism of mainstream media

There is exponentially more that can be said about this, but if you still don’t have a healthy skepticism of media, even after they helped lie us into war with Iraq and Lybia and continually shill for regime change, please consider doing the following:

• Google the Bana Alabed psy-op…probably the most blatant piece of pro-war propaganda ever…perpetrated by CNN. (The abridged version:   Get a 7-year-old Syrian girl to read from a script and implore Trump to “do something”.  Tweet that people should follow her if they want more information about Syria.)

• Revisit the Washington Post’s recent false and later retracted stories (2 of them in a 6-week span; one smearing reputable independent news outlets and journalists as being “fake”, the other claiming that Russians hacked a Vermont utility).

• Consider the Washington Post’s and others’ wildly irresponsible and incorrect use of the term “genocide” to describe the Syria situation.  A USA Today article from last December correctly explains the term as “an attempt to wipe out an entire group of people based on religion, national identity, ethnicity or race.  There are some religious overtones to Syria’s civil war — President Bashar Assad and some of his closest advisers are from the minority Alawite sect, a Shiite offshoot — but his regime is waging war against political opponents, not a particular ethnic or religious group.”  Therefore, to tout the “Syria genocide” phrase is to demean the term, which does injustice to the memory of those who actually did die in a genocide.  It also helps push the destructive regime change objective of neocon warhawks.

• Consider CNN and NPR’s legitimization of warmongers like John McCain, and notice the difference in tone in interviews of him, as he hawkishly spews off the perceived threats of Iran, Assad and Putin/Russia, with interviews of Tulsi Gabbard when she explains her fact-finding mission in Syria that reinforced her no-regime-change position.  The interviews with McCain are decidedly more friendly.

• Consider NPR’s recent attempt to tarnish Wikileaks’ 100% accuracy record, via its tweet that they had published false documents on Macron (which NPR later “corrected”), or its not-so-subtle painting of Julian Assange as untrustworthy, in a recent movie review.

• Read award-winning journalist Carl Bernstein’s 1977 Rolling Stone article about CIA infiltration of media.  Hint:  the relationship with the NY Times historically was the CIA’s most valuable…though the Washington Post may be the new frontrunner as of Jeff Bezos’ $600 million contract with them.

• Contemplate that if five giant corporations own the majority of media, why liberals should trust the ownership of media outlets like CNN any more than that of Fox News?  Hint:  just calling this a false equivalency doesn’t make it so.

I’ve only named a few reasons, but I can’t emphasize enough the dangerous trend that often forms with media figures:  they establish credibility by bucking certain mainstream trends and appearing anti-establishment on some issues, and then lead you to a state of having blinders on…even for issues as critical as war.

A glaring example of this:  In the early days of the Obama administration, Rachel Maddow earned part of her reputation correctly calling out his Afghanistan troop escalation, as well as many of his covert bombings in Pakistan and elsewhere.  But by the end of his presidency, she was praising him for his dangerous troop buildup at the borders of Russia in Norway and Poland, and threatening to come down on Trump if he dared to remove them.  She also heaped lavish praise on Obama for his “diverse cabinet”, yet didn’t mention that this cabinet had already been handpicked almost to a tee by the elites of Wall Street, before he even set foot in the Oval Office (for proof, look up the astonishing October 6, 2008 Wikileaked email to John Podesta from Michael Froman, former executive for Citigroup…the eventual recipients of the largest bailout from the federal government during the financial crisis).

So what do we do, stop reading/watching the news?  To paraphrase what former CIA Analyst and cofounder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Ray McGovern, said at a recent talk I attended:

“No, we shouldn’t stop reading the New York Times and the Washington Post; it’s important to understand what we’re being told to believe.  But be sure to read alternative media, such as”

The “Deep State” is real, and it’s a common sense concept

This is tied to the first point.  If you still believe the desperate attempts by the NY Times and others to claim the Deep State doesn’t exist, ask yourself what exactly is so difficult to believe about it.  Independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone puts it best, in her article “Left vs. Right Is A Nonsensical Debate As Long As There’s A Deep State In America”:

“…the concept of a deep state in America is not some kind of wacko conspiracy theory. It doesn’t refer to some cloaked cabal of Jewish elites who meet in the forest to sacrifice children and greet each other with esoteric handshakes as in the straw man that so many corporate media outlets are fond of attacking, but refers rather to the self-evident fact that unelected power structures exist in America, and power structures tend to form alliances. The donor class, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, big oil, the military-industrial complex, various aspects of the intelligence community, the corporate media, national security officials; all of these overlapping and interconnected groups undeniably exist, undeniably wield immense power, and are undeniably not elected by the American people. There is no factual basis on which to deny any of these things; the only thing that can rationally be debated is how they behave. The term ‘deep state’ exists for use in that dialogue.”

Interventionist war and regime change are really, really bad

The liberals of my parents’ generation loudly denounced the Vietnam War and detested regime-change war criminals like Henry Kissinger.  More recently, many of us were in the streets protesting the Iraq War.  So it is incredibly frustrating to have to explain this again.  But 8 years of covert war-making and over 100,000 bombs dropped across 7 countries under the Obama administration seems to have lulled the anti-war left to sleep and cauterized the conscience of liberals in this country.  So if we are no longer bothered by the violent ousting of dictators, or extrajudicial assassinations in the form of drone bombings (which also kill innocent civilians more often than our government will admit), we should at least be bothered by the fact that these techniques are ineffective.  A 2015 study by Reader Supported News reported that terror attacks had increased by 6500% since 2002, and 4 of the 5 countries most effected were the very countries the US had been either bombing or militarily occupying.  Every American should be familiar with the term “blowback”, i.e., the unintended consequences of war.  In a nutshell, for every person labeled “terrorist” that we kill, we create new violent militants who hate our country.  And for every dictator we remove, we pave way for someone or something even worse to take power.

Here is the kicker, and this might be a bit challenging for many on the left:  There are plenty of people on the right who come from the same starting points, and we should embrace them.  I am not talking about the sort of Republicans who thought Bush could do no wrong.  I’m talking about those who were aboard the Ron Paul movement for his anti-war, non-interventionist views (which were often distorted by media as “isolationist”).  I’m talking about those who were inspired and cheered when, during the Republican debates, Trump ripped into Jeb Bush and called out his brother’s awful Iraq War legacy, while others booed.  I’m talking about libertarians and others who want the same equal rights and peace for all, but just disagree on how to get there, the government’s role, etc.

Johnstone recently authored a series of great articles advocating the collaboration of the anti-establishment left and right.  She argues that transcending ideological differences and working together may be the best way to defeat our common enemy, the Deep State.  Until that point, neither side will achieve any real progress.

I recently recommended to a friend, who promptly pointed out that the website has a libertarian slant.  Which is true, but it doesn’t make the facts that they report (and that mainstream media tends to ignore) any less true.  Liberals should ask themselves, are they more averse to libertarianism or to war making?

As for the question of gatekeeping politicians, it is helpful to try and understand why, for many, it is still not easy to dismiss them, even if they have correctly identified the person’s deviation from the third starting point.  Let us examine the metaphor more closely.  What is on the other side of the gate that the powers-that-be (see #2 above) have erected?  Truth?  Peace?  Equal rights for all?  Health care for all?  The person in question has a well-credentialed career of leading the masses toward that gate…or at least having the appearance of doing so.  But when we get there, we are not allowed full entry.  Perhaps most of the politicians we’ve supported in our lifetime, and the media personalities we have taken news in from, have kept gate at some point or the other.  So do we knock the person down and try to tear the gate down with our hands?  Maybe that would work, if we have enough people.  What if they say to you, “I may not be able to give you a key…I would get into too much trouble…but I can help by exposing where the gate is and telling as many people as possible.”?  Now the dangled carrot forces us to think twice about the take down.

Also, it is not insignificant that the gatekeeper may have led many people (and potentially more, depending on how their party’s lawsuit plays out) to awaken to starting points 1 and 2, who might not otherwise be awake, even while continually leading them astray on the more paramount starting point 3.  I would hope that those people now have sense enough not to listen to him when he is wrong on that account.

But wouldn’t it be great if everyone were at the same starting points where they even knew to ask the question?  Wherever we stand on them, whether there are positives we feel justify continued support of them, at least being able to acknowledge that gatekeepers exist and being able to discern what issues they are wrong on, is in and of itself a very useful exercise.  Like the term “Deep State”, “gatekeeper” is one of those great words to have in our lexicon that help to articulate and diagnose the problems of our broken system.  Even if not always clearly definable, their increasingly widespread use are a positive for our country.  Even if we collectively haven’t figured out how to deal with them, acknowledging them is a huge step forward.

Only time will reveal whether the gatekeepers can in fact help take us past the gates, assuming they even intended to, or whether they just prolonged our futility.  But in the meantime, we should trust our starting points, not the person.  Nothing could be more important, in terms of how we process politics.

To emphasize this, I will conclude with a mental exercise:  imagine the worst thing the government could possibly do.  I’m pretty sure killing people would be near the top of the list.  Killing a LOT of people would be even higher.  Now imagine that a politician or news figure whom you normally trust as principled, and as one who has taken many stands against the establishment and has fought a lot for positive change, now takes the “official” side on this issue…a side that essentially absolves the government of any wrongdoing.  Now imagine the possibility that they are wrong about it.  Whether or not there are justifiable reasons to continue to support or vote for this person, wouldn’t believing him or her on this particular issue (perhaps because your starting point is belief in the person or your party, rather than principles 1 and 3 above), or worse yet, ignoring the issue altogether, be one of the worst things you could possibly do as a citizen?

Daniel Martin is a rock historian, musician, and writer from Lancaster, PA.