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Piety and Proscription in the MSM: Noble Imperialists and Dirty Dissidents

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Photo by Surian Soosay | CC BY 2.0

The mainstream media evidently has two jobs. One is to legitimize the warlike inhumanity of the one percent. The other is to cut, gut, and field dress the progressive left and leave it for dead. The first is a dire task, taken up with grave and solicitous care, while the latter is a sport, where the slander and calumny flow freely, generally sans justification or evidence. Both tasks require immunity to hypocrisy, however, since to do either is to bathe in the fetid waters of duplicity. Given the glibness and piety with which these tasks are dispatched, this does not seem to be a problem for the Pharisees and scribes at the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, and beyond.

Of course, when it comes to hypocrisy, there’s no better place to turn than Moliere, whose masterful treatment of the topic in Tartuffe plumbs the depth of human falsity, albeit in a comic context. It centers on the dissimulations of a charismatic religious votary named Tartuffe. Early in the play, the feisty maid Dorine remarks on a hypocrite’s need to denigrate others,

“Those who have greatest cause for guilt and shame
Are quickest to besmirch a neighbor’s name…
…By talking up their neighbour’s indiscretions
They seek to camouflage their own transgressions”

This is what you might call the modus operandi of western mainstream media, known by the inglorious acronym MSM. Besmirch and camouflage about sums it up. It’s fairly obvious that a central task of the MSM is to demonize the enemy. Optometrists must be made into bloodthirsty tyrants. Socialists must be transformed into genocidal madmen. Secularists must be painted as jihadist sympathizers. And on and on. The journalistic wellsprings of speculation, hearsay, and mendacity are bottomless. While they are regularly employed to blacken the reputation of obscure foreign leaders, a lesser known task is the need to militantly police dissident voices within the home country, as it were. This has proven to be especially important during election cycles, as unscrupulous socialists and fearful communists emerge from the shadows to declaim a revolution or, more pathetically, clamor for tepid reforms. These gadflies on the corporal body of the state must be swatted away with force and venom.

Of the need to camouflage one’s indecencies behind a veil of rectitude, Moliere’s Dorine crystallizes the essence of old, carping coquettes:

And in the specious veil of haughty virtue
She’d hide the weakness of her worn-out charms.

One might think of the MSM as a jealous old crank. Certainly neoliberal imperialism has worn out whatever charms it may have had. And its veil of virtue is indeed threadbare and dangerously transparent. All the more reason, though, for the scribes of elite power to grow hysterical in their denunciations and unctuous in their servility to the realm. Perhaps this is a mark of an imperial system in decline, diseased by groupthink and deceit, unwilling to seek either treatment or relief. The imperial machine grinds on toward the graveyard of empires, ignorant of its own peril.

Besmirch the Neighbor’s Name…

Over the past year, as elections have punctuated protests across North America and Europe, the demonization of the left has been priority number one for establishmentarians. Uprisings among the proles have put the mainstream media on its heels, forcing them to launch rearguard actions to stem the tide of populism. Unfazed by its purblind incapacity to anticipate the 2016 election outcomes, the entire western hemisphere appeared to call June’s British elections wrong. The same lies employed to deride Bernie Sanders were bullhorned across the moat from the castle of elitism into the seething mob. The professional class of media sycophants did their damndest throughout the run up to the parliamentary vote in England. Yet the tame and genteel Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained dozens of seats while the sniveling varlet Theresa May lost her party majority. The sycophants of power that pass as journalists burned many a column inch crowing about how May would seize upon the Manchester atrocity to polish her national security bona fides and steamroll the proto-Marxist in the elections.

Neither happened. Instead Corbyn, the erstwhile scourge of British politics, gave a speech declaring that the war on terror was a failure and that slaughter over there was the reason for slaughter over here. Something so obvious as this could never be profitably discussed in the mainstream, notably because the MSM is paid to promote the war on terror, not deride it, even though terror has risen sevenfold since it’s infamous inception. Unbothered by journalistic ethics, the day before the election UK papers continued the fine tradition of baseless defamation by associating the mild-mannered Corbyn with terrorism. He was likewise dismissed as a “stage proletarian” and even “his keen lack of vanity is its own kind of pretension.”

Corbyn’s fate is but one of numberless examples. There were last year’s cynical attacks by Clintonistas caricatured Bernie Sanders supporters as “bros,” i.e., unthinking, high-fiving group-thinkers fresh from bacchanalian frat parties. Since the election, the mainstream has skewered the left with a slew of attack op-eds characterizing left-wing critics of the Russian hacking story as Putin stooges and imbecilic progressives who don’t properly appreciate national security issues and the historic threats to our (nonexistent) democracy.

Political comic Lee Camp was smeared in the New York Times for hosting a show on RT and even addressing the curiously unsolved Seth Rich story, a case in which D.C. police were told to stand down by so-called higher authorities. Sanders was tastelessly blamed for the shooting of a senator in Washington, this of course a year after the media muted his thriving campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. A media study from none less than the London School of Economics, that bastion of left-wing populism, demonstrated the in-built bias against progressive candidates.

…Behind a Veil of Haughty Virtue

Aside from expending plenty of energy marginalizing populist voices like Corbyn’s, the mainstream spends the rest of its column widths painting deft but demented portraits of the imperial state itself. Among the checklist of characteristics that must be dabbed into the visage of our kindly empire are: a slow-footed reluctance to act, a period of intense hand-wringing, and finally a regretful but determined commitment to interfering in geopolitical matters large and small–one imagines liberal idol Barack Obama parsing the sapient texts of Augustine as they assembled casuistic arguments for drone murders. The population, let’s call them what they truly are–the audience, watches with delicious anticipation while the deliberative leaders huddle in conclave in the Oval Office.

Finally, the decision to act comes. Even the noblest among us have a breaking point. This, of course, is a trope taken from tinseltown: we’ve all seen the well-bred burgher absorb slings and arrows from some lothario and romantic rival for a woman’s affection. Eventually, once the audience has been sufficiently enraged, the high-born cosmopolite can abide no more, and the corrupted casanova gets his comeuppance (usually a duel or fisticuffs). Recall Colin Firth finally having a go at Hugh Grant’s shifty rogue in Bridget Jones’ Diary. At the level of nations, the wayward country gets its just desserts in the form of hellfire missiles and artillery rounds, plus shahada-reciting throngs of jihadists routing towns and villages. As gays are tossed from buildings and villagers of the wrong faith beheaded, crusty imperialists like the hellbound Zbigniew Brzezinski observe from afar, impervious to the bloodshed so long as their strategic aims are achieved.

Venezuela provides a recent instance. For a decade or more now the mainstream has been delivering one body blow after another to the reputation of the Bolivarian Revolution, a tremendously successful project under the late Hugo Chavez. His successor Rafael Maduro might have carried on as Chavez had but not for endemic American intervention in a cynical attempt at regime change. Failed coup d’états in 2002 and allegedly in 2015 and opposition futility at the ballot box pushed Washington into more creative territory, fastidiously engineering street violence designed to provoke violent state backlash and undermining the economy at every turn.

Yet the Washington Post argues, in a fit of righteous pique, that, “The region cannot just stand by as Venezuela veers toward civil war.” Said with a straight face, even as Washington pours dollars into the coffers of a fanatical opposition, desperately trying to effect a color revolution that strangles Bolivarian socialism in its bed. But Washington hasn’t just been financing petulant anti-democratic capitalists in Caracas; it has been leveraging opposition in waging a full-blown economic war on Venezuela, included commodity hoarding, creating currency scarcities, undercutting the price of oil, and working fastidiously to keep international banks from lending to the Venezuelan state. But the Post would have you believe we are just standing by, observing the dumpster fire from afar while dutifully cross-examining anyone in Washington with connections to Moscow for evidence of electoral interference, a ghastly infringement of a nation’s sovereignty, something Washington would never countenance.

Even when the United States is openly involved, its actions are reported as benign, as the outstanding journalist Adam Johnson at Fair angrily reports regarding the war in Yemen. Jackson Diehl of the Post does what any craven servant of empire must do, and describes the faint good Washington has done for the Yemen crisis, just over a billion in aid, and coolly glides past the wanton military backing our imperial plutocracy has delivered to Saudi Arabia, be it arms or intelligence or logistics or cash. Diehl leaves the trusting reader oblivious to the deeper complicity of the U.S. in both the slaughter and the famine.

Likewise, Neil Clark, as noted earlier, takes an excellent look at how Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria were all attacked by the West on false pretenses, each war portrayed as a humanitarian intervention undertaken only with great reluctance after it had allowed ceaseless human rights atrocities to take place, permitted only because of Washington’s unbending respect for the sanctity of national sovereignty.

Elsewhere, Johnson assembles a lexicon of verbs that describe how we are forever being “drawn into,” “sucked into,” “stumble into,” or get trapped in a conflict that is a) not of our own making; and b) is only reluctantly engaged since the U.S. has no capitalist designs on the wealth of said nation, despite all evidence to the contrary. Rarely are either true. Instead, the MSM does what it always does with western governments–accepts that they had the best of intentions. It assumes the opposite with foreign nations–accepts a priori that countries like Iran cannot be trusted in the slightest. Naturally, having the best of intentions means there is no reason to examine one’s own government’s motives and whether it might betray its promises (the facetious guarantee of no eastward expansion of NATO, for instance).

Endless Credulity

But all this begs the question, why would anyone believe what the mainstream media and its stable of government sources have to say in the first place? Have you thought lately about the avalanche of lies organizations like the CIA have fed you, unedited, straight through the mouth of the mainstream? They lied to you about Iraq. They lied to you about Syria. They lied to you about Russian activity in Ukraine. They lied to you about the downing of the Malaysian jet in Ukraine. Lying is the CIA’s modus operandi, and what’s worse, the national intelligence agencies don’t work for you, and your safety is not their priority. They work for the White House and the Pentagon, who serve the interests of our imperial plutocracy, which has long been laser-focused on exploiting weaker nations abroad under the cloak of humanitarianism and democracy promotion.

We shouldn’t fall for the ruse of good intentions and the corollary that the miscreant can always be rehabilitated. Even if it is sometimes true, better skepticism than credulity. At the end of Tartuffe, the redeemed dupe Orgon agrees when his brother-in-law says of the defrocked Tartuffe, who has been revealed for his conniving hypocrisy,

Leave the poor wretch to his unhappy fate,
And let remorse oppress him, but not you.
Hope rather that his heart may now return
To virtue, hate his vice, reform his ways,

This seems like naiveté, the very thing that got Orgon in trouble in the first place. And this is the same kind of naiveté one sees among popular liberal progressives like Sanders and Corbyn. Despite being so unrepentantly vilified by the media, despite being scarred by such lupine savagery from their own parties, they continue to make feckless appeals to authority for lenience and grace. Please, our capitalist benefactors, have mercy on us. Consider single-payer. Fund the NHS. Be more judicious in your imperial wars. But like Orgon asking for clemency on Tartuffe’s behalf, in the faint hope that this inveterate hypocrite will reform himself, there is little hope that such base entreaties will affect the slightest feeling of solidarity or benevolence at the heart of a capitalist system that is, in essence, heartless.

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Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire: Unmasking American Imperialism. He lives in New York City and can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

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