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America’s Troll Farm Media

Photo by Porsche Brosseau | CC BY 2.0

Despite all the smoke and mirrors, most Americans seem to see where the stenographers of corporate capitalism are taking us. A recent Gallup poll found that while 84% of Americans see media as “critical” or “very important” to democracy, only 28% see the corporatist mainstream news media (MSM) as actually supporting democracy. They’re right on both counts of course.  The quality of a democracy is only as good as the information people have to make informed judgements about public policy and politicians.

Even as the mainstream news media continue to lose street cred, they persist in a rumor-saturated full court press against the “Trump-Putin presidency,” which only further exposes their lack of professionalism and increasing vulgarity. MSM management and their boardroom bosses have long understood that as long as they spice up their “nothing burger” news, ratings and advertising rates will keep them in business and please their commercial and government clients. Tabloid journalism, which can describe most American mainstream media these days, even when wrapped up as “all the news that’s fit to print,” is in constant search of sensation, scandal, gossip, and profit – and only occasionally in public-oriented investigative integrity.

What else does the citizenry have to say? A mere 18% have “a lot” of trust in the MSM, while 74% see them as “biased” (Pew Research, July 2016). A study by the Harvard-Harris polling organization in May 2017 confirmed this, finding that 65 percent of Americans consider the so-called “free press” biased, obsessed with scandal, and full of “fake news” and therefore cannot be trusted. Among the concurring are a majority of both Democrats (53%) and Independents (60%) as well as 80% of Republicans. Amongst the “informed public,” trust in American institutions in general, that is, the government, business, NGOs, and the MSM, is going through the worst crisis in recorded history, according to the marketing firm Edelman in 2018. The US is the lowest rated of the 28 countries surveyed by the firm on this measure. This is not consistent with the image of a serious “democracy.”

On the MSM coverage of national politics, Americans are equally skeptical. A June 2017 Rasmussen survey of likely American voters indicated that 50% think most reporters are prejudiced against the president, and only 4% believe most reporters are biased in Trump’s favor. Although this is weighted by the 76% of Republicans who support this view, the study also found that 51% of independent voters and even 24% of Democrats also agree. Aided by the billions of dollars of free, almost all negative, publicity the MSM provided, with apparent reverse effect during the presidential campaign, Trump’s standing is also supported by the 47 million American shock troops that faithfully follow him on Twitter.

On January 27, 2018, the Washington Post editorial board issued this statement: “A foreign power interfered in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. law enforcement is trying to get to the bottom of that story. Congress should be doing everything possible to make sure the investigation can take place.” Obviously referring to Russia, the Post’s declaration, as the late investigative journalist Robert Parry and many other independent and respected writers have pointed out, was and remains without a shred of evidence. It’s WMD time all over again, only this time the propaganda is being trumpeted mainly by the Democrats. It would better serve the cause of democracy to investigate the Post for its covert coalition and collusion with the deep state and the Clinton (right) wing of the Democratic Party. The Post and the rest of their pack have constructed a wicked Russia foil in order to undermine Moscow’s presumed ally Trump and boost bigger Pentagon budgets. It’s an extremely dangerous game that is headed toward military confrontation and massive annihilation by the yahoos in government and the liberal media.

But it’s not a new game, because despite their “free press” claims, American major news media have long been instruments of state propaganda. In the 1970s, Carl Bernstein exposed the fact that the overseas branches of US MSM had long served as eyes and ears of the CIA’s “Operation Mockingbird,” and it’s very likely than many amongst their ranks remain agency assets. Back then, Philip Graham, publisher of the Post, ran the agency’s media industry operations, a fact not mentioned in the currently showing eponymous film. During the GW Bush presidency, the Pentagon recruited over 75 military generals to spread propaganda in the mass media, fed in camera by leaders at the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, and the White House. Their responsibilities included their employment as “objective” foreign policy and war analysts for major network and cable news channels, many of them concurrently receiving pay by military contracting firms. The Pentagon referred to the on-air military propagandists as “surrogates” and “message force multipliers.”

The Russians are Coming

In February 2018, former CIA director John Brennan, the man who fed the Russian “hacking” story to the House Intelligence Committee, became a senior national security and intelligence analyst for NBC and MSNBC in what has become standard revolving door practice between government and the corporate world. Brennan was a well-known advocate for the CIA’s rendition and torture program, spying on its critics, and its use of drone bombings and assassinations in the Middle East. And he certainly knows something about hacking, as he was forced to admit, after first lying about it, that his CIA hacked the computers of Senate staffers who were investigating the agency’s role in torturing prisoners. A man the MSM apparently regard as having impeccable credentials for truth telling.

If the Russia “hacking” story has no legs, the more interesting piece of news is the organized efforts of the Democrats and some Republicans to bring down Trump and turn over the White House to theocrat Mike Pence. Mainstream pundits and reporters are churning out unsubstantiated speculations about Russia and Trump by the hour. A number of Democrats, military brass, and mercenary journalist (and former country club caddy) Thomas Friedman have characterized alleged Russian intervention as a new “Pearl Harbor” or “9/11,” thereby building a case for war and for treason against the president. There’s no downside to making even the most absurd claims about Russia and Trump, no penalty for fabrications, misrepresentations, or getting facts wrong. If they were honest, their ledes might read: “This fictional news report is loosely based on a true story.” Or: “Any resemblance in this story to real people and events is merely coincidental.”

There’s room in the inferno for the Democrats’ deep state allies. Starting in mid-2015, Peter Strzok, the FBI’s H. Clinton personal email scandal investigator before taking the lead in the probe of Russian election interference, sent emails to his lover, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, which  clearly revealed that both of them were actively working for the Clinton campaign to undermine Trump in any way possible. The pair also exchanged references to a “secret society” that was operating within the Department of Justice and the FBI to block a Trump victory. Until their exposure, Strzok had been Robert Mueller’s right hand man on the Trump-Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, two years later, the hunt for the smoking Kalashnikov continues. The best the MSM have come up with is that a St. Petersburg outfit called Internet Research Agency (IRA) placed $100,000 in ads on Facebook (compared to the $81 million Facebook ad spending by the Trump and Clinton campaigns), some of the Russian ads actually directed against Trump. As Jeffrey St. Clair pointed out in the pages of CounterPunch, in the key states where Clinton lost the election, the traditional Democrat strongholds of Michigan ($832 spent on token IRA buy ads), Pennsylvania ($300), and Wisconsin ($1,979), all but $54 of this amount was spent before the party primaries even started.

Facebook’s vice president for advertising Rob Goldman said that in fact most of the total Russian ad buys occurred after the presidential election. “We shared that fact,” he tweeted, “but very few [news] outlets have covered it because it doesn’t align with the main media narrative” about Trump’s election victory. Winning the election for Trump was simply not the Russian objective, Goldman says. Alex Stamos, Facebook chief security officer, concurred. The ads, he said, were more about sowing discord, with messages about guns, immigrants, and racial strife, than on pushing a particular candidate. Think about all the blockbuster American (and British) movies that portray Russians as sinister, violent, and criminal. For starters, remember über-teutonic Ivan Drago, Sgt. Yushin, the many sadistic “Russian” mafia nogoodniks, along with the Cold War-for-children cartoon characters, Boris Badanov and Natasha Fatale? Among the many Russophobic films and TV shows over the decades: The Americans, Air Force OneThe Peacemaker, The Saint, Rambo III, Red Dawn, Red Heat, the James Bond flicks, and the 2018 Oscar for documentaries, Icarus. Soviet and Russia-era films, not well tutored in ethnic caricatures, have no comparable stereotypical American counterparts.

There are a few signs of life in mainstream journalism. New York Times correspondent Scott Shane was one of the few journalists who happened to notice that the US intelligence agency (the CIA, NSA, and FBI) report of January 6, 2017 on Russian “hacking” actually offered no evidence. “Instead,” he said, “the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’” It took the mainstream media 6 months before they acknowledged that the Obama administration claim that 17 intelligence agencies backed the hacking claim was false, the real number was only 3, and even the NSA had only “moderate confidence” in the finding. Last January, the NSA made a significant alteration in its mission statement: it removed the words “honesty” and the pledge to be truthful from its list of priorities.

Even if there were genuine evidence that Russian officials had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta emails, as originally claimed by the intelligence agencies, one should put this in context of the long history of the CIA’s efforts to overthrow many democratically elected leaders who had the temerity to stand up to the superpower. These would include Allende, Arbenz, Mossadeq, Lumumba, Chavez, Goulart, Ortega, and others. The list of US interventions in foreign elections just since 1948 (Italy) is voluminous. Do the mainstream media suffer amnesia about Victoria Nuland and John McCain’s presence in the Maidan, egging on the coup against Yanukovych or her infamous leaked phone call to the US ambassador in Kiev in which she dictated the ousted president’s successors? And is it reasonable to expect Russia to be passive about a hostile NATO putting troops along its borders and reacting to efforts to install an anti-Russian regime next door in the Ukraine? In this recent historical context, US accusations of Russian political interference smack of complete hypocrisy.

A study by Carnegie Mellon professor Dov Levin found that between 1946 and 2000 alone, the US intervened in foreign elections 81 times, which does not include its invasions, blockades, sanctions, assassination attempts, and other regime change initiatives. “The U.S. is no stranger to interfering in the elections of other countries,” he wrote. In 1996, the US intervened in the Russian election to prevent the Communist Party from returning to power. Have the MSM also forgotten the lies the government and the CIA told about Saddam Hussein’s WMD and connections to terrorist movements? Or that, thanks to Edward Snowden’s exposés, we know that Obama’s NSA bugged the phones of 35 foreign political leaders?

If the MSM are still confused, perhaps they should listen to former CIA director James Woolsey. Interviewed by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, Woolsey was asked directly whether the US ever interfered with other countries’ elections. He initially said, “probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid the communists from taking over.” Ingraham followed up with the question, “We don’t do that now?” To this Woolsey responded, “nyum, nyum, nyum, nyum, nyum, only for a very good cause,” a rather frank admission that merely amused Ingraham, who failed to follow up with this obvious statement of US double standards. After leaving the CIA, Woolsey became chairman of Freedom House, a right-wing government-supported private NGO that putatively supports human rights causes and has been active in regime change operations around the world – far more actively than merely doing Facebook postings.

William Binney, formerly with NSA as a high-level intelligence operative, subsequently becoming a whistleblower on the agency’s illegal surveillance operations, called the alleged Russian attacks on the DNC “a charade.” Speaking to Daniel Bernstein at Consortium News, Binney said that had any bulk transmissions come from across the Atlantic, the NSA would have known about it, as they tap every communication from abroad. The data from “Guccifer 2.0,” was a download “not a transfer across the Web,” which “won’t manage such high speed.” The intelligence agencies “have been playing games with us.  There is no factual evidence to back up any charge of hacking here.” It was likely no more than a USB transfer, he said.

Is there any hope for the mainstream media to change? It would take a revolution to get the MSM to become more democratic. A Harvard Shorenstein Center report found that media coverage of the 2016 US party conventions contained almost no discussion of policy issues and instead concentrated on polling data, scandals, campaign tactics, and Trump and Russia bashing. Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, spoke for the media establishment: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS …. The money’s rolling in …. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald.”

As Walter Cronkite would say, “And that’s the way it is.”

More articles by:

Gerald Sussman is professor of urban studies and international and global studies at Portland State University. He is the author and editor of several books, including The Propaganda Society: Promotional Culture and Politics in Global Context (2011).

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