The Media Bias Wars: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Ever since the world ended
There’s no more black or white
Ever since we all got blended
There’s no more reason to fuss and fight

– Mose Allison, “Ever Since the World Ended

The Kyle Rittenhouse Saga: It’s enough to make you crazy. I myself have been going around the house spinning my rally cap and in a lip-doodling frenzy for weeks now. Incensed by the coverage veering off yet again away from the shooting of another unarmed Black man caught on video in the act to the relatively silly plight of some junior vigilante and the question of fairness at his trial, out of which he recently emerged victorious and “Free as Fuck.” It looks like along with the rolling pearlharbors we’ll have to deal with, media-distracting rolling georgefloyds are also on the bill.  I can’t breathe, democracy is suffocating.

The Kyle Rittenhouse Saga. What happened? It’s easy to get lost in the Minotaur’s Maze that the MSM’s coverage of any important national topic of public interest turns into these days. But, nevertheless, here’s a succinct recounting of the shooting of the 29-year-old Jacob Blake, front of his children, followed by predictable marches and protests by Black Lives Matter (BLM) supporters, followed by the Rittenhouse shootings. It should be noted, as it was in court, that the 17-year-old Rittenhouse crossed from Illinois into Wisconsin with a gun because of the protesting he knew to be going on there. Here’s how the timeline went, according to ABC News in this brief video recounting:

None of the shootings are in question. They happened. The motives are still outstanding.

But the coverage of Rittenhouse’s trial and the aftermath of his acquittal seems to have opened the Nutty bottle for folks to swallow wholesale.  The Left, we’re told by the Right, has painted Rittenhouse as a “white supremacist” vigilante who went looking for action in Kenosha, where days of protesting had grown the police presence and led to the introduction of National Guardsmen to help quell the situation.  From the Right, we get ‘extremists” accusing the Left of reporting that Rittenhouse had slain Black men and that they were intentionally amping up the racist angle for political cachet. Suddenly, says the Right, people on the Left were fainting in the streets after Rittenhouse was acquitted. They threw rocks at us, says the Left. Yes, says the Right — rock smelling salt. Oy!

Matt Taibbi called it correctly back in 2019 in his book, Hate Inc., whose tone I described in my review of the book goes like this:

…This is the state of affairs in national politics today — a Spectacle of bizarre performers flipping each other in the public arena, to the titillation of the rabid masses, like some scene from the classic movie, A Face in the Crowd. They are divided Left and Right, polarized bears wrassling over baby seal meat on the world’s last floe, united by their choreographed hatred for each other. The End of the World as Reality TV. Great ratings.

It just seems to be getting worse: The impeachment; the pandemic; the vaccine; the election; and the bizarro events of January 6, which induced the nutjobs to invade DC on Electoral College Vote Certification Day.

In a recent Counterpunch piece, “The White Supremacy Lie: The Rittenhouse Trial and Rightwing Media Fabrication,” Anthony DiMaggio took umbrage at a Fox News commenter Don Bongino’s characterization to Substack blogger Glenn Greenwald of “the liberal news media’s coverage” of the Rittenhouse affair. Greenwald supported Bongino’s overwrought assertions about the Left media playing ‘the race card’ and added that he was “infuriated” by how the coverage led to international reporting on Rittenhouse’s shooting victims being Black instead of white. Here is the abbreviated version of that conversation between Bongino and Greenwald:

Greenwald’s assertion about the international reportage is partially backed up by reports coming out of the UK, Brazil, Holland, he says. For instance, Canadian “conservative” (their own description) newspaper The Post Millennial, quoting Greenwald, delineates the journo carnage overseas in a piece titled, “International media falsely report that Rittenhouse shot three black men.

As DiMaggio further notes, Greenwald bud, Matt Taibbi, spoke with Hill TV’s Robby Soave, and “Taibbi went on to repeat Greenwald’s and Soave’s lament about the white supremacy charge” that ‘the liberal media’ were supposedly making. During a post-acquittal interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse denied being a white supremacist and claimed he was a supporter of Black Lives Matter.  This interview is replayed on Hill TV, and Soave and Taibbi react to its contents.  Rittenhouse surprises:

Taibbi points out how Rittenhouse does not actually follow the characterization attributed to him, that, instead of showing signs of Billy-Bob Syndrome, he exhibits markers of intelligence, higher education, and sensitivity to cultural matters. President Joe Biden is especially castigated for his presidential campaign remarks where he insinuates that Rittenhouse is a white surpremacist, which is backed up by Snopes, an online fact-checking organization. But maybe, newly articulate as he seems, Rittenhouse was lying about supporting BLM and not being a white supremacist, his lawyers perhaps coaching him for a civil suit against Biden, or others, for defamation and/or libel.  C’mon, you’ve seen Better Call Saul. You know, ka-ching. (Critics point out that Rittenhouse was seen in a bar dropping down suds with Proud Boys singing their anthem, “Proud of Your Boy,” from the scene from Aladdin, rejected by Disney in the final cut — presumably because of the serious overtones of child abuse implied by the lyrics of the song. But, seriously, listen to the “anthem” and tell me you hear white supremacy, instead of yearning to come out of the closet.)

Joe Biden isn’t the MSM.  Just because he said something during the 2020 campaign doesn’t make it true (he’s a Lesser Evil pol, remember?), nor does it mean it’s original or important — “You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier,” he told a woman who asked him a simple uncomfortable question at a Town Hall gathering, and she didn’t seem to be a bad hombrette, asking a legit question, (and not half bad on the eyes either). Plus, a guy with Joe’s Corn Pop tall story about white chains and black knives in parking lots after lifeguard work, and his campaign crises involving race issues (“You ain’t Black if you don’t vote for me.”), may not be the best guy to ask about the evils of white supremacy.  He probably said it during the campaign only to tweak Trump, who’d been accused of currying favor with the Mighty Whitey in the 2016 Virginia race skirmishes that led to a death. If there’s evidence that Biden sparked some kind of MSM filter for the Rittenhouse coverage I haven’t seen it. And shame on the MSM if they’d go for it.

In addition, the Post Millennial piece has a link that suggests CNN’s Don Lemon, who’s Black, went on a long ‘rant’ about armed men taking the law into their own hands and “inserting themselves” into situations that are the responsibility of the police, etc, and that such a rant was inappropriate, and though he asks the viewer to consider how events might have gone differently had a Black man been in Rittenhouse’s place and killed whites, he doesn’t say Rittenhouse killed Blacks nor does he use the expression white supremacist.  The only direct ‘evidence’ to support Greenwald’s claim for an international embarrassment in the way the Rittenhouse story was reported to foreigners came from a tweet put out by Ben and Jerry’s — the ice cream people:

But even here it’s only a transpositional implication — black/white, chocolate/vanilla, cone/tub.

I checked out one international newspaper, The Independent, and Greenwald’s assertion that their reportage of the Rittenhouse acquittal contained the false assignation of his victims being Black. But that was a sub-editor’s error. The paper corrected and apologized for the gaffe:

This is a simple mistake that happens when busy people writing headlines have only a superficial understanding of the piece they’re popping a header to. Greenwald really had no right to assign American misrepresentation to how the piece was handled by a foreign press before checking with them, like journalists would do. In the case of Rittenhouse, when you think about it, it was a Black man who gave Rittenhouse the AR-15. Chew on that! Then realize that I meant a guy named Dominick Black bought the gun for the then-underaged shooter. Come to think of it, when Rittenhouse later tells Fox that he “supports Black Lives Matter,” maybe he was referring to his pal, Dom, again.

Watching video of the shootings (Blake’s and Rittenhouse 3), and reading up after, questions arose: What kind of curfew ends at 8 pm? Why were police allowing armed vigilantes to take up posts at properties in the first place, as there seemed to be plenty of police there? Why were police communicating support to the vigilantes by loudspeaker? Why did police drive, with Bear Cats, protesters from a Kenosha park toward armed militia and others, which included Rittenhouse? What didn’t police arrest Rittenhouse when he went toward them with an AR-15, hands over his head, to get arrested? Why, after the shootings, including two deaths, did police ignore Rittenhouse to the extent that he was allowed to leave the state without questioning, resulting in the need to later file extradition papers with neighboring Illinois? It seems to me that nowhere near enough media pressure is being put on the police and their actions, from Blake’s shooting to the late night eviction of protesters from the park into the jaws of potential violence — and it’s plausible deniability factor later.

The best account I’ve read of the evening in question is a GQ piece “American Battlefield: 72 Hours in Kenosha” by Doug Bock Clark. It’s a long-form piece and well worth the read. If you’ve got the time. Or you can rush to judgement.

The evidence for a vast Left Wing Conspiracy is slim, based on what Bongino and Greenwald present.  And this is what appears to irritate Dimaggio.  He writes,

Greenwald also argued on Tucker Carlson’s program that U.S. media had “deliberately cultivated this false narrative from the start that he [Rittenhouse] was a white supremacist,” suggesting that this was a premediated and conscious fraud perpetrated on the public.

DiMaggio’s having none of it. After describing himself as “an expert on political communication who’s spent the last two decades studying the question of political and ideological bias in U.S. media, and as someone who’s written 11 academic books on the topic,” DiMaggio seems to imply that the fraud may be on the part of Greenwald and Fox. He writes,

First, only a miniscule fraction of the 550 articles and segments analyzed – about one percent – associated Rittenhouse with white supremacy, with just as many denying the claim. Second, there is virtually nothing here that would validate the claim that U.S. reporters actively misinformed viewers and readers on the white supremacy question – and certainly not in any egregiously obvious way.

So what gives? All one can do is speculate, absent direct evidence, but let’s.

While it’s been clear for quite some time, from its coverage before and during the Trump years, that Fox wants to spank the Left, Dimaggio’s piece suggests the exposure of an agenda on Greenwald’s part is also worth considering. For years, Greenwald has been regarded by some on the Left as a Speak Truth To Power oracle, and there are many instances where it’s hard to argue otherwise, as he has often been out front in his criticism of executive excess, lying Congresspeople (arguably, low-hanging fruit), and ferocious rejection of the intelligence agencies  narrative put out by the MSM regarding Russiagate. Greenwald never believed the officious narrative that amped up the authoritative assessments without reminding readers/listeners of the flimsy integrity of the sources, especially liars John Brennan and James Clapper, both of whom have gone on to enjoy no-doubt lucrative “second” careers as consultants to the MSM. (And, for the record, Russiagate still looks like an intel operation.)

Some people who have followed his journalism career, either as hound dogs or acolytes, will remember that one year out of law school Greenwald got himself in hot water with the Left for defending a boner fido white supremacist, Matthew Hale, a lawyer who had been rejected in his application for bar passage due to character flaws. Greenwald, ignoring the character accusations, noted that it was important to defend the Constitution and that making exceptions to freedom of expression, for instance, because of abhorrent outburst, was precedent-setting reactionary activity we would one day rue. He said to said to Nick Perrino on his So To Speak podcast in 2016,

I got involved in that defense and then saw that there were a lot of other attacks on the free speech rights of neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists and extremist anti-immigration groups where a lot of lawsuits were being brought against these groups and tended to bankrupt them; but more so, to set precedent that says that if somebody has sufficiently bad ideas, they can be held liable for the consequences of those ideas…And the Supreme Court ultimately, in Claiborne vs. NAACP, in a great opinion said that the First Amendment doesn’t allow you to be held responsible for the consequences of your protected speech. And yet, they were waging war on that really critical free speech precedent by trying to apply it to the most hated people in society, which were neo-Nazis. And they realized that that’s the tactic, right? That when governments and other bodies of power want to legitimate a certain power that people may feel uncomfortable with, they always target the most unpopular people – the easiest case to sort of let it go. And that’s why if you want to defend those rights, you have to go to those places where people are expressing the worst and most unpopular views.

The Lesson here? as Greenwald would say: Don’t be a fucking reactionary. Think!

But some of his detractors, while admiring his motive for defending the horrid deplorables among us, also saw some corruption that they were uneasy with. In a Democratic Underground Forum comment on Greenwald, that includes links to back up what he says, longtime poster “Msanthrope,” lays into Greenwald:

For me, Glenn Greenwald has always been an asshole…Case in point: Glenn Greenwald made a choice to defend Matthew Hale in a series of civil lawsuits that Hale faced after he encouraged shooter Benjamin Smith to go on a two-state shooting rampage…If you don’t know who Hale is, well, he’s a pretty famous white supremacist who is currently serving 40 years for soliciting the murder of a federal judge who ruled against him in a trademark case. Who put him away? Patrick Fitzgerald. (Yes. And Mr. Greenwald got an FBI visit regarding the passing of coded messages by Hale while under SAMS restrictions.)

It goes on with links to support the horror of Greenwald defending a guy who, as head of the white supremacist organization now known as the Creativity Movement. Horror, sure, but it does not shake the foundation of Greenwald’s motivation for defending Hale.

However, “Msanthrope,” (a feminist?), makes a salient and more confronting point when she reminds the reader that Greenwald had been rebuked for secretly taping conversations during his Hale defense, and consequently denying the tapees of their Constitutional rights. In a case summary we find:

Defendants’ counsel recorded telephone conversations with various third party witnesses, without disclosing to those witnesses that they were being recorded. Counsel and his tape-recorder were both in New York. The witnesses, at least some of them, called from Illinois. Plaintiff moved to compel disclosure of these tapes, arguing that this conduct was unethical and therefore vitiated any attorney work product privilege that may have attached to these recordings, and sought a protective order prohibiting any further recordings. The magistrate judge granted both motions….

This “unethical” behavior has some import with respect to Greenwald’s later work with Assange (radical transparency) and Snowden (the government’s secret eavesdropping, etc.).

Greenwald is a troubling presence for independent-minded readers trying to sort out what the fuck is going on out there.  Take his relationship with Assange.  Greenwald has supported Assange Wikileaks from the start. In the So To Speak podcast cited above, Greenwald said,

I remember I wrote about WikiLeaks for the first time. It was, like, 2009, and this was before anybody even knew about WikiLeaks; it was before they did any of their big leaks. There was an article in the New York Times, and it said basically the US Army had declared this obscured group that nobody’s ever heard of called WikiLeaks an enemy of the state. And so, I kind of thought to myself, “Well any group that’s being declared an enemy of the state by the US government is probably one that deserves more attention and probably even more support.”

This is the kind of “speaking Truth to Power” that Greenwald is renowned for.

He goes on to urge folks to pony up and financially support Wikileaks, specifically naming PayPal as a means to deliver donations.  He writes,

So, I went and researched them and found they were doing all these great transparency projects exposing corrupt factions, corporate and political. And I interviewed Julian Assange and I wrote about them and I said, you know, “The one thing they’re really missing – they’re sitting on all these big leaks, they are missing financial support.” So, I encouraged all my readers to go support them and send money to them, and you can do it by PayPal or bank wire.

Hoooooooray, Glenn! cry his actalikes and wanna bees.

Of course, a year later, after Wikileaks had published government classified documents, PayPal shut down paymentwhen the State Department declared its activities illegal — without a court intervention.  Greenwald had no say over this, of course, but it’s telling that since leaving The Intercept (who he also accuses of stoking the Left’s white supremacy charge by not including clarifying information), he’s returned to being a blogger — i.e., nobody censors his work and lives to tell about it — and become a paid mouth for Fox, which has roiled some folks royally.

But more, his Libertarian pox-on-both-your-lesser-of-two-evil houses is both refreshing and irritating. It led to Greenwald characterizing as farce the events of January 6, and condemning the takedown of Twitter alternative, Parler, by politicians, as a form of censorship.  And in what seemed a supportive rallying move for a fledgling new alternative to Youtube, Greenwald has taken up residence at Rumble, a site largely regarded (from the Left) as being a site for right wing nut jobs.  He has a regular broadcast there, called System Update that says, Look at Me, the Vlogger.

Greenwald is getting six figures for being a star recruit to Rumble. (Maybe more now that Rumble has decided to go public on the NASDQ.) What’s interesting here is that Rumble’s major investor is PayPal CEO Peter Thiel. As the NY Post put it:

Prominent conservative venture capitalists including Peter Thiel and J.D. Vance are investing in free speech-oriented video streaming site Rumble Video, the company said Wednesday.

So, the very dude who cut off funding for Wikileaks is now, essentially, Greenwald’s new Sugar Daddy. What makes this even more interesting is that PayPal is owned by Ebay tycoon Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s old Sugar Daddy. Incidentally, of course, Fox’s Don Borgino, on whose program Greenwald had false accused the liberal media of spreading disinformation about Rittenhouse to international markets, is also a Rumbler.

When all of the complaints about Greenwald are added up it is troublesome.  Greenwald has been dogged for years for his enthusiastic support of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and the aforementioned work with white supremacist Matthew Hale. But he’s niggly too. He has often told viewers and/or readers that he co-founded The Intercept, but leaves out mentioning the other founders’ names.  Laura Poitras, one of them, expressed dismay at the time when Greenwald’s delay in adopting encryption might have led to Ed Snowden being snatched in Hong Kong by agents of the regime. This situation is described in Snowden’s Box: Trust in the Age of Surveillance, a book I reviewed last year. Poitras wrote,

When a mysterious person – using the handle “Cincinnatus” – pleaded with him to set up encrypted email, Greenwald blew off the request. “Despite my intentions, I never created the time to work on encryption,” he later wrote. “It was simply that on my always too-long list of things to take care of, installing encryption technology at the behest of this unknown person never became pressing enough for me to stop other things and focus on it.”

Cincinnatus, was Ed Snowden. And, of course, it calls into question who in the Surveillance State was accessing his hard drive (and seeing his sources) in the years before  he finally adopted encryption. Again, as I’ve mentioned before, when Greenwald later produced a bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning book, No Place To Hide, he partnered with Amazon for a special deal that gave his readers an opportunity to procure the book for free if they applied for an Amazon credit card, details parsed by JP Morgan, who Greenwald had railed against in the past, noting their role in the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. It means applicants for the card would have exposed details they mightn’t otherwise have done had they thought about it; instead they would have regarded it as safe because Greenwald made a deal with Amazon (another intel-partnering, data-leaking problem). The power of authority.

It’s hard to know what to do with Greenwald any more. I believe lots of people probably feel that way — even good old OpEdNews, which regularly runs Greenwald’s articulate articles, but refuses, so far, to allow Rumble embeds in its pieces at OpEd, presumably because Rumble is regarded as rightwing nut job territory.  (Rumble needn’t be that, Greenwald might argue, because, as a new platform, meant to challenge YouTube, it’s at the moment open to Left and Right, and if enough “free-speech” types from the Left populated its site, then it needn’t be a conservative-only site. There’s no need to give in to the partisan nonsense that pre-assigns political positioning.  I have a couple of nits at Rumble — me reading my lefty poetry, and an upload of video on hatred that Youtube took down as hate speech, even though that was the subject of the video! Still, wth Thiel involved in the Rumble project,as he was at the beginning of Facebook, its development bears watching.

These are trouble times for reporting and reading news, with so many of us at each other’s throats. Left, Right, Center, Libertarian, Greenies, Fake News, Conspiracy Theorists. It’s so bad that, as we’ve seen, getting to the origin of the pandemic has been almost impossible because politics trumped science, forcing them to start all over again (it’s still in progress) to figure out what happened in Wuhan so it doesn’t happen again — standard procedure. The vaxxing issue is another topic that has caused journalistic mayhem. And now here comes Roe vs. Wade — all over again, arguably, at the worst possible time. It’s hard to know where to turn. I had been a Greenwald Substack follower (for a day), ponying up $5 to subscribe, but cancelled almost immediately when one of his Napoleonic guard dogs from Animal Farm came at me for mildly criticizing some blather Greenwald oozes once in a while, and turned me off from the “free speech” champions posts.

An alien looking down warily from outer space would have to conclude from the current state of our inner space that we Earthlings are in freefall on our downward path to wisdom, as Kathrine Anne Porter, author of Ship of Fools, once wrote.

What happened?  What the fuck hit us? I watched a film last night called Bird Box.  Some entity arrives in Russia and spreads in a pandemic. People everywhere who see the entity go mad or insane, and oddly enough, and, I thought, delightfully ironic, in the end the blind are leading the blind, but in a good way.  The way it would probably be, after the smoke  cleared, if the grids went down and we had to face each other again in a meaningful way and start all over again.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.