Manufacturing Consent: The Western War Media’s Selective Outrage and Imperial Amnesia

Like many folks I have spent a fair amount of time the last few days in front of a television watching the US cable news stations – primarily CNN and MSNBC with an occasional look at FOX – cover the Israel-Hamas war. I am struck by the extreme and unabashed imbalance in humanitarian concern demonstrated by these news outlets.

Twp nights ago, CNN broadcast an Israel soldier who says that Hamas is “pure evil” because it kills children, infants, women, and old people. I hold no brief for the murderous Islamist outfit Hamas, but the problem here is that the US-backed Judeo-fascist, racist, apartheid, terror and occupation state of Israel has long murdered Palestinian children, infants, women, and old people with impunity. Beneath and beyond the episodic terror of United States (US)-backed Israeli shootings and bombing raids, the Palestinians live under miserable daily conditions of extreme poverty, disease, and trauma imposed by decades of US-backed occupation and apartheid.

That other, far more empowered US-backed evil and terror, is essential context for Hamas’s despicable attack. The other and far more empowered terror, backed by the most world’s leading imperial aggressor (the US), is for all intents and purposes deleted from in the frankly warmongering and racist coverage one sees on CNN and MSNBC, where a retired US general practically salivated two nights ago as he enthused over the sending of a US naval flotilla to back up “our valued ally” while (in the former general’s words) “the Israeli Defense Forces go into Gaza high and hard.”

The cable news is brazenly demonstrating the imperial and racial selectivity of its moral sentiments. It is taking the Noam Chomsky-Edward Herman thesis on the Western media’s propagandistic distinction between officially worthy (US and US-allied) and officially “unworthy” (those on the “wrong” side of the US American Empire and its network of allies) victims to GROTESQUE extremes. It parades the airwaves with one gut-wrenching and highly personalized story of Israeli victimization after another, replete with grieving relatives and photographs and biographies of murdered and captured Israelis and Americans. It is of course impossible for any decent human being not to feel sadness and disgust what has been done to these people by the monsters of Hamas.

The problem is that there is no serious balance when it comes to the lives of Palestinians. For every terrible story of Israeli victimization, there are multiple other examples of Palestinian victimization by the terror imposed by the US-sponsored state of Israel, and here, it is important to note that there two kinds of terror experienced by the Palestinians, especially the two million plus Palestinians stuck in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip. There’s the immediate and sudden terror of a bomb or artillery shell destroying one’s home, school, park, or hospital, creating mass bloodshed. (An award-winning Israeli documentary released in 2013 exposed how Israel turned millions of Gazans and other Palestinians into literal human laboratories for the testing of new weapons.) And then there’s the ongoing dull terror of savage poverty and hyper-ghettoization imposed by the US-backed racist, Judeo-fascist, apartheid and ethno-state of Israel. The US media, essentially a propaganda arm of the American Empire, has nothing to say about the savage contrast between the opulent First World lives enjoyed by those on one side of the Israel-Gaza border and the severe Third World wretchedness endured by those on the other side. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency:

“The Gaza Strip has a population of approximately 2.1 million people, including some 1.7 million Palestine Refugees. For at least the last decade and a half, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. ..A[n] Israel-imposed and US-backed] blockade on land, air and sea was imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. There are now very few options left for the people of Gaza, who have been living under collective punishment as a result of the blockade that continues to have a devastating effect as people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip, as well as access to markets, remains severely restricted….The blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed…Food security in Gaza has deteriorated with 63 per cent of people in the Gaza Strip being food insecure and dependent on international assistance. The continuing intra-Palestinian divisions exacerbate the humanitarian and service delivery crisis on the ground. With 81.5 per cent of the population living in poverty, an overall unemployment rate of 46.6 per cent (48.1 per cent for Palestine Refugees living in the camps) at the end of the third quarter of 2022 and an unemployment rate of 62.3 per cent among youth (15-29 years, refugees and non-refugees), the already fragile humanitarian situation in Gaza threatens to deteriorate further. The economy and its capacity to create jobs have been devastated, resulting in the impoverishment and de-development of a highly skilled and well-educated society. Access to clean water and electricity remains at crisis level and impacts nearly every aspect of life. Clean water is unavailable for 95 per cent of the population. Electricity is available up to an average of 11 hours per day as of July 2023. However, ongoing power shortage has severely impacted the availability of essential services, particularly health, water, and sanitation services, and continues to undermine Gaza’s fragile economy, particularly the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.”

These are the ongoing “realities on the ground” in what I heard an MSNBC reporter in Israel call “the so-called open-air prison” that is Gaza. We can drop the “so-called.” Gaza itself is a giant human rights crime, imposed by the US-backed occupation state of Israel. It might be considered almost as a concentration camp.

His genocidal anti-Semitism aside, Adolph Hitler would admire the nightmare that Israel has created for the people of Gaza and Palestine. He and his propaganda minister Goebbels would appreciate the massive racial and imperial hypocrisy of a media that portrays Hamas as “pure evil” and “animals” for murdering white-skinned Israeli civilians but won’t say the same for the Israeli officials and military personnel who regularly murder Palestinian civilians and who create and enforce lives of pure misery for the brown skinned masses of Gaza.

Israeli pain and suffering pales before that of the Palestinian people and the Gazans. The comparisons of Israeli and Palestinian distress aren’t even remotely close, truth be told. Where are CNN and MSNBC’s heartfelt and highly personalized portrayals of Palestinian and Gazan lives subjected to the “pure evil” of Israeli torment and violence? Where is the Vanderbilt heir and former CIA staffer Anderson Cooper looking close to tears as he asks a Palestinian mother how it feels to see her children murdered by Israeli snipers and buried in rubble caused by Israeli bombs? When does Al Velshi cross into Gaza to interview a Hamas member who has seen his mother die from Israeli-imposed medicine blockades, his sister killed in Israeli bombardments? The US media puts up Israeli Defense Force soldiers who tell personal stories of loss at the hands of Palestinian “animals” but refuses to broadcast the other side of the lethal Israel-Palestine coin.

Whence the massive shock and surprise the bloody rebellion of some among a population of desperate and trapped people? You consign millions to a living Hell and wonder why all Hell breaks loose? Where in US war and entertainment media is the elementary observation that racist and material violence, torture, and oppression on the scale of what Israel has done to Gaza and Palestine more broadly since the 1948 Nakba[1] naturally produces violent hatred, a desperate urge to liberation, and a bloody thirst for revenge on the part of a segment of the Wretched of the Earth?

And now of course the US client state Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks by intensifying the Hell caught by the Gaza masses. Tel Aviv has imposed a state of siege on the already blockaded Gaza Strip. As The Irish Times reports:

“Israel’s decision to cut off food, water and electricity to the blockaded Gaza Strip is against international law, the European Union’s chief diplomat has said, after foreign ministers met to discuss a response to the spiraling conflict with militant group Hamas. ‘Israel has the right to defend itself, but it has to be done accordingly with international law,’ Josep Borrell told media. ‘Some of the actions… cutting water, cutting electricity, cutting food to a mass of civilian people, are not in accordance with international law.’ His comments came a day after Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, announced a ‘complete siege’ of the narrow strip of land that is home to two million people, saying that ‘no electricity, no food, no water, no gas’ would be allowed to reach Gaza. Mr Borrell described the humanitarian situation as ‘dire’, as 150,000 Palestinians are now internally displaced, while intense Israeli air strikes caused a rising death toll.”

Where in US war and entertainment media is the proper denunciation of this clear human rights crime? And where CNN and Woke Imperialist MSNBC’s shock and horror at the language of Israel’s genocidal fascist prime minister, the corrupt authoritarian Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to reduce Gaza to rubble in a display of “mighty vengeance” that will be remembered “through the ages”?

Where is CNN and MSNBC’s shock and horror over Israel warning the people of Gaza to “flee” when Israel has trapped them with nowhere to go and has even bombed the one crossing out of the open-air prison to Egypt? By the time this essay appears, my guess is that Israel will have already doubled Hamas’s kill count and will be well on its way to killing at least ten times more Palestinian civilians than the number of Israelis butchered by Hamas.

The retired US general who went on MSNBC to rave about the IDF’s coming attack on the oppressed Gazan masses used his time on the “left” (LOL) network to tell Iran to “restrain your creature Hezbollah,” It is unthinkable that the network would bring on someone to tell Washington to “restrain your creature Israel” from killing tens if not hundreds of thousands of Gazans!

I saw no shock on the face of CNN and MSNBC hosts when they reported that the White House had explicitly “NOT URGED RESTRAINT” on Israel when Biden spoke to Netanyahu on the phone after the attack.

One darkly amusing thing I heard on cable news was the claim that an Israel ground incursion into Gaza would be “unprecedented.” Really? As professor Anthony Zenku has noted: “In July 2014, Israel’s military invaded Gaza and killed 1,881 people, including hundreds of children. US politicians and mainstream media didn’t call it terrorism, the attack wasn’t labeled as ‘unprecedented,’ and the US and its allies didn’t demand that Israel be held accountable.” Prior to that, Israel invaded Gaza, killing many thousands, on January 3, 2009, and November 14, 2012.

Also missing on “liberal” US cable news is of course the basic historical fact that Israel has carried out its torture of the people of Gaza and Palestine with the support of the United States, which provides Tel Aviv billions of dollars’ worth of military aid every year. As the Arab Center reported six weeks ago:

If there is one thing that characterizes American-Israeli relations more than any other it is US military aid to Israel, which currently amounts to nearly $4 billion dollars a year. Few things in Washington have seemed more guaranteed than this US aid, as well as congressional approval for it. This support has been so sacrosanct that any critical conversation around it has long been considered taboo…US Military aid to Israel, or more precisely US military financing for Israel, functions through the United States’ Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program. Israel is the single largest recipient of US military financing through this program, at $3.8 billion a year. Egypt comes in second at $1.3 billion. Together they make up the majority of the nearly $10 billion annually allotted for this purpose. Egypt’s military financing itself was a product of negotiations to bring the country under American influence as part of the Camp David Accords in the late 1970s. The peace accords, sealed with financing for the Egyptian military and economy, brought an end to hostilities and recognition of Israel by Egypt. In other words, the majority of the FMF program serves Israeli interests.”

US sponsorship and funding of Judeo-fascist Israel, a hyper-militarized ethno-religious state based on the violent theft of Palestinian land and the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people, goes back many decades. The US is a critical force behind the misery of Gaza, where recent brazen Israeli provocations including the opening of a cherished Muslim mosque to Jewish prayer have made a bloody conflict seem inevitable in recent months.

Now that Hamas has struck, inflicting what is being called “Israel’s 9/11,” the cable talking heads don’t flinch as the imperial hawk Joe Biden announces that Washington gives “rock solid and unwavering support” to Israel. Biden’s statement amounts to giving the far-right genocidal fascist prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a blank check as he acts on his pledge to respond with “mighty vengeance” and tells Gazans to “flee” from an Israel-made penal colony they can’t escape – a place where every day is 9/11. Indeed, the US is sending advanced weaponry to help Israel kill Gazans en masse and positioning a naval war flotilla to warn off any regional forces (above all Hezbollah and Iran) who might be moved to try to protect the people of Gaza from horrendous assault.

The mainstream media treats it as a normalized and apparently approved fact that Israel is going to kill untold thousands of Palestinians in response to a Hamas attack for which little if any real historical context is permitted. The Black misleader and imperialist US House Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) advanced his party’s sickening line by going on MSNBC four days ago to say that “right now Israel has to do what it’s got to do.” The MSNBC host asked, “so level the place?,” meaning Gaza, and Meeks didn’t flinch.

Other Democratic Congresspersons went on MSNBNC to say that “We’ve got to give Israel room” to “act decisively here” – that is to generate mountains of rubble and Palestinian corpses.

The conversation about Israel’s role in the Hamas attack on CNN and MSNBC has turned on Israeli intelligence failures; little or nothing is said about Israel’s savage oppression and torture of Gaza.

There, to bs sure, some concerns expressed by a US cable news talking head or two (e.g. Lawrence O’Donnell) about the possibility that Israel could “overreact” and thereby hurt US interests in the Middle East and around. The death of Palestinians is incidental to that strategic concern.

And so it goes with US war and entertainment media, where images of death and incitements to massive imperial assault appear between a regular parade of infantile drug, car, insurance, and financial service commercials. It’s called Manufacturing Consent.


+1. The Nakba, a critical piece of history that imperialist CNN and MSNBC won’t tell viewers about, “means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic…[it] refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Before the Nakba,” the United Nations explains, Palestine was a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society. However, the conflict between Arabs and Jews intensified in the 1930s with the increase of Jewish immigration, driven by persecution in Europe, and with the Zionist movement aiming to establish a Jewish state in Palestine.” Further:

“Jewish militias launched attacks against Palestinian villages, forcing thousands to flee. The situation escalated into a full-blown war in 1948, with the end of the British Mandate and the departure of British forces, the declaration of independence of the State of Israel and the entry of neighboring Arab armies. The newly established Israeli forces launched a major offensive. The result of the war was the permanent displacement of more than half of the Palestinian population… 75 years later, despite countless UN resolutions, the rights of the Palestinians continue to be denied. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) more than 5 million Palestine refugees are scattered throughout the Middle East.   Today, Palestinians continue to be dispossessed and displaced by Israeli settlements, evictions, land confiscation and home demolitions.”

Home to masses of Palestinians fleeing Israeli occupation, Gaza was seized by Israel from Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War. Over the last 56 years Israel has turned it into an appalling monument to human cruelty under different nominal authorities, including civilian Palestinian servitude, the Palestinian National Authority, and (since 2007) Hamas, whose rise to “power” elicited Israel’s criminal blockade.

“In the wake of the horrors of the Vietnam War and the unconscionable lies used to justify it,” the renowned physician and social critic Gabor Mate writes, “I…had to arrive…at the heartrending realization that the dream that had been a balm to my soul, that of a triumphant Jewish national rebirth in my people’s ancestral biblical home, had been achieved by imposing a nightmare on the Palestinian inhabitants of the land, a nightmare that continues to this day. When the truth struck home, I was once again astonished that my imagined universe could have been such a distorted version of the real one. Visiting the West Bank and Gaza, I wept every day for two weeks.”

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).