In 1938, in response to the alleged arrival to America of aliens from another planet, thousands of US citizens left their suburban homes in a state of panic and departed for the hills. An unsuspecting public did this because the authoritative and solemn tones of the radio announcer who imparted this ‘news’ was able to induce the requisite amount of fear in them.
It was only later that the people concerned had realized they had been duped. What was actually being broadcast was an adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, and the announcer was none other than the renowned actor and film director, Orson Welles. The power of radio had convinced people to behave in an irrational manner in response to this ‘fake news’.
Almost eight decades after Welles made his fake radio broadcast, hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on Washington DC and many other cities across America and throughout the world. The stated aim of the protests was to demonstrate women’s rights in response to the revelation that Trump had boasted he had groped the genitals of a woman. But this soon morphed into a protest against Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.
Censorship by omission
The issues the coverage of Trump’s alleged sexual assault raises is of course welcome. But the media coverage given to the incident which acted as the catalyst for the demonstrations also raises further questions in terms of what the media do and do not regard as a newsworthy story. Why, for example, hadn’t the media given equal coverage to the sexual depravities of Bill Clinton?
It should be noted that Hillary not only condoned Bill’s actions but has often slandered those who would dare speak out against them. The fact that the media have not managed to inculcate into the public consciousness the alleged crimes of Bill Clinton in the way they have in relation to Trump, almost certainly explains why, during Bill’s presidency and impeachment trial 20 years ago, no protests occurred.
So fake news is as much about the ability of the media to censor by omission as it is about the actual production of deliberately false information intended to deceive. In turn, it’s these distortions that provide the catalyst for the ideology of ‘post truth politics’ exemplified by the emergence of a discourse that appeals to emotion and where personal beliefs dominate. The media’s preoccupation with Trump’s seemingly sexist and misogynistic attitude to women intended to evoke an emotional response, was to be the starting point for what was to follow. The media’s anti-Trump agenda, in other words, had been cast.
Manichean logic & Red Baiting
The demonizing agenda was stepped-up a gear following the media’s relentless efforts to link Trump with Putin. With their application of Manichean logic, the intention of the political-media class is the deliberate conflation of media dissent with the notion that the dissenters uncritically support Russia and thus imply they are Trump apologists. In the establishment media’s eyes, the dissenters’ ‘crime’ is the acknowledgement that Trump’s stated aim to shift future US foreign policy from belligerence to cooperation with Russia, has validity.
The response of a corporate outlet like the Washington Post was to label anybody who proffers an alternative narrative to that pumped out by the mainstream as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The writer, Chris Hedges, who is on a list of 200 alternative websites condemned by the paper, describes the Post’s report as an “updated form of Red-Baiting.He added:
“This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”
I, myself, was subject to this kind of ‘fifth-columnist’ irrational Red-Baiting on twitter earlier yesterday (Tuesday January, 31). The following tweet, for example, was in response to my factual assertion that Russia was invited by Syria to intervene in the country as a direct response to the arming, training and funding of Salfist terrorists by the US, UK, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish governments’:
As far as the political-media establishment is concerned, the Trump phenomenon represents a paradox, or as Charles Krauthammer put it, an “ideological realignment”. Trump’s non-conservative, idiosyncratic populism is the antithesis to the prevailing liberal political-media establishment orthodoxy, but is nevertheless welded to the capitalist order.
Under Obama, the media had it relatively easy because the nature of the mutual understanding between the two was understood. The snake oil salesman said the right things when required but was not particularly pro-active in policy terms unless it involved keeping the industrial-military complex ticking along by initiating wars.
Trump, on the other hand, not only says the wrong things, but has so far stuck to his word. This is very bad for the maintenance of the liberal consensus and a media elite that is used to having it’s snouts comfortably feeding from the gravy train trough on its own terms.
This is not to suggest that the media is somehow separate from this state-corporate status quo. On the contrary, their role as public relations mediators for the state means they are intrinsic to the protection of corporate power against democratic forces. The unpredictability that arises from the ashes of Trump’s victory is akin to shaking one of those old children’s snow globe toys and waiting to see where the particles land. They have the potential to settle in a multitude of places. The strategies in response to the potential chaos unleashed by Trump, in other words, has the potential to take many forms, from that of the blinkered liberal to the revolutionary idealist and a multitude of possibilities in between.
Much to the undoubted relief of the political-media establishment, many of those who have been encouraged to take to the streets would appear to have been blinded by the media’s displacement activity which is essentially what their attacks on Trump are. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Clinton gang is pushing for war with Iran while the war criminal Jack Straw’s criticisms of Trump are clearly his attempts to steal the moral high ground. The kind of blinkered liberalism that focuses a disproportionate amount of criticism on Trump but ignores the underhand warmongering and war crimes of his opponents, is encapsulated by the following tweet:
To claim to feel more ashamed to be a citizen of a country represented by the actions of the latest in a long line of misogynistic presidents who followed through on a seven country visa ban policy mandate rather than the actions of his predecessor who attacked seven countries in eight years, is indicative of the propaganda power of the mass media.
The said media is currently facilitating an agenda by which the Trump ban is up for discussion, but prevents similar discussions in relation to restricting the ability of governments’ to wage wars. It is surely no coincidence that ‘feeling ashamed to be part of America for the first time in 32 years’ is related to the inability of the media to report on the numerous wars of aggression waged both overtly and covertly by successive US presidents.
The fact that the reason why Trump’s selective and temporary travel ban (not a Muslim Ban as reported) is considered to be an acceptable part of media discourse but the war machine championed by Obama and historically by numerous other presidents isn’t, is because critiques of the latter pose a potential threat to the underlying structure of media-state power.
L B C
I first heard about the ban on Maajid Nawaz’s L B C programme last Saturday morning (January 28). Unlike the other topics that have been featured on the show, a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to the Trump issue. The journalist Owen Jones who had just arrived in the UK from America was interviewed on the phone at some length by Nawaz and was given plenty of air time to promote the demonstration outside Downing Street that evening.
Meanwhile, a succession of callers phoned in to the programme, the vast majority of whom aired their disgust at the Trump policy. The calls were interspersed by a running commentary by Nawaz who repeatedly condemned Trump without referencing the fact that the seven country ban had already been put in place by Obama, or that the policy didn’t apply to British passport holding Muslim celebrities or politicians even though both were continually mentioned in a sensational way in order to illicit an emotional response from the listener.
Unlike Jones, Nawaz fell short of arguing for the banning of the planned state visit of Trump to the UK. Nevertheless, the tone throughout was one of hostility towards the visa ban policy and Trump himself. Throughout the show, Nawaz kept reminding his listeners about the growing number of signatures to the ‘Ban Trump’ on-line petition by providing them with a running commentary about the numbers who had signed up every few minutes. This was the standard approach taken throughout the media with all UK terrestrial TV news channels focusing their coverage on individuals at airports who were waiting for news of their loved ones that had been caught up in the confusion.
Meanwhile, it appeared to me that more coverage was devoted to the anti-Trump demonstrations throughout American and other cities than was given to the estimated 2 million people that thronged the streets of London protesting the decision of the UK government to go to war in Iraq. On Monday’s (January 30) the BBC Breakfast programme, a running total of signatures was displayed boldly on the screen as if it was money being raised for the Children In Need charity. All this passed for acceptable discourse in the corporate mass media.
Manipulating the public
It is an illustration of how corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent, largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns of the kind described that combine sophisticated public relations techniques. These techniques involve the filtering out of all unwanted information by censoring it and amplifying all ‘useful’ information. The former explains why, for example, very few people remember the time when Theresa May as UK Home Secretary illegally deported 50,000 foreign students which consequently failed to generate the publicity required for a mass demonstration.
Although the issue is different, exactly the same principle can be applied to the lack of publicity the media have given to demonstrations against the government’s welfare reforms including cuts to disability benefits, reduced social care budgets and the introduction of the bedroom tax.
Make no mistake, the decision of Trump to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries on the false premise that it’s a security issue when those countries not on the banned list were the ones whose citizens were responsible for the attacks on 9-11, is illiberal, immoral and plain wrong.
But it is also wrong for the media to have perpetuated the myth that it was Trump who set the policy in motion and that his critics are somehow perturbed that he is fulfilling a pre-election democratic mandate. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that many people are actually shocked when politicians actually follow through on their campaign promises. In that sense, at least – for good or bad – Trump has put down a marker for elected leaders in the future to follow.
The media hype surrounding the reporting of Trump’s sexual assault allegations and particularly the travel ban is disproportionate and exaggerated. Where were the reports of NATO’s flattening of the Libyan town of Sirte that killed thousands of civilians and the changing of the law last year enabling the deportation from the UK of any refugee child?
Why are a series of war criminals and war apologists seen fit to be interviewed about their disparaging views on Trump and are allowed to pass comment unchallenged? Why were the public told that Western civilisation was under threat from Islamist terrorists from the same countries who the elites are now criticising Trump from wanted to put travel restrictions on? Could it be Trump is unknowingly exposing the lie to their own propaganda?
The fact that these questions are never asked of the powerful and that a mass of well-meaning liberal protesters uncritically fall into line like a herd of cattle, is a testament to the hold the media has on great swaths of the population.
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