By Daniel Margrain
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 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 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 famous radio broadcast, the corporate media persuaded hundreds of thousands of protesters to descend on Washington DC and many other cities across America and throughout the world ostensibly against Trump’s boast that he groped the genitals of a woman. This soon morphed into mass protests against his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.
More recently, mass protests that involved attacks on statues in response to the widespread perception Trump wasn’t sufficiently unequivocal in his condemnation of right wing forces followed the killing of a protester in Charlottesville.
Censorship by omission
The criticisms of Trump in relation to the above and much else are, of course, valid. But the media coverage given to these incidents 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, there was very little outcry among the public.
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, the distortions often provide the basis for ‘post truth politics’ exemplified by the appeal to emotion where a discourse of identity and personal beliefs dominate.
The media’s preoccupation with Trump’s sexist and misogynistic attitude to women and alleged racism 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 not long after he became elected, been cast.
Manichean logic & Red Baiting
The demonizing agenda was stepped-up a gear following the media’s relentless efforts to link Trump with Russian president, Vladimir Putin. With their application of Manichean logic, the intention of the political-media class was to deliberately conflate media dissent with the notion that the dissenters uncritically support Russia and thus to imply these dissenters are Trump, and by extension, Putin apologists.
In the eyes of the establishment, the dissenters’ ‘crime’ was to acknowledge that one of Trump’s initial stated aims to shift future US foreign policy from belligerence to cooperation with Russia, had validity. Thus, the aim of the media is to discredit any support for a US foreign policy that doesn’t involve US exceptionalism.
Trump’s subsequent toing and froing in regards to US foreign policy reflect the extent to which he appears to be guided to this end by media spin and personal ratings. It’s no coincidence that a more aggressive and unilateral foreign policy approach by Trump initiates far less media criticism of him than would otherwise be the case. Conversely, as Edward Herman contends, a declared lack of enthusiasm for foreign conflict, notably with Russia, “may help explain the intensity of media hostility to Trump”.
It’s a measure of the extent to which the mass media barely stray from their paymasters tune, that on April 7, 2017, Trump with near-unanimous journalistic support, was able to launch an illegal missile strike on the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria in retaliation to an alleged sarin gas attack by president Assad three days earlier. Moreover, it’s Trump’s bellicose rhetoric against Russian ally, North Korea, that is endearing him to vast swaths of the American public and corporate media alike.
The response of a corporate outlet like the Washington Post is to label anybody who proffers an alternative foreign policy 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”.
“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.”
On twitter, I was subjected to this kind of divided loyalty trope. 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 Salafist 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 authentic, albeit idiosyncratic, populism is the antithesis to the prevailing liberal politico-media establishment orthodoxy that, paradoxically, nevertheless remains welded to the capitalist order.
Under Obama, the media had it relatively easy because the nature of the understanding between the economic and political elite was mutually understood. The snake oil salesman said the right things when required and kept the industrial-military complex ticking along by initiating a succession of foreign wars.
Trump, on the other hand, not only says the ‘wrong things’ in a less statesman-like way, but often contradicts himself days or even hours later. It’s this unpredictability that poses a threat to the elites ability to be able to maintain a buffer zone between themselves and the democratic forces that Trump has the potential to unleash, that the former fear the most. Trump’s unmanageable authenticity is, in other words, bad news for a politico-media elite that is used to having their snouts comfortably feeding from the gravy train trough on their own terms.
Many of the activists who have taken to the streets in protest against Trump, but refrained from doing the same against Obama, have clearly been indoctrinated to do so as a result of the media’s displacement strategy. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Clinton gang is pushing for war with Iran while criticisms of Trump by Jack Straw and other war criminals are clearly their attempts at stealing the moral high ground.
The kind of blinkered liberalism that focuses a disproportionate amount of criticism towards Trump for his sexual misdemeanors and reflexive reactions to domestic populist warmongering, but largely overlooks the sexual abuse and war crimes of other American presidents, 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 has followed through on a democratic mandate by, for example, introducing a seven country visa ban policy as opposed to the actions of his predecessor who bombed seven countries in six years, is indicative of the propaganda power of the mass media.
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 devote honest coverage of US foreign policy since 1945 including 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.
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 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 fulfilled a pre-election democratic mandate. Perhaps it’s indicative of the ‘post-truth’ era, that many people are shocked when politicians actually follow through on their campaign promises. In that sense, at least Trump has put down a marker for elected leaders in the future to follow.
The media hype in relation to the reporting of Trump 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 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 criticised Trump for wanting to put travel restrictions on? Could it be that 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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