Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Led Around By The Nose

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses." - Malcolm X

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” - George Orwell

Hypothesis: Corporate-owned media organs, which massively dominate the dissemination of news in the modern era, craft narratives that serve the economic/military/geopolitical interests of owners and related entities (transnational corporations, global and central banks, selected billionaires, powerful lobby groups, global institutions, owners/controllers of means of production, and state governments). These narratives are filtered in order to ensure stories that contradict them are either downplayed or omitted entirely. Vigorous debate is encouraged within acceptable parameters, with prominent media figures sometimes in violent opposition on such issues, but anyone stepping out of these boundaries is marginalized, presented as a lone voice or smeared as a 'crank' or 'conspiracy theorist', or even an apologist for an official enemy du jour.

This hypothesis is nothing new to anyone who has studied the history and methods of the mainstream press, and can be found practically word for word in the seminal Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Yet the very act itself of presenting this hypothesis remains subversive to many within the media establishment, and is indeed likely to elicit eye rolling, derision and even smears.

Such reactions are - of course - natural due to the phenomena of confirmation bias, system justification and the cognitive dissonance that inevitably result when one is exposed to competing narratives, particularly when being forced to change a view jeopardizes one's career, standing or reputation - as is often the case with prominent media figures.

Chomsky and Herman used paired examples to empirically prove the existence of filtering, famously comparing the aggressive Western media coverage of Pol Pot (an 'official enemy') to the almost utter silence that accompanied the invasion by Indonesia (a US ally) of East Timor, in which between 100-180,000 soldiers or civilians died, at the same time. When David Newsom, the US Ambassador to Indonesia, recommended (pdf) a 'policy of silence' on the issue of invasion and was supported by Henry Kissinger, the media - for whatever reason - played along. Note, as predicted in our hypothesis above, that Chomsky was duly smeared in the 1970s as an apologist for Pol Pot.

These paired examples (among others) provided empirical proof of the existence of filtering in Western media, a process which - by pure coincidence - served the interests of the US government. Destroying this coincidence, however, was the coming to light of aircraft and weaponry provided by the US to destroy the East Timor resistance, and documents detailing the full support of the invasion and occupation by five consecutive US administrations.

One need look no further than three ongoing 'crises' that feature prominently in corporate-owned media - those in Venezuela, Syria and Ukraine - to witness media filtering in full swing. That they feature at all over multiple other major crises around the world is itself an indication of how vital these arenas are seen to be by those with editorial control over media organisations.

This analysis will compare, with examples, the establishment/corporate media narrative with reality.

1. Venezuela

Narrative:

One would expect traditional right-wing media to malign and deride the Bolivarian Revolution led first by the late President Hugo Chávez and now by President Nicolás Maduro, but what about media organizations that are viewed as social liberal, social democratic or left? Rory Carroll in his latest article in the Observer led with the following:

Hugo Chávez's dream world has become a nightmare of shot-down protesters, jailed oppositionists, economic meltdown and a brutal war waged against a defiant middle class

Throughout the corporate media, there are repeated mentions of government censorship of Venezuelan media, massive anti-government demonstrations, the inflation rate, shortages of basic foods and other daily necessities and the murder rate. Carroll himself routinely features these elements. Yet a thorough fact-checking [Note: please read this] by News Unspun of an earlier (January 2013) Carroll article illustrates clearly how crucial facts are omitted or twisted to serve the narrative he and his employers desire: that of Venezueula as a violent, crumbling, socialist basket case.

Reality:

Opposition leader Leopoldo López is described in glowing terms by Carroll as an 'ambitious, Harvard-educated politician, [who has] steered student protests against crime and economic problems into a wider challenge to authority'. No mention is made of López's role in the 2002 attempted coup (that he has since tried to distance himself from), where it was clear he orchestrated the public protests against Chávez and played a key role in the citizen's arrest of Chavez's interior minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. [Note: the duplicitous role and tactics employed by the US and the 'opposition' in the unsuccessful coup are described in John Pilger's must-see 2007 documentary, The War on Democracy]. No mention is also made of the fact that both Chávez and Maduro won democratic elections in an electoral system described by former US President Jimmy Carter as among the best in the world and a model for other democracies.

The nature of the protests themselves?

From the Center for Economic and Policy Research [see original for sources]:

Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern, and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez, and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then – as now – the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections. An important difference this time of course is that Venezuela has its first post-Chávez president, and a key part of the opposition’s strategy overall has been to depict Nicolás Maduro as a pale imitation of his predecessor and a president ill-equipped to deal with the country’s problems (many of which are exaggerated in the Venezuelan private media, which is still largely opposition-owned, as well as the international media).

...

Venezuela’s opposition receives funding from U.S. “democracy promotion” groups including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and core grantees such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NED, which the Washington Post noted was set up to conduct activities “much of” which “[t]he CIA used to fund covertly” has made a number of grants directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, and USAID has also given money to IRI, NDI and other groups for Venezuela programs. These organizations have a history of destabilizing elected governments and working to unify and strengthen political opposition to left-wing parties and governments. IRI notably played a key role in destabilizing Haiti ahead of the 2004 coup there, and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, to name a few. In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 coup, and IRI spokespersons infamously praised the coup after it happened.


As Mark Weisbrot points out in a recent article, the US, which as noted has a proven track record of attempting regime change in Venezuela, makes no effort to hide its current efforts:

[]...there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

Weisbrot also stresses that this is a revolt of the well-off, not by any means the massive popular uprising as portrayed In the West:

Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas.

Walking from the working-class neighborhood of Sabana Grande to the city center, there was no sign that Venezuela is in the grip of a “crisis” that requires intervention from the Organization of American States (OAS), no matter what John Kerry tells you. The metro also ran very well, although I couldn’t get off at Alta Mira station, where the rebels had set up their base of operations until their eviction this week.

I got my first glimpse of the barricades in Los Palos Grandes, an upper-income area where the protesters do have popular support, and neighbors will yell at anyone trying to remove the barricades – which is a risky thing to attempt (at least four people have apparently been shot dead for doing so). But even here at the barricades, life was pretty much normal, save for some snarled traffic. On the weekend, the Parque del Este was full of families and runners sweating in the 90-degree heat – before Chávez, you had to pay to get in, and the residents here, I was told, were disappointed when the less well-to-do were allowed to enter for free. The restaurants are still crowded at night.


2. Syria

Narrative:

Syria's Bashar al-Assad is routinely described as a brutal dictator who must be urgently removed from power. The struggle in Syria is portrayed as a simple battle of 'regime forces' against 'rebels'. The chemical attack in Ghouta is portrayed as having been carried out (with little or no doubt expressed) by Assad forces. US Secretary of State John Kerry certainly had no doubts about the identity of the perpetrators, saying Syrian government involvement was 'undeniable':

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality[.] Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people."

This expression of supreme confidence may ring a bell with those who recall the run-up to the Iraq War:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Dick Cheney
August 26, 2002


Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.
George W. Bush
September 12, 2002


If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.
Ari Fleischer
December 2, 2002


The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.
Ari Fleischer
December 6, 2002


We know for a fact that there are weapons there.
Ari Fleischer
January 9, 2003


Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.
George W. Bush
January 28, 2003


We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
Colin Powell
February 5, 2003


Reality:

A 2013 article on the 99.99998271% discussed smoking-gun proof that the US has long planned 'regime change' in Syria, and that the US had trained 'rebels' since 2011.

From the article:

An article at the Information Clearing House website has drawn attention to an internal email (dated December 2011) of the Stratfor 'global intelligence' company that was published by WikiLeaks. It is a remarkable email, in that it clearly demonstrates the intent of the US to intervene in the affairs of Syria, and strongly implies that - among many other things - agents from the US, France, Jordan, Turkey, and the UK were already on the ground carrying out reconnaissance and the training of opposition forces.

On the issue of human rights violations, by employing paired examples it is clear that the human rights concerns so strongly expressed by the US and the West in general is bogus. President Obama last month visited Saudi Arabia to reassure one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world that the US remains a close friend and ally. UK Prime Minister David Cameron is also a big fan.

From the article:

[]...David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined.

More evidence - as if it were needed - of fake Western human rights concerns can be seen in this graphic depicting the number of Syrian refugees accepted by EU states in comparison to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The stark narrative of 'rebels' fighting for democracy against an evil dictatorship also falls apart with scrutiny. Read the words of Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations quoted in a 2013 Syria article from the 99.99998271%:

Military intervention in Syria is ill-conceived, short-sighted, counter-productive, and likely to generate more killings and massacres rather than stop them. Unlike any other Arab nation, Syria is home to varied and numerous assortments of religious sects, tribes, ethnicities and historic rivalries. In contrast to the uprisings in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, we have not witnessed high-level political and military defections inside Syria. And the largest cities in Syria — Damascus and Aleppo — have so far been relatively calm. Whatever the reasons—fear of, or support for, Bashar Assad—the opposition has thus failed to mobilise key constituencies inside Syria that would indicate to us that the regime is losing control.

Mr Assad retains a tight grip on the Ba’ath party. Its control of mosques, schools, businesses, police and local government means that it can still marshal large crowds of supporters in Damascus and Aleppo. Prominent Sunni Muslim clerics with regional weight, including Ramadan al-Bouti, have come out in support of the regime. At Friday prayers across the country they still pray for the strength of the government and call for “the destruction of its enemies”— Islamic reinforcement of Mr Assad’s government in a deeply religious country should not be underestimated.

Just as Mr Assad’s supporters use religion in Syria, so do his opponents. The footage coming out of Syria showing opposition forces killing soldiers and publicly torturing any who are accused of “spying” for the regime is deeply troubling; these are not the actions of democracy activists. In Tunisia and Egypt we heard cries for freedom, democracy and human rights. Sadly, in Syria, we are hearing shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and “jihad”. Al-Qaeda has now officially entered this conflict. Military intervention assumes that we will support one side. Granted, Mr Assad is an Iranian stooge. But at least we know the nature of that enemy. The debilitating differences among the opposition, the lack of leadership, the taking up of arms, the torture and killing of opponents, and the co-ordination with al-Qaeda and jihadists from Iraq and the Gulf should force us to stop and take stock. Who are we being asked to support, much less arm? And with what consequences?


Then we come to the chemical attack. Seymour Hersh, one of the most famed, highly respected journalists in the world, with a near unmatchable record of breaking vital, world-changing stories like the My Lai massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War as well as the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. Hersh recently published a bombshell of an article, one which - if verified - blows out of the water the bald-faced lies of John Kerry and other Western officials, not to mention the tepid theorising of Google/Twitter 'experts' like Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses).

Where was this bombshell by one of the world's most famous journalists published? The New York Times? The Guardian? No: The London Review of Books. While this is a respected journal, it is telling indeed that the major newspapers chose to ignore the story completely.

Hersh's findings were summarized in a (must-read) recent article at Interventions Watch:

British scientists at Porton Down had established that the Sarin used in the attacks didn’t match any Sarin known to exist the in Syrian regime’s Arsenal, and then told their U.S. counter-parts that the case against the Assad regime would therefore not ‘hold up’.

That actors within the Turkish military and intelligence establishment thought they could make Obama enforce his ‘Red Line’ on chemical weapons usage by ‘dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria’.

That when the Obama regime claimed after the attacks that only the Assad regime had access to Sarin, they knew this to be incorrect, as it was contradicted by a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from June 20th 2013.

That a senior CIA Official had sent a message in August 2013 stating that the attacks were ‘not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this’.

And most explosively of all, that the U.S. Intelligence community had reason to believe, based on communications intercepts, that the attacks were ‘a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line’. That is, a false flag attack designed to draw the U.S. into an open war with Syria


The backlash from those invested in the standard narrative was predictable, but these are serious allegations by a journalist who has proved his credibility on multiple occasions. Yes, his claims come from anonymous sources, and it is indicative of how much credibility these 'experts' have to lose that instead of spending time spraying Hersh with invective, they are not spending their time and energy demanding investigations into these claims to see if they actually stand up. Just imagine CNN spending as much time and resources investigating these allegations as it has done with its opportunistic and witless Malaysia Airlines coverage. Hersh could be vindicated or proved wrong. So could his critics. And - God forbid - the public would know the truth.

3. Ukraine

Narrative:

The evil Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the 'revolution' in Ukraine to reclaim territory lost with the break-up of the Soviet Union. The people of Ukraine are fighting for democracy and - after succeeding in removing the illegitimate (actually democratically elected) President Yanukovych - were well on their way to achieving their desires, only to be thwarted by Putin's aggression and opportunism. The West is merely expressing support for democracy by applying punitive sanctions against Russia and authorizing the IMF to provide significant loans to help restore the crippled Ukrainian economy.

Reality:

This useful timeline published by Counterpunch provides ample evidence of US meddling, including a leaked phone conversation between Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and the disclosure of Nuland telling a 'meeting of the International Business Conference sponsored by the US-Ukrainian Foundation that the US had "invested" more than $5 billion and "five years worth of work and preparation" in achieving what she called Ukraine’s "European aspirations".'

Russia's 'invasion' of Crimea ignored the reality that the 16,000 strong invasion force had already been there quite legally for fifteen years under the terms of a 1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine that further allows a Russian troop presence of 25,000. A Russian naval presence in the port city of Sevastopol dates back to 1783. Given how far NATO has advanced into Russia's backyard since the breakup of the USSR, Putin is quite justified - as any sane leader would be - in reacting to preserve key strategic interests. The Sevastopol naval base, the principal base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, certainly counts as that. As this foreignpolicy.com article states: 'Sorry, Putin Isn't Crazy'.

Other Crimea facts here.

It is a staggering display of both the power of media programming and the cognitive impediments to clear-minded analysis that the false, simplistic media narrative is aggressively defended (when challenged) by millions of sometimes intelligent people who permit themselves to heed only sources of information that confirm internalized beliefs. When one further considers the record of Western nations, particularly the US and UK, on past interventions, many of them violent and leading to the murder, rape and disappearances of millions, it simply defies belief that so many persist in yet again swallowing the professed benign intentions of the self-proclaimed Western beacons of democracy.

Despite voluminous evidence out in the open for anyone to see that the West has engaged countless times in aggressive economic and military neocolonialism, many journalists at major, award-winning, widely-respected media organizations, even those who proclaim themselves 'anti-war' nonetheless respond to sincere, serious challenges to their views with disdain, impatience and often personal smears. [Note: Those requiring a quick demonstration of this need only present any of the 'conspiracy theories' detailed here to the Guardian's Owen Jones on Twitter]. It is unforgivable that major journalists wilfully ignore the reality that - when victims of economic factors are also taken into account - Western imperialism is demonstrably the most destructive and violent force in human history.

Is our hypothesis proven? In these three cases, as in so many others in the past, media filtering has served on every occasion to serve the desires and interests of the West and their political, economic and military institutions...and this is no coincidence. Those who seriously challenge this - like Seymour Hersh, John Pilger, Julian Assange and other major or even less well-known dissidents - are marginalized, ridiculed or smeared as apologists for mass murderers.

There is therefore one logical conclusion: no reader can trust corporate-owned media, or the vast majority of their wilfully ignorant employees, to provide an honest picture of the world. The corporate media model, which has been leading everyone around by the nose for decades, must be abandoned...and high-quality independent media embraced and supported.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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