By Guy Crittenden
In 2018 I stumbled upon a Facebook post from a teacher of an interesting personal growth modality whose weekend workshop I'd taken a few years before. In the post, this teacher encouraged people to turn away from "fake news" on the internet in favour of credible sources. This was a reasonable suggestion, except this otherwise insightful man then extolled as credible such outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR and other well-known establishment brands. I likely offended him when I pointed out that all these outlets are compromised, and cooperate with intelligence agencies like the CIA, the NSA and the US Defense Intelligence Agency (among others).
While major news outlets publish or broadcast excellent material on a wide variety of subjects, when it comes to beating the drums for war, the biggest names in news cooperate with government narratives, manufacturing consent for 19th century-style empire, hegemony and exploitation of natural systems and human capital. The oligarchs who manage the military-industrial-media complex long ago realized the importance of "narrative management" (as Australian blogger Caitlin Johnstone reminds readers often) in normalizing perpetual war and the ever-expanding surveillance state.
What's terrifying is not only that this is happening, but how few people are aware of the extent. Have you heard of the "Overton window"? Wikipedia defines it as, "...the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse, also known as the window of discourse. The term is named after Joseph P. Overton, who stated that an idea's political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within this range, rather than on politicians' individual preferences."
Simply put, the Overton window has drifted to the right over the past four decades, since the election of Ronald Reagan as US president in 1980 ushered in an era of neoconservative policies that rolled back many of the regulatory protections that were hard won by people of conscience in prior years. During periods when Democrats controlled the White House and other houses of government, these corrosive policies continued apace in the form of a similar free market philosophy called neoliberalism. In the United States, the Democratic Party now occupies the same political space that the Republicans did in the Reagan years, and both parties support the perpetual war economy. As Chris Hedges has said, in the 2016 election there was no way for ordinary Americans to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.
The shift to the right is not an accident. Instead it's the result of deliberate statecraft practiced by large corporations and the oligarchic families that own and control their shares, in tandem with government agencies that are subject to corporate capture. With support from members of the billionaire class such as the Koch Brothers and the Walton family, and foundations like Ford and Rockefeller, the reactionary ideas of Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis Powell (author of the famous Powell memorandum) and the loathsome economist James Buchanan were formulated into a blueprint for corporate America to roll back the advancements attained by progressives and Keyensian economics dating back to the reforms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ergo, in their place we have todays archipelago of deregulated workplaces, laissez-faire trade agreements, and collapsing ecosystems.
How could it be that Manafort, of all people, snuck into one of the most monitored, surveilled, videoed, and photographed buildings on the planet on three separate occasions without any of that ostensibly “smoking gun” visual evidence having emerged, including in The Guardian’s own story?
This collusion between big business and big government is the textbook definition of fascism, which has morphed into today's network of Orwellian states that not only regularly illegally imprison, banish or deplatform some of the world's most important journalists and whistleblowers, but have successfully propagandized ordinary people (including a staggering number of liberals and progressives) into cheerleading for the mistreatment of such people. Who would have thought that many of the same liberals old enough to fondly remember Daniel Ellsberg's release of The Pentagon Papers would accept the word of intelligence agencies like the FBI and the CIA over that of independent critics? And celebrate the unlawful imprisonment of Julian Assange, whose status as an award-winning independent journalist has been reframed by the perpetual state and the complicit media as a "hacker" who "worked with the Russians" to defeat Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid and irresponsibly leaked information that could put intelligence agents' lives at risk. (Claims that have all nbeen discredited, though you'd never learn that from CNN.)
The network of military departments, government agencies, and weapons manufacturers known as the military-industrial complex now includes the media, which Frank Zappa referred to as the military-industrial complex's "entertainment division." All of this is nowadays called the deep state, or the perpetual state. We can take this concept further: if we include certain academic institutions as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — which Canadian journalist Cory Morningstar calls the Non Profit Industrial Complex — we can elaborate the idea of there being an information or propaganda "construct" that formulates and acts as a container for public opinion. The important function of this Construct is not only to admit into the public consciousness only oligarch-approved narratives, but to filter out information that might create awareness of the oligarchy's various wars and colonial projects (with awareness leading eventually to disapproval). In other words, people are maintained in a state wherein they "don't even know what they don't even know." Hence, people will naively cheerlead for, say, the bombing of Syria, thinking regime change is needed concerning a "brutal dictator who's murdering his own people" all the while unaware that the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been funding, training and equipping al-Qaida and ISIS affiliates in that country, hoping to establish a Salafist state in northern Iraq and parts of Syria. And hence we have people believing the White Helmets are a legitimate humanitarian rescue organization and not a propaganda construct established by a former UK special ops officer. And many complain about a "refugee crisis" without examining the needless wars and coups d'etat that generate refugees in the first place.
The full extent may never be known to which spy agencies have penetrated and influence mainstream media. It could be on par with (or may even surpass) the CIA's infamous Operation Mockingbird via which newsrooms across the United States were infiltrated by spooks throughought the 1960s and 70s. The existence of a secretive department within the NSA devoted specifically to media manipulation is especially disturbing in this regard. (The department was said to have had around 1,500 staff in 2009 and may be larger today. What exactly do these people do? we must ask.)
The Jimmy Dore Show (available for streaming on YouTube) was one of only a tiny number of journalistic outlets to expose the bankruptcy of claims that Russia meaningfully interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Dore has interviewed journalist Aaron Maté (Pushback and The Grayzone Project) about his article series in The Nation for which Maté won an award, with both men having been lone voices for almost two years calling out the Russiagate nonsense.
My purpose in this article is not to exhaustively review examples of the Construct in action. I'll mention a few stories briefly, but will save other examples for future columns, since media deconstruction is my main focus on Solarian. And my next article will offer a list of reliable information resources so readers can conduct their own research and dig fresh tunnels to free their own minds. ButI'll indulge myself for a minute with a few glaring examples of just how bad things have become in state-owned and corporate media. Consider, for instance:
- MSNBC: This supposedly liberal news outlet managed to go for an entire year without mentioning the war on Yemen that has led millions to the brink of starvation, including the deaths of over 80,000 children from malnutrition. Yet the cable news outlet made time for hundreds of reports on the tawdry Stormy Daniels affair. And we can't mention MSNBC without calling out host Rachel Maddow who spent more than two years regaling viewers with the Russiagate conspiracy theory that's completely unravelled (as has been meticulously documented by Aaron Maté).
- New York Times: The "grey old lady" has long been an advocate for various wars, famously pushing out its Arabic-speaking Middle East specialist Chris Hedges for criticizing the invasion of Iraq. The paper reliably misrepresents the nature of various conflicts around the world, rarely offering retractions when "facts" are exposed as propaganda, while readers believe the information adheres to some kind of editing gold standard.
- WashPo: Thinking back to what that aforementioned self-help guru naively posted on Facebook, it's worth mentioning that the Washington Post is owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest person in the world, who also sits on a Pentagon board and whose newspaper for a time had a $600 million contract with the CIA. Just how independent of government should we regard the editorial policies of that "newspaper of record"?
- The Guardian: Perhaps the most tarnished brand from the realm of major dailies is The Guardian. This supposed bastion of liberal/left-wing perspectives — that began publishing way back in 1821 — has offered readers syrupy defences of press freedom and (recently) concern for the plight of imprisoned Julian Assange, even as it has engaged in an ongoing smear campaign against the award-winning Wikileaks founder, including discredited reports from its writer Luke Harding, who's rumoured to be an MI6 asset. Harding wrote that Assange met several times with Trump apparatchik Paul Manafort when the former was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. These claims were easily discredited, yet the newspaper has not issued any retraction or apology. Is it the new norm that a major newspaper can blatantly lie to readers, without anyone paying a price or offering a correction?The Guardian has been exposed as a collaborator with surveillance agencies. As Thomas Scripps wrote on the aptly-named website OffGuardian website, "WikiLeaks has pointed out that the editorial conveniently leaves out that it was the Guardian through a book authored by David Leigh and Luke Harding that disclosed the password to the digital file Assange had given them in confidence." The paper participates in a widespread UK program via which a coterie of journalists, academics and intelligence agency staff coordinate their actions when it's deemed in the national interest. The existence of this program is freely admitted, and stems from a long history of press collaboration with spies and government insiders.
Understanding the full extent of the Construct's reach — the degree to which our individual sovereign consciousnesses are trapped in agitprop, like insects in ancient amber — will be the main focus of this ongoing column. In future articles I'll examine examples of a how consent is manufactured to serve the interests of corporate and other elites in this era of increasingly predatory and unchallenged monopoly capitalism. In my next article list some writers and independent journalists whose work stands outside this Construct. Over time, I'll profile each of these truth-telling writers and outlets, which comprise what I think of as the New Left. Until we encounter the work of these eloquent and courageous writers and broadcasters, it's impossible to comprehend just how awful the current media situation really is.
Not just awful, but patently dangerous.
Environment and business journalist and award-winning book author (The Year of Drinking Magic: Twelve Ceremonies with the Vine of Souls, Apocryphile Press) based in Innisfil, Ontario, Canada and Principal of Crittenden Communication. Contact Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org