feature
January 01, 2010

 

 

 

Inside the Military Media continued.

The Global Dominance Group and Information Control

A long thread of sociological research documents the existence of a dominant ruling class in the US, which sets policy and determines national political priorities. C. Wright Mills, in his 1956 book The Power Elite, documented how World War II solidified a trinity of power in the US that comprised corporate, military and government elites in a centralized power structure working in unison through “higher circles” of contact and agreement. [vi] This power has grown through the Cold War and, after 9/11, the Global War on Terror.

At present, the global dominance agenda includes penetration into the boardrooms of the corporate media in the US. Only 118 people comprise the membership on the boards of director of the ten big media giants. These 118 individuals in turn sit on the corporate boards of 288 national and international corporations. Four of the top 10 media corporations share board director positions with the major defense contractors including:

William Kennard: New York Times, Carlyle Group

Douglas Warner III, GE (NBC), Bechtel

John Bryson: Disney (ABC), Boeing

Alwyn Lewis: Disney (ABC), Halliburton

Douglas McCorkindale: Gannett, Lockheed-Martin.

Given an interlocked media network of connections with defense and other economic sectors, big media in the United States effectively represent the interests of corporate America. Media critic and historian Norman Solomon described the close financial and social links between the boards of large media-related corporations and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment: “One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media.”[vii]

The Homeland Security Act Title II Section 201(d)(5) provides an example of the interlocked military-industrial-media complex. This Act specifically asks the directorate to “develop a comprehensive plan for securing the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States including information technology and telecommunications systems (including satellites) emergency preparedness communications systems.”

The media elite, a key component of the Higher Circle Policy Elite in the US, are the watchdogs of acceptable ideological messages, the controllers of news and information content, and the decision makers regarding media resources. Their goal is to create symbiotic global news distribution in a deliberate attempt to control the news and information available to society. The two most prominent methods used to accomplish this task are censorship and propaganda.

Sometimes the sensationalist and narrow media coverage of news is blamed upon the need to meet a low level of public taste and thereby capture the eyes of a sufficient market to lure advertisers and to make a profit. But another goal of cornering the marketplace on what news and views will be aired is also prominent. Billionaire Rupert Murdoch loses $50 million a year on the NY Post, billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife loses $2 to $3 million a year on the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, billionaire Philip Anschutz loses around $5 million a year on The Weekly Standard, and billionaire Sun Myung Moon has lost $2 to $3 billion on The Washington Times. The losses in supporting conservative media are part of a strategy of ideological control. They also buy bulk quantities of ultra-conservative books bringing them to the top of the NY Times bestseller list and then give away copies to “subscribers” to their websites and publications. They fund conservative “think tanks” like Heritage and Cato with hundreds of millions of dollars a year. All this buys them respectability and a megaphone. Even though William Kristol’s publication, the Standard, is a money-loser, his association with it has often gotten him on TV talk shows and a column with The New York Times. Sponsorships of groups like Grover Norquist’s anti-tax “Americans for Tax Reform” regularly get people like him front-and-center in any debate on taxation in the United States. This has contributed to extensive tax cuts for the wealthy and the most unfair tax laws of any industrialized country – all found acceptable by a public relying upon soundbites about the dangers of ‘big government.’ Hence media corporation officials and others in the health care, energy and weapons industries remain wealthier than ordinary people can imagine. Their expenditures for molding opinion are better understood as investments in a conservative public ideology. [viii]

Modern Media Censorship and Propaganda

A broader definition of contemporary censorship needs to include any interference, deliberate or not, with the free flow of vital news information to the public. Modern censorship can be seen as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story – or piece of a news story – based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth. Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions). or threats to reduce future access to governmental and corporate sources of news. Following are a few examples of censorship and propaganda.

1. Omitted or Undercovered Stories — The failure of the corporate media to cover human consequences, like one million , mostly civilian deaths of Iraqis, reduces public response to the wars being conducted by the US. Even when activists do mobilize, the media coverage of anti-war demonstrations has been negligible and denigrating from the start. When journalists of the so-called free press ignore the anti-war movement, they serve the interests of their masters in the military media industrial complex. [ix] 

Further, the corporate mainstream press continues to ignore the human cost of the US war in Iraq with America’s own veterans. Veteran care, wounded rates, mental disabilities, VA claims, first hand accounts of soldier experiences, and pictures of dead or limbless soldiers are rare. One of the most important stories missed by the corporate press concerned the Winter Soldier Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. The hearings, with eyewitness testimony of US soldiers relating their experiences on the battlefield and beyond, were only covered by a scant number of major media, and then only in passing. In contrast to the virtual corporate media blackout concerning American soldiers’ views of the war, the independent, listener sponsored, community Pacifica Radio network covered the hearings at length. [x]

A common theme among the most censored stories over the past few years has been the systemic erosion of human rights and civil liberties in both the US and the world at large. The corporate media has ignored the fact that habeas corpus can now be suspended for anyone by order of the President. With the approval of Congress, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006, signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, allows for the suspension of habeas corpus for US citizens and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in The New York Times October 19, 2006, have offered false comfort that American citizens will not be the victims, the Act is quite clear that ‘any person’ can be targeted. [xi]

Additionally, under the code-name Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally), federally coordinated mass arrests have been occurring since April 2005 and netted over 54,000 arrests, a majority of whom were not violent criminals as was initially suggested. This unprecedented move of arresting tens of thousands of “fugitives” is the largest dragnet style operation in the nation’s history. The raids, coordinated by the Justice Department and Homeland Security, directly involved over 960 agencies (state, local and federal) and mark the first time in US history that all domestic police agencies have been put under the direct control of the federal government. [xii] 

All these events are significant in a democratic society that claims to cherish individual rights and due process of law. To have them occur is a tragedy. To have a “free” press not report them or pretend these issues do not matter to the populace is the foundation of censorship today.

2. Repetition of Slogans and Sound Bites — The corporate media in the US present themselves as unbiased and accurate. The New York Times motto of “all the news that’s fit to print” is a clear example, as is CNN’s authoritative “most trusted name in news” and Fox’s mantra of “fair and balanced.” The slogans are examples of what linguist George Lakoff has referred to as framing. Through constant repetition, the metaphors and symbols that pervade our media turn into unquestioned beliefs.  Terms like “liberal media,” “welfare cheaters,” “war on terror,” illegal aliens,” “tax burden,” “support our troops,” are all distorted images serving to conceal a transfer of wealth from people needing a safety net to corporations seeking profitable markets and military expansion.

3. Embedded Journalism — The media are increasingly dependent on governmental and corporate sources of news. Maintenance of continuous news shows requires a constant feed and an ever-entertaining supply of stimulating events and breaking news bites. The 24-hour news shows on MSNBC, Fox and CNN maintain constant contact with the White House, Pentagon, and public relations companies representing both government and private corporations.

By the time of the Gulf War in 1991, retired colonels, generals and admirals had become mainstays in network TV studios during wartime. Language such as “collateral damage” and “smart bombs” flowed effortlessly between journalists and military men, who shared perspectives on the occasionally mentioned but more rarely seen civilians killed by U.S. firepower.  This clearly foreshadowed the structure of “embedded” reporting in the second Iraq War, where mainstream corporate journalists literally lived with the troops and had to submit all reports for military review. [xiii]

A related militarization of news studies by Diane Farsetta at the Center for Media Democracy documented a related introduction of bias. These investigations showed Pentagon propaganda penetration on mainstream corporate news in the guise of retired Generals as “experts” or pundits who turned out to be nothing more than paid shills for government war policy. [xiv] 

The problem then becomes more complex. What happens to a society that begins to believe such lies as truth? The run up to the 2003 war in Iraq concerning weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is a case in point. It illustrates the power of propaganda in creating not only public support for an ill-begotten war, but also reduces the possibility of a peace movement, even when fueled by the truth, to stop a war based on falsehoods. The current war in Iraq was the most globally protested war in recorded history. This did nothing to stop it and has done little to end it even under a Democratic president who promised such on the campaign trail. The candidate of “hope and change,” with peace groups in tow, has proven to be dependent upon the same interests in foreign policy that got the US into war in the first place. [xv]

The Progressive Press

Where the left progressive press may have covered some of the Winter Soldier issues, most did not cover the major story of Iraqi deaths. In Manufacturing Consent, Wharton School of Business Professor of Political Economy Edward Herman and MIT Institute Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky claim that because media are firmly embedded in the market system, they reflect the class values and concerns of their owners and advertisers. The corporate media maintain a class bias through five systemic filters: concentrated private ownership; a strict bottom-line profit orientation; over-reliance on governmental and corporate sources for news; a primary tendency to avoid offending the powerful; and an almost religious worship of the market economy. These filters limit what will become news in society and set parameters on acceptable coverage of daily events. [xvi] 

The danger of these filters is that they make subtle and indirect censorship more difficult to combat. Owners and managers share class identity with the powerful and are motivated economically to please advertisers and viewers. Social backgrounds influence their conceptions of what is “newsworthy,” and their views and values seem only “common sense.” Journalists and editors are not immune to the influence of owners and managers. Reporters want to see their stories approved for print or broadcast, and editors come to know the limits of their freedom to diverge from the “common sense” worldview of owners and managers. The self-discipline that this structure induces in journalists and editors comes to seem only “common sense” to them as well. Self-discipline becomes self-censorship—independence is restricted, the filtering process hidden, denied, or rationalized away.

Project Censored’s analysis on the top ten progressive left publications and websites coverage of key post-9/11 issues found considerable limitations on reporting of specific stories. The evidence supports the Chomsky and Herman understanding that the media barrage may in fact contribute to the news story selection process inside the left liberal media as well. [xvii] Even the left progressive media showed limited coverage of the human costs of the 9/11 wars.

The figure reported in summer, 2007 documenting a million dead did appear in progressive websites and radio including After Downing Street, Huffington Post, CounterPunch, Alternet, Democracy Now! and the Nation, but several took months to get to it. This lack of timely reporting on such a critical story on the humanitarian crisis of the US occupation by the alternative press in America does not bode well for a strong, public, peace movement.  The US is in dire need of a media democracy movement to address truth emergency concerns.

In response, the Truth Emergency Movement, held its first national strategy summit in Santa Cruz, California Jan. 25-27, 2008. Organizers gathered key media constituencies to devise coherent decentralized models for distribution of suppressed news, synergistic truth-telling, and collaborative strategies to disclose, legitimize and popularize deeper historical narratives on power and inequality in the US. In sum, this truth movement is seeking to discover in this moment of Constitutional crisis, ecological peril, and widening war, ways in which top investigative journalists, whistleblowers, and independent media activists can transform how Americans perceive and defend their world. We learn from grassroots actions in the US but also from experiences of other countries. This requires us to transcend the stereotypes of other countries hammered by the corporate media. It is not by chance that two Latin American nations, both targets of US efforts to remove their popular leaders by force, have been vilified by mainstream media. Both Cuba and Venezuela, however, have been experiments in local democratic participation in which voices of communities weigh heavily upon social policy.

International Models of Media Democracy in Action: Venezuela

Democracy from the bottom is evolving as a ten-year social revolution in Venezuela. Led by President Hugo Chavez, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) gained over 11⁄2 million voters in the November, 2008 elections. “It was a wonderful victory,” said Professor Carmen Carrero with the communications studies department of the Bolivarian University in Caracas. “We won 81 percent of the city mayor positions and seventeen of twenty-three of the state governors,” Carrero reported.

The Bolivarian University is housed in the former oil ministry building and now serves 8,000 students throughout Venezuela. The University (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela) is symbolic of the democratic socialist changes occurring throughout the country. Before the election of Hugo Chavez as president in 1998, college attendance was primarily for the rich in Venezuela. Today over one million, eight hundred thousand students attend college, three times the rate ten years ago. “Our university was established to resist domination and imperialism,” reported Principal (president) Marlene Yadira Cordova in an interview November 10, 2008, “We are a university where we have a vision of life that the oppressed people have a place on this planet.” The enthusiasm for learning and serious-thoughtful questions asked by students was certainly representative of a belief in the potential of positive social change for human betterment. The University offers a fully staffed free healthcare clinic, zero tuition, and basic no-cost food for students in the cafeteria, all paid for by the oil revenues now being democratically shared by the people.

Bottom up democracy in Venezuela starts with the 25,000 community councils elected in every neighborhood in the country. “We establish the priority needs of our area,” reported community council spokesperson Carmon Aponte, with the neighborhood council in the barrio Bombilla area of western Caracas. Aponte works with Patare Community TV and radio station and is one of thirty-four locally controlled community television stations and four hundred radio stations now in the barrios throughout Venezuela. Community radio, TV and newspapers are the voice of the people, where they describe the viewers/listeners as the “users” of media instead of the passive audiences. [xviii]

Democratic socialism has meant healthcare, jobs, food, and security, in neighborhoods where in many cases nothing but poverty existed ten years ago. With unemployment down to a US level, sharing the wealth has taken real meaning in Venezuela. Despite a 50 percent increase in the price of food last year, local Mercals offer government subsidized cooking oil, corn meal, meat, and powdered milk at 30-50 percent off market price. Additionally, there are now 3,500 local communal banks with a $1.6 billion dollar budget offering neighborhood-based micro-financing loans for home improvements, small businesses, and personal emergencies.

“We have moved from a time of disdain [pre-revolution—when the upper classes saw working people as less than human] to a time of adjustment,” proclaimed Ecuador’s minister of Culture, Gallo Mora Witt at the opening ceremonies of the Fourth International Book Fair in Caracas, November 2007. Venezuela’s Minister of Culture, Hector Soto added, “We try not to leave anyone out . . . before the revolution the elites published only 60-80 books a year, we will publish 1,200 Venezuelan authors this year…the book will never stop being the important tool for cultural feelings.” In fact, some twenty-five million books — classics by Victor Hugo and Miguel de Cervantes along with Cindy Sheehan’s Letter to George Bush — were published in 2008 and are being distributed to the community councils nationwide. The theme of the International Book Fair was books as cultural support to the construction of the Bolivarian revolution and building socialism for the 21st century.

In Venezuela the corporate media are still owned by the elites. The five major TV networks, and nine of ten of the major newspapers maintain a continuing media effort to undermine Chavez and the socialist revolution. But despite the corporate media and $20 million annual support to the anti-Chavez opposition institutions from USAID and National Endowment for Democracy, two-thirds of the people in Venezuela continue to support President Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. The democracies of South America are realizing that the neo-liberal formulas for capitalism are not working and that new forms of resource allocation are necessary for human betterment. It is a learning process for all involved and certainly a democratic effort from the bottom up.

International Models of Media Democracy in Action: Cuba

“You cannot kill truth by murdering journalists,” said Tubal Páez, president of the Journalist Union of Cuba. In May of 2008, One hundred and fifty Cuban and South American journalists, ambassadors, politicians, and foreign guests gathered at the Jose Marti International Journalist Institute to honor the 50th anniversary of the death of Carlos Bastidas Arguello —the last journalist killed in Cuba. Carlos Bastidas was 23 years old when he was assassinated by Fulgencia Batista’s secret police after having visited Fidel Castro’s forces in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Edmundo Bastidas, Carlos’ brother, told about how a river of change flowed from the Maestra (teacher) mountains, symbolized by his brother’s efforts to help secure a new future for Cuba.

The celebration in Havana was held in honor of World Press Freedom Day, which is observed every year in May. The UN first declared this day in 1993 to honor journalists who lost their lives reporting the news and to defend media freedom worldwide.

Cuban journalists share a common sense of a continuing counter-revolutionary threat by US financed Cuban-Americans living in Miami. This is not an entirely unwarranted feeling in that many hundreds of terrorist actions against Cuba have occurred with US backing over the past fifty years. In addition to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, these attacks include the blowing up of a Cuban airlines plane in 1976 killing seventy-three people, the starting in 1981 of an epidemic of dengue fever that killed 158 people, and several hotel bombings in the 1990s, one of which resulted in the death of an Italian tourist.

In the context of this external threat, Cuban journalists quietly acknowledge that some self-censorship will undoubtedly occur regarding news stories that could be used by the “enemy” against the Cuban people. Nonetheless, Cuban journalists strongly value freedom of the press and there was no evidence of overt government control. Ricardo Alarcon, President of the National Assembly Cuba allows CNN, AP and Chicago Tribune to maintain offices in Cuba, noted that the US refuses to allow Cuban journalists to work in the United States. [xix]

Cuban journalists complain that the US corporate media is biased and refuses to cover the positive aspects of socialism in Cuba. Unknown to most Americans are the facts that Cuba is the number one country in percentage of organic foods produced in the world, has an impressive health care system with a lower infant mortality rate than the US, trains doctor from all over the world, and has enjoyed a 43% increase in GDP between 2005 and 2008.

Neither Cuba nor Venezuela are utopian societies. Developing countries subject to continuing pressure by the US may be cautious and suspicious of provocateurs that would incite violence or provoke US military intervention. But in these countries, the ability of local media expressing voices of local communities is something from which media reformers can learn.