by Charles Sullivan / October 26th, 2007
I have been writing political essays for a few years now. I do so as a reluctant enthusiast, not because I wanted to write on these themes; but because, it seemed to me, that professional journalists were not telling the whole story; that significant parts that would allow people to connect the dots and understand what is happening from a historical perspective, were being deliberately omitted from the official version of current events, and from history.
As propaganda, the elements that are deliberately left out of media are as important as those that are retained. It is propaganda by omission, as much as by content. What people are not told shapes their world view and influences their behavior, as surely as what they are told. Imposed ignorance and selective knowledge go hand in hand to forge public opinion and to shape cultural identity. These conditions set the stage for belligerent government and aggressive nationalism.
It is not coincidental that professional journalists, those who write for profit in the mainstream media, are the least likely to tell us the truth, the whole truth; whereas, free-lance writers, who operate under a different set of rules and out of the mainstream, are more likely to serve the public interest, and tell us what we need to know in order to be a free people, and good world citizens.
Professional journalists are beholden to a code of ethics and personal conduct that free-lance writers are not. Namely, they are part of a fraternity, a part of the cultural orthodoxy, with an incentive in maintaining the established order. The incentive is always financial and professional, and involves creating the acceptance and trust of those in power, which may, when properly executed, even result in the celebrity status of the journalist.
Journalists who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or advancing their careers do not operate in the public interest. Their purpose is not to inform but to deceive.
When a major news anchor reports upon the invasion and occupation of sovereign nations, uncritically putting forth pentagon propaganda as justification for the attack, he or she is in essence acting in the manner of a celebrity athlete endorsing a product. The basketball star may endorse Nike sneakers, manufactured by indentured servants in foreign sweatshops; while the news anchor is endorsing war and disaster capitalism projected around the world by Lockheed Martin and the Carlyle Group. Both are prostitutes.
Mainstream corporate journalism is not about speaking truth to power, it is about selling products and perceptions. It is about creating a culture of ignorant consumers incapable of distinguishing between propaganda and news, fact and fiction.
This is marketing and perception management masquerading as unbiased, objecting reporting. I call it the big lie.
If the mainstream journalist wants to prosper, if they want to have access to the inner circles of power, they must play the game according to the established rules. They must toe the corporate line, and provide cover for the corporate assault on human freedoms, and the conquest of nature, while keeping hidden agendas concealed from public view. Journalists must be able to sell widely objectionable concepts to the people, packaged in the garments of seductive—often patriotic language, in order to make them palatable.
How many soldiers, outside of those under the private contracts of firms like Blackwater, would voluntarily stake their lives for corporate profits, and the subjugation of a sovereign people, if they knew that is what they are really fighting for, rather than the more popular and desirable goal of freedom or democracy?
Freedom, liberation, and democracy have never been corporate objectives; nor can they ever be the objective of corporate governance. They are only selling points that conceal hidden corporate agendas; the attractive packaging for war, occupation, and privatization, obtained at pubic expense.
If news stories are not believable to the multitudes, if they fail to garner popular support by masking corporate agendas behind deceptive language, the majority of governmental polices and private agendas could not be enacted. If the people knew what was being done in their name, and who is profiting from those policies, there might be widespread opposition and even social upheaval. It would be difficult to field a voluntary military that knows it is fighting for the bottom line of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed Martin, rather than for freedom and democracy, as they are told.
Thus those who would serve in the military as self-ordained patriots are sold a bill of goods. By invading and occupying Iraq, they are, in effect, undermining the very principles they claim to hold sacred, including those set forth in the Constitution and the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Likewise, the average US citizen is sold a similar bill of goods in order to garner support for policies they would, presumably, never voluntarily sustain, if they understood them better.
That is the genius of modern capitalism and its impressive marketing apparatus. The results have been breathtaking.
Skillful perception management always precedes empire. Well presented propaganda allows history to be presented as a kind of fairy tale that ignores the horrible things the government has always done in our name, at the behest of corporate America and our wealthiest citizens, which should be too well known to bear reiteration here.
In our capitalist culture, journalism must not be thought of as a reporting of facts, but as marketing propaganda—the selling of ideas that might not otherwise be embraced by those who must carry out hidden agendas, or the people on the receiving end of them. Seen in this way, the US soldier and the Iraqi citizen are both pawns in a rich man’s game: the former as the implementer of unjust war and occupation, the other as the unwilling recipient of them.
The end result for both soldier and Iraqi citizen is tragic: the soldier is told that he or she is protecting their country from foreign threats, something that is patently false; while the innocent Iraqi citizen, defending his or her home from foreign occupation, knows that she or he is not a terrorist, but is treated like one, nevertheless.
Both occupier and the occupied share a common foe, but it is not each other; it is the criminals, aided and abetted by the corporate media, who put them in formal opposition to one another for financial gain.
Our recent history would have been impossible without the consolidation of the media that occurred during the Clinton presidency and has continued ever since. The entire spectra of mainstream media are now under the control of only four or five corporations. We no longer have reporting on local issues stemming from diverse perspectives rooted in local communities, but a monoculture of state and corporate propaganda that betrays the public trust in its pursuit of corporate profits.
Aided by the president and congress, the public owned airwaves were hijacked and are being used against the people by giant multinational corporations.
The result of this media monoculture, as purveyed by the likes of Judith Miller and Tom Brokaw, and countless others, is tragic. And they represent only the tip of the mainstream iceberg. Think of the horrible and shameless lies, the baseless fear and hate that are continuously voiced by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and the hateful broadcasts that emanate from Bob Jones University, masquerading as Christian theology.
Corporate media is the vanguard of empire and environmental destruction on a global scale.
Unlike its corporate counterpart, reporting truth requires people of unassailable integrity. It requires a thirst for justice with the strength of character to oppose the powerful undertow of manufactured perception and conformity, and the seductive language created to execute the hidden agendas of corrupt governments. Uncovering truth requires commitment to the people, rather than to profit driven corporate agendas.
Only a handful of professional journalists have attained the kind of stature that makes such reportage possible in the United States. Their names are not at all well known, with the possible exception of Seymour Hersch, Robert Fisk, Bill Moyers and Greg Palast.
More often than not, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of independent journalists and unpaid free-lancers. The professional journalist must answer to his/her boss, and portray the corporation that employs them in a favorable light, even if they are profiting from unprovoked war and occupation. In contrast, the free-lancer is bound only by the constraints of conscience, imagination, and ability.
Occasionally, an astonished responder to one of my more poignant essays will tell me that I should forward the piece to the New York Times: to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or even the BBC. I never have.
It would be hard for me to imagine any corporation undermining its own profitability by exposing its hidden agendas, and denouncing itself as a commissioner of murder and mayhem, motivated by insatiable greed and a lust for wealth and power that would astonish even the staunchest mafia don. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen! Snowballs in hell have a better chance.
Its not that free-lancers like me wouldn’t like to get paid for what we do; it’s that our views do not enhance the bottom line of corporate giants and, in many cases, actually undermine them. Thus it behooves the professional journalist and the corporate media to ignore or discredit us as purveyors of truth and seekers of justice.
Soon it will be an act of sedition to speak truth in this country. Yet, truth will continue to exist, despite all attempts to destroy it.
Whether they admit it or not, virtually all of the best known journalists in the US subscribe to the racist and sexist ideologies of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny, and they go to great lengths to advance these ideas, by presenting them as something other than what they really are. Slight of hand is the rule of mainstream journalism, not the exception.
Conversely, by serving the people, free-lance journalists are, of necessity, undermining the corporate agenda. Thus they are treated as enemies of the state, which has become indistinguishable from the corporation itself. We live in a culture where one cannot value truth and carry forth corporate agendas. Truth is the enemy of empire.
This might also explain why so many unembedded journalists have been deliberately killed in Iraq and the Gaza strip by US and Israeli snipers. The world must not know what the occupiers do, or the propaganda veneer may no longer have its intended effect on the consumers of media.
Speaking truth to power, especially corrupt power, is dangerous business— particularly in war zones and fascist states, like the one evolving in the US.
Corporate media is the vanguard of colonialism and imperialist policy. It plays a key role in preparing the public mind for imperialist wars and occupations and their subsequent puppet governments; it also serves the emerging police state at home that erodes our freedoms, until there is nothing left of them.
Yet, occasionally, even in this artificially constructed myth loving culture, truth wins out simply because someone cares enough to tell it like it is, without sugar coating. Truth matters; and that is—and always will be—of primal importance to some people. Let future historical records show that there was opposition to what was being done in our name, that there were people willing to speak truth to power, to stem the evil tide by standing up for justice, cost what it may.
Future historians of the dominant culture are likely to cast these accounts into the memory hole and pretend that they never existed, carrying forth the myth that the people were always united behind the injustice and tyranny of our time. We saw this in Nazi Germany in the buildup to World War Two, and we are seeing it now in the US.
But a culture that does not value truth and justice is not worth preserving. Such cultures will self destruct and implode upon themselves; the world will eventually unite against them and bring them down. All of the military might in the world, all the subterfuge, is not powerful enough to overcome simple truth.
Any individual who values truth more than lies, who keeps truth alive in his or her heart, despite all efforts to dislodge it from its ethical moorings, is more powerful than even the most advanced weapons systems. Truth emerges unscathed from the rubble of fallen empire as immutable as an inviolable law of nature. Nothing can bring it down because it is real.
If we are to evolve into a justice loving people, truth must become our moral foundation, the basis of our existence as a people. Truth and justice are inseparable partners on the road to liberation from tyranny and fascism.
Concord’s greatest citizen, the poet-philosopher, Henry D. Thoreau, summed it up well: “The one great rule of composition…is to speak the truth. This first, this second, this third; pebbles in your mouth or not.” Perhaps more than anything, that simplistic ability to speak plain truth, and in all languages, is what I most admire about Thoreau. There is much to admire and respect in a man who spoke in those terms, and lived by that simple credo.
Truth is simple and uncomplicated, whereas lies and distortions are complex. Truth stands strong and unwavering without artificial support; lies and propaganda require elaborate schemes and constant propping up, the mask of deception.
More of us must learn the language of truth; we must be its faithful guardians, if we are to be valuable citizens in this world, rather than the useful idiots of empire. By holding truth and justice in the highest regard, we demonstrate that another world is not only possible, but highly probable.
As voracious consumers of media, we must be as careful about what we admit into our minds, as the food we put into our bodies. Food can nourish and sustain us, or it can produce disease and decay. And so it is with media.
To date, we have not been very discriminate, and the result is that we have become a culture of the mentally obese, fed on junk media. Our minds, our souls, have been deliberately poisoned; our perceptions twisted and distorted, our humanity abandoned to the quest for profits and power.
We must purge our minds of junk media and replace it with something more nutritious, if we favor health over disease. Peace is not possible without two essential ingredients: truth and justice. Neither is possible in the absence of the other. We must live as if truth still matters.
Charles Sullivan is a nature photographer, free-lance writer, and activist residing in the Ridge and Valley Providence of geopolitical West Virginia.