I don’t know a way of saying this that won’t sound egotistical so I’m not going to try. One of the most decisive differences – there aren’t many – separating me from most of my fellows is that they think our corporate media can more or less be trusted, especially on matters where those media speak with one voice 1…
… while I know they can’t. These are the very issues, of non-negotiable concern to the plutocrats who beneath a veneer of democracy rule the West, where the business models of those media render them not only systemically incapable of speaking truth to power but make them – in ways which may include but do not necessitate conspiracy and mendacity 2 – dependable aids to the agendas of a US-led empire whose existence they seldom if ever acknowledge. 3
… makes the ideal gift for those whose healthy mistrust of capitalism is compromised by an excess of faith in liberal media
Like many socialists, of far left as much as liberal stripe, I’d laboured under that blinding excess of faith myself. It took the propaganda blitz on Assad to open my eyes to the extent of media corruption. By 2016 I was writing on the West’s dirty, premeditated war on Syria – and drawing flak from liberal and revolutionary alike for my pains. In a post of May 2016 I wrote:
I’ve had fellow academics – who routinely and rightly take their students to task for failing to substantiate assertions in their essays – trot out naively pro-imperialist claims without a shred of evidence. I’ve had a seasoned leftwing activist of proven courage tell me, when asked to back up a claim that Assad is as bad as ISIS, that she’d see what she could “dig up” – then lose her temper when I said that smacked of cherry-picking evidence to prop up an a priori conclusion. And I’ve had a Jewish friend tell me the dirt on Assad “can’t all be made up”. Lesser chaps might fall into the slough of despond when such as he – kinsman to folk who do know a thing or two about industrial scale smear – talk like this
A core example of this authentication-through-repetition is Assad’s putative use of sarin nerve gas, elevated by repeat airings to the status of accepted fact. On this and related matters I’ve seen too many manifestly biased parties pronouncing Assad’s guilt on zero or vanishingly thin evidence; too many gullible groups and individuals relaying such judgments on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also heard intelligent friends who should know better say there’s no smoke without fire, a dangerously complacent axiom when the combined weight of western media speaks with a single and singularly uncritical voice.
Am I labouring this small point? That we should be wary when media whose business models render them handmaidens to power speak with one voice? That instead of suspending our critical faculties at such times, we should place them on heightened alert? Media Lens – whose courtesy, when asking journalists for evidence of claims with real world consequences, is often as not met with abuse or deafening silence 4 – set out the hallmarks of propaganda blitzes:
- They make highly specific claims: Assad gasses children! … Gaddafi: “We will kill them like rats!” … Putin bombs Mariupol hospital! … 400 Ukrainian civilians executed in Bucha …
- The claims are even more highly emotive.
- Their specificity, turbo-emotionalism and blanket repetition across all Western media – to create a ferocious climate for those brave enough to query their accuracy 5 6 – serve knowingly or not to disguise a paucity of reliable evidence from trustworthy sources. 7
- Though whipped up with overnight fury on the basis of a “shock finding”, such claims take root in soil carefully prepared. They are instantly believed, despite the paucity of factual evidence or even reason. Why? Because we have been drip-primed over years and in some cases decades – each dubious claim lending credence to the next – to so believe. These specific claims form the nuts and bolts from which more general ones are built. Those leaders who most incur the wrath of Wall Street, hence Washington, are likened to Hitler; the few who oppose that designation to Chamberlain.)
(There’s another reason why the blitz – or rather, blitzkreig – analogy is useful. Hitler’s literal use of it was devastating in Denmark, France, Holland and other relatively small countries. It failed against the USSR for two reasons. One is that, while Nazi rule posed a mortal threat to certain minorities in non-Slavic Europe, it did not existentially imperil entire nations. This was not the case for the Soviet peoples, who found themselves fighting a war not just for terrain or freedom but for racial survival. The other, more relevant here, is that the vast snowscapes of the USSR slowed then reversed the German advance. In the same way, propaganda blitzes rely on speed, shock and awe. When the momentum slows, sceptics have time to come to their senses and fight back with evidence and reason, though often too late to shift the manufactured public opinion, far less alter material outcomes. So it was with Saddam and his WMDs. So it was with Assad’s Ghouta, Khan Sheikoun and Douma. So it is with Putin’s Mariupol and Bucha.)
Ah, Bucha …
The replies are a curated and biased sample. Click the image to see Paul’s tweeted ‘proof’, and all responses
A few days ago my friend and former Sheffield Hallam colleague, Peter Jones, emailed me a link. It’s to a video by Brian Berletic at New Atlas, a vlogger featured before on this site as a forensic dissecter of corporate media fake news and, indeed, propaganda blitzes. At just over twenty minutes I recommend it not only for light on the Bucha allegations – which, as with other such claims about Empire’s enemies, stand an outside chance of being for once accurate 8 – but as a textbook case of how propaganda blitzes work.
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- Some of my peers are too sophisticated to come right out and say they trust corporate media. Indeed, a few make a living lecturing on how and why those media deceive us but, in the face of propaganda blitzes, have this weird way of forgetting all they know. As do those who make a living lecturing on the dangers of generalising from tiny and skewed samples, the moment a few Syrian, Russian, Uighur or Ukrainian expat acquaintances tell them they can’t stand Assad, Putin or the CCP.
- I could write screeds on ideology, and how it obviates the need – without excluding the possibility – of ‘conspiracy and mendacity’. Instead, I’ll note simply that journalists who know what’s good for them please editors, and editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors not only crave honours and seats at the high table. They also need advertisers and – Guardian admirers take note – deep pocketed sponsors like Gates and Soros. Such men need do nothing so vulgar as spell out their expectations re editorial content. It suffices that they can withdraw their love at any time. Add to these truths the fact our species excels at believing what it suits us to believe, and that media distortion comes more from lies of omission than commission – even those Bucha style blitzes can be explained by shared credulity and the fact all media are drawing on the same few tainted sources whose extreme prejudice they never quite get round to alerting their audiences to – and we have the long and short of why our media cannot be trusted, despite the subjective sincerity of many if not most journalists.
- Tellingly, the only times I recall corporate journalists using the i-word, albeit tangentially, is when media-approved leftists – some call them faux opposition – sneer at “the anti-imperialist left”.
- Examples of eyebrow-raising responses to Media Lens questions – like those put to the ex-Trotskyist Paul Mason – are abundant in the book, with a few cited in my review.
- In a footnote to my previous post, Shills for empire: a matter of intent, I wrote that: “Owen Jones trashed Mother Agnes, head of an organisation mediating between warring factions and working for the safe evacuation of civilians. This Lebanese Christian nun had argued consistently for dialogue and reconciliation … [but] questioned the hole-riddled narrative on Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons at Ghouta.” And in a footnote to a September post, Jacques Baud: a vital voice on Ukraine, I said that “Querying the hole-ridden official narrative on the Bucha massacre is, for Paul Mason, a surefire indicator of one’s status as a Putin apologist and war crimes denialist – much as George Monbiot and Owen Jones took questioning of the hole-ridden narrative on Khan Sheikoun and Douma as indicating one’s status as an Assad apologist and war crimes denialist.” Of course, such stifling of debate is not confined to those still fondly regarded as on the Left – you’ll find the same and worse in rightwing tabloids, and in the writings of a Jonathan Freedland or Simon Tisdall. I cite these voices from the media’s Left tendency to show the blanket nature of propaganda blitz, with its Empire call for all hands on deck. As I put it eighteen months ago in Britain decides: “Because the Guardian (and other liberal media like NYT, HuffPo, Le Monde, Independent etc) do run pieces critical of the establishment on important but ultimately secondary matters, they can cash in the credibility gained to spend it where it most counts. On matters of core concern to our rulers – like demonising persons and/or states posing a challenge to the Western investors whose interests most shape deep state policy – they can be relied on to back the status quo. That closing of media ranks is never more evident than in psyching us up for war. Even writers who formally oppose war, against states which directly or indirectly thwart Wall Street hence Washington, do their bit.”
- The intensity of propaganda blitzes also serves to obscure the sheer irrationality of some claims – such as that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on civilians the week a UN inspection team was set to visit, when those elusive ‘moderate Islamists’ had everything to gain from doing precisely that under a false flag.
- On that paucity of evidence from truly independent sources, another dismaying aspect of the intermittent credulity of too many intellectuals is a susceptibility to bouts of amnesia on another small point – that “we have evidence” is not evidence!
- I leave room for the possibility, however unlikely, of Assad having indeed gassed kids in an act of incomprehensible stupidity. Ditto the other claims cited here. In the fog of war we can never be 100% sure of anything, except the importance of scepticism – not to be confused with cynicism – and need to apply reason, and demand evidence, in the face of media onslaught.