Is it stupid to believe media propaganda?

17 Jun

A good friend emailed apropos my most recent post, two reads on media propaganda. The reads in question were by Caitlin Johnstone and Media Lens, and my friend wrote that:

[Caitlin’s] explanation of how we become indoctrinated makes me feel less stupid.

My friend is far from stupid. Ditto a liberal intelligentsia whose myopia I bewail even as I stress that its ranks include personal friends and for that matter – until my eyes were forced at least partially open by the propaganda blitzes on Syria, Russia, Corbyn and Assange – yours truly.

Hate the sin,  say the Christians, some of whom do try to walk the talk, but love the sinner. I get that. Really I do. In attacking the blinkered absurdities of the liberal worldview  …

In just 200 years we’ve progressed from expecting our leaders to slaughter brown skinned people while saying racist things, to expecting our leaders to slaughter brown skinned people while condemning racism.

Caitlin Johnstone 1

… my aim, however ineptly I go about trying to realise it, is not to make its adherents feel bad about themselves. Or me good about myself. As one comment on that two reads post points out, fifteen years ago I put out the very Islamophobic views slated in the Media Lens takedown of Martin Amis. Whatever the motives of the author of that comment – and these will be mixed since he, like me, is human – he was absolutely right.

Because here’s the thing. I stick my neck out. I take risks, make mistakes. Some of them serious. And I too have mixed motives. I often say, only half in jest, that on finishing a post, I  feel better; everybody else feels worse.  What’s more, for all I moan about the burden and am prey to twice weekly doubt on the usefulness of this site, such self-indulgence is trumped many times over by my sense of being blessed in having stumbled on something I’m good at, gives me satisfaction (so I take a good deal of care over) and actually matters.

None of this I expected. I’m a lucky man. But it’s not all luck. For all my mistakes and raging ego – that too goes with our humanity and it constantly shapeshifts – I am sickened by the criminal insanity of those who rule our world behind a veneer of democracy, and by our media’s services to power in concealing the same. My desire for radical change is genuine. I’m not interested in being in a club – for better and worse, I’ve become decidedly more introvert with age – but am  interested in truth. On which I have a proven record of acknowledging my errors publicly, once I’ve seen them as such.

Evidence? Here’s what I wrote six and a half years ago, in a post headed Am I Islamophobe? Not any more.

Eight years ago, after Iraq and Kings Cross but before Libya and Syria, I put out a post entitled Am I Islamophobe? Probably. In it I foolishly located the roots of Salafist violence in Islam’s core tenets, singling out the fact that, unlike post-Enlightenment Christianity, Islam has had no Reformation, leaving Muslims with no real alternative to literalist interpretations of its scriptures. 2

There was a great deal wrong with that argument. 

Do read the post in full. It goes in some detail into what ‘was wrong with that argument’.

Had I been intent on sweeping my earlier and thoroughly wrongheaded post under the carpet, I would not have posted, last month, so ringing an endorsement of the Media Lens piece. The said endorsement cried out for that boys in glass houses  reminder that Martin Amis isn’t the only chap with form on going public with deeply flawed assessments. Indeed, that I issued no such reminder myself is due solely to the fact, implied in my opening line of that post …

I’m rubber tramping again … so will keep this brief.

… that I was tapping it out in haste on a phone while parked by Holy Loch.

(Beneath whose waves, lest we lose sight of where the real criminality lies, the engines of ‘our’ WW3 capable nuclear subs quietly purr. Since Britain faces no credible threat, least of all of an unprovoked attack by China or Russia, those who despite everything are paying attention know that these leviathans are not for what our corporate media refer to, on occasion mendaciously but more often credulously, as ‘defence’ purposes. Rather, since they understand the nature of imperialism, those paying attention know that their real purpose – alongside that of effecting a transfer of wealth from the many to the few (aka major stakeholders in Britain’s lucrative death sectors) – is to enforce globally the interests of the tiny elite who rule this green and pleasant.)

More? For the 15th anniversary of 9/11 I wrote a widely read 2016 piece scathing of “truther” claims of that day’s events being a false flag or inside job. I still don’t claim to know just what did happen but do know there are huge inconsistencies and gaping holes in the official (NIST) account. (Just one being the deafening silence on why WTC 7 fell when no plane had struck it.) These go far beyond what can be attributed to authority seeking to whitewash failures of due care. It took me two years to do it, and I’m indebted to the generosity of Off-Guardian editor Catte Black, but I owned my folly in a 2018 post, 9/11 Unmasked – at once a book review and recantation of that earlier, sneering post. 3

Doubtless I’ll make further mistakes. Possibly of equal or greater magnitude. Maybe I’ll come to see them as such. In which case you have my promise to come clean on them. Because that, for all my many failings, is what I do.


But back to the question in my title. No, being taken in by The Matrix is not proof of stupidity. As I say in that two reads post, news media propaganda does not operate in isolation. It taps and in turn feeds into ideological currents of a more general nature, currents running deeper than rational consciousness. This is why on the one hand leftists, on the other academics who can hold forth at length on media bias, are no more immune to propaganda blitzes – such as those on a Putin or Assad – than the average guy in the street.

And we do well to bear in mind that the propagandists themselves are usually no more clued up than that guy in the street. That said, theirs is a heavier duty of care. Caitlin’s 15 reasons post is a must read but, in the meantime, I stand by what I said in a footnote to a post last month:

The “subjective sincerity of most journalists” does not absolve them. Yes, it beggars belief that all are outright liars, but they are  guilty of self-serving credulity. (I recently posted on that last, in the context of Economist coverage of Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse failure.) Journalists who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors crave seats at the high table. More fundamentally they need advertisers and/or, as with The Guardian, rich sponsors like Gates and Soros. These realities are compounded by the fact that media distortion, which on matters vital to power is immense, is shaped more by lies of omission – see Telling a Martian what hospitals do – than commission. The former are safer and over the long haul more effective in maintaining powerful myths – Western democracy informed by independent media is a thing … the US Empire is not … each instantiation of an endless succession of foreign leaders in the way of the not-empire’s planetary plunder really is The New Hitler – which consistently trump mere evidence and defy the ABC, known to any functioning human being over the age of twelve, of how power works. The upshot? Hundreds of millions of otherwise sane and intelligent people buying the preposterous notion that Bashar al-Assad or Vladimir Putin pose a greater threat to peace than an empire which, inter alia,  has slain millions in this century alone. To which end the gaping omissions of that self-servingly credulous profession have been vital.

Still on the subject of media lies of omission, and neglect of their ostensible duty of care, some media boost their credibility by embarrassing power in important but not pivotal arenas, 4 while drawing on that credibility to whip up loathing of “foreign leaders in the way of the not-empire’s planetary plunder” . Here’s former Guardian columnist Jonathan Cook on the subject of George Monbiot, who writes beautifully on links between big money and a trashed environment. Sadly but inevitably George shrinks from joining all  the dots. In other writings he pens attacks – not just on Washington’s designated enemies, but on those who resist the propaganda – which are objectively empire serving. 5 Of which Jonathan, writing before Russia’s decisive intervention of 2015/16 stymied the West’s regime change plans for Damascus, said this:

Monbiot has repeatedly denied he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.


My flawed but brilliant spiritual teacher routinely implored his students to set aside feelings of guilt and shame; likewise our egoic investment, half hidden by and from ourselves, in our own perfection. We should simply look, he said, with neither judgmental nor wavering eye at what is true. Take in the science of it all.

That goes for the world within, and the world without. This isn’t about whether you and I are stupid.

* * *

  1. Silence or worse on US genocide in the global south is brought shockingly home by Media Lens, who cite coverage of a Brown University report drawing on UN data and expert analyses.

    On May 15, the Washington Post described how the report, ‘How Death Outlives War: The Reverberating Impact of the Post-9/11 Wars on Human Health’, has attempted ‘to calculate the minimum number of excess deaths attributable to the war on terrorism, across conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen’.

    The Post commented:

    The accounting, so far as it can be measured, puts the toll at 4.5 million to 4.6 million — a figure that continues to mount as the effects of conflict reverberate. Of those fatalities, the report estimates, some 3.6 million to 3.7 million were “indirect deaths” caused by the deterioration of economic, environmental, psychological and health conditions.

    The report makes clear that these figures are conservative and constantly rising:

    Some of these people were killed in the fighting, but far more, especially children, have been killed by the reverberating effects of war, such as the spread of disease. These latter indirect deaths – estimated at 3.6-3.7 million – and related health problems have resulted from the post-9/11 wars’ destruction of economies, public services, and the environment. Indirect deaths grow in scale over time. Though in 2021 the United States withdrew military forces from Afghanistan, officially ending a war that began with its invasion 20 years prior, today Afghans are suffering and dying from war-related causes at higher rates than ever.

  2. In 2017, for the 500th anniversary of what by tradition is deemed to have kicked off that momentous event, I wrote Reading the Reformation.
  3. My 2008 attack on Islam incensed some  white middle class liberals. Essentially though, they and I shared the same flawed idealism, skewered by Caitlin’s pithy remark on 200 years of ‘progress’ re the slaughter of brown-skinned people. My miscalculation on 9/11, by contrast, had other roots. I was tapping the Marxism of my younger days, but doing so in a vulgar way. Specifically, so confident was I in the logic  of the case against ‘truthism’ that I saw no need to address its empirical  basis. In First they came for the socialists, written weeks after my public u-turn – and motivated by a Huffington Post attack on a courageous academic, Piers Robinson – I wrote:

    I do not know what happened on September 11, 2001, Robinson’s position on which is the thrust of HuffPo’s attack. I do know I was way too quick to condemn, on logical rather than empirical grounds, all 9/11 Truthers. Most inexcusably, I confused a marxist view – that conspiracy is not needed to explain the demonic logic of capital in the age of imperialism – with the non sequitur that 9/11 could not have been a false flag operation.

  4. A good example of media gaining credibility “by embarrassing power in important but not pivotal arenas” is given by The Guardian’s recent and excellent investigation of the British Royal Family’s financial affairs.
  5. There’s a reason I criticise George Monbiot and it isn’t personal antipathy. It’s that, like fellow Guardian leftist Owen Jones, his de facto endorsement of official narratives – as disgraceful on Assad as on Assange – draws on his kudos on the Left. Opinions which would be viewed with suspicion from a Simon Tisdall or Jonathan Freedland have an insidious way of being uncritically embraced when advanced by George or Owen.

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