The Corporate Media’s
Threat To Freedom
By Mike Whitney
16 November, 2005
There is no similarity between the corporate media and a “free press”. The corporate media operates according to its structural make-up, which requires it to serve the interests of ownership and maximize profits. Its top-down style of management ensures that it will align itself with the political centers of power which create the opportunity for greater prosperity. This explains why the media giants have consistently concealed the Bush administration’s attacks on civil liberties, supported the expansion of executive power, and paved the way for global war. After all, they are just acting in their own best interest, accommodating the political establishment to allow for more consolidation and expansion. One hand washes the other.
The cozy relationship between the administration and the media has made it nearly impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. In fact, the media is the primary instrument of state policy. Its task is to shape the public’s perception of government and to project a benign image of the US to the world beyond.
Naturally, this symbiotic relationship has intensified as the needs of the administration have increased. Now, the media crafts the storyline of American magnanimity while the US military carries out war crimes in Falluja or torture in Baghdad. It showers praise on the Dear Leader while thousands wallow in squalor in New Orleans or are cluster-bombed in Tal Afar. It waves the flags and sings the patriotic anthems that prepare the nation for war. The media has become indistinguishable from the political establishment; executing its duties in a manner that best serve the objectives of the state.
Confidence in the media has never been lower. A broad section of the public doesn’t believe anything they read in the papers nor do they see reporters as impartial observers of world events. This should be no great surprise. The model of a privately-owned media ensures that the facts are massaged to suit ownership; a practice that inevitably undermines credibility.
The marriage between the media and the state increases the danger to the public interests. This is especially true when the media becomes a marketing tool for the government, promoting its vastly unpopular wars, its attacks on the social safety-net, and its vicious assault on civil liberties.
The media has become an adversary to the people it is supposed to serve. It now functions exclusively as a weapon in the imperial arsenal; exalting the state and its wartime agenda, while savaging the institutions of democracy and personal liberty. Its role as state-propagandist is conspicuous in everything from its blind devotion to the president to its obfuscation of facts that discredit the administration.
If we consider a few of the critical stories the mainstream media suppressed, we get a clearer idea of its overall agenda.
The media refused to cover the allegations of irregularities in the 2004 presidential election; dismissing the anomalies as conspiracy theories. Independent investigations have cast serious doubt on the legitimacy of the balloting, and just last week, the GAO confirmed suspicions that widespread voter fraud may have taken place. Whether or not the elections were fairly conducted is immaterial; given the suspicious results of the 2000 election, this was a story that should have been covered. Instead, it was purposely ignored to silence critics and divert attention from the dysfunctional electoral system.
The media has refused to cover the massive and devastating siege of Falluja; an assault that displaced 250,000 civilians and intentionally destroyed water lines, electrical power, sewage treatment plants, government buildings, hospitals and schools. Even now, a full year later, journalists have been kept from entering the city or photographing the largest single war crime of the ongoing conflict. And, even though news services around the world are confirming the use of banned weapons, including napalm and other “unidentified” substances during the attack, the American media refuses to give details or demand an independent investigation. It is interesting to compare the media’s silence on the carnage in Iraq to its front-page coverage of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lavish attention has been devoted to Hariri’s death because it advances the administration’s foreign policy goals. Once again, the media is clearing the path for future imperial conflicts by building the case for war against Syria.
The media has also refused to cover the Downing Street Memo; the damning document written by a member of Tony Blair’s national security team who verified that Bush planned to “remove Saddam through military force” as early as July, 2003 (even though the administration was saying that that it would “exhaust all peaceful means”) The unprovoked attack would be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
Even though the memo provided the first piece of irrefutable evidence that the administration deliberately manipulated the facts, no American newspaper referred to the memo for more than 7 weeks after its discovery. The details of the Downing Street Memo are still unknown to many Americans, allowing Bush to continue to deny the cherry-picking of pre-war intelligence. The memo proves that Bush is lying.
The media has also refused to provide any coverage of the mercenaries who were deployed to the streets of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. This is the first time in American history that a foreign (corporate) army has carried out operations on US soil. The media made sure that no photos of these corporate warriors appeared in any of the newspapers or TV programs. The absence of coverage raises serious questions about censorship in Bush’s America.
The media refuses to provide news of the Iraq war and the devastation of Sunni heartland. Al Qaim, Husbaya, and Tel Afar have all been attacked with the same ferocity as Falluja; forcing the townspeople to flee and then destroying the water, electricity, sewage and other critical parts of the infrastructure. The Pentagon is now engaged in a scorched earth strategy knowing full well that its policy of killing journalists will keep the story from being reported. The obliteration of these cities shows that the military has abandoned the idea of achieving a political solution in Iraq. The present strategy is aimed at “destroying the resistance’s ability to wage war”, by systematically laying to waste one city after another. This is the Rumsfeld solution, but you won’t find it in the media.
The news from Iraq focuses entirely on the random acts of violence which perpetuate racial stereotypes of Islamic extremists. This provides the justification for the continuing American occupation. The media has worked in conjunction with the Pentagon to create the story of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; the embodiment of a ruthless Muslim fanatic who kills simply because he “hates freedom”.
No one can categorically deny that Zarqawi may exist. The fact is, however, that there has never been a positive identification of him, nor has anyone ever provided concrete proof of his whereabouts. Reporters are responsible to provide the facts to their readers, not to promote a narrative that suits the Pentagon’s agenda.
These are just a few of the stories that the media has refused to cover because they conflict with the goals of the administration. If we look deeper we see that the Cheney Energy papers, the 9-11 “whitewash, the corporate scandals, the “Able Danger” program, and the attacks on civil liberties, have all met a similar fate. Stories that are incompatible with the aims of ownership or administration policy are usually left on the cutting room floor.
Freedom is impossible where the information systems are monopolized by private industry. Democracy requires that people have access to divergent points of view so they can form opinions free from coercive influences. The corporate model aims at uniformity in order to limit the range of debate and promote a business-friendly agenda. In America, the news has become a study in uniformity; presenting the very same topics from precisely the same perspective. This creates the impression that the facts are generally agreed upon, which is not the case. 65% of the American people do not support the media’s pro-war stance, and yet, the anti-war position is nowhere to be found on commercial TV.
The war on terror is not simply a misguided crusade against non-state actors like Al Qaida. It is a sweeping plan for global corporate domination. Managing information is vital to that effort. Knowledge is power, and there is a deliberate attempt to seize that power by controlling the sources of information. In effect, it is the privatization of the truth; standardizing information through greater media consolidation and disseminating it through its own filtering systems. Its inhibiting effects on our democracy have already been seen in the curtailing of civil liberties and the twisting of facts that led to the Iraq war. The further merging of the state and the media portend a strengthening of autocratic government and a loss of personal liberty.
The multi-headed dragon of corporate media must be confronted and defeated. Al Qaida may pose a threat to our security, but the alliance of state and media poses a clear and present danger to our freedom.