BOOK REVIEW: Guardians of Power (David Cromwell & David Edwards)
|Thursday, January 10,2008 00:18|
|By Stephen Lendman|
David Cromwell is a Scottish writer, activist and oceanographer at the National Oceanography Centre in Britain. David Edwards is also a UK writer who focuses
Today, the media is in crisis, and a free and open society is at risk. Fiction substitutes for fact, news is carefully filtered, dissent is marginalized, and supporting the powerful substitutes for full and accurate reporting. As a result, wars of aggression are called liberating ones, civil liberties are suppressed for our own good, and patriotism means going along with governments that are lawless.
The authors challenge these views and those in the mainstream who reflect them - the managers, editors and journalists. Their aim in Media Lens and their writing is to “raise public awareness” to see “reality” as they do, free from the corrupting influence of media corporations and their single-minded pursuit of profit “in a society
The authors go further and say their “aim is to increase rational awareness, critical thought and compassion, and to decrease greed, hatred and ignorance (and do it by) highlight(ing) significant examples of systemic media distortion.” There are no shortage of examples.
That objective is highlighted in their 2006 book, “Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media” and subject of this review. It’s a work distinguished
The Mass Media - Neutral, Honest, Psychopathic
Years ago, journalist and author AJ Liebling said “The press is free only to those who own one.” He also warned that “People everywhere confuse what they read
The authors thus argue that the entire corporate mass media, including broadcasters like BBC and the so-called mislabeled “liberal media,” function as a “propaganda system for elite interests.” It’s especially true for topics like “US-UK government responsibility for genocide, vast corporate criminality, (and) threats to the very existence of human life - (they’re) distorted, suppressed, marginalized or ignored.” Cromwell and Edwards present documented forensic proof to set the record straight and expose corporate media duplicity.
Doing it requires “understanding (that) curious abstract entity - the corporation,” more specifically publicly-owned ones. They’re required by law to maximize shareholder equity and do it by increasing revenue and profits. Corporate law prohibits boards of directors and senior executives from being friends of the earth, good community members or whatever else may detract from that primary goal. Social responsibility is off the table if it reduces profits, and executives
That led Canadian law professor Joel Bakan to call corporations “psychopathic creatures” that can’t recognize or act morally or avoid committing harm. It shows up at home and in foreign wars of aggression with Iraq as Exhibit A that’s the focus of three of the book’s 13 chapters.
First, an explanation of what Chomsky and Herman called the “propaganda model” in “Manufacturing Dissent” and that Herman later wrote about in “The Myth of the Liberal Media.” It works by focusing on “the inequality of wealth and power” and how those with it “filter out the news to print, marginalize dissent (and assure) government and dominant private interests” control all information the public gets. It’s done through a set of “filters” that remove what’s to be suppressed and “leav(es) only the cleansed (acceptable) residue fit to print” or broadcast on-air. The media is largely shaped by market forces and bottom line considerations. They
More generally, the dominant media serve wealth and power interests that include their own as well as other corporate giants. They thus rely on “official sources” for news and information and ignore others considered “unreliable.” More accurately, they ignore the unempowered who have no say or whose views are out of the “mainstream.”
Media expert, Robert McChesney, explains the dilemma by saying publishers know their journalists must appear neutral and unbiased when, in fact, that notion
-- to appear neutral, journalists rely on “official sources” as legitimate news and opinion when, in fact, they’re not;
-- a news “hook” or dramatic event is needed to justify covering a story, but the power elite does the selecting to serve its own interests; and
-- advertisers apply pressure so content favors or at least won’t offend them.
McChesney also explains that “balanced (journalism) smuggles in values conducive to the commercial aims of the owners and advertisers, as well as the political
Iraq - The Sanctions of Mass Destruction
The authors cite British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “big bad lie” in making a “moral case for war” for which there was none. Two years later, the Iraqi Planning Ministry and UN reported that almost one quarter of children aged five or under suffered from malnutrition. That condition was even worse than the
Before it ended on February 28, US forces committed grievous war crimes that included gratuitous mass killings as well as bombings to destroy essential to
Twelve years of crushing genocidal sanctions followed. The results were predictable and devastating. Normal life was impossible and became a daily struggle to
That and clear facts on the ground got two UN heads of Iraqi humanitarian relief to resign in anger with Dennis Halliday in 1998 saying he did so because he
Consider the so-called Oil-for-Food program as well. It was adopted under UN Resolution 986 in 1995 but was hopelessly inadequate by design. An internal 1999 UN report revealed it provided about 21 cents a day for food and 4 cents more for medicines with vitally needed items banned or in short supply. Everything
As the authors put it: “With the wholehearted complicity of the media, the US and UK governments were able to blame the Iraqi regime for the suffering” it didn’t cause and could do nothing to prevent. “Supported by a wave of propaganda, journalists were able to pass over the West’s responsibility for vast crimes against humanity.” Examples abound like BBC’s John Simpson restricting his comments on “Western responsibility for genocide” to 16 words in one sentence in a November, 2002 on-air documentary.
The authors noted that nine months after Media Lens was launched in 2001, they “began to realise the extent to which even high-profile journalists were unable to defend their arguments” in the face of overwhelming evidence refuting them. They tried nonetheless, still do and it keeps getting worse.
Iraq Disarmed - Burying the 1991-98 Weapons Inspections
To make its case for the March, 2003 invasion, Bush and Blair promoted two “myth(s) of non-cooperation” - that Saddam refused to cooperate with UNSCOM weapons inspectors up to 1998 and had retained deadly WMD stockpiles that threatened the region and western interests. One big lie followed another like Saddam
Making false claims was part of the scheme to attack and occupy the country as Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill discovered in the earliest days of the administration. He saw a secret memorandum preparing for war and a Pentagon document that discussed dividing up Iraq’s energy reserves among western Big
Further, whatever remained didn’t “constitute a weapons program....only bits and pieces of useless sludge” past their limited shelf life. Conclusion:
All along, the media reported the official line, ignored the truth and were thus complicit in the crimes of state they supported. The authors noted a “remarkable feature of media performance - that large numbers of individual journalists can come to move as an obedient herd despite easily available evidence contradicting the consensus view.” As it always is, “This was standard right across the media” that never lets facts conflict with their servility to power.
The authors also point to an “astonishing media omission” they call “the sludge of mass destruction” and cite CIA as the source. In a 1990 briefing, the spy agency stated: “(Iraq’s) Botulinum toxin (its biological weapons) is nonpersistent, degrading rapidly in the environment” and only has a shelf life of a year when stored below 27 degrees Celcius. Further, Scott Ritter debunked Tony Blair’s specter of an Iraq weaponized VX nerve agent. He confirmed UNSCOM found and blew up a VX factory in 1996. Iraq no longer could produce it and any amount remaining was worthless sludge. Comments from the media - support for Tony Blair and silence on the facts.
Iraq - Gunning for War and Burying the Dead
Throughout their book and with ample documentation, the authors eloquently and persuasively make their case. They conclusively prove without a doubt that
In the case of Iraq, the media fell right in line leading up to the conflict and once it began. It didn’t matter they were being used or that they were callously indifferent to “the immorality of the US-UK attack and the (appalling) suffering” it caused. The little touched on above can only hint at the human toll and plain fact that the “cradle of civilization” was erased by design and reinvented as a free market paradise for profit with the grand prize being Iraq’s immense, mostly undeveloped oil reserves.
Then, there’s the body count with estimates from 1990 to March, 2003 ranging up to 1.5 million or more deaths, two-thirds being children under age five.
Slaughter on this scale is incontrovertible genocide under the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It “means any (acts of this type mass-killing) committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the national, ethnical, racial or religious group (by) killing (its) members; causing (them) serious bodily or mental harm; (or) deliberately inflicting (on them) conditions (that may destroy them in whole or in part).” By this standard alone, three US administrations and two in Britain are criminally liable. Additionally, there’s what the Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime”
Throughout it all, the media was unperturbed and continues to back the most appalling crimes of war and against humanity like they never happened. Consider
It continued as the media uniformly extolled the transfer of “sovereignty” in June, 2004 without mentioning that no legitimate government can exist under occupation and certainly not one turned to rubble. The authors quoted noted British journalist Robert Fisk saying “Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington” with a stopover in London. Since it was formed, the “Iraqi government” is impotent. All power is in Washington, liberation is an illusion, and so is the notion of a free and democratic Iraq that was never part of the plan. Democracies are messy and the reason they’re not tolerated.
Afghanistan - Let Them East Grass
The authors quote media expert Edward Herman on how the major media and other experts “normalize the unthinkable” by ignoring the most appalling state-sponsored crimes, doubting their severity and believing ends justify means. Bottom line - poor people of color in developing nations don’t count, and
For the media on Afghanistan, the war largely ended when Kabul fell on November 13, 2001, a scant five weeks after it began on October 7. The bombing
The authors cited a surreal example - “In the land of the blind, (a) one-eyed lion is news.” Against the backdrop of mass human suffering and deaths, ITN
This contrasts with state-sponsored propaganda that Afghanistan is now free from “fear, uncertainty and chaos,” and the US and UK “act(ed) benignly, and
Also ignored is why we occupy their country. It has nothing to do with terrorism, humanitarian intervention or democracy. It has everything to do with imperial gain. The result is an unimaginable level of suffering that continues today under a puppet government, a brutal occupation, and no end to either in sight. Try getting that type report in the mainstream.
Kosovo - Real Bombs, Fictional Genocide
No recent conflict in memory evoked more popular support on the right and left than the 1990s Balkan wars. They culminated in 1999 with a 78 day NATO air assault on Serbia whose leader, Slobadon Milosevic, was unfairly cast as the villain. The conflict lasted from March 24 to June 10 on the pretext of protecting Kosovo’s Albanian population. It was all a ruse. Kosovo is a Serbian province. It still is, but it’s under NATO occupation with plans to make it independent and complete the “Balkanization” of Yugoslavia.
In the run-up to war, the propaganda was familiar. Tony Blair called it “a battle between good and evil; between civilization and barbarity; between democracy
So how did unreported facts on the ground refute the official myth? The Balkan wars destroyed a country to keep predatory capitalism on a roll for new markets, valued resources and cheap exploitable labor. Slobadon Milosevic was the fall guy and ended up in the Hague where he was hung out to dry by the ICTY US-run court. There he was effectively silenced, denied proper medical care and forced in the end to take his secrets to the grave with him.
Earlier, however, war raged in his country for 78 mercilessly days as a sort of earlier version of “shock and awe.” NATO bombing killed 500 civilians, caused an estimated $100 billion in damage, and according to Amnesty International (AI), was responsible for “serious violations of the laws of war leading in a number of cases to the unlawful killing of civilians.” Translated in language AI rarely uses - NATO committed war crimes, but only its victims were
Here are facts unreported in the mainstream. One month before the bombing, the German Foreign Office stated that a “feared humanitarian catastrophe threatening
NATO’s attack was the culprit. It caused a humanitarian crisis, and the flood of refugees occurred when the bombing began. So did lootings, killings, rape, kidnappings and pillage according to an OSCE study. The media response was breathtaking. It “exactly reverse(d) cause and effect suggesting that
The authors also note that “Editors and journalists do not drop bombs or pull triggers, but without their servility to power the public would not be fooled and
East Timor - The Practical Limits of Crusading Humanitarianism
Give credit where it’s due. Tiny impoverished East Timor is hardly a match for Indonesia with its 200 million population backed by Washington for what both
The US held off responding for 10 days intentionally and only did so under great public pressure. The delay allowed 70% of all public buildings and private
BBC practically choked before casually admitting our Indonesian allies were behind the massacres. Never admitted on-air was that its military-run country is a
Haiti - The Hidden Logic of Exploitation
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of its most exploited. That’s saying a lot in a region dismissively called America’s “backyard” and ruthlessly exploited by Washington for decades. The country is small (around three times the size of Los Angeles) and has a population of around eight million. Since European settlers arrived 500 years ago, it experienced an almost unparalleled legacy of colonial violence and exploitation. Even when it gained independence from France on January 1, 1804, it lay in ruins. It was short-lived as France regained control and kept it until America took over later and solidified its hold when Woodrow Wilson sent in Marines in 1915 to protect US investments.
Washington remains in control, and the authors explain its logic to keep Haitians and other developing world people in line. Their “dreams of a better life must be crushed by violence and grinding poverty so extreme that local people will accept any work at any rate, and abandon all notions of improving their lot.” It’s
Hope for Haitians arose in 1990 when a Catholic priest named Jean-Bertrand Aristide gained prominence. He ran for President and shocked Washington by getting
The authors noted the “free press” version of events from when Aristide was first elected. Like always, it glossed over facts and ignored “the long, documented history of US support for mass murderers attacking Aristide’s democratic government and killing his supporters....the hidden agenda behind (his return) to power (and) the limits imposed on his range of options by the superpower protecting its business interests.” There was barely a mention of US commercial interests in Haiti or how brutally Haitians are exploited for profit.
Against all obstacles, however, Aristide was overwhelmingly popular. It showed in November, 2000 when he was reelected President with 92% of the vote, and his Lavalas party dominated parliament from the earlier May election. Their control lasted four years, then ended abruptly on February 29, 2004. In the middle of the night, a US Marine contingent forcibly removed the Haitian leader because he defied the rules of imperial management, governed like a democrat and was committed to helping Haiti’s poor. Ever since, the country has been a killing field under US control with a paramilitary “peacekeeper” contingent as enforcers.
The media ignored the facts and portrayed the US as an “honest broker.” They supported the scheme that Aristide “had to go” because his people no longer supported him nor did the international community. “Forget the democratic process. Forget the landslide victories.” Forget the successive US-backed bloodbaths following Aristide’s rise to power in 1990. Forget any hope Haiti might emerge from its nightmarish 500 year history. All that mattered was power and where most of it lay. No need to point a finger. A great need to denounce the media that turns a blind eye to it.
Idolatry Ink - Reagan, the ‘Cheerful Conservative’ and
Few US presidents did more harm yet got more praise than Ronald Reagan, and Mark Hertsgaard wrote about it in his book,"On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.” The authors here review his record and cover some of the adulatory avalanche following his death on June 5, 2004. It was a painful week to recall and one that abandoned any measure of truth to portray a man and his “extraordinary successful presidency.” It was indeed for the power elite and the way he
Out of sight and mind were a few minor things that happened during his tenure. The Iran-Contra scandal for one that would have sunk Nixon faster than Watergate had he been the culprit. But there was much more, and the authors cover some of it to set the record straight on a man only corporatists and friendly tyrants could love.
Reagan earned his bona fides on two issues - supporting big business and claiming he was hawkishly anti-communist. The two were, in fact, the same with the authors saying “the real motive behind the American slaughter in the Third World - profits, not fear of the Soviet Union - is indicated by patterns of investment” that rose dramatically under US friendly regimes. Examples were in Chile under Pinochet, Iran under the Shah, Brazil under the generals, Guatemala
The authors give examples of leaders who tried in Central America and paid dearly for their effort. They put it this way: “Reagan’s eight years in office (1981-1989) produced a vast bloodbath as Washington funnelled money, weapons and supplies to client dictators and right-wing death squads battling
Major media ignored official Reagan administration policy - to “terrorize impoverished people into accepting a status quo that condemned them to lives of
Bill Clinton is still living, but he’s also well treated, aside from his personal peccadillos in office now forgotten. As usual, the media ignores his dark side that caused great harm at home and an overwhelming amount abroad. As the authors observe, it’s because demeaning a president is “disrespectful, even irresponsible.” So the worst of his record was unreported with plenty of choices to choose from such as eight harsh years of Iraq sanctions that caused around 1.5 million deaths with two-thirds of them children under age five. This and more go unmentioned because the media defer to power, and presidents and prime ministers get “unlimited respect bordering on reverence.” Want the truth? Independent journalism provides what’s absent in the mainstream everywhere.
Ultimate Change - The Ultimate Media Betrayal
The issue here is the danger that the planet may become uninhabitable because of climate change alone, and the authors cite evidence to show it. In each case, the conclusion is the same - global warming is real, threatening, and serious efforts are urgently needed to remediate it. Enter the media with the authors saying although they “do report the latest disasters and dramatic warnings, there are few serious attempts to explore the identity and motives of corporate opponents to action” on this vital issue. Why? Because of powerful business opposition that includes the corporate press. The silence is deafening, and the authors state it’s “the
It hardly matters that the London-based Global Commons Institute predicts over two million deaths worldwide in the next 10 years from climate-related disasters, and we see lesser amounts happening now every year. It gets worse with the prestigious journal Nature publishing a four-year research study by scientists from eight countries. They predict over one million species will be extinct by 2050, and they describe their findings as “terrifying.”
How does the oil industry respond? According to oil and gas industry consultant, Bob Williams, it must “put the environmental lobby out of business.” How does the media respond? Silence in the face of “much of life on earth threatened by mass death....” The authors say “the corporate media occasionally laments the destruction of our world in editorials, but it is not in the business of doing anything about it. In fact, literally the reverse is true.”
In their advertising and content, they promote a lifestyle of excessive fossil fuel consumption - gas-guzzling cars, air travel and a whole array of other high energy consuming products most of which are unessential and do little to enhance our lives. The authors wonder if readers may question their view on how the media approach climate issues and answer this way: “....we believe our lives, the lives of our children, indeed much of animal and plant life on this planet, are in great danger. We believe, further, that the means of mobilizing popular support for action to prevent this catastrophe - the mass media - is fatally compromised by its very structure, nature and goals.
Disciplined Media - Professional Conformity to Power
Key here is that nations or people committing destructive acts don’t usually act out of ingrained cruelty and hatred. As the authors put it: “In reality, evil is not merely banal. It is often free of any sense of being evil - there may be no sense of moral responsibility for suffering at all.” A typical response when asked is: “I’m just doing what I’m paid to do (or) I’m just doing my job.” It’s as true of torturers as businessmen who must do as they’re told and know what comes with the job. Perform or find another one, and the same obligation holds for journalists. “Like military personnel, (they) also sign themselves over to authority” and that requires prioritizing their employers’ welfare “in everything they say and do.”
The result is always the same. Official enemies are emonized, government crimes are ignored or “prettified,” and corporate greed is overlooked along with the common good. The authors refer to this as the “gushing phenomenon” that led western journalists to “gush” over the fall of Baghdad and later the transfer of “sovereignty” in the country’s “first democratic elections in 50 years in January, 2005.” Never mind the absence of democracy, the myth that there is any,
Mainstream journalists ignore this and are compliant because they have to be or find other work. They perform “in the absence of any conspiracy, with
In a nominally free society, control isn’t maintained by violence but “by deception, self-deception, and by a mass willingness to subordinate our own thoughts and
Toward a Compassionate Media
The authors note that the dominant media’s “subliminal message is that our rulers are superior, transcendent, benign (so they must) be afforded respect, even awe,
Enter Media Lens and its mission. The authors state to the best of their knowledge it’s “the first serious attempt to provide a regelar, radical response to mainstream propaganda in the UK.” If corporate-paid journalists did it, their careers would end so they can’t, won’t and don’t ever except around the edges where it hardly matters or is barely noticed. Media Lens, in the authors’ words, does “much more than talk about practical solutions.” It is “a practical solution.”
The dominant media depends on uncriticized “self-delusions” while the role of the alternative media is to challenge them. With an expanding internet, it can be done by reaching a mass audience with minimal cost. The authors refer to “citizen reporters” and their growing role in providing real news and information unavailable in the mainstream. They hope this will lead to a greater public awareness and “power to impose a news agenda on the mainstream” or replace it altogether as a reliable source. Even more, they hope to “motivate large popular movements” that may be able to “reform media structures to restrict the influence of corporate interests” where the bottom-line priority is their “bottom line.”
The authors go further as well and say an “honest media” require “truth telling (that) should be motivated by compassion for suffering rather than greed for wealth, status and privilege.” In their judgment, that’s incentive enough to seek real causes of problems and workable solutions to them. Their goal is an “honest, compassionate, non-corporate” media because a model based on profit and growing shareholder equity can’t possibly allow sentiment and compassion to be a consideration. It doesn’t flow to the bottom line.
Great goals begin with noble ideas backed by action, but the authors admit that vision is a long way off. For now, their “energies (are) spent....in joining, forming, funding and supporting real democratic media initiatives.... through Internet websites and blogs.” The mainstream can be challenged, they believe, and success depends on believing in three things: the benefits of ending others’ suffering; a compassionate media is worth working for; and acting to achieve it.
Full Human Dissent
Corporations today manipulate society and our lives by harming the greater good for profits. Consider the cost: “individual depression, global environmental collapse, wars for control of natural resources” and global dominion. It happens because we’re saturated in a “mass consumer culture” that ignores “our needs as human beings.” To counteract this, we need “to find more humanly productive answers” mainstream culture calls “dissident” or “absurd,” but the authors believe are possible and vital.
Approaches to “individual and social well-being (are) practiced in many traditional cultures (but have been) filtered out” of ours because they conflict with corporate goals already explained. The authors once worked for corporate employers and described their condition as “unrelieved boredom and stress....work....of no intrinsic interest (and) simply a means to the end of material acquisition.” They concluded that life centered around money and status “becomes a depressing dead end, a kind of emotional wasteland.”
They contrast that experience to their involvement today in “unpaid human rights and environmental work” that includes their Media Lens efforts. Compassionate dissent holds promise as a motivating force - “for media activism, peace activism, human and animal rights activism, and environmental activism.” It’s also “profoundly conducive to our own well-being.” The authors end by stating political dissent must be combined with human dissent. The combination can be
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.