The “mainstream” media is a potent issue this election year, and Donald Trump has surely turned the public’s distrust of the Fourth Estate into electoral gold. Regardless of what one thinks of Trump himself, his ability to turn a media pile-on into an asset has got to make one wonder what is it about the journalistic profession, circa 2015, that inspires such antipathy.
Perhaps it’s what they don’t report that’s responsible for the general disdain in which they are held. Take, for example, this piece in the New York Times on Tashfeen Malik’s previously unreported Facebook postings, by Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, and Julia Preston. The first paragraphs read:
“Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband carried out the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved to the United States from Pakistan. None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide – that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad.
“She said she supported it. And she said she wanted to be a part of it.
“American law enforcement officials said they recently discovered those old – and previously unreported – postings as they pieced together the lives of Ms. Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, trying to understand how they pulled off the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001.”
Okay, but what did she actually say – and where did she say it? The Times stays mum on this, but we do get some information on her sister, Fehda Malik, some twenty-three paragraphs later, second from the bottom:
“On social media, Fehda Malik has made provocative comments of her own. In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, she posted a remark on Facebook beside a photo of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center that could be interpreted as anti-American.”
Everything must be viewed through the peculiar prism of a New York Times reporter: no direct quotes allowed – unless it’s from an anonymous government official pushing his or her agenda. The rest of the article cites government officials offering lame excuses for why they didn’t bother checking Tashfeen Malik’s social media postings– essentially, it’s too much bother.
Yes, the Old Grey Lady has become quite insufferable of late, what with its front page editorials – although one could argue quite reasonably they’ve been doing that in their “news” department since the 1960s and before.
Yet there is some good reporting out there, although you’re more likely to find it in the magazines – that slowly diminishing sector of the “mainstream” – than in the news columns of our major newspapers. Here’s an absolute must-read from Andrew Cockburn, writing in Harper’s: “Special Relationship: The US is teaming up with al-Qaeda, again.” The “again” part of it requires emphasis, because Cockburn documents the origins of al-Qaeda – and the jihadist movement in general – and pins the responsibility for it exactly where it belongs: in Riyadh, Doha – and Washington, D.C.
We’ve covered this issue extensively here at Antiwar.com, but Cockburn buttresses the case with quotes from insiders who’ve witnessed Washington’s canoodling with the head-choppers firsthand. And Cockburn puts this suicidal policy in its historical context by showing how we tried to palm off the nurturing of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to the Pakistanis – and how we’re pulling the very same scam in Syria, where Western support to the practically nonexistent “moderate” Islamists is going to al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate) and Ahrar al-Sham, another al-Qaeda affiliate that simply changed its name in an effort clean up the group’s public image, at least in Western eyes.
That Osama bin Laden suggested this “rebranding” technique – a simple name-change – is something I’ve long suspected but never saw attributed to the late terrorist leader until reading this piece. This explains the bewildering array of head-chopper outfits in Syria that can be traced back to al-Qaeda, including ISIS itself – which is supposedly at war with al-Qaeda, in spite of the fact that the two groups seem to meet and merge at several points.
But Cockburn is a rarity. And he’s a Brit: in this country, we are stuck with the New York Times/Washington Post Axis of Propaganda, which each morning brings us the news of the world as our ruling class sees it. One could argue that they’re losing their grip, what with the advent of the Internet and social media, which is why we call them the Legacy Media – i.e. has-beens. But they aren’t quite ready to acknowledge defeat, and when challenged they come out swinging, as in a recent piece by Paul Farhi, the “media reporter” for the Washington Post, the title of which exactly sums up the prejudices of the Georgetown cocktail party circuit he represents: “Thanks to Trump, fringe news enters the mainstream.”
Farhi makes much of Trump’s recent appearance on the Alex Jones radio show, which is supposed to taint the GOP frontrunner with Jones’s brand of kookiness. Aside from the fact that Jones has an audience several times larger than the Washington Post, it’s ridiculous to attribute the views of the interlocutor to the one being interviewed. We are told this is “the first time a leading presidential candidate has been interviewed by a media figure from the far extremes” – an absurd statement, and one that, furthermore, underscores the unrelenting subjectivity of our media mandarins. To take just one example: Hugh Hewitt – who started out as a far-right blogger cheerleading the Iraq war – has not only interviewed a slew of GOP presidential hopefuls, he even served on a GOP debate panel. But of course a writer for a newspaper that employs Jennifer Rubin as a columnist isn’t about to indict Hewitt for being on the “far extremes.” Republican candidates routinely appear on talk radio, the fulcrum of Trumpismo, but since pointing this out doesn’t fit Farhi’s agenda it goes unmentioned.
Speaking of Farhi’s agenda, it leaps out at us in paragraph four, when he writes:
“Many of Trump’s more controversial assertions since he declared for president have come from the murky swamp of right-wing, libertarian and flat-out paranoid sources that have proliferated and thrived as the Internet and social media have grown.”
Yes, it’s libertarians who are to blame for Trump! The Donald’s calls for more surveillance of American citizens, his declaration that he’s “the most militaristic person on earth,” his disdain for the Constitution, his support (and profiting from) eminent domain, his proposal to kick down the doors of every illegal immigrant in America and ship them out of the country – I mean, how libertarian can you get?
To someone like Farhi, anyone who challenges the “mainstream” narrative on any subject is likely a “libertarian,” not to mention “murky,” and of course “paranoid,” the favorite epithet of the Richard Hofstadter school of amateur psychoanalysis. What else but “paranoia” can you expect from those who aren’t part of the incestuous media-government nexus? That’s the point made by the various “experts” Farhi cites:
“’There’s an information-age tsunami out there that just keeps getting bigger and bigger,’ said Steve Smith, a veteran newspaper editor who teaches journalism at the University of Idaho. ‘When you combine this digital tsunami with the loss of quality and quantity in American journalism [due to cutbacks and economic woes] over the years, journalists just don’t have the ability to keep up once a false narrative gains speed.’”
Gee, I wonder what caused those “cutbacks and economic woes.” Maybe it’s customer dissatisfaction with the “mainstream” media’s attempt to dictate what is and what isn’t a “false narrative.” And is it a coincidence that when a “false narrative” is being generated by government officials it not only goes unchallenged but is reinforced by these Guardians of Truth? The Iraq war springs to mind. Wasn’t it the “mainstream” that assured us Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” were at the ready? Didn’t the front page of the Washington Post headline whatever talking points Dick Cheney and his gang of fabricators were pushing that week?
Oh, but Farhi has an answer to that: “On Iraq, journalists didn’t fail – they just didn’t succeed”! Yes, that’s the actual title of Farhi’s piece giving himself and his fellow mainstreamers a pass for leading us down the road to a war justified by outright lies. He writes: “Thousands of news stories and columns published before the war described and debated the administration’s plans and statements, and not all of them were supportive.” Based on the little bits of truth buried in the second to last paragraph of these missives, “it wasn’t impossible for skeptics of the war to connect the dots,” he avers.
But isn’t it the job of the writer – rather than the reader – to ferret out the truth? Not in the Paul Farhi School of Journalism, which recommends faithfully transcribing everything a government official says, anointing it with the label of Near-Absolute Truth, and then throwing in a few hints that the real facts are hidden in a web of obfuscation – and good luck to you if you have the time or the inclination to discover it for yourself!
It was the “consensus” that the Bush administration’s assertions were fact-based, he tells us – and besides that, people were “scared” by Condi Rice’s invocation of “mushroom clouds”! What Farhi and his friends at the Post (and elsewhere) were really scared of was going against the “consensus,” as laid down by government officials with whom they had – and continue to have – a symbiotic relationship.
Farhi’s pathetic excuses and his vicious smears of the alternative Internet-based media are so obviously self-serving that they don’t deserve much attention except to underscore the intellectual bankruptcy of a profession that is failing not only in terms of doing its job but also financially. The “expert” he cites whines about the cutbacks “mainstream” media is facing, and yet there’s a reason for that – a good one. People just aren’t buying the idea that these self-appointed Arbiters of the Narrative are qualified to play their chosen role – and therefore they aren’t buying their newspapers, their magazines, and their BS.
The market for government apologetics is at an all-time low – but the market for truth is thriving. That’s how we’ve managed to keep going on donations here at Antiwar.com for the past twenty years. And that’s why it’s important for you to help keep us going – lest the job of holding the power-wielders in our society accountable fall to the Paul Farhis of this world (God forbid!).
Unlike the pretentious fools who run the “mainstream” media outlets, we don’t take you for granted. We are working 24/7 to earn your respect – and your financial support. And I believe we have earned it.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.