Media as a Branch of Government

The complete phoniness of the toppling of Saddam’s statue was exposed by this web site and others when it occurred, but now Peter Maass, writing in the New Yorker, is calling the stage-managed nature of that operation into question. While not contesting that the narrative symbolized by the imagery was misleading, Maass avers it wasn’t the US government, but the Western media that – without much prompting – obligingly created and broadcast a carefully-cropped image of a nearly empty square to give the impression that US soldiers were being greeted by the Iraqis as “liberators.” As Maass puts it, the real significance of the statue toppling was that the Americans had taken central Baghdad, and yet:

“Everything else the toppling was said to represent during repeated replays on television—victory for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq—was a disservice to the truth. Yet the skeptics were wrong in some ways, too, because the event was not planned in advance by the military.”

As for whose idea it was to bring down the statue, Maass traces it to a lowly sergeant who, out of the blue, came up with the bright idea all by his lonesome, but there are several holes in Maass’s story.

To begin with, long shots of the square show the area around the statue completely blocked off by US tanks, and yet, according to Maass’s own account, “a handful of Iraqis had slipped into the square” – at precisely the moment the sergeant asked permission to take the statue down.

Who were these Iraqis? Reading Maass, one would simply assume they were random residents of Baghdad, curiosity seekers out on a lark, but a look at these photos disabuses us of this notion. They were members of the Iraqi National Congress – those now-infamousheroes in error” – who had played a key role in the “weapons of mass destruction” deception and were being groomed by the neocons to take power in post-Saddam Iraq. Along with their leader, the wanted embezzler and suspected Iranian agent Ahmed Chalabi, 700 INC “fighters” were flown into Nasiriyah by the Pentagon a few days before, and were whisked to Baghdad, where they arrived just in time for their Big Media Moment.

In short, these Iraqis were on the American payroll – and simply doing their job.

That the English-speaking media were also doing their job – which is, as we all know, to parrot the line their governments were putting out – comes as no surprise. As Glenn Greenwald has noted, the links between our government and the “mainstream” media have become so intimate that one can can fairly speak of an informal “merger.” Yet we ought not to disappear the governmental aspect of this untoward symbiosis. We need to ask: how is it that practically the entire membership of the Iraqi National Congress wound up in that square, on that day, while ordinary Iraqis were being blocked by US tanks?

I have no doubt that both aspects of the Government-Media Complex were acting in perfect tandem on that occasion, and certainly Maass emphasizes this in his piece. That some journalists on the scene who saw what was happening, and protested to their editors that the statue-toppling imagery projected the wrong story, were told to shut up and fix their cameras on the fallen idol will shock the naïve, and amuse the realists among us. Mainstream media organizations didn’t need to wait for orders from Washington: they did it all on their own. Yet we don’t need to read a WikiLeaked cable detailing the mechanics of the deception to understand how the occupiers set the stage for a successful bit of performance art.

This merger of Big Media and Big Government is not anything new, at least to libertarians. As Murray Rothbard, the founder of the modern libertarian movement, put it:

“All States are governed by a ruling class that is a minority of the population, and which subsists as a parasitic and exploitative burden upon the rest of society. Since its rule is exploitative and parasitic, the State must purchase the alliance of a group of “Court Intellectuals,” whose task is to bamboozle the public into accepting and celebrating the rule of its particular State. The Court Intellectuals have their work cut out for them. In exchange for their continuing work of apologetics and bamboozlement, the Court Intellectuals win their place as junior partners in the power, prestige, and loot extracted by the State apparatus from the deluded public.”

Even a dictatorship requires the implicit consent of the majority, which puts up with its depredations until the weight of tyranny presses down so hard that the impetus to rebel is inevitably provoked. What keeps the spirit of rebellion in check are the blandishments of the Court Intellectuals, among whom the mandarins of the “mainstream” media figure prominently.

Rothbard, in the essay cited above, was discussing historical revisionism – the practice of revising the accepted or “official” (i.e. government-generated) history of an event, such as a war, in light of new and often deliberately overlooked or suppressed data. The term entered common usage in the period following World War I, when it was revealed that, far from being a glorious and heroic crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” the conflict was all about making the world safe for European imperialism, for the arms trade, and for American banking interests whose loans to the Allies were guaranteed by US entry into the war. As Rothbard notes:

“The noble task of Revisionism is to de-bamboozle: to penetrate the fog of lies and deception of the State and its Court Intellectuals, and to present to the public the true history of the motivation, the nature, and the consequences of State activity. By working past the fog of State deception to penetrate to the truth, to the reality behind the false appearances, the Revisionist works to delegitimize, to desanctify, the State in the eyes of the previously deceived public. By doing so, the Revisionist, even if he is not a libertarian personally, performs a vitally important libertarian service.”

The task of Revisionism looks very much like the alleged role of Journalism in a free society, and so it is. Yet as we’ve lost our freedoms, down through the years, ceding them to government at every critical turn, our “free” media, instead of “working past the fog of State deception to penetrate to the truth,” has acted like a fog machine, generating and legitimizing deception rather than exposing it.

This is why WikiLeaks was inevitable: the death of investigative journalism has created a void, which Julian Assange and his collaborators have filled – much to the chagrin and outrage of our alleged “journalists,” who, as semi-official Court Intellectuals, are concerned not with exposing but with protecting the regime. This is why the journalistic profession has not risen as one in defense of WikiLeaks: indeed, far from it, they’ve been in the vanguard of the anti-WikiLeaks lynch mob.

In what Greenwald calls an “unintentionally hilarious” piece in Newsweek, we are told the answer to the question “why haven’t journalists been defending WikiLeaks?” is because they are fearful of “advocacy.” Gee, is that what all those post-9/11 flag lapel pins were about? The idea that the media is averse to advocacy is a half-truth: certain kinds of advocacy are verboten, while others are assumed. When it comes to cheerleading the national security state, the US media has historically been ahead of the general populace in ginning up wars and inciting war hysteria.

When William Randolph Hearst sent his “journalists” to Cuba, just before the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, he instructed them: “You furnish the pictures. I’ll furnish the war.” Nothing has changed in the interim, except that the government-media partnership has gotten tighter. This marriage was going along swimmingly, until that harlot known as the worldwide web threatened to come between the happy couple.

The Internet blew apart the media monopoly, and destroyed the role of the journalist as semi-official gatekeeper. That’s why our rulers have been so eager to regulate it, tax it, and rein it in – and if they succeed in the case of WikiLeaks, they will have won a decisive victory. In doing all in their power to obstruct and destroy WikiLeaks, and imprison Julian Assange, Washington and its journalistic Praetorian Guard have a much broader goal in mind: neutralize the internet.

Already, legal scholars – some of whom lamely protest that they’re only trying to preserve the First Amendment – are busily constructing arguments to accomplish this task, by coming up with novel arguments, e.g. the concept of “low value” speech, and such statements as “society needs not an absence of ‘chill,’ but an optimal level.” And, yes, our old “friend” Cass Sunstein is in on this one.

Liberals, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans – all are united on the alleged necessity of reining in the internet. Their motivations may vary, but their goals converge – and freedom’s only defenders are those liberals who remember what true liberalism means, those (few) conservatives who value individual liberty over and above the State, and, of course, all libertarians (with the exception of Michael Moynihan and the editors of Reason magazine).

Liberty, besieged, is hanging by a thread – a very narrow and swiftly unraveling thread that looks just about to give way. The only hope is a grassroots rebellion as the Powers That Be get ready to throw the “kill switch” – or are the American people so domesticated that they have lost the power to resist, or even care? I don’t believe it, I can’t believe it, and surely don’t want to believe it – but time will tell.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].