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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

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In search of independent media

"The news and truth are not the same thing." Walter Lippmann, (1889-1974)

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The New York Times revealed last April that in summer 2005, confronted with a fresh wave of criticism over Guantanamo Bay the Bush administration prepped some 75 retired military officers to serve as paid television commentators. The Bush administration has used the retired military officers, many of whom had conflicting ties to defense contractors, as media Trojan to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks, the New York Times pointed out.

Disclosure of the program triggered a furor among the public and in Congress where Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and 40 others members of Congress, sent a letter to  the Inspector General (IG) to investigate how high-ranking officials within the Defense Department were allowed to operate a program ‘aimed at deceiving the American people’.

Tellingly, the news chiefs and on-air hosts at CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS, had little reaction to the revelations concerning the "Embedded Media Generals." Why, because the corporate media is a fully-integrated part of the state power-structure.

Today, just six corporations have a forceful grip on America's mass media. When "The Media Monopoly" first appeared on bookshelves in 1983, author Ben Bagdikian explained, "50 corporations dominated most of every mass medium." With each new edition, that number kept dropping -- to 29 media firms in 1987, 23 in 1990, 14 in 1992, and 10 in 1997. Published in 2004, the sixth edition of "The Media Monopoly" documents that just a half-dozen corporations - Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, Viacom (formerly CBS) and General Electric's NBC - now control most of the media industry in the U.S.  

To borrow Peter Phillips of the Project Censored, " ... the media in the United States effectively represents the interests of corporate America, and ... the media elite are the watchdogs of what constitutes acceptable ideological messages, the parameters of news and information content, and the general use of media resources.”

The control of the opinion-molding media is nearly monolithic. All of the controlled media — television, radio, newspapers, magazines, books, motion pictures speak with a single voice, each reinforcing the other. Despite the appearance of variety, there is no real dissent, no alternative source of facts or ideas accessible to the great mass of people which might allow them to form opinions at odds with those of the media masters.

They are presented with a single view of the world ….. It is a view of the world designed by the media masters to suit their own ends — and the pressure to conform to that view is overwhelming. People adapt their opinions to it, vote in accord with it, and shape their lives to fit it.

The responsibility of the media is to report the truth. The idea of free speech is that an ordinary citizen should be able to freely and fully can express his or her views. But major media today are tending to favor news stories on sex scandals, celebrity events, and crime, leaving less or little room for analytical news on important social issues.

In the words of Noam Chomsky, like other corporations, media corporations sell a product to a market. “The market is advertisers - that is, other businesses. The product is audiences, [and] for the elite media, [they're] relatively privileged audiences. So we have major corporations selling fairly wealthy and privileged audiences to other businesses. Not surprisingly, the picture of the world presented reflects the narrow and biased interests and values of the sellers, the buyers and the product."

Many cultural critics, such as Ben Bagdikian, Michael Parenti and Noam Chomsky have pointed out that in order for American adventures abroad, it needs to "manufacture" the consent of the American people. To quote Noam Chomsky again: It is ... necessary to whip up the population in support of foreign adventures. Usually the population is pacifist, just like they were during the First World War. The public sees no reason to get involved in foreign adventures, killing, and torture. So you have to whip them up.”

The hiring of about 75 former military officers was no more than a state-sponsored propaganda effort to sell Iraq war. The Embedded Media Generals, who acted as military analysts for major news outlets were given V.I.P. access to the Pentagon, with regular briefings by the then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a sponsored trip to the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Hence this revelation of Majorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild is not surprising: "During the run-up to the war on Iraq, the Pentagon gave its 'analysts' talking points: Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; Iraq is developing nukes; Iraq could give its WMD to Al Qaeda; and an invasion would be quick and cheap. This disinformation campaign was designed to condition Congress and the American people to accept Bush's illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq."

Probably, the Embedded Media Generals were used to put in practice the thesis of Edward L. Bernays, the originator of modern public relations, who wrote a book in the 1930s, titled: "The Engineering of Consent." His thesis was that ideas and attitudes can be shaped by messages communicated time and time and time again - enhanced by the so-called "third party endorsement" - such as that conveniently provided by retired generals and colonels.

The Embedded Media Generals followed the Embedded Journalists who helped the military to manage access to the battle field in Iraq war and spoon fed the so-called independent media, the stories that it needed the American public to watch. As many as 775 reporters and photographers were traveling as embedded journalists. 

Before joining their battalions, the embedded journalists had to sign a contract restricting when and what they can report. To be embedded with an army unit was to be embedded in its language in its message.

Thus any illusions of retaining independence was entirely dispensed with. These journalists were stitched onto the military machine to sell its war. Kenneth Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that: "You couldn't hire actors to do as good a job as the press has done" from the Pentagon's point of view. Similarl views were expressed by Jerry Broeckert, Lt. Col., public affairs officer in the US Marines Corps: Just as weapons have gotten "smarter," so too has the military gotten more sophisticated about how to use the media to meet military objectives.

The concept of embedded journalists killed two birds with one stone: the news networks, such as  CNN, FOX, MSBC, raised their ratings by showing “live” frontline footage and the military acquired an effective propaganda tool.

It will not be a harsh judgment that opinions in our society are carefully shaped and molded within certain careful boundaries: those who transgress those boundaries are libel to wind up "extremists," "ideologues," "fanatics," or "agitators." Many will agree with the veteran journalist Daniel Schorr when he says: "Good journalism is being criminalized or otherwise rendered perilous to its best practitioners. Attack a government agency like the CIA, or a Fortune 500 member ..., or the conduct of the military in Southeast Asia and you find yourself in deep trouble, naked and often alone."

Not surprisingly, people are looking for independent sources of information to counter the ubiquitous corporate narrative of the media giants. They are trying to bypass the corporate communications system and to fight its propaganda by distributing the truth through decentralized networks. To a large extent, this has been achieved via the internet which in many ways has proved a perfect democratic model for information-distribution. The public is free to seek their information from a wide range of options and try to find out sites providing news that is consistent with their own world view.

The Internet is revolutionary because it is the most democratic of media. All you need to join the revolution is a computer and a connection. We don’t just watch; we participate, collaborate and create. Unlike television, radio and cable, whose hirelings create content aimed at us for their own reasons, with the Internet every citizen is potentially a producer. The conversation of democracy belongs to the people.

Interestingly, one of the most useful tools for political campaigns today is the use of the internet. We can see how this has been used during the 2008 presidential campaign by Congressmen Paul, as well as other candidates. They used the internet to spread their messages and appeal to new voters.

A wide-open access is the founding principle of the Internet, but it may be slipping through our fingers. How ironic if it should pass irretrievably into history here, at the very dawn of the Internet Age.

Alarmed by the vital role played by internet in unhindered dissemination of information, efforts are now underway to control this media. In October last, the so-called “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” (may be described as Thought Control Act) was approved quietly by the House of Representatives. The Act specifically aims at the unregulated nature of the Internet:

    "The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens."

With this piece of legislation in congress, people will no longer be able to use the internet in a peaceful manner. All activity will certainly be logged, and every letter typed will be scrutinized by the state.

In November, the Homeland Security Subcommittee held a hearing on "Terrorism and the Internet" that was chaired by California democrat Jane Harman, sponsor of the infamous "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" and ranking Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

The hearing featured presentations from several groups, including the Rand Corporation, and Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. This event generated quite an uproar in the 9/11 Truth and civil liberties communities because of testimony by the panelists conflating two very distinct and unconnected groups -- the 9/11 truth movement with “jihadi terrorists.” What generated the most buzz was a PowerPoint presentation - titled "Internet: Incubator of 9/11 Conspiracies and Disinformation" - from Mark Weitzman of the Simon Weisenthal Center.

Later on in the hearing, former RAND corporation director Bruce Hoffman re-iterated Weitzman's presentation, stating "These falsehoods and conspiracy theories have now become so ubiquitous and so pervasive that they are believed, so you have almost a parallel truth, and it has become a very effective tool for recruiting people."

The so-called “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act” is no more than a desperate attempt to maintain the firm hold of the corporate media which has achieved perfection in the art of deception and spin in reporting the national and international issues. Otherwise, how the Pentagon’s hiring of Media Generals for selling the Iraq war can be explained.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the  Editor -in-Chief of the Journal of America.