Great lies of the American free press
By David R. Hoffman
Jun 11, 2005, 21:37
In several previous PRAVDA articles, I
discussed the Bush dictatorship's prominent use of Adolph Hitler's "great lie theory"�the
political tactic where a leader fabricates "great lies," then
"eternally" repeats them until a significant portion of the
population comes to accept them as truth. The Bush dictatorship also discovered
a residual benefit of the "great lie theory": People are often so
myopic or so embarrassed by their gullibility that, even after the "great
lies" are exposed, they would rather reward the liar than acknowledge the
however, has also revealed the disquieting reality that far too many people in
the United States, arguably the most powerful nation on earth, do not require
legitimate reasons before they will acquiesce to the wasting of billions of tax
dollars, and the sacrificing of thousands of lives, in wars based upon nothing
There, of course,
are those who claim the "great lie theory" cannot work in democratic
countries like America, because, unlike nations with government-controlled
media, there is "freedom of the press." But this criticism is easily
muted by the events that occurred a little over fifty years ago, during the
height of the "Cold War" era.
In 1950, a
politically ambitious senator named Joseph McCarthy, during a speech in
Wheeling, West Virginia, held up a piece of paper that allegedly contained the
names of communists who were employed by America's State Department. This bold
announcement helped to usher in an era of hysteria, fear, censorship and
blacklisting that only began to wane four years later when an attorney named
Joseph Welch asked McCarthy during the televised "Army-McCarthy"
hearings, "Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last?"
biographers and friends have stated that Hitler's book MEIN KAMPF, which
discussed the application of the "great lie theory," played an
important role in the development of McCarthy's political strategies. And even
though the relatively new medium of television helped to diminish McCarthy's
power, the corporate-controlled news media also shared the blame for McCarthy's
ability to disseminate "great lies." During the Wheeling speech, no
reporter asked to examine the list McCarthy held, and it is said that McCarthy
himself later joked to members of his inner circle that nothing was on the
paper but a reminder to pick up his laundry.
Meanwhile those in
the television industry, now so eager to take credit for the demise of
McCarthyism, were also fervent practitioners of blacklisting during McCarthy's
heyday. Mark Goodson, a renowned game show producer during the 1950s, wrote in
an article for the New York Times entitled IF I'D STOOD UP EARLIER . . . (1991)
that he had even been pressured into blacklisting celebrities simply because
they shared the same name as suspected communists.
The legacy of
McCarthyism demonstrates that, despite popular myth, America does not truly
have a "free press." While the Bill of Rights guarantees that
"Congress shall make no law . . . abridging freedom of the press," it
is usually nongovernmental factors�fear of losing readers, viewers and/or
advertising dollars�that actually control the decisions made by
corporate-controlled news media. These influences can also be labeled the three
"P's": Popularity, Prejudice and Profit. And, to accommodate the
three "P's," corporate-controlled news media have persistently
ignored two others: the People and the Public Interest.
popularity, America's corporate-controlled media censor legitimate and detailed
news stories in favor of sensationalistic and superficial tripe. Although a celebrity
in America cannot have flatulence without an army of reporters analyzing the
smell, corporate-controlled news media, to avoid being
"controversial," incessantly ignore topics that could actually
educate or enlighten.
The most recent
example of this was revealed by the British newspaper The Guardian in its
article THE FILM U.S. TV NETWORKS DARE NOT SHOW (May 12, 2005). This article
discusses the resistance filmmaker Adam Curtis encountered during his attempts
to locate a major American media outlet willing to show his documentary film,
THE POWER OF NIGHTMARES.
documentary examines the historical events that ultimately led to one of the
most catastrophic events in American history�the September 11th, 2001 attacks
on the World Trade Center and Pentagon�the cowardice of the American media
apparently resides not in the film's analysis of these events, but in its
depiction of the "neo-conservative's" exploitation of September 11th
for political and personal gain.
According to The
Guardian, the "neo-conservative" ideology originated in 1949 when
"political philosopher" Leo Strauss argued that
"conservative" politicians had to "invent national myths to hold
society together and stop America . . . from collapsing into degraded
individualism." Of course in today's America "national myths"
really mean "great lies," and the efforts to terminate "degraded
individualism" really mean the death of the Bill of Rights-the very
document designed by America's founders to preserve individual rights and freedoms.
To advance these
goals in recent years, "neo-conservatives" have propagated the myth
(i.e. "great lie") that America's news media are "liberal."
Yet, from their disdain for the anti-war movement to their jingoistic hyperbole
and treatment of war as a "video game," corporate-controlled news
media's coverage of the conflict in Iraq easily dispels this myth. Like the
Spanish-American war a little more than a century ago, the Iraqi war will
undoubtedly be remembered by history as an unnecessary invasion fueled by
corporate-controlled news media's lust to boost profits.
As I discussed in
previous PRAVDA articles, the corporate-controlled news media's self-serving
promotion of the Iraqi war was accentuated when several radio stations owned by
Clear Channel, one of the largest media empires in the United States, boycotted
songs by the Dixie Chicks because of statements the trio made in opposition to
the Bush dictatorship; when Sinclair Broadcasting refused to televise a segment
of ABC's NIGHTLINE, where the names of those killed in Iraq were read; when Ed
Gernon, co-producer of the television mini-series HITLER: THE RISE OF EVIL, was
fired from his job after comparing the demise of civil liberties in Hitler's
Germany to the demise of civil liberties in America; and when CNN Chief News
Executive Eason Jordan resigned amidst allegations that he had claimed American
troops were deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq.
By contrast, the
corporate-controlled news media have ardently embraced the plethora of cowards
who exploited the Iraqi war to advance their own careers while conspicuously
avoiding combat duty themselves. Cable television's CNBC rewarded comedian
Dennis Miller with a talk show after he hawked the Iraqi war. And, unlike the
fate of Ed Gernon, these media have permitted two "neo-conservative"
cowards, Rush Limbaugh (who avoided serving in Vietnam because of an alleged
"boil" on his posterior) and Ann Coulter, to utilize Nazi analogies
with impunity when attacking those they oppose. Bill O'Reilly, who, despite his
claims to be willing to "sacrifice" himself for Fallujah, remains
safely ensconced in the studios of the Fox "News" (i.e. Propaganda)
Network, frequently uses his talk show to demand economic retaliation against university
professors and African-American hip-hop artists who express
"unpopular" opinions, yet whined about unjust treatment after
allegations that he sexually harassed a female coworker made him the subject of
ridicule on late-night television. Even the so-called "liberal" Cable
"News" Network (CNN) has made a media icon out of Nancy Grace, a
narrow-minded former prosecutor who rarely allows her fanatical preconceptions
to be diminished by factual realities.
practiced by corporate-controlled media has helped them build entire
"news" networks upon great lies-that coverage is "fair and
balanced," that it should be "trusted," or, perhaps the greatest
lie of all, that the drivel disseminated deserves to qualify as
result of such censorship is that important news stories are frequently ignored
until it is "safe" to report on them. Once this safe-haven arises,
however, corporate-controlled news media consistently endeavor to conceal their
previous censorship with an arrogant "we were concerned all the time"
Today, for example,
it would be a challenge to find anybody in the corporate-controlled news media
openly praising the excesses of the McCarthy era. Yet during McCarthy's heyday
it was a challenge to find anybody in media openly opposing him.
concern" approach also was evident in media coverage of former Black
Panther Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, who served over twenty-five years in
prison after being framed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Although the CBS Evening News did an excellent piece on Pratt while he was
still incarcerated, much of the other corporate-controlled news media waited
until after Pratt was released before denouncing the illegal tactics used to
Where were these
media when Pratt's release was still uncertain? Ask Eddie Marshall Conway, a
Baltimore Black Panther leader who remains in prison despite similar concerns
about the tactics used to convict him.
While some may
argue that localized injustices against African-American militants do not a
national news story make, it was the illegalities and abuses of the FBI's
COINTELPRO operation that played a significant role in many of these
injustices. Today, thanks to the so-called "Patriot Act," this very
same agency is enjoying almost the same powers it abused in the past. If
corporate-controlled news media refuse to remind Americans of these past
abuses, history may be destined to repeat itself.
"P" spurring the corporate-controlled news media is prejudice. This
not only explains their lack of interest in the Pratt and Conway cases, but
also the abundance of right-wing "hate" radio dominating the
of prejudice, however, is not confined to radio: It is practiced by some of
America's premier pseudo-journalists. A few months ago one such journalist,
Barbara Walters, sanctimoniously announced, to the applause of her
predominantly white audience, that she would not interview former football star
turned actor O.J. Simpson, who had been acquitted of murdering his wife and a
family friend. Yet, subsequent to this announcement, Walters sycophantically
interviewed Robert Blake, an actor who also had been acquitted of murdering his
The key difference,
of course, was that O.J. Simpson happened to be African-American, and his
alleged victims were white, young, and attractive; thus his acquittal inspired
outrage across white America. On the other hand, Blake and his alleged victim
were both white, and she was older and not as attractive; thus his acquittal
scarcely caused a whimper across white America.
to race, corporate-controlled news media convey their biases through
"split-screen" interviews. During these interviews the questioner's
image occupies half of the television screen, while the image of the respondent
occupies the other half. In most cases the respondent has no visual contact
with the questioner, relying instead on an earpiece that simply transmits
sound. As a result, the questioner can smirk, frown, scowl, or employ numerous
other forms of non-verbal communication to indicate approval or derision, all
without the respondent's knowledge.
can also be based on the personal biases of editors or telephone
"screeners," who have the power to decide whether or not a news
segment, comment, article or letter should be aired or published.
I experienced such
censorship first-hand when I became interested in the plight of a local
African-American man, who was serving a seventy-year sentence after being
convicted by an all-white jury of crimes I believed he did not commit. I began
writing letters and articles about his case, and my local newspaper initially
published them almost verbatim. It was later discovered that I was indeed
correct about this man's innocence, and he was ultimately released from prison.
after his release, a police officer who had been involved in his case decided
to adopt the media's "I had concerns all the time" strategy in
interviews and articles, even though she had remained publicly silent about
these alleged doubts throughout this man's years of incarceration. Although he
eventually filed a lawsuit against local officials, including this police
officer, seeking compensation for his years of wrongful imprisonment, a federal
magistrate dismissed the case, claiming the man had not established that his
arrest and conviction were made in "bad faith."
As an attorney, I
always had misgivings about the "bad faith" standard, and many states
have bypassed it by passing laws to compensate those wrongfully convicted. The
state where this man resided, however, had no such laws; consequently I thought
his case would provide a good opportunity to expose the egregious nature of the
"bad faith" standard. So I wrote an article explaining that, aside
from an admission of wrongdoing by police or prosecutors, the "bad
faith" standard was practically impossible for a wrongfully convicted
person to meet.
this article to my local newspaper, an editor informed me that my critique of
the "bad faith" standard would not be published as written, allegedly
because it could be construed as an attack on the professionalism of the local
discovered that the editor who had reviewed my article and the police officer
who had belatedly espoused her "doubts" were friends, and this was
the real motive behind the censorship. Tragically, an opportunity to raise
legitimate concerns about the "bad faith" standard and the injustices
it engendered was obliterated by the personal bias of a lone editor.
The final, and most
powerful, "P" driving corporate-controlled news media is profit. In
their pure form, however, these media are incompatible with standard theories
that companies manufacturing and marketing similar products will endeavor to
improve those products to gain an advantage over their competitors, which, in
turn, benefits consumers.
But news is not a
product, simply a reporting of events. Nevertheless, to increase profits,
corporate-controlled media have decided to "manufacture" and
"market" news. Many radio stations owned by Clear Channel sponsored
pro-war rallies, while Sinclair Broadcasting, shortly before the 2004
presidential election, sought to air a documentary hostile to candidate John
and marketing of news is even accomplished by deceiving people into believing
they will be given a fair opportunity to articulate or defend their positions.
Most television or radio interviews, unless they are aired live, are usually
subjected to "editing." So even though an individual may provide
several minutes of intelligent and well-reasoned analysis, the words are often
condensed into a few seconds of "sound bites" that can be manipulated
to give a deceptive, and even dishonest, impression of what was actually said.
During my brief
legal career, rumors had been circulating in our local community that people
were being unjustly purged from voter registration rolls. Since I specialized
in constitutional and civil rights law, I was asked to contact the proper
investigative agency about these alleged practices. Although I did so, I
stressed to the investigator that nobody had presented any actual evidence to
substantiate these rumors, so I would leave it to her discretion about whether
or not an investigation was warranted.
I forgot about this
matter until a few days later, when a reporter for a local television station
requested an interview. During the course of this interview, I was persistently
asked if I believed the alleged purging was the result of one political party
trying to dilute the voting strength of the other.
Since I repeatedly
replied that this was not the case, very little of the actual interview was
aired. What noticeably appeared instead was this same reporter opining that the
interview had left her with the impression one political party was attempting
to dilute the voting strength of the other!
alone indicates that the corporate-controlled media's impetus to manufacture
news rarely results in an honest product. Instead it compels these media to
sink to their lowest common denominator, sacrificing truth, impartiality and
ethics for the sake of ratings and profit.
This proclivity to
sink to the lowest common denominator has even made members of the
corporate-controlled news media susceptible to bribery. Armstrong Williams, a
"conservative" African-American pseudo-journalist, was recently paid
two hundred and forty thousand dollars ($240,000) by the Bush dictatorship to promote
an education reform law on his syndicated television show. Another
pseudo-journalist, Maggie Gallagher, was paid twenty-one thousand, five hundred
dollars ($21,500) by the federal government's department of Health and Human
Services to encourage marriage. This same department also paid columnist Mike
McManus ten thousand ($10,000) dollars to "train marriage
counselors." Yet, according to the Associated Press (1/29/05), "all
three columnists failed to disclose to their readers their relationship with
the [Bush] administration."
But such bribery
does not have to be strictly on a cash basis. During the build-up to the Iraqi
war, one of the primary disseminators of the Bush dictatorship's "great
lies" was then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. And during this time, in
one of those remarkable "coincidences" that nepotism spawns, Powell's
son Michael was head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)�the very
agency that possessed the power to change FCC rules so monopolistic media
empires could acquire even a greater share of the marketplace. In return all
these empires had to do was endorse, or at least not dispute, the warmongering
lies of the Bush dictatorship, and accept, or at least not question, the
fraudulent results of the 2000 and 2004 presidential "elections."
greatest hypocrisy of the corporate-controlled news media is that, while they
expend a substantial amount of effort questioning or criticizing the actions of
others, they are extraordinarily intolerant of criticism themselves. Whenever
ordinary people attempt to criticize American media they are guaranteed at
least one of three responses.
The first response,
already discussed in this article, is censorship. My local newspaper, for
example, has flatly refused to publish any of my letters criticizing its use of
personal bias to censor legitimate stories. Since this newspaper is the only
one with significant readership that reports on local issues, my voice
regarding these issues is effectively silenced.
The second response
is the "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" This response was
ridiculed in a recent episode of the adult-themed cartoon SOUTH PARK. The main
characters, all elementary school children, were told that their news program,
which they broadcast across the school's closed-circuit television system, was
in danger of being canceled due to low ratings. To improve these ratings, the
children simply began focusing their program on salacious gossip. When one
character expressed concern about "dumbing" down his fellow students,
his colleagues replied, "People are already dumb. We're just giving them
what they want."
The third response
is, "Don't blame the messenger." Even though, as explained above, the
corporate-controlled media make ubiquitous efforts to manufacture and market
news, they consistently seek to present themselves as mere
"innocents" reporting upon events they cannot control.
today's America, people who want real news or honest criticism are better
served by not watching "news" programs at all. Comedy Central's
satirical program THE DAILY SHOW, for example, often covers current events with
more insight than the so-called cable "news" networks, where
"discussion" routinely consists of "experts" of dubious
qualifications shouting and interrupting each other.
Following the South
Park trend, a character on a recent episode of the animated comedy THE SIMPSONS
rhetorically asked where America's "koo-koo, bananas commander"
intended to start the next "military quagmire." A character on the
medical drama "ER" derisively mocked the Chicago Tribune newspaper
for endorsing Bush in the 2004 presidential race, while the series itself
devoted several episodes to the war in the Congo, where, as one character said,
the suffering is largely ignored because "there is no oil."
Finally, on May 15,
2005, the Associated Press reported that many critics were comparing the
decline of civil liberties and democracy in the new "Star Wars" movie
REVENGE OF THE SITH to the decline of civil liberties and democracy in the
United States. George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise,
acknowledged that much of the film was inspired by "historical
transformations from freedom to fascism." Ironically, in a nation that
boasts about "freedom of the press," it appears that only the
fictitious adventures of characters in a "galaxy far, far away" might
awaken Americans to the factual realities here on earth.
For the reasons
mentioned above, the hands of America's corporate-controlled news media are now
dripping with the blood of those sacrificed in a war promoted and exploited for
ratings and profit. May this blood that has been shed for their greed never
wash clean, lest we forget how easily corruption, avarice and deceit can usurp
democracy, blacken the hearts of humanity, and destroy the soul of a nation.
This article was originally published May 23 in PRAVDA.Ru.
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