Monday, June 13, 2016

New journalism—what happens when mainstream media becomes hated by all?

The commercial "mainstream" media has been in trouble for quite awhile now.  I pretty much gave up on it in 1982.  After four years of microscopically examining the flaws of the Carter administration, I realized that the same "journalists" were going to give Reagan a free pass for policy and administrative decisions that were far worse than anything Carter had done.  I decided that watching such outright lying and abject stupidity was probably bad for my health and one day, I just stopped watching the newscasts and reading the daily papers.  As a news junkie since junior high, this was harder than I thought it would be.  Finding alternative news sources turned out to be difficult and expensive and the closest newsstand that sold what I was looking for was a 14-mile round trip.  So yes, I cheated.  I'd flip on CBS or PBS on occasion to see if I was missing something interesting or important.  Mostly I confirmed that infotainment was just as big a time-waster as I remembered.

There was also a fascinating outlet for my political and social curiosity.  About the same time, I stumbled across my maternal grandfather's reading list from the 1920s.  He was a regular customer of the output of a Girard Kansas progressive publishing house run by a relocated Philadelphia lawyer named Emanuel Haldeman-Julius.  His main product were these nickel and dime books for the working man called The Little Blue Books.  Soon, I met a guy who had boxes of these things and would eventually read over 400 of them.  It was the most incredible intellectual experience of my life.
The novelist Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) described the Haldeman-Julius publications in his autobiography and their potential influence:

Riding a freight train out of El Paso, I had my first contact with the Little Blue Books. Another hobo was reading one, and when he finished he gave it to me. The Little Blue Books were a godsend to wandering men and no doubt to many others. Published in Girard, Kansas, by Haldeman-Julius, they were slightly larger than a playing card and had sky-blue paper covers with heavy black print titles. I believed there were something more than three thousand titles in all and they were sold on newsstands for 5 or 10 cents each. Often in the years following, I carried ten or fifteen of them in my pockets, reading when I could. Among the books available were the plays of Shakespeare, collections of short stories by De Maupassant, Poe, Jack LondonGogol, Gorky, Kipling, Gautier, Henry James, and Balzac. There were collections of essays by Voltaire, Emerson, and Charles Lamb, among others. There were books on the history of music and architecture, painting, the principles of electricity; and, generally speaking, the books offered a wide range of literature and ideas. […] In subsequent years I read several hundred of the Little Blue Books, including books by Tom Paine, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Huxley.
So no, I did not miss being lied to by folks who were turning CBS News into light fiction.  And when I got connected to the internet, any reason to look at commercial news utterly vanished.  As I say these days, "Ignorance is a choice!"  But the internet is not an unvarnished blessing.  In fact, most of what's there is crazy and ignorant.  But here's the deal—even if the internet is 98% rubbish, the remaining 2% is worth knowing.  And 2% of all of human knowledge is more that the brightest among us can hope to absorb in a lifetime.  So the bigger question is, "How do you find the worthy 2%?"

Actually, I have a BS filter that works so well, I barely think about it any more.  But recently, I had a young man ask me how I felt so sure-footed in separating the wheat from the chaff.  My answer had two parts.
  • Even with the internet, it still helps to read the books written by those who were there when the great human ideals were invented.  
  • Never scorn as unimportant the little factoids that describe how the world works.  It may not seem a big deal to know that water runs downhill or that the suns rises and sets in a different place each day with a certainty that can be predicted for centuries in advance. But you would be astonished at how many arguments fail to meet such simple intellectual standards.  Even better, large complex arguments can be constructed from a multitude of smaller facts that are beyond rational debate.
Predictions of the death of mainstream journalism have been around for a couple of decades now.  I figured the time for these dinosaurs was past when I saw of survey conducted by the Washington Post where over 30% did not want delivery of the Post—even if it was free.  Of course, Washington is a town where people still use fax machines and the nation's nuclear arsenal is controlled by an ancient computer system that uses 8" floppies.  So I would imagine that the pundits who share the inside-the-beltway thinking will be the very last to know that the Post is not a useful and reliable news source.

New era of journalism: People against the gatekeepers

Neil Clark 11 Jun, 2016 14:16

What does the post-mainstream era hold for journalism? Can censorship exist in an era of total access to information? Where does freedom of expression begin and where does it end?

These were just three of the important questions addressed at the "New Era of Journalism" conference held in Moscow this week, an event which brought together leading journalists from 32 countries and also featured a video link up with Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

Opening the proceedings, Dmitry Kiselev, Director General of the Rossiya Segodnya news organization, said that since 2001 the US had interfered with and destroyed a number of countries around the world with wars and interventions based on lies. These lies, such as the blatantly false claim that Iraq had WMDs which could be launched within 45 minutes, were promoted by US State Department/NATO-friendly news channels and other media as proven facts which they clearly were not.

Actually, the US policy predates the terrorist attacks on New York, as citizens of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who were bombed by NATO for 78 days and nights in 1999, would testify. The most drastic form of censorship was imposed in that conflict too, when Serbian state television (RTS), was bombed and 16 employees killed. But it was the "humanitarian crusaders" of a US-led military alliance doing the killing, so there were no ‘Ja sam Jelica’ or 'Ja sam Branislav’ marches of solidarity in western capitals. It seems it’s ok to kill media workers if it’s "our side" that does it. Then the victims are "unpeople".

Frank La Rue, the Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Communication and Information, said that the role of the journalist will always be the same but that new technology had been a major game changer. He talked of how technology has enabled the common citizen to participate, describing the "democratization of community". Of course, for elite gatekeepers the fact that the "common citizen" can now answer back on forums such as Twitter and challenge Establishment-friendly commentators is not a welcome development. Hence the growing calls for greater censorship of social media.

Speaking from London, Julian Assange said that freedom of expression on Twitter was under threat from both the right on grounds of "anti-terrorism/ anti-extremism" and the "identity politics left" who are attempting to censor views they deem to be offensive. He said he was not as optimistic as others who had spoken at the conference on how new forms of media can help defeat censorship, noting how Internet giant Google was "heavily integrated" with Washington power "at personal level and at business level. As an example he told delegates how the company used its front page to "promote John Kerry's call for bombing on Syria in 2013" and said that Google was "directly engaged" in Hillary Clinton’s US Presidential campaign.

The media censors the news by simply not reporting it, Assange said. He cited the Nobel Prize acceptance speech given by British playwright Harold Pinter in 2005.

Pinter asked why US wars of aggression in Iraq and elsewhere in history had very little documentation or coverage in the west and were not on anyone’s mind but the atrocities and abuses of Stalinist Russia were easy to recall and known in quite some detail. He said these words in relations to those US wars: "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them."

Now those are strong words, but I think they have largely been correct for what the establishment western media has done with the reporting of war. And it’s something which has undoubtedly contributed to the elongation of wars and contributed directly to their commencement. A case in point was of course Iraq where the war was started through mass lies spread through the media.

Assange noted that the playwright’s speech was not reported by Britain’s state broadcaster, the BBC, despite the fact that a British playwright had won a Nobel Prize.

It seems that like the US wars it discussed, the speech never happened. Even when it was happening, it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.

Assange also drew attention to the way the UK establishment reacted in February to the UN panel ruling that he had been illegally and "arbitrarily detained". He showed conference a tweet by UK Minister of State Hugo Swire mocking the ruling. Swire posted a picture of himself pretending to strangle his dog and wrote: "Oh dear, Rocco appears to be #arbitarilydetained "

UK Minister of State mocks UN ban on arbitrary detention by strangling his dog (in response to #Assange win at UN)

"Can you imagine if Lavrov (the Russian Foreign Minister) had tweeted a picture of him with his dog with the same message after Pussy Riot were arrested?" asked Assange. NATO-friendly "free speech" crusaders would have churned out "outraged" OpEd pieces. But it was a British Minister ridiculing Assange’s arbitrary detention, so, to use Harold Pinter’s phrase, it never happened.

British/Irish journalist Liam Halligan, a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, told the conference how economic factors are making journalism less socially representative in the UK. Once journalism had been a route to social mobility for talented working-class people. But cutbacks in news organizations have meant that those from wealthier backgrounds now benefit the most as they can afford to take unpaid internships. Journalists from such backgrounds are less likely to shine a torch on what the 1 percent and establishment elites get up to.

Eva Golinger, author and presenter for RT Spanish, talked of the pernicious role played by Venezuelan corporate media in the anti-democratic coup (which was later reversed) against Hugo Chavez in 2002. US Ambassador Shapiro actually went to a privately owned television studio to discuss how news reports should be edited. She told the conference how US "democracy promoting" agencies like USAID and NED had spent millions of dollars in trying to achieve "regime change" in Venezuela and on the role of the media in the recent coup in Brazil.

Many delegates touched on the new information ‘Cold War’ which had developed in the last few years. As in the old ‘Cold War’, McCarthyism has reared its ugly head again in the west with journalists who oppose NATO‘s aggressive policies towards Russia subject to relentless attacks and smear campaigns which are designed to destroy the journalist’s career.
I told the conference how the parameters of "acceptable" debate on foreign policy had become narrower in recent years, citing as an example the career of the award winning anti-war journalist John Pilger.

From the 1960s to the first decade of the 21st century Pilger’s outstanding, thought-provoking work could be found in western mainstream publications and his documentaries could be watched on western mainstream television networks. Pilger had a regular column in the Daily Mirror newspaper and the New Statesman magazine. His films were shown on ITV. But in recent years, Pilger has become an outcast as far as western mainstream media is concerned. In 2016, you’ve got to tune into Russian media to hear this legendary journalist’s views. In fact, if you want to find any really outspoken criticism of NATO, the west’s disastrous foreign policy and its double standards, you have to watch channels like RT.

You won’t see Pilger and people with Pilger’s views on foreign policy on Newsnight or on prime-time ITV. "Democratic" gatekeepers and Imperial Truth Enforcers have seen to that.

Since 2003, the people who called Iraq right have been blackballed while those who helped spread war propaganda are still in position or in some cases have even been promoted.

This New McCarthyism may serve elite interests, but in terms of ratings its been disastrous. The success and growing popularity of channels like RT which urge us to "Question More", is directly attributable to the narrowing of the parameters of debate on western news channels. Who wants to watch a "debate" on Syria between a hard-right neocon and a Blairite "liberal interventionist" both of whom are desperate for "regime change"? Why are the voices of those who actually support the Syrian government (possibly a majority of Syrians) or who oppose all meddling in the affairs of sovereign states never heard?

I call RT the zeitgeist channel because it responds to the desire of viewers who are sick and tired of the same old Establishment voices preaching to us and want to hear a much wider range of opinions, including those who support governments and leaders demonized by Washington and London-based neocons. The attacks that RT has been subject to by the west's endless war lobby, who would dearly love to have the station taken off air, clearly shows what an impact it has made. Last December RT on You Tube exceeded 3 billion views - way ahead of its rivals.

"We want a colorful multi-polar world and a media landscape that reflects that", Dimitry Kiselev told the conference. Only Cyril Waugh-Monger type McCarthyites, desperate to regain control the narrative and destroy media pluralism, could possibly disagree with that sentiment.

Modern technology certainly provides us with great opportunities to build a more democratic media landscape. As Alexei Volin, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Communications and Mass Media highlighted, you only need around $5000 to set up your own television studios these days. But the threat of censorship and attacks on those who simply want to get the truth out to the public remains, as the plight of Julian Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy for almost four years now, illustrates.

On arriving home from the conference, I was greeted with the shocking news that Argentina’s new right-wing US State Department friendly government had suspended RT Spanish and Venezuela’s TeleSUR from free-view transmission.

Will this brazen act of political censorship, described by one Argentinian commentator as an "all-out psychological onslaught on all of Latin America", be fiercely attacked by western anti-censorship groups who claim to support media pluralism? I fear that Harold Pinter’s "It Never Happened even while it was happening" theory will once again prove to be correct. more


  1. Media is not always honest - sometimes it is - but sometimes it is bought or is under pressure - freedom of speech is necessary -

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