Media calls out Trump bullshit. Trump yells at media, “Fake news!”
Repeat this over and over… ratings soar.
Inside the strange symbiosis between Jeff Zucker and the president he helped create.
This is an example of how drama is intentionally manufactured. Both the media and Trump are in on it, by the way. The goal is to force the listener to take a side. This is what is known as a false dichotomy or false dilemma. In this case, you are supposed to choose either Donald Trump or The Media. Then come out fighting!
This set up is everywhere in the media. EVERYWHERE. Once I learned to see it, I realized this set up is the default structure of political discourse and many other things. And it’s a scam.
For example, The Matrix. People seem to think this is a clever movie. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Who knows? Sounds a bit like Buddhism. The point is you are told to either take the red pill or the blue pill.
Choose the red one, you go to “the real world. The Truth. Get Woke.” Choose the blue one, you “stay asleep in the Matrix. Dream. Believe whatever you want.”
It’s easy to pretend the red pill is Republican and blue pill is Democrat. Choose one.
This pill scenario is a false dichotomy. What if I want to be green or yellow? What if I want no color at all? I’m going to eat both and see purple! Purple Haze!!! whooohhoo!
Politics in America is like this. It’s a sport. Choose a team. You’re either on the Red team or the Blue team. That’s all you get.
Ask yourself “why?”
“Why is this all I get?”
Here’s another false dichotomy gift from Hollywood: As Obi-Wan Kenobi so eloquently puts it in Star Wars, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes!”
Do you see why this is a dichotomy?
Sure you do. You are either a Sith dealing in absolutes or you ain’t.
Do you see why it is a false one?
When Obi-Wan says, “Only a Sith,” this itself is dealing us an absolute statement.
We’ll talk more about false dichotomy in a future essay. It is a really, really important concept to grasp.
For now, here’s Paul Street’s take on how Trump and the mainstream media are scamming us with this set up, right now.
CNN’s liberal and anti-Trump OutFront talk show host Erin Burnett was in crisis mode last week. She was rolling her eyes, anxious for the fate of the republic. The cause of her angst?
A Gallup poll shows 57 percent of the nation’s Democrats now respond more favorably to the word “socialism” than they do to “capitalism”—this compared with 47 percent of Democrats who prefer “capitalism” over “socialism.”
Burnett interviewed Jen Psaki, a Democratic commentator and former communications director in the Obama administration, and a gloating Republican political commentator named Scott Jennings. She and her two guests agreed this dreadful socialism business augured certain defeat for the Democrats in 2018 and 2020.
Burnett looked relieved as she put up a clip in which “progressive Democrat” and Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous responded when a reporter asked him whether he identified with the term “socialist”: “Are you f*#&ing kidding me?”
“I have to say I love Ben Jealous,” Burnett said, “for saying what he really thinks.”
Psaki expressed confidence the Democrats will be able to “capture [popular] enthusiasm and energy” linked to Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez “without going to the extreme left.”
Never mind Sanders, who openly identifies as a socialist, was found in a Harvard-Harris poll last year to be “the most popular politician” (Newsweek) in the U.S., or a good majority of the Democratic Party’s base prefers “socialism” to “capitalism.”
Never mind the mildly leftish progressive Sanders would likely have defeated CNN’s bête noire Donald Trump if the Vermont senator had been the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
Never mind that what the supposed “extreme left” candidates Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “progressive” Democrats mean by “socialism” is a series of mildly leftish social-democratic and progressive neo-New Deal policies that have long had majority support, not just among Democrats but in the whole country.
These policies include: “Medicare for All” (single-payer health insurance as a human right); seriously progressive taxation of the ever more obscenely wealthy few (in a time when the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent holds as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent and three ridiculously rich men have as much wealth among them as the poorest half); free college tuition; a significantly increased federal minimum wage, and real environmental protection combined with a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Burnett and her guests’ response to the Gallup poll was their utter lack of curiosity about why the number of Democrats who prefer “socialism” to “capitalism” is now 10 points higher than the other way around.
Might that have something to do with the profoundly inegalitarian, oligarchic, authoritarian and now clearly eco-exterminist performance of American and global capitalism as experienced by millions and millions of real people, especially the younger adults who embrace “socialism” to a far greater degree than their elders?
Yes, Trump is a malignant racist, sexist, plutocrat and narcissist who is, in the words of former CIA Director John Brennan (more on him below), “drunk on power.” He’s a pathological liar, an arch-authoritarian, a consummate bully, a vicious dullard and a deadly agent of ecocide.
Trump is so narcissistic, he couldn’t even mention the passing of the magnificent singer Aretha Franklin without trying to make the story about him by claiming (falsely) to have known her “very well” and that (as if the music legend had been his housekeeper) “she worked for me on numerous occasions.”
The sooner this loathsome and dangerous Bad Grandpa is yanked off the center-stage of history, the better.
But that doesn’t mean everything this monstrosity says or tweets is wrong. “Even a broken clock,” the old saying goes, “tells the time right twice a day. “
One example of Trump’s getting something right, in a sense, is in his recurrent description of the nation’s corporate and so-called mainstream media as “the enemy of the people.”
Trump says this for nasty reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to advance democracy or social justice. He says it in astonishingly repugnant ways, calling media professionals “very bad people,” disgusting,” “disgraceful,” “stupid” and even “absolute scum.”
It’s all about his desire to govern like one of the many authoritarian world leaders he creepily admires. In El Donito’s imagined happy place of American politics, all the major media outlets would follow the lead of Fox News, the Sinclair Broadcast Network and right-wing talk radio to function as Trump State Media.
Still, the wannabe dictator Trump is not completely wrong about that “enemy of the people” thing. The notion the United States possesses a great “free press” and “independent” media functioning as “the lifeblood of our democracy” (what “democracy” exactly?)—a central theme in the coordinated editorials that appeared Aug. 16 in 300 U.S. newspapers in opposition to Herr Trump’s repeated attacks on the media—is one of the great national lies of our time.
The dominant U.S. commercial and corporate media are a means of mass consent-manufacturing indoctrination, diversion and dumbing down on behalf of the nation’s intertwined corporate, financial, imperial and professional-class “elites.” Merging the dystopian visions of Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Neal Postman and Phillip K. Dick, they are a bastion of power-serving propaganda and deadening twaddle that work across hundreds of broadcast channels and through countless print and internet outlets to keep the U.S. citizenry allegiant and subordinated to big capital, the professional and managerial “elite” and the U.S. imperial state.
How could it be otherwise? Just six massive and global corporations—Comcast, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, the News Corporation and Disney—together control more than 90 percent of the nation’s television stations, radio stations, movies, newspapers, and magazines.
Corporate ownership combines with other deeply entrenched factors to guarantee the not-so-mainstream media’s dutiful service to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class and empire: the controlling power of corporate advertisers (the mass media’s main market, not the public); the disproportionate purchasing power of the affluent (the main target of advertisers); the elitist socialization, indoctrination and selection of journalists, and the dependence of media on government for information, access and monopoly power.
It’s not just about the news. If you really want to see where mass propaganda on behalf of class rule, racial and gender oppression and U.S. global force projection is most effectively and compellingly manufactured, watch the entertainment media.
When it comes to selling Americans on the supposed virtues of the American Empire and the purported evil of America’s “enemies,” for example, the news media have nothing on movies like “Top Gun,” “Iron Eagle,” “Independence Day,” “Rocky IV,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Argo,” “A Few Good Men,” “From Paris With Love,” “Captain Phillips,” “American Sniper,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Iron Man” and “Eye in the Sky,” and nothing on television shows like “24,” “Homeland,” “Law and Order,” “NCIS” and “FBI.”
This is just a short list from the much larger portfolio of U.S-imperialist “entertainment” media production, often generated with significant Pentagon involvement.
Forget Kim Il-Trump and his right-wing assault on the “Fake News.” There’s a vast and impressive left, radically democratic literature on how and why the so-called mainstream U.S. media serve concentrated wealth and power, functioning as one of the most potent weapons—if not the single most potent weapon (with chilling power to shape popular perceptions of reality)—in the hands of the nation’s ruling class.
See, for starters, Herbert Schiller. “The Mind Managers” (1973); Michael Parenti, “Inventing Reality: The Politics of the News Media” (1986); Parenti, “Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment” (1992); Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” (1988); Robert W. McChesney, “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy” (New York: Seven Stories, 1997); McChesney, “Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times” (2000); McChesney, “Blowing the Roof Off the 21st Century: Media” (2014); Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” (1983); Anthony DiMaggio, “When Media Goes to War” (2009); Stephen Macek, “Urban Nightmares: The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic Over the City” (2006); and William J. Puette, “Through Jaundiced Eyes: How the Media View Organized Labor” (1992).
That, again, is a short list.
Before you run off to the library or go online to order the books I just listed (which reminds me, please purchase this as well), ask yourself why the number of Americans who could properly describe the basics of arch-narcissist reality show personality turned White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman’s dispute with arch-narcissist reality-television personality turned POTUS Donald Trump is much greater (I’m guessing by 100 times) than the number of Americans who could tell you anything meaningful and truthful about the United States’ central and ongoing role in the savage crucifixion of Yemen.
The latter story recently included the killing of 40 Yemeni children riding in a school bus. Their vehicle was blown up by a Saudi Arabian missile manufactured by a U.S. “defense” contractor and launched with the logistical support of the U.S. military. Forget the academic literature for now and listen to a common-sense explanation by the lefty, Chicago-born-and-raised comic Jimmy Dore, about MSNBC, the supposed left wing of the allegedly liberal corporate media:
They’re not covering the genocide in Yemen, but they’re covering Russia 24-7… they won’t cover Yemen. Why? Because we’re complicit. The United States military-industrial complex is helping commit genocide and war crimes inside of Yemen. We’re doing that. We’re doing … ‘siege warfare.’ Siege warfare is a war crime … where you cut off supplies to people … trying to starve them … keeping them from medical supplies. You’re keeping them from clean water. … We’re doing that.
Dore was on point. The U.S. (along with its dutiful imperial pit bull the United Kingdom) is in fact doing all that. “We” (well, “our” foreign policymakers) are equipping and otherwise participating centrally in the unconscionable infliction of an epic humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The Saudi-Emirati coalition has already killed many thousands of innocent Yemenis and has so devastated the nation that famine and a deadly 19th-century disease, cholera (from unsanitary water), have gone epidemic there, causing mass child mortality.
For weeks now, the coalition has been savagely bombing the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry point for desperately needed food and medical supplies coming into the besieged nation. And, as the intrepid antiwar witness and activist Kathy Kelly recently reported on Counterpunch last weekend:
U.S. companies such as Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin have sold billions of dollars’ worth of weapons to [the Saudi-led] coalition, which is attacking Yemen. The U.S. military refuels Saudi and Emirati warplanes through midair exercises [and] … helps the Saudi[s] choose their targets. … The United States is ‘front and center responsible’ for the Saudi coalition attacks, …‘If an airstrike was a drive-by and killed someone [journalist Samuel Oakford notes], the U.S. provided the car, the wheels, the servicing and repair, the gun, the bullets, help with maintenance of those—and the gas.’
The “mainstream” U.S. media’s silence about this epic wrongdoing has, as usual, been deafening but unsurprising. “Exceptional” America’s starvation, sickening, maiming and slaughter of innocents doesn’t fit the narrative of American benevolence—a doctrinally set staple in U.S. corporate news, war and entertainment media.
So, it’s off the airwaves, for the most part—even if MSNBC’s leftmost anchor Chris Hayes was permitted to briefly and mildly break through the news blockade after the school bus outrage. (That was a crime too heinous to avoid, especially since it took place under Trump and not under a Democratic POTUS and MSDNC darling like Barack Obama, who was deeply complicit in the war on Yemen). About which, listen again to Dore:
The biggest humanitarian catastrophe in the world, we’re gonna wait until 45 minutes into [Hayes’] news broadcast. …We haven’t covered it for over a year, not even mentioned it. So now everyone’s going ‘kudos’s he’s doing it now.’… So now, when [Syrian President Bashar] Assad was supposed to have had chemical weapons and killed 30 people with chemicals, we were supposed to bomb him. … We just killed 56 kids. Who’s supposed to bomb us now? When do we get bombed? When does someone call us butchers? ‘Wow. look at that, [Hayes] went almost two and half whole minutes [about Yemen and the U.S. role in the missile attack on a school-bus there] and people are going nuts complimenting him. …There you go: ‘We covered it.’
It’s nothing you need a Ph.D. to understand. Dore gets it, even if his numbers may be off on the bus attack. He’s from a working-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, where people who pay attention (like the late and great journalist Mike Royko) learn early on that hypocrisy reigns and “money talks, bullshit walks” across party lines.
It’s about more than news censorship, however. The “mainstream media” work relentlessly to reduce their consumers to view issues from the point of the merely personal and private. It erases the social, historical and institutional. It inculcates the primitive level of consciousness where one can grasp something as childish as “Omarosa and Stormy Daniels were treated badly by Donald Trump” but nothing more complex beyond the individual scale than “America Good, Its ‘Enemies’ Bad”—and certainly nothing as involved and ideologically verboten as “the American Empire and military-industrial complex is invested in the murder of children in the Middle East.”
A third recent example of U.S. corporate media’s power-serving and propagandistic role deserves exposure. Last week saw the Big Pharma cable news networks CNN and MSNBC (both outlets host hundreds of drug commercials per day), The New York Times, The Washington Post, and most of the corporate news establishment run to defend, acclaim and even lionize blood-soaked U.S.-imperial spy masters, surveillance chiefs, liars and assassins like former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Why did CNN and MSNBC viewers hear again and again about how these totalitarian agents of imperial superpower death, torture, surveillance and destruction were heroic champions of human rights, liberty and freedom, fiercely dedicated to (of all things) “speaking truth to power”?
Because the Recep Tayyip Erdogan-Vladimir Putin-Xi Jinping-Kim Jong Un-wannabe Trump took away Brennan’s national security clearance and threatened those of Clapper and others as transparently political punishment for the forthright criticism of the president as a stupid, reckless, childish, and generally dysfunctional head of the American Empire. Or because of their status as potential anti-Trump witnesses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation.
There’s nothing noble or remotely democratic about Trump’s motives. But there’s nothing noble or remotely democratic about imperial actors like Brennan and Clapper either. Brennan ran the drone assassination program under Obama and the extraordinary rendition program under George W. Bush. He was the “principle coordinator” of the American citizen “kill list” and crafted the “disposition matrix” that codified the targeting and secret killing of American citizens.
And that was all before Obama tapped Brennan to head the CIA, where he wrote bloody new chapters in the book of imperial deceit and murder and led efforts to block a Senate investigation into CIA torture, including by spying on Senate staff members conducting the investigation.
During her much ballyhooed and deeply respectful interview with Brennan last Friday night, Russiagate-mad MSNBC rock star Rachel Maddow failed to ask him about the authoritarian implications of a recent New York Times op-ed article in which Brennan essentially suggested, in the words of the World Socialist Website’s Joseph Kishore, that “[a]ll social discontent within the United States is the work of ‘Russian puppet masters’ exploiting ‘gullible’ individuals. If ‘freedoms and liberties’ provide an opening for such operations, then these freedoms must be restricted. To ‘save democracy,’ it is necessary to abolish it.”
The pretense of Brennan and his supporters to be acting in the name of “democracy” and “free speech,” Kishore notes, “echoes the claims of a long line of would-be dictators who have employed such arguments in the past.” That’s exactly right and should be completely unsurprising to anyone familiar with the arch-nefarious history of the CIA at home and abroad.
The Republican Robert Mueller is treated with solemn worship at CNN, MSNBC, the Times and the Post and the rest of the non-Fox media establishment. You’d never know from the “mainstream” coverage and commentary that this new liberal icon and “war hero” (since he won medals in the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia during the 1960s) lied about Iraq’s nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” during his years as George W. Bush’s FBI director.
I’ll wait to write about Clapper, now a special friend and regular honored guest on the liberal CNN host Don Lemon’s nightly show, and other great Trump- and Fox-demonized/CNN and MSNBC-lionized heroes of “speaking truth to power” (even Orwell would be impressed by the application of that phrase to what our “intelligence community” does in the real world) on a future occasion.
It is appropriate to place quotation marks around the phrase “mainstream media” when writing about dominant U.S. corporate news and entertainment media. During the Cold War era, U.S. officials and media never referred to the Soviet Union’s state television and radio or its main state newspapers as “mainstream Russian media.” American authorities referred to these Russian media outlets as “Soviet state media” and treated that media as the means for the dissemination of Soviet “propaganda” and ideology.
There is no reason to consider the United States’ corporate and commercial media as any more “mainstream” than the leading Soviet media organs were back in their day. They are just as dedicated as the onetime Soviet state media to advancing the doctrinal perspectives of their host nation’s reigning elite—and far more effective.
The Soviets never came remotely close to the United States when it came to wrapping propaganda and ideology in entertainment media (see the Amazon spoof comedy series “Comrade Detective” for an often-hilarious portrayal of what a Stalinist Soviet bloc version of an American cop show might have looked like).
And Soviet news censorship was open and well known, a regular subject for underground coffeehouse comics in 1970s and ’80s Moscow. You could read the initials of the daily paper’s censors at the bottom of each issue of the onetime Soviet state papers Pravda and Izvestia. No illusions there of a totally free and independent media. Everyone knew otherwise, unlike in the U.S.
So, yes, U.S. corporate media are “enemies of the people,” even if that other great enemy of the people Donald Trump—himself a product and arguably a great “frenemy” of the corporate communications complex beneath all his anti-media bluster—says so for reasons that have nothing to with yours or mine.
So, by the way, is the CIA—an enemy of the people, that is.