Remember the Washington Post of the Watergate years? Can you imagine an issue of that newspaper showcasing neocons like Charles Krauthammer, that Halloween-mask ugly (inside and out) warmonger? Or David Ignatius, the CIA spokesman and war supporter who is demanding that Obama refuse to negotiate with the Iranian regime? Or Bush CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, who is warning that America will be in danger if CIA officials involved in torture are questioned about their atrocities? How about the most notorious neocon of them all, the provocateur who did more than anyone (except Dick Cheney) to instigate invasion of Iraq – the unspeakable Paul Wolfowitz?
On Monday, the Post hosted an online chat with Fox News’ Glenn Beck (Glenn Beck!) to promote his new book. Today, the Post features a column from neocon Bill Kristol, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; a column from right-wing polemicist Kathleen Parker, attacking Obama for indifference to Freedom in Iran; and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson attacking PBS for banning sectarian programming. On Wednesday, it published an Op-Ed piece from neocon Robert Kagan accusing Obama of being “objectively” pro-Ahmedinejad (headline: “Obama, Siding with the Regime”). The Post hosts a permanent feature with National Review‘s Ramesh Ponnuru, leading discussions about conservatism. And its Editorial Page, for years, was (and still is) the loudest cheerleader for the neoconservative prongs of Bush’s foreign policy, particularly the war in Iraq.
If you are surprised by this turn of events you shouldn’t be. I spent most of my working life as a newspaper reporter and editor, and here’s how it works. You don’t build readership by siding with the powers that be. You build readership by sniping at authority. I guess it’s because most people feel oppressed by the boss or something like that. Now that “liberals” are perceived as being in charge in America, the Post is hoping to attract an audience by “taking on the Nanny state” (their words).
But that’s just one aspect of the news “game.” There’s a more sinister side. In the past few decades U.S. media have fallen into the hands of Big Business. I am sure you know that Time Warner owns CNN, Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News, and Microsoft and General Electric own MSNBC. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is really no such thing as an independent press in America today. The Washington Post, for example is owned by a publicly traded company (which also owns Newsweek) but most of its shares are in the hands of a few wealthy families.
As John Swinton, the former chief of staff of The New York Times, put it:
The business of the Journalist is to destroy truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press? We are the tools and vassals for rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and or lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.
You won’t find many reporters or editors disputing that claim. Hey, we gotta eat!
You may wonder then why some media types have been allowed to take a “liberal” approach to the news. But, if you think about it, you will realize that until the election of America’s first black President, the conservative establishment was securely in control (yes, even during the Clinton, Carter and Johnson years). The corporate elite could afford to give the public a little liberalism – especially when it built readership by taking shots at authority.
Now, President Obama is not a liberal in my book. His policies so far have been center-right. In Canada, the United kIngdom, France or Germany, he could easily represent a Conservative party. But among the power brokers who run the United States behind the scenes, he is seen as a dangerous Socialist. Not since FDR has meaningful societal reform been possible in America. And in FDR’s time, the media were not owned en masse by the corporate elite, as they are today.
With the Obama revolution, the American power structure feels threatened. The white men who have been running things for so long are not about to let their hands slip from the reins. And if they have to muzzle the media to retain control, that’s what they will do. They have learned from history how important it is to control the propaganda that the public feeds on.