28.08.2018 Author: Henry Kamens

Brass-Checking the Fact-Checkers, Media Manipulation and Plight of Journalism


To understand what is going on in the American media or “media” in general, one just needs to take a short lesson in history, looking back to the ranting of a muckraker of his time, Upton Sinclair, and the Brass Check, A Study of American Journalism (1906). Sinclair compared journalism to a Brass Check, paid to the cashier in a house of ill-repute; the client went upstairs with it and paid this check to the woman on receipt of her favours.

Nothing has really changed, as the emphasis in most discussions is now about Fake News and Click Bait and, on a more academic level, the CNN Effect and Manufacturing Consent. Aside from the splitting of hairs and abstraction upon abstraction, it boils down to the fact that we are all being lied to, some more than others. But how do we separate the truth from the lies as informed consumers of media?

The problem is that media does not serve the public good. It is manipulated to justify the status quo, and keep the masses in check for the slave drivers of the world. It is about corporate profits, ratings and propaganda. We are back to an age when soap and water was in short supply and people used perfume to cover their foul smell. This is why the MSM is attacking the alternative media as if it is without guilt.

The mantra of today is Fake News, and how someone, the government, the Worldwide Web or even Facebook, needs to do something about it—a comparison can be made here with the fox guarding the chicken house. Even one of the sites I have donated articles to on occasion, Veterans Today, has been blocked from sharing articles by the powers to be—and who gives them that right?

The attack on the “inconvenient-truth” and alternative media is in full swing, under the guise of protecting the public from the evils of fake news. But it is the MSM which is the guiltiest of producing this. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!

Round and Round and Getting Everywhere

Journalists are the modern day equivalents of the hookers of yesteryear described in Brass Check. Modern journalist and media organisations generate articles and maintain blogs. Individual journalists may write three to five articles a day, with little editorial support or fact-checking.

It is publish or perish existence, in which all is well as long as what you write is in keeping with what everybody else is writing. Don’t venture into fresh snow, or your companions will leave you to the bears.

The famous quote of Mark Twain says it all: “a lie can run around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. We saw this in the case of Tony Blair and Colin Powell and their claims about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). We know the rest of that story, so who should ever trust the media and political and military experts again?

But the mainstream media outlets know that if you say something often enough, it becomes the only reality. So they keep wheeling out the same old people, telling the same old lies, time and again until we think what they are saying must be true because it is all we hear – just like in the old Soviet world that no one wants to go back to ever again.

Hollywood Goes to War

Even through Hollywood we as a people are constantly programmed, as we saw with Black Hawk Down and the CNN effect, which constantly reminded us of the need for “Humanitarian Interventions” such as R2P, etc. Few Americans can even find faraway Somalia on a map. Why would they even want to? But they all became experts on it when they saw it portrayed in the movies, as they are what passes for truth when they have so much glamour, money and prestige behind them.

Black Hawk Down is no more than a Hollywood production for most, but it reflects the “cozy” relationship between Hollywood and the military, in other words the policy makers. It may have been a box office disaster, but is serves an example of why we cannot even trust what we see in the movies—as it is all manipulated for a purpose, convincing the public that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons.

This relationship has been producing such vehicles for a long time. Tom Cruise´s Top Gun (1986) was widely regarded as a recruiting film for the US Navy Air Force. More recent hybrid productions have hit a new low. It does not get much worse than American Sniper, as described by Rolling Stone—despite the fact that Clint Eastwood has his name linked to it.

“Sniper is a movie whose politics are so ludicrous and idiotic that under normal circumstances it would be beneath criticism.”

From a more academic perspective, Black Hawk Down is more than just the story of what happened to a bunch of young soldiers who took part in a “good cause” military action in Somalia in October, 1993, through the eyes of the young soldiers involved. It is a case study in how the media is manipulated. In cases where things go wrong and leaving is the right thing to do, a wrong decision is made to look right. Now we can say such interventions in faraway “shithole” places, no matter how well-intentioned, are simply not worth it!

The detailed reporting of the street fighting, and the heroic rescue of downed helicopter pilots, have been manipulated to give them “new importance” in the light of the events of 3 September 11, 2001, to show the America is doing the right things. We know that the movies are not based in reality. So why invest so much time and money making one unless it had a serious point we have somehow missed in our less glamourous, less respected private reasoning?

This was not always the case. Take for instance Casablanca, perhaps the greatest piece of wartime “good” propaganda ever made, which prepared the way for America to enter World War 2 and reverse its policy of neutrality. Emotion was used to establish what was evil in the world. It showed that simple Germans and French were also doing their best to resist Nazi rule, and needed help.

Ironically, considering current US policy, the film also let the audience know that America is the haven of the oppressed and homeless. Refugees want to come to the United States because they are assured of freedom, democratic privileges and immunity from fear. The love and esteem with which the country is regarded by oppressed peoples should make audiences aware of their responsibilities as Americans to uphold this reputation, and thus fight fascism with all that is in them.

Theatre of Convenient Dreams

One of the paradoxes of American film history is that Hollywood was at its best when it was the most controlled by the government and corporate structures. But even though those days are somewhat behind it, the power of movies to change minds and mobilize public opinion remains unparallelled, not only in the US but around the world.

The way this can be used for political gain or diversion is best expressed in Wag the Dog, which is about an American president getting caught up in a sexual scandal in the White House and declining in the polls, just like Bill Clinton, who utilizes a made up war to save the day.

Just like in that film, journalism and literature reinforce the political realities of the day, and turn questioning citizens into obedient followers. Much of the problem in this age is that so much information is put out, deliberately, that we are infected with information overload. Few are able to shift between trusted and questionable sources; given the size of the task, we lose the will to think critically and be informed consumers of information, becoming the people described by Peter Finch in his famous speech in Network (1976), who just want to be left alone in their living rooms by the news channels and never react to what they see and hear.

Even in World War 2 most Americans found Nazism pure evil, but still understood that there was a big difference between Nazis and good Germans. Now that line is being blurred. Shifting the blame onto others, be they immigrants, freeloading Europeans, NATO partners and less than trustworthy allies, as a distraction from real problems “at home” has always been a temptation for governments, but now it is stronger than ever. The media is being divided into ostensibly opposing camps, those who are for a particular policy and those against it, but both sides are only allowed to exist because they serve the same end. The process is controlled from above, by corporate and vested interests, the elites of society, and the rest of us are here just to sit back and be manipulated.

We are supposed to accept what we are told blindly, and live in a 1984 Orwellian reality. We can think, but only what we are told to think, as anything else is not part of the programme.

Case Study, First Volley in Media War

We know something must be seen as threatening when the MSM closes ranks and hits all Russian-funded sites. The media experts and wag dog organisations are all barking in harmony. This is demonstrated by a series of what would otherwise be described as articles and TV interviews trashing media outlets with Russian roots. Attack articles do not fall from the sky – they are generally sponsored, and go out of their way to hide behind the flimsy curtain of media integrity whilst at the same time refusing to print negative comments about them. But what is there so threatening about those alternative media sites? Yes, some of those have Russian backing, but they do not hide it.

Most of the outlets which repeat these anti-alternative claims can be proved to be financed by grants  and affiliated with US governmental bodies, including Radio Free Europe. But still no one believes that every American supports Trump. Why Russians should be different, after suffering for so long under a system which robbed them of all individuality and dignity which they never want to go back to, is a question no one wants to ask, because they know the answer.

Us and Us

For the sake of brevity, the news is not black and white, and neither is the world being reported. Just because someone has alternative views, it does not make them conveyers of fake news. What is wrong with giving interviews with a local news outlet which calls for close ties with Russia, when those who say the same are interviewed on MSM outlets to showcase the wrongness of their views?

However that is a moot point in the larger scheme of things. Even the Ukrainian media is starting to wake up to all that has transpired under the banner of anti-democracy and state building; some journalists are starting to realize that they have been sold a pig-in-a-poke by the MSM and the US State Department.

Anything that gives an alternative view is accused of being from Moscow; there is no secret that sides are taken, and unless the Western-sponsored sites come clean on their own, we are in for a big fight. We are entering a new stage in the media war, and I would not be surprised if they block us in every possible way.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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