"I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft." — George W. Bush, contemplating his next cold Lone Star, October 8, 2004, St. Louis, Mo
You know that you've reached desperate times when you find yourself fondly remembering Tass and Pravda as beacons of journalistic integrity.
But when considering US corporate media's seven-year love affair with the Bush administration and its willingness to deliver blatant propaganda and outright lies to manufacture Bush-approved political orthodoxy, those former USSR institutions compare favorably with the shameless house organs now masquerading as an American free press.
The Internet's corporate competition: co-opted beyond redemption
Thanks to a 30-year frenzy of mergers and acquisitions, wink-and-nod FCC "oversight" and congressional unwillingness to invoke existing anti-trust laws, the American marketplace of ideas is now ruled by six massive conglomerates that control the content of more than 80 percent of what most of us see, hear and read.
So what? Well, for one thing, a significant majority of news, entertainment and information US audiences see is vetted for its support of status quo corporate values and purged of "dangerous" unconventional narratives -- perhaps regarding the threat to independent thought posed by media consolidation.
And when discussing media consolidation, someone might tumble to the fact that NBC is owned by General Electric, one of the world's largest armaments manufacturers in 2006 and among the six largest media conglomerates. GE makes and maintains engines for the F-16 Fighter jet, Abrams tank, Apache helicopter, U2 bomber, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), A-10 aircraft and numerous other military equipment, including planes, helicopters, tanks and more.
Is it reasonable to expect NBC to report critically on the status and duration of the Iraq occupation? Or is it predictable that NBC's occupation coverage will tell us that the "surge" is working, that US troop deaths are down, that the Iraqi puppet regime is gaining traction and, if we can hang on for another decade, things should turn out hunky-dory.
Well, it's certain that extending the US presence in Iraq by a decade will have a very positive impact on GE's profit and loss statements. It's probably going to be somewhat less beneficial for the people who actually have to fight this insane proxy war on behalf of GE's bottom line.
But that's okay, since war is the optimum business condition for many industries -- banks, weapons makers, raw materials suppliers, machine tool makers and so on -- GE looks to sell many billions of dollars more of its killing machinery, all the while telling Americans via NBC how peace is just 10 or so years down the road.
And GE is just one of the main offenders. We'll leave for another day a discussion on how thoroughly Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. has polluted the national discourse. Or how the acquisitive tentacles of Viacom, CBS, TimeWarner and Disney have managed to take a relatively engaged population and, in 30 short years, turn it into a nation of compliant, ill-informed, politically illiterate chowder heads content to consume their quota of goods, services and ideologies with an equally uncritical eye.
American mass media lost the thread of the story decades ago and are now only qualified to dish pop culture infotainment masquerading as news; report breathlessly on the latest D-class celebrity screw-up; and act as stenographers and cheerleaders for the latest batch of official Bush administration lies.
Among other insults, this explains why John Stossel is a network star while Bill Moyers is on PBS.
The parallel universe
The only serious competition threatening corporate media's monopoly on official "truths" -- those pieties designed to narrow acceptable choices and increase social control -- comes from the Internet.
"The news," as it's laughingly known, can tap into a seemingly endless supply of drunken or felonious fools like Jessica and Paris and OJ and Twitany to sedate its viewers. Then there's the occasional gruesome murder to balance the chirpy happy talk on miraculous medical procedures (which most of us will never live to experience because our for-profit insurers won't cover them), an always erroneous look at local weather, followed by 15 uplifting minutes on sports and a recap of the top celebrity screw-ups of the day. The viewer yawns, feels a bit over-awed by all this technical wizardry and slick showmanship, and heads for bed thinking he's up to date on the stuff that really matters.
Corporate media has a bottomless pool of "on-air talent" -- perfectly coiffed, well-modulated, tastefully made up, arrayed in $5K worth of suits, ties and little flag lapel pins, strident and irritating as a hundred Ross Perots.
We have broadband, YouTube, blogs, forums, actual reporters, search engines, discussion groups, political organizing, access to newspapers published in actual free countries -- all taking place in plain sight.
Over the past decade Internet and Web technology have matured and surpassed nearly anything mass media can offer. It's instant news, usually with audio or video, often reported by eyewitnesses rather than filtered by some blow-dried idiot. It's preserving what's left of our national heritage by archiving "purged" documents. It's subjecting every significant political, social and economic development to the scrutiny and analysis of the world's collective brainpower. It's the unifying element linking diverse cultures into an evolving planetary society not subordinated to states or lines on a map. And it's the universe's greatest source of jokes, one-liners and satire.
Governments' worst nightmare: an informed and activist citizenry
I don't see how the power elites can afford to allow this nonsense to continue for much longer. People with unconventional (read: humanitarian or peaceful) ideas are the implacable enemy of those sustaining their wealth and power by aligning themselves with the status quo, and these dissenting Internet pipsqueaks cannot be tolerated forever.
To our corporate masters, libraries, independent publishers and bookstores are bad enough. But fortunately for "them," libraries are underfunded and ill-attended, it's getting harder to publish dissenting material in the US and many independent book stores are getting killed by the Barnes & Nobles and Amazons of the world.
Not so the Internet. It's become the alternate universe for hundreds of millions of people worldwide who know and understand that the official story is always and inevitably suspect. That altruism has never been a function of governments. That governments are always at war with "the people" they pretend to watch out for. That, as The Commander Guy pointed out in a rare moment of clarity, dictatorships ARE easier to run than representative democracies. That power exists solely to perpetuate itself and, when threatened, will defend its position with anything and everything in the arsenal.
Now that's a hell of an alternate narrative. And the Internet is the "plumbing" that carries these contrarian messages -- and the seditious thoughts and attitudes and movements they inspire -- around the world in less time than it takes Murdoch to count his latest billion.
Death by harassment
In July of last year, Bush signed an executive order, entitled "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq. This expanded the administration's flexible definition of a terrorist to include anyone disagreeing with its " . . . efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people." This apparently isn't intended as a joke, although I'm not sure what's going on over there qualifies as "economic reconstruction" or "humanitarian assistance."
Which brings us to "Endgame," as the Department of Homeland Security calls HR 1955/S 1959, known officially as The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, and which contains -- among dozens of disgusting provisions -- these gems [italics mine]:
(2) The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.
(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.
Striking at the heart of the international terrorist conspiracy, this bill targets the dangerous arch-fiends/grandmothers/MySpace teens who participate on the hundreds of thousands of political forums, blogs or news and information sites that aren't exclusively devoted to singing the praises of Bush/Cheney and their merry band of imperialist oil pirates.
Note that this piece of repressive legislation -- rumored to be the brainchild of the Rand Corporation and introduced by Democrat Jane Harman -- passed the House last October by a 404-6 margin. Note that, introduced last August in the upper house as S 1959 and co-sponsored by GOP armchair warrior and domestic repression enthusiast Norm Coleman, it's coming up for a vote in the Senate early this year. If it passes, which seems likely, a Bush signature is a given -- probably with a signing statement that says he'll ignore the act's few feeble provisions to combat totalitarianism, like this one:
(a) In General - The Department of Homeland Security's efforts to prevent ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism as described herein shall not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Readers may want to take appropriate preemptive action before, say, downloading this article becomes a felony.
Another motive for digital murder
There's an interesting new site called "Wikileaks" that has garnered some recent attention from corporate mass media, notably Time Magazine, which notes that Wikileaks " . . . could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act." The site is intended as a secure repository where whistleblowers can, at minimal personal risk, post confidential, potentially embarrassing government and corporate documents for the entire online world to see, study and analyze.
Here's part of Wikileaks' mission statement:
We propose that authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger — the consciences of the people within them.
We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies . . . We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly - in terms of human life and human rights. But with technological advances to the Internet and cryptography, the risks of conveying important information can be lowered.
Wikileaks opens leaked documents up to stronger scrutiny than any media organization or intelligence agency can provide. Wikileaks provides a forum for the entire global community to relentlessly examine any document for its credibility, plausibility, veracity and validity. Communities can interpret leaked documents and explain their relevance to the public. If a document comes from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community and diaspora can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document arrives from Iran, the entire Farsi community can analyze it and put it in context.
In an important sense, Wikileaks is the first intelligence agency of the people . . . its only interest is the revelation of the truth. Unlike the covert activities of state intelligence agencies, Wikileaks relies upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice.
Wikileaks is still months from going fully operational, but they've already put up quite a few leaked confidential documents from all over the world. Here's one entitled "Fallujah, the information war and U.S. propaganda."
I suppose the whole thing could be a slick disinfo psy-op designed to leak phony documents to "non-embedded" reporters, then embarrass them publicly for printing anti-US propaganda fabricated by some obscure left-radical loon or "terrorist."
But only a pure pessimist would think the Bush administration capable of such chicanery. On the contrary, they've amassed an impressive record of unstinting support for the organizing principles of this country . . . life, liberty and happiness for those with the right pedigree and who can kick in a million bucks or so to the Republican National Committee each election cycle.
You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org while the Internet is still up and running.
Also, if you value your opinions and the right to express them openly over the Internet, please call your senators and urge them to vote against S 1959. Then, if you really enjoy smashing your head into the wall, notify the media of your dissatisfaction with their complete blackout on HR 1955 and S 1959.