In the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News From the Revolutionary War to The War On Terror, authors Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong assert that “The mainstream corporate media is one of the chief propagators of American exceptionalism and innocence…the narratives of American exceptionalism and American innocence work together to serve white supremacy, empire, capitalism, and the US war machine.” Jacqueline Luqman talks to author Danny Haiphong about what this means in relation to real life issues and policy today
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi, this is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
Media is a powerful tool of disseminating information. That information can be destructive or beneficial, depending on who controls the media narrative and who the target audience is.
In the book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News–From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror, authors Roberto Sirvent and Danny Haiphong assert that “The mainstream corporate media is one of the chief propagators of American exceptionalism and innocence” and that “the narratives of American exceptionalism and American innocence work together to serve white supremacy, empire, capitalism, and the U.S. war machine.” But what is meant by the terms they use: American exceptionalism and American innocence? Why is it considered fake news, and how does it all fit in shaping some of the issues we face today?
Well, here to talk about this with me today as one of the authors of this book. And this is Danny Haiphong. Danny is a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny, welcome.
DANNY HAIPHONG: Thank you for having me, Jacqueline.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Danny, first can you explain quickly what you mean by the narratives of American exceptionalism and American innocence that you describe in this book, and why you frame them as fake news?
DANNY HAIPHONG: Well, American exceptionalism is the ideology that the U.S. is a force for good in the world, that it is inherently democratic, that it promotes freedom around the world, and that it’s an arbiter of liberty both domestically and abroad.
American innocence is an ideology that is connected to American exceptionalism which posits that the United States–regardless of any mistakes that it makes, regardless of whatever exposure to the crimes that it commits domestically and abroad–that it still is exceptional and that it still a maintains an air of innocence; that those are aberrations, those crimes are aberrations that are not to be considered inherent to the system that dictates the United States itself.
We frame these ideologies–these related ideologies–as fake news because in this media atmosphere, in this political atmosphere in the United States where fake news is a hot topic in the conversation and the political discourse amongst the ruling class, we need to talk about how fake news has been propagated by the corporate media, the capitalist class and the warmongers that dominate Washington which presume that the United States is an exceptional state. And this ideology allows the United States to do whatever it wants on the world stage, whatever it wants domestically and still come out as some sort of innocent actor.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Just to be clear: You did not get the term fake news from this current president? Where–and this is explained in your book–where does this term fake news originate, as far as what you were able to track?
DANNY HAIPHONG: It came from the Hillary Clinton campaign. It also came from one of her primary supporters, former president Barack Obama. They both had, at the eve of what looked like Trump’s victory in 2016, decided to mount a campaign really against the internet, against independent information disseminated on the internet. And they blamed those independent disseminators of information on the internet for the rise of Donald Trump. Then eventually what we saw was Russia came in on the mix as being the boogeyman, the country that was pulling the strings; Vladimir Putin was pulling the strings of these independent disseminators of information who were looking to undermine this so-called sanctity of American democracy.
That is where the term comes from. Then Donald Trump took it for his own purposes in order to vilify the corporate media and gain legitimacy, not only among his own base, but also in spreading what really is the truth–that the corporate media lies all the time–for his own personal purposes. And that is dangerous, because what it does is it takes what should be a left wing talking point, a left talking point, a talking point of the working class, into the sphere of Trumpian politics. And the ruling class on the other end that opposes Trump, on the Democratic Party side, wants to see that narrative squashed because they have a lot of reckoning to do themselves.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m glad you brought up the point of the Democratic Party not taking what should be a left talking point back, that that is justified in looking at politics from a working class sphere. Let’s just look at this idea of American exceptionalism, that America is so great, and we are a force of democracy in the world; and juxtaposing that with the idea of American innocence, that no matter what bad we do, we’re still this great nation. Let’s see what this looks like from the analysis in your book against some modern real world issues that we’re facing. What does this narrative of American exceptionalism and American innocence mean in, let’s say, the way the Democratic Party is responding to the firing of John Bolton? How does that narrative play into how we see this being framed in the media?
DANNY HAIPHONG: I’m so glad you brought up the firing of John Bolton. Because what we’re seeing right now is that the corporate media, especially MSNBC, is basically coordinating Bolton as a member of their form of resistance to Trump. And even though a lot of the so-called Democratic Party establishment–Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer–will say that they have had disagreements with Bolton in the past about his more extreme points on foreign policy, they have ultimately conceded the fact that Bolton really does represent the consensus in the United States’ political apparatus on the issue of war and peace; that his politics of being completely and rabidly for war against the DPRK, Venezuela, Iran, that these issues ultimately represent the broader agenda. And even vaulting his crimes as being an architect of the Iraq war, which killed over a million Iraqis at the hands of the U.S. military state; as being an architect of the ongoing destabilization campaign against Iran, which has killed many people by way of sanctions. The same with Venezuela: 40,000 people dying of sanctions because of the U.S. meddling there.
What we are seeing is that Bolton is being exonerated for these crimes; that rather than the corporate media challenging him, they are using the ideology of American exceptionalism which presumes that U.S. institutions themselves are exceptional, that the national security advisor is some arbiter of stability around the world. You have Susan Rice and Samantha Power on MSNBC for hours at a time talking about the sanctity of the National Security Council and the responsibility of the United States to protect the world from itself, so to speak. Bolton is becoming a figure that is accepted. His rabid warmongering, his militarism, is now an accepted narrative in the United States’ political apparatus. And this is the pinnacle of what American exceptionalism really does. What it does is it creates that consensus on war and it helps to breed even further political right-wing manifestations like Trump. And it gives them strength.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: In the so-called left party, not adopting a narrative of critiquing the errors, the missteps, the mistakes, and then the outright war crimes that are committed by this government… You’re saying that what it does is create more legitimacy for the right, even though this so-called left party of the Democratic Party is supposed to be an opposition to the GOP, and particularly in the opposition to Trump. Did I get that right?
DANNY HAIPHONG: Yes. And Trump can pose as an outlier. He can pose as an outsider because the two party duopoly in the United States–the Democratic and Republican parties–have been completely exposed as being one war party, and the consensus ideology of American exceptionalism is what unites them in committing their crimes. And this doesn’t only go for their foreign policy, for the foreign policy of the United States. It also goes for domestic policy. Because what we’re seeing is that this ideology of a American exceptionalism has many manifestations in a sort of white superiority complex, an imperial complex that has significant consequences for people in the United States, especially by people who are facing the same militarized war machine in their communities and get no mention in the corporate media about that.
Really, all we hear about is how Trump represents some aberration and that the United States would in fact be a more equal society, a more fair society, a more just society were he to be eradicated from the political atmosphere.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The assertion in your book is that the long history of the corporate media pushing this narrative of American exceptionalism and American innocence, you make the case has to be examined together. It’s your argument that this narrative is the foundation–or it leads to or at least can partially explain the rise of the legitimacy of white supremacy in national, even political discourse. Is that correct?
DANNY HAIPHONG: It is. American exceptionalism and American innocence basically are branches of an imperialist tree that has a trunk which its foundation is white supremacy, empire, capitalist exploitation, and that these interrelated systems all form the basis of American exceptionalist ideology. Ruling class ideas are expressions of the ruling system. What we are seeing is the fact that because the U.S. imperial system is in such decay, it’s in such crisis, and because the two party system is losing such legitimacy among millions of people across this country, there is a political vacuum, partly created by the fact that the Black Liberation Movement–for all of its progress in changing the narrative in the United States, forcing the ruling class to adopt a more colorblind ideology, that this didn’t translate into necessarily significant material change.
As the crisis for black communities, for poor working class communities has worsened, the rise of the right has come along with it. And that’s because the so-called engine of diversity, the engine of American exceptionalism, which is now the Democratic Party, has become completely debunked and exposed for its complicity. And the real material crimes committed against working class people every day, whether it’s the almost a million black people that sit in U.S. prisons right now or whether it’s the ongoing assault on the Syrian people by way of devastating sanctions and proxy war, that these issues are intimately connected and that American exceptionalism is the ideology that helps ensure that these issues are completely disconnected from the political discourse if they ever talked about at all.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, I want to end on this point because we just observed another anniversary of 9/11 here in the United States. In your book, you talk about how the idea of America being the arbiter of good in the world is used in tandem with absolving America of its crimes in the world, and how that shapes how we see how policy plays out in real life. Now, we have the commemoration of September 11 here in the United States, but there’s another September 11 that is actually connected to everything you just said in 1973 that doesn’t get talked about. And this feeds right into everything you talk about in your book. Could you make the argument that it’s this narrative of American exceptionalism and American innocence that has erased the coup in Chile on September 11, 1973; that has paved the way for how we’ve responded to September 11, 2001 and this endless war narrative that we are continuing to live?
DANNY HAIPHONG: Yes. There is definitely a direct connection. What happened on September 11, 1973 with the overthrow of Salvador Allende, there was CIA-backed coup, a bloody coup which cost the lives of tens of thousands of people and disappeared thousands more in Chile. What it did was it instituted Milton Friedman’s neoliberal model across South America and Latin America and the Caribbean. And it instituted shock therapy, shock and awe privatization. This is the model that the U.S. ruling class across both parties has attempted to export both domestically and around the world. This is the model that has created the crises that we are seeing right now which led into the response to 9/11, which was a crackdown not only on the nations around the world who challenge U.S. hegemony–the invasions of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the creeping encirclement of Russia and China–which came out of the war on terror. We can also see in the United States the cracking down on dissent, the cracking down on whistle blowers, the jailing of whistle blowers, the massive surveillance state that was developed after 9/11.
All of this serves to legitimize a narrative which was American exceptionalism on steroids that was implemented in 9/11–first by the Bush administration, continued under Obama, and still continued under Trump–which posits that the U.S. is under threat from a foreign entity. And Russiagate has served as another step in this process when the war on terror has been largely seen as illegitimate, as having all of these negative consequences for broad swaths of the global population; not only the endless wars, but many Americans are not happy with the massive surveillance state.
So what we see is Russiagate taking that next step in labeling the new mission of American foreign policy as a great global power confrontation. And American exceptionalism now has been reframed as the need to preserve the institutions of the United States from the Russian boogeyman in order to justify the encirclement of Russia through NATO, as well as sanctions against Russia. And also the increasing surveillance of the left. Black Agenda Report and other left media has been clumped in with the so-called alt-right to be suppressed all over the internet, through social media and through web searches on Google.
So all of this is to say that yes, there is a direct connection between 9/11/1973 and 9/11/2001 in the fact that the model–the consensus model for austerity and endless war–was ultimately propagated by the notion of American exceptionalism. And it has not been talked about because there is this drive among the ruling class to ensure that the institutions of propaganda and media and the education system continue to parrot the same line, to the point where we even have progressives like AOC and Ilhan Omar on Twitter talking about how Trump was wrong to cozy up to dictators. It gets that deep, where even the most progressive elements aren’t able to see beyond the trees and into the forest.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That is why this book is so important. Because it does examine that very long history; as the subtitle of your book says, From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror. Danny, thank you so much for co-authoring this book and coming on to talk about it today.
DANNY HAIPHONG: I really appreciate you having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thank you so much for watching. If you like what you see here on The Real News Network, please subscribe to us on YouTube. This is Jacqueline Luqman in Baltimore.