In this interview with the senior editor and founder of The Real News Network, Paul Jay, acTVism examines the threats facing humanity today, Russiagate and what issues independent media outlets should be prioritizing
TITLE CARD: The Source
Threats facing Humanity, Russiagate & the Role of Independent Media
TITLE CARD: The Real News Network (TRNN) is a non-profit, viewer-supported daily video-news and documentary service. TRNN does not accept advertising, government or corporate funding. TRNN is sustained by viewer donations and earned revenue.
Paul Jay is the CEO and Senior Editor of The Real News Network (TRNN). Paul is host of the Real News show Reality Asserts Itself, which features in-depth biographical and political interviews with some of the leading minds of our time. Jay is also an award winning filmmaker and Exec. Producer for ten years of the CBC daily current affairs show counterSpin.
TITLE CARD: Before we talk about the role of independent & progressive media, set the scene for us: What are the most pressing issues facing humanity today?
Start with the following order: Economics, Environment and war & peace.
PAUL JAY: Okay, except I don’t agree with your order of importance. You’re asking me economic, then environment, but I’m going to start with environment.
I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous to the people of the world than the climate change crisis. It’s an existential threat. You either believe in science or you don’t. None of us, or I should say, the majority of us can’t do our own direct investigation, our own research on anything scientific, really, unless you’re working in that field. So you decide what science to believe. And you know, you go to a hospital, you get treated for cancer. You don’t do your own investigation into whether chemotherapy works or not. You can do a certain amount. But most people, you wind up having to trust the science, and on the whole, when a preponderance of scientists agree, perhaps there’s exceptions, but on the whole, you believe it. And that’s how we operate in this world. You know, we believe the world is round, and so on.
The preponderance of science, 99% of climate scientists, apparently, believe the climate change crisis, global warming, is an existential threat. And the most recent information is we could be crossing this 2° threshold, this is leading climate scientists, led by Watson, who was an IPCC chair for a while, they said in their report that we could be crossing this 2° threshold, 2° warming over preindustrial temperatures, by 2050. And that, they said that before Trump was elected. The polar ice cap is melting at rapid rates, and I don’t need to go through all the most recent data, but anyone that looks at it should be terrified. We should be talking about, everything we talk about, should start with the issue of climate change, and then let’s look at the other issues. Of course, in the United States, in the world, but certainly in the US, we are dealing with a far more important problem than the end of human society as we know it, and that’s the alleged Russian meddling in the election. And of course that is a far more important issue. Because even if there’s no humans, at least we won’t have Russians meddling in nonexistent elections.
It’s ridiculous what’s going on in the American media, it’s ridiculous what’s going on in US politics. Everyone is simply using this issue to push various agendas. And the media loves it because it’s a nice soap opera. You know, foreign threat, all the power of the Cold War comes back again, the shadows, darkness, a McCarthyite kind of mentality.
I’ve been saying on The Real News, I’ll say it again, if everything the Russians are accused of doing in the US turns out to be true, so far it’s allegations without a heck of a lot of objective evidence in the public domain, we’re being asked to have faith in the American intelligence agencies, and thus believe the Russians did all these things. It may turn out to be true, I don’t know, but it seems to be a very healthy starting point, for people and for the media, is don’t have any faith in the American intelligence agencies. After the Iraq war and all the ridiculous propaganda for decades after decades during the Cold War, there is no reason to take American intelligence on faith. So if you look at what’s actually objective, and not trusting the American intelligence agencies, there is a little bit of smoke. I don’t think there’s that much fire yet. But it almost doesn’t matter. Because if it’s all true, if the Russians were behind the hack of the DNC and then gave it to WikiLeaks, they had these troll farms swing some votes in the election, create disorder or whatever, it is nothing in terms of a threat to American democracy, it is nothing compared to what the American oligarchy does to American democracy. It’s not the Russians who gerrymander and create districts, congressional districts, elected representatives can stay there for decades. It’s the American oligarchy that is involved in voter suppression and repression in much of the South and, frankly, much across the country.
It’s the Supreme Court of the United States that has allowed unlimited funding by billionaires that has changed, not that the billionaire money wasn’t already determining the results of elections but it’s qualitatively more now, where an individual billionaire like Robert Mercer can get a President Trump elected, or Sheldon Adelson.
So the issue of the climate crisis should be the front and center burning thing that everyone’s talking about, and then look at all the other issues, because the truth when one looks into the issue of the climate crisis and the economic crisis, because were in another stock market bubble here, driven by cheap money, some real growth, but the market itself is a bubble. All the real solutions the economic problems and much of the issue of social inequality, it all ties right back to the climate crisis, because a sustainable green economy is the way out of all this.
Of course, we’re not talking about any of this in mainstream media or mainstream politics.
The more immediate threat than nuclear war, because I personally don’t see how there’s any more threat of nuclear war at this moment and there was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, for the entire post-World War II period. It seems to me the big nuclear powers could of thought a nuclear war on many occasions before now. I think it’s clearly in none of the big powers’ interest to fight such a war, and I don’t think it’s such an immediate threat.
That being said, there is an immediate threat in terms of nuclear war breaking out, and it’s by accident. It’s by the deterioration of the nuclear weapons facilities, the lack of monitoring. I’m told, it’s widely reported, the Russian nuclear facilities are in terrible shape. So are the American. There’s been reports, and I personally talked to people that have – working in those missile silos. The morale is terrible, the technologies not being refreshed, they have near accidents often that don’t go reported. So the nuclear issue of weaponry, it’s an issue, but I think it’s more on the issue of the possibility of an accidental trigger to war.
But there is war that’s on the imminent horizon that’s barely being talked about, again, in the American media. I don’t know, I can’t say for Europe. And that’s Iran. The United States, led by Trump, they’ve been elected on a platform of very aggressive posture towards Iran. They been making all the moves to get prepared for this. The close alliance between Trump and Saudi Arabia, the pushing out of Qatar for just wanting to have even a modicum amount of normal relations with Iran. Trump has said he’s probably not going to renew the Iran nuclear deal on the limitation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, for which there was actually no evidence there ever was a nuclear weapons program. All the pieces are being put into place.
See, I think Trump is a very, very, clever con man. He’s not stupid, and a lot of people try to portray him as stupid. There’s an interesting documentary one can find, it was suppressed for about 25 years, you can find it on YouTube, the documentary about Trump and his real estate dealings in New York. The reason it was suppressed for 25 years is that Trump threatened the people that funded the film – I haven’t verified all this, but this is the story I’ve read. Trump threatened the people that funded the film with libel action, and so they decided not to release it. Now 25 years later, somebody has actually released the film.
At any rate, Trump comes off as a bright guy. He knows how to manipulate New York politics, he manipulates, he bribes, he deals with unions. A lot of people have suggested that he dealt with the Mafia. And dealt it all in a clever way. He’s not stupid. And what is the essence of how a con man works? Look over here while I’m screwing you over here.
So everyone’s playing into Trump’s hands, to a large extent. I’m not saying the Russiagate thing doesn’t hurt him at a certain political level, and some of his people are actually getting indicted, it’s not, that isn’t a real contradiction. But the far more serious issue is the preparations for war with Iran. And one should not discount the possibility of, I say another, I’m of the opinion 9/11 was something that Cheney-Bush allowed to happen. I think there’s pretty good evidence of that. I don’t think, I don’t believe many of the other theories about 9/11, but I’m persuaded that, as Sen. Graham, Bob Graham, says, who actually led the Joint Congressional 9/11 Committee, they knew it was coming and they didn’t stop it. We can talk about that if you want, or another day. But given that, and given that Vice President Pence, when asked, “Who do you model your vice presidency after?” he said Cheney, well, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of some kind of false flag operation that gets blamed on the Iranians.
So while right now the predominant section of the national security state that wants to keep ratcheting up tensions with Russia, I can’t understand any other reason, frankly, other than it justifies a massive buildup of military expenditure. The kind of weapons you need to take on Russia are just so much larger and more expensive than even taking on Iran. So there’s a lot invested, there’s decades and decades in this anti-Russian narrative. And they don’t want to give up on it. We can get into, more into the contradictions here.
But to get back to your central question, there is no contradiction between focusing on climate and focusing on geopolitics or focusing on economic crisis. It all comes down to the same issue: who has power, who owns stuff, and are the people, ordinary people, going to rise up in these conditions in a conscious way and take power away from these oligarchs, both American oligarchs, Russian oligarchs, Chinese oligarchs, and you can go on down the list, are the people going to take power? Because were going into a situation, starting with climate, add to that nuclear, add to that potential war, an economy that’s, to a large extent, while there some growth right now there is still an underlying smoke and mirrors because so much of this growth is fueled by free money that people are simply borrowing at such low interest rates. All kinds of issues converging to put us, perhaps, the most dangerous time in human history.
They’re all the same problem. It’s not oh, should we focus on climate, or focus on that? Now, we who get this, or think we get the big picture here, our problem’s not a theoretical problem about how do we explain these things, or even, you know, focusing. Our problem is how do we get ordinary people engaged to fight for their own interests. In terms of the media, how do we create a media that can confront the influence of corporate media that in the United States has half the country, or more than half, perhaps, supporting a kind of fascism? And this isn’t just Trumpism. A large part of the country votes for very right wing Democrats. Center, center-right Democrats, who may be a modicum better than the outright fascist Republicans.
So we need to address the question of what role, as independent media, we can play into helping people get organized, without crossing the line. For us – I shouldn’t say independent media, because different types of independent media have different responsibilities. If one considers oneself an activist media, and advocate style media, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s an important role for certain media to play, that’s one job. We see ourselves as journalists, and not advocates. On the other hand, we understand there is no such thing as, of journalism beyond class. We get that you are on one side or the other. Whether you want to acknowledge it, you want to admit it. Some people, journalists, believe, oh no, no, if I use a verifiable method, and I just seek facts, I’m above the fray. It’s nonsense, because there isn’t a way for a human being not to have underlying assumptions how they approach the world. In every article you write, you’re not going to explain every single building block of logic underneath what you’re reporting. You make assumptions. You make assumptions that other people have the same assumptions. Well, you can make ruling assumptions. You can make the assumptions of the elites.
Like, for example, one of the assumptions that’s made here in mainstream media about US foreign policy is the Americans do bad things but for good reasons. Or they make bad mistakes but for good intent. I mean, even the Vietnam War, if you watch Ken Burns’ Vietnam series, and you watch the beginning of how he introduces the Vietnam series, it’s a mistake. It’s an error. Bad judgement. We see our role a little differently. We are professional journalists. We think what the people need from us is verifiable, professional journalism. But we understand that we are ordinary people, we have our own interests, they align with the majority of ordinary people’s interest. They need professional journalism from us. And we have certain rigor and standards that are not all that different, to some extent, from the best of mainstream media, corporate media, at least the tradition of verifiable journalism that corporate media professes to follow. But we’re also open about our assumptions, and we debate underlying assumptions.
On the other hand, we are pushing what we think, professional journalism up to the edge of a kind of activism but not over the line, especially what we’re doing in Baltimore, and I can talk more about that if you want. But our journalism, we hope, helps ordinary people of Baltimore to take over the city. We hope it helps the ordinary people of Maryland to take over the state. We hope what we’re doing becomes reproducible in other places in the country. If we’re just throwing information into the sea and hoping for the best, that’s a very impotent, frustrating journalism for me. I personally don’t think I’d even participate in it. This has to lead somewhere.
On the other hand, we are not the organizers. We aren’t the people who are going to organize the political campaigns. We have a line we can’t cross as journalists. Individually, if someone wants to play that role, fine. You go take off your journalism hat, leave the Real News, and become a direct organizer. But we’re not pretending we’re not in the battle, and it’s that kind of transparency that makes us different, as well as our allegiance makes us different, from corporate media.