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Paul Jay of The Real News speaks at the Von Krahl Academy, Estonia in November 2008

Story Transcript

Tallinn, Estonia
November 2008

TEXT ON SCREEN: “Free media” lecture by Paul Jay, The Real News Senior Editor, at the Von Krahl Academy

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: The Real News Network, the fundamental idea of it is to change the economics of journalism. What we believe is that for-profit journalism leads to compromised journalism. It may not always have been the case, but it certainly is now, and it’s the worst on television. When you deal with the commercial pressures in what you would call “normal” times, having to sell ads and worry about ratings and all of this, it creates a gravitation in television news to have to do something that would simply attract audiences at the cheapest cost. These are normal times, and that leads to closing of foreign bureaus, it leads to news that’s very superficial, and also news that’s safe, stays on the official page, within the official narrative, because it’s best for your commercial interest. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is at times of crisis. At times of crisis, it’s not a commercial imperative, at least not a narrow one, that kicks in; it’s a political imperative. And you can see it in many countries, but you saw it in the most exaggerated way in the United States in the leadup to the Iraq war. When Colin Powell went to the United Nations, any good journalism would’ve been able to say, on the day Colin Powell told the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a good journalist would have been able to debunk that on that day. In fact, Scott Ritter, who was the American nominee to the United Nations inspection team in Iraq, he’d left the inspection team about 10 months earlier, but he spoke in Tokyo on the very day that Powell spoke to the United Nations, and Ritter said to a meeting of the Foreign Press Association of Japan that everything Powell had said was a lie, and it turned out Ritter was right. That speech of Ritters’, that was covered by AP on video and in their text wire services. Every news organization in the world got Ritter’s speech, and nobody used it, and everybody simply let Powell get away with what helped lead to an illegal war. So the idea of The Real News is, through the Internet, through thousands of people around the world contributing small amounts of money, we can create the financial base to create a news organization that can try to describe the world as it is. We think good journalism first starts with accepting that you can’t know any absolute truth. And when we say “The Real News,” we don’t mean we know some absolute truth; what we mean is that there is a real world out there, and we all have direct experience with it, and we want to cut past all the propaganda and the spin that describes that world through news, because we’re now entering a period of human history which is certainly one of the more dangerous crossroads we’ve ever been in, and perhaps as never before we need to know what the reality is. We’re now entering a period of a general crisis of the world capitalist system. It’s the big one, according to just about every economist you could talk to. We’ve been riding bubble to bubble to bubble the last 30, 40 years, and the big bubble is bursting. And you add to that the climate-change crisis. And then, out of this, the geopolitical tension that already existed is going to be exaggerated many, many times. Just start with a country like Pakistan. So we need to know the reality, because I think it’s very clear that the traditional political process in virtually every country, with some exceptions, maybe, in Latin America, is paralyzed. No fundamental solutions are going to come from any of the traditional political parties or traditional political process. So our objective is uncompromising journalism. And what that means is to follow�we believe in facts. We believe we will never know all the facts. And we’ll follow the facts as best we can wherever they lead. And we’ll question assumptions. And to do that, you need independent economics.

TEXT ON SCREEN: What started The Real News?

JAY: I’ll tell you how this came to pass, how I got here. I’m actually a filmmaker is what I really am. I’m known for�my last film was called Return to Kandahar, which I shot in Afghanistan. And about four or five years ago, the last thing on Earth I wanted to do was this. I’d been juggling many balls. I’d been making films and doing the debate show. And what I really wanted to do was make a fiction film. And I started writing a script called 2020, and it was about a documentary filmmaker in the year 2020 who stumbles on a political conspiracy. And I was coming to the end of doing the debate show after 10 years, and I wanted to focus just on making one thing, this movie. And I wrote most of the script, and I think it was pretty good. To write the script 2020, I had to imagine: what does the year 2020 look like? So I started trying to imagine 2020. Okay, so we’re not going to be probably flying around in spaceships. But you start extending the current trends. Anyway, so I’m typing what all this is going to look�2020’s going to look like, and it doesn’t look good. The idea for this network, it started to percolate in my mind around that time. And the idea of having a platform where we could get the smartest people in the world to analyze what our reality is, and what are rational solutions to the problem facing us, and to create a medium that could have that kind of dialog with millions of people, which means television, whether it’s on the Internet or TVs in the living room. So I was looking: well, what does 2020 look like if we have that kind of network, and if it’s financed by ordinary people, and if it’s independent, and if it has the guts and courage to stand up under political pressure? And guts and courage comes from economic independence. You know, we’re not thinking that we have some super characteristics, those of us working on The Real News. We’re ordinary people as you are. If you have economic independence, you can stand up under pressure. So I’m writing this script, and I’m saying, well, 2020 looks better with that kind of a network. And so then I came to this moment where I had to make a very big personal decision, which is: do I want to write about it, or do it? And I think we’re all going to be facing this kind of moment right now that one can’t understand theoretically what we’re moving into, but life for most people, in Europe and North America at least, still kind of carries on sort of normally right now, and at some point you have to actually believe what you think is coming and start acting now, because if we wait, the longer we wait, the more difficult it’s going to be to find the solutions. So at some point about four years ago, I just decided, okay (pardon the language), the shit is going to hit the fan. And it was also in the context�I was running this debate show on CBC. So the debate show, running this show, really opened my eyes about television news. I mean, I knew television news was crappy, but when we were doing the debate and had the ability to go into these questions day after day, then we could really see how bad TV news was. And there was a particular moment for me�or maybe two moments. One was 9/11. The morning of 9/11, we had been off for the summer, and we were planning to be back on the air on 9/17, and we had planned our show. And so we’re sitting there in our offices getting ready, and the planes hit the buildings, and, you know, we watched in shock like everyone else. And then, two days later, President Bush went on television and called on the world to start a war on terror. And so I phoned CBC. I said, “We can’t wait till the 17th to go on the air.” And so they said, “Okay, you can go on on Friday,” which I guess would have been�the 14th I think we went on. And the morning of the 14th, there were editorials in newspapers across North America and in much of the English-speaking world. I don’t know what happened in the non-English speaking world. But the editorials went like this: if you try to connect the events of 9/11 to US foreign policy, if you talk about such a thing as root causes, and if you say this is anything other than a fight between good and evil, then you’re blaming the victims and you’re capitulating to terrorism. And there’s a tremendous campaign to shut down the analysis of why 9/11 had taken place. So we had this weird relationship with CBC. We’re an independent production. They didn’t really have much control over what we were doing, which is partly why a couple of years later we were canceled. But we did the debate that night. We debated root causes, and we debated US foreign policy in the Middle East. We started a rational conversation about why 9/11 events had taken place. And then we continued our coverage through the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and we started�we were debating the real reasons, especially for the war in Iraq. And at the same time, American media was�I don’t know. You must’ve seen it through CNN. I know CNN International’s a little better than what the CNN that’s seen in North America is. But the coverage of the leadup to the Iraq war was as bad as Pravda ever was. So this became a very big choice for me right around this point, which is: do I continue living life normally? Do I make my movie? And I was in a pretty good position ’cause I’d had a track record. My documentary films had always done very well. They’d been seen on BBCs and Artes in North America. I was one of the filmmakers that actually could raise money for films. And I had the TV show. So I had to decide: do I believe my own rhetoric or not? And so I decided life is short. And I guess the fundamental decision for me was that unless I find�if I’m not doing the thing I think is most meaningful, then I’m not happy. You know, when you reduce it to that, if I’m not doing the thing I think is the most significant with my life, then I find I feel empty inside.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Afghanistan

JAY: There’s another moment, I guess, that was a very formative moment for me. I had this chance to go to Afghanistan in 2002 and make the film. And we’re�you couldn’t do it now, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated so badly. But we were able to go from Kabul to Kandahar, back to Kabul, up to Mazari Sharif. And on the road from Kabul to Kandahar we stopped at a roadside restaurant, and we met this young boy at the restaurant that�. We’re sitting on the cushions and drinking tea. And so I asked how old he was, through the translator. And he just kind of smiled, sort of in an embarrassed way, and the translator told me he doesn’t know ’cause he can’t count. Schools in that whole part of Afghanistan had been closed for over 25 years. There was some drivers, truck drivers there, and one of them said, “Where are you from?” And I said, “Guess.” And he said, “Germany.” And he thought Germany because the Germans had started building a school near where we were. And I said, “No, I’m from Canada.” I said, “Do you know where Canada is?” He said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Next to Germany.” Well, he’d never seen an atlas; he’s never seen a globe; he’s never seen a map of the world. To put this in context, before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and then the civil war that followed after the Americans essentially abandoned Afghanistan, the cities of Afghanistan were relatively sophisticated. The woman I made the film with who grew up in Kabul, when she was a teenager in Kabul in the early ’80s, if you wore a burqa to school, you were laughed out of the school. They thought you were, like, some country kid that had shown up. She worked at a radio station in Kabul. She wore blue jeans and Western clothing. It was a relatively sophisticated city. In Kandahar before the Civil War and before the invasions, some of the most renowned people in Kandahar were the women poets. So it struck me what had happened in terms of the geopolitical machinations of Russia and the United States had destroyed this place. And the Americans had done something very specific in Afghanistan, which they’ve done in many countries, which is they ally themselves with the most backward rural forces. So in Afghanistan they gave these tribal leaders money, Stinger missiles, and guns, and these backward tribes imposed themselves on the cities. And the issue of, like, democracy and all this simply wasn’t an issue. The issue was creating a situation in Afghanistan that was conducive to what US government of the day thought was in their interest. But for me personally, it was another thing that just struck me, that much of the world is heading into medievalism as far as we move into the digital age, and this medievalism is going to come and bite us over and over again. And, of course, moving into this new financial crisis, the situation’s going to get even more exaggerated. So we can talk more about these kinds of things if you want, but the short of it is is that the political process is paralyzed in most of our countries. I can’t say anything about the politics of Estonia. I don’t know. But in most of the countries, political process is paralyzed, and the media creates this false narrative of our lives which reinforces this paralysis. So what we’re trying to do is break this monopoly on daily news, and through creating this Internet and TV platform, contribute to breaking the political paralysis.


JAY: Like, if you take Iran, the American intelligence agencies about eight, nine months ago issued something called the NIE, the national intelligence estimate, where all the intelligence organizations together do a report on various questions. So they did a report on whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program. And the NIE came to the conclusion that there was not a weapons program, that Iran was not close to having enriched uranium at a point where they could have a weapons program, and if they ever really wanted a weapons program, which there was no evidence they did, that they’re something close to seven to nine years away from being able to do it. That was a two-week story in the United States. It went away. And then both parties during the election campaign, both McCain and Obama, over and over and over again talked about what to do about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, even though their own intelligence agencies had said there isn’t one. So we have been doing that story all along. And if you look at the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, they’ve said very clearly: Iran cannot have an enriched uranium program that could be weaponized unless they leave the Nonproliferation Agreement, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Agreement, that the inspection process, the safeguard process, is effective, and they couldn’t operate outside of it unless they pull out. Nobody reported on ElBaradei, who’s the leader of the IAEA. We reported it, but none of the American news agencies reported that statement of his. I don’t know if it got reported here or not. So what we’re trying to do is cut through the bull. And then the other thing we’re trying to do�and this we haven’t done enough of yet, and it’s partly ’cause we’re still raising money, we’re financially just getting started�something I mentioned in the video, which is we want to do a lot of coverage about solutions. We think that as much as this period is dangerous, we don’t want to do news that, after you watch it, you just want to blow your brains out. I know�actually, I got lectured really well once by a student at a university who said�I was going on about how the climate-change crisis and this and that, and, you know, by the end of what I had said, you would be pretty depressed. And so she, this young student, said to me, you know, if you just try to scare us, we might as well as well just go get high and get laid, because what’s the point? It just seems too overwhelming. So we want to make solutions news. We think there are solutions, and we think all over the world there are models that we can learn from. There are rational solutions that can be found. And the vast majority of people just want to live a normal life, a rational life, and a healthy life. So we’re going to make solutions news, and we’re going to be scouring the earth for models of change.


JAY: First of all, there is terrorism. There is a real 9/11. Real planes flew into real buildings. People got killed. The tactic of terrorism usually is something born of desperation, but not always. The problem is kind of multifaceted, the way I see it. First of all, there’s no such thing as terrorism as a thing in itself. There’s very specific political forces that use terrorist tactics. So the terrorism of a Hezbollah or a Hamas in its fight with Israel is a very different thing. Or if you want to go the other ways, what people have called state terrorism, that Israel uses against the Palestinians, is a very different thing than what al-Qaeda did. There’s very different political forces at work here. What the Bush administration did is they wanted to create this construct to replace the construct of the Cold War, because in the Cold War they had the Evil Empire, and the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union justified the US doing anything they wanted to around the world, including creating a whole infrastructure of corruption throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, regime after regime, which were thieves and had nothing to do with really fighting against any influence of the Soviet Union. They were fighting against their own people�the yearning to have their own independent nations, to have control of their own natural resources, and so on. So the Evil Empire justified the military-industrial complex and the assertion of US hegemony everywhere. With the fall of the Soviet Union, they lost their Evil Empire, so they needed another Evil Empire. And terrorism, as this abstraction, became the new Evil Empire. That doesn’t mean there isn’t real terrorism. It’s complicated, but this is what I said earlier when I talked about this 9/11 thing. They don’t want to talk about why al-Qaeda exists. They don’t want to�like, there was a photograph in the video. I don’t know if you saw it, but it’s Roosevelt on a destroyer in 1945 meeting with King Ibn Saud from Saudi Arabia. And they make a deal with the Sauds, Roosevelt makes this deal, which is: we’re going to have you control the oil of Saudi Arabia, you’re going to make a deal with the Wahhabi tribe (Wahhabism is this extreme form Islamism), and we’re going to use you. And Eisenhower actually said it quite explicitly: we’re going to use the Saudi royal family to spread Islamic extremism throughout the Middle East in order to fight nationalism and socialism. So the roots of this al-Qaeda and the roots of bin Laden are found in this Saudi-US connection that goes back right to just after World War II. And then in Afghanistan, you know�you probably know the story�the Americans actually invited bin Laden to come to Afghanistan. They asked the Sauds to send someone to Afghanistan to become one of the figures of Islam. I mean, I’m no fan of bin Laden, and if they caught him tomorrow, I think that would be a good thing, personally. But if you read his message to the Americans, which he sent in 2004 on October 29, just before the November 4 election, he said that “You say we’re fighting you because we hate freedom.” He said, “Well, if that’s true, why don’t we attack Sweden?” It’s a fight against US policy in the region. It may be a psychopathic fight, it may be a manipulative fight, but it’s about US policy. But they don’t want Americans to consider these things, because they want Americans to live in ignorance, and the media there facilitates it.


JAY: There’s such enthusiasm for Obama, there’s such hope in Obama, but people have to also know the truth about Obama. And right now, if you’re alternative media or mainstream media, the narrative is “don’t touch Obama”. And while, I mean, from a personal point of view I think it’s better that Obama’s president than the last eight years of having a regime which is more or less run by psychopaths�and I don’t say that as a joke. I think you could�you know, any clinical definition of what a psychopath is, I think you would find they meet that. But what Obama is�or let’s put it this way: what Obama promises is not what Obama is. Well, we did this story and we’ll do more. To understand Barack Obama, you have to go back to 2002 or 2003 and find out why did he oppose the Iraq War. The people that opposed the Iraq war fell into two camps in 2002, 2003. One camp said: there’s no evidence of weapons of mass destruction; let the UN inspectors complete their work; it’s illegal to invade a country unless they’re a direct, immediate threat; international law matters, and it’s in the interest of all peoples to defend international law; and so on. That’s one camp. Another camp�and this particularly came from people like Brent Scowcroft and people who were around George Bush I’s administration�they opposed the Iraq War because it would weaken the American empire, that it was a strategic blunder, that going into Iraq, the American army would get tied down. It would most importantly undo the balance of power in the region, that Saddam was a block to Iran, and if you take out Saddam, you open up the territory for Iranian expansion. So the reasons for this camp’s opposition to the Iraq War had to do with how do you maintain the strength of the empire. Well, Barack Obama was part of that camp. His opposition to the war was based on that it would strategically weaken the United States, not because it would be an illegal war. And you go back and read his speeches from 2002, 2003, that’s his argument. So Obama is�if you ask�you can read what he says about himself. I think Obama’s sincere and he should be taken at his word. And most Americans, at least anyone who consider themselves sort of left of center, liberal left, they all read into Obama something he never said, I think because he used the language of fundamental change. But Obama traces his foreign policy back to Truman. Truman was the American president after World War II, and he’s the one that dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. He was the one that decided not to demilitarize after World War II. It was a big decision. Usually after wars, countries pull back on their army and their armed forces. Truman decided not only to keep the armed forces but even to expand them into what many people are now calling, in the United States, the creation of something called a “national security state”, which was this convergence of the industrial-military complex with the security apparatus, creating a big, permanent infrastructure, so now something close, if you put all together the American budget, apparently is as much as half the US budget goes into this military-industrial complex now�government budget. Obama traces his foreign policy to Truman and Kennedy and Reagan. Kennedy even put even more money into militarization. And so Obama is�and if you look now, if you’re following his recent cabinet appointments, they’re completely conventional center, center-right Democratic Party cabinet appointments, from finance to State. Hillary Clinton looks like she’s going to be Secretary of State. Just one bit of Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. About a year ago, there was an amendment, a resolution put forward in the Senate called the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, by Senator Kyl and Senator Lieberman, and this amendment was to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Senator Webb, one of the leading foreign-policy brains in the Democratic Party, fought this resolution, saying that if you declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard “terrorists”, it’s the same as calling the Iranian government “terrorist”, and it’s essentially a declaration of war, and it’s handing Bush and Cheney another blank check for another war, not the least of which there was no evidence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was terrorist. And I’m quoting leading Democratic Party people now like Senator Webb. Almost the entire leadership of the Democratic Party voted against this resolution; Hillary Clinton voted for it. Point is is that Obama is exactly what he says he is: he’s extremely traditional, centrist American politician. He’s run a brilliant campaign, probably one of the best-executed election campaigns in the modern age. He’s got millions of people filled with hope and inspired and engaged in the political process, and he comes at a time when all the old thinking is not going to work, because of the financial crisis. How they’re going to deal with that, we’ll see. Obama was kind of picked by a group of political operatives about eight years ago, and their first big breakthrough was the 2004 Democratic Party Convention, where they got Obama to speak on a keynote speech, which was the beginning of this run to the presidency. His major funders are [George] Soros and Warren Buffett. It’s a section of the elite, and they do want change: they want a more vibrant domestic economy; they want more investment in infrastructure; they’re for a more rational capitalist system. Soros says something which I think was very good, which was interesting, I thought, because Soros helped finance a lot of the really neoliberal governments come to power in Eastern Europe who believed, many of them, in a real, total free market. And Soros said the other day on American television, he said that what he calls “free market fundamentalists,” that they believe that a free market will always correct itself. And he says it’s not true. Soros was saying that a free market will always go to extremes unless government comes in and corrects it. So the group around Obama want a more rational capitalism, which is�I mean, from a personal point of view, I think is better than an irrational capitalism. So, you know, it’s good. But do they want fundamental change for ordinary people in the United States? And I would say no.


JAY: And it brings up a whole question of whether the Obama administration is going to hold the Bush administration accountable for crimes. And the biggest crime will be the war in Iraq. The second biggest crime will be illegal spying on the American people. And the issue of holding a president accountable for crime, and the vice president, we’ve been reporting on. We’ve been reporting on the attempt to impeach the Bush administration. And many, many people, especially people involved in, you know, judicial rights, constitutional rights, believe this issue of the criminal prosecution of Bush goes to the core of defending the Constitution. But there’s another thing, which is the Obama administration should look into the events of 9/11, and that should be one of the things they hold that administration accountable for. And the problem is, too many Democrats are implicated. And that’s the problem with a lot of these issues. But we know for a fact that Condoleezza Rice went to the 9/11 Commission and said that she, after getting this memorandum�I don’t know if everyone knows the story. Condoleezza Rice got a memorandum from the intelligence agencies which said bin Laden plans to attack America, and Rice reads this memorandum and did nothing. We know, because in front of the 9/11 Commission she more or less lied. She said that she tasked the FBI to tell 72 FBI bureaus about the memorandum and that they should be on the alert for terrorist activities. And the 9/11 Commission later actually phoned all 72 bureaus, and it turned out only 2 had even been notified at all�70 never heard about it. So we know for a fact that she got a memorandum saying bin Laden plans to attack America, and we know for a fact she did nothing about it. So that’s a good place to start. So in terms of respecting the movement, we believe there are many, many unanswered questions, and we don’t think the official version explains many questions. At the very least what 9/11 was was [inaudible] most criminal negligence in history. At the very least, there should be some accountability for this.


JAY: Well, there’s different “theys”. “They,” in the most general, is the elite. “They” are those that own television stations, banks, and so on. But you can break up “they”. There’s not a monolithic “they”. Amongst “they”, they fight each other like crazy. So the elite that’s more connected to the military-industrial complex has big divisions with the elite that has more interest in the domestic economy. And money siphoned off into the military is destroying the American economy. The debt is going through the roof. I think one of the fundamental reasons for the current economic crisis is because there’s so little real purchasing power amongst ordinary Americans. People’s wages may be at 1972 levels, but their standard of living didn’t go down that much, because they borrowed. Everyone had credit cards. I don’t know what it’s like here, but it was crazy. Every day�at least once every two, three weeks, I get another credit card in the mail. They were just giving credit to everyone, because there was so much capital in so few hands, they didn’t know what to do with it. So one of the things you can do with it is keep loaning it to people in some way or another. So this artificial economy was developing there. So people like [Rupert] Murdoch in that section of “they” have a different economic strategy than the “they” who make money out of more militarization. But “they” is the elite. George Will, who’s a very well-known right-wing commentator on American television and in the newspapers�he’s probably even the most or in the top three or five most famous right-wing commentators�he was on a show, The George Stephanopoulos Show, which is a new show on Sunday mornings. And he got angry once, ’cause I don’t think he would have said what he said if he hadn’t lost his temper. It was about McCain having seven houses. I don’t know if you heard this during the campaign. People were giving McCain trouble for seven houses. And George was on the show, and somebody was talking about McCain’s seven houses, and he says, “This is ridiculous. Who cares if he has seven houses? America has always been ruled by its aristocracy.” He said, “Democracy in America’s not about whether the elite is going to rule or not; it’s about which section of the elite’s going to rule.” So that’s “they”.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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