By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
Whenever my local NPR station has one of its frequent on-air fund-raisers, I am tempted to call in to tell them how Morning Edition is my source for conventional wisdom and pro-regime propaganda.
I could say the same, of course, about NPR’s weekend news programs and All Things Considered. But Morning Edition is special; it starts the day.
If they don’t cut me off, I’d go on to explain the difference between “pro-regime” and “pro-administration”; how the former designates the power structure and the institutional arrangements that serve it, while the latter refers only to the top government jobs that Presidents and political parties control.
I would then go on to tell listeners that if what they want is pro-administration propaganda, they can wait for the commercial-laden evening lineup on MSNBC, where no one will ask for a contribution and where Democratic Party cheerleaders will more than sate their appetite. I might warn them, though, that by the time Rachel Maddow comes on, they will be looking at serious indigestion.
If I am still not cut off, I’d tell them that since even she can’t find much good to say anymore about Barack Obama and his appointees, they should expect their pro-administration propaganda to come mainly in the form of reports about Republican idiocies.
There are enough of them to keep MSNBC’s pundits going and going and going.
This is what makes MSNBC unique among mainstream, corporate propaganda outfits: it can sometimes be amusing.
On the other hand, Cokie Roberts is too predictable to be anything other than boring. I mention her only because she is the doyenne of conventional wisdom and pro-regime propaganda. MSNBC has plenty more where she came from; some of them, Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson come immediately to mind, are a lot worse.
Because it is predictable and boring, NPR actually is, or once was, good for something. It provided background noise in the morning. This point is never raised during fund drives, but it should be: it is the best reason to contribute.
However, lately, NPR has become unreliable even for this.
I blame it on world events and on Obama. With the world’s only “superpower” led by stumblebums, it is hardly surprising that situations tumble from crisis to crisis, out of control; or that the regime’s media flacks would do their best to misrepresent or otherwise obfuscate the disasters that are unfolding.
And so, instead of words bland enough to ease the transition into the day, NPR has lately taken to assaulting listeners with news, commentary, and softball interviews that serve the needs of the regime’s custodians.
The problem is not so much what is actually said as the “narrative” into which it fits.
This can be so much at odds with reality that there is nothing to do but turn the radio off or tune in to something more commercial but less noxious. It comes down to that or choking on your coffee.
This problem increases or diminishes depending on what is going on in the world. In the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, Morning Edition was intolerable. Since then, it has been more or less bearable most of the time; good enough, anyway, for background noise. Then the problem became acute several months back.
It began when Washington, with corporate media in tow, decided to spin yarns about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to restore the Soviet Union and resume the Cold War. Hearing about that first thing in the morning is no way for anyone who pays attention to world affairs to wake up – not when the instigators of instability in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics operate out of Washington, not Moscow.
Nevertheless, on Morning Edition, it was taken for granted that Team Obama is on the side of the angels, and that Putin is a new Hitler. Hillary Clinton said so, after all, and she is always right.
Fortunately, Russia is in competent hands; therefore, so far, the real Cold War mongers, like Clinton, have been foiled. Fortunately too, the “humanitarian interveners” that she and Obama and, now, John Kerry have empowered suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Lets hope they stay off their meds; if they focused better, they could do irreparable harm.
But why is there not more outrage? The short answer is that no matter how out of sync with reality the bipartisan party line is, and no matter how dangerous it may be, liberals are still cutting Obama slack — and moving on.
This, as much as any structural property of the media system, is what enables corporate media — and NPR, which is corporate in spirit, even if it is technically something else — to do “a heck of a job,” as George W. Bush, said in praise of “Brownie,” Michael D. Brown, the man in charge of “emergency preparedness and response” in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
As a Fourth Estate, NPR and other “quality” outfits plainly are Brownies, one and all. For informing and enlightening, they get a C-plus on a good day – like George Bush at Yale.
On the other hand, for disinforming when the need arises, they get an A. And insofar as their real job is to reproduce the regime they serve, Bush’s words, though risible, are spot on.
Our media really are doing a heck of a job. They tell stories the regime needs people to hear, and they get their audiences to go along with them. Or, when that is too much to ask, they neuter news that would spark outrage were “we, the people” informed by the kind of media that the authors of our Constitution designed the First Amendment to protect.
They are doing a heck of a job for the administration too – enabling Obama to stumble along from one outrage to another, unencumbered by domestic turbulence.
And, as always, they are doing a heck of a job for Israel. Even in tranquil times, this isn’t easy; it involves playing fast and loose with the truth. Lately, Benjamin Netanyahu has been making their job more difficult by orders of magnitude.
Thus, after a brief lull following Russia’s successful effort to defuse the last Washington-induced crisis over Ukraine, Morning Edition became unbearable again when Israel embarked on its latest assault on the Gaza Strip.
In 2006, Gazans voted the wrong way, by Israel’s lights, in a free and fair election; they voted the Palestinian authority out, and Hamas in. Not long afterwards, Israel initiated a blockade of the Gaza Strip that has been in force, by now, for seven years. It has also attacked Gaza mercilessly three times – in 2008-9, in 2012, and now again.
Israel’s actions have been so brutal and destructive, and so patently at odds with international law, that even the most base and servile media cannot entirely ignore what has gone on.
You would think they could because, by now, Israeli assaults on Gaza have become almost routine. Benjamin Netanyahu, the darling of Capitol Hill, didn’t even have the decency, this time, to contrive a new pretext. It is always the same: primitive rockets that sometimes fall, by chance, near populated areas in Israel.
Israel can stir up that pretext whenever it wants because there are always victims of its occupation who can be provoked into letting the rockets fly. Some of them are Islamists, but most are not. They are just people, living, with no prospect of relief, under the boot of oppression.
It can also count on media in the United States and other Western countries to present its depredations in the most favorable light.
And so, Morning Edition blares on about Hamas’s role in starting an air war, as if that were even possible when the most Hamas and other groups resisting the Occupation can do in the air is launch a few unguided missiles. Meanwhile, Israel promiscuously deploys one of the world’s mightiest air forces. It enjoys this advantage thanks to the generosity of American taxpayers and the diplomatic support of successive American governments.
It is not an air war; it is not even a war. Israel no longer fights wars. Since the Egyptian army dropped out of the picture, it hasn’t had to. Instead, it perpetrates massacres – when it suits the political needs of Israeli governments, and in order to advance Zionism’s long-term goal of ethnically cleansing Palestine of its non-Jewish inhabitants.
This is not what NPR and the others would have people think. They trumpet a different line, one so at odds with reality that the main thing Morning Edition is good for is undone.
Try easing into the day when the first thing you hear is Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States — born in Miami Beach and graduated from the Wharton School — going on about how humane Israel is in contrast to the Palestinians.
His government’s propaganda points – about how carefully they target their air strikes, how diligently they warn people whose homes they are about to destroy, how dastardly the Palestinians are to use people as “human shields” and so on — are all over the mainstream media, not just Fox News.
And they are contradicted by ample, readily accessible evidence. There is surely no need to take them seriously.
Intellectually honest news outlets would make clear to their audiences that Israel’s propaganda points are preposterous on their face. Our media do just the opposite.
And so, large segments of the American public, if they pay attention at all, are taken in by the Israeli line.
Evidence rebutting the accepted story is presented too, though rarely. The problem is that readers, listeners and viewers have to work hard to find and make sense of it.
This takes commitment; most people would just as soon not bother. Who can blame them?
It is also relevant that, for anyone who does not find it infuriating, pro-regime propaganda is boring, perhaps deliberately so. PBS’s News Hour is a case in point – nothing could be that boring except on purpose! Unfortunately, News Hour, the mainstay of the dead center, is not alone; they all do it.
NPR is supposed to be better than the others; or at least that is what they claim when they ask listeners for money. Often they are, but you’d hardly know it in this case. Anyone willing to ferret out the truth would do better to dig into The New York Times or The Washington Post or even to watch CNN or NBC News.
Basically, though, they all tell the same story: that Israel was forced into the fight to save its civilians from Palestinian rocket fire; that it doesn’t target civilians and civilian infrastructure, that it hasn’t willfully destroyed hospitals, mosques and even centers for the disabled; that it hasn’t deliberately killed scores of women and children and elderly Palestinians, and on and on.
In promoting these fables, NPR and the others are embarked on a fool’s errand because, eventually, it will become undeniably clear that just the opposite is the case.
For example, evidence is already emerging that the Israeli government knew that the three teenage settlers who had been kidnapped – probably in a botched effort to obtain hostages that could be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners – were dead days before they let it be known.
The Netanyahu government used the time it gained by claiming that the teenagers might still be alive not only to whip up war hysteria, but also to round up Hamas militants (many of whom had recently been freed in prisoner exchanges), and to impose collective punishments in the area around Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank.
Was one of their aims to embarrass and thereby weaken Mahmoud Abbas? It certainly seems so.
Then, when Netanyahu’s incitements got out of hand, with mobs screaming “Death to Arabs” and vigilantes – hyper-godly ones – kidnapping a Palestinian teenager and burning him alive, the Prime Minister found it expedient to change the subject.
Hence, another assault on Gaza. Netanyahu must have realized too that this would not only weaken Hamas; it would also further undermine the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. In all likelihood, this was part of his rationale.
This is a reasonable conjecture because, for Netanyahu and those who think like him, the PA is an even greater threat than Hamas — not because it fights back, but because it doesn’t. Abbas is agreeable to a fault; prone to accept almost anything that will get Israel to let up on the Occupation. His only condition is that it not be so detrimental to his peoples’ interests that he will be unable to sell it.
But, in Netanyahu’s mind, a Palestinian government that Israel cannot demonize is an “existential threat.” Lucky for him that demonizing Hamas is child’s play.
Israeli propagandists have long been at work exploiting Hamas’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The next step is to identify the Palestinian cause with Hamas and then with Islamist terrorism generally.
To the extent that they are able to make these connections stick, Israelis can claim that Palestinians are an enemy so implacable that nothing, not even satisfying their national aspirations, can save Israel from the fanatical terrorism that is their second-nature.
The only solution, then, is to remove them from the Promised Land – humanely, if possible, but by any means necessary.
Demonizing Hamas has other benefits too. For one, the military dictatorship in Egypt hates Hamas as much as anyone in Israel does; and Israel needs to keep Egypt on its side – or, at least, not at its throat.
Netanyahu probably also thinks that keeping Hamas on as a player, at the PA’s expense, does Israel more good than harm; that a militant, Islamist leadership in Palestine is helpful for keeping the United States and other Western governments on board.
Perhaps he also thinks that the more prominence Hamas and other Islamist groups have in Palestinian politics, the less the appeal of the burgeoning Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
He is wrong, of course. By overreaching as egregiously as he has, he has only put Israel more in disrepute – to such an extent that even the most servile media cannot entirely fix the problem.
To be sure, he still has Congress in his pocket; and as long as he does, he knows he can get away with a great deal.
However, it is becoming clear that he has miscalculated even about this. Congress is bought and paid for and legislators are easily intimidated, but they still have to win elections. Therefore, they cannot offend public opinion too blatantly for too long.
Netanyahu should consider himself lucky that public opinion hasn’t reached the tipping point already.
In the first week and a half of fighting, the Israelis have killed more than two hundred and thirty men, women and children, seriously injured at least ten times that many, and rained down devastation upon a territory Israel has been systematically and deliberately impoverishing for the better part of a decade.
Perhaps this time, once again, NPR and the others will continue to promote the idea that poor embattled Israel is only defending itself, as any “democracy” would, against an enemy dedicated to undoing its existence. Perhaps these transparent falsehoods will work their magic yet again. But the number of people who buy into them is plainly on the decline.
For Netanyahu and those who think like him, this is a cause for concern. The Greater Israel vision, the idea that all of Mandate Palestine belongs to Jews and no one else, may not yet quite be in “existential threat” territory. But it will be soon; and anyone who is not too deluded by Zionist ideology to see the world as it is, must realize, at some level, that this is so.
The fact that only one Israeli was killed so far during the onslaught, and that not many more were even marginally inconvenienced by rocket and mortar fire, ought to put the corporate media’s story line to rest.
But sanity won’t break through all at once; especially not with NPR and the others doing all they can both to sustain and fashion a conventional wisdom at odds with reality.
However, their efforts at explaining away plain facts are too flimsy to hold up for long. In time, perhaps sooner than anyone now thinks, they will surely find themselves no longer able to do a heck of a job.
For the time being, though, they wax on about the wonders of the Iron Dome missile defense system that the United States gave the Israelis – without noting how it enables Israel to go on the offensive with near impunity. And they continue to perpetrate the idea that Israel wields the best and most humane army in the world.
Without quite saying so directly, they also imply the obverse: that Palestinians aren’t much good at fighting or anything else – except turning down peace offers tendered by Israel’s peace-seeking government.
Eventually, though the truth outs; it always does. This is already happening. It will take a while still to register fully – and many people on both sides will suffer in consequence – but, before long, Israel will regret its overreaching.
Netanyahu et. al. are unconcerned because they think the Israel lobby is invincible. The evidence supports their view. But that evidence, like the lobby itself, is growing old.
It is becoming clearer, day-by-day, that this once fearsome force in American politics is becoming a Paper Tiger – because its values and concerns are increasingly out of sync with American, and American Jewish, opinion.
All it will take is for a few brave souls – perhaps even just one courageous politician — to declare that the Emperor has no clothes. Then watch how quickly America takes back the blank check it gives Israeli governments.
When this finally happens, Israel will have no choice but to accept a just and lasting peace.
Until then, the murder and mayhem will continue for as long as Israel wants. America could stop it at any time, but, of course, it won’t. The most Obama will do is hold back Congress from waving Israel on.
However, with world opinion turning against Israel, Netanyahu will probably soon realize that the gains from continuing the violence are more than wiped out by the losses. Killing children playing on the beach, with the international press corps looking on, is a bit much even for someone of his moral and intellectual level.
And should Israel begin to suffer casualties, as it might if its soldiers keep on killing Gazans, he will have Israeli public opinion to worry about too.
In short, even without American pressure, Israel will eventually call this latest massacre off. Netanyahu’s hope, then, is that it will fade down into the memory hole; that the only lasting effect will be a status quo slightly refashioned to better suit his purposes.
But that isn’t how these things work. As Israel keeps piling atrocities on, the days when it can get away with murder – and worse – are numbered; and the numbers keep going down.
But those numbers are still far too high.
At least, when the killing stops, Morning Edition will stop trumpeting Israeli propaganda – for a while. Whether it will then become useful again, if only as a source for background noise, is still an open question.
There are many other situations out there – some chronic, some acute – that would spark irrepressible outrage in a world less misinformed and dumbed down than ours. Increasingly, the media will find that it cannot keep up. But that won’t keep them from trying. And the harder they try, the more irritating they are likely to become.
The geniuses at Foggy Bottom and in the White House are already back at it — trying to heat up their new Cold War. Evidently, they just can’t stand how Russia saved them from themselves the last time they tried.
And there are still the many unintended consequences – all deleterious, some potentially catastrophic — of the Bush-Obama wars in the Near East. The latest of these is the emergence of a Sunni caliphate in key parts of what geographers used to call the Fertile Crescent. Who knows what else will be coming down the line?
There is also the moral, legal, and humanitarian crisis on our southern border – where tens of thousands of children from Central America are arriving as refugees. The debate in Washington is over how fast to deport them, and how punitive to be towards them while they are here.
So much for moral decency and respect for the rule of law!
Adding to the outrageousness of it all, there is hardly a word in the political mainstream, and therefore in mainstream media, about the root causes of this tragedy – or about how a bipartisan consensus sustains it.
These causes include Washington’s neo-liberal trade policies, its so-called war on drugs, and its persistent meddling in Central American politics.
The Obama administration’s still largely unreported role in the 2009 coup that deposed José Manuel Zelaya, the elected president of Honduras, and its support for the gangster infested government of Juan Hernández are undoubtedly important for explaining the unprecedented level of violence Honduran children are now trying to flee.
But listeners would get little inkling of any of this from Morning Edition. In this case too, they heed the bipartisan party line too closely for elements essential for real understanding to seep through.
Then, thanks mainly to Edward Snowden, there are the continuing revelations of the extent of government surveillance.
Morning Edition and the others will sometimes acknowledge particularly egregious examples that bear on the regime’s – and the administration’s – attacks on privacy rights. They could hardly ignore them.
But they don’t dwell on their implications or even discuss them enough to bring them fully into public awareness. For all the insight they provide, they might as well not mention them at all.
Their job in this instance is not, as with Gaza, to establish a narrative that serves some malefactor’s interests; it is to make people overlook a matter of great importance to themselves and and to the civic culture of their country.
This raises the question: which is more grating — fatuous propaganda or deafening silence? This is rather like asking which is worse: sins of commission or sins of omission?
There is no clearly right answer – especially not first thing in the morning.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).