Glenn Greenwald looks at how rapidly the US media accepted and spread the US government’s story (confidently affirmed by president Obama) that North Korea was behind the Sony hack without any evidence being presented in support. Those of us who follow the news almost minimally know how the government has brazenly lied in the past and some may marvel that the media could have such short memories or be so obtuse as to accept these claims at face value. While there is a small possibility that North Korea was behind the attack, the fact that a week has gone by since the supposedly offending film The Interview was shown and the promised apocalypse still hasn’t occurred suggests that a non-state actor was behind the original hack and other players later exploited the situation and sowed confusion for who knows what reason.
After an exhaustive listing of media culpability (with a few notable exceptions) in spreading this unsubstantiated story, Greenwald writes that assigning the reasons to ignorance or stupidity on the part of journalists is to let them off too lightly.
It’s tempting to say that the U.S. media should have learned by now not to uncritically disseminate government claims, particularly when those claims can serve as a pretext for U.S. aggression. But to say that, at this point, almost gives them too little credit. It assumes that they want to improve, but just haven’t yet come to understand what they’re doing wrong.
But that’s deeply implausible. At this point – eleven years after the run-up to the Iraq War and 50 years after the Gulf of Tonkin fraud – any minimally sentient American knows full well that their government lies frequently. Any journalist understands full well that assuming government claims to be true, with no evidence, is the primary means by which U.S. media outlets become tools of government propaganda.
U.S. journalists don’t engage in this behavior because they haven’t yet realized this. To the contrary, they engage in this behavior precisely because they do realize this: because that is what they aspire to be. If you know how journalistically corrupt it is for large media outlets to uncritically disseminate evidence-free official claims, they know it, too. Calling on them to stop doing that wrongly assumes that they seek to comport with their ostensible mission of serving as watchdogs over power. That’s their brand, not their aspiration or function.
Many of them benefit in all sorts of ways by dutifully performing this role. Others are True Believers: hard-core nationalists and tribalists who see their “journalism” as a means of nobly advancing the interests of the state and corporate officials whom they admire and serve. At this point, journalists who mindlessly repeat government claims like this are guilty of many things; ignorance of what they are doing is definitely not one of them.
The beauty of the US propaganda system is that the government does not have to coerce reporters into being its mouthpieces. The US media structure makes them willing, even eager, accomplices as was exhaustively shown by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in their classic work Manufacturing Consent back in 1988 that I summarize here, here, and here.
What is surprising is not that the mainstream media dutifully plays its propaganda role but that the American public seems to fall for this stuff over and over again. Incredibly, people even went to see a comedy with Seth Rogen and James Franco out of a sense of patriotic duty.
This cartoon sent to me by reader Philip shows how modern communication technology enables the government to lie even more quickly and efficiently than before.