I have wondered why people in the media seem so willing to report the government’s line. What leverage does the government have over them? Several possibilities come to mind:
- Reporters are overworked and underpaid, they work under deadline, and they like to tip back a beer now and then. The easy way out of these binds is to work with the information that’s lying around.
- The standard leftist view is that newspapers are owned by big corporations, big corporations are interested in big profits, and if you want to make a profit in this world, you need a friendly relationship with the government.
- Reporters obtain a lot of what seems like inside information from their sources in government. They don’t want their flow of information to dry up if they publish stories critical of the institutions and sources that sustain them.
- Reporters, like people in their audience, often act from a sense of patriotism. Therefore they don’t criticize their country in public, especially during wartime.
- Reporters might have a relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency or other propaganda arm that obligates them to frame their reports on U. S. government activities in a certain way.
The last possibility interests me. If it is true, that key media outlets or individuals are in the government’s pocket, it should not be hard to find evidence of that. The problem is, the outlets in the best position to find and publicize that evidence would never do it. Moreover, alternative media outlets most likely to report such evidence, if it exists, are not in a great position to find it.
The precedent for thinking along these lines is Operation Mockingbird in the 1950s and 1960s. When you learn the Washington Post and managing editor Ben Bradlee had a relationship with the CIA, you think, “That’s it. I’m not going to swallow propaganda, or anything else from these people.” Operation Mockingbird was an effort to keep the United States press on the government’s side during the Cold War. Interestingly, not one news outlet, columnist or reporter has ever admitted to working with the CIA, or apologized for it. Not one news organization has indicated that such a corrupt relationship has ended.
We know propaganda exists, but we don’t generally know where it originates. The CIA doesn’t want you to know where it originates, either. As citizens who are interested in our government’s activities, we do want to have tools and evidence to make judgments about how our news forms. Right now, we can only make judgments about the content in front of us. If the people who bring us that content have a relationship with government that we should know about, let the truth come out.
To select a recent example of compliance in the media, consider the way the New York Times has reported on Bradley Manning. Wikileaks data furnished the Times with a deep well of information on U. S. activities abroad. The Times collaborated with Wikileaks, used its information freely, and improved its reporting as a consequence. Then the government came down on Wikileaks, shut off its funding, and tried to maneuver Julian Assange into a courtroom. Meanwhile, the Times’ reports on Bradley Manning became markedly unsympathetic. After that, the Times ignored Manning’s case altogether.
What leverage could the government have used with the Times to induce such a noticeable and public betrayal? Does anyone doubt that if the government had not locked Manning away in solitary confinement – had not humiliated him and treated him as a dangerous traitor – that the Times would have treated him as anything but an honorable and even heroic revealer of truth in the middle of a horrific war founded on lies? The only reason government can act this way is that Manning has found no defenders at the Times, or at any other news organization for that matter.
If you want to read more about how too many journalists have behaved during the last decade and more of crisis and calamity, follow journalist Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian. His criticism of his colleagues is courageous and true. He does not forgive them their compliance or their sins, and he is equally hard on their government handlers. Because the relationship between press and power has become so close, so corrupt and so mutually dependent, we have to find truthful reporting somewhere else. We won’t find independent, accurate information where dishonesty has taken root.