Then we have the question of who is “fair and balanced,” as Fox News once described itself (significantly, they don’t any longer). Of course, the press and most journals of opinion have always claimed to offer opposing points of view in order to flesh out the finer points of an issue. This is what the free press is supposed to be about. In fact, beginning in 1949, the Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission required this of all holders of broadcast licenses. Ronald Reagan revoked it in 1987 and it was removed from the Federal Register in 2011 by – yes – Barack Obama.
Now neither Fox (the house organ of the Republicans) nor MSNBC (ditto for the Democrats) is required to maintain the pretense of balanced reporting. But when we look at “serious” journals that do claim to do so, once again we find the common use of FEs. Was it a search for “fairness” that made The Atlantic and CNN give space and airtime to outright racists this year, or was it a cynical ratings-grab? Do their mild, “Russia-Gate” attacks on Trump that lack any criticism of the military-industrial complex or Israel justify the promotion of men who advocate killing reporters, advocate waterboarding and call Mexicans “peasants?” Should those attacks, justified or not, convince us that the career criminals of the FBI, CIA and the military are any more honorable than Trump himself?
Then we have the issue of the real media of the present and future, social media. Again, we see the use of FEs to drape the mantel of “outside the pale” on progressive writers by associating them with right-wingers. Caitlin Johnstone argues that when there is no meaningful separation between corporate power and state power, corporate censorship is state censorship. In 2016, she reports,
…representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google were instructed on the US Senate floor that it is their responsibility to “quell information rebellions” and adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment to “prevent the fomenting of discord.” “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words,” the representatives were told. “America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”
She also describes a typical “mainstream debate” in which
…Two mainstream parties, both backed to the hilt by the entirety of corporate media…arguing with each other over who is doing more to help advance cold war aggressions between two nuclear superpowers. They’re not arguing about whether or not the world should be destroyed, they’re arguing over who gets to push the button.
Robert Parry, a real and lamented journalist, wrote in late 2017:
…I cannot think of a single prominent figure in the mainstream news media who questions any claim – no matter how unlikely or absurd – that vilifies Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country…And, behind this disturbing anti-Russian uniformity are increasing assaults against independent and dissident journalists and news outlets outside the mainstream.
He mentions the Justice Department’s demand that the Russian news outlet, RT, register under the restrictive Foreign Agent Registration Act.
This attack on RT was rationalized by the Jan. 6 “Intelligence Community Assessment” that was, in reality, prepared by a handful of “hand-picked” analysts from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency…However, if any real journalist actually read the Jan. 6 report, he or she would have discovered that RT’s sinister assault on American democracy included such offenses as holding a debate among third-party candidates who were excluded from the Republican-Democratic debates in 2012…reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protests and examining the environmental dangers from “fracking,” issues that also have been widely covered by the domestic American media. Apparently, whenever RT covers a newsworthy event – even if others have too – that constitutes “propaganda,” which must be throttled to protect the American people from the danger of seeing it…The U.S. government’s real beef with RT seems to be that it allows on air some Americans who have been blacklisted from the mainstream media – including highly credentialed former U.S. intelligence analysts and well-informed American journalists – because they have challenged various Official Narratives.
“…to protect the American people from the danger of seeing it.” Once again, the reasoning seems to be that citizens can no longer be trusted (by whom?) to ingest competing descriptions of the truth and make intelligent decisions. This seems like authoritarianism at worst and patronizing at best. But it really opens up into a profoundly mythic issue. In my book I repeatedly ask the rhetorical question, What are they so afraid of? In Chapter Ten I write,
…fear of the outsider is stronger than ever, and that fear was nurtured through the deliberate creation of an image. For four decades J. Edgar Hoover described those who threatened the status quo as “outside agitators,” regardless of their nationality. This almost poetic image of the Dionysian menace implies three assumptions about the polis. The first is innocence: evil comes from abroad. It implies that communist ideas couldn’t possibly originate here. Terrorism, quips Chomsky, is “what others do to us.”
A second assumption is weakness. Just as youths seemingly cannot resist drugs or sex, the polis can entertain only the mildest diversity of opinion. If allowed access to the children, communists would prevent discrimination of right from wrong and infect the national immune system with their “agit-prop.”
A third assumption about us is fairness. Pentheus, who would attack directly, throws fastballs, while Dionysus throws curves. The terrorist could be a friend or co-worker. He is urban, possibly Jewish. He infects us through trickery rather than through direct, “manly” confrontation. And since he refuses to play by our rules, we are justified in our righteous and overpowering vengeance.
Here is a broad summary of how the backlash against so-called Russian interference and “fake News” is shutting down real debate and giving the media the opportunity to marginalize progressive voices with the use of FEs.
And here is how the giants of social media are doing it. Sure, you have the right to be a bit skeptical, but these links are from sources that I have come to trust:
Google is now in the business of controlling what viewers see. It “de-ranked” RT on its news feed, despite the fact that its own internal review system found that the news site had broken no rules.
The new algorithms have moved these websites from previously prominent positions to positions up to 50 search result pages from the first page, essentially removing them from the search results some searchers see. It appears that Google is using concerns over fake news as a cover to suppress opinions from socialist, antiwar or left-wing websites, including AlterNet, Truthdig, Global Research, Democracy Now, American Civil liberties Union, Wikileaks, Chris Hedges, Counterpunch and Consortiumnews (all of them, BTW, sites that I consider legitimate). The World Socialist Web Site, for example, reports that traffic coming in from web search is down 70 percent, and claims that In mid-April 2017, a Google search for “socialism vs. capitalism” brought back one of the site’s links on the first results page but, by August, that same search didn’t feature any of its links. The site said 145 of the top 150 search terms that had redirected people to the site in April were now devoid of its links.
World Socialist obtained statistical data estimating the decline of traffic generated by Google searches for 13 sites with substantial readerships:
* wsws.org fell by 67 percent
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* socialistworker.org fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
By August of 2018, at least on my computer, it seemed that public pressure has led Google to relent – at least for now. C. J. Hopkins writes:
What’s happening isn’t censorship, technically, at least not in the majority of cases…This isn’t Czechoslovakia, after all. This is global capitalism, where the repression of dissent is a little more subtle. The point of Google “unpersoning” CounterPunch…is not to prevent them from publishing their work or otherwise render them invisible to readers. The goal is to delegitmize them, and thus decrease traffic to their websites and articles, and ultimately drive them out of business, if possible…Another objective of this non-censorship censorship is discouraging writers like myself from contributing to publications…(that) the corporatocracy deems “illegitimate.” Google unpersoning a writer like Hedges is a message to other non-ball-playing writers…“This could happen to you.”
This article goes deeper into the mess.
But when Trump accuses Google of “rigged” search results to showcase too many liberal media outlets and too few “Republic/Conservative (Sic) & Fair Media” sites, he makes it even easier for the company’s gatekeepers to use FE tactics against the left.
Paypal is also falsely equating non-violent anti-Zionist activism with anti-Semitic terrorism. It has refused to provide services to Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and has shut down the accounts of major Palestine solidarity groups in France without providing an explanation. Why? Apparently because 20 human rights organizations were placed on a blacklist by Israeli authorities. Indeed, according to Ali Abunimah, Paypal has shown a willingness to censor journalists who criticize Israel:
An operative of Israel’s global censorship campaign has admitted to exaggerating claims of anti-Semitism in order to engineer crackdowns on supporters of Palestinian rights…In the latest instance, Benjamin Weinthal has apparently succeeded in persuading PayPal to close down the account of the French online publication Agence Media Palestine.
On the other end of the FE spectrum, many have pointed out that Paypal and other payment processors have repeatedly promised to stop helping white nationalists raise money online. But a year after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, several openly racist groups still use mainstream payment providers to process credit card payments and crowdfund their efforts.
Apparently, Facebook has been ‘deliberately targeting’ Palestinian accounts. Glenn Greenwald describes cooperation between Facebook and Israeli officials:
The meetings…came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country…The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation…Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders…Needless to say, Israelis have virtually free rein to post whatever they want about Palestinians. Calls by Israelis for the killing of Palestinians are commonplace on Facebook, and largely remain undisturbed.
It seems that FB has been dishonest in its public statements about the “anti-Zionist = anti-Semitism” FE. But FB’s mendacity has gone well beyond that issue. Having banned Infowars for thirty days (thirty days!), it went on to permanently shut down all manner of progressive accounts because they “…sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States, and…their activity was similar (my italics) — and in some cases connected — to that of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.” Matt Tibbi writes:
Facebook was “helped” in its efforts to wipe out these dangerous memes by the Atlantic Council, on whose board you’ll find confidence-inspiring names like Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former acting CIA head Michael Morell and former Bush-era Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. (The latter is the guy who used to bring you the insane color-coded terror threat level system.)…As noted in Rolling Stone earlier this year, 70 percent of Americans get their news from just two sources, Facebook and Google. As that number rises, the power of just a few people to decide what information does and does not reach the public will amplify significantly.
Alternet (one of those sites experiencing lowered viewership) reports that FB has also approved conservative news outlet The Weekly Standard to partner in fact-checking “false news.” This partnership
…makes little sense given the outlet’s long history of making misleading claims, pushing extreme right-wing talking points, and publishing lies to bolster conservative arguments…Calling the magazine a “serial misinformer”, Media Matters cited the Weekly Standard’s role in pushing false and misleading claims about Obamacare, Hillary Clinton and other political stories.
It gets worse. Even as FB uses FEs to block legitimate progressive postings, many are accusing it of allowing real hate speech to remain. Indeed, in a new documentary, an investigative journalist went undercover as a FB moderator in Ireland. He reports that it lets pages from far-right fringe groups exceed the deletion threshold, and that those pages are “subject to different treatment in the same category as pages belonging to governments and news organizations.” The accusation undermines FB’s claims that it is actively trying to cut down on fake news and hate speech. The reporter says he was also instructed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, the legal minimum.
Well, these revelations certainly shouldn’t surprise students of the long-term, well-documented collusion between American media and the national security state. Social media are now bigger and more influential than newspapers, and the money involved (Cui bono – follow the money) is correspondingly greater. Nor should we be surprised when the NYT cheers on these efforts to censor alternative opinion through the use of FE algorithms.
Read Part Seven here.