BY TEODROSE FIKRE
There has always been a heavy cost borne by those who insist on speaking truths. People who defied conventional wisdom and stood up to the orthodoxy of the establishment have been labeled heretics, marginalized and brutally repressed throughout human history. However, in the age of information where the ruling elites fear bad press, draconian tactics that were used in the past to silence dissenters have evolved and taken on more subtle forms of intimidation.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the industry of news where the ongoing consolidation of media has made it possible for a corporations to enforce a code of conduct that rewards those who toe “accepted narratives” and punishes those who defy them. The pillars of journalism used to be rooting out corruption and speaking truth to power, these principles have been eviscerated by “news” executives who slavishly chase profits—the fourth estate is now the manor of the oligarchy.
In a paradigm where a few plutocrats have an iron-clad grip on the way news is produced and disseminated, censorship by way of denial of access is a threat that keeps most media professionals on the straight and narrow. Those who stray from their lanes are immediately dealt with, no one is safe from banishment. Chris Hedges, Seymour Hersh, Cornel West and a handful of award winning journalists and thinkers with massive following can attest to the closed doors that greeted them once they dared to question authority.
If those with name recognition can be shut out from mainstream media, what hope do lesser known voices have of speaking truth and remaining relevant? There is a cost to conviction, reporting that the emperor has no clothes leads to marginalization by the king and repudiation by his courtiers. Given this paradigm, most have chosen to keep their access and maintain their status rather than deviated from norms and risk losing it all. Paychecks and platforms are the carrots by which media conglomerations keep news professionals in line.
I mentioned Seymour Hersh earlier, he is a case example of what happens when one disturbs propaganda with facts. In 2015, Hersh tried to get the New Yorker, a magazine where he was a regular contributor since 1993, to publish a story debunking the killing of Osama bin Laden. Hersh spent more than a year interviewing people in Pakistan, within the American military and personnel who had intimate knowledge of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. What he produced was a dossier that exposed a coordinated liemeant to burnish Obama’s credentials while burying the truth in a mountain of propaganda.
“Within days, some of the early exaggerations and distortions had become obvious and the Pentagon issued a series of clarifying statements. No, bin Laden was not armed when he was shot and killed. And no, bin Laden did not use one of his wives as a shield. The press by and large accepted the explanation that the errors were the inevitable by-product of the White House’s desire to accommodate reporters frantic for details of the mission.”
The full report gave a stunning insight into the inner machinations of the ways narratives are spun by authorities and meekly parroted by the press. Predictably, the New Yorker quashed the story and refused to issue Hersh’s work. The only way he was able to get the story out was by making it available at the London Review of Books, a website that has an almost non-existent footprint compared to the reach of the New Yorker. Shortly after Hersh published “The Killing of Osama bin Laden”, he was viciously maligned by pundits and subsequently ostracized by the establishment. To this day, Hersh—who has earned numerous awards and accolades going back to his reporting on the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam—is rarely to be seen or heard anywhere near corporate media.
The same fate met Chris Hedges for his stance on the rush to judgment during the lead up to the Iraq War. While almost every mainstream media journalist and pundit was waving pompoms and passing on talking points from the Department of Defense, CIA and the White House, Hedges started to question the Bush administration and spoke out against a war that would go on to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of American soldiers and marines. Just like Hersh, Hedges was unceremoniously fired from the New York Times for having the temerity to do the job of a journalist.
The last line of defense between freedom and tyranny has always been a free press. Sadly, this line has been erased to a point of an imperceptible trace by the affluence and influence of the neo-aristocracy. Noam Chomsky once said, “any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media”. When government and media are both influenced by the capital of corporations and their owners, the end result is compliance or exile.CLICK TO TWEET
Whereas autocrats unleash bullets and terror to silence journalists in developing nations, media personnel are muzzled in America by way of coercion and exclusion from the airwaves. The latter is more clandestine than the former, it is evident when a reporter is shot but a lot less noticed when a reporter is censored by being effectively blackballed from their profession. Too often, journalists have to negotiate between a paycheck and speaking their conscience, too often they choose comfort over courage.
Donald Trump is partly right when he accuses mainstream media of being fake news, except his version of real news are rabid, right wing charlatans who alternate between being his poodles and his attack attack dogs. What Fox News does for the right is being emulated by the “liberal” establishment on the left, news is filtered through the prism of ideology as reporters shape narratives by paying homage to their demographic’s preconceived notions. The journalists who refuse to let politics influence their output find themselves on the outside looking in.
What is left is a cookie cutter media where journalists and reporters are forced to amplify agenda driven narratives. Mainstream media is a business where market segmentation, ratings and revenue growth dictate the stories that are pursued. This is why empty suits like Sean Hannity and vacuous blowhards like Maddow get paid millions of dollars, they maximize eyeballs by trafficking in click bait journalism. The ones who dare to be different and actually hold people in power accountable are relegated to an afterthought—there is a price to be paid for conviction.
“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte