People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 08, 2006
Imperial Grand Strategy And Media Collusion—II
N M Sundaram
THE powerful American propaganda apparatus that goes by the name of ‘free media’ is controlled by powerful conservative cartels, has gone along just fine. These cartels support and propagate the self-serving neoliberal ideology of international finance capital. If in the past the state itself expended much resource to influence public opinion however improbable its assertions might be, it is now the private corporate media that greatly benefits from the state’s largesse and beneficial policies that does the dirty job.
MEDIA MANUFACTURING CONSENT
The media has been beating the establishment’s drum and whipping up fear psychosis. It has also been grossly misused to paint in self-righteous terms all of America’s transgressions across the globe. It is the biggest hoax of our existence that the media controlled by big business and international finance capital is called ‘free’ and gets acceptance from the credulous people.
In his thought provoking book, ‘Necessary Illusions’ (1989), Noam Chomsky examines the nature of the media and the role of intellectuals in a political system such as the US, where population has to be subjected to subtle forms of propaganda and indoctrination.
One other of Chomsky’s famous books on the power of the media is titled ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (1988). But interestingly, Chomsky who is acerbically critical of this process of ‘manufacturing consent’ is not the originator of this expression pregnant with meaning. The person who coined and used it first is not a critic but a protagonist of this vile method of propaganda.
Edward Bernays, a leading member of Woodrow Wilson’s staff on public relations coined the expression "the engineering of consent", which was considered so important to turn the tide of public opinion in the days of the First World War. It was this engineering of consent that enabled the US to turn away from its isolationist policy and join the war in favour of the allies. So much so, Hitler much later decided that propaganda was as potent a weapon as military hardware in his scheme of things. Goebbelsian propaganda is now a byword for making the people go along with what the rulers and the high and the mighty do in their name.
It was Walter Lippman, a leading intellectual and columnist of the twentieth century, who sharpened the phrase into "manufacture of consent". While Lippman wrote that if one could control the public mind, one could control attitudes and opinion, Bernays went further and said that an intelligent member of the community can mould and direct the attitudes of the population through propaganda that is by ‘engineering consent’. Curiously he also thought it to be "the very essence of the democratic process". (Source: ‘Necessary Illusions’ aforesaid)
WHEN REASON YIELDS TO FEAR
It must be the biggest joke indeed that America should claim that it felt threatened by a country like Iraq that lay prostrate and terribly weakened by the first Iraq war and by the stringent sanctions that followed. It had already been weakened by the war with Iran, which the US considered to be in its strategic interest. Iraq’s economy and its military were the weakest in the Middle East. Even tiny Kuwait spent much more on its armed forces not to speak of other countries in the region. Then there was Israel, armed to the teeth by America with its known nuclear capability. There was also the massive concentration of American military power offshore and in Saudi Arabia and other countries. All these were facts in the public realm. Still, if the American government and its privately controlled propaganda machine – the media, were to succeed in beguiling American people into believing that they and their country were indeed threatened by Iraq, it only emphasises the power of the media to manufacture this consent.
As for the allegation that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed or was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), no country in the world was willing to buy it, excepting Britain that had decided to play second fiddle to the US since the Second World War and a handful of others. It has now been proved beyond a shred of doubt that the US claim that Iraq possessed WMD was a ruse to invade that country and bring about a change of regime that would be pliable with the second biggest proven oil resources in the world. It was again the media that blunted whatever public consternation there was over such grossly deceitful claim that led to the war.
Then came the argument that Saddam’s regime was guilty of killing and bombing its own people; what was conveniently hidden from the people was the fact that it was done with the US connivance when it happened. It was projected to the public that Saddam was a fiendish monster. Again it was kept away from the people that America was his bedfellow till they fell apart. It was again the media that did the assigned job of blacking out the truth.
THREAT AND FEAR PSYCHOSIS CONSTANT PLOYS
This is not the first time the US is indulging in such outrageous claims of threat to its security. It was the same claim against the socialist regime of Cuba, in Vietnam, in Nicaragua, in Chile and many other countries. What the US was doing against these tiny countries was terrorism pure and simple. It perpetrated heinous transgressions and crimes against sovereign countries and people in the face of all cannons of international law and morality; and every time it succeeded in mobilising public opinion in its favour or at least silencing it.
Every time the US also bullied its allies and the neighbouring countries into following its ways and supporting it in its aggressive intents. It also made these countries to implicitly accept its claim of threat to their own security. There were however salutary exceptions to this. There was this interesting episode in the 1960s, when Mexico declined to support it in its campaign against tiny but brave Cuba. At that time the Mexican ambassador to the US was reported to have said: "If we publicly declare that Cuba is a threat to our security, forty million Mexicans will die laughing." (Requiem for Revolution – Ruth Leacock – 1990) However, now Mexico under president Vincent Fox has been sufficiently brought around much to the chagrin of its people.
The legitimate question arises: Why is it the American people are so credulous as to be carried away by its government’s and media propaganda? How is it the US establishment succeeds in ‘manufacturing consent’ of its own people in favour of every one of its heinous acts in contravention of all human decency and civilized norms? Fear: yes fear it is that is inculcated by the power of the establishment and the kowtowing media that goes by that most abused adjective ‘free’.
MEDIA EMBEDDED IN THE SYSTEM
In respect of the invasion of Iraq, media reached scandalous proportions. The new epithet "embedded reporters" is a slur on objective media reports and the claim of its being free. Every time a truth emerged from the rubble of propaganda and Bush and his coterie were cornered, it was the media, particularly the electronic media that came to the rescue with its propaganda barrage more loud and nauseous than the bombs that killed innocent civilians.
The media is never tired of extolling Bush for his ‘vision’ and ‘dream’. Even leading journals and newspapers are guilty of propagating this. The Guardian as reproduced by The Hindu (October 8, 2005) carried the report that president Bush even went to the extent of telling a Palestinian delegation that he was driven by a mission from God. He is reported to have claimed to the Palestinian delegation as quoted by Nabil Shaath, Palestinian foreign minister at that time: "I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan' And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.'' … "And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East [West Asia]'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it.'' This was at the Israeli-Palestinian summit at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, four months after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Only last month while addressing service personnel in a base, Bush went to the extent of claiming that he was the second GW, in an obvious reference to George Washington, the leader of the American War of independence against the British. It is such display of megalomania that is described and extolled by the media as ‘vision’ and ‘dream’.
BUILDING NEWER FACADES
There was time when the empire accused other people or countries of being a threat and invaded and conquered that territory. Then there was the excuse of civilising barbarians – ‘the white man’s’ burden as Kipling claimed. There were the aggressive wars for capturing and controlling resources, initially the raw materials like cotton and minerals that moved the wheels of industry. Then there was oil. There is now the oft-abused banner of freedom, democracy and human rights and such façade – the task of ‘civilising barbarians.’ The charade goes on.
Now it is the threat to security and fighting terrorism that is given as the excuse. But conveniently, it is hidden from public consciousness that Islamic fundamentalism that turned to terrorism was spawned and nurtured by the US itself during the period of the cold war. Iran, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are some of the theatres where terrorism was encouraged and allowed to grow for doing American imperialism’s own biddings, sometimes inadvertently and at other times deliberately.
BE SUBSERVIENT OR PERISH
In every one of these dirty interventions, the American ‘free’ media was guilty of either supporting what was being done or turning a blind eye. Let us just take one example Iran. Nationalisation of Anglo-Iranian Company in 1953 was very popular with the Iranian people. Mohammed Mossadegh, the duly elected prime minister became more popular than ever. Mossadegh was promptly ousted with CIA involvement, tried for treason and imprisoned. This led to Shah’s return to power. His oppressive and brutal rule for over 25 years led to the Islamic revolution under the Ayathollahs. That quintessence of American free media New York Times reacted in its Editorial thus: "Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism." (New York Times – August 1954) The message is simple: ‘be subservient or perish!’
Where direct military intervention was controversial, subversion through covert action of the CIA was organised, even such bodies as USAID, the World Bank and IMF were utilised promising financial aid and loans in the name of development till the recipient country was pauperised caught under the web of debt and interest payments. Then they could be manipulated to do America’s biddings like stationing military bases, granting economic concessions and control over mineral resources including oil and allowing domination over economic and political policies.
NEOLIBERALISM THE MOST POTENT WEAPON
Globalisation and neoliberalism have proved to be as potent weapons in the hands of imperialism as invading armies, bombs and missiles and subversive spy networks. The latest and the most sophisticated methods are for the government agencies remaining in the background and leaving the dirty job to the private companies through financial investments and trade arrangements. In addition to the armies and spies, the high flying financial and business consultants in their dark suits who do the slick job unsuspected by the people of the perpetrating and victim nations alike. All the time, the kowtowing media follow them building hallows around these sophisticated hatchet men of imperialism’s schemes and painting a noble purpose and imagery to beguile the people.
Be it covert subversion, overt military intervention or economic ruination of sovereign countries, or even in keeping its own people in perpetual ignorance and what is more fear, the media remained privy either with its active support or turning a blind eye. When the US imperialism tried to cover it all in a veneer of being in the service of freedom and democracy or helping the process of economic development or to preserve security or whatever, the corporate media always remained ready at hand to give more than a helping hand.