Monday, September 7, 2015

The "Lamestream" "Mainsteam" "Corporate" "Media"

Out of curiosity, sometime ago I read Debunking 9/11 Debunking, by a theology professor from California, David Ray Griffin

This work is apparently a follow-up to Griffin’s first book on the subject, called the New Pearl Harbor. I’ve never read this title, as indeed heretofore I had never read any of books written by those in the “truth movement”, concerned with exposing "those really responsible" for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

I have, however, been heavily exposed to their thoughts online, in spite of the fact that I find the allegations of these individuals literally fabulous: that is, ludicrous and unworthy of examination on their face. 

Unlike the assassination of John F. Kennedy, there can be no mystery at all to the events of September 11, 2001. The questions that arose following the tragedy of November 22, 1963 were resolved long ago, such that anyone who today propounds the idea that Kennedy was assassinated by anyone other than Lee H. Oswald, is either ignorant of the facts, or a fabulist (which is to say, a liar). 

Without any kind of minute examination of the “evidence” offered by the 9/11 conspiracy fabulists, I think anyone is fully permitted to reject outright, for their continual violation of the reality principle. 

In the introductory remarks, for example, Griffin challenges the criticisms made toward the conspiracy narrative he propounded in the New Pearl Harbour, as well as at 9/11 fables generally. 

Accepting that any particular part of the story offered by the 9/11 narrators is possible (or at least, those among the more mainstream “theories” of this type) by no means precludes rejecting the whole succession of possibilities as implausible, even absurd. 

Thus, I will take it as veritable that the military has remote-controlled aircraft that could be steered into the Trade Centre buildings or the Pentagon; I will assume that it is correct the statement that the Twin Towers could have been wired with experimental explosives that leave little or no trace, and that this could have been the cause of the buildings’ “controlled demolition”; that military jets could have diverted the four planes for the remote-controlled aircraft to take over their flight-paths; I will even take it as given, that military intelligence has the technology to accurately simulate the sound of any particular human voice (as per allegations that the phone calls made to loved-ones from the Flight 93 hijacking that fell short of its target), though I’m sceptical that someone well acquainted with an individual, could not differentiate between their own voice, and that of a computer simulation. 

Close friends and loved ones converse idiosyncratically, even (or especially) over the phone. The recipient of any call from a computer simulation of a friend or family, I believe would spot a fake, or at least, that would know that “something was different”. 

But even if I believed it were possible to do this, and again that all the rest of what is alleged to have transpired on September 11 is theoretically possible at least, it is entirely appropriate to respond that it is logistically and practically impossible for any more than two or more of these operations to have occurred with the necessary precision and simultaneity. 

The proponents of the 9/11 conspiracy narratives, simply need something more than what they have, in order to be taken seriously, by me at least. Griffin, in the introductory pages, seeks to refute just this point — of the logistical impossibility of the scenarios envisioned — apparently by reference to the Manhattan Project, the code-name for the U.S. military operation which resulted in the creation of the first atomic bombs in 1945. Here, states Griffin, was a complex exercise which was, however, kept secret from the public. 

Inconveniently for Griffin, though, it was not a secret to everyone, especially the Soviet Union, which acquired the knowledge of nuclear fission from the Los Alamos project, to create their own atomic bomb. 

Referring to Popular Mechanics’ own debunking book, Griffin dismisses them as products of the “corporate media.” 

I must say, this statement gave me pause.

Just what does that mean? That somehow “corporations” are all in league with the “truth” of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and publish works critical of the “truth movement” in order to divert the public from knowing what really happened?

I don't think, however, that Griffin actually believes such an absurdity. But writers and critics on the political left (including Griffin) use the term “corporate media” in reference to any reporting which conflicts with their own ideology. It is the equivalent of the term “mainstream media” (or "lamestream media") used by people on the right, in reference to what conservatives see as a liberal or leftist bias in the major broadcast and broadsheet news services. 

However, the very formulation “corporate media” is even more stupid than “mainstream media”. 

I don’t think even centrist-liberals will deny that most news-media affirm what they themselves believe — to them, after all, this is not an ideology at all, but simply the truth (“reality has a liberal bias”, the saying goes). 

But conservative viewpoints are part of the “mainstream” discourse nevertheless — in Canada, there is the Sun newspaper chain, or the National Post, while the U.S. tabloids tend to be on the right (then, of course, there is the Fox news channel). 

Right-of-centre views are not over-represented in the news media, and are very under-represented in academia and in pop-culture. The latter, at least, results from the hostility that conservatives have shown toward Hollywood and popular music, pretty much since these things were invented. 

My view of this is that, if conservatives wish to make films or television shows that reflect their own, and not a “liberal” bias, they should get to work and get it done. Isn’t this what the “can-do” spirit of individualism is supposed to be about? 

It is in any case a substantial refutation of the “corporate media” line, that American popular-culture generally, and movies and television in particular, have an acknowledged left-liberal viewpoint. 

Perhaps uniquely in the West, the American entertainment industry receives the least in the way of government support. It subsists almost entirely on a free-market basis, and all major production companies are themselves owned by larger corporate entities. 

But again, in so far as American media-products have a predominant “message” (and most do not), it comes from the left and not the right. 

More so, though, the very postulate that the various news-media present some kind of unified “corporate” point of view, is itself absurd. Just what is the “corporate” agenda

Big-business lobbyists are interested in lower taxes, deregulation, and liberalized trade — this is precisely what their opponents “accuse” them of wanting. It is no secret, no “hidden” agenda: businesspeople big and small (and the latter always want to get big) are in favour of economic conditions which will permit them to buy and sell with greater ease. 

They have many sound, hoary, and learned arguments as to why these policies should be implemented. Whether some or even all of the ideas of “neo-liberalism” are mistaken or incorrect, has no bearing on their existence in the first place; their presence consequently diminishes the verity of the claim, from leftist critics, that big business has been able to convince the public of the superiority of classical economics, through “corporate propaganda”. 

In any event, left-wing opinion has been progressively less willing to engage directly the more free-market (though scarcely “laissez-faire”) policies implemented by all governments, regardless of party, in the Western world and elsewhere, since the late 1970s. 

Mainstream thinking on the left has moved toward a neo-socialism of “multicultural”, grievance-driven politics (as embodied in the term “political correctness”) that, whatever its frequent genuflections toward the old, economics-driven socialism, scarcely enters in any meaningful debate with neo-classical or other non-leftist economic policies. 

The very invocation of the term “corporate”, with its lack of substance or meaning, is proof as to how the left has abandoned economics in favour of culture, as its main political staging ground. 

It is silly, as I said, to conceive of all the corporations in the United States, or in the Western world generally — there must be millions of them — as having the exact same interests, and the exact same point of view of all things, or least views and interests of such close similarity as to form a coherent agenda, hidden or otherwise. 

Even excluding all corporations except the very largest (with revenues of say, more than a hundred-million U.S. dollars), there are still tens of thousands of incorporated entities, and of course, they don’t all have the same interests or agenda either. 

Many large corporations don’t have any truck with the basic agenda of free trade, deregulation and lower taxes. On the contrary, powerful business concerns in the U.S. and elsewhere, depend on government largesse if not for their existence outright, then for their status as large corporations altogether: defence-contractors, obviously, but also many other private concerns who do with the business with local and national governments, and who thus naturally form no interest in favour of dramatic — or any — decreases in the size of government. 

In fact, since their vested interest lies in the opposite condition, these state-subsidized business corporations are lobbyists for bigger government. Similarly, although the opponents of the “corporate agenda” assert that business firms are singularly obsessed with deregulation (thereby to make it easier to cheat, steal and kill their customers, apparently), the truth is more complex. 

Regulations are generally put in place as enabling laws: the actual legal rules of conduct are not contained within the statute, but are devised later in consultation with the major “stakeholders”, which of course includes the businesses that are to be regulated. 

In a process known as “regulatory capture”, large corporations create rules to make it difficult for new entrants to come into the market, thereby preserving, by mandate means, their own dominance. 

It is to the expense of smaller competitors, and of the general public, which must suffer higher prices due to lessened competition (on top of the inevitable costs to the consumer of the regulations themselves). 

It is an example of the “rent-seeking” derided by neo-classical economists, at least, but I have not seen this sort of corporate perfidy criticized very much in the literature of the opponents of neo-liberalism. They are in favour of greater regulation, naturally, and so don’t seem to recognize that business can and does benefit from it. 

It is the same with free trade. “Corporations” are generally in favour of lowering trade barriers. Yet, some very influential business firms are opposed to free trade, at least as far as their own products go. For many decades, the North American auto sector has been able to maintain tariffs against cars manufactured outside the U.S. or Canada. 

During the presidency of the supposedly “right-wing” George W. Bush, the domestic steel industry managed to have duties imposed on foreign-made steel (although the tariffs were lifted due to adverse World Trade Organization rulings and penalties, along with the threat of trade-war with the European Union). 

The WTO, successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was at one time the bette noire of opponents of liberalized trade. According to protesters who blockaded the WTO meeting in Seattle, Washington, in 1999, the organization was some kind of putative world government, the public arm of an invisible corporate conspiracy to reduce the world to proletariat and peasants. 

These forces were thereby misnamed the “anti-globalization” movement. But as the WTO has shown itself to rule against dominant players in global-trade — such as the United States and its steel tariffs — its status as some kind of sinister cabal has diminished, at least among the “mainstream” of the anti-liberal left. 

The very terms “corporate media” and “corporate agenda” are held to be synonymous with “right-wing” (or even, on the extremes, with “fascist”). 

One would think, thus, that politically active big-business and financial types would be uniformly right-wing in their opinions. This is far from the case, however. The most obvious counter-example is George Soros who, despite his profession as multi-billionaire financier, is an admitted socialist who gives millions to left-wing causes. 

The founder of the Move On group, so prominent in the anti-Iraq war movement, was also a corporate billionaire, making his fortune on Internet stocks. As described by the urban-geographer Joel Kotkin, such “new-economy” moguls, as well as those in older media such as film and television production, form a “gentry liberal” class that, due to its control of key media of communication (not to mention the fortunes they donate to “liberal” causes), are influential far beyond their total numbers in the electorate, or even the political class only. 

It should be no surprise that business people living in the metropolitan coasts of the U.S., have socially liberal politics at least, given that this is the mainstream culture in these places. Some of them, it appears, and notwithstanding their own material interests, are simpatico with the economic interventionism promoted by the Democratic party. 

Yet even Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor from midland Nebraska, has come out as a Democratic-party supporter in recent years. Buffett has even pled with lawmakers to raise tax rates on the vast fortune his earns each year. 

Meanwhile, corporate types who do come out as Republicans, almost always belong to the more moderate wing of the party. This goes back at least to Nelson Rockefeller, grandson of the oil-magnate John D. Rockefeller, the richest man of his day. 

As New York governor during the 1960s, the younger Rockefeller was an outspoken proponent of black civil rights, signed into law bills ending discrimination against women and minorities, and became an early supporter of (as they say) a “women’s right to choose.” 

Nelson Rockefeller may well have been philosophically in favour of lower taxes and a less intrusive government. But he usually presided over a state legislature that was controlled by the Democratic party that had opposite intentions. Rockefeller himself was scarcely reluctant to promote big-spending projects, such as the multi-billion dollar World Trade Centre. 

The ultimate effect of the doomed Twin Towers, as well as the other buildings in the complex, was to undermine the rental market in lower Manhattan, by providing so many millions of square feet of excess rental space, most of which wasn’t leased until a couple of years before the towers were destroyed in 2001. 

Rockefeller ran several times for president, always as the moderate Republican losing to more right-wing candidates such as Barry Goldwater or Richard Nixon — both of them career politicians (which is to say, they earned their living on the government payroll, notwithstanding their own rhetoric against “creeping socialism”). 

It is reminiscent of the political career of a contemporary politician from New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who made his own fortune in Wall-street related financial services. Succeeding another Republican — the famed Rudolph Giuliani — as mayor of a solidly-Democrat city, Bloomberg (who handed power to an avowedly left-wing successor) was far less right-wing than his predecessor; which is to say, a billionaire who entered political life well into middle-age after a career as a businessman, was more moderate than a career civil servant (with Giuliani serving as a federal prosecutor prior to his own entry into politics).

Bloomberg ultimately left the Republican party, winning re-election to his second term as an Independent. However, the term “country-club Republican" was once used to describe party-members such as Bloomberg — and Rockefeller before him. It is the equivalent of “Red Tory” in the Canadian context, or “Wet Tory” in the U.K. 

The American term is somehow more evocative, however, of the socioeconomic standing of centrist-conservatives: generally, they are well-off individuals who built (or built on) fortunes of their own, before entering government as a “public service”. 

Far from being miserly spokespersons for the free market, such super-rich politicians seem motivated by the “noblesse-oblige” ideals to help the less well off. Hence the term, used in Canada and Britain, “Tory” — precisely the sort of do-gooder derided by the likes of the truly right-wing Margaret Thatcher, a grocer’s daughter who was also a career politician. 

Just over two decades ago, the schism that exists within modern conservatism between moderates who are more or less supportive of greater (though never complete) economic laissez-faire, and those who are social and cultural “extremists”, was played out in presidential politics. 

In the 1992 U.S. presidential election, Texas billionaire Ross Perot left the Republican party and ran as an Independent opposed to the candidacy of president George Bush the elder. The latter, also a career politician and civil servant, was scarcely very right-wing by conviction. He felt he had to position himself as such, in order to overcome challenges in the party primaries from Patrick Buchanan, another rightist Republican who spent most of his career as a government employee (a one-time aide to Nixon) and as a commentator and pundit. 

Perot, on the other hand, was apparently a social liberal — which is why he left behind the Republicans in the first place. Bush’s tactical conservatism was, for him, unfortunate, because it probably lost him a second term as president. 

Judging by political orientation typical of the American business class, it is impossible to uphold the notion that there is some monolithic “corporate agenda” which has been imposed on the American people, and the rest world, by them. 

The corollary proposition, that the for-profit media in the United States or elsewhere, are merely propaganda organs for this barely coherent “agenda”, fails even through a particular examination of the various media in question. 

Does the New York Times have a right-wing editorial and reporting policy? Does the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or any of the other metropolitan broadsheets considered as the “newspapers of record” in the U.S.? 

It is simply insufficient to declare, as many do, that since these news-services are owned by corporations, they "must toe the corporate line”. 

But in fact, the Times, the Post, the Chicago Tribune and most of the rest, hew at least a socially liberal line, and most of them are economically “liberal”, too — that is, in favour of various forms of government intervention to fix the problems of society. 

Of all the major daily newspapers in the U.S., only the Wall Street Journal would qualify as right-wing — in its editorial line. Its reporting, on the other hand, is as typically “liberal” (in the American sense) as the New York Times or any other newspaper. 

Noam Chomsky, the Isaac Newton of the twentieth century.
© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Influential commentators such as the linguist Noam Chomsky, argue precisely that the Times, the Journal, the Post, and all the rest of the newsprint media, in addition to the broadcast and cable news-services, do indeed have a “corporatist” mandate, and are able thereby to “manufacture the consent” of the public and the political class for the allegedly militaristic, dog-eat-dog capitalism therein. 

Chomsky has published various books on this subject with “collaborators” — though I’m convinced that the linguist’s “authorship” ends with the lending of his considerable rhetorical talents to the turgid, Critical Theory prose of the likes of Edward Herman, with whom Chomsky is credited on Manufacturing Consent, probably the most famous and influential Chomskyan tract. 

I’ve always marvelled, though, as to how Chomsky is never more delighted to quote the New York Times, CBS News, Time magazine and the like, when they report something which seems to affirm his worldview. 

However, when they do not, they simply become “corporate media” again. This is a device that Chomsky uses to deflect criticism of his own errors, as well, such as his early defence of the Khmer Rouge from charges of mass-murder and genocide in Cambodia, his prediction that the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan would result in “genocide”, or his kissing the ring of the Hezbollah leader on a visit to Lebanon. 

All of these, Chomsky has said at various times, are the result of distortion by the corporate media. I notice he doesn’t ever specify the errors in his critics’ accusations. It is enough to change the subject, it would seem, to accuse his opponents in turn of being stooges of the “corporatist new world order.” 

The Fox News channel is said by its critics to embody the “right-wing corporate” agenda. The very term “Fox” is, for the left, a shorthand for “lies and propaganda”, with the audience for the service being brainwashed “sheeple.” 

Fox News is definitely slanted to the right. But whatever its critics might say, Fox is as legitimate a news service as the New York Times or any other news-medium. No one (excepting Chomsky and his followers) would now deny that the Times is slanted to the left in its reportage. 

This fact does not, in itself, delegitimize this or any other “liberal” American newspaper as sources of information, and it is the same with Fox News on the right. 

The many critics of Fox are always on as to the channel’s “lies” and “distortions”.  But as with Chomsky’s invocation of the “corporate media” line as a sort of Teflon against his own indiscretions, those who attack “Faux” news do so out of an inability to engage ideas different to or opposed to their own. 

Not only is Fox News, like all other news-media, compelled to observe standards of reportage so as to avoid civil liability. If the news service did indeed report “lies” on a regular bias, its competitors not only on cable (the Cable News Network and MS-NBC) but in the broadsheet and on network news, would gleefully expose them.  This doesn’t happen, of course, because Fox no more distorts the news on the right, than the other networks and other cables do on the left. 

The existence of the MS-NBC news channel is confounding to the “corporate media” ideology, on its own. It is the cable arm of the National Broadcasting company, launched in partnership with Microsoft (whose founder and former president, Bill Gates, is apparently another member of the “gentry liberal” class). 

NBC was once owned by General Electric, a huge vertically integrated conglomerate, with business interests in various sectors of the economy. 

It thus ought to be the sort of propaganda service that Fox News is purported to be. It is of course nothing of the kind. The “liberalism” of its on-screen personalities ranges from doctrinaire to ravingly fanatical. 

Evidently, the corporate titans at GE were unaware of what their own news channel is doing, or else they like it just the same. Surely they couldn’t not know, and if the low-rated MS-NBC did feature more impartial reporting and commentary, it might be the choice of more cable-watchers. 

Evidently, corporate executives at some level have decided to forego profitability in favour of publicizing views that they believe need airing. I’m certain that Ray Griffin, or Noam Chomsky, or any of the many peddlers of the “corporate media” line would argue, in turn, that MS-NBC and the other of the cable networks, and the rest of the for-profit media generally, “provide the illusion of debate”, which serves in turn to obscure the “real issues.” 

There has to be some explanation, after all, for the reality of comment and contention as found in the “corporate media.” In this, they round the corner into conspiracy "theory" or narration. The essence of the latter is the assertion that the narrators know the “real story” behind what is apparently the case — that a man shot the president from a nearby warehouse, or that skyscrapers collapsed after being struck head on by jet planes. 

No, say the conspiracy-narrators, these are merely theatrics disguising the “what really happened”. Similarly, the “corporate media” school would have it that, an ongoing-basis, the gatekeepers of the commercial news media permit commentary and debate to take place, all of which is in fact unreal, in order place a curtain across the real mechanisms of power. 

It is interested that, some years ago, Noam Chomsky denounced in no uncertain terms 9/11 conspiracy-fabulists. I thought at the time that this, at least, is to his credit. 

But I wonder now if Chomsky’s intemperance on this matter, didn’t have ulterior motives. Namely, it is to distance himself from commentators, like Griffin, whose won language of “corporate media” and “American imperialism” closely parallels his own. 

No doubt, many of Chomsky’s followers are 9/11 conspiracy-believers. I would suggest, however, that Chomsky’s denunciations of the conspiracy stories relating to the 9/11 attacks, has less to do with an empirically-based disbelief that they were in an “inside job.” It is rather that Chomsky and other proponents of the Frankfurt School-based theories of “corporate-media”, have always strenuously denied that what they propose involves high-level conspiracy at all.

No one involved in the corporate media complex, they maintain, need intend to deceive anyone; no one even need direct the whole thing. Somehow, they all respond to a “system” which makes everyone involved act accordingly. For his part, Professor Griffin asserts the same thing, that the conspiracy he narrates as to “what really happened” on September 11, 2001, wouldn’t have to involve “that many people.” But it is clear, in fact, that a conspiracy to perpetrate the mass murder of thousands, and the destruction of billions of dollars in property, not to mention a system that, in essence, reports false-news through the mass media on for decades on an ongoing basis, couldn't involved a massive conspiracy. 

Most conspiracy-fabulists have a more “realistic” view on this, which is why most of their narratives involve some kind of shadowy elite directing things from behind the scenes. Chomsky, and allied “corporate media” philosophers, have laboured so hard to keep their Critical Theory pristine of the threat of “conspiracy theory”, that for Chomsky at least, it must have been insufferable to see so many of his own followers mucking it up for him. 

The “corporate media” philosophy is, in itself, an ideological dodge. It arose in earnest during the 1960s with the Frankfurters Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse and the rest of the Germans in America. Before them, the role of mass-media in creating false-consciousness was more rhetorical than philosophical. It was the Critical Theorists who gave the “propaganda model” of the news media systematic heft — indeed, they made it into one of the pillars of neo-socialist thought. 

I don’t see that Noam Chomsky has contributed very much that is new to the Frankfurt School “corporate media” philosophy. His role has been, for decades, to act as the preeminent populariser of the Frankfurt theories, being a highly skilled propagandist himself, in writing and in print. 

Certainly, none of the Frankfurters’ abstruse and Teutonic writings can compare to with the communicative power of Chomsky. His smooth and practised delivery has meant that the ideas, if not the names, of Theodore Adorno or Herbert Marcuse are known other than to the cohort of American university students who attended school in the mid- to late-1960s. 

His level of fame — Chomsky is perhaps the single most well-known U.S. academic — belays his own “propaganda model” of the news media. He is not famous, after all, for his linguistic theories, as important as these are. Chomsky’s status is due entirely to his political agitprop. 

But what “corporate media” would constantly let a critic like himself speak to the public (unless, of course, Chomsky is willing to declare himself one of the stooges who provides the “illusion of debate” for the masses...). 

The Frankfurters’ and Chomsky’s “corporate media” theories are, in the end, no good-faith analyses of the nature of the news media. Like so much of latter-day socialist thought, it arises from the reality of the failure of “really real” socialism in the twentieth century. It was not only that command-socialist countries could not provide much beyond the basics of life for most of the population, regardless of their level of industrialization. 

It was that, in every respect, these places were less free and just than were the countries where capitalism prevailed. The Critical Theorists’ response was to declare the liberal democracies not really free after all. Everything was in fact controlled by the “corporatist” elite. 

In essence, it is “You say the media in Soviet Russia/Maoist China/Castro’s Cuba/is controlled by the state, and opposing viewpoints are heavily censored. That’s as may be. We respond, in turn, that the media in Western countries is controlled by corporations, and opposing viewpoints are not permitted to be heard.” 

And since, to left-wing critics of capitalism, corporations are inherently evil, this form of “censorship” is far worse than what occurs in command-socialist states. What’s more, since what we know about these other regimes comes from the corporate media, how can anyone know the truth about really happens over there? 

Surely no corporate entity will tell the full story of the reality of socialism within [insert appropriate “people’s republic”]. Chomsky or any other like-minded theorist would never state such a thing so boldly or crudely, but that is what this “corporate media” ideology is all about. 

It shares another important thing in common with the conspiracy genre. With the latter, anyone who questions a conspiracy “theory”, wholly or in part, is said to be either a dupe to the conspiracy, or part of it her- or himself. 

Similarly, challenges to the “propaganda model” of commercial mass media, are usually met with ad hominem characterizations of the questioner as either brainwashed, or part of the — no, not a conspiracy per se — but the media-complex just the same. It is an excellent prophylactic, for certain, to immunize the conspiracy narrative/corporate-media theorizing from criticism.

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