The Illusion of the "Free" and "Objective" Press
The Illusion of the "Free" and "Objective" Press
Terms such as "post-truth" have been thrown around recently as have other phrases like "fake news" which give the allure that these issues are a recent phenomenon. This could not be further from the truth. Our "free" press has never been so; the opinions that dominate the airways are entirely subjective, censored, and manipulated by the government. All to suit the imperial interests of the West.
The Lie of Objectivity
A term I am more than certain you have all heard of is objectivity. It is a phrase Western media outlets love to proclaim. "We are objective in our reporting and hold no biases". But this professed objectivity is tremendously misleading. As journalists are already engaging, as are your colleagues in the newsroom are, in subjective reporting while deciding what story is worthy of air time and what is not. The way events are viewed depends greatly upon your positionality, the dominant political and social beliefs of the time, therefore total objectivity is simply impossible.
Many of the institutions and sectors in the West - including business, education, recreational, cultural - are owned by a corporate elite. Leading corporate interests to not only shape and dictate the way the media reports reality but also to alter reality itself to suit the needs of business. Furthermore, the information many reporters "report" is nothing more than repeating the statements given by the State Department or by BP and not challenging those statements nor being critical of them as that apparently would be, somehow, inputting subjectivity into the discourse and taking away from the journalists "objectivity". Despite, statements from these varied elite and government institutions being entirely subjective.
Moreover, these opinions that are broadcasted to us daily that arise from political and economic powers are treated and reported as fact - therefore digested as such - causing the shaping of social reality by the hegemonic power. All the while the facts on the ground that are unfavourable and troublesome to government and corporations, be it draconian sanctions, in-work poverty, increased illiteracy, whatever, are often not touched upon as they are seen as opinionated views. When in fact the same people censoring these unfavourable facts are doing so believing to be the guardians of objectivity - they are actually the protectors of ideological conformity.
Thus this ridiculous journalistic virtue of "objectivity" means, according to political scientist Michael Parenti (Parenti, Inventing Reality, 1993, p. 52):
"that reporters should avoid becoming politically active, and should keep their distance from their subject, while commentators, editors, and owners socialize, dine, and vacation with political, military, and corporate leaders whose views and policies they are supposed to be objective about."
The concept of self-censorship is one that is far too common in society particularly with the overlapping of corporations and governments. Seeing film production teams present scripts to the CIA's entertainment liaison office that depict the agency favourably for access to military materials, locations, and advice. And journalists not wanting to disrupt to flow of income on a story that is too critical of their owners and their friends in government. Self-censorship is a regular occurrence in many image and information industries.
In the context of the press, much of the editors have and do reject stories and exposés which may affect advertisement revenue - remember these are businesses operating for profit - for instance, former CBS president Frank Stanton stated:
"Since we are advertiser-supported we must take into account the general objective and desires of advertisers as a whole."
Advertisers have been known to exert their power over the press to squash reports which are damaging to their profits. Mobil Oil, for example, is known to of pressed PBS to suppress the release of a film that would offend their oil partner Saudi Arabia. The press must follow suit otherwise advertiser will cancel their support and revenue will be lost - not a very effective news reporting model right?
The editors of these major media outlets proclaim to be independent and objective, but this is not the case. If the editor challenges or allows reports to challenge the wealth, power, and vested interests of the owner class then the editor will not have a job for long nor will the reporter.
Reporters are aware of the parameters in which they can report. They are allowed autonomy to a certain extent but only to report on what their superiors deem appropriate and non-controversial to the advertisers, corporate owners, and friends in government. Thus reporters anticipate the rejection of stories that are critical of political and economic powers and this is often enough to discourage them from following such endeavours, amounting to self-censorship.
Government Involvement and Manipulation
Governments have long had a role in media and in the distribution of stories which they deem appropriate. But in recent years the extent to which has become blurred as the mythologies that surround the "free" press in the West often mask the very pervasive and influential role government plays in what becomes news.
Firstly, we have senior political staff feeding journalists stories directly without so much as a critical question regarding this information which is subsequently distributed to millions of people. For instance, it is commonplace for the White House to push out stories that become the "line of the day", instantly reaching thousands of government PR people, administration officials, and press secretaries. Then not too long after, sometimes even a mere couple of minutes, major media outlets are covering the "line of the day" with little or no critique of them as that would not be objective. But this allows the government to tell the public exactly what it wants it to hear.
Parenti has also highlighted the revolving door that exists between government and the media (Parenti, Inventing Reality, p. 63):
"Former top officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, Defense Secretary Harold Brown, Secretary of State Henry Kissenger, Attorney General William French Smith, and CIA Director William Casey have held executive or board positions in the corporate structures of major media like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, GE/NBC, and CBS."
Furthermore, the most clear-cut example of government manipulation and straight-up propagandising of media channels is seen by the CIA turning agents into "journalists" and by turning journalists into agents. All in order to disseminate stories that support the foreign policies at the time. A former CIA agent, Ralph McGehee, stated that (Ralph McGehee, Deadly Deceits: My 25 Years in the CIA, 1983, p. 192):
"The CIA is not now nor has it ever been a central intelligence agency. It is the covert action arm of the President's foreign policy advisers. In that capacity it overthrows or supports foreign governments while reporting "intelligence" justifying those activities . . . Disinformation is a large part of its covert action responsibility, and the American people are the primary target audience of its lies."
The United States Information Agency (USIA), formerly known as the United States Information Service (USIS), was established in 1953 and dissolved in 1999 and had a central goal of disseminating propaganda. Washington would send news stories to their 206 offices in 127 countries which then were picked up by the foreign press, to eventually be transmitted back by US correspondents abroad. This was a layered propaganda effort with the aim of duping the American public. According to Dwight Eisenhower explains (Kenneth Alan Osgood, Total Cold War: Eisenhower's Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad, 2006):
The "audiences would be more receptive to the American message if they were kept from identifying it as propaganda. Avowedly propagandistic materials from the United States might convince few, but the same viewpoints presented by the seemingly independent voices would be more persuasive."
Moreover, in 1975 the Church Committee found that the CIA owned outright more than 200 newspapers, wire services, book publishers, and magazines with many more subsidised. Additionally, an investigation by the New York Times uncovered that another fifty media outlets were run by the CIA in both the US and abroad, and a further twelve publishing houses that produced over 1,200 books of which 250 were in English. The books covered topics such as "third world" struggles, the Soviet Union, and China (Parenti, Inventing reality, p. 68).