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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Treason of the Mainstream Media




 Glenn Greenwald tweeted: 'Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?' (photo: NBC)
 Glenn Greenwald tweeted: 'Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?' (photo: NBC)



The Treason of the Mainstream Media
By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News
23 July 13

For those who came of age politically with the Supreme Court's election of George W. Bush, disdain for the mainstream media remains severe. Watching all but a brave handful of the media fall into line to sell the Patriot Act, the War on Terror, and Weapons of Mass destruction has left an open wound. It has also left an entire generation with a keen understanding of how government honchos like Dick Cheney or Barack Obama use the media to spread the leaks they want to spread while decrying all others.

Forgive the personal comparison, but my own loss of virginity came in the early 1960s and was far less dramatic. A former high school journalist with the cherished nickname "Scoop," I slowly came to see The New York Times, our national newspaper of record, systematically ignore much of the civil rights struggle in the South, especially when it involved the more radical Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I saw the liberal San Francisco Chronicle lead the redbaiting attacks against our Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. And I discovered that my family icon, the American Civil Liberties Union, cared more about the freedom of those who owned presses than of those pressing for social change.

Don't get me wrong. My generation saw the heroic and inspiring as well. We watched CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite question the Vietnam War, however belatedly he dared to do it. We read "The Pentagon Papers" and applauded The New York Times for publishing them. We followed Woodward and Bernstein reporting on Watergate in The Washington Post. We saw the media challenge the power of the FBI and the CIA. We saw the good. We saw the bad. We developed "a balanced view" of the media, and by the time of the War on Terror , most of us did not expect anything better - or anything worse.

How wrong we were! Never in our lifetime has most of the mainstream media sunk as low as their concerted attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, the whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the continuing revelations of our country's imperial brutality and global surveillance. Shamelessly, the media giants have further embedded themselves as lickspittles to those in power. Even more treacherous, they have blatantly betrayed the most basic precepts of our profession and put our freedom at risk.

Professor Yochai Benkler provided the details in his testimony at the court-martial of Bradley Manning. The Israeli-born Benkler heads the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and is a widely cited expert on WikiLeaks and its evolving relationship with the mainstream media. You can read him on our website here and here.

From early 2008, Benkler told the military tribunal, the mainstream media portrayed WikiLeaks in a favorable light as "a new online journalistic organization." Leading media groups went to court to defend it against an injunction from the Swiss investment bank Julius Baer that would have shut it down. Various newspapers publicly praised WikiLeaks for its professionalism and its efforts to verify and authenticate the leaked documents that it published. The highly respected Index on Censorship and Amnesty International both gave WikiLeaks their "New Media Award."

Benkler traced this positive attitude into 2010, the year WikiLeaks and mainstream media partners began publishing the revelations that Bradley Manning admits to leaking. These included the horrifying video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing down on a Reuters camera team and nearby children in the heart of Baghdad, military logs of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and exceedingly frank U.S. diplomatic cables from all over the world.

During this period, relations began to fray as journalists at The New York Times and The Guardian fell out with Assange, who can be an extremely difficult person. But the big change came only after the release of the diplomatic cables, when U.S. government officials turned their big guns on WikiLeaks.

"The response is hard to define as anything but shrill," Benkler testified. Secretary of State Clinton described the release (in Benkler's words) as an attack on the international community. Vice President Biden called Assange a high tech terrorist. Congressman Steve King, the incoming chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, called for Washington to define WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization. Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917. And Senator Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, called for companies to stop providing services to WikiLeaks.

How did the mainstream media respond? According to Benkler, they joined the government's campaign to delegitimize WikiLeaks. Bob Beckel, on Fox News, called Assange "a traitor" and told the government to illegally shoot the son of a bitch. William Kristol, editor of the neocon flagship The Weekly Standard, called for a serious effort to degrade and destroy WikiLeaks. Tom Friedman, the star columnist of The New York Times, called WikiLeaks a major threat to the world. Bill Keller, the managing editor of the NYT who had profitably published the news that WikiLeaks gave him, now wrote an 8,000 word essay in which he described WikiLeaks as a secretive cabal of anti-secrecy vigilantes and attacked Assange as badly smelling as though he hadn't bathed.

Could the tonal shift have been colder? The government wanted to make Assange and WikiLeaks public enemy number one, and our supposedly independent press freely produced the propaganda that Washington wanted. The Nazi Party's Der Stürmer or the Soviet Union's Pravda and Izvestiya could not have been slimier, more disgusting, or less professional as journalists.

We have now seen similar mainstream media sleaze against the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and relative silence on the trial of Bradley Manning. We have also seen personal attacks on journalist Glenn Greenwald, notably from NBC's David Gregory, The Washington Post's Walter Pincus, and even an aging Carl Bernstein, who appears to have made his peace with the dark side.

No doubt, the mainstreamers think they can maintain their access to official newsmakers - and win official protection - by separating themselves from those who are providing real news about the real world. But, as Benkler shows, the government has already announced in Manning's court-martial that they would consider an unauthorized leak to The New York Times exactly the same as one to WikiLeaks. The Obama administration, and no doubt its successors, Democratic or Republican, will treat all unauthorized leaks as providing information to the enemy.

Without leakers, the prime sources on national security scoops, the mainstream media will shrivel. But I'm willing to bet that courageous truth tellers will continue to provide information to Internet sites willing to risk publishing it. That's what journalists do, even if most of the mainstream media would rather grovel for whatever scraps their masters are willing to hand them.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How To Break Their Hold."

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