As for the Journalists…

The uniformity of pro war sentiment in the U.S. media is not unique to this week, but is especially on display now. Across the ideological spectrum, mainstream media voices lament the end of a conflict as much as they tend to advocate the start of new ones. If you point this out, a certain clique will bristle with umbrage and accuse you of being a conspiracy theorist because, for some unfathomable reason, it’s considered a mark of culture to blindly trust giant for-profit (or in the case of PBS/NPR, and BBC, state run) news outlets who have been caught lying so many times it cannot just be error.


This pro war sentiment has both financial and ideological reasons. Journalists are often eager-beaver types quick to ingest national mythologies about exceptionalism and teeming masses of unwashed peasants abroad yearning for freedom. Most legacy publications have deep financial ties to defense industries and rely on the good graces of politicians for access. This pro-war bias is nearly omnipresent and it ignores what a supermajority of the public wants as well as the results of prior similar policies. The New York Times has never once in my lifetime advocated caution or restraint and has always championed war. Judith Miller led the charge of convincing the public, especially the liberal anti-Bush public, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to the United States. It’s worst columnist even advocated an alliance with ISIS. Television news is orders of magnitude worse even than this, and caters to different partisan loyalties but always, ultimately, to the same power interests and policies like blind faith in military leadership and intelligence agency aligned commentators being taken at face value. This is no different than the restrictions placed on Russian journalists by their government when they report on the Donbass, but done more cleverly and often with the active collaboration of the journalists. Considering the nearly uniform failure rate of post 9/11 military operations, one would expect a press in service of the taxpayers would demand better results.


True dupes and conspiracy theorists are often those who work in establishment journalism and the rubes who believe them. Their shock and horror at the eminently predictable should underscore this. The establishment press, especially the Beltway (and London) based press, is not your friend. They are stenographers for centers of power first and foremost. This is why despite all their reach and resources (or more accurately because of this) their consumers are often woefully uninformed about the world while also operating under the false assumption that they are informed. This is the intention. Hence the incessant cries of the educated and supposedly worldly class of ‘we must do something’ which ignores the reality that often enough the tragedies such people are responding to are the results of past efforts to ‘do something.’


Right now most of those journalists are covering for military and intelligence apparatuses that have failed despite insanely lavish budgets and all the good will propaganda can buy. They are not just doing this to remain in the good graces of their sources, but also to avoid coming under scrutiny themselves for the role they played in manufacturing consensus around a series of deadly, expensive, and ultimately failed policies. The military and intelligence agencies knew Afghanistan policy was a failure, and lied to cover it up. The majority of the journalistic class was too indoctrinated and servile to challenge these narratives, and thus also lied by proxy. The dumbest ones most likely believed what they were being told, which to me is far worse than willfully lying for political or tribal reasons.


It is not a conspiracy theorist mindset to be extremely skeptical of the reporting of the establishment press. It is the opposite. They are often the conspiracy theorists who perpetuate lies to manipulate others. The clear-eyed perspective is a default skepticism towards the narratives that those with money and power wish to push and an understanding that many journalists are mercenaries in their employ. The mainstream media’s response to the end of the Afghanistan War is a particularly stark example. This is one field where the media literacy of those in the undeveloped and developing world tends to be far in advance of the overly-credulous in the developed world.

The Court Stenographers

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Where would we be without good journalism? Nowhere really. Not those of us outside the circles of power anyway. So it is a shame that this vital service has been so thoroughly colonized in the supposedly free and developed world by Court Stenographers. Not entirely, of course. But in the Twenty-First Century and the ‘rally round the flag’ effect of 9/11 it surely must be at least 75%.

‘Court Stenographer’ naturally implies the vital role that those who keep impeccable records of court processes. And indeed I mean that analogy, if unfavorably, towards the press corps of powerful nations’ capitols. Anyone who has dealt with them from a policy perspective-which I have- knows that those who cover powerful institutions largely just repeat the talking points they are given by the internal press corps of those very institutions. But Court Stenographer can also have another simultaneous meaning as well…where the court is taken to mean the court of a monarch, with the relationship such journalists being similar to that of the town crier.  When I speak of Court Stenographers I am speaking of both of these things at once.

Most people, I feel, pretty much suspect this already. As Chomsky once implied, many a tinpot dictatorship would envy the slavish obsequiousness of the Beltway Press towards the DC establishment. Surely it is impressive that societies have replaced overt censorship with an ostensibly free press that merely chooses what to cover and what not to, which candidates to boost with coverage and which not to, and which opinions are deemed unacceptable for polite society and which others to promote. This is not me railing at injustice here for I am genuinely impressed. Living in a society that seems hell-bent on unlearning all power politics for the sake of the smooth balm of ideological complacency, I can’t admit to feeling much but admiration for those in the ship of state who have created and fostered this system.

This feeling does not, however, extend to many or most of the journalists themselves. Sure, plenty make huge bucks (probably) knowing what they are doing, trading favorable coverage for promotions and access and effectively serving as the royal court’s influence peddlers, but what about the more regular rank and file? While more than enough have a quite jaded and sardonic view of the process there does seem to be this grotesque culture of ‘Wow I’m Such A Brave Journalist™ Who Loves Coffee© Always Drinking So Much of It Because I Am Always Out For The Scoop© And What I Do Is Very Heroic And Woe Is Me For Being So Poorly Paid As I Perform This Vital Service To Society®’ which applies most to the very people who do the least to expand the public’s knowledge or critical thinking abilities.

How much of this is genuinely felt and how much is affectation I do not know. I do know, however, that you only get Gumshoe Reporter status in my book if the work you do actually expands knowledge, holds truth to power, and tells uncomfortable things about the society that our more sensitive and polite elites would rather not speak about. It should shake, rather than uphold, the pieties of our politicians and talking heads. So much of groupthink one hears today is really just recycled and empowered via media coverage. The same few talking points about specific public figures, good or bad, depending on consensus.

A politician or government worker who holds secrets is wise to guard them. It is part of the test of their capabilities. But the journalist who breaks a story is also being honest to their true calling. The best of all possible worlds is one where people do what they should be doing as their duty as well as possible, regardless of the clashes with others. The journalist who sells out to the political powers that be is compromising their own professional integrity just as I would have been had I, when a federal employee, broke my silence on matters which I was professionally not allowed to speak of to others.

A well-functioning society is one where the consensus we have is that we all do our jobs well. It is just a shame we have yet to figure out how to make this work. But surely the Court Stenographers do us no service…though thankfully a minority of other journalists do.