Friends & Colleagues
In the wake of the Barr/Mueller demeaning fiasco, there is a temptation to elbow one’s way through the crowd to annotate the performance. It is to be resisted. By now, it should be obvious to any sentient person that we are participant observers to a national disgrace. Anyone who doesn’t see that elementary truth would not be persuaded by a few more words here.
So, I’ll limit myself to brief notations as a prelude to the main subject of this week’s commentary.
1. 1.. Collusion was highly improbable from the outset. There was no concrete evidence to support principal contentions and the alleged Russian interference made no logical sense from the Moscow perspective. The drivers were the Democratic establishment rallying behind their failed candidate Hillary Clinton and the Intelligence establishment led by John Brennan. The inordinate time that it took to reach this conclusion was function of how these ponderous investigations work.
There is no basis for the assumption of ‘hacking’ nor a Kremlin directed plan to corrupt American democracy by sowing discord. Did Moscow have a preference? Probably – but there is nothing inappropriate about that. How could they not when one candidate is making conciliatory noises (for whatever reason) and the other is calling Putin a new Hitler? Talks with members of the Trump team? This is the norm done by the United States as well – you want to know what these guys are thinking – especially when significant decisions are pending. As for the sub-rosa contacts, they did not involve Russian officials; instead, they were between hustlers on both sides pushing their own schemes.
T The standard used by Mueller in assessing what constitutes inference is extremely loose. If applied to the United States, then Washington has interfered in the domestic politics of just about every member state of the United Nations. Just last week, we tipped the Israeli elecion to Netanyahu by backing his radical plans to annex the Golan Heights and parts of the West Bank. In Venezuela, we’ve recognized as President a photogenic political entrepreneur who never has been elected to anything.
2. 2. Will Trump become more flexible in foreign policy, including relations with Russia?
Absolutely not. He and his entire administration (as well as the foreign policy community in general) have followed a consistent line of hostility toward Russia from Day One. Trump’s ‘friendly’ remarks about Putin stem from his pre-presidential real estate ventures in Moscow and a penchant for face-to-face relations with the high-and-mighty. Just as with KIM and XI. Moreover, the electoral effect will be minimal. Every poll shows that Russia-gate has had little saliency for most Americans. For them, it has become just another episode in the reality show that is national politics.
3. 3. Will it convince the Democrats or will they keep investigating the same accusations?
Of course they will continue their ineffectual efforts to no avail – the WH obviously is breaking all the rules in stonewalling and using the Attorney General as a shill. Only if Robert Mueller agrees to testify before Congress and to speak candidly (very unlikely), will legitimate criticism gain purchase.
However, there are related issues that they could pursue.
4. The Dems, the media, and the White House (until they saw the report) misread Mueller. He is a “company man.” Marine, self-defined conservative Republican, backer of mass surveillance methods domestically – so long as they don’t bend the Constitution too much. Not at all an Archibald Cox (or, in another sense, a Ken Starr). As a legal consultant in D.C., he offered himself as the ultimate neutral arbitrator to prominent parties – e.g. the NFL and Ray Rice, the Volkswagen diesel affair – and invariably came up with resolutions that were palatable to all. His non-committal conclusions on ‘Russia-gate’ match the man.
5. 5. Crimes were committed. Obstruction of justice did occur. Mueller, predictably, chose not to challenge the Department of Justice policy – not law, not precedent – that a sitting President cannot be indicted for a crime. If you promise key witnesses (Cohen/Manafort) that they could get a pardon if they observe Omerta, that’s cut-and-dried obstruction. Then there is Trump jr who committed perjury by any standard. Then there is Trump’s violation of the election law by bribing the National Enquirer not to run the Daniels (and other) stories, and paying off the women.
6. 6. Then there is the whole realm of Trump’s felonious actions re. his NYC real estate business: money-laundering; and perjuring himself in federal documents he submitted re his joint ventures with his close partner, the felon and long-time henchman for the Russian mob Felix Slater. I personally doubt that any of this will be pursued at any prosecutorial level because a lot of other prominent people would be exposed – including Netanyahu and the Russo-Israeli mafia he protects in exchange for campaign support. It’s all laid out in this Dutch documentary broadcast 2 years ago:
7. 7. The real scandal is the unprecedented and disgraceful way that Barr & Co have handled the report. This sham would embarrass any scabrous tin-pot dictatorship. Papa Doc could have done a more convincing job of making-believe that procedural propriety was being observed.
This episode will stand as a marker on our road toward becoming an autocracy with democratic characteristics.
CACOPHONY – WITH ATTITUDE
Cacophony is what communication today amounts to. It fills the air with static but not much of value gets exchanged. What does get expressed – information, feelings, thoughts – comes at us in fragments. Short fragments. Reality is sliced and diced. This is true not only of so-called news shows, talk fests on TV, the Web. It holds as well for the press – even the self-important “serious” papers like the NYT, the WP and the WSJ. Take the former, the country’s “newspaper of record.” Among the Times’ several shortcomings is its habitual staccato coverage. That is to say, stories on matters of consequence appear often as stand-alone items, with follow-up only at long intervals or no follow-up at all. Moreover, they usually lack either context or depth. Here are just a few examples.
During the decade or so that attention was being paid Iraq (before ISIS made its sudden appearance), we learned next to nothing about Iraqi domestic politics in the post-Saddam era. The MSM missed the fact that Petraeus’ new national army was composed almost exclusively of shi’a. It missed the massive American interference in a series if elections – all of which saw the defeat of the United States’ favorite. It missed Iran’s critical role in brokering accords among shi’ite factions in 2007 when our man al-Maliki was about to suffer a humiliating defeat; and, then, Maliki’s betrayal of the deal under Washington’s pressure. It missed the machinations among Iraqi leaders that led to the surprise decision by Baghdad in late 2008 to kick us out of the country. Finally, they missed the advances of the Islamic State in seizing Falluja and Ramadi in 2013-14 and the crucial backing provided by our Saudi and Turkish ‘friends.’ And they missed the subsequent policy of Barack Obama to avoid confronting them while using ISIS as a tool to bring down Assad.
The last was understandable since by then the press corps had repaired to Beirut or Nicosia while leaving behind no knowledgeable Iraqi contacts. Certainly no monolingual Arabic speakers. As for the former derelictions, they could have been avoided had journalists the gumption to leave the ‘Liberty’ and “Freedom’ party pools in the Green Zone long enough to skate board down to the other end where the local politicos were located.
Instead, we got occasional ‘human interest’ filler pieces from a country that the collective American mind was only too happy to forget about. Splotches of journalist color, like a Klee painting, but nothing approximating a decipherable picture. In short, even close attention to the MSM during this entire period left the most assiduous reader unawares of what was going on in Iraq – a trillion dollars, torture and hundreds of thousands of lives later.
The same could be said in regard to Yemen. Obama’s historic decision to sign up with the House of Saud for a millennial regional war against all its rivals (especially the Shi’a) in Riyadh’s campaign to establish hegemony in the Persian Gulf was overlooked. So, too, its reinforcement by Trump. The most tragic consequence was our participation as a belligerent in the slaughter of the Houthis and their partners. While this onslaught was unfolding, bits and pieces of news would surface at long intervals while the horrendous picture taking shape was kept out of focus for three years. In addition, the predominant theme played up was the fiction that the Houthis were surrogates for Iran.
This tale of fragmented reporting repeats itself on domestic and foreign matters alike. Let’s recall the forgetful, hit-and-miss coverage of Puerto Rico’s abandonment by the Trump administration. That one disappeared from the NYT for months at a time. Overall, it received far less space and follow-up coverage than did the Japanese tsunami.
The question of ‘why’ is vitally important for a sober consideration of the truly historic developments neglected by the media to be discussed next week – the United States’ embarking on an all-out strategy to impose our will world-wide.
The reasons for this patchwork performance are multiple. First, the MSM are mainly in the entertainment business these days rather than the news business. This basic truth, so evident on the screen, also applies to the print media. The selection of news items to highlight, their treatment, how they are balanced with editorial and op-ed pages, is carefully calibrated with primary reference to how the mix will appeal to readers and a potential audience. The bottom line at a time of financial crisis for traditional media is what counts. The missions of informing and enlightening suffer – whether inadvertently or intentionally.
Second, there is an unprecedented amount of intentional distortion and censorship in the so-called quality press. To cite the most obvious example, The New York Times’ treatment of anything having to do with Israel, by a broad definition, is so skewed as to render it little different from the Jerusalem Post – and far less honest than Ha’aretz. That is a simple fact. As a consequence, Middle East affairs in general are biased. Israel’s new-found alliance with Saudi Arabia, for example, has led the Times’ editors to buy into and to propagate the fairy tale that Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman is a liberal savior dedicated to modernizing his medieval theocracy the way Ataturk had transformed Turkey. Let’s remember Thomas Friedman’s notorious hagiographic rendering of the psychopathic MBS, spread over a number of pages, for which neither he nor his publisher have ever provided an explanation – much less a mea culpa.
The uncritical Israeli fixation has produced other baneful effects for coverage of Middle East affairs: inter alia the invariably negative, inaccurate coverage of Iran; the cover-up of the key part Saudi Arabia and the UAE played in bolstering and supplying the Islamic State; overlooking the illegality and dishonesty of the American strategy to establish a permanent military presence in Syria; our military ally Bahrain’s brutal, systematic abuse of its majority Shi’a population; and the shameful fact that the zombie government we installed in Tripoli has relied on Salafist militias for its very existence since the day of its in inauguration 5 years ago (a fact finally reported – with feigned shock – by the NYT on April 13).
The Israel-Middle East reportage may be unique for obvious domestic reasons. Sadly, the practice of systematic bias is not. Consider the following: the Times’ unrelenting campaign of defamation against the Maduro government in Venezuela which includes factual inaccuracies of the kind we used to associate with Pravda and Izvestia. Its unqualified sympathies for every reactionary movement that has overturned social democrats across Latin American – including the vile self-avowed Fascist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil whom it praised for his “demonstrated restraint” within weeks of his coming to power – and whom it honors with the name ‘conservative,’ like Dwight Eisenhower or George H. W. Bush,* Now it is directing its fire at Mexico’s newly elected President, Lopez Obrador, because he endangers the stranglehold of the country’s oligarchs on its economy and politics. (Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, who made his fortune buying up state assets at give-away prices, happens to be the financial angel who bailed out the Times at a moment of acute financial crisis some years ago).
Then, there is the Times’ demonization of Vladimir Putin, as the central element in a no-holds-barred project to depict today’s Russia as the reincarnation of the Soviet Union circa 1950.** An equally blatant example is provided by the MSM’s manner of presenting China – in particular, its economic prowess. For the past couple of years, papers like The New York Times have been unremitting in casting shadows over the country’s present performance and future prospects.
It amounts to a campaign of systematic disparagement and denigration. Hardly a day goes by when theNYT does not feature a story purportedly exposing structural flaws in China’s economy that call into question its continued expansion and global influence. Some days, two or three appear – replete with multi-column photos of unoccupied office blocks or residential parks lacking full amenities. The theme is always the same: China is in trouble. Just a week or so ago, the Business Section emblazoned a headline announcing that Trump’s sanctions were grinding China’s export machine to a halt.
This is untrue of course. Export growth continues, albeit at a slower rate as domestic consumption gradually plays a larger role in generating economic growth. The country’s rising share of world manufacturing exceeds 25% while the United States’ continues to drop as it heads toward single digits. The GDP annual rate is still about 6% – a figure double that of any country in the West. Its reserves are close to $2 trillion. The last is a potential monetary nuclear weapon that could destroy the American economy overnight.
ThThere is no limit to this self-deception. Today (April 17), we are treated to the cheering report that Chinese elites believe that “Only Trump can save China;” that China is “on the wrong track;” and that an “aggressive outsider like President Trump can help China find its way again” – Tang Dynasty, Kublai Khan’s rule, Chiang’s reign, Mao, Dong? The Times tells us they have concluded that the American president is their “savior.” Beijing 2019 transmuted into Budapest 1959. Words fail anyone trying to depict this idiocy – perhaps we should tap the psychedelic vocabulary.
(Even a seasoned and usually level-headed foreign policy hand like Joseph Nye finds it opportune to pen an essay titled: Does China Have Feet of Clay? which relies on the private remarks of one businessman and one professor to substantiate the claim.
This disparagement of Chinese economic progress comes from editors headquartered in a city where its dilapidated, grimy subways break down 50 times a day (on average); where 400,000 people live in public housing that often lacks functioning basic services due to corruption, incompetence, and ‘austerity;’ whose shabby airports would embarrass any East Asian country; and where roughly 80,000 people are homeless (including 25,000 children in shelters). These conditions prevail despite the fact that the United States’ has been the world’s richest country for most of the past 125 years.
So what are the Times, the think tanks, and the government spokesmen in Washington who obsessively spew this propaganda think they are doing? “Think” is the wrong word for we are in the realm of emotion. This is no strategic thought taking place, there is no concrete policy being prepared other than “containment”. It is self-administered therapy: i.e. classic avoidance behavior. China’s rise carries the unpalatable augery that the U.S. reign as global paladin is coming to an end.
That is a dread prospect for a nation, and a political class, whose self-esteem is intimately tied to the belief in American exceptionalism and superiority – ordained by History, Destiny or Providence. The consequent cognitive dissonance leads to irrational behavior. In effect, our elites are telling themselves, and the rest of us, that things aren’t as gloomy as they look. Since you can’t make the argument logically, you substitute reiteration. This behavior pattern is childish; the detachment from reality borders on the pathological.
In all of these cases, the most elementary norms of journalist honesty have been routinely violated and news coverage harnessed to prejudicial effect.
These two traits, fragmentation and bias, exacerbate each other. Intermittent, piecemeal reporting ensures that the audience loses focus and perspective. Thereby, it enables the distortions and misrepresentations of veiled advocacy and editorial campaigning. The latter, in turn, frames the way that one views supposed factual ‘news’ stories while blunting critical faculties.
Media honesty is perhaps the paramount political issues of our times. Not primarily because they have obviously less integrity than in earlier periods or are more prone to deceive their readership as to truth and falsity in the news. It is the widespread mendacity that heightens the need for, and value of a discerning press more alert to the sins of public figures and committed to presenting the whole truth. Admittedly, there has been a decline in standards from the post-war period (let’s say since roughly 1980). For one thing, there were in force strict rules for television and radio in regard to equal time and a fair distribution of viewpoints.
That changed with the FCC ruling some years ago that cleared the way for FOX et al. that anything goes. The news culture, too, has changed. Getting the facts right is no longer the top priority. Even where that is the nominal goal, editors are lax in enforcing them, journalists are lazier (despite the Internet making their job so much easier) and careerism overshadows all that they do. Publishers, of course, share the norms of a less stringent culture while preoccupied with the bottom line in an era of relentless competition from unconventional sources like social media. Factualness inevitably becomes secondary and skepticism a scarce commodity.
We inhabit an increasingly nihilistic environment wherein all expression is treated as equal. That expression can be fragmented, contradictory and free of any discernible logic. “What I feel” drives what we say and write as much as ‘What I think based on these facts’ does.
The sacred self of narcissism finds a culture of nihilism congenial. Nihilism is prevailing at all levels of government and politics. Our office-holders, our politicos, our leaders in nearly every sphere of life (business & finance most certainly) lie with impunity. The current Trump presidency is the logical extremity of trends that been spreading and strengthening. There is absolutely no reason to assume the truthfulness of what emanates from the Pentagon, the Intelligence agencies, the chiefs of regulatory bodies, heads of federal departments or their counterparts in municipal and state governments. Habitual, compulsive liars are the norm in places like the CIA, Homeland Security and Central Command. The presumption that a statement is likely to be factual wrong, or at least seriously distorted, conforms to reality at least as much as does the assumption of it being factually correct.
(John Brennan is an outstanding example. He now is matched by William Barr. So promiscuous is their lying that if either were to testify before Congress that the sun rose in the East, you’d make a point of checking the next morning). ***
As for the private sector, only the most naïve take at face-value the declarations of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Exxon or just about anyone in Silicon Valley. In that last locale, we encounter a perverse phenomenon also common in government and the media. Someone like Zuckerman not only is chronically dishonest, but seemingly even deceives himself. The distinction between actual reality and confected reality becomes blurred to the point that these narcissists (whether clinical like Trump or sufferers from what the psychiatrist call ANS or Acquired Narcissistic Syndrome – persons who behave like narcissists although they lack the core mental mainspring that drives the clinical narcissist) that they themselves lose track of where the line runs. They tend to believe what they say the moment that they say it but act in direction contradiction of it thereafter without awareness of the dissonance. The infinitely elastic and accommodating norms of a nihilistic culture let them get away it, thereby encouraging that type of mentality and conduct
The Times prides itself on complying with its motto: “All The News That’s Fit To Print.” But what exactly does that mean? The casual assumption had been that it refrained from reporting gossip or salacious stories. That was never the whole story, of course. As far back as the 1970s, it was the practice of then editor Max Frankel to receive a telephone call late each Friday afternoon from Henry Kissinger who gave him the “inside dope” on some foreign policy matter. Dutifully, it then would appear on the front page of the Sunday paper attributed to a highly placed administration source. That way, Kissinger could shape the way the political class interpreted an important issue of the times. Yet, that did not dissuade The New York Times from obtaining and publishing the Pentagon Papers – resisting the heavy pressure from The Nixon administration and taking the case for press freedom up to the Supreme Court
These days, the grey lady is much more sensitive to the wants and desires of the powers that be. It has become routine for the White House to complain to the editors about coverage or to insist that a story be withheld or amended for reasons of ‘national security’. It has become routine for editors to take those insistent demands to heart. The most egregious case occurred in 2003-04 under George Bush. The paper’s enterprising journalist, James Risen, had uncovered the administration’s multi-faceted program for electronic spying on Americans. It clearly was illegal as well as unconstitutional. Still, the editors sat on it, stonewalling Risen for several months. Throughout, it was bombarded by demands from the Bush people that the story be buried because to print it would reveal sensitive matters that could endanger American security. The Times complied during the presidential campaign. It continued to drag its feet until Risen forced their hand by warning that it all would appear anyway in a forthcoming book.
In a similar vein, the same editors have turned against Julian Assange despite having benefited from publishing excerpts from the Manning trove made available by Wikileaks. Within months, then editor Bill Keller was slandering Assange in vulgar terms as an eccentric who looked like “a bag lady.” The carefully constructed Washington consensus had painted Assange as a criminal, making it expedient for the Times to distance itself from him.. To this day, the paper has remained an Assange critic – offering no defense of actions they themselves had justified before the Supreme Court 40 years earlier.
The conclusion is dismayingly simple. “What’s fit to print” is what Times’ editors find politically acceptable and financially profitable to print – laced with a heavy dose of personal bias. In this sense, they have kept up with the times.
According to Luke’s Gospel, Jesus Himself prophesied: “nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.” If true, don’t expect to find it in the MSM – or the revelation to come without Divine intervention.
*The fear-mongering and vilification of Russia is a long and sordid story. One that is unceasing and knows no bounds. The depths to which the media (as well as the government and think tanks) sink in order to sow public anxiety is exemplified by a full-page story in the Sunday Times (April 14) devoted to crying havoc about an alleged Russian threat from the Arctic – NATO’s ‘soft underbelly’ in the metaphorical image. One can only wonder at the hysteria if there were actually land under the North Pole, as in Antarctica, instead of just ice floes and marooned polar bears. Anyway, now we can understand why the Pentagon brass got into such a tizzy this past winter when the Russians held a military exercise Vostok-2018 in its Far East – 5,000 miles away. Reportedly, the snow aroundOkhotsk is of the same granular texture as the snow around Spitzbergen.
**JERUSALEM/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) –
“Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro drew veiled rebukes from Israel on Saturday after saying the Nazi genocide of the Jews during World War Two could be forgiven. “The far-right Bolsonaro made a solidarity visit to Israel last month during which he raised eyebrows by asserting, after a tour of the Holocaust memorial Yad Vadshem, that the Nazis had been “leftists.” Bolsonaro also has called for official commendation of the very individuals who tortured former President Dilma Rousseff under the military dictatorship she helped remove.
None of this got as much as a mention in the NYT. Instead, it has done everything within its power to “normalize” Bolsonaro – as have most Western governments, the IMF, the Davos crowd, and – most certainly – the Trump administration that gave full backing to the plot first to overthrow Rousseff and then to forge the alliance between the business establishment and the neo-Fascists.
Some of the paper’s greatest sins are ones of non-commission. In the same category: Vice-President Pompeo’s statement that he agrees “God had placed Donald Trump in the White House to protect the Israelis from the Persians” was hidden. It, too, was made in Israel. This equanimity in the face of outright lunacy that carries dire implications is a commentary both on the state of politics in America and on the fecklessness of the news media who have lost their ethical bearings – and their professional integrity.
***A tradition carried on by current CIA Director Gina Haspel, “the girl next door” of black site cum torture fame. (Also a participant in the felonious Agency destruction of the infamous torture videos). She lied Donald Trump into upping sanctions against Russia by showing him fake photos of young children hospitalized and a duck supposedly killed by the Novichok nerve agent. The tale, and ‘evidence,’ had been cooked up by MI-5 who have authored the Skripal fable with CIA assistance. The ever reliable New York Times seems to have found in Haspel the latest “good guy” in the despicable Trump apparatus. She replaces Nikki Haley in the role, previously filled by Mattis, McMaster, Tillerson and Flynn. According to the wise men on West 43rd Street, Haspel is: an “adept tactician” blessed with “good listening, empathy and an ability to connect”, who has skillfully overcome the difficulties she faced in ensuring “her voice is heard at the White House….As she approaches her first full year on the job, Ms. Haspel has proved an adept tactician, charming the president with small gestures and talking to him with a blend of a hardheaded realism and appeals to emotion. “Ms. Haspel was not the first to use emotional images to appeal to the president, but pairing it with her hard-nosed realism proved effective: Mr. Trump fixated on the pictures of the sickened children and the dead ducks. At the end of the briefing, he embraced the strong option.”
Pity that this paragon of Presidential briefers did not show this paragon of Presidential humanism photos of dead children in Yemen which might evoke their “empathy.” Or children being sexually abused at ICE prisons run by for-profit outfits. Or hungry kids sheltering under tarpaulins in Puerto Rico.