“He never let the truth get in the way of a good story” was a line of dialogue from TV show that probes the depths to which the human mind can sink. A good narrative is so compelling it can blind us to the truth. This quirk of human nature has been exploited by con men for centuries and Maria Konnikova’s “Born to be Conned” in the New York Times provides some interesting examples of smart people who fell prey to con men. The other key to a successful con game is that people want to believe in good; that the bad guy will get his comeuppance and that hard work will be rewarded. This is the narrative our culture trumpets via books, film and television, but we’ve been conned.
Consolidation of media ownership has enabled the cultural narrative to be controlled by a shrinking group of players. The occasional mea culpa, like Bill Moyers’ Buying the War, is supposed to satisfy the masses that the free press is still working, but the conclusions reached in the documentary contradict that view. Although the producers don’t pretend that the media’s failure to challenge the evidence leading up to the war in Iraq was unique, they fail to explore any potential solutions. This supports the spreading view that mainstream news is nothing more than corporate propaganda.
The mainstream media is no longer the free press that is necessary for a functioning democracy. The stories that don’t get told are often the ones that citizens in a functioning democracy most need to hear. Moyer’s documentary tells one such story about the unheard reporters who were correct that the Bush Administration was lying like a rug. Another important story that is getting short shrift is that the United States is no longer a democracy. It’s worth repeating: your Federal Presidential Constitutional Republic is no longer a democratic institution, but an Oligarchy. Government “of the people, by the people, for the people” as Lincoln put it, has largely perished in the United States.
The influence the average American voter has is so small it has a statistical significance “near zero.” This is from an academic study published in 2014 and was ignored in the mainstream media. In a functioning representative democracy, the knowledge that your democracy isn’t representative of the vast majority of people and therefore doesn’t function would be considered newsworthy. While MSNBC was almost the only mainstream outlet to run the story, they did so under a limp headline and let the story die of neglect. The flip side of the story is that if you’re a billionaire, you still have all the representation money can buy.
“Democracy” and “Freedom” are as American as apple pie, and represent core beliefs that citizens embrace as part of their identity. Presenting evidence that their core beliefs are untrue doesn’t go over well because of the psychological phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance.” This refers to the same mental discomfort a child feels when an older sibling first spills the beans about Santa Claus. Our natural human habit of avoiding pain means we tend to cling to false beliefs if the truth contradicts our long-held worldview or core values.
The pain of cognitive dissonance, the unwillingness to accept that the Bush Administration deliberately lied in order to start a war which killed thousands of Americans, contributed to the outcome that the perpetrators got away with it. That kind of massive injustice isn’t supposed to happen in America, but there are other examples. The Vietnam War, which killed over 58,000 Americans, was triggered by an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that didn’t happen. During the Gulf War 30 years later, columnist Sydney Schanberg reminded journalists that they’d been “bamboozled” by President Johnson about Vietnam, but also lamented “the apparent amnesia of the wider American public.” Liars keep getting away with it because people prefer a soothing lie to a painful truth.
The media could do things differently, in theory, but how many reporters are willing to speak truth to power in the current climate of corporate consolidation and downsizing? What does that say about the news we see today about ISIL in Syria? The fact that the CIA largely created ISIL doesn’t get much play in the U.S., but the Guardian ran the story in the U.K. back in June. Today the drums are beating for Americans to risk their lives in a futile effort to solve a problem created by their own government. The Orwellian “War on Terror” not only cannot be won, but winning arguably isn’t even the endgame. The military-industrial complex that outgoing President Eisenhower warned of benefits enormously from ongoing conflict. Peace doesn’t pay, even for reporters.
President Obama recently gave a speech on terrorism and gun control, asking Congress to support the bombing of ISIL in Syria. He looked as grey and weary as any U.S. president approaching the end of his term. It could be that his administration, like the media and the public, are being swept along by forces beyond their control. It could also be true that the owners of major defense contractors are quite pleased with the direction things are going. The gun dealers enjoy increased sales in the wake of mass shootings as they warn America to arm themselves against the threat of home grown terror.
If the news media had fulfilled their traditional role, members of the Bush Administration would likely be in jail for war crimes by now and the 9/11 Commission might have reached very different conclusions. It used to be said that knowledge is power, but even though knowledge is more freely available than it has ever been, the game doesn’t seem to have changed much. In the 2016 elections, the U.S. may reach a significant tipping point where the population finally catches on and takes a course not charted by the establishment. President Bernie Sanders may be a game changer, as he seems to be the only candidate willing to acknowledge the truth about the serious flaws in the system, let alone fix them. Pay attention to the media bias against Sanders and towards the establishment’s choice, but don’t expect to see coverage of the Democracy Spring event or the represent.us anti-corruption campaign. If you want to live in a functioning democratic republic, use social media to share important knowledge while you still can.
Click the embedded links to find sources and/or interesting supporting material, some of which is rather offbeat.
Corporations can edit Wikipedia too, but SourceWatch is an awesome website to help you figure out the agenda behind a press release. Here are a few of their portals;
A Wiki on the Koch brothers
This interview, in two parts, with Noam Chomsky. It from about 25 years ago, but stands the test of time.
This Ted Talk about who rules the world.