“Human rights have purely instrumental value in the political culture,” Noam Chomsky observed almost twenty years ago. “They provide a useful tool for propaganda, nothing more.”  Since early 2011 Western media outlets have given considerable attention to civilian casualties in Libya and Syria, thus playing an important role in conditioning public opinion for massive military operations that have, in the case of Libya, proven immensely harmful for civilians and beneficial toward forces that stand to profit handsomely from control of that country’s resources. A repeated claim has been that the Qaddafi, Assad, and other autocratic Middle Eastern regimes the US has seen fit to support over the past several decades have suddenly chosen to “crackdown” on their civilian populations, and thus the West must intervene on humanitarian grounds.
The police state’s framework for suppressing information and opinion arguably threatens all forms of independent thought and appears poised to intensify as the “war on terror” continues. As the recent emergence of US plans for indoctrination in reeducation camps reveals (PDF), Western governments’ actual enemy is the capacity for a people to exercise critical thought en route to intervening in and altering political-economic processes.
In the immediate wake of President Obama’s May 1, 2011 announcement of the alleged extrajudicial killing of Osama bin Laden by US military forces, a struggle reemerged over the official 9/11 myth that major journalistic outlets have been complicit in perpetuating over the past decade. The corporate media’s reaction to the robust skepticism over bin Laden’s assumed execution suggested a great deal about the extent to which they are locked in to upholding the broader 9/11 parable and serving the Anglo-American political-economic establishment and status quo.
“Sanitized killing is cheap and efficient. Rule of law principles and other disturbing issues aren’t considered. Secrecy and accountability go unaddressed.” –Stephen Lendman, “America’s Drone Command Centers: Remote Warriors Operate Computer Keyboards and Joysticks“.
It is estimated that one in three CIA drone strikes in Pakistan kills a child . Between 2004 and 2011 at least 168 children have been killed in America’s drone war in that country alone.
In the purported digital age one is frequently presented with the notion that communication will inevitably make society a more coherent whole. Yet media technology has failed to conquer the combined obstacles of the censorial use of language and geographic distance when it comes to relating the many horrors of modern warfare. Instead, such technology has reinforced a now familiar tradition of language games that cleanses atrocities from the popular memory.
The Rockefeller Foundation was the principle source for funding public opinion and psychological warfare research between the late 1930s and the end of World War Two. With limited government and corporate interest or support of propaganda-related studies, most of the money for such research came from this powerful organization that recognized the importance of ascertaining and steering public opinion in the immediate prewar years.
Engage in water cooler conversation over the subject of terrorism and almost invariably the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing and Timothy McVeigh will be proffered as vivid examples of what can happen when right wing extremism mixes with dangerous conspiratorial thought. Their relatedness to the ongoing “war on terror” will likely be an afterthought.
On April 10 Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdul Kouddous received the I.F. “Izzy” Stone award “for outstanding achievement in independent media” at Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media. Kouddous won the recognition through his series of 2011 dispatches from the Tahir Square demonstrations against Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Sharing the award with corporate public relations watchdog Center for Media and Democracy, Kouddous is the third Democracy Now! staffer to receive the honor in the Izzy’s four year history.
Truth is among the most basic principles upon which modern governance rests and is indicative of a vigilant and engaged citizenry. It is thus of no small consequence that truth is held in limited regard by those who are designated to represent the public to itself—journalists, academics , and political leaders. Under the British crown the two primary impediments to press freedom—the means by which claims to truth may be circulated and thus scrutinized—were state control of printing through charter and the persistent threat of seditious libel charges.
Empire requires not only the means of conquest but also a high degree of civic disengagement and an irrational faith in the state’s intent and everyday practices. In the US the latter has been overwhelmingly cultivated by almost a century of commercial mass media and promotional culture that have to a significant degree eclipsed human reason.
With few exceptions the news that will shape public discourse is subject to a de facto censorial process of powerful government and corporate elites beyond accountability to the public. It is here that Sigmund Freud’s notion of repression is especially helpful for assessing the decrepit state of media and public discourse in the United States. In Freud’s view, one’s collective life experiences are registered in the subconscious, with those particularly disturbing or socially impermissible experiences being involuntarily suppressed, only later to emerge as neuroses. Whereas suppression is conscious and voluntary, repression takes place apart from individual volition.