Peace Researcher 41 – July 2011
Due to the length of Dennis’ article, it will be published in two parts. Part 2 will be in the next issue. Ed.
In the second decade of the 21st Century, there are many converging pressures and incentives in Western capitalism for military reactions to global problems. Aotearoa/NZ will predictably come more and more within their compass. The mainstream mass media are critical to this process. We must closely monitor their messages, contest them as appropriate, and continue to develop our own alternative networks of news, information and communication. We need to work even harder at encouraging constructive rather than negative responses to global, regional and national problems, and in finding paths to creative and sustainable solutions.
• Today, we know that every argument that is being used to escalate the war against Iraq is a lie.” (“The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire” by Arundhati Roy, Harper Perennial, 2004, p75)
• People can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders . . . All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” (Nazi leader Herman Goering quote, ibid, p114)
• “We should never forget that war is big – very big – business.” (“Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You” by Norman Solomon & Reese Erlich, Context Books, 2003, p.27) 
• “The [Defence] White Paper is a further recognition that New Zealand’s role in the Pacific is shifting as China’s growth, and America’s recent hiccups, alter the balance of global economic power, bringing with it changes in strategic balances as well . . . these changes mean NZ will have more to do in the region and that will mean working closely with the United States” (Press editorial, 4/11/10)
Anzac Day Part Of War Propaganda
Early on in 2010 it was noticeable that building up to Anzac Day and beyond, the mainstream media seemed to be bent on creating a climate of what remarkably smacked of war-mongering sentiment. Prominent Christchurch historian, social commentator, and World War 2 veteran, Harry Evison, drew attention to this in a letter to the editor of The Press (24/4/10). He observed that: “The present spate of American movies portraying war as heroic, and the extraordinary surge of attention to wars of all kinds, seem to be conditioning people for another world war, like 1914 all over again” (ibid.).
Harry criticised The Press for portraying “NZ heroes in the First World War when on the very next page we see the head of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff calling for another war”, this time on Iran. The threatened war on Iran, still in the offing, is to supposedly pre-empt Iran from getting weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the Western view, only the US and its mates can allow themselves the benefits of WMD, and the lavish capacity for coercion, intimidation and over-kill. The US alone accounts for about half of world military expenditure and has openly proclaimed its ambition to dominate the planet. It is no coincidence, too, that a more militarist orientation in US-led Western foreign policy has developed since 9/11 at the same time as Western media have become more concentrated in capitalist ownership. We have entered a highly dangerous era of media-induced war.
Back in 1983, Ben Bagdikian’s seminal “The Media Monopoly” (The Beacon Press) chronicled how some 50 media conglomerates dominated the entirety of US mass media (“Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics In Dubious Times” by Robert McChesney, The New Press, 1999, p19). By the time of the 5th edition of Bagdikian’s book in 1997, his analysis had reduced the number of ruling firms to around ten (ibid.). Since then, the number of dominant media in the US, and indeed the whole Western world, has concentrated markedly further.
The first tier of global media conglomerates, on the turn of the 21st Century, included Time-Warner, Disney, Viacom, Seagram, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, General Electric and Sony. The most important commercial broadcasters had become part of these media transnational corporations (TNCs), which each have their own political lobbying machines. The Wall Street Journal, added to Murdoch’s media empire in 2007, has called the commercial broadcasters the “most powerful lobby in Washington” (ibid, p64). Murdoch has been a big campaign contributor to the Republican Party in the US but has given money to the Democrats too.
What can be called “crony-media” has been developed into a highly effective system by Rupert Murdoch. Crony-media is expressed in the close working relationship between certain media and ideologically consonant politicians. The recent controversy in Britain over “phone-hacking” and Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper, along with his News International conglomerate, has again drawn attention to the extent of his power (e.g. TV1, Sunday, 14/11/10). In Britain, he clearly exercises a disturbingly large influence on both politicians and police. Tellingly enough, Andy Coulson, former News of the World editor, is now British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s Director of Communications. Coulson resigned from the News of the World over the original phone-hacking allegations and has come under fire again since.
Rupert Murdoch’s notorious political influence has indeed a vast global reach – from Sky Television to regular content input in media he does not even own, or only partly owns. For instance, the Fairfax Media-owned Press in Aotearoa/NZ reprints much of its foreign affairs content from Murdoch’s conservative British (The) Times, a key voice of the Atlantic Alliance establishment. This pattern was reinforced by part-ownership of Fairfax. In April 2007, the Australian government lifted “restrictions on cross-media and foreign ownership rules” (Press, 4/4/07). The “controversial new laws” allowed “foreigners to buy Australian media companies and lift[ed] limits on how many media outlets a single proprietor can own in one market” (ibid.). NewsCorp was quick to snap up 7.5% of Fairfax, a purchase in line with what Murdoch had been doing elsewhere (ibid.).
The Murdoch Monopoly Syndrome
This capitalist mogul certainly epitomises so much of the danger that George Orwell warned us about. Murdoch’s media empire today covers a very wide range of sectors: an extensive newspaper and magazine publication stable; media technology and the Internet; satellite television (TV); cable and broadcast TV; film and TV studios; books (e.g., HarperCollins); and even sport – 50% of the National Rugby League in Australia & NZ (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_Corporation).
It was constructed in a long career of political manipulation and cronyism, complex and systematic tax avoidance, and business and financial contrivances that mock the pure free market principles that his media so often trumpet. NewsCorp’s latest big business venture is to try and commercialise information on the Internet to its own benefit as much as possible. Rupert Murdoch’s ownership of influential British media and so many Australian newspapers along with all his extensive American assets, gives him a commanding overall position in the Atlantic Alliance - the Anglo-American axis – as well as its subsidiaries like Australia and NZ. Murdoch has created a strategic platform for cultural conditioning, and the transmission of information tailored to his very Rightwing agenda. The propaganda impact of his media conglomerate and similar blocs in helping drive support for the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq has been both huge and horrendous in its implications.
Malevolent And Malign Media
British Prime Minister Tony Blair benefited greatly from his crony-media links with Rupert Murdoch. This was highlighted in July 2006 when Blair attended a Murdoch-convened conference at the height of the Iraq war. Tony Blair spoke to “500 of Rupert Murdoch’s News International executives, plus their partners and VIP guests, who [were] in conference at the luxurious Pebble Beach golf resort” (Sunday Star Times, 30/7/06). Blair was able to pontificate in front of “an audience of admirers of his unfashionable pro-Americanism” (ibid.). At the time, Iraq was certainly to the fore in political calculation: “‘Iraq means Rupert will never dump on Blair’, explains a close Murdoch-watcher” (ibid.). It all reaffirmed Blair’s “poodle” relationship with both Murdoch and President Bush. Apparently, one of the reasons behind Blair’s attendance was “that if Blair had turned down the invitation, it would have gone to the British Conservative leader, David Cameron, the kind of rising star News International prides itself on cultivating” (ibid.). However, it was also reported that Murdoch was then somewhat cool towards Cameron (ibid.). No doubt, he has a different attitude these days.
Another star at one of these “Murdoch-fests” was also a central player in the “War on Terror”. Evidently, “General Tommy Franks, head of the Iraq invasion [and the Afghanistan invasion], was a popular turn” (ibid.). Even given the pervasive Rightwing bias in news presentation in the US, epitomised by Murdoch’s media empire, the Bush Administration’s “neo-conservative” campaign orchestrating the 2003 invasion of Iraq surely achieved some quite remarkable results in political manipulation of the American public. For instance, one poll found that 42% of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, while according to another poll 55% believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported al Qaeda (“The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire” [OPGE], op. cit, p82).
More broadly, the general impact of NewsCorp on fuelling inequalities and racial, ethnic and cultural antagonisms, and all the other underlying and deepening causes of global strife, is enormously ominous. A footnote to this observation is that there are always plenty of ironies in the complexities of life, e.g., Arundhati Roy’s excellent book, cited several times in the course of the current article, was published by HarperCollins!
“Infotainment” And “Liberal Totalitarianism”
At the same time as the Murdoch media empire has cultivated a political programme, it has developed a policy of deliberate “dumbing-down” of many of its audiences for commercial goals as well. This has happened despite Murdoch’s personal fascination with politics as if in one way his commercial instincts have over-ruled his political interests (“The Murdoch Archipelago”, Bruce Page, Simon & Schuster, 2003, p164). But in fact, his politics and commercial instincts go hand in hand here, echoing the ancient Roman imperial canon of “bread and circuses” for us plebeians, the “proles” of Orwell’s “1984”. “Dumbing down”, of course, makes audiences easier to manipulate.
In line with a long American tradition, capital concentration and the diminution of democratic freedoms has been portrayed by NewsCorp as necessary for the defence of freedom, a continuing defence against what Murdoch has denounced as “liberal totalitarianism” (ibid, p465). “Sky, Fox, Times newspapers, the monopolisation of Australian journalism, and lesser coups in parallel amounted by the early 1990s to sweeping victory for Murdoch over structures devised by democratic states and intended to limit abuses in news media” (ibid, pp465/6). Sky’s market success, for example, was constructed by subsidising its early operations from the rest of Murdoch’s cross-media connections.
The man, once called “an evil genius” by British Labour Party’s Michael Foot, has manufactured his own form of liberal totalitarianism. Rupert Murdoch has also found Chinese Communist Party media control compatible with his operations in this giant new marketplace. “NewsCorp is about eroding the boundaries between the State power and media operations, meanwhile cloaking this process in fantasies which – necessarily – feed back into and distort its journalism” (ibid, p472). Murdoch’s message of freedom is as hollow as that of the ruling American power elite, “freedom” being of course the US’s national slogan “brand”, and now its very tarnished corporate image.
A Pew Institute “poll of international opinion” published in mid-2007 found a “global backlash against American values” (Press, 29/6/07). According to the poll results: “Pluralities in most countries now express distaste for notions of democracy promoted by the US, blame it for contributing to global inequality and hurting the world’s environment, while also disliking the way American businesses operate” (ibid.). In the same year, Amnesty International lamented that: “The politics of fear are fuelling human rights abuses and creating a dangerously divided world” (Press, 24/5/07). Amnesty International denounced the “’War on Terror’” and the war in Iraq, with their catalogue of human rights abuses” (ibid.). It observed that: “The US Administration’s double-speak has been breathtakingly shameless” (ibid.). This sort of feedback has only served as an incentive for the Western mainstream media, at least the Anglo-Saxon lot, to exercise as much damage control as they can, ranging from criticising the Bush Administration for poor planning and policy implementation (the “mistake” syndrome), to preaching an eventual optimistic outcome.
War, Media And Mass Society Theory
In the past, a prominent theme in the academic social analysis of modern society has been the power of the media in regard to what is called “mass society”. The most dramatic historical example on record relating to this societal theme is the success of Nazi propaganda and organization in Germany during the 1930s. During this period, the Nazis mobilised the German masses in an aggressive political programme geared at remaking the role of Germany in the European order, and, more broadly, the world. It soon resulted in World War II, drawing on grievances, often arguably valid, stemming in turn from the legacy of World War I.
NZ historian Stevan Eldred-Grigg puts the case for a more critical view of the senselessness of war and World War I in particular, as well as the folly of NZ’s participation, in his “The Great Wrong War” (Random House, 2010). The NZ people were swept into World War I by a combination of British and local establishment pressure, along with misplaced patriotism. But we could have chosen not to conform. Ironies certainly abound in perceptions of this war and the justice of war. One historian reviewer of Eldred-Grigg’s book, Nicholas Reed, argues it is a lot easier to “preach the senselessness of war” in relation to World War I than World War II where NZ helped fight Hitler and the Nazis (Sunday Star Times, 12/9/10). Stories from the latter war can be paraded and celebrated as on Sky’s History Channel, “endlessly recycling tales of 1939-45 heroism” (ibid.). Besides pointing to the chain of compounding cause and effect, a response to Reed could well contend that celebrating this “heroism” of killing members of one’s own species makes more mass slaughter so much easier in the future.
For sure, there were only 20 years between the two Western-generated World Wars. Only the horror of nuclear weapons and sheer luck kept the next potential war a Cold War. Yet deterrence nearly failed more than once, and the US and the Soviet Union both devised nuclear war-fighting strategies, the ultimate folly and obscenity of humankind. Nowadays, with unprecedented multiplying and deepening world problems, we are moving into an era of vast new dangers. Nuclear proliferation and other weapon developments threaten us all as never before. Various forms of violent political extremism have arisen, along with other states and movements having the potential for similar physical aggression. Consequently, lessons of mass manipulation from the Nazi era are most salutary.
The concept of “mass society”, i.e. a society of predominantly quite similar people in values and attitudes and open to propagandist or simplistic political influence, took grip of the sociological imagination after World War II, especially among a number of American analysts. However, by the mid-1990s, the concept of mass society was no longer influential in sociology. Why? Well, because: “(1) Contemporary societies are not seen as undifferentiated masses but as made up of competing groups. (2) Subordinate classes are not manipulated by an elite but are quite capable of active dissent. (3) There has not been a breakdown of family and community ties” resulting in a mass of atomistic individuals (“The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology”, by N. Abercrombie et al, 3rd ed, 1994, p256). In sum, people could supposedly not be easily manipulated.
War And Monopoly Media
Yet, the accumulating capital concentration of Western media continues relentlessly (for Aotearoa/NZ see Dr. Bill Rosenberg’s “News Media Ownership in New Zealand” http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/publications/Miscellaneous/mediaown.pdf). Above all, in the post 9/11-world, the creation of a perpetual climate of fear and insecurity has given unleashed scope for governmental and media manipulation by dangerously Rightwing elites to manufacture consent on increasingly neo-fascist agendas. The role of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News (and other Western media) in the instigation of the illegal wars on Afghanistan, and later Iraq and elsewhere, is a graphic and ongoing demonstration of the potential for endless evil.
As a rider to these considerations, while the war on Iraq is clearly illegal, for many people the illegality of the war on Afghanistan has not been quite so clear, following so quickly as a response to the 9/11 atrocity. However, this war, now into its 10th year, is also both grossly immoral and illegal (within an extensive literature see e.g. “Military Intervention in Afghanistan”, 2002 special edition of the International Review of Contemporary Law). In 2003, Murdoch-owned newspapers around the world beat the drums of war on Iraq as loudly as they could (The Bulletin, 12/2/03). Fox News was a very influential trumpet of the war. The development of some of the methods of the Murdoch media warfare line and neo-fascist style patriotism can ironically enough be traced back to America’s war on Nazi Germany. “Propaganda” to motivate American troops plugged into various methods of persuasion, especially film. As “brand” marketing experts Simon Anholt and Jeremy Hildreth declare: “The walls between marketing, entertainment, politics and the military, always somewhat permeable in the American culture, had truly been dismantled by this stage” (“Brand America: The Mother Of All Brands”, Cyanbooks, 2004, p70).
The recommendation that Anholt and Hildreth offer to repair America’s battered image is “an inherently peaceful and humanistic approach to international relations” (ibid, p176). For them though, this approach is “based on competition, choice and consumer power” with these concepts “intimately linked to the freedom and power of the individual in a democracy” (ibid.). They say that this approach is “far more likely to result in lasting world peace than a statecraft based on territory, economic power, ideology, politics or religion” (ibid, pp176/7). There are obviously some good aspects here but Anholt and Hildreth are deeply confused about the nature of capitalism. While they see the combination of “democracy and free trade” as fundamental to America’s sense of “its national identity and purpose” (ibid, p176), they don’t see the huge ultimate contradiction within this combination. Simon Anholt has advised the NZ government, among others, on branding and international image.
Militarist media conditioning with all its warmongering hype and “infotainment” aspects - already so dramatically debuted and exhibited during the 1991 Gulf War - is bearing its poisonous harvest a couple of decades later, and into the foreseeable future. According to a very different sort of expert, Professor Colin Gray, a military strategist of the nuclear war fighting Dr. Strangelove-stamp: “On occasions, a high body count, not entirely excluding the innocent, is the pathway to strategy, i.e. effectiveness. Western societies have specialist professionals to do their dirty work for them . . . Western, and increasingly some Eastern also, publics have become spectators of warfare. Combat already is presented very much as a sport, a visually compelling entertainment, delivered directly, even live, into the home. When there is a pause in the military action, impatient news anchorpersons tend to be critical, and speak as if they and their audience are owed continuous visual excitement” (“Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare”, Phoenix, 2005, p163). Professor Gray, a dark eminence indeed, has been one of the leading Western military and nuclear strategists of the modern era, and was especially prominent during the 1980-88 presidency of Ronald Reagan.
Avaaz And The Campaign For Global Democracy
A recent corporate media war against the Internet-based Avaaz human rights and sustainable futures organisation (www.avaaz.org/) has again indicated the mounting threat of Orwellian mind control on a large scale. In this particular instance, however, the episode has also demonstrated the capacity for people power to repel the advances of crony-media and mass manipulation – a victory for real democracy! In September 2010, Avaaz came under attack from a major media mogul in Canada. Avaaz members there were opposing “Government favours for a new radical Right propaganda network run by the Prime Minister’s former spin doctor”, Kory Teneycke (ibid: Avaaz is further quoted below at length from its initial action alert). The organisation had aroused the ire of the “media empire behind the network and its billionaire owner Pierre Karl Peladeau”, and consequently suffered “several smear pieces” in newspapers belonging to Peladeau’s conglomerate. Peladeau is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Quebecor Inc., Quebecor Media Inc, and Sun Media Corp.
Repelling Reactionary Media
Significantly, however, one of the empire’s “executives admitted insider knowledge of a criminal sabotage” of the Avaaz campaign. Furthermore, along with smear tactics, the media mogul even threatened to sue Avaaz unless it stopped its campaign. Avaaz then appealed to its international membership to donate to a campaign fund in order to resist such blatant coercion, “to keep the fight alive against crony-media across the world”. Avaaz well warns about the growing global dangers of crony-media and its potential to marshal the forces of political reaction. “Crony-media and its incestuous combination of unscrupulous politicians and biased reporting is a rising threat to democracy in many countries, from Italy to the US to Australia”. The media war in Canada, which erupted into an international issue thanks to Avaaz’s action alerts, rather dramatically signalled the corporate concentration of communication power, and its growing capacity to both activate and aggravate social antagonisms worldwide. Avaaz is worth quoting at length on all of this: on the specifics of the Canadian campaign, and on the larger context and ramifications of this particular national media war (ibid: more again below from its initial alert).
Manipulative Media Moguls
“In Italy, Prime Minister Berlusconi controls over 80% of the news channels and has a major stake in leading newspapers, magazines and publishing. Berlusconi is mired in scandal and corruption allegations but the spin on his networks is always positive”. It is apposite to add to Avaaz’s comment here that Berlusconi has even publicly declared his belief that Western civilisation is superior to that of Islam. His media have expressed bellicosity suitable to such views.
Avaaz goes on to observe that: “In the US, UK and Australia, mega-mogul Rupert Murdoch exploits his empire to get sweet deals from politicians whom he in turn backs for office. His infamous Fox News is the largest cable news network in the US [reaching into almost all homes!]. After President Obama spurned Murdoch and boycotted his propagandistic network, Fox News spawned the radical Right Tea Party group, and provided a platform for hate and racism, suggesting that Obama is a terrorist and hates white people.”
The idea for a new Canadian crony-media network was reportedly hatched in a secret lunch between Rupert Murdoch, Canadian Conservative Party Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Kory Teneycke. “Harper was George W. Bush’s closest ally on climate change and many other issues”, and has been pushing a new version of “Fox News” into Canada with its “radical form of Rightwing politics”. This news outlet, SunTV, is obviously intended to be “an unscrupulously biased mouthpiece” for Harper himself. It threatens to transform “Canada’s media landscape” for the worse. Many media barons across the globe are indeed “ruthless in how they achieve their political objectives, pushing opinions that poison people’s hearts and polarise our world, threatening democracy and peace”.
Promulgating Political Poison
The Western media pattern of projecting social antagonisms has certainly been exemplified in Aotearoa/NZ with the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, along with all the rest of the “War on Terror” agend a. Mainstream newspapers like the Press have continuously spouted Anglo-American propaganda, some of it quite rabid and perverse, while State-owned TVNZ has channelled a constant flow of pro-war CNN, BBC and co. “news” and commentary. Moreover, news and opinion frontmen for TVNZ like Paul Holmes and Paul Henry have been distinguished by racist remarks or Orwellian warmongering. In the Holmes’ case, he made a racist comment connected with the 2003 war on Iraq reminiscent of attitudes centuries ago, calling United Nations’ head Kofi Annan a “cheeky darkie” for his resistance to US pressure! At the time, Holmes was billed as NZ’s leading TV and radio broadcaster.
In turn, Paul Henry later drew a vigorous protest from Amnesty International when he seemed to heartily endorse torture for Afghani prisoners. He had been questioning TVNZ Political Editor Guyon Espiner on “a Sunday Star Times article about NZ Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers linked to insurgents being handed over to Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate – an organisation notorious for torture”). Henry went on to say: “ . . . but these people, these killers, these morons are sort of taken out of their criminal activity, and then as you say, we need, are expected to hand them over with kid gloves. No, no, no! We need to get out the Stanley knives!” (ibid.).Amnesty International has been warning the NZ government for years about what it has described as ‘a pattern of human rights violations, perpetrated with impunity’ in Afghan prisons, including detainees being whipped, exposed to extreme cold, deprived of food, and shocked with electrical probes” (Sunday Star Times, 31/1/10).
The now disgraced “former Breakfast host Paul Henry says TVNZ encouraged him to be controversial, but then let him take the rap for on-air slurs that sparked strong public reaction, forcing him to resign” (Press, 16/11/10). Henry had even insulted the Governor-General (not white enough!), and offended India. Clearly, Henry felt that TVNZ wanted him to perform as a sort of American-style “shock-jock” in the mould of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. He stupidly overplayed his hand. “Freedom of speech”, however, is defended by Henry as the licence for his racist and socially antagonistic remarks (ibid.). This is very much in the American tradition, whereas freedom of speech for real dissent is systematically suppressed and marginalised by corporate forces. While it is heartening to see that there was sufficient outrage against Henry for TVNZ to finally get rid of him, the general, neo-liberal political line and world vision articulated in the NZ mainstream media continue with only the occasional note of real dissent or criticism. Sadly, social antagonism and even militarist extremism have already come a long way towards being the norm in much of the major Western media and this has been reflected in NZ as well.
Contesting The Corporate Media
As intimated above, Canadian Avaaz members scored a victory when they succeeded in shutting down the bid to subsidise the new Murdoch-linked network. A petition was mounted against “special Government handouts for SunTV”, a barrage of letters sent to the Government’s media commission, and a large amount of money donated to help fund legal action. Kory Teneycke was actually forced to resign and SunTV abandoned its application for Governmental funding to boost its launch. For the moment at least, the concerted crony-media move to push Canadian culture more to the Right has been checked to some extent.
Avaaz’s Canadian campaign exposed how taxpayers there were going to “foot the bill for this new network through their cable television fees. This is an example of how crony-media works – a billionaire gets Government-mandated funding for their media network while pushing propaganda that backs that Government’s leader”. Avaaz rightly pointed to the Peladeau media empire attack as a glaring example of “how big corporate power works to silence the people’s voices”. In addition, Avaaz pertinently remarks that as an international community of almost six million people and growing, it “might be one of the only organisations that can fight this rising threat to democracy”. Indeed, its’ successful Canadian campaign shows how we have to unite internationally against crony-media and all it represents.
As Avaaz also aptly says: “The subversion of democracy by the collusion of political leaders and media corporations is a threat to all the things we care about, from climate change to poverty to human rights”. In these times, the danger of warmongering looms as an ever present risk, especially with the seemingly more general militarist inclinations of many Western media and the broader culture. Worldwide, some ten million people marched against the 2003 invasion of Iraq but unfortunately failed to stop the war. To avert further violence and its destabilising momentum is going to demand even greater ongoing commitment.
Whipping Up War Fever
Besides Fox News, another example of the media warfare line in regard to the US’s illegal wars on Afghanistan and Iraq has been that adopted by the leading American radio group. San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications, which had close links with President Bush II, demonstrated the new activist approach of some powerful American media. Significantly, its Chief Executive Officer had contributed generously to Bush’s election campaign (OPGE, op. cit, p120). After 9/11, Clear Channel even banned songs “that it felt might undermine public support for President Bush’s declared ‘War on Terrorism’” (“Media Merger Mania and Moves for Media Democracy” by Jerry Starr, Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, 16/4/04). This ban got international publicity when it included the Dixie Chicks for their lead singer’s criticism of the war on Iraq.
“When hundreds of thousands of American citizens took to the streets to protest against the war on Iraq, Clear Channel organised pro-war patriotic ‘Rallies for America’ across the country. It used its radio stations to advertise the events and then sent correspondents to cover them as though they were breaking news. The era of manufacturing consent has given way to the era of manufacturing news” (OPGE, op. cit, p120). Political manipulation, mass media, show business, and militarism interact regularly now in Orwellian orchestrated theatrics.
The Tea Party Movement
Murdoch’s Fox News played a big role in the birth of the radical, Rightwing Tea Party movement in the US. Media Matters in America has compiled an analysis of how Fox News aggressively promoted Tea Party protests in the early days of the movement (www.mediamatters.org/reports/200904080025). Fox News quickly fastened on the potential for growth of what can be seen initially as a spontaneous outburst of anger at the policies of the new Obama Administration. It described these protests as primarily a response to President Obama’s fiscal policies.
The Tea Party movement, which takes its name from the Boston Tea Party of the American Revolution period, pushes the traditional conservative American themes of smaller government, individual rights and freedoms, less taxation, and a correspondingly conservative view of the Constitution (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_protests). But as a very Rightwing populist movement, the Tea Party articulates these themes with an extremist edge. At the same time, the movement has shown itself at times to be a fluctuating mixture and expression of inconsistent frustrations and anger. Therefore, manipulative media like Fox News and Clear Channel Communications have worked vigorously to direct this movement and related social trends according to their own hard right agendas.
Since early 2009, the Tea Party has carried out an extensive series of protests in the US. It has exploded in fact into a potentially very dangerous social movement. Its leaders are working to shift the Republican Party further to the Right. In recent times, a lot of their energies were directed into efforts to get extremist candidates elected under the Republican banner in the mid-term 2010 Congressional elections. To a large extent, they succeeded in this aim. Furthermore, polls show many mainstream Americans back the Tea Party. With compounding economic problems, 10% unemployment, growing socio-economic inequalities, an anxiety-ridden middle-class, foreign wars and terrorism, worries about the rise of China, and other concerns, the Tea Party movement can draw on a lot of societal stress and socio-economic insecurities.
A Toxic Brew
Adele Stan has identified certain traits that make the Tea Party movement quite distinctive. She emphasises that: “When it comes to the Tea Party movement, the media comprise the message as much as carry it”, 5/710). The personalities of Fox News and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal do more than magnify the Tea Party’s messages; they are communications strategists that reinforce the movement’s themes with cogent framing and clever wordplay delivered incessantly across all forms of media in their purview and outside of it. These media figures also function as movement organisers . . . Glenn Beck is Rupert Murdoch’s community organizer” (ibid.). In fact, Beck has become the top conservative radio and TV talk show commentator in the US.
In helping to foster traditional Rightwing values according to the virulent new Tea Party formula, the Murdoch empire and similar minded corporate forces obviously see direct commercial gains from the creation of a much more deregulatory climate for their operations and investments. Fox News, in particular, has “regularly featured TV programming leading into and promoting various protest activities” (ibid.), and has also regularly served the Tea Party as a “sound-system” and “visual display” for its spokespeople.
This is set in a context where even a Times journalist can write of the “controversial and secretive corporate money” pumped by conservative forces into the US midterm election (reprinted in the Press, 28/10/10). Political funding rules have recently been altered in the US by a monumental Supreme Court decision, “removing constraints on election spending . . . the ruling has worked disproportionately in favour of the Republicans, whose supporters have outspent liberal groups by almost three to one” (ibid.). Big Business, epitomised by the likes of the US Chamber of Commerce, went on an election spending spree.
The Cyclic Political Context Of Capitalist Media Concentration
The tightening grip of Murdoch’s media conglomerate on American society as expressed by Fox News goes back to the militarist heyday of the Reagan era. Regulation against media cross-ownership was conveniently bent by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This allowed Murdoch’s NewsCorp-Fox to take over Metromedia stations to “become the basis of a new Fox national network” (“The Murdoch Archipelago”, op. cit, p351). The FCC Chairperson at the time “wanted to deregulate the media industries – a standard Republican position, as it tends to favour big money, which is a (arguably, the) Republican constituency… The particular reason for welcoming the new network was that its moving spirit was Murdoch. Reagan and his colleagues thought highly of what Murdoch’s papers had done for them in the Presidential campaigns of 1980 and 1984, and believed that it qualified him admirably to run a national TV network” (ibid.).
With the driving force of big business behind it, the FCC has carried on with its deregulatory programme. As Arundhati Roy has remarked, “America’s media empire is controlled by a tiny coterie of people” (“OPGE”, op. cit, p121). In the early part of the first decade of the 21st Century: “Chairman of the FCC, Michael Powell, the son of [the then] Secretary of State Colin Powell”, was pushing for “even further deregulation of the communication industry, which will lead to even greater consolidation” (ibid.). This has certainly happened with Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, and similar moves towards increased concentration.
Later in 2009/10, the use of the Tea Party by Murdoch and co, including the more reactionary elements of the Republican Party, is yet another case of the capitalist exploitation of “false consciousness” - another tradition so entrenched throughout US history. So many people, indoctrinated into American libertarian myths, are really acting against their own socio-economic interests in supporting the Tea Party and related movements. Crony-media, Big Business, and their political allies have now a new, dynamic vehicle on which to try and consolidate their grip on American society. However, the reality is also deepening social division.
The Relevance Of Mass Society Theory
Even Big Business is more divided these days with a much more public-spirited element exemplified by Bill Gates and co. In this sense, mass society theory may seem to have some limitations. But it is continually insightful and useful in highlighting the role of certain media and related political agents, and their increasingly harmful influence in Western society. Most importantly, it can have a critically pre-emptive purpose. After all, too, the Nazis faced strong opposition in their early days but still took control of German society. We need to constantly counter and repel the influence of crony-media.
Historically, there have been various strands of mass society theory, including even a culturally elitist perspective, and also some quite positive versions of the theory. My approach draws its main inspiration from the socialist Frankfurt School of thought, which developed much of its critical line from analysis of the German Nazi experience. This school is associated with social science researchers, analysts and writers like TW Adorno, M Horkheimer, E Fromm and H Marcuse.
There can still be interesting and curious theoretical and empirical cross-connections. For instance, the deliberate “dumbing down” approach by certain mass media is at least partially relevant to the critical, conservative cultural perspective, which lamented the decline of civilised “good taste” as it were. An updated case in point of such criticism from a more progressive perspective is a piece by American social critic Naomi Wolf on the Conservative British Government’s “war on culture” (Press, 4/11/10). The British government is slashing funding for the arts and humanities departments of Britain’s universities. This assault, coupled with “plans to triple university students’ fees”, has elicited large angry protests (The Press, 2/12/10).
Wolf notes that this downgrading has also happened in the US since the Reagan era. She warns about “a giant step in the direction of a pliable, dumbed-down citizenry”, and the creation of “an increasingly ignorant and passive population that serves at the pleasure of corporate interests”, including for instance ignorance of “what led to World War I” (Press, 4/11/10). Wolf sees this “war on culture” creating “a nation of quiescent citizens who, like their US counterparts, are better suited to a society whose official policies are more aligned to the will of corporate interests” (ibid.). The National Party government has been doing the same to a degree in Aotearoa/NZ, including the axing of adult and community education courses.
Orchestrating Special Propaganda
One of the criticisms of mass society theory from a sociological viewpoint is that has it proved to be too vague in meaning. But for my purposes, I am looking at causes and effects in two particular dimensions. One dimension refers to the power of a relatively small group in a climate of fear and anxiety to mobilise societal and even international support, through the purveyance of propaganda for the creation of a crisis and a subsequent violent “resolution”. This dimension can apply to full scale war as in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the earlier intervention in Afghanistan following 9/11, as well as the 1991 Gulf War.
To some extent then, this thesis has already been illustrated above with regard to the activities of certain major media after 9/11, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq. However, it was the conspiratorial activities of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s special intelligence/propaganda office in the Pentagon, and the way this office and other White House agencies colluded with certain strategic elements of the mass media that so crucially set the agenda and content for these media to exploit, and subsequently permeate the mainstream media in general with their poisonous messages. “The Office of Special Plans (OSP), which existed from September 2002 to June 2003 was a Pentagon unit created by Paul Wolfowitz [Dep. Defense Secretary] and Douglas Feith” (www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Special_Plans). It was “headed by Feith”, as charged by Rumsfeld, “to supply senior George W. Bush Administration officials with raw intelligence . . . pertaining to Iraq” (ibid.). It is certainly well worth noting that a similar unit was set up on Iran in 2006, the Iranian Directorate.
Under Feith’s direction, the OSP fed a stream of disinformation out into the rest of the American foreign policy establishment, even grossly perverting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assessments and advice (e.g. see: www.antiwar.com/orig/leopold11.html). As indicated, this propaganda was relayed out to the public via a special communications network feeding into the mass media. Rumsfeld, who as a special envoy for the Ronald Reagan Administration was filmed in 1983 warmly shaking Saddam Hussein’s hand, oversaw a calculatedly cynical campaign to portray the Iraqi dictator as an imminent threat to the US and the rest of the West. Politics, war, media, marketing and even entertainment all came together again in a co-ordinated programme, closely integrated and charged with the disinformation generated by Feith’s OSP.
Conspiratorial Group Calls The Shots
A leading role was played by “top Pentagon spokesperson Victoria (‘Torie’) Clarke” who had previously run the Washington office of the Hill & Knowlton PR [public relations] firm (“Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq”, Sheldon Rampton & John Stauber, Centre for Media and Democracy, Penguin, 2003, p39) . Clarke “was reported to have assembled” an informal media communications group serving Rumsfeld which worked to disseminate the disinformation as effectively as it could (ibid, pp39/40). While highly pivotal, this informal communications group was just one of the media propaganda agencies at the Administration’s disposal. Psychological warfare has long been critical to the conduct of US foreign policy in both its overt and covert forms, and the domestic and other Western populations have been critically important targets.
The OSP made its mark internationally too at the time in the more informed military/intelligence circles. For instance, ex-SAS Major Pete Tinley, who once had the job of promoting the Australian SAS to the US military for use in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, later became acutely aware as to how the OSP was drumming up the war on Iraq (“Soldiers Without Borders: Beyond the SAS – a global network of brothers-in-arms” by Ian McPhedran & Verona Burgess, CD Talking Book, Bolinda, 2008, final chapter).Tinley said that he could easily detect the obvious American “neocon” shaping of information from the Donald Rumsfeld/Paul Wolfowitz office in the Pentagon. This office was clearly perverting “intelligence” for warmongering purposes. His view was supported and confirmed by other intelligence and military personnel with whom he had contact. Yet the US, UK, and Australian governments ignored such concerns.
Doing One’s Duty
While in the US, Tinley was assigned to Fort Campbell, Tennessee, from where he had access to the stuff coming out of the OSP. By mid-2002, planning for the war on Iraq, Plan 103 Victor, had already begun. Tony Blair’s British government was deeply implicated in this war planning: in both conception and outline, even secretly back before 9/11 (Press, 24, 26 & 28/11/09; 2/12/09). Despite his concern, Tinley in the end adopted the rationale of having to do his duty (“Soldiers Without Borders”, op. cit.). This is most significant in these circumstances because it again demonstrates how military men (and women) of some conscience will ultimately conform to militarist dictates. Tinley said that he had to do his duty according to the oath that he had taken – despite the glaring evidence of manufactured “intelligence”! The alternative, he maintains, would be “pretty chaotic” – rather than the chaos of illegal war and all its consequences?!
While the invasion had basically been premised on one issue, and one issue alone, WMD, and alarm bells were sounding in his head, Tinley still felt he had to do his best as a professional soldier (ibid.). Yet he knew that no WMD would be found in Iraq. So, although in fact there was no “actionable intelligence” - verified for him before the war by both CIA and British intelligence sources - he felt obliged to take part in what was a “political deception”, still proving chaotically horrendous for the peoples of Iraq, the Middle East, and elsewhere, indeed potentially for all of us. This is sad stuff indeed about the political conditioning to conform at all costs of the Western military. Tinley himself has since turned to Australian Labor Party politics!
Plotting Political Murder
Coordinated “neo-con” plotting for militarist imperialism and war, especially with regard to “regime change” in Iraq, had in fact really begun with the formation of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in 1997, a hard Right foreign policy grouping that wanted permanent and pervasive world dominance. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Vice President Dick Cheney, and a significant number of other PNAC members were to become leading members of the Bush Administration http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_for_the_New_American_Century). All of this, of course, is now extensively documented. As William Hartung of the World Policy Institute pointed out in 2002, “the Bush Administration’s strategy of ‘pre-emptive war’ in Iraq is the brainchild of a small circle of conservative think tanks and weapons lobbying groups like the PNAC” (quoted in “Target Iraq”, op. cit, p27)
In the global environment of the future, the potential for political manipulation such as that exhibited by the PNAC, OSP and closely related groups and agencies, remains virtually unlimited. The propagandistic actions of a small grouping have had global impact in ongoing consequences for everyone on the planet. Undoubtedly, people like former President George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and some members of his government at the time, can be considered war criminals of the worst sort. But in the Orwellian world of the “War on Terror”, Western government-mandated crimes against human rights are pretty well sacrosanct, certainly for its chief exponents, even if some of the foot soldiers are occasionally expendable!
Democracy Is War!
One of the cynical absurdities perpetuated by conservative media is the myth that some of the “neocons” are actually visionary democratic idealists who got carried away with their passion. This bizarre mythmaking centred on a bunch of ruthless imperial neo-fascists can appear in contexts that can even be quite critical of American foreign policy. Peter Maass may be a New York Times journalist but he surveys the devastation caused to humankind and the planet by our obsession with oil (“Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil”, Penguin, 2009). In yet exploring the connections of oil and geopolitics, Maass notes that Paul Wolfowitz was seen as “the official with the highest quotient of pro-democracy idealism in the Bush Administration” (ibid, p159). Maass is actually making the point here that even Wolfowitz had oil as part of his motivation!
In fact, Wolfowitz’s militarist and anti-democratic roots lie very deep. Most pertinently to his role in the OSP perversion of intelligence was that in 1976 he had been officially appointed a member of “an alternative team from outside the intelligence agencies to appraise the official estimates of Soviet [Union] capabilities and intentions” (“Peddlers of Crisis: The Committee on the Present Danger and the Politics of Containment” by Jerry Sanders, Pluto Press, p198). This team, which came to be known as “the Team B panel”, was composed of “hawkish”, Rightwing ideologues (ibid, p199). The panel became notorious for its propaganda in grossly overestimating and promoting the Soviet threat. It strongly accused the CIA of underestimating Soviet strength and intentions. Team B even enthusiastically promoted the strategy of nuclear war-fighting for the US (ibid, p285).
Circulation Of Elites
Very significantly, it provided a great deal of the ideological and technical ammunition for the alarmist and apocalyptic Committee on the Present Danger to fire away in helping to usher in the Reagan/Bush I era, another of America’s periodic bouts of imperial aggression. Indeed, 33 of its members came to participate in the Reagan Administration. Then in turn, PNAC was to later emerge as the 1990s’ equivalent of the Reaganist Committee on the Present Danger. The Committee itself has been revived as well in the last decade. In fact, this is actually the third historical incarnation of the Committee on the Present Danger, which harks back to its origins in the anti-communist hysteria of the early 1950s. Since the late 1970s, modern American history has witnessed some pronounced, cyclic swings to reactionary, militarist politics. As the sense of crisis is likely to grow in American society, given compounding problems, questions of identity and direction are going to be paramount. When coupled with the US’s growing economic dependence on overseas resources, some persuasive sociological theory points to an orientation to growing violence.
 Norman Solomon was then the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, which he had founded, and author of many books, including “The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media”.
 John Stauber is the founder and director of the Center for Media and Democracy.