The global and imperial myopia and autism that lay at the heart of “mainstream” United States political and media culture is chilling to behold. These deadly defects are obvious on the U.S. white-nationalist Republican right, the FOX News side of the gamut. But to appreciate the diseases in full Orwellian flower, one should examine what passes as the left and liberal wing of the nation’s constricted media-politics spectrum. It is there where the narrow, doctrinally imposed parameters of. U.S. global understanding and debate are most significantly set.
The “Public” Broadcasting System’s nightly Newshour is a striking case in point. On questions of domestic U.S. policy and experience, the Newshour occasionally seems more liberal and progressive than the nation’s more fully commercialized television networks. When it comes to foreign policy and global affairs, however, there’s nothing remotely progressive on “P”BS.
Name your U.S. global “news” story – the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the equally illegal U.S. war on Afghanistan, the crisis in Yemen, the rise of the Islamic State, the crisis in Syria, the U.S. war on Libya, the Benghazi scandal, the Ukraine crisis (supposedly sparked by “Russia’s aggression,” not Western expansion), the left-populist Bolivarian revolution in Latin America, “China’s aggression” (never Washington’s provocation) in east Asia, President Obama’s arrogant visit to Cuba, etc.
You can always expect Newshour anchors and commentators to hear and see no evil when it comes to the United States.
Whatever the topic, you can always count on Newshour’s dour-faced anchors and commentators Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, and (the Newshour’s top and Establishment-worshipping foreign affairs correspondent) Margaret Warner (a member of the imperial U.S. Council on Foreign Relations [CFR]) to hear and see no evil when it comes to the United States. They consistently assume the best of democratic and humanitarian intentions on the part of the U.S. along with evil and bad intent on the part of Washington’s officially designated enemies.
On the Newshour, is unthinkable that anyone anywhere might have legitimate reasons to attack or criticize U.S. military forces or society. Neither Russia nor China could possibly have any basis for feeling that the unmentionably imperial U.S. might be threatening their national interests. Latin Americans who oppose U.S. military, economic, and drug war polices are treated as paranoid and delusional, strangely incapable of grasping the self-evident, democratic benevolence of Uncle Sam.
The Newshour loads its roster of foreign affairs guest panelists with Empire men and women. The invited “experts” include current and retired operatives from the U.S. military and intelligence state, militantly imperial intellectuals from establishment foreign policy think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and hawkish politicians and office-holders from Congress (John McCain is a favorite) and the executive branch. It is unthinkable that “P”BS would give air time to deeply informed Left critics of U.S. policy like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman, William Blum, or Phyllis Bennis.
Newshour anchors Gwen and Judy sometimes get a little testy with the foreign policy functionaries and propagandists they interview. But their feistiness always boils down to a concern that the noble U.S. isn’t acting forcefully and manfully enough to punish its malevolent adversaries. Their shrewish theme is always “when are the White House and Pentagon going to step up and smack down the bad guys?”
FOX News has nothing on “liberal” “P”BS – where the “P” seems to stand for “Pentagon,” “Presidential,” and/or “Petroleum” – when it comes to global saber-rattling and narcissistic national self-righteousness.
Recently, “P”BS’s investigative arm Frontline broadcast a one-hour special titled “Saudi Arabia Uncovered.” The report did a serviceable job exposing the savage inequality and brutal repression that makes the Saudi kingdom a nightmare for most of its inhabitants. It used undercover footage and on-the-ground reporting to shows sides of Saudi life rarely gleaned in the outside world: spectacular wealth and shining modernity alongside bleak poverty, horrific public violence (including brutal executions), and archaic restrictions on women.
Although exposing the highly grim side of Saudi Arabia, Frontline failed to mention that the Saudi regime is a recipient of massive US military aid.
Sadly, and predictably, however, Frontline deleted the important fact that the Saudi regime is a longstanding recipient of massive U.S. military assistance and diplomatic protection. Viewers did not receive the slightest hint that the Saudi monarchy is a critical U.S. ally and client state, reflecting a “special relationship” the U.S. formed (thanks to the kingdom’s vast, imperially hyper-strategic petroleum resources) with the House of Saud more than six decades ago.
Frontline might have powerfully included footage of Saudi civilians and subjects being beaten, whipped, and beheaded by the monarchy alongside images of U.S. power elites, including President Barack Obama, flying to Riyadh to kiss the ring of a new Saudi king last year – and to promise him continued billions of US taxpayer dollars to help him repress the Saudi populace and to continue carrying out U.S- approved and U.S.-assisted war crimes in Yemen.
Frontline might also have mentioned how the U.S. backed a Saudi military intervention to crush democracy protests in Bahrain in the spring of 2011, during the period when the U.S. was imposing a disastrous imperial regime change on Libya in the name of democracy and “the Arab Spring.” But reporting such things would have placed Frontline outside the limits of tolerable foreign policy commentary, the not-so leftmost markers of which are affixed at officially liberal places like The New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, and “P”BS.
A recent Washington Post editorial is titled “Venezuela is in Desperate Need of Intervention.” It discusses economic and political problems in that country as if the U.S. – the most powerful nation in the Western hemisphere, the world, and history – has not been consistently intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs as part of a standard Washington-orchestrated campaign to destabilize the Venezuelan economy and society and bring down that nation’s left-leaning populist government. The Caracas government’s difficulties are presented in a total imperial vacuum.
The “liberal” Post’s editors have it backwards. Now, as in past decades and centuries, Venezuela is in desperate need of non-intervention by Uncle Sam. The newspaper’s position is unsurprising given the “liberal” Post’s long record of conservative editorializing on U.S. foreign policy and Latin America.
The supposedly liberal CBS and “P”BS interviewer (and CFR member) Charlie Rose recently and incredulously asked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders if he seriously held Hillary Clinton responsible for “Iraqi war deaths” since she voted for George Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2002. Sanders (who has throughout his campaign called for Saudi Arabia to “step up” its murderous military role in the Middle East) depressingly responded that “Of course she doesn’t bear responsibility…Do I hold her accountable? No."
For US corporate media, the only deaths that seem to matter are those of United States troops.
Near the end of his interview, Rose made it clear that by “Iraqi war deaths” he meant “the deaths of Americans” – that is, of U.S. troops. This is standard across the board in dominant U.S. mass media. Under the autistic rules of permissible U.S. “mainstream” coverage and commentary, even and especially at the “liberal extreme,” those are the only lives and deaths that matter.
Nobody in a responsible position of power and influence dares acknowledge that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was not merely a mistake that killed 4,486 U.S. troops but also and above all a crime that took the lives of more than a million Iraqis.
Such is the extreme liberalism of what U.S. right-wingers call “America’s left wing mainstream media.”
Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).