American political leaders display a widening disconnect from reality intended to mask their complicity in the seizure of power by global corporations and billionaires.
By Chris Hedges
Original illustration by Mr. Fish
Joe Biden’s victory instantly obliterated the Democratic Party’s longstanding charge that Russia was hijacking and compromising US elections. The Biden victory, the Democratic Party leaders and their courtiers in the media now insist, is evidence that the democratic process is strong and untainted, that the system works. The elections ratified the will of the people.
But imagine if Donald Trump had been reelected. Would the Democrats and pundits at The New York Times, CNN and MSNBC pay homage to a fair electoral process? Or, having spent four years trying to impugn the integrity of the 2016 presidential race, would they once again haul out the blunt instrument of Russian interference to paint Trump as Vladimir Putin’s Manchurian candidate?
Trump and Giuliani are vulgar and buffoonish, but they play the same slimy game as their Democratic opponents. The Republicans scapegoat the deep state, communists and now, bizarrely, Venezuela; the Democrats scapegoat Russia. The widening disconnect from reality by the ruling elite is intended to mask their complicity in the seizure of power by predatory global corporations and billionaires.
“This is a disgraceful thing that was done in this country,” Giuliani said at his recent bad-hair-day press conference. “Probably not much more disgraceful than the things these people did in office, which you didn’t and don’t bother to cover and you conceal from the American people, but we let this happen, we use largely a Venezuelan voting machine in essence to count our vote. We let this happen. We’re going to become Venezuela. We cannot let this happen to us. We cannot allow these crooks, because that’s what they are, to steal an election from the American people. They elected Donald Trump. They didn’t elect Joe Biden. Joe Biden is in the lead because of the fraudulent ballots, the illegal ballots, that were produced and that were allowed to be used, after the election was over.”
Giuliani’s rant was topped by those of Sidney Powell, until yesterday another of Trump’s lawyers, who blamed software designed for Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, for Trump’s loss, as well as “the massive influence of Communist money.” The software “was created so Hugo Chavez would never lose another election, and he did not after that software was created,” Powell said. “He won every single election and then they exported it to Argentina and other countries in South America, and then they brought it here.”
Compare this to how Hillary Clinton, during the recent primary campaign, warned that the Russians were “grooming” a female candidate, widely assumed to be Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, to run as a third-party candidate to serve Russian interests. Previously, Clinton called the 2016 Green Party candidate Jill Stein a “Russian asset.” She insisted, although the Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors found no evidence to support her charge, that the Trump campaign worked closely in 2016 with Moscow and WikiLeaks — which she insists is a Russian front — to defeat her. Hillary’s staff put together a “hit list” in the final days of her 2008 campaign, according to the book, “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, listing those who were loyal to the Clintons those who were not. They used a scale of 1 to 7.
“Step back and think about it,” Clinton wrote in her book, “What Happened,” about the 2016 election. “The Russians hacked our election systems. They got inside. They tried to delete or alter voter information. This should send a shiver down the spine of every American.”
Never mind that both ruling parties are silent about the massive interference in our elections by Israel, which uses its lobbying groups to lavishly fund political candidates in both parties and flies members of Congress and their families to Israel for junkets at seaside resorts. Israel’s intrusion in our political process, including when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress in 2015, without informing then President Barack Obama, to attack the president’s Iran nuclear deal, dwarfs that of any other country, including Russia.
The two warring factions within the ruling elite, which fight primarily over the spoils of power while abjectly serving corporate interests, peddle alternative realities. If the deep state and Venezuelan socialists or Russia intelligence operatives are pulling the strings no one in power is accountable for the rage and alienation caused by the social inequality, the unassailability of corporate power, the legalized bribery that defines our political process, the endless wars, austerity and de-industrialization. The social breakdown is, instead, the fault of shadowy phantom enemies manipulating groups such as Black Lives Matters or the Green Party.
“The people who run this country have run out of workable myths with which to distract the public, and in a moment of extreme crisis have chosen to stoke civil war and defame the rest of us – black and white – rather than admit to a generation of corruption, betrayal, and mismanagement,” Matt Taibbi writes.
These fictional narratives are dangerous. They erode the credibility of democratic institutions and electoral politics. They posit that news and facts are no longer true or false. Information is accepted or discarded based on whether it hurts or promotes one faction over another. While outlets such as Fox News have always existed as an arm of the Republican Party, this partisanship has now infected nearly all news organizations, including publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, along with the major tech platforms that disseminate information and news. A fragmented public with no common narrative believes whatever it wants to believe.
I first assumed this job posting from The New York Times for a Moscow correspondent was a parody posted by the Onion. It wasn’t. It speaks volumes about the self-immolation of The New York Times and the press.
JOB DESCRIPTION: Vladimir Putin’s Russia remains one of the biggest stories in the world. It sends out hit squads armed with nerve agents against its enemies, most recently the opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. It has its cyber agents sow chaos and disharmony in the West to tarnish its democratic systems, while promoting its faux version of democracy. It has deployed private military contractors around the globe to secretly spread its influence. At home, its hospitals are filling up fast with Covid patients as its president hides out in his villa. If that sounds like a place you want to cover, then we have good news: We will have an opening for a new correspondent as Andy Higgins takes over as our next Eastern Europe Bureau Chief early next year.
Of course, every charge leveled here against Russia regarding foreign interference can be leveled in spades against the United States, both in the present and past, and even the implied criticism of its pandemic response seems like a textbook case of projection. More to the point, why should the Times even send someone to Moscow to report on what Russians think, feel and how they view themselves and the world if they have already decided they are a cartoon villain? Why have a Moscow bureau at all?
A parody response circulating on the internet imagined a parallel posting by Pravda for a U.S. correspondent:
JOB DESCRIPTION: Donald Trump’s America remains one of the biggest stories in the world. It sends out its armies, its drones, and its agents around the world to kill its enemies. It has its cyber agents sow chaos and disharmony, undermining and overthrowing regimes, while promoting its faux version of democracy. It has deployed private military contractors around the globe to secretly spread its influence. At home, its hospitals are filling up fast with Covid patients as its president hides out on the golf course. If that sounds like a place you want to cover, then we have good news. We will have an opening for a new correspondent.
I was a foreign correspondent for twenty years, fifteen of them with The New York Times. My job was to become bicultural, which requires hundreds of hours of language classes, to see the world from the perspective of those I covered and reflect it back to an American audience. But this type of reporting is now anachronistic. The paper might as well rehire the con artist Jayson Blair to sit in his apartment and snort coke while filing fictional variants on the preordained narrative the paper demands. Or maybe computer algorithms can do the job.
I guess I should not be surprised. After all, it was the Times that produced a ten-part podcast by its reporter Rukmini Callimachi based on interviews with a Muslim identified as Abu Huzayfah al-Kanadi who claimed to have been a member of ISIS in the Middle East. He provided lurid accounts of murders and crucifixions he supposedly carried out. His stories, catering to the rampant Islamophobia that poisons American society, were the audio version of snuff films. They were also a lie. The Canadian “Abu Huzayfah,” whose real name was Shehroze Chaudhry, was arrested in September 2020 by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and charged under Canadian hoax laws for fabricating his story.
The flagrant partisanship and discrediting of truth across the political spectrum are swiftly fueling the rise of an authoritarian state. The credibility of democratic institutions and electoral politics, already deeply corrupted by PACs, the electoral college, lobbyists, the disenfranchisement of third-party candidates, gerrymandering and voter suppression, is being eviscerated.
Silicon Valley billionaires, including Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, donated more than $100 million to a Democratic super PAC that created a torrent of anti-Trump TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign to elect Biden. The heavy infusion of corporate money to support Biden wasn’t done to protect democracy. It was done because these corporations and billionaires know a Biden administration will serve their interests.
The press, meanwhile, has largely given up on journalism. It has retreated into competing echo chambers that only speak to true believers. This catering exclusively to one demographic, which it sets against another demographic, is commercially profitable. But it also guarantees the balkanization of the United States and edges us closer and closer to fratricide.
When Trump leaves the White House millions of his enraged supports, hermetically sealed inside hyperventilating media platforms that feed back to them their rage and hate, will see the vote as fraudulent, the political system as rigged, and the establishment press as propaganda. They will target, I fear, through violence, the Democratic Party politicians, mainstream media outlets and those they demonize as conspiratorial members of the deep state, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Democratic Party is as much to blame for this disintegration as Trump and the Republican Party.
The election of Biden is also very bad news for journalists such as Matt Taibbi, Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberley, Glenn Greenwald, Jeffrey St. Clair or Robert Scheer who refuse to be courtiers to the ruling elites. Journalists that do not spew the approved narrative of the right-wing, or, alternatively, the approved narrative of the Democratic Party, have a credibility the ruling elite fears. The worse things get – and they will get worse as the pandemic leaves hundreds of thousands dead and thrusts millions of Americans into severe economic distress –the more those who seek to hold the ruling elites, and in particular the Democratic Party, accountable will be targeted and censored in ways familiar to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, now in a London prison and facing possible extradition to the United States and life imprisonment.
Barack Obama’s assault on civil liberties, which included the repeated misuse of the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers, the passage of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to permit the military to act as a domestic police force and the ordering of the assassination of U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists in Yemen, was far worse than those of George W. Bush. Biden’s assault on civil liberties, I suspect, will surpass those of the Obama administration.
The censorship was heavy handed during the campaign. Digital media platforms, including Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, along with the establishment press worked shamelessly as propaganda arms for the Biden campaign. They were determined not to make the “mistake” they made in 2016 when they reported on the damaging emails, released by WikiLeaks, from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Although the emails were genuine, papers such as The New York Times routinely refer to the Podesta emails as “disinformation.” This, no doubt, pleases its readership, 91 percent of whom identify as Democrats according to the Pew Research Center. But it is another example of journalistic malfeasance.
Following the election of Trump, the media outlets that cater to a Democratic Party readership made amends. The New York Times was one of the principal platforms that amplified Russiagate conspiracies, most of which turned out to be false. At the same time, the paper largely ignored the plight of the disposed working class that supported Trump. When the Russiagate story collapsed, the paper pivoted to focus on race, embodied in the 1619 Project. The root cause of social disintegration — the neoliberal order, austerity and deindustrialization — was ignored since naming it would alienate the paper’s corporate advertisers and the elites on whom the paper depends for access.
Once the 2020 election started, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets censored and discredited information that could hurt Biden, including a tape of Joe Biden speaking with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, which appears to be authentic. They gave credibility to any rumor, however spurious, which was unfavorable to Trump. Twitter and Facebook blocked access to a New York Post story about the emails allegedly found on Hunter Biden’s discarded laptop. Twitter locked the New York Post out of its own account for over a week. Glenn Greenwald, whose article on Hunter Biden was censored by his editors at The Intercept, which he helped found, resigned. He released the email exchanges with his editors over his article. Ignoring the textual evidence of censorship, editors and writers at The Intercept engaged in a public campaign of character assassination against Greenwald. This sordid behavior by self-identified progressive journalists is a page out of the Trump playbook and a sad commentary on the collapse of journalistic integrity.
The censorship and manipulation of information was honed and perfected against WikiLeaks. When WikiLeaks tries to release information, it is hit with botnets or distributed denial of service attacks. Malware attacks WikiLeaks’ domain and website. The WikiLeaks site is routinely shut down or unable to serve its content to its readers. Attempts by WikiLeaks to hold press conferences see the audio distorted and the visual images corrupted. Links to WikiLeaks events are delayed or cut. Algorithms block the dissemination of WikiLeaks content. Hosting services, including Amazon, removed WikiLeaks from its servers. Julian Assange, after releasing the Iraqi war logs, saw his bank accounts and credit cards frozen. WikiLeaks’ PayPal accounts were disabled to cut off donations. The Freedom of the Press Foundation in December 2017 closed down the anonymous funding channel to WikiLeaks which was set up to protect the anonymity of donors. A well-orchestrated smear campaign against Assange was amplified and given credibility by the mass media and filmmakers such as Alex Gibney. Assange and WikiLeaks were first. We are next.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told CNN during this campaign that Russian disinformation efforts are “more problematic” than in 2016. He warned that “this time around, the Russians have decided to cultivate U.S. citizens as assets. They are attempting to try to spread their propaganda in the mainstream media.”
This will be the official mantra of the Democratic Party, a vicious redbaiting campaign without actual reds, especially as the country spirals out of control. The reason I have a show on Russia-funded RT America is the same reason Vaclav Havel could only be heard on the US-funded Voice of America during the communist control of Czechoslovakia. I did not choose to leave the mainstream media. I was pushed out. And once anyone is pushed out, the ruling elite is relentless about discrediting the few platforms left willing to give them, and the issues they raise, a hearing.
“If the problem is ‘American citizens’ being cultivated as ‘assets’ trying to put ‘interference’ in the mainstream media, the logical next step is to start asking Internet platforms to shut down accounts belonging to any American journalist with the temerity to report material leaked by foreigners (the wrong foreigners, of course – it will continue to be okay to report things like the ‘black ledger’),” writes Taibbi, who has done some of the best reporting on the emerging censorship. “From Fox or the Daily Caller on the right, to left-leaning outlets like Consortium or the World Socialist Web Site, to writers like me even – we’re all now clearly in range of new speech restrictions, even if we stick to long-ago-established factual standards.”
Taibbi argues that the precedent for overt censorship took place when the major digital platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Spotify, YouTube – in a coordinated move blacklisted the right-wing talk show host Alex Jones.
“Liberal America cheered,” Taibbi told me when I interviewed him for my show, “On Contact”:
They said ‘Well this is a noxious figure. This is a great thing. Finally, someone’s taking action.’ What they didn’t realize is that we were trading an old system of speech regulation for a new one without any public discussion. You and I were raised in a system where you got punished for speech if you committed libel or slander or if there was imminent incitement to lawless action, right? That was the standard that the Supreme Court set, but that was done through litigation. There was an open process where you had a chance to rebut charges. That is all gone now. Now, basically there’s a handful of these tech distribution platforms that control how people get their media. They’ve been pressured by the Senate, which has called all of their CEOs in, and basically ordered them, ‘We need you to come up with a plan to prevent the sowing of discord and spreading of misinformation.’ This has finally come into fruition. You see a major reputable news organization like the New York Post — with a 200-year history — locked out of its own Twitter account. The story [Hunter Biden’s emails] has not been disproven. It’s not disinformation or misinformation. It’s been suppressed as it would be suppressed in a Third World country. It’s a remarkable historic moment. The danger is that we end up with a one-party informational system. There’s going to be approved dialogue and unapproved dialogue that you can only get through certain fringe avenues. That’s the problem. We let these companies get this monopolistic share of the distribution system. Now they’re exercising that power.
In the Soviet Union the truth was passed, often hand to hand, in underground samizdat documents, clandestine copies of news and literature banned by the state. The truth will endure. It will be heard by those who seek it out. It will expose the mendacity of the powerful, however hard it will be to obtain. Despotisms fear the truth. They know it is a mortal threat. If we remain determined to live in truth, no matter the cost, we have a chance.