But Socialists were not born yesterday. They know how to read capitalist newspapers; and to believe exactly the opposite of what they read.
Eugene V. Debs, Canton Speech
The mass media have, in a sense, psychologized many of the people in our country, so that they come to desire the controls that are imposed upon them by the capitalist system, so that they are psychologically, at least, part of the ruling class.Huey P Newton, Intercommunalism
Donald Trump was right. This is a shocking statement coming from a Marxist, especially considering that Trump is a narcissistic pathological liar whose presidency remained a tool of the oligarchy and military industrial complex. Nevertheless, he was right when he said that the media are the “fake, fake, disgusting news.” As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Donald Trump was right but for all the wrong reasons. If he was truly concerned about fake news, he would not have watched Fox News all day.
The real threat from the media comes from their corporate control, but Trump had no problem with this as long as their bias was in his favor.
The recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, which actually began in 2014 after the US-backed Maidan coup, has put the corporate media into propaganda overdrive. It should not have been so easy to forget the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Don Cohen has exposed the Ukrainian propaganda machine in a piece for Mintpress News entitled Ukraine’s Propaganda War: International PR Firms, DC Lobbyists, and CIA Cutouts. He writes:
Since the Russian offensive inside Ukraine commenced on February 24, the Ukrainian military has cultivated the image of a plucky little army standing up to the Russian Goliath. To bolster the perception of Ukrainian military mettle, Kiev has churned out a steady stream of sophisticated propaganda aimed at stirring public and official support from Western countries.
This propaganda has featured prominently in western media reports. Without any verification, CNN reported “’All 13 Ukrainian defenders were killed in a Russian bombardment Thursday’, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.” CNN continued, “’All border guards died heroically but did not give up. They will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine posthumously,’ Zelenskyy said.” Later they were forced to update their report with the following, “Update: The Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island were all feared to have been killed in the Russian attack on February 24.” On February 28, however, the Ukrainian Navy released a statement saying the troops were “alive and well,” but were forced to surrender “due to the lack of ammunition.” It turns out that using President Zelenskyy as their only source for this information was a bad idea. The tale of the Snake Island defenders’ brave last stand made for great propaganda, even though it was a complete fabrication.
On February 28, NBC Nightly news reported on the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine; “Still, the US hasn’t used them since the first Gulf War, over 30 years ago.” This is inaccurate, as FAIR.org reports: “The last reported US use of cluster munitions was against Yemen in 2009.” Thirteen years ago is nowhere close to thirty years ago and they were used multiple times between the Gulf War and Yemen as well. In fact, according to Human Rights Watch, Ukraine used cluster munitions in Donetsk city in 2014 but this was left out of NBC’s report. War crimes are only important when they serve the corporate narrative – otherwise they can be ignored.
The Independent captioned a video “Missiles hit Ukraine’s biggest nuclear plant starting major fires”, but the actual article declared “In a statement, the state energy service officials said that a fire at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station broke out in a training building outside the plant’s perimeter.” NBC News entitled footage of the same event “Nuclear Plant In Ukraine On Fire After Russia Shells Facility.” CNN captioned their reporting on the piece “CNN’s Anderson Cooper reports that a nuclear power plant is on fire in Ukraine”. They later reported “Flames could also be seen on video footage, though for some time it was unclear where the fire was or the scale of the threat posed to the facility.” And in the same article: “CNN could not immediately verify any details of the firefight on the territory of the plant.” This breaking news turned out to be a non-story as the fire was actually outside the perimeter of the power plant. Yet the major news networks could not resist the temptation to sensationalize it.
Among the western media, their agenda involves pushing the U.S. and NATO narrative that the attack on Ukraine was unprovoked and ignoring the neo-Nazi presence within Ukraine. Having learned nothing from the Iraqi war, the media brings on the same pundits who pushed for war and reported on WMD’s then. And then Senator Joe Biden was at the forefront of the push for war in Iraq. Can the public really be this naïve and keep falling for the same narratives from the same sources?
The United States has constitutionally the freest press on earth, yet in practice it has a media obsequious to the formulas and deceptions of power. That is why the US was effectively given media approval to invade Iraq, and Libya, and Syria and dozens of other countries.John Pilger
In a recent article, NBC News has admitted that the Biden administration is releasing fake news as part of a propaganda war:
It was an attention-grabbing assertion that made headlines around the world: U.S. officials said they had indications suggesting Russia might be preparing to use chemical agents in Ukraine.
President Joe Biden later said it publicly. But three U.S. officials told NBC News this week there is no evidence Russia has brought any chemical weapons near Ukraine. They said the U.S. released the information to deter Russia from using the banned munitions.
This is the government admitting that they are lying, and the media are cooperating with those lies. From this dystopian viewpoint, lying to the public in order to get ahead of Russia is a perfectly acceptable strategy. Given that this country went to war over phantom weapons of mass destruction, their willingness to deceive is no longer shocking. It is only a surprise that they are so open about it. The US public should be outraged by these blatant falsehoods but appears to have fully bought into the narrative. Where are the anti-war protests? Democrats have once again killed the anti-war movement.
The propaganda is not limited to the Ukraine war – it has been ongoing. In just one recent example, the New York times published a piece in March entitled “American Soldiers Help Mozambique Battle an Expanding ISIS Affiliate.” The first paragraph notes: “The insurgency, near some of the world’s biggest gas reserves, has killed at least 2,000 civilians and displaced another 670,000.” It does not take an in-depth knowledge of US foreign policy to see the connection between massive gas reserves and the deployment of US troops, yet the article does not make this connection. Is this journalism or is this propaganda? Why isn’t the importance of the Nordstream 2 pipeline mentioned every time Ukraine is in the news? U.S troops are stationed in oil fields in Syria, yet this isn’t mentioned when there are drone strikes in the area. The corporate media lies by omission when they fail to mention these key points. The connection between the U.S. military and climate change is also largely ignored when they report on war.
While there are significant differences in reporting between outlets, the major media staunchly defends capitalism and imperialism. Jeff Bezos did not buy the Washington Post and simply let it be. He bought the Washington Post because he understood the power the media plays in public opinion. It is no coincidence that the Washington Post published 16 negative stories about Bernie Sanders in 16 hours in 2016. While the Post claims that “Jeff Bezos allows our newsroom to operate with full independence, as our reporters and editors can attest”, the coverage indicates otherwise.
Six corporations now control 90% of the media. Perhaps the best illustration of the impact of this corporate dominance was when Sinclair Broadcast Group “required local anchors to record promos where they denounce ‘the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country’” and say that “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think.’” News anchors across the country recited the exact same lines as ordered by their corporate masters. The mainstream media is a propaganda machine indoctrinating the masses with a capitalist agenda. The press is not free as long as it is privately owned and being run for profit.
We herald and cherish the notion of free press in this country, but what does that really mean if we have this ever constrictive media apparatus that essentially only echoes corporate media talking points? I mean, this is an apparatus that is controlled by five corporations. It affects more than 90% of everything we see, hear, and read.Abby Martin
The Revolutionist – How PBS betrayed the legacy of Eugene V. Debs
The working class can expect nothing from the press of the capitalist class but misrepresentation and injustice in the struggle for its rights. The working class must build up a powerful press of its own and this vital fact it cannot realize too soon.Eugene V. Debs
This corporate deception is not limited to newspapers and television programs. In 1979, Michael Parenti interviewed Bernard Sanders, who said this:
I did a documentary film about [the American Socialist] Eugene Debs. It depicted his role in the labor movement and his opposition to big business in this country. Every TV station I brought it to rejected the film on the grounds that it wasn’t objective; it didn’t show both sides. I gathered they wanted a plug for capitalism. Can you imagine if I had done a film celebrating the accomplishments of John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford — those stations would never have insisted on hearing the socialist side. They would never have complained about a lack of objectivity. –Inventing Reality: the politics of the mass media, Parenti, 1986
It is likely it was not rejected for being too biased but rather because it was too radical. One-sided documentaries are published all the time as can be seen with NetFlix’s recent YouTube release of Winter on Fire which is a one-sided propaganda piece that ignores the presence of neo-Nazis at the Maidan coup. Bernie could not find a TV station to air his documentary but it is now available online.
There is now a full documentary on Eugene V. Debs entitled The Revolutionist: Eugene V. Debs. It was first aired in October 2019. This documentary was made possible by corporate sponsors including Amalgamated Bank and Unico Insurance. It includes the line, “The story goes that Victor Berger, the socialist from Wisconsin, snuck a copy of Das Kapital into the jail cell and left that with him, and Debs spent the time reading this and this opened his eyes. Not everybody thinks that actually happened. He was really not as interested in Karl Marx or in European Theory about socialism as he was about socialism as a political tradition in the American strain.” This is a misleading and revisionist statement. Debs himself wrote about this very event, which the PBS documentary claims might not have happened:
The Chicago jail sentences were followed by six months at Woodstock and it was here that Socialism gradually laid hold of me in its own irresistible fashion. Books and pamphlets and letters from socialists came by every mail and I began to read and think and dissect the anatomy of the system in which workingmen, however organized, could be shattered and battered and splintered at a single stroke. The writings of Bellamy and Blanchford early appealed to me. The “Cooperative Commonwealth’ of Gronlund also impressed me, but the writings of Kautsky were so clear and conclusive that I readily grasped, not merely his argument, but also caught the spirit of his socialist utterance—and I thank him and all who helped me out of darkness into light.
It was at this time, when the first glimmerings of Socialism were beginning to penetrate, that Victor L. Berger—and I have loved him ever since—came to Woodstock, as if a providential instrument, and delivered the first impassioned message of Socialism I had ever heard—the very first to set the ‘wires humming in my system.’ As a souvenir of that visit there is in my library a volume of “Capital,” by Karl Marx, inscribed with the compliments of Victor L. Berger, which I cherish as a token of priceless value.
This same event is also referred to in Debs’ obituary in the following manner:
“Later Mr. Debs defied an injunction—and that is why he found himself in Woodstock. One day he had a visitor, Socialist Victor L. Berger. The visitor left him an unimportant-looking little book. Prisoner Debs read it slowly, eagerly, ravenously. The book was Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. In the brain of Prisoner Debs there began to simmer a more militant type of Socialism for the U. S. than the mere reading of Utopian books.”
Debs also indirectly referred to this episode in a speech in Chicago in 1912 where he said:
“Eighteen years ago in this great city of Chicago there was a great industrial battle between the railroad employees and the combined railroad corporations. Victory was within our grasp when the federal courts intervened and snatched victory from our hands. They threw me in jail. That’s where I studied socialism and when I became a socialist. The workers of this city are beginning to realize that capitalism is doomed.”
Here are two primary sources confirming that Debs did in fact receive and read Capital while in prison at Woodstock and a third source which does not name Capital but also refers to the same event, yet the PBS documentary goes against the evidence and tries to rewrite Debs as a socialist “in the American strain.” And viewers are supposed to trust this is not a biased viewpoint? Anyone familiar with Debs writings can see the profound impact that Marx had on his life. The only mention of the Bolsheviks in The Revolutionist is in a negative light. It simply ignores what Debs wrote in February of 1919: “From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet I am Bolshevik, and proud of it.” The documentary portrays Debs as a tepid reformer rather than the Marxist revolutionary he truly was.
Bernie’s untitled documentary presents an entirely different picture from the PBS work. It starts by challenging the media. He explains, “Why haven’t they told you about Gene Debs and the ideas he fought for? The answer is simple: more than a half century after his death, the handful of people who own and control this country – including the mass media and the educational system – still regard Debs and his ideas as dangerous, as a threat to their stability and class rule, and as someone best forgotten about.” Bernie also refers directly to Capital being smuggled into Debs during his stay in prison as a true event. The capitalist system is called out directly by Bernie, while The Revolutionist skirts around the issue.
The difference between these two documentaries is striking. One was aired, one was not. The contrast between the two films illustrates a systemic problem: the corporate stranglehold on the media. Funding can be found for a less radical documentary, but no one wanted to touch Bernie’s, even though it was a more accurate portrayal of Debs.
Removing Capitalism from Journalism
The problem with the media has been covered repeatedly but it is only growing worse. Michael Parenti wrote about it in Inventing Reality and two years later Noam Chomsky released Manufacturing Consent. Matt Taibbi expanded on this in Hate, Inc., exposing how the media creates artificial rifts in the working class. Today, it is not groundbreaking to point out that the media is a problem. Yet despite these excellent works exposing the issue, nothing has improved. The corporate narrative is more entrenched than ever.
The press is so powerful in its image-making role, it can make a criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.Malcolm X, 1964
Today Facebook puts warnings on “media outlets that are wholly or partially under the editorial control of their government” but does not warn people about corporate controlled media. Twitter also warns of “state-affiliated media”. State-owned media is no more dangerous than corporate media, yet social media sites put warning labels on the former. State media could be a giant step forward if done properly. As the FCC already oversees the airwaves and networks, nationalizing the media would not be too difficult a task.
“State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.”Friedrich Engels
Another potential solution is that the press, writers, journalists, and other content creators could be included under the auspices of a Federal Jobs Guarantee. This wouldremove the need for corporate funding and sponsorship, as the media would be entirely funded by the state. A FJG moves towards the communist concept of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” This would detach the press from corporate control and allow journalists more freedom as they would be guaranteed a paycheck from the state for their work. It would also eliminate unemployment and improve the material conditions of the working class, as Pavlina R. Tcherneva has described:
The job guarantee (JG) is a public option for jobs. It is a permanent, federally funded, and locally administered program that supplies voluntary employment opportunities on demand for all who are ready and willing to work at a living wage. While it is first and foremost a jobs program, it has the potential to be transformative by advancing the public purpose and improving working conditions, people’s everyday lives, and the economy as a whole.
Since the jobs are federally funded and locally sourced, a FJG could revive local journalism which is dying in the current economy. According to the Brookings Institute, “Over 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper—or none at all.” Where citizens used to receive their news from local sources, they now rely more and more on corporate mega-news organizations. By putting control of the news back in the hands of the community, a FJG would be a huge step forward for press freedom.
Rachel Maddow does not have her job due to great journalism, but rather because she does not challenge the establishment narrative. A recent court ruling found that her show does not represent objective facts:
Maddow does not keep her political views a secret, and therefore, audiences could expect her to use subjective language that comports with her political opinions. Thus, Maddow’s show is different than a typical news segment where anchors inform viewers about the daily news. The point of Maddow’s show is for her to provide the news but also to offer her opinions as to that news. Therefore, the Court finds that the medium of the alleged defamatory statement makes it more likely that a reasonable viewer would not conclude that the contested statement implies an assertion of objective fact.
Until the capitalist profit motive and agenda are removed from the press, it will not be free. In the 2021 World Press Freedom index, the United States comes in 44th out of 180 countries. There is much room for improvement.
Write as you speak, and speak as you write, our primary schoolteachers taught us. Later what we are told is: say what has been prescribed for you, and write what you repeat after others.Karl Marx
This is an important distinction. A capitalist media seeks profit and control rather than truth. This goes as far up as the president of the United States, who is instructed who to call on in press conferences. Much of what the public sees is simply elaborate theater presented by the ruling class.
This is not freedom of the press. This is a carefully scripted narrative that is being controlled by moneyed interests. What would the press look like under communism? Lenin explained at the Communist International in 1919:
Genuine freedom and equality will be embodied in the system which the Communists are building, and in which there will be no opportunity for massing wealth at the expense of others, no objective opportunities for putting the press under the direct or indirect power of money, and no impediments in the way of any workingman (or groups of workingman, in any numbers) for enjoying and practicing equal rights in the use of public printing presses and public stocks of paper.
The press would not be tied to private corporate influence but would truly be free. No longer would journalists like Emily Wilder be fired for her tweets in solidarity with the Palestinian people. While the Associated Press fired her for what they called “clear bias,” Rachel Maddow retained her job with the expectation and acceptance of her bias. There is a clear double standard here. In order to free the press, the capitalist system of private ownership must be addressed. As Andre Breton and Diego Rivera wrote:
The first thing to do to win real equality and genuine democracy for the working people, for the workers and peasants, is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying up publishing houses, and hiring newspapers. And to do that the capitalists and exploiters have to be overthrown and their resistance suppressed.
The capitalists have always used the term ‘freedom’ to mean freedom for the rich to get richer and for the workers to starve to death.
In capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion.
The closing down of RT America was a huge loss to independent journalists. Twitter’s largest stock holder is now Elon Musk. Facebook is blocking RT and Sputnik news in the European Union. Facebook is also blocking independent investigative journalist outlet Consortium News for going against their community standards. The propaganda war is more intense than ever and the working class is losing. Millions of people are getting their news entirely from corporate mouthpieces.
It will take a mass movement of the working people of this country to overthrow the capitalist system and establish true freedom of the press. This is just one part of the larger class struggle to emancipate the working class.
Until the revolution comes, it is up to socialists and truth seekers to create their own papers and outlets. Independent media needs the support of the people. Lenin called for an all-Russian newspaper in What Is to Be Done. Eugene V. Debs helped create An Appeal to Reason, the U.S. Socialist Party newspaper. The Black Panther Party had their own paper, as local newspapers mainly published negative coverage of them.
The voices of socialists, communists, and the anti-imperialist movement must not be silenced. It is more urgent than ever to support independent outlets like Real Progressives.