By John & Nisha Whitehead, the Rutherford Institute
Let’s talk about fake news stories, shall we?
There’s the garden variety fake news that is not really “news” so much as it is titillating, tabloid-worthy material peddled by anyone with a Twitter account, a Facebook page and an active imagination. These stories run the gamut from the ridiculous and the obviously click-baity to the satirical and politically manipulative. Anyone with an ounce of sense and access to the Internet should be able to ferret out the truth and lies in these stories with some basic research.
Then there’s the more devious kind of news stories circulated by one of the biggest propagators of fake news: the U.S. government.
In the midst of the government and corporate media’s carefully curated apoplexy over fake news, you won’t hear much about the government’s own role in producing, planting and peddling propaganda-driven fake news—often with the help of the corporate news media—because that’s not how the game works.
Because the powers-that-be don’t want us skeptical of the government’s message or its corporate accomplices in the mainstream media. They don’t want us to be more discerning when it comes to what information we digest online. They just want us to be leery of independent or alternative news sources while trusting them—and their corporate colleagues—to vet the news for us.
Indeed, in recent years, Facebook and Google have conveniently appointed themselves the arbiters of truth on the internet in order to screen out what is blatantly false, spam or click-baity.
Not only does this establish a dangerous precedent for all-out censorship by corporate entities known for colluding with the government but it’s also a slick sleight-of-hand maneuver that diverts attention from what we should really be talking about: the fact that the government has grown dangerously out-of-control, all the while the so-called mainstream news media, which is supposed to act as a bulwark against government propaganda, has instead become the mouthpiece of the world’s largest corporation—the U.S. government.
As veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward blew the lid off the Watergate scandal, reported in his expansive 1977 Rolling Stone piece, “The CIA and the Media”:
“More than 400 American journalists … in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency... There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services... Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters... In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
Bernstein is referring to Operation Mockingbird, a CIA campaign started in the 1950s to plant intelligence reports among reporters at more than 25 major newspapers and wire agencies, who would then regurgitate them for a public oblivious to the fact that they were being fed government propaganda.
In some instances, as Bernstein shows, members of the media also served as extensions of the surveillance state, with reporters actually carrying out assignments for the CIA.
In fact, in August 1964, the nation’s leading newspapers—including the Washington Post and New York Times—echoed Lyndon Johnson’s claim that North Vietnam had launched a second round of attacks against American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. No such attacks had taken place, and yet the damage was done. As Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War.”
Fast forward to the early post-9/11 years when, despite a lack of any credible data supporting the existence of weapons of mass destruction, the mainstream media jumped on the bandwagon to sound the war drums against Iraq. As Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian put it, “our government … used its immense bully pulpit to steamroll the watchdogs… Many were gulled by access to administration insiders, or susceptible to the drumbeat of the government’s coordinated rhetoric.”
If it was happening then, you can bet it’s still happening today, only it’s been reclassified, renamed and hidden behind layers of government secrecy, obfuscation and spin.
In its article, “How the American government is trying to control what you think,” the Washington Post points out “Government agencies historically have made a habit of crossing the blurry line between informing the public and propagandizing.”
Thus, whether you’re talking about the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the government’s invasion of Iraq based upon absolute fabrications, the Russo-Ukrainian War, or the government’s ongoing war on terror, privacy and whistleblowers, it’s being driven by propaganda churned out by one corporate machine (the corporate-controlled government) and fed to the American people by way of yet another corporate machine (the corporate-controlled media).
“For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it,” writes investigative journalist Nick Davies. “The sheer ease with which this machinery has been able to do its work reflects a creeping structural weakness which now afflicts the production of our news.”
If the mass media—aka the mainstream media or the corporate or establishment media—is merely repeating what is being fed to it, who are the masterminds within the government responsible for this propaganda?
The Pentagon has now designated “information operations” as its fifth “core competency” alongside land, sea, air and special forces. Since October 2006, every brigade, division and corps in the US military has had its own "psyop" element producing output for local media. This military activity is linked to the State Department's campaign of "public diplomacy" which includes funding radio stations and news websites.
This use of propaganda disguised as journalism is what journalist John Pilger refers to as “invisible government… the true ruling power of our country.”
We no longer have a Fourth Estate.
Not when the “news” we receive is routinely manufactured, manipulated and made-to-order by government agents.
And not, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People and in its fictional counterpart The Erik Blair Diaries, when media outlets have become propagandists for the false reality created by the American government.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His most recent books are the best-selling Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the award-winning A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and a debut dystopian fiction novel, The Erik Blair Diaries. Whitehead can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nisha Whitehead is the Executive Director of The Rutherford Institute. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.
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