Reflections on the category "journalism" and the revelations by Edward Snowden
tortilla con sal, July 7th 2013
The choices for Edward Snowden have narrowed to either returning home to the United States on whatever may be the most favourable terms he can negotiate, or taking up one of the offers of asylum from various Latin American governments on the terms those governments may require under their domestic legislation and under aggressive US and European government pressure. In that context, this video on the Guardian web site gives a very useful insight into the corporate pscychology of the European and North American imperialist news media.
Charlie Rose is a liberal US media personality whose current affairs interviews give his interviewees, in this case senior Guardian editors, the chance to discuss their positions on whatever may be the issue of the day.
The video makes categorically clear the deep and close coordination between the Guardian's senior editorial staff and the US and British government and intelligence establishments. It makes clear the commercial, corporate"scoop" rationale for the Guardian's handling of the material made available by Edward Snowden. It makes clear the political damage control aspect of that perception management.
At one point, Guardian UK editor Alan Rusbridger asserts that the Guardian is independent, skimming over the fundamental question : What is the class commitment of the Guardian editorial team, subject as they are to the control and influence of their own board and the board of the Scott Trust, sole owner of the Guardian? What variety of independence does Alan Rusbridger invoke, given that undeniable class reality?
Very, very clearly, the senior Guardian editors are profoundly committed to the defence of NATO, of Western corporate capitalism and the imperialist structures of dominance that sustain that system through the infamous modalities of double-edged aid and odious debt. They defend that system despite its egregious failure and its massive transfer of wealth to the NATO countries' corporate financial elites.
That is why the Guardian's editorial policy has supported NATO country aggression, for example, against Serbia, Ivory Coast, Libya and now Syria. Guardian editorial policy has been consistently hostile and deeply dishonest, to cite the most obvious cases, to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, to Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, to Rafael Correa in Ecuador and to Evo Morales in Bolivia, to the FARC in Colombia and to the anti-Zionist Resistance axis in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
On both Libya and Syria, the Guardian has spread baseless propaganda lies in support of the NATO propaganda and military aggression against those countries' legitimate governments. So the variety of independence espoused by Alan Rusbridger and his colleagues is one characterized unsurprisingly by an absolute determination to defend their class interests as a privileged caste comfortably ensconced in the NATO country ancien regime. All too self-evident is the very understandable "don't shit where you eat" rationality of the Guardian's senior editors.
Their class is the intellectual managerial class controlling all corporate and most alternative intellectual production of news and entertainment in North America and Europe. In this respect, Glenn Greenwald's remarks are relevant because he too insists on the moral dimension of the matter. Most probably, he does so because that is more comfortable and reassuring from his point of view than to look at the class dimension of the Guardian's handling of the revelations by Edward Snowden. He writes :
"I've been continuously amazed by how intrepid, fearless and committed the Guardian's editors have been in reporting these NSA stories as effectively and aggressively as possible. They have never flinched in reporting these stories, have spared no expense in pursuing them, have refused to allow vague and baseless government assertions to suppress any of the newsworthy revelations..... they deserve a lot of credit for the impact these stories have had....... Rather than sit on such a newsworthy story - especially at a time when Latin America, for several reasons, is so focused on these revelations - they were enthused about my partnering with O Globo, where it could produce the most impact. In other words, they sacrificed short-term competitive advantage for the sake of the story by encouraging me to write this story with O Globo."
(Full article link : http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/07/nsa-brazilians-globo...)
This version is somewhat contradicted by the frank admission by senior Guardian editors in their interview with Charlie Rose of close coordination with the US and British authorities. In any case, few would disagree that most Guardian staff are good, decent people trying to do their best conscientiously by their own ideological lights. Of course they are. The same is true of innumerable functionaries working away in the NATO countries' diverse institutional framework, both governmental and non-governmental. But they are doing so in a global class context and an imperialist structure that renders all their best efforts grist to the global NATO and corporate capitalist mill of domination and oppression.
Edward Snowden's revelations serve above all to confirm detail rather than to reveal much that is decisively new. Back in the 1970s, Guardian and New Statesman writer Duncan Campbell' s Tinkerbell revelations about Britain's GCHQ surveillance system in large part set the modern European precedent for contemporary whistleblowers like William Binney, Thomas Drake and now Edward Snowden. One is entitled to ask why the Guardian's coverage of the revelations by Thomas Drake and by William Binney was so muted. A legitimate answer may well be that the NATO country elites were able to contain those revelations more easily than those being made now by Edward Snowden.
Let's look at the Guardian's joint publication with O Globo. O Globo is a national corporate owned conservative Brazilian media outlet. So politically, the publication of some revelations in Brazil's O Globo follows the self-same pattern of damage control and perception management as publication of some of Edward Snowden's revelations in the Guardian or the Washington Post. The Guardian itself suffers no commercial loss because it does not have a Portuguese edition. On the contrary, it accrues somewhat questionable moral prestige by sharing what has become Snowden's media carrion with circling corporate scavengers like O Globo.
So from that point of view, Glenn Greenwald's attempt to accrue further moral bonus points on that score for the Guardian falls flat. One might equally well interpret the move to publish in O Globo as a savvy attempt to further extend the Guardian's and the Washington Post's perception management of Edward Snowden's revelations into Latin America. There is little difference in this case from the joint perception management of the Wikileaks revelations which were also handled by the Guardian along with fellow centre-right media like the New York Times, Le Monde. Der Spiegel and so on.
Of course, supporters of those media would reject the "centre-right" label, because their self-image is one of being politically and socially liberal, social democrat, progressive or even radical. But things only look that way as a result of forty years of accommodation to the rolling back of the radical, subversive tide of the 1960s, of seeking to subvert the Cuban and Libyan and other revolutions, of containing the Soviet Union and China, of consolidating the Zionist entity in Palestine and, lately, smearing the governments of Venezuela and Iran, in all of which the Guardian has been an enthusiastic collaborator one way or another.
For any one committed to anti-imperialism who has lived for any time outside the NATO country system of mind control with its strictly enforced categories of admissible dissent and inadmissible extremism, the phenomenon of the Guardian's damage control management of Edward Snowden's revelations offers nothing new. Most people who have written from an anti-imperialist position for any length of time are long accustomed to the marginalization and smear campaigns applied against them by the NATO country intellectual production apparatus and its alternative media counterparts.
One way this apparatus excludes ordinary people - the people whose interests they falsely purport to champion - is by the erection of production categores like "journalist" or "academic" or "expert/analyst/commentator". If one fails to satisfy the formal corporate capitalist prerequisites for such categories one's opinions and views don't count. Certainly, anti-imperialist dissenting views are either systematically excluded or relegated to the status of ineffectual comment.
In fact, people outside those categories of intellectual production may have incomparably more insight, knowledge and experience of a given country or issue than the formally accredited "journalists", "academics" or "experts/analysts/commentators". Our experience at Tortilla con Sal has been very much along these lines. We have consistently seen woeful ignorance, downright falsehoods and disingenuous omission in the intellectual production of journalists covering Nicaragua and the ALBA countries in all the main NATO country news media we have read and in most of the alternative media.
For us, it was coverage of Nicaragua's 2008 municipal elections that made us realize how comprehensively pernicious NATO country intellectual production is, across the board. The false anti-Sandinista reporting on those elections and their sequel was soon followed up by the completely skewed reporting of the Zionist attack on Gaza over Chistmas of 2008 and, subsequently, the protests around Iran's elections in 2009. But even this ignoble phase was surpassed in infamy by the NATO countries' corporate and alternative media coverage of the wars against the Ivory Coast, against Libya and now against Syria.
Not only editors and journalists, materially contracted to and intellectually co-opted by their managers and their boards of directors function in terms of loyalty to their class. Academics like Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar and Santiago Alba Rico, alternative media gurus like Ignacio Ramonet, anti-system figures like Al Giordano and Amy Goodman, all alike joined with their corporate counterparts in acceptance and even celebration of NATO's catastrophic destruction of Libya. Their class solidarity with their NATO media counterparts was truly impressive.
The Libyan war made clearer than ever before the depth and reach of the global psychological war waged by the NATO country elites against humanity's impoverished majority. In that world propaganda war, as the Charlie Rose interview shows, centre-right NATO-loyalist social democrats work hard to defend their class interests. Against them and their more reactionary colleagues are ranged the State media of NATO target countries and also a broad range of committed but informal anti-imperialist media outlets.
In our case at Tortilla con Sal, we are proud of our committment to the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. We do our best through our intellectual production to counteract largely fact-free coverage of Nicaragua and the other ALBA countries by corporate NATO country media, their local regional accomplices and their accomplices among the North American and European neocolonial Left. This may or may not satisfy conventional criteria for journalism. If the conventional example of the Guardian's senior editors is anything to go by, perhaps we should be relieved that it might not.
We hope Edward Snowden makes it to safety and avoids the brutal repression prepared for him by the US authorities. We think his revelations are important in the short term because they give confirmation of what was already widely known about NATO country global surveillance abuses. But what may be far more important in the medium and long term is the further confirmation we are now finding of the intimate collusion by major NATO news and entertainment media with their countries' governmental and corporate structures. They are all struggling to manage as effectively as possible their relentless, albeit relative, global decline.