Archive for category: Media
- Author Alan Moore thinks adults liking superhero movies can be a “precursor to fascism.”
- He called it an “infantilisation,” and an “urge towards simpler times, simpler realities.”
- Moore is known for comic books like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” but is “done with comics.”
Author Alan Moore, the co-creator of graphic novels like “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta,” doesn’t think superheroes are for grownups.
Moore, who has expressed his disdain for superhero movies for years, told The Guardian in a recent interview that he thinks adults who like them can be a “precursor for fascism.”
“I said round about 2011 that I thought that it had serious and worrying implications for the future if millions of adults were queueing up to see Batman movies,” Moore said. “Because that kind of infantilisation — that urge towards simpler times, simpler realities — that can very often be a precursor to fascism.”
He used the popularity of superhero movies and the election of Donald Trump as examples.
Superheros have dominated Hollywood and the box office for over a decade thanks largely to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But Moore thinks superheroes should still be for children, despite his own involvement in shifting that narrative with “Watchmen” in 1986, which was written by Moore with art by Dave Gibbons.
“Hundreds of thousands of adults [are] lining up to see characters and situations that had been created to entertain the 12-year-old boys — and it was always boys — of 50 years ago,” Moore said. “I didn’t really think that superheroes were adult fare. I think that this was a misunderstanding born of what happened in the 1980s — to which I must put my hand up to a considerable share of the blame, though it was not intentional — when things like ‘Watchmen’ were first appearing.”
While Moore said he “will always love and adore” comics, he has no plans to return to the medium.
“I’m definitely done with comics,” he told The Guardian. “I haven’t written one for getting on for five years. I will always love and adore the comics medium but the comics industry and all of the stuff attached to it just became unbearable.”
President Joe Biden on September 1 delivered a roughly 25-minute primetime speech from Independence Hall in Philadelphia about Trumpism’s threat to US democracy. Primetime, that is, for the two major US television networks that aired it live: MSNBC and CNN. The others—ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—opted not to carry the address, because they deemed it “political” (Washington Post, 9/2/22).
CNN is one of two major US TV networks that aired President Joe Biden’s speech live from Philadelphia.
Across the Atlantic just over a week later, King Charles III addressed Britain and the world about his 96-year-old mother’s death and his preparations to take over the solely symbolic role of British monarch. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all presumably found it more newsworthy than the President’s remarks, because they carried it live (MediaMatters, 9/9/22). (CNN and MSNBC carried both Biden’s and Charles’ speeches.)
Biden’s speech urgently named MAGA Republican ideology as an imminent threat to democracy, rejected violence and extremism, and condemned conspiracy theories. The “political” speech took an explicitly bipartisan tone, with Biden repeatedly claiming that Trumpism doesn’t represent the majority of the Republican party, and appealing to the American public regardless of political affiliation to defend democracy.
“I’m an American president—not the president of Red America or Blue America, but of all America,” he said.
Charles’ speech, on the other hand, was essentially a eulogy. He waxed poetic about Queen Elizabeth II’s public and private lives, praising her “warmth” and “humor” and the “sacrifices” she made to uphold her “duty.” It was appropriately vague and inoffensive for a figurehead whose job is to be apolitical.
Despite the President of the United States’ speech being patently more relevant to the American people than the symbolic figurehead of another country’s address, the latter had not only more networks airing it, but nearly as much analysis and coverage in the 48 hours surrounding it as the former: A Nexis database search of ABC, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CBS and Fox transcripts the day of and the day after each of the respective speeches turned up 113 mentions of Charles’ speech and 116 of Biden’s.
The networks varied widely in the relative amount of coverage they gave to the two speeches. ABC and NBC had roughly twice as many segments on Charles’ speech compared to Biden; Fox and MSNBC had closer to twice as many segments on Biden’s speech. CBS and CNN had roughly similar numbers of segments on each speech.
However much time they gave it, each of these networks characterized the president’s speech as inflammatory, ignoring much of its content, and “balancing” it with a chorus of Trump-aligned politicians.
Fox characterized Biden’s speech as a “dark and depressing” “diatribe.”
Unsurprisingly, on Fox News’s Hannity (9/2/22), fill-in host Tammy Bruce whined that Biden “bashe[d]” Republicans in his “rage-filled speech” that she later described as a “dark and depressing” “diatribe.” But this same right-wing indignation could be heard across network news, regardless of their presumed political leanings.
ABC’s World News Tonight anchor Mary Bruce (9/2/22) called the remarks “scathing,” saying the speech “slam[med]” MAGA Republicans. The segment quoted Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as UN ambassador for Trump: “It was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s unthinkable he would be so condescending and criticize half of America.”
Putting aside that Haley’s own history of opinions about Trump are mixed—“He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him,” she said after January 6—the segment did not bring up Biden’s repeated clarifications:
- “Now, I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.”
- “There are far more Americans—far more Americans from every background and belief—who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it.”
- “Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans: We must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to destroying American democracy.”
Reporter Craig Melvin on NBC’s Today show (9/2/22) described the speech as “politically charged,” and anchor Peter Alexander called it “blistering,” including derisions from Republican California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, without including any voices of those who found Biden’s condemnation of Trumpism necessary. The segment also described the speech being delivered in front of a “military backdrop”—that is, two Marines standing behind Biden. (Marines have been present at other debatably “political” presidential speeches, including Trump’s at the RNC in 2020.)
CBS Morning News’ Bradley Blackburn (9/2/22) chose the word “sharp.” And though CNN opted to air the remarks in primetime, they included the opinion of former Trump White House official Gavin Smith, who posited that threats to democracy are not a priority to discuss in a 25-minute speech, and that Biden should have spoken instead about rising prices (CNN New Day, 9/2/22). (To her credit, anchor Brianna Keilar pushed back against this statement.)
MSNBC’s The Beat (9/2/22) took Biden’s speech more seriously, with anchor Katie Phang calling out the irony of the GOP labeling a speech about the GOP’s divisiveness as divisive. “There’s so many Trump supporters,” she said:
They’re screaming about how Joe Biden now has promoted this divisiveness. But you know, the reality is, they’re not looking in the mirrors, right? There’s this hypocrisy that seems to be the currency that these Republicans are trading in.
Believers in the ‘storm’
Instead of engaging in handwringing over Biden’s tone, these outlets could have investigated the truth of his claims that MAGA ideology—regardless of what percentage of the Republican party subscribes to it—is a threat to democracy. Beyond the deadly January 6 insurrection itself, polling backs up Biden’s assertions that there are widespread anti-democratic tendencies within the Republican Party.
In February, a PRRI report found that a quarter of Republicans consider themselves believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. When polled on the three central delusions of QAnon, 16% completely or mostly agreed that media and economy are run by a Satan-worshiping cabal of child sex-traffickers; 22% completely or mostly agreed that a coming “storm” will wipe away these elites and restore the country to its rightful leaders; and 18% completely or mostly agreed that violence may be necessary to save the country.
Additionally, the Washington Post (9/18/22) recently questioned 19 GOP candidates running in gubernatorial and Senate races about whether they’d accept the results of the upcoming elections. Twelve either refused to commit or declined to respond. All 19 Democratic nominees committed to accepting the results of the elections.
Sowing distrust in legitimate democratic processes—and resorting to violence in an attempt to prevent them—is certainly dangerous to democracy.
‘A very significant event’
Of course, Charles’ address the day after the queen’s death served a much different purpose than Biden’s: celebrating and remembering a figurehead, versus warning against a rising domestic threat to American democracy. While comparing the content of these two addresses would be comparing apples and oranges, networks’ attitudes toward each are telling.
“Breaking News”: CBS had extensive live coverage from London surrounding King Charles III’s speech.
On Chris Jansing Reports (9/9/22), MSNBC’s British historian Andrew Roberts called Charles’ speech “very significant.” CBS Evening News’ Norah O’Donnell and Charlie D’Agatta (9/9/22) called it “historic.” On CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront (9/9/22), CNN International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson foreshadowed the upcoming ceremony that marked Charles’ official ascension to the throne, also calling it “perhaps a very significant event.”
While the death of the 96-year-old queen and ascension of her son might be significant for royalists—and the pomp, circumstance, anachronism and celebrity of the monarchy might be entertaining and appealing to many Americans—it has almost no political implications for the world. That’s because the British monarch’s role is ceremonial, and, as the constitution dictates, apolitical.
But the British monarch is also inextricably linked to the British Empire and is a living symbol of that imperial legacy, as well as of an extreme elitism based on nothing more than the privilege of birth (Economist, 9/15/22). Elizabeth’s death spurred significant conversations about Britain’s brutal, bloody legacy of colonialism around the world and abolishing the monarchy—all of which was left out of the above segments, and the majority of network news coverage.
US news networks instead largely discussed the queen’s death as if everyone agreed on her legacy. “The world mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth,” said CBS Mornings’ Anne-Marie Green (9/9/22), who described the late monarch as “one of the most beloved women in the world.”
‘We need to examine that history’
The entire world was not, in fact, mourning the death of Britain’s queen. On Democracy Now! (9/13/22), Amy Goodman discussed the possibility that “British Overseas Territory” (read: colony) Antigua and Barbuda might cut ties with the British monarch. When asked to respond to the queen’s death, Dorbrene O’Marde, chair of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Commission, said:
I’m under no obligation, I think, to be mourning her death. And that is simply because of, I think, my understanding of history, my understanding of the relationships of the British monarchy to African people and Asian people, but to African people certainly, on the continent and here in the Caribbean. And so that my response is perhaps to recognize the role that the queen, Queen Elizabeth II, has played, how she has managed to cloak the historical brutality of empire in this veneer of grandeur and pomp and pageantry, I guess, and graciousness. But I think that at this point in time, we need to examine that history a lot more closely.
The British Empire committed many atrocities during Elizabeth II’s reign (Liberation News, 9/9/22):
- The “Malayan Emergency” (1948–60) was a guerilla war fought between Britain and the Communist Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) after the territory sought independence from British rule. During this 12-year-long war (of which eight years were fought under Elizabeth), British forces set fire to homes and farmland of those suspected to be affiliated with the MNLA, sent 400,000 people to concentration camps and destroyed crops with Agent Orange. 6,700 MNLA fighters and more than 3,000 civilians were killed.
- The Mau Mau rebellion (1952–60) took place in Kenya when the Mau Mau rebels launched an uprising against colonial powers, white settlers and loyalists in the country. The British launched a counterinsurgency campaign, sending more than 100,000 people to detainment camps where they were tortured, interrogated and abused. The Kenyan Human Rights Commission estimated 90,000 Kenyans were killed, maimed or tortured, and 160,000 were detained in camps.
- The Covert War in Yemen (1962–69) cost an estimated 200,000 lives. After the death of Yemeni King Ahmed in 1962, Arab Army nationalists backed by the Egyptian army seized power and declared the country a republic, with popular support. Britain claimed it would not intervene, but supplied fighter jets and weapons to royalist forces.
- Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972) was just one incident during the Northern Irish Troubles, a 30-year fight for independence from Britain. Marchers in Derry, in British-occupied Ireland, were protesting against British legislation that allowed suspected Irish nationals to be imprisoned without trial; the British military opened fire on them, killing 14.
Even though Elizabeth II had no legislative abilities, this colonial violence was enacted to uphold the empire she helmed (Vox, 9/13/22).
‘They know nothing about colonialism’
Fox specifically scolded those criticizing the monarchy, claiming colonized countries should be grateful for the image of stability Elizabeth upheld, arguing she led the decolonization process. Contributor Douglas Murry claimed on Hannity (9/9/22):
They know nothing about colonialism. They clearly know nothing about the decolonization process. They know nothing about the late queen’s extraordinary work with the commonwealth countries. If the queen would preside over this, was it a genocidal empire? Unbelievable. There’d be nobody alive if it had been a genocidal empire. And they smear her with this total lack of knowledge.
There are a handful of scholarly and international legal definitions of genocide. “Everyone has to be dead” is not one of them.
Other programs may not have engaged in this kind of royalist admonishment, but they still delighted in the royal corgis (ABC’s Nightline, 9/9/22), swooned over Charles’ “emotion” (CNN Newsroom, 9/9/22), admired his handshaking with the crowd (Fox Special Report, 9/9/22) and saluted his promise of a “life of service” (NBC Nightly News, 9/9/22), with little space given to substantive critique of what the monarchy represents.
Outlets aired King Charles III’s speech live and spent the surrounding hours commending his life in service and glossing over Britain’s colonialism.
As noted, none of the aforementioned TV segments that effusively memorialized the queen and relished in the pomp and circumstance of the monarchy addressed colonialism. In fact, of the total 113 segments on network TV that mentioned Charles’ speech, only 29 mentioned—even in passing—Britain’s colonial legacy or calls to abolish the monarchy. Fifteen of those were from CNN, five from MSNBC, four from NBC, three from Fox (all of which condemned criticism of the monarchy), one from ABC and one from CBS.
CBS’s mention denied that there was any movement for change: “There is no current, no modern, serious movement to abolish the monarchy,” journalist and royal-watcher Tina Brown said on CBS Mornings (9/9/22).
That depends on what you define as “serious.” In Australia, thousands marched for abolishment, shutting down streets in Melbourne on the country’s National Day of Mourning for the queen (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/22/22). #AbolishTheMonarchy trended on social media (Forbes, 9/9/22). Pro-republican campaigns in Australia, New Zealand and Canada are expected to gain traction now (Wall Street Journal, 9/11/22).
Many shows repeated the term “colonial past” (e.g., NBC’s Today, 9/9/22; CNN Newsroom, 9/9/22), as if British colonialism is not ongoing. Today, British companies still own $1 trillion of Africa’s gold, diamonds, gas and oil, and an area of land in the continent about four times the size of Britain itself (Guardian, 4/17/18).
Other legacies of colonialism still reverberate: In 2013, Carribbean heads of governments established the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC) to demand reparations for Britain’s genocide, slave trade and apartheid in the region, citing illiteracy, physical and mental health issues and generational poverty as modern-day effects of British rule and slave trade.
Suffice it to say, worldwide opinion about the British monarchy, the death of Queen Elizabeth and the rise of King Charles is far from unanimous, despite US television news framing Charles’ speech—unlike Biden sounding the alarm over the threat to democracy—as something we all could agree on.
The post King Mourns Mother? Breaking News. Democracy Under Threat? Not So Much. appeared first on FAIR.
In the 1930s, six right-wing oligarchs used the US’s and UK’s largest newspapers to spout sensationalist xenophobia, and at times even boost fascist propaganda. Today, Fox News and other right-wing mass media outlets are using the very same blueprint.
Adolf Hitler receives Lord Harold Harmsworth, proprietor of the Daily Mail newspaper, at his mountain retreat in Bavaria. (Getty Images)
In the 1930s, the owners of the most widely read newspapers in the United States and Britain married far-right, xenophobic politics with sensationalism. These press lords, as historian Kathryn Olmsted puts it in The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler, “trafficked in populist slogans but lived like kings.” Some identified with fascism, while others advocated neutrality toward Adolf Hitler, focusing instead on imperial ambitions in other parts of the world.
Sasha Lilley recently interviewed Olmsted for Against the Grain, a California-based progressive radio show, about her new book. In their conversation, Olmsted explains why these wealthy press moguls sympathized with — and at times even collaborated with — fascist movements, paving the way for right-wing mass media today.
- Sasha Lilley
In your book, you argue that far-right media today has its roots in the nationalist, xenophobic newspapers of the twentieth century. Who were these six newspaper barons, and what was the reach of their papers in the 1930s?
- Kathryn Olmsted
Collectively, they reached more than 50 million readers in the United States and the United Kingdom. In their respective countries, they were the biggest newspaper publishers, and their papers were the most popular.
First, in Britain, there was Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, who owned the Daily Mail, which by the 1930s was the most popular, best-selling newspaper in the world. He was an extremely conservative newspaper publisher and even pro-fascist; he was quite enthusiastic about Hitler. There was also Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, the owner of the London Daily Express, which by the mid-1930s had overtaken the Mail as the most popular newspaper in the world.
A party at the home of Lord Rothermere, chairman of Associated Newspapers, to celebrate the 83rd birthday of Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, St James’, London, 25th May 1962. From left to right (on sofa) Winston Churchill, Beaverbrook and Harold Macmillan; (standing behind) Michael Berry (Daily Telegraph), Lord Iliffe (Birmingham Post and Mail), Alick Jeans (Liverpool Daily Post), Vere Harmsworth, Geoffrey Harmsworth (Harmsworth Press), Cecil King (chairman of Daily Mirror newspapers), George Drew (High Commissioner for Canada), Beaverbrook’s son Max, Lord Camrose (Daily Telegraph), Roy Thomson (Thomson Organisation), Lord Drogheda (Financial Times), Lord Rosebery and Lord Rothermere. (Getty Images)
In the United States, I look at William Randolph Hearst, who was arguably the most influential media figure of all time. He owned twenty-eight different newspapers at his peak, as well as a movie theater, a movie studio, a newsreel company, and many magazines. He reached 30 million readers every day.
Then there were three cousins. Robert McCormick and his cousin Joe Patterson owned the Chicago Tribune and the tabloid the New York Daily News, respectively — two of the most popular newspapers in the United States. Patterson’s sister, Cissy Patterson, owned the Washington Times-Herald, which was the most popular newspaper in Washington, DC.
They were all determined to keep their governments from intervening in Europe and stop them from standing up to Hitler’s aggression. There was a spectrum of reasons for this.
In Rothermere’s case, he was actually pro-fascist. He supported the British Union of Fascists for a time, and he wrote very admiring stories about Hitler and the Nazis. Beaverbrook was not pro-fascist, but was an imperialist and called himself an isolationist — he believed that Britain should have nothing to do with what happened on the continent of Europe.
In the United States, Hearst for a time was accused of being fascist, and published articles by Hitler in his newspapers. By the mid-’30s, he was not overtly fascist, but he was certainly determined to be an isolationist. And the Patterson-McCormicks also used their newspapers to harangue President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to tell him that he should not do anything that could embroil the United States in European affairs.
The British press lords that I study were extremely pro-empire, and were very much in favor of the use of British military power to maintain and expand the British Empire. Likewise, the American press barons were perfectly fine with US military power being extended into Latin America, and even sometimes into Asia. They just did not want the United States to intervene against fascists in Europe.
- Sasha Lilley
Can you tell us about the term “isolationism”? In some sense, these press barons could be branded as isolationists in that they opposed military intervention in this set of circumstances. And yet, as you note in the book, the term has become fraught, because obviously there are people across the political spectrum who might oppose military intervention. In the 1930s, there was also a strong pacifist movement on the Left.
- Kathryn Olmsted
Because the term “isolationist” is so fraught, there are many historians who do not like to use it anymore. They prefer “anti-interventionist” or “neutralist” to capture the broad spectrum of opposition to intervention in World War II.
But perhaps historians have overcompensated here, because most of these press lords were proud isolationists. They used the term themselves. They understood it to mean that they wanted to be isolated from Europe, not that they believed the United States should be isolated from the rest of the world.
- Sasha Lilley
How did anti-communism inform the perspectives of media owners like Hearst and Beaverbrook?
- Kathryn Olmsted
Again, there’s a spectrum of anti-communism among the press lords.
Anti-communism is essential to understanding Rothermere’s embrace of fascism. He was terrified that a red tide would wash over Europe and eventually get to Britain, so he saw Hitler as a bulwark against Soviet communism. His anti-communism led him to fascism. Hearst was also intensely anti-communist, and very worried about what he saw as the communist threat in the United States. He had some sympathy for the fascists because they were standing up to communism.
For the other press lords, anti-communism was not as essential to their worldviews. But certainly they understood the conflict in Europe as a conflict between communists and anti-communists, which made them more sympathetic to the fascist worldview.
Owner of the Chicago Tribune Robert McCormick, photographed in 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)
Part of the reason these newspapers were so popular was that their owners figured out that nationalism sold.
Hearst figured this out in the 1890s with the Spanish-American War. Rothermere’s brother, Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, figured this out in the 1890s with the Boer War in South Africa.
Because nationalism sold copies, these newspapers used increasingly strident terms to describe foreigners, and to describe the necessity of Britain or America extending its power over the world.
They defined the United States and Great Britain as Anglo-Saxon countries (although that was not true, even at the time), and they were afraid that if their Anglo-Saxon countries went to war with another Anglo-Saxon country (like, in their eyes, Germany), this would lead to the destruction of the white race. Of the newspapers, the New York Daily News was the most explicit about this fear, and that meanwhile, these so-called “yellow” races would take over the world. This was one of the reasons the Daily News argued over and over that the United States should not go to war with the Nazis.
- Sasha Lilley
How did these press barons relate to US domestic politics? It seems like there was a range, especially within the trio of the three cousins, in their views of Roosevelt and the New Deal.
- Kathryn Olmsted
Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune was extremely conservative. He was a traditional conservative, in that he was very up-front about his belief that hierarchies of race, class, and gender were what made America great. He did not want to disturb those hierarchies. Though he initially did not attack the New Deal — and by initially, I mean for a few weeks — he soon turned against Roosevelt and was an inveterate Roosevelt-hater from mid-1933 onward.
The Daily News started predicting that Roosevelt was going to rig elections, get himself appointed dictator, and then never hold any elections again.
Joe Patterson was a rare newspaper owner for those days in that he actually supported at least some aspects of the New Deal through the 1930s; he even reluctantly endorsed Roosevelt for a third term in the 1940 election. But he broke with Roosevelt over foreign policy. He believed that Roosevelt was much too anti-fascist, much too pro-intervention. Patterson began to believe, like his cousin, that Roosevelt was advocating these foreign policies not because he was a sincere anti-fascist or because he believed that the United States was in danger from German expansion, but because he wanted a war so he could become dictator. The Daily News started predicting that Roosevelt was going to rig elections, get himself appointed dictator, and then never hold any elections again. It even predicted that once he made himself dictator during the war, he was going to appoint one of his sons as his successor. By the time of the United States’ entrance into the war, the McCormick-Patterson papers certainly could not have been more opposed to Roosevelt, in both his domestic and foreign policies.
- Sasha Lilley
And what about Hearst? What do we know about his relationship to the Right and fascism in the 1930s?
- Kathryn Olmsted
There is still a lot we don’t know about Hearst’s dealings with the Nazis, but he did definitely have a deal with the Nazi state-owned film-production company in the 1930s. Hearst’s newsreel company swapped film footage with the Nazi film company — they would show Hearst newsreels in Germany, and Hearst would show Nazi footage in his newsreels in the United States. As a result, during some of the biggest events of the 1930s, including Hitler’s invasions of other countries, people who were watching Hearst newsreels in the United States saw footage that had been shot by the Nazis.
During some of the biggest events of the 1930s, including Hitler’s invasions of other countries, people who were watching Hearst newsreels saw footage that had been shot by the Nazis.
As far as Hearst’s attitudes towards Roosevelt, he started out as a big fan. The Hearst production company made the movie Gabriel Over the White House, which debuted in March 1933. It valorized a Roosevelt-type president and suggested the president needed to assume dictatorial powers to take the United States out of the Great Depression.
By 1934, Hearst started turning against Roosevelt, because he thought Roosevelt was too pro-union. He was especially disgusted with Roosevelt’s 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which legally protected the right to join a union. Hearst began to believe that Roosevelt was influenced by communists, and used all the power at his disposal to attack Roosevelt’s domestic and foreign policies from that point on.
- Sasha Lilley
Robert McCormick, who you noted was particularly reactionary, was involved in a kind of revisionist history of Pearl Harbor, which claimed that the Roosevelt administration turned a blind eye to the coming attack. What was the theory McCormick proffered?
- Kathryn Olmsted
The Chicago Tribune published the first Pearl Harbor conspiracy theories by a reporter named John T. Flynn, who was extremely anti-Roosevelt and active in the isolationist America First Committee. Flynn had come to believe, along with other isolationists during World War II, that the United States had been tricked into the war and that there had been some sort of deception at Pearl Harbor — that, in fact, Roosevelt had either orchestrated the attack or had known it was coming and deliberately withheld this information. They believed he wanted to use this attack to get the United States into a war with Japan and eventually Germany.
Flynn published the first article suggesting this theory during the war. And then, immediately after the Japanese surrender, in September 1945, the Chicago Tribune ran a big story by Flynn, alleging that Roosevelt had foreknowledge of the attack at Pearl Harbor. The story inspired a congressional investigation into the alleged intelligence failure — or the alleged conspiracy — that had led to the attack.
- Sasha Lilley
Did these six media moguls face any consequences for their fascist sympathies or their America First, Britain First imperialist politics? Was there any fallout for them from the general public during or after World War II?
- Kathryn Olmsted
That’s an interesting question; the consequences varied from individual to individual.
Rothermere, who was the most pro-fascist, was very concerned that he might even be interned in Britain. He was able, with the help of his friend Beaverbrook, to get out of the country in 1940 and go on a mission to the United States and Canada. He died in 1940, so he never really had to face criticism for his years as a fascist.
Joe Patterson of the Daily News, which remained popular even during the war. (Wikimedia Commons)
Beaverbrook was an appeaser for years, even through the first year of World War II. But when Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he made Beaverbrook his minister of aircraft production. Beaverbrook threw all of his energy into that area and became a national war hero.
In the United States, Hearst’s newspapers initially suffered some circulation decline because of boycotts and the perception that he was a fascist. He had to declare partial bankruptcy in 1937 and reorganize his affairs, though he did recover.
The most interesting and perhaps frightening case in the United States is that of Joe Patterson, who did not suffer any financial consequences. The Daily News only grew in size and circulation during World War II. As it turned out, his angry populism resonated with a lot of readers, even in wartime.
- Sasha Lilley
These media owners also promoted the lifestyles of the rich and famous, which happened to include themselves.
- Kathryn Olmsted
Yes — this was especially true for Hearst. He famously owned Hearst Castle, a 115-room mansion on the California coast, to which he would bring Hollywood stars for big parties every weekend. He had the biggest apartment in New York City. He had a castle in Wales. He had a spread on the beach in Santa Monica. He bought European art. He bought the Dutch masters. He bought Italian fountains. He bought a Spanish monastery and broke it into ten thousand pieces and brought it back to the United States.
Hearst would then have his newspapers cover his rich and famous lifestyle. He was not only selling his newspapers; he was selling himself as an exceptionally successful American businessman. The readers could aspire to have a lifestyle like that of William Randolph Hearst.
- Sasha Lilley
How much continuity and discontinuity do you see between these mass-circulation publications in the 1930s and some of the offerings in the media system now?
- Kathryn Olmsted
I see a lot of continuity. I think that this book tells an origin story about the right-wing media that we live with today. We can see that the right-wing media’s embrace of authoritarian dictators has deep roots in the past. In this period, we can see the primordial Fox News — the roots of the right-wing media obsession with individualism and consumption, but also authoritarian politics and populist nationalism.
By the 1930s, it was basically impossible to start a new newspaper unless you were one of the richest people in the country.
In that era, it took a lot of capital to start a newspaper. By the 1930s, it was basically impossible to start a new newspaper unless you were one of the richest people in the country. And of course, most of these people had right-wing politics.
The frightening thing is that these newspapers were not only entertainment for people. They were also how ordinary Americans got their news: from these very wealthy individuals, who used their media outlets to spread their conservative, reactionary, or sometimes even pro-fascist views.
- Sasha Lilley
Sometimes people argue that the reason we have celebrity-fueled journalism is because it’s what the public wants: to attract a mass readership, you need to give the public what it wants. Is this a fair argument about media in the 1930s or now? Are these far-right publications just giving people what they want to read?
- Kathryn Olmsted
I’m not sure that the mass public in the 1930s wanted to read nice stories about Hitler and the Nazis, or that they wanted to read that the Nazis did not pose a threat to the rest of the Europe. I think that was pushed on them by the owners of the newspapers, even as audiences read those newspapers for other reasons. The right-wing propaganda was slipped in with the sports and the comics and the columnists that people liked to read.
And so I don’t think that right-wing propaganda was necessarily the politics that people wanted. Perhaps they did want nationalism. But you can have a kind of civic nationalism that is not racist and imperialist and oppressive.
Unfortunately, in the vision of the media barons of the 1930s, nationalism was always a racial nationalism. It was a nationalism about the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and the dangers of other races. And this somehow made the United States Hitler’s natural ally, as opposed to Hitler’s opponent.
That kind of ideology was tremendously dangerous to not only the United States and Great Britain but the whole world.
Going forward, it would obviously be great if students in high school or college could learn about media literacy and how to verify sources and information. But because of the way that very wealthy individuals tend to push right-wing politics through their media outlets, what we might need is more publicly funded media.
The right-wing takeover of CNN continues apace, as yesterday we saw this farewell segment from John Harwood. Via the Daily Beast:
The staff shakeups at CNN under new management and ownership continue. White House correspondent John Harwood announced Friday that “today’s my last day at CNN,” tweeting that he looks “forward to figuring out what’s next.”
Harwood came to the network in Jan. 2020 after spending 13 years at CNBC as a Washington correspondent, where he broke the news in 2008 that John McCain had picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. In 2015, he made a name for himself as a harsh Donald Trump critic after clashing with the then-candidate in a GOP primary debate—a reputation that continued at CNN.
His departure comes shortly after the network’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter—long an antagonist of right-wing media—was terminated and his show canned.
Harwood appeared three times on CNN Friday morning, and apparently knowing that this was his last day, took the opportunity to deliver a parting message about the challenges facing journalism—and CNN itself—when covering the current state of politics.
Very few people in the United States trust the mainstream corporate media. This is confirmed by a July survey from the major polling firm Gallup, which found that just 11% of North Americans trust television news, and a mere 16% have confidence in newspapers.
It’s quite easy to understand why. The US media apparatus has repeatedly shown itself over decades to be completely unreliable and highly politicized.
The corporate media’s treachery has been especially clear in the demonstrably false stories it disseminated to try to justify the US wars on Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.
This disgraceful legacy continues today, in the proxy war that Washington is waging on Russia via Ukraine. Fake news echoed by the press has served as a powerful form of US information warfare.
The post Almost No One Trusts US Media, After Decades Of War Propaganda And Lies appeared first on PopularResistance.Org.
NBC (4/6/22) referred to making charges against Russia for which there is “no evidence” as having “blunted and defused the disinformation weaponry of the Kremlin.”
Disinformation has become a central tool in the United States and Russia’s expanding information war. US officials have openly admitted to “using information as a weapon even when the confidence and accuracy of the information wasn’t high,” with corporate media eager to assist Washington in its strategy to “pre-empt and disrupt the Kremlin’s tactics, complicate its military campaign” (NBC, 4/6/22).
In defense of the US narrative, corporate media have increasingly taken to branding realities inconvenient to US information goals as “disinformation” spread by Russia or its proxies.
The New York Times (1/25/22) reported that Russian disinformation doesn’t only take the form of patently false assertions, but also those which are “true but tangential to current events”—a convenient definition, in that it allows accurate facts to be dismissed as “disinformation.” But who determines what is “tangential” and what is relevant, and what are the guiding principles to make such a determination? In this assessment, Western audiences are too fickle to be trusted with making up their own mind.
There’s no denying that Russia’s disinformation campaign is key to justifying its war on Ukraine. But instead of uncritically outsourcing these decisions to Western intelligence officials and weapons manufacturers, and as a result erasing realities key to a political settlement, the media’s ultimate guiding principle for what information is “tangential” should be whether it is relevant to preventing the further suffering of Ukrainian civilians—and reducing tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.
For Western audiences, and US citizens in particular, labeling or otherwise marginalizing inconvenient realities as “disinformation” prevents a clear understanding of how their government helped escalate tensions in the region, continues to obstruct the possibility of peace talks, and is prepared to, as retired senior US diplomat Chas Freeman describes it, “fight to the last Ukrainian” in a bid to weaken Russia.
Coup ‘conspiracy theory’
The New York Times (4/11/22) drew a red line through Benjamin Norton for advancing the “conspiracy theory” that “US officials had installed the leaders of the current Ukrainian government.” Eight years ago, the Times (2/6/14) reported as straight news the fact that US “diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president.”
For example, the New York Times (4/11/22) claimed that US support for the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” that ousted Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was a “conspiracy theory” being peddled by the Chinese government in support of Russia. The article featured an image with a red line crossing out the face of journalist Benjamin Norton, who was appearing on a Chinese news channel to discuss how the US helped orchestrate the coup. (Norton wrote for FAIR.org frequently from 2015–18.) The evidence he presented—a leaked call initially reported by the BBC in which then–State Department official Victoria Nuland appears to select opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk to be Ukraine’s new prime minister—is something, he noted, that the Times itself has reported on multiple times (2/6/14, 2/7/14).
Not having been asked for comment by the Times, Norton responded in a piece of his own (Multipolarista, 4/14/22), claiming that the newspaper was “acting as a tool of US government information warfare.”
Beyond Nuland’s apparent coup-plotting, the US campaign to destabilize Ukraine stretched back over a decade. Seeking to isolate Russia and open up Ukraine to Western capital, the US had long been “fueling anti-government sentiment through mechanisms like USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” (FAIR.org, 1/28/22). High-profile US officials like Sen. John McCain even went so far as to rally protesters in the midst of the Maidan uprising.
In the wake of the far right–led and constitutionally dubious overthrow, Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and supported a secession movement in the eastern Donbass region, prompting a repressive response from Ukraine’s new US-backed government. Eight years later, the civil war has killed more than 14,000. Of those deaths, 3,400 were civilian casualties, which were disproportionately in separatist-controlled territories, UN data shows. Opinions on remaining in Ukraine vary within the Donbass.
When the Times covered the Russian annexation of Crimea, it acknowledged that the predominantly ethnic Russian population there viewed “the Ukrainian government installed after the ouster last weekend of Mr. Yanukovych as the illegitimate result of a fascist coup.” But now the newspaper of record is using allegations of disinformation to change the record.
To discredit evidence of US involvement in Ukraine’s 2014 regime change hides crucial facts that could potentially support a political solution to this crisis. When the crisis is reduced merely to the context of Russian aggression, a peace deal that includes, for example, a referendum on increased autonomy for the Donbass seems like an outrageous thing for Ukraine to have to agree to. But in the context of a civil war brought on by a US-backed coup—a context the Times is eager to erase—it may appear a more palatable solution.
More broadly, Western audiences that are aware of their own government’s role in sparking tensions may have more skepticism of Washington’s aims and an increased appetite for peace negotiations.
In 2018, the Atlantic Council (6/20/18) wrote that the Ukraine government “tacitly accepting or even encouraging the increasing lawlessness of far-right groups” “sounds like the stuff of Kremlin propaganda, but it’s not.”
The outsized influence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukrainian society (Human Rights Watch, 6/14/18)—including the the Azov Regiment, the explicitly neo-Nazi branch of Ukraine’s National Guard—is another fact that has been dismissed as disinformation.
Western outlets once understood far-right extremism as a festering issue (Haaretz, 12/27/18) that Ukraine’s government “underplayed” (BBC, 12/13/14). In a piece called “Ukraine’s Got a Real Problem with Far-Right Violence (and No, RT Didn’t Write This Headline),” the Atlantic Council (UkraineAlert, 6/20/18) wrote:
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders warned in a letter that radical groups acting under “a veneer of patriotism” and “traditional values” were allowed to operate under an “atmosphere of near total impunity that cannot but embolden these groups to commit more attacks.”
To be clear, far-right parties like Svoboda perform poorly in Ukraine’s polls and elections, and Ukrainians evince no desire to be ruled by them. But this argument is a bit of “red herring.” It’s not extremists’ electoral prospects that should concern Ukraine’s friends, but rather the state’s unwillingness or inability to confront violent groups and end their impunity.
Three years later, the Atlantic Council (6/19/21) was dismissing “the idea of Ukraine as a hotbed of right-wing extremism” as “rooted in Soviet-era propaganda.”
But now Western media attempt to diminish those groups’ significance, arguing that singling out a vocal but insignificant far right only benefits Russia’s disinformation campaign (New Statesman, 4/12/22). Almost exactly three years after warning about Ukraine’s “real problem” with the far right, the Atlantic Council (UkraineAlert, 6/19/21) ran a piece entitled “The Dangers of Echoing Russian Disinformation on Ukraine,” in which it seemingly forgot that arguments about the electoral marginalization of Ukraine’s right wing are a “red herring”:
In reality, Ukraine’s nationalist parties enjoy less support than similar political parties in a host of EU member states. Notably, in the two Ukrainian parliamentary elections held since the outbreak of hostilities with Russia in 2014, nationalist parties have failed miserably and fallen short of the 5% threshold to enter Ukrainian parliament.
‘Lead[ing] the white races’
Contrary to the Financial Times’ headline (3/29/22), the accompanying article seems to encourage readers to mistake Nazism for patriotism.
Russian propaganda does overstate the power of Nazi elements in Ukraine’s government—which it refers to as “fascist”—to justify its illegal aggression, but seizing on this propaganda to in turn downplay the influence and radicalism of these elements (e.g., USA Today, 3/30/22; Welt, 4/22/22) only prevents an important debate on how prolonged US and NATO military aid may empower these groups.
The Financial Times (3/29/22) and London Times (3/30/22) attempted to rehabilitate the Azov regiment’s reputation, using the disinformation label to downplay the influence of extremism in the national guard unit. Quoting Azov’s founder Andriy Biletsky as well as an unnamed Azov commander, the Financial Times cast Azov’s members as “patriots” who “shrug off the neo-Nazi label as ‘Russian propaganda.’” Alex Kovzhun, a “consultant” who helped draft the political program of the National Corps, Azov’s political wing, added a lighthearted human interest perspective, saying Azov was “made up of historians, football hooligans and men with military experience.”
That the Financial Times would take Biletsky at his word on the issue of Azov’s Nazi-free character, a man who once declared that the National Corps would “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans]” (Guardian, 3/13/18), is a prime example of how Western media have engaged in information war at the expense of their most basic journalistic duties and ethics.
Azov has opened its ranks to a flood of volunteers, the Financial Times continued, diluting its connection to Ukraine’s far-right movement, a movement that has “never proved popular at the ballot box” anyways. BBC (3/26/22) also cited electoral marginalization in its dismissal of claims about Ukraine’s far right as “a mix of falsehoods and distortions.” Putin’s distortions require debunking, but neither outlet acknowledged that these groups’ outsized influence comes more from their capacity for political violence than from their electoral participation (Hromadske, 10/13/16; Responsible Statecraft, 3/25/22).
In the London Times piece, Azov commander Yevgenii Vradnik dismissed the neo-Nazi characterization as Russian disinformation: “Perhaps [Putin] really believes it,” as he “lives in a strange, warped world. We are patriots but we are not Nazis.” Sure, the article reports, “Azov has its fair share of football hooligans and ultranationalists,” but it also includes “scholars like Zaikovsky, who worked as a translator and book editor.”
To support such “patriots,” the West should fulfill their “urgent plea” for more weapons. “To retake our regions, we need vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft weapons from NATO,” Vradnik said. Thus Western media use the “Russian disinformation” label to not only downplay the threat of Ukraine’s far right, but even to encourage the West to arm them.
Responsible Statecraft (3/25/22) pushed back on the media’s dismissiveness, warning that “Russian propaganda has colossally exaggerated the contemporary strength of Ukrainian extreme nationalist groups,” but
because these groups have been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard yet retain their autonomous identities and command structures, over the course of an extended war they could amass a formidable fifth column that would radicalize Ukraine’s postwar political dynamic.
To ignore the fact that prolonged military aid could reshape Ukraine’s politics in favor of neo-Nazi groups prevents an understanding of the threats posed to Ukrainian democracy and civil society.
Shielding NATO from blame
Ilya Yaboklov (New York Times, 4/25/22): “NATO is the subject of some of the regime’s most persistent conspiracy theories, which see the organization’s hand behind popular uprisings around the world.”
Much like with the Maidan coup, the corporate media’s insistence on viewing Russian aggression as unconnected to US imperial expansion has led it to cast any blame placed on NATO policy as Russian disinformation.
In “The Five Conspiracy Theories That Putin Has Weaponized,” New York Times (4/25/22), historian and author Ilya Yaboklov listed the Kremlin’s most prominent “disinformation” narratives. High on his list was the idea that “NATO has turned Ukraine into a military camp.”
Without mentioning that NATO, a remnant of the Cold War, is explicitly hostile to Russia, the Times piece portrayed Putin’s disdain for NATO as a paranoia that is convenient for Russian propaganda:
NATO is Mr. Putin’s worst nightmare: Its military operations in Serbia, Iraq and Libya have planted the fear that Russia will be the military alliance’s next target. It’s also a convenient boogeyman that animates the anti-Western element of Mr. Putin’s electorate. In his rhetoric, NATO is synonymous with the United States, the military hand of “the collective West” that will suffocate Russia whenever it becomes weak.
The New York Times is not the only outlet to dismiss claims that NATO’s militarization of Ukraine has contributed to regional tensions. Jessica Brandt of the Brookings Institute claimed on CNN Newsroom (4/8/22): “There’s two places where I have seen China carry Russia’s water. The first is, starting long before the invasion, casting blame at the foot of the United States and NATO.” The Washington Post editorial board (4/11/22) argued much to the same effect that Chinese “disinformation” included arguing “NATO is to blame for the fighting.” Newsweek (4/13/22) stated that Chinese disinformation “blames the US military/industrial complex for the chaos in Ukraine and other parts of the world,” and falsely claims that “Washington ‘squeezed Russia’s security space.’”
Characterizing claims that NATO’s militarization of Russia’s neighbors was a hostile act as “paranoia” or “disinformation” ignores the decades of warnings from top US diplomats and anti-war dissidents alike that NATO expansionism into former Warsaw Pact countries would lead to conflict with Russia.
Jack F. Matlock Jr, the former ambassador to the USSR warned the US Senate as early as 1997 that NATO expansion would threaten a renewal of Cold War hostilities (Responsible Statecraft, 2/15/22):
I consider the administration’s recommendation to take new members into NATO at this time misguided. If it should be approved by the United States Senate, it may well go down in history as the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. Far from improving the security of the United States, its Allies, and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious security threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.
The US War College’s John Deni (Foreign Policy, 5/4/22) argues that NATO expansion is not to blame for Russian insecurity, because “over the centuries…Russia has experienced military invasions across every frontier,” and so it was going to “demonize the West” regardless.
These “disinformation” claims also ignore the more contemporary evidence that Western officials have an explicit agenda of weakening Russia and even ending the Putin regime. According to Ukrainska Pravda (5/5/22; Intercept, 5/10/22), in his recent trip to Kyiv, UK prime minister Boris Johnson told Volodymyr Zelensky that regardless of a peace agreement being reached between Ukraine and Russia, the United States would remain intent on confronting Russia.
The evidence doesn’t stop there. In the past months, Joe Biden let slip his desire that Putin “cannot remain in power,” and US officials’ have become more open about their objectives to weaken Russia (Democracy Now!, 5/9/22; Wall Street Journal, 4/25/22). Corporate media have cheered on these developments, running op-eds in support of policies that go beyond a defense of Ukraine to an attack on Russia (Foreign Policy, 5/4/22; Washington Post, 4/28/22), even expressing hope for a “palace coup” there (The Lead, 4/19/22; CNN Newsroom, 3/4/22).
As famed dissident Noam Chomsky said in a discussion with the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill (4/14/22):
We can see that our explicit policy—explicit—is rejection of any form of negotiations. The explicit policy goes way back, but it was given a definitive form in September 2021 in the September 1 joint policy statement that was then reiterated and expanded in the November 10 charter of agreement….
What it says is it calls for Ukraine to move towards what they called an enhanced program for entering NATO, which kills negotiations.
When the media denies NATO’s culpability in stoking the flames of war in Ukraine, Americans are left unaware of their most effective tool in preventing further catastrophe: pressuring their own government to stop undermining negotiations and to join the negotiating table. Dismissing these realities threatens to prolong the war in Ukraine indefinitely.
Alan MacLeod (Mint Press, 4/25/22): “These new rules will not be applied to corporate media downplaying or justifying US aggression abroad, denying American war crimes, or blaming oppressed peoples…for their own condition, but instead will be used as excuses to derank, demote, delist or even delete voices critical of war and imperialism.”
As the Biden administration launches a new Disinformation Governance Board aimed at policing online discourse, it is clear that the trend of silencing those who speak out against official US narratives is going to get worse.
Outlets like Russia Today, MintPress News and Consortium News have been banned or demonetized by platforms like Google and its subsidiary YouTube, or services like PayPal. MintPress News (4/25/22) reported YouTube had “permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos,” on the grounds that they were “denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events.” At the same time, platforms are loosening the restrictions on praising Ukraine’s far right or calling for the death of Russians (Reuters, 3/11/22). These policies of asymmetric censorship aid US propaganda and squelch dissent.
After receiving a barrage of complaints from the outlet’s supporters, PayPal seemingly reversed its ban of Consortium News’ account, only to state later on that this reversal was “mistaken,” and that Consortium was in fact permanently banned. The outlet’s editor-in-chief Joe Lauria (5/4/22) responded to PayPal’s ban:
Given the political climate it is reasonable to conclude that PayPal was reacting to Consortium News’ coverage of the war in Ukraine, which is not in line with the dominant narrative that is being increasingly enforced.
As Western outlets embrace the framing of a new Cold War, so too have they embraced the Cold War’s McCarthyite tactics that rooted out dissent in the United States. With great-power conflict on the rise, it is all the more important that US audiences understand the media’s increasing repression of debate in defense of the “dominant narrative.” In the words of Chomsky:
There’s a long record in the United States of censorship, not official censorship, just devices, to make sure that, what intellectuals call the “bewildered herd,” the “rabble,” the population, don’t get misled. You have to control them. And that’s happening right now.
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