Watching Shadows of Liberty

A powerful new film on what’s wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It’s called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I’ll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)

Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.

Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians’ access to the public and to bribe politicians with “campaign contributions” — this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.

The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin’s reports for CBS on Nike’s labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its “journalists” wear Nike logos during their olympics “coverage.”

Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn’t be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)

The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can’t be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media’s own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!

Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb’s reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller’s role that blamed her principally for not correcting her “mistakes” when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime — and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn’t subtract any blame from the employees.

To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA’s giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will “follow the lead of silence.”

The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she’ll spend on TV ads.

The bad media’s greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other “journalists” who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.

The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.

The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.

According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of “news” is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.

The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that’s how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn’t object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won’t be protesting you anytime soon. And there’s never any need to worry about being reelected.

Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it’s all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.

Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won’t achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of “objectivity,” understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.

Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it’s already far superior to the Washington Post.

No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn’t glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras “the moral equivalent of our founding fathers” while the film shows dead bodies — as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.<--break->

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  • CMC761

    “‘If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
    Mark Twain

    It looks like it is best to be informed by other alternate means and look to the regular media for messages to the masses with a few bits of raw information. A recent 60 Minutes segment on US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her popularity there said that she was keen on a major trade deal. But anyone watching and paying attention would wonder, “what trade deal?” because it gets no coverage in the media. (until it’s too late)

  • Libertybelle

    I cannot argue with the conclusion of this article. But I would I like too mention the elephant in the room: The Council On Foreign Relations.

    It is ground zero for this corruption of the media by the CIA. Furthermore, it is impossible to gather that much power in one place and not have mass-murdering corruption. Especially since there is so much incest. Allen Dulles was CIA and CFR. And the two have been together ever since.

    Indeed CIA director Brennan recently went to the CRF to whine about the Internet’s “magnification” of the CIAs activities. Magnify, to decent persons, means “exposing the CIA’s criminal activities in real time”.

    I suppose the cynics in government think they are clever working under the auspices the CFR in the USA. Since it is illegal for them to run ops on our soil, I sense they rationalize that it is legal to so via the CFR since the word “foreign” is in its title.

    The CIA has dirt on every member of the CFR. It has got to be intimidating when corporate members of Exxon, Walmart, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News and hundreds of the most powerful groups in America attend such a meetings where the friendly folks from the CIA make their little suggestions (like bash the internet).

    The CIA has access to all their skeletons, all the keys, all the encryptions, and all the codes. They could have long ago exposed Barbara Walters, but they kept it under wraps. Why is that? She played their game? She sure became rich and powerful.

    From the time I was a little girl my family watched the news every night. we considered Walter Cronkite an honorable man. I now consider him part of an evil unlike any in human history.

  • This is a fantastic article. Very objective and critical. I love it
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  • hyperbola2

    The independent foreign news sources are also disappearing rapidly. They are equally owned by the same big multinationals. For a time this was limited to english language news sources (canada, australia, britain – BBC is one of the worst) and one could get much better information and analysis by reading german, french, spanish ….. sources. Nowadays goldman sachs owns major newspaper/media in spain, argentina, mexico, …. Which is why the Mexicans also have a wall-street lackey as their president.

  • These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America

    This infographic created by Jason at Frugal Dad shows that almost all media comes from the same six sources.

    That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983.

  • USA TODAY October 23, 2014 Special report: America’s perpetual state of emergency

    WASHINGTON — The United States is in a perpetual state of national emergency. Thirty separate emergencies, in fact. An emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter on the 10th day of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 remains in effect almost 35 years later.

  • Bev

    Corporate Media Blacks Out Coverage of Bill to Overturn Corporate Personhood
    By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: May 4, 2015

    Congressman Rick Nolan, Leesa “George” Friday, and David Cobb at the Move to Amend Press Conference, April 29, 2015

    Last Wednesday, the grassroots organization, Move to Amend, held a press conference at the National Press Club to announce that six members of the U.S. House of Representatives were introducing legislation to overturn Citizens United v FEC to make free speech and all other rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution available only to “natural persons,” not corporations or
    limited liability companies. The legislation would also give Federal, state and local governments the ability to limit political contributions to “ensure all citizens, regardless of their economic status, have
    access to the political process.”

    When corporations overturn the will of the people, it’s widely covered by corporate media. When the people fight back, the news is frequently blacked out. As of this morning, we could find no major
    corporate media outlet or corporate wire service reporting on last Wednesday’s press conference by Move to Amend. That might be because there was evidence presented at the press conference of a groundswell of public momentum to overturn Citizens United, the decision handed down on January 21, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate campaign spending in elections along with super wealthy donors.

    The press conference revealed that 16 states have passed resolutions asking Congress to overturn Citizens United while almost 600 municipalities and local governments across the country have done
    likewise. Almost two dozen other states have resolutions pending or introduced.

    Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota spoke at the press conference, telling attendees that “Good and successful movements in this country have always started with ordinary people who commit to accomplishing great things. And so it was with ending slavery, with child labor laws, environmental laws, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, rights for the disabled – you name it – this movement transcends labels, it transcends political parties, it transcends regions and it transcends generations.”

    Nolan added that “America’s future and American democracy is dependent upon the success of this movement.” In addition to Nolan, co-sponsors of the bill include Mark Pocan (WI), Matthew Cartwright
    (PA), Jared Huffman (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Keith Ellison (MN).

    Leesa “George” Friday, who has been part of this grassroots movement since its beginning in 2009, said “Democracy isn’t a gift that we’re given, it’s a right. And with that right comes the responsibility to do a little bit more than just go to the polls every now and then or volunteer for a campaign, write a check or make some phone calls. It means being vigilant about what democracy means; about holding sacred that democracy; and doing the work.”

    David Cobb, a member of the National Leadership Team of Move to Amend and the Green Party presidential candidate in 2004, called what has happened a “corporate coup d’etat” and said the group was broadening its strategy to include “Pledge to Amend,” where candidates running for
    office will be asked to pledge to support a constitutional amendment in order to get the support of voters, the majority of whom despise Citizens United.

    The corporate coup d’etat could not have happened, of course, without the vote of five members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision, which was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy with concurrence from Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

    The dissent was scathing. Written by Justice John Paul Stevens (who retired five months later), it was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Stevens wrote:

    “The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant.
    Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.”

    The four dissenters also found that:

    “The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the
    passage of the Tillman Act in 1907…We have unanimously concluded that this ‘reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process…’ ”

    The view of the dissenters happens to dovetail with the majority view of the American people — meaning that five men in robes can overturn the will of a nation of 319 million citizens.

    According to a 2010/2011 Peter Hart poll, 79 percent of Americans “support a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision and make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.” An Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll released in 2012 found that 83 percent of Americans want campaign limits on corporations, unions and other organizations. The poll also found that 67 percent of Americans also want caps on what individuals
    can spend in campaigns.

    In July of last year, Democracy Corps, the polling organization for Democrats, released a survey that found “a deep hostility to Super PACs” and “strong support” for candidates “who battle to reduce the influence of big money and for changes that empower the ordinary citizen…”

    The poll was taken among likely voters in 12 states with hotly contested Senate races. On the issue of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the survey found overwhelming support, a “73 to 24 percent margin, including majorities in even the reddest states.”

    This would not be the first time an out of control Supreme Court had to be reined in. Of the current 27 constitutional amendments, eight wereenacted to overturn outrageously out-of-step Supreme Court rulings.


    Other groups have joined in the valiant, mushrooming effort to overturn Citizens United. From Public Citizen, to Common Cause, to Free Speech for People, to burgeoning local grassroots movements, there is growing momentum to overturn the gang of five on the Supreme Court. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when.

    You can be a critical part of accelerating that outcome by taking one or more of the following actions:

    Urge your Congressperson to sign on as a Co-Sponsor of House Joint Resolution 48.

    Sign the Move to Amend petition and ask your friends to join you.

    Sign up to volunteer with an existing local MTA group or start one in your community.

    As one young woman stated in a Move to Amend film, “we need a democracy movement because we need a democracy.”

  • May 4, 2015 Feed your family, go to jail? (¿Apoye su familia, ir a la cárcel?)

    Vendors in South Florida are being harassed, fined $500 and arrested for simply selling flowers, churros and candy bars. If these vendors are prevented from working, they cannot earn a living to provide for their families.

  • April 30, 2015 New EFF ‘404’ Report Shows How Draconian Copyright Policies Stifle Online Speech Worldwide

    U.S. Trade Regulators’ Criticism of Other Nations’ IP Practices is Flawed, Biased San Francisco – Overly broad intellectual property (IP) laws in Russia, Colombia, and Pakistan—which U.S. trade regulators say aren’t tough enough—stifle access to innovation and threaten artists, students, and creators around the globe with prison, censorship, and state prosecution, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a new report released today.

  • Jose Armando

    I really agree with this post, liberty but with democracy.

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