The long and winding road of headline news leads us to ignorance and docility. Consider the past month, in which the lead news item has shifted from U.S. government systemic use of torture and lies about it; to its claims that North Korean cyberterrorists hacked Sony, threatening U.S. national security; to unfair and imbalanced coverage following the attack in Paris by alleged Jihadi terrorists. Smoke and mirrors media propaganda of this sort happens all the time, but the past month offers a glaring case study.
In mid-December tough questions were being asked about enforcing the law and holding torturers accountable for their crimes. Many echoed the sentiments of ACLU Director Anthony Romero, who said the release of the Senate report on CIA torture “should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” and called for the Dept. of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor.
Of course, the Senate report merely confirmed what was known by those not blinded by misplaced patriotism. But in providing an official record of torture it offered a valuable tool for accountability, largely because it contained admissions against interest by state actors laying an evidentiary basis for prosecutions. And so, despite torturers being treated as statesmen on weekend news programs, there was real concern that impunity would end, and the real story of war crimes at the highest levels would be told.
Within a week, the story shifted. Importantly, this helped ensure that the typical family sitting around the dinner table over the holidays would be discussing the threats posed by external enemies rather than domestic rot. The New York Times, the so-called “paper of record,” faithfully parroted the Obama administration claim (absent any proof) that there was “99% certainty” that North Korea was responsible for hacking into the servers of Sony. Suddenly, Americans were talking about ‘The Interview,’ Kim Jong-un, and cyberterrorism, rather than war crimes, the CIA run-amok, and the deceit of Zero Dark Thirty and the Bush and Obama teams.
This was no aberration. Recall the reporting of Judy Miller as the NYT enabled the Bush war of choice in Iraq as it amplified unsupported claims of weapons of mass destruction, and more. The point being that the so-called liberal press plays an important role legitimizing the agenda of the national security state, especially when its help is most needed by the deep state. The bugle call of patriotism is heeded, resulting in a paralysis of skepticism; the abnegation of the role of an independent press in democracy.