Who to Believe? Questioning the News.

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Back in 1988 Noam Chomsky pointed out that mass communication media are the means to “manufacture consent”. They are “effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship.” The truth of this statement is even more evident in our current era. The difference is that the Western public generally perceives it as applying only to the rest of the world, not to our still supposedly “free” and “democratic” exchange of information. 

As John Stuart Mill wisely said: “He who know only his position, knows little of that.” How can anyone know their position, when so much is claimed in our corporate-run mass media, but so little analysed, verified or explained in depth? This has been particularly apparent in Canadian and American mainstream coverage of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. All the most widely watched channels regurgitate the same dramatic images with little historical background or variety of points-of-view. When there is some analysis, it is almost always to paint the “Western world” in a good light, implicitly demonizing opponents while keeping quiet about the failures or crimes of allies. Barely two years ago Putin was declared to be the “new Satan”, even a reincarnation of Hitler, while Zelenskyy morphed into a Churchillian hero leading the Free World. No one mentioned that he banned unions and declared left-leaning parties illegal. Everyone believed that imposing an embargo on Russia would ruin their economy, whereas the reverse has proved true. In their efforts to “manufacture consent” Netflix shut down Oliver Stone’s documentary “Ukraine on Fire”, while Evgeny Afineevsky’s “Winter on Fire”, in support of the Maidan coup d’état, can still be viewed. The relentless Western narrative that the West is noble while Russia, China and Iran are evil is simple-minded and extraordinarily dangerous.

 Our mass-media don’t usually lie outright. They just don’t tell the whole truth. Let’s call it ‘lying’ by omission. This censorship is now being applied to the Gaza crisis, albeit with far less efficiency: the horror show cannot be simply denied. How often does some pundit from Fox or MSNBC argue that Israel is the only bastion of democracy in the Middle East? Without adequate historical background, ill-informed listeners end up believing that problems in Gaza started only last year on October 7th, while everyone was happy in Ukraine until February 24th, 2022.  For in- depth historical analysis we have to turn to internet sources, to hear experts rarely invited on prime-time TV.  Analysts and intellectuals like Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, Geoffrey Sachs, Christopher Hedges, Alexandre Mercouris, Max Blumenthal or Aaron Maté are never seen or heard by the majority of the population. Meanwhile Trump’s buffoonish tirades and Blinken’s dry and empty responses to journalists bounce from one channel to another.  Without Tucker Carlson’s superficial interview of Putin most North Americans would never have heard this world leader express an opinion. Oliver Stone did a much longer and more skillful interview in 2022, but to my knowledge it has never been aired on our current mass media. How can we have a rational analysis of crucial world problems in our democracies when alternative voices are simply side-stepped or ignored by corporate gatekeepers? Are we trying to emulate the media censorship that is condemned when it happens in Russia or China? 

It is sadly ironical that it is through this local paper, The Grapevine, that I first found a range of opinions expressed on Ukraine and Gaza, two hotbeds of human tragedy. Articles by Caitlin Johnstone or Sally Campbell, and initially last year by Keith Porteous, aroused my curiosity enough to send me in search of alternative analyses. Listening to a plethora of new voices, including those mentioned above, I realize how our run-of-the-mill news industry is misinforming, disinforming and willfully or inadvertently keeping us ignorant. Of course, one might retort: “Aren’t we lucky to live in a free world where information is available?”  I would answer, “Yes, but we have to bother to search for it”. Thanks to alternative media like Grayzone, Democracy Now, The Empire Files, and Jacobin, to mention only a few, the Orwellian dystopia can be counteracted, or at least delayed. It is good to know that a small newspaper on a small island at the end of the world can facilitate the sharing of a variety of freely expressed points of view.