U.S. Corporate Media Watch
Richard and Roberto would like to dedicate this feature to Glen Ford, one of the fiercest critics of U.S. corporate media the country has ever known. May we all find creative and courageous ways to honor his memory by speaking out against Wall Street, white supremacy, and the U.S. war machine.
In this feature, we interview Syrian-born journalist Richard Medhurst about state propaganda, the mainstream media, and U.S. imperialism.
Roberto Sirvent: Last month marked twenty years since the 9/11 attacks. What are some of your observations about how the US corporate media covered this anniversary?
Richard Medhurst: The media commemorated 9/11 the way it always does: by making America out to be the ultimate victim. How else could it justify 20 years of war to the American public? The destruction and bombing of Afghanistan and Iraq?
The media pretends that 9/11 was an isolated event that occurred in a vacuum. But 9/11 had consequences. It was used as the pretext, as the cover story for the War on Terror.
But the media is not interested in talking about the victims of the War on Terror and how the Bush administration, and every administration since, milked 9/11 to wage war. The media is part of the war machine. It helps justify the wars. And one of the ways it does that is portraying Americans as the sole victims of 9/11, while ignoring the millions of Arabs and Muslims killed, maimed and displaced by America – people who had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11.
Ironically, even average Americans themselves have been hurt by this. Within 24 hours of 9/11, Dick Cheney and his lawyer David Addington began the President’s Surveillance Program, the precursor to NSA mass surveillance; collecting and spying on everyone’s private telecommunications. The Patriot Act legalized warrantless wiretapping and surveillance of Americans. Just to go to college or get healthcare Americans have to join the military and are sent off to die or get their legs blown off. Their public resources are lining the pockets of corporations, instead of being used for public infrastructure. They are not the main victims of this racket, but are also losing out.
And while Biden says that he has “ended” the war in Afghanistan (which I slightly doubt, given the continued presence of special forces and CIA), he has not ended the War on Terror. The Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001, rushed through Congress in the days following the attacks of September 11th, has been used to bomb 19 countries in total. How can people simply overlook this?
There has been no accountability or even any self-reflection in America about the United States’ actions following 9/11. Every single country that America has invaded in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘fighting terrorism’ now has more terrorism and violence than before. Al Qaeda is in places it never was, like Syria, Yemen and Libya, and new groups have appeared such as ISIS and ISIS-K.
The events that immediately ensued after 9/11 have made the world more dangerous and worse off. If the United States lost 3,000 people on 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen have had hundreds of 9/11s.
Speaking of which, you, Roberto, and Danny Haiphong wrote an excellent chapter about 9/11 and how it was used to paint America as the ultimate victim for this very purpose in your book American Exceptionalism and American Innocence. I highly recommend everyone read it.
Margaret Kimberley shared the following link on Twitter, from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR): “September 11’s Never-Ending Story: Looking back on two decades of media self-censorship, scapegoating and stenography.” Why, in spite of all this misleading and manipulative coverage over the last twenty years, do so many Americans still trust the U.S. corporate media?
The article Margaret posted is a prime example of everything that is wrong, and so loathsome, about the state stenographers of the mainstream media. They encouraged war crimes, parroted lies and “intelligence” planted by government agencies with virtually no scrutiny, encouraged wars of aggression, and have made careers off of lying. How could anyone trust them after everything?
The media lied about the anthrax letters, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They lied about who many of the “rebels” in Syria were, omitting their ties to Al Qaeda. They lied about the Syrian government, accusing it of using chemical weapons. The story about Russian bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan was completely fake, yet they ran it anyway. Then they ran one about Iranian bounties. They blamed Russia for Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, claiming “Russian election meddling” for years in this neo-McCarthyite reality where anyone who isn’t a registered Democrat with a poster of Hillary Clinton on their wall is a Russian agent.
Last year, when the New York Post published emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop regarding his business ties to Russia and Ukraine, the corporate media and social media giants immediately tried to bury the story, dismissing it as “Russian disinformation” – despite the fact that Hunter and Joe Biden themselves never called into question the authenticity of the documents. I could go on, but it would probably prove easier to list the things they haven’t lied about.
If I’m not mistaken, the latest polling seems to indicate that Americans’ trust in the media has dipped to its second-lowest point ever (around 36%). If you ask me, that’s still 36% too much. It’s hard to imagine the US media as anything but a mouthpiece of the state and corporations. And I would add that many of their ‘qualities’ exist equally in the media outlets that dominate the United Kingdom and Europe.
I’d like to see more Americans and people everywhere make the switch to independent media. Independent news outlets are certainly on the rise, which is great, but at the same time, it remains a difficult endeavor. Journalists are regularly censored or placed at a disadvantage by the algorithm.
When corporate outlets realized that the internet would soon render legacy media obsolete, they manufactured ‘scandals’ around YouTube and online monetization, forcing social media companies to demonetize channels who don’t promote “official narratives”. It is an open secret that YouTube, Instagram and Facebook’s algorithms favor Western, establishment media. Even when watching an independent news channel, once the video finishes playing, YouTube will often redirect you next to a video from ABC, CNN or some other mainstream channel.
We are talking about corporate media after all. It’s in their capitalistic DNA to monopolize everything and absorb the competition. Six corporations control 90% of news outlets in the United States. That doesn’t leave people with much choice. So it’s also tough to find alternatives, but I do think that independent media, especially on the left, is taking off in a big way. And Black Agenda Report has always been one of the most important publications at the forefront of that push.
There’s often a remarkable difference between the ways the media covers deaths of US citizens compared to how it covers deaths of people killed by the US military abroad. As someone born in Syria, how do you explain this pattern found in US corporate media? And how does this pattern serve US imperial interests?
When a suicide attack struck Kabul airport as US troops were withdrawing from Afghanistan, 13 US marines and 169 Afghans were killed. Despite Afghan civilians making up the vast majority of the victims, the US corporate media chose to make the dead marines the focus of their headlines and coverage. In his speech, Biden spoke more about the 13 US servicemembers than he did about the Afghans who perished.
A few days later, Biden orders a drone strike, allegedly targeting the ISIS-K cell responsible for the attack. Instead, he murdered 10 members of the Ahmadi family; while the Pentagon insisted there were no civilian casualties.
It’s only because the mainstream media actually did their jobs for once (surprisingly enough), asking tough questions, that the Biden administration was forced to admit it killed civilians. Usually that isn’t the case.
Unfortunately, these civilian deaths aren’t an anomaly. This is America’s War on Terror. On so many occasions, the United States has killed hundreds of civilians trying to get just one person. The media would help cover it up by reporting that a certain Taliban commander had been killed, only for the same person to be “killed” again months later—over and over. The US murdered around 200 people in total trying to assassinate Baitullah Mehsud, even targeting a funeral where 80 people were massacred.
If the public found out just how many civilians are killed by America’s wars, those wars would be harder to justify. War is a racket, and honest reporting is bad for business.
The media not only covers up the deaths of civilians killed by the US military, but terrorist attacks in general. The primary victims of terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda and ISIS for example are not white Americans and Europeans. They are Arabs and Muslims.
In the past weeks, hundreds of people were killed or wounded in Afghanistan, after three mosques were attacked by suicide bombers in Kabul, Kandahar and Kunduz. Do you think most Americans or Europeans even heard of these attacks?
Syria and Iraq have suffered more terrorist attacks from Al Qaeda and ISIS than all European countries and America combined. These attacks received barely any coverage compared to the Paris or London attacks— even though they were carried about by the same groups and their off-shoots.
The media desensitizes people to violence overseas. As if it’s somehow okay or normal for someone to blow themselves up in Syria, but not in Montmartre (a chic district in Paris), because France is a white, European country. They dehumanize non-Americans and non-Europeans, because apparently their blood is cheap and not as important.
If only people knew that it’s ‘civilized’ France, Britain and the United States who created and funded these terrorists to begin with.
Relatedly, can you explain how the word “terrorism” is used by the mainstream media for political purposes? We know that the US “experiment” in democracy has always included—indeed, required—the terrorizing of Black and indigenous communities. We’re also aware of all the terror committed abroad by the US empire. Yet, the words “terror” and “terrorist” seem only to apply to actions committed by other groups against the US (with many academics and politicians saying that the ‘terrorist’ label can only apply to non-state actors). How does the US corporate media shape our view about what is and what isn’t considered terrorism?
The “terrorist” label has always been a political tool used by the West to vilify countries or resistance groups they don’t like. Anyone who doesn’t cooperate with US interests is labeled a terrorist, thereby allowing the US to give itself permission to bomb, sanction and commit other violations of international law against said party.
They can’t call Hezbollah or Hamas “resistance groups” because people would ask: what are they resisting? Then it would become very clear that you have an occupier (Israel) and the occupied (Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese).
Inside the United States, the “terrorist” label is even used against Black Lives Matter activists. The Democratic party wants to start a new “Domestic War on Terror” against anyone who doesn’t blindly align with their partisan views. In the UK, anti-terror laws can be used to detain anyone for virtually any reason.
When Sudan normalized ties with Israel, the United States removed it from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST). Apparently, the deciding factor for whether a nation is a supporter of terrorism is whether it has ties with Israel. Which really tells you everything about how loosely and arbitrarily the term is applied.
Terrorism, by definition, is an act of violence used for political ends. When the United States invades Iraq to overthrow its government, bombing Fallujah with so many chemical weapons and depleted uranium that there are more birth defects than in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, is that not terrorism? When Al Qaeda and its partners in Syria are given funding, weapons and training by the United States and Britain to overthrow the Syrian government, is that not terrorism? When NATO bombs Libya– destroying one of Africa’s wealthiest countries– to steal its oil and prevent Africans from adopting a single currency, thereby threatening Western monetary hegemony, is that not terrorism? When Israeli settlers steal the land of Palestinians, arresting, shooting and killing them on a daily basis, is that not terrorism?
Look at Syria, Libya, Iraq, Palestine, how these countries have been destroyed. Millions killed and displaced. Entire nations shattered. How can anyone look at this violence and not describe it as terrorism?
Regarding non-state actors: who funded Al Qaeda in its early days, and still is today? How can Mike Pompeo call Iran “the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism”, when the very agency he headed, the CIA, was sending millions to Bin Laden, al Zawahiri, and other terrorists?
Idlib, in northern Syria, is under control of the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham (HTS), which is a rebrand of Al Nusra, itself a rebrand of Al Qaeda. Its leader, Abu Muhammad al Golani, is a wanted terrorist with a $10 million dollar bounty on him, yet American Ambassador James Jeffrey called him a US “asset” in Syria.
The ISIS-K suicide bomber who attacked the mosque in Kunduz was a Uighur Muslim. The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is a Uighur terrorist group. It has thousands of fighters in northern Syria, working alongside Al Qaeda, yet the United States removed TIP from its list of terrorist organizations in 2020.
Ostensibly, as long as a terrorist group is carrying out America’s objectives of fighting communists, or overthrowing the Syrian government, or causing chaos on China’s border with Afghanistan – then they’re not terrorists, but “assets”. And that pretty much tells you everything about America’s definition of who is a terrorist and who isn’t.
On Twitter, you critique how liberals fawned over George W. Bush after his 9/11 speech last month. It reminded me of all those pictures of Barack and Michelle Obama being so friendly with him throughout the years. What does this liberal fawning of George W. Bush reveal about US imperialism?
These moments are so telling because they give you a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes behavior of political elites. These are people who attend the same events, the same parties, and have the same friends and donors.
I remember a time when George W. Bush was the most hated man on earth, and for good reason. It’s easy to forget that in America when liberals actively work to rehabilitate him and his neoconservative administration of war criminals. Just this January, during Biden’s inauguration, ABC was “reminiscing” of old days, playing clips of George W. Bush’s inauguration twenty years earlier.
You mentioned the pictures of him hanging out with the Obamas. Ellen infamously invited him on her show, causing some outrage. Stephen Colbert had Donald Rumsfeld on his show, as if he never sold chemical weapons to Saddam Hussein to use against Iran, and never lied about Saddam Hussein having links to Al Qaeda in 2002/2003 to push for an invasion.
Colin Powell, another Bush admin official, died last week, and as expected, liberals and ‘progressives’ were fawning over him as well. A man who went to the United Nations and lied about WMDs in Iraq, who helped cover up the Mỹ Lai massacre in Vietnam, where 549 South Vietnamese were murdered, mutilated and gangraped.
Liberals love fawning over neoconservatives because they are neoconservatives themselves. The latest trends dictate that it’s okay to jump in bed with anyone posing as a “good” Republican i.e. someone who is anti-Trump and agrees that intelligence agencies and social media giants should censor any political discourse they find distasteful.
This behavior also reveals that they don’t fundamentally differ on empire. Why should they? Did Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden not keep George W. Bush’s Department of Homeland Security? Did they not keep Guantanamo Bay open? Did they not balloon the military budget year after year? Did they not keep his tax cuts for the rich? Did they not expand his mass surveillance programs? Do they not continue his War on Terror? Every administration since 2001 is a continuation of George W. Bush.
You recently observed that Western media and human rights organizations have no problem labeling countries in the East and Global South as "murderous regimes," but they will never apply that label to countries like the United States, the U.K., and France. Why is it that the violence perpetrated by the West doesn't register as "violence" to the U.S. corporate media?
While these NGOs carry out important work at times, I can’t help but feel that they serve as a tool of empire, whether willfully or unwittingly.
Torture, use of chemical weapons, jailing dissidents and journalists, large scale executions, arbitrary detention, bombing of hospitals, starving of civilians—the United States has done literally every single one of these things, and to a greater degree than anyone else. You won’t see Human Rights Watch call them out for it, though. Only Syria. Because that’s where they want regime change.
Do you ever hear Saudi Arabia, Colombia or Israel mentioned in the same way that you do Syria, Iran, Russia and Venezuela? Could it be that their status as US allies/client states means less criticism? Most certainly.
There is always an underlying belief that somehow everything the West does is justified. It’s not violence, it’s defense. It’s not cracking down on protestors, it’s a clash. It’s not censorship, it’s countering disinformation, and so forth.
Amnesty International has yet to recognize Julian Assange as a prisoner of conscience. Would they hesitate to do so were Assange an anti-Maduro journalist locked up in Venezuela?
The United States has the world’s largest prison population, a disproportionate number of them Black and people of color. It has literally an entire industry that profits off of jailing people. The US operates black sites all over the world and a torture base at Guantanamo Bay for Muslim men. If China did these things, they’d be called concentration camps by every NGO on the planet.
The United Kingdom and France have made billions selling arms to Saudi Arabia, as it starves the people of Yemen. As a result, Yemen has witnessed the world’s largest outbreak of cholera, millions are undernourished and living below the poverty line. Will NGOs label Britain and France “murderous regimes” for their war profiteering? For their centuries of colonial history?
Conveniently, this qualifier only fits “official enemies” of the West.
The “murderous regime” label is much like that of the “terrorist”. It has nothing to do with your actions, and everything to do with whether you’re a friend of America, Britain and Israel.
It’s always easier to manufacture consent for war when you can convince the public that the person you’re attacking is a human rights abuser and you are an angel.
Richard Medhurst is an independent journalist born in Damascus, Syria. He is half English, half Syrian and covers US politics, international relations, and the Middle East. He has grown a popular YouTube channel, hosts a television program on Press TV, and contributes regularly to Russia Today.
Roberto Sirvent is editor of the Black Agenda Report Book Forum.