We've found the answer to everything US mainstream media does. It's all about gratifying your tribalism. Or somebody's. And they have the balance sheets and spyware tallies of who-views-what on social media to prove it. They believe the narrative works on you every time if it echoes and reinforces the suppositions espoused by your tribe. Of course the narrative is ridiculous and unacceptable if it gratifies somebody else's tribe -- "the" other tribe -- with that tribe's version of preconceived and constantly echoed assertions. Because that's all dangerously different and hopelessly wrong.
Thus, Fox News either always lies or always tells the truth. And they are the perfect mirror image of MSNBC for the other tribe. "They" have their lying Bill O'Reilly. "We" have our paragon of truth, the infallible Rachel Maddow. The same Maddow who demonstrably lies like a rug. But that's heresy! Saying that incites instant visceral reaction from the entire tribe, doesn't it?
Anything can be kept out of the narrative. Just use the default that always works. The ultimate doublespeak, which is a real doozy—that showing you no evidence proves the evidence is of the highest order, because 'it's classified and will benefit our enemies if we let you see it.'
The skill of manipulating media to offer perfectly opposite narratives, so detailed that they reflect exact opposites in every regard, is an insidious art. The only news inherent there? It must go unreported. No magician reveals how to do the card trick. It's the carefully guarded secret. Big media knows, with studied, focus-group-tested precision, how to do it. And that cannot be reported.
The mainstream media often allows itself to be co-opted or to team with other entities. It must, because major sectors of the corporatocracy have acquired media outlets as wholly-owned subsidiaries. And, in any event, all must accommodate "needs" that accompany deposits of advertising revenues.
Sponsor revenues are, themselves, cheap immunizations against being exposed by investigative reporters -- if the media outlet still employs any, given corporate austerity that cuts all but top executive compensation.
When it comes to streamlining reporting? Questions of what a given administration wants are usually easy to address, because there is an "all-in" consistency in the Executive Branch. Cite unprecedented chaos and you have unprecedented opportunities for marketing the narrative to new pay-for-players. But that brings unintended consequences. The old conspiracy theorist notion of the Deep State arises, and it's no longer dismissible as a tinfoil hat theorem.
Take Clint Watts, a former FBI agent who testified last Thursday before congress. On Sunday, he discussed his testimony on NBC with "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd, whose unchallenging questions served to strengthen certain emphases from Watts' testimony. It was downright theatrical, a mirror-image and perfect refutation of the CIA's "Marble Framework," the latest Wikileaks release.
Following the massive Vault 7 release of secret CIA documents on March 7, we were among the first to undertake an all-night examination of "the vault that robbed the CIA" for the next morning's scheduled column.
So we knew more was coming, and that it would be important.
Clint Watts' testimony and his promo for the surveillance state with a facilitating Chuck Todd were pathetic, reactionary, and ham-handed propaganda. It was more akin to coddling McCarthyism than grilling a witness on his inflammatory testimony.
Even the arch conservative RedState dot com called Watts "One of the members of the Star Wars cantina," and titled its story, "Clint Watts Shows Why It Is Him and Not the Russians We Should Fear," which ran with a video to support their assertion.
Here's a surprising quote Red State chose to use from Watts' "Meet the Press" appearance:
"What they want to do is use information as a weapon of warfare to undermine U.S. democracy, such that when we crumble from the inside out, we can’t take aggressive foreign policy or stop their foreign policy around the world. So the way they do that is by using what’s called a state-to-people and a people-to-people strategy. They’re going to bypass the U.S. government, go straight to our Democratic electorate, and try and undermine trust, create divisions, and foment chaos."
The idea that we "can't take aggressive foreign policy" must've seemed like a sane thing to Red State. It certainly does to us. But Todd didn't pursue it. And you won't see other media taking note of it, because it robs them of their most useful tool -- divisive tribalism.
In fact, Red State's article a scathing assessment of former federal agent Watts:
"It seems strange to be saying this to an adult who has been allowed to handle firearms and apparently has gone to college, but in the United States the government has zero role in dispersing information. There is even a federal law against propagandizing Americans. The Russians talking directly to the US electorate is not information warfare. For decades we did the same thing via Radio Free Europe and Voice of America."
If going against your own tribalism doesn't get you tarred and feathered for considering something, it seems we have an opportunity here to "put that debate aside and come together as Americans." Not for the reason that Watts gave, when he said that. He finished his sentence, "we’re going to continue to lose to other adversaries."
But there's something else altogether: we can stand together across tribal divisions to stop a military-industrial-cybersurveillance complex that paints everything in terms of fear to justify ever-more militarism and surveillance.
Whether or not the Fox News tribe or the MSNBC tribe remain resolved to prohibit consideration, even awareness, of the CIA's Marble program? Americans of all tribes can't afford to ignore it. Marble is, says Ars Technica, a detailed set of "obfuscation tools... used to conceal the signature of the implants developed by CIA from malware scans, to make it more difficult to reverse-engineer them if they were detected, and to figure out where the malware came from."
Their description continues, "Those methods include 'scrambling' binary content using a number of bit-shifting techniques, and inserting snippets of foreign languages (such as Chinese or Farsi) with a feature called 'WARBL.'"
Thus, we're looking at US spy agencies having the capability -- and that isn't much different from the motive and opportunity -- to invade anything online (Vault 7 revelations) and extend the capabilities with near universality and make it appear someone else did it (Vault 7 for the basics, the Marble Framework revelations for the specifics).
Yet the Marble Framework release went unreported altogether or was minimized with gross underreporting on most US corporate mainstream media outlets. That included NBC and the echo chamber of its hour-at-a-time/cult-of-personality tribal subsidiary, MSNBC.
Recent adjustments to the narrative allow big media to justify itself in ignoring all the evidence published by Wikileaks. They cite a suggestion by someone, somewhere, that the organization is a tool of the Russians. Mainstream media books guests to say that, rather than saying it themselves and taking the heat for being ridiculous.
Since its revelations of how the Democratic National Committee rigged the primaries against Bernie Sanders, it is suddenly unacceptable to accord Wikileaks the respect earned in earlier days. In recent months, the New York Times has been among the few mainstream sources to allow anything positive about Wikileaks into its pages, even as an op-ed feature.
For the newspaper in the liberal city that houses Wall Street, pissing-off anybody's tribe isn't good for business. An op-ed is all six degrees of separation.
On TV, the opposing representation of "truths" interlock so perfectly that you can't use daylight to examine any cracks. Where Wikileaks posted evidence -- actual official government documents detailing US spy agencies' use of false flag operations -- with Watts we have only what he says. And that's a perfect mirror image, claiming that the Russians manipulate the news to make US sources appear to be the ones sabotaging the truth with fake news. Yet it's the Watts narrative, the one without supporting evidence, that got reported, number-one in prime time.
Of course. The Russians Did It is now the central narrative. No doubting heretics need apply.
As Chuck Todd said, without any hint of question, both Dick Cheney and John McCain are pushing the un-evidenced "evidence" as "proof of a Russian attack that could constitute an act of war," requiring "an appropriate response."
Which sounds a whole lot like the Spanish torpedo that sunk the battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Except there was no torpedo. But the pliant media of 1898 insisted there was, despite a vacuous lack of evidence maintained as official truthiness until late in the 20th century. So the nation got Teddy Roosevelt's "splendid little war," the Spanish-American War that created the global American Empire and set things up for Japan to attack us because we owned the Philippines as part of our colonial empire, and they wanted it for their colonial empire. We explored those unintended consequences in last week's column.
Disclosure time: that citation means we're repeating that theme. It's appropriate, yes, but it illustrates more -- that once the line of a narrative is cast, repetition sets the hook for the fish to be reeled in. That was explored in last week's recommended video, still very relevant if you missed it.
The point is, invoking constant repetition, large-scale, to promulgate a narrative, is doubly effective. It enables control of the narrative, and of all that is contrary to that narrative. With it, you can simply ridicule the naysayers, or even better, the people asking challenging questions. You'll surely prevail if their employability in mainstream media is threatened by their skepticism. Because who will hire "stooges" of "the enemy"-? While those correctly supporting the narrative are rewarded. Like being embedded with the invading troops. Make that the righteously liberating troops making the world safe for blink-and-you-miss-it Arab Spring democracy. Image trumps substance every time. Unless you go too far and hang the Mission Accomplished banner and blow the image. Otherwise? Hoo-rah.
Once in a while, somebody doesn't get the memo, and the window gets opened for air. Ever so briefly before someone notices and slams it shut. Before anything contrary has the slightest chance to become a developed notion. But those who understand can attempt to situate themselves like the mouse giving the finger to the swooping vulture -- for a defiant act of journalistic integrity and career suicide. It's precious and rare, even to have the chance to get coiled like a spring, and then to actually cut loose. Success requires a single-breath flurry of short and pointed questions aimed at the narrative itself.
It's exceedingly rare, but if you watch the original broadcast -- because it sure as hell won't make the highlight reel -- you may catch it, and you can celebrate the creation of momentary martyrdom that will be buried ever so quickly by a suitable retrenchment to the narrative. There were two of those martyrdoms, moments apart, on Sunday.
"How do you know there is Russian collusion? How did it make it to the public sphere? Where did the information come from?" was the one-breath rapid-fire barrage from ex-congressman Mike Rogers, CNN's in-house "security commentator" on Sunday's "State of the Union."
That brought a "but, but" recap of the seventeen intelligence agencies and their unified consensus. Never mind the lack of evidence, the proof no one has ever seen, the latest manifestation of pathetic performance. It always sounds like the quandary of those infamous "twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with the circles and arrows on the back of each one" from "Alice's Restaurant" -- that being Arlo Guthrie's classic 18 1/2-minute spoken word song that ridicules how mindless authority prevails and succeeds, simply by being assertive.
Former Ohio state legislator Nina Turner, an analytical Democrat and favorite on cable news since she was defeated for reelection, halted the blah, blah, blah. She brought the rare voice of honest evaluation -- even if her exact words imparted their own bit of spin. In her moment of martyrdom, Turner said, "I hope Democrats and progressives are not putting all their faith in the fact that something will be revealed in this investigation. It might be and it might not. We don't know."
That brought another windup for the pitch about how the Russians Did It, most assuredly, whether or not there was any real evidence. But Turner, beyond frustrated, called a balk. She erupted, "I mean, Jesus Christ, can we focus on something other than Russia? Good God."
Interesting that Turner mentioned Jesus on CNN, since that network spends its weekends alternating an assortment of looking for "The Real Jesus," (at least they're not looking for their missing airliner any more), or running their original production on the history of comedy (and doing it without a hint of irony), or following Anthony Bourdain as he eats his way around the planet.
At least they don't succumb to the lunacy of MSNBC, devoting the same hours of weekend airtime to thugs bedecked in swastika tattoos, thrusting weirdly menacing finger symbols into the camera. All part of those endless broadcast hours of "gritty inside the prison" crap. We'd still like to know what overpaid programming genius finds that a good use of airtime for a channel trying to tell everyone it's a news station. And that it's a better source of news than Fox, which, uh, does news on weekends.
Or that it's somehow superior to France24 or RT, that, weekends and weekdays alike, bring world news and analysis of the vital developments that drive attitudes and opinions and produce legislative and election outcomes all over the globe. Given who calls who "fake news," it's an especially important distinction.
Remember those ads with the Maytag repairman? The shtick was they built 'em so good that he was the loneliest guy in town, with nothing to do. Today's equivalent is being a foreign correspondent for US corporate mainstream media. Hanging around waiting for a terrorist attack in Europe. Or another airliner to go missing. Because the narrative doesn't accommodate complicated news o' them ferners. Too distracting. Takes away from the narrative.
As for that weekend non-news programming on CNN and MSNBC? They air brutality or fluff or stuff that belongs on the History channel or the Food network and expect us to accept them as dedicated and legitimate sources of, what was it now? Oh, yeah -- news! Gad effing zooks. Neither Franz Kafka nor George Orwell could buy that.
Just another weekend on "news" TV. No discussion of implications of the latest revelation of what the CIA has been doing with our tax dollars to screw us into more conflict, and make us accept its necessity by making it look like somebody else did it. All the while making our tribes like it because it's so righteous and so readily exploited by our tribe's politicians. Except foreign-based sources discussed it.
As usual, US corporate mainstream media largely ignores the inconvenient truths that interfere with the narrative. Despite the fresh trove of damning secret documents available for their use, as actual EVIDENCE, to verify things.
New York City-based attorney and Emmy-winning media critic Lionel -- who, outside the courtroom, goes by just his first name -- observed, "Look, if it doesn't have anything to do with Putin or Trump, it didn't happen, and nobody's interested."
Thus we need those accidental openings of the window of opportunity to question the narrative. It must open just a crack, for a split second, and when the right person is there.
On Sunday's CBS "Face the Nation," it took Michael Graham of the Weekly Standard -- a conservative icon -- to challenge the narrative's portrayal of everything we think we know about Gen. Michael Flynn and Russian connections and Russian meddling. In an impromptu clinic on how journalism is supposed to work, Graham said, "You have tactics, you have policy, and you have politics," continuing, "and there are documents on all three. But none of this is anything the media is talking about."
And that was pretty much the end of Graham's attempt to explore things with what used to be journalism's evidentiary paradigm.
Over on CNN, there's Brian Stelter's weekly Sunday show, "Reliable Sources." It's one of only three in all of television that exists specifically to de-bunk unsupported claims being made by the media. The other two? One is France24's "Media Focus," often scathingly effective. Curiously, it never shows-up in their US cable guide listings, though it does air. The third show is "MediaBuzz," the one hosted, in inquiring tones, by former CNN reporter Howard Kurtz. His show airs on (gasp) Fox News. It may surprise you, given that network's entrenched partisanship, but Kurtz's show manages to go a lot of places that no one else does -- not just on Fox, but on the rest of the cable news echo babble support group for the narrative.
Week after week, we've waited for Stelter and his "Reliable Sources" and, for that matter, all of CNN, to note mainstream media's stampede to make us see the Emperor's New Clothes. We wait for them to "out" the vacuous absence of evidence to support the "stolen election" narrative. But they won't. They don't have the Fox tribe, so, existentially, they must appeal to the MSNBC tribe. At least by detouring around things they can't afford to challenge.
This past Sunday, Stelter spent an hour with a favorite tool of the techno-thriller novelist: playing multiple scenes against a base plot line that underlies and ultimately determines everything. Curiously, none of it featured a "Russian actor" (to borrow the phrase from the narrative). Those tasked as CNN's media debunkers bobbed and weaved and jabbed at Bill O'Reilly, advancing allegations of continuing sexual harassment at Fox News after Roger Ailes' departure. Which certainly could have been a segment. Even on a weekday daytime talk show. Instead it was the gorilla in the room that grunted and needed more bananas, Regardless of other topics that somehow kept coming back for more bananas.
Meanwhile, ex-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in her new job as UN Ambassador, made the Sunday show rounds playing revolving-door with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain's usual tag team partner, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), was absent from their weekly advocacy that US involvement in every war, everywhere, is essential. Leaving McCain to rattle multiple sabres on his own, like the Indian goddess statue with all the extra arms.
Of course, the prize for most ubiquitous face of the Democratic Party goes to Southern Cal congressman Adam Schiff. He was all over the tube advocating a very specific "skepticism." But only in the direction of clearing the path for the message that The Russians Did It, and suggesting anyone who doesn't agree is hiding something.
If Schiff has time to do anything else these days it would be surprising. Watching him, it seems discrediting everything contrary to blaming the Russians must be a full-time job. Especially when he can cite all those mysterious and still unseen documents that show "incidental surveillance" of Trump transition team members, some of whom became White House officials.
Schiff cited Trumpian tactics as "Look over here at this, look over there at that," as a way to "raise other issues to effectively raise a cloud through which the public cannot see, to prevent anyone seeing the intervention of the Russians in our election."
Yet, when pressed by CNN host Jake Tapper for a definitive statement of what the Russians had actually done, Schiff, as always, retreated to his parachute statement: "I don't think we can say anything definitively at this point. We're still at the early stages of this investigation."
Of course, for experienced lawyer Schiff, it's the briefest of qualifying pauses before resuming, mid-sentence, the un-evidenced narrative of those wily Russians who "stole our election."
But the most egregious use of the narrative in the last news cycle wasn't Sunday. It came midweek last week on CBS. It began with a clip played by Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, and it was jaw-dropping. In it, reporter Nora O'Donnell was ostensibly interviewing House Speaker Paul Ryan. But she was engaged in full-on cheerleading, the kind designed to badger the crowd to chant the cheer.
"Come on, you know the Russians hacked our election! Come on, you know the Russians influenced the election! Come on, you know it changed the outcome!" It surely qualified as what psychologists call repetition to establish belief in truth. If not for Ryan, then for the viewer.
Pelley's only comment? "Thank you, Nora, and be sure to watch Nora's full interview with Paul Ryan tomorrow on CBS This Morning."
By now, all the tribes -- everyone who has self-subjected to being sheep-dipped in the narrative of either party -- is certain I am a shill for the other side, a sellout or a dupe for somebody-or-other. So you can dash-off your fiery email, or you can take a moment to consider that everything presented on this topic calls out corporate mainstream media (msm) for either:
- failing to present facts that minimize or contradict their narrative
- minimizing, ignoring, or convoluting demonstrable facts
- facilitating political grandstanding that righteously justifies the coming coup
- inflating claims using "evidence we cannot see" or pet hypotheses of the perpetual pugilists, or worse yet
- selectively re-weaving facts into the same ol' crazy-quilt narrative -- a predetermined narrative, since it seems ready to contort any fact to fit the pre-established desired outcome.
At least Fareed Zakaria, the last sharp knife in the CNN drawer, showed signs of making room outside the narrative. He began by noting the US now rates number seventeen in the world's "economic freedom index" published by the conservative Heritage Foundation. He expanded his too-brief presentation with the fact that all sixteen nations ranking ahead of us have government-funded health care -- for all their citizens.
Zakaria neglected to say that in all sixteen of those other countries, the patient receives treatment without the need for some private investor to make a profit. Which requires noting it is an aspect unique to the freedom-loving (while-failing-at-freedom) US. But he underlined what he did say with a final fact -- that half those nations with more economic freedom have shorter waiting times to receive medical care than the waits we experience in the for-profit system of uncaring care in the US.
Perhaps that one will crack-through the narrative and be allowed to make it into the corporate mainstream media dialog. It's something you can track to see if it receives honest attention. Given that all three network evening news half-hours, and most of what's on cable news, are now heavily sponsored by Big Pharma ads, that seems unlikely.
Still, compared to the multinational tentacles of the war advocates, it has a smaller reach. That seems crazy, because Americans spend $3.8 trillion a year on health care, compared to $585 billion a year for the Pentagon. Though a 10% increase is proposed by the Trump administration for the latter. (By comparison, ending world hunger would cost $30 billion.)
But medicine has clearer outcomes than launching missiles or dropping bombs. Those may hit something. They may kill somebody, intentionally or not. With health care or its unaffordable absence, YOU live or die. So it's not quite as easy to seduce you into accepting spin, obfuscation, obsessive fixations, vacuous omissions, multiple diversionary plot lines, and convoluted, often tortured hypothesis presented as fact in the absence of actual evidence and facts. Unless maybe it can be contrived into a "-gate."
But it must be there for you to evaluate it. And anything can be kept out of the narrative. Just use the default that always works. The ultimate doublespeak, which is a real doozy -- that showing you no evidence proves the evidence is of the highest order, because "it's classified and will benefit our enemies if we let you see it."
That one brings a single-note whistle of respect like Yossarian gave upon learning the meaning of "Catch-22."
Sound of Yossarian's whistle fading. Lights down. Play National Anthem. Flash applause sign. Divert money from Centers for Disease Control to Pentagon budget. Invoke fake sincerity for people by supporting VA prescribing more addictive opioids to "hero" veterans. Congratulate self on maximum returns -- enriching Big Pharma for more campaign donations, anesthetizing people from noticing how things work to benefit the few. So simple. So easy. So fast. All done in the dark with the lights down while the tribe is still clapping. Go to self-aggrandizing promo for network's greatness. Go to commercial for corporate sponsor of the narrative. Repeat narrative next hour with different host. Different cult of personality. Same tribal reassurances of truth. Rinse and repeat.
This week's recommended video link...
It ridicules how mindless authority prevails and succeeds, simply by being assertive. It's Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," the classic 18 1/2-minute spoken word song . If you didn't pause to watch it during your read, watch it now. Don't wait for Thanksgiving. (Which makes sense if you're heard it.)
See you next week. Meantime, don't get tangled in "the narrative."