Imagine growing up in a household ruled by a violent, psychotic father – a man who bullies, beats, and otherwise abuses everyone in his family. When he isn’t throwing his weight around at home, he and a handful of thugs under his command are busy robbing, assaulting, torturing, and even killing others in the community. He causes suffering and spreads fear and silence within and beyond his domicile.
He justifies this behavior with claims of benevolent intent. It’s necessary to use force and intimidation, he says, to protect others against evil, including their own. He’s a vicious sociopath and a malignant narcissist, not to mention a murderer.
Imagine that every night the people living in this family gather for dinner under his fake-benevolent supervision. During supper, people talk about the day’s events and other topics in a very careful way. They make sure not to say anything real about the father’s transgressions. They steer clear of his terrible role in their lives and the broader community.
His wife reports that her wrist is continuing to heal, but she still can’t shake those nasty headaches. There’s no mention of the fact that her wrist was broken and her brain concussed when he slammed her to the kitchen floor in an angry rage last month.
His daughter reports that her anxiety medicine worked a little today but she still couldn’t focus in school. She can’t mention that her underlying depression comes from growing up in a terrorized home.
His son fakes a smile as he claims to have enjoyed beating up “a punk who’d been bugging me” in the playground. He can’t admit that he abhorred the violence he inflicted. He would never mention that he bullies others because of the fear and violence imposed by his father at home.
The father inveighs against the supposedly self-inflicted poverty of a family across the street. “Why don’t those bums get off their asses and make some real money?” he says. Nobody in his house dares to mention that the neighboring family has been impoverished ever since he had two of his henchmen put its main breadwinner in a coma for failing to pay back a loan on time.
Deleting “Homeland” Oppression
This terrible dinner-time scenario is a bit like what it’s like to watch US “mainstream” (corporate state) media coverage of current events. Terrible events regularly flash across the screen, accompanied by vapid commentary that offers no serious and honest reflection on context and causation. Such reflection would violate longstanding, deeply embedded prohibitions on mentioning the elephants in the room: the United States’ unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, white supremacy, patriarchy, and eco-cide.
Thus, we are fed a regular television news diet of terrible violence and crime in the nation’s black ghettoes and Latino barrios – a staple item on evening television news across metropolitan America. The causes of the violence are a non-story. Reporters never make elementary connections between the carnage that is all too common in the nation’s most disadvantaged communities and the savage abandonment and oppression of those communities by the business class and its growing police state. Chronic structural unemployment, shredded social services, under-funded and authoritarian schools, discriminatory hiring practices, racial profiling by police and prosecutors, persistent residential hyper-segregation by race and class, the ubiquitous felony-branding and incarceration of blacks and Latinos — these and other serious problems plaguing the nation’s poorest neighborhoods are not “news.” Violence and crime in those neighborhoods (symptoms of officially unmentionable injustice and oppression) are the only stories that matter.
An analogous omission mars the nightly news’ local weather reports. Delivered with the latest high-tech graphics, they tell of new record meteorological extremes—stifling heat waves, terrible droughts, giant rain and snow falls, high-intensity storms, deadly floods, shocking forest and brush fires, and deep-freeze “polar vortexes” resulting from altered northern jet streams. The reports are detailed and often sensational, like the crime news. But the cause of what’s being reported – the “new” extreme weather “normal” – is a non-story. Television weatherpersons never connect their news to Earth scientists’ finding that endless economic growth based on the relentless, wasteful exploitation of carbon-rich fossil fuels have warmed the world’s climate to a degree that raises the specter of human extinction in the not-so-distant historical future. Anthropogenic (really capital-o-genic) climate change is the weather news’ elephant in the room, the giant explanatory factor that simply can’t be mentioned.
Political dysfunction and related US governmental gridlock and “do-nothing”-ness is another staple item in US media news and commentary. The rooting of that dysfunction and policy failure in the power of the investor class (which delights and invests in and profits from “paralyzed” politics and government) is a non-news story in the “mainstream” coverage and commentary. It is a forbidden topic. Also taboo is the stark chasm between (a) the relatively progressive and social-democratic policy preferences of most US citizens and (b) the regressive and plutocratic policies handed down to the populace by “democratically elected” office-holders who are captive to “the 1%.” – a reflection of the unmentionable fact that the US political system is paralyzed only when it comes to helping the working class majority of people, not when it’s about serving the economic elite.
Uncle Sam as Innocent Bystander
Turning abroad, the “border crisis” created by the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied child refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America is reported without reference whatsoever to the critical role of past and present US imperial policy in making decent life impossible in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (for details and sources, see Paul Street, “Deleting the Imperial Perpetrator,” teleSur English/ZNet, July 19, 2014, http://zcomm.org/zcommentary/deleting-the-imperial-perpetrator/). You’d think the US was little more than a befuddled and innocent bystander to the misery in these nations.
The latest outbursts of chaos and bloodshed in Iraq are reported in “mainstream” US media as if they are utterly unrelated to a US invasion that killed more than a million Iraqis, collapsed the nation’s infrastructure, and intentionally aggravated religious and ethnic divisions in Mesopotamia. That devastating US attack and occupation came on top of a previous one-sided and mass-murderous US-imperial assault (the so-called Persian Gulf War), followed by more than a decade of US-led economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. But, as far as dominant media is concerned, it’s got nothing to do with good old Uncle Sam, who has no imperial ambitions and just wants peace and stability around the world.
The violence in Ukraine is reported by “mainstream” US media as being all about the imperialism of Moscow. There’s no reference to Washington’s role in replacing Ukraine’s previous government with a regime allied with Western and US interests and including fascist elements. It’s got nothing to do with the US, benevolent protector of those freedom-loving Ukrainians.
The barely reported melting of the planet’s icecaps and the catastrophic warming of the planet is never connected to US policy and power in “mainstream” US media. So what if the US is the world’s leading per-capita Greenhouse Gas-emitter, the greatest historical contributor to accumulated global-atmospheric carbon, and the global headquarters of Big Carbon political and ideological power, including the climate change denial industry? It’s got nothing to do with us/the US.
Israel’s ongoing, almost unimaginably evil and intentionally mass-murderous attack on Palestinian civilians trapped in the open-air prison of Gaza this summer is another case in point. Given the sinister savagery and open criminality of the assault, carried out in full view of the world (replete with body part-strewn footage from Palestinian schools, playgrounds, and hospitals), US “mainstream” media has had no choice but to acknowledge some humanitarian criticism of Israel’s conduct. What can’t receive serious attention, however, is of course, the criminal role of the United States. So what if Israel and the US are a single co-joined military entity and everything Israel does takes place with tacit US consent? Here, again and as usual, it’s got nothing to do with that good old well-intentioned “honest broker” Uncle Sam.
“We Are Good” So “Why Do They Hate Us?”
That “crazy, scary world” out there that flashes horror across US television screens has nothing to do with us/the US. For “the United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere.” So proclaimed then US Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 1999 – yes, the same Madeline Albright who told CBS News three years before that more than half a million dead Iraqi children was a “price worth paying” for the advance of inherently noble US foreign policy goals.
“We are good.” Every modern US President (none perhaps with more audacity than Barack Obama) and Secretary of State has said and still routinely says things along the same psychotic and nationally narcissistic “American exceptionalist” lines. They do so without facing any more criticism from US “mainstream” media than Soviet rulers faced from Pravda, Izvestia, and Soviet state television (“mainstream” Soviet media) when they described their nation and its Eastern European satellites as “great socialist people’s democracies.”
No wonder so many US-of-American are befuddled by the anger the US evokes around the world (particularly now in the Muslim world), childishly clueless when it comes answering the pathetic question “Why Do They Hate Us?” In the US, and indeed across much of the West, “mainstream” media and in the reigning intellectual culture the record of ongoing US criminality is airbrushed out from official history and the mass culture even as it occurs. It is instantaneously tossed down George Orwell’s “memory hole.” As Harold Pinter noted in his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, dominant Western cultural authorities behave as if US imperial violence does not exist and never has. “Even while it was happening,” Pinter said, it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” Pinter was speaking of the Cold War era. Nothing has changed in this regard since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s very much the same today.
When Salaries Depend on Playing Along
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair once noted in an oft-quoted statement, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” No doubt, some of the talking and writing media heads enlisted in the project of airbrushing Uncle Sam out of the global criminal record (no small act of distortion and deletion) know very well that “good” Washington’s role in the world is very different than what they report. They also know that telling even small truths about US imperial arrogance and criminality could cost them their jobs and future employment prospects. It is difficult to get a reporter to reveal his or her understanding of the real US role in the world when his or her salary depends on that reporter not revealing that understanding. She knows that the Mafia don at the head of her dinner table will lock her up in the attic without a meal if she breaks the rules on acknowledging his wrongdoing.
More Ammunition, Please
Which is not to say that viewers can’t put a few truthful things together from “mainstream” coverage. Madeline Albright’s “price worth paying” comment on CBS in 1996 is one example of imperial psychosis slipping through the bubble to some degree. Another example for me at least came on the evening of July 30, 2014, when CNN broadcast terrible footage of an Israeli rocket assault whose targets included an ambulance in Gaza. Right after the chilling clip, the CNN newsreader noted with stone face that Israel had recently requested “more ammunition” from the United States – yes, more ammunition so that (any half-perceptive viewer could deduce) Israel could kill more Palestinian children and ambulance drivers.
The request was honored. The US quickly agreed to provide Israel more ordnance so it could butcher more families in Gaza. It did so without much attention from “mainstream” US media.
Top Threat to Peace on/and Earth
Things are different beyond the US media bubble. Washington’s real role in the world is well understood outside the United States, by a global citizenry that ranks the US as by far and away the leading threat to peace on Earth – and to a livable Earth. It does so with good reasons, including the Orwellian nature of the US “mainstream” media.
Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810