Single Standard Media Doublethink

Watching the talking cable television heads on the glowing telescreen in my hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin this morning (Tuesday, July 30, 2014), I was momentarily struck by a foolish question. How, I wondered, do they handle the Orwellian absurdity of the news they report?

I was watching Chuck Todd go back and forth with other corporate media big shots on the supposedly left cable network MSNBC. They all eagerly approved the White House’s “tough new economic sanctions” against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Russia must be punished, responsible commentators agree with the US president, because Moscow “violates Ukraine’s national sovereignty,” uses violence to “prevent Ukraine from determining its own destiny,” and murders European air travelers en masse.

It’s a shame, one expert told Todd, that France insists on selling naval hardware to the dastardly Kremlin regime. Todd clearly shared the sentiment.

Russia must pay for its perfidy.

Forget, for a moment, the critical role that the West and particularly Washington have played in removing Ukraine’s democratically elected president and otherwise precipitating and fueling the Ukraine crisis and the “new Cold War” with Moscow. Never mind Washington’s brazenly imperial, oil- and gas-soaked ambitions and political-economic agenda in Ukraine and around the world. Forget Russians’ legitimate national and historical concerns about the creation of a US-allied EU and NATO state on their country’s western border (imagine how US-of-Americans would respond to the creation of a Chinese-allied province on the US Canadian or Mexican border). Never mind the absence of any solid evidence for Washington’s claim that the Malaysian Airlines jetliner shot down over eastern Ukraine we felled by “Putin’s missile.” Or the distinct possibility that MH17 was blown out of the sky by Ukrainian forces.

Acknowledging that Putin is an authoritarian and imperial brute atop a thuggish oligarchy, put all that aside. Reflect on how none of the talking heads comment on the (one would think) curious fact nobody with any power in Washington is calling for sanctions on the racist and apartheid state of Israel, which has engaged this sinister July in the arch-criminal murder of hundreds of Palestinians trapped in the under-siege open air-prison of Gaza. I heard one talking head on MSNBC accuse Russia of killing 300 Ukrainians. That number (whatever its source) is one- fourth the latest Palestinian death count (1200 as of this writing). Most of those killed by Israel this month are civilians. The dead included a large number of children and women bombed in their homes, in schools, in playgrounds, and parks. The war criminals in Tel Aviv have even targeted hospitals and ambulances.

A recent commentary by Pablo Escobar bears the clever title “Crime (Israel) and Punishment (Russia).” It explicitly grasps the Orwellian dreadfulness of what I’m talking about. By Escobar’s darkly clever account:

‘So Obama, Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Renzi – let’s call them the Fab Five – got on a video conference call to muster their courage and “increase pressure” asking for a cease-fire in Gaza. Later in the day, Bibi delivers his answer, in plain language: He remains dead set on achieving his version of a Final Solution to Gaza with or without “pressure.” So what’s left for the Fab Five after having their illustrious Western collective behinds solemnly kicked? They decide to dump Gaza and instead SANCTION RUSSIA! AGAIN! How brilliant is cable television talking.’

‘Spectacular non-entity Tony Blinken, who doubles as deputy national security adviser to Obama, was keen to stress to Western corporate media that the unruly Eurotrash mob is now “determined to act”. No, not against Israel because of Gaza; against Russia because of Ukraine. Such a lovely Orwellian symmetry; the extended Two Minutes Hate from Israel towards Gazans morphs into the extended Two Minutes Hate from the “West” towards Russia, mirroring the extended Two Minutes Hate from Kiev towards Eastern Ukrainians.’

‘Not even Hollywood could come up with such a plot; Israel gets away with unlawful premeditated mass murder of civilians, while Russia gets framed for an airborne mass murder of civilians that has all the makings of being set up by the Kiev vassals of Russia’s Western“partners”.‘ (RT, July 29, 2014, http://rt.com/op-edge/176548-crime-israel-punishment-russia/)

The temptation is strong to accuse Washington and its loyal press and broadcast corps of holding a moral “double standard” here. But as Noam Chomsky has noted more than once, “There is a double standard only if the intentions are humanitarian.” Sadly enough, US policy is guided by “the familiar single standard of pursuit of power interests with little concern for human consequences” (“The ‘Single Standard’ in Kosovo,” The Nation, January 3, 2000,http://www.thenation.com/article/single-standard-kosovo#). There’s no genuine moral contradiction in US policy and media coverage/commentary regarding Israel (crime) and Russia (punishment) because there’s no genuine humanitarian morality behind the policy and the coverage follows in customary fealty to the policy.

People really or allegedly harmed by forces who stand in the way of Washington’s imperial interests and ambitions – by, say, Putin’s Russia in Eastern Europe, by the socialist government of Venezuela, or by Islamist “insurgents” in Iraq or Palestine – are officially “worthy victims.” Their real and alleged suffering matters and must be redressed, punished, and even avenged. Millions who are killed, crippled, maimed, starved, sickened, displaced, and traumatized by US forces and/or by other forces allied with the US Empire are officially “unworthy” and largely invisible victims in US doctrine and media. Their suffering does not merit significant attention or redress. Examples include Indochinese under mass-murderous US assault in the 1960s and 1970s, the Black victims of US-allied South African apartheid through the 1980s, more than half a million Indonesians killed by a US-sponsored dictatorship in the 1960s, thousands of Chileans and Argentinians butchered by US-sponsored right-wing dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, 300,000 Central Americans killed by US-funded/-trained/-equipped paramilitaries and death squads in the 1980s, East Timorese islanders massacred on a genocidal scale by the US ally Indonesia in the mid- 1970s, the millions of Iraqis killed by US invasions and US-led sanctions since 1991, and the millions of Palestinians who have suffered for decades under racist occupation and apartheid at the hands of US ally Israel.

US dominant corporate media has been advancing this “double,” really single standard in its coverage of “foreign affairs” for as long as I’ve been watching television (that’s more than half a century) and since well before that – a reflection of that media’s longstanding status as a key propagandistic lynchpin in the reigning and interrelated structures of US empire and inequality. It’s nothing new. It’s what you’d expect when – as the Madison-based US foreign policy critic Allen Ruff wrote me recently, “the dominant media system is what it is… when its fundamental function is to uphold and reproduce the existing order…[when its operatives behave like] court stenographers regurgitating the official line rather than critical journalists.”

That’s why the question I asked myself as I gazed at cable television “news” this morning was foolish or at least naive. Cutting through the official foreign policy line and using basic critical faculties to expose evil and deception on the part of the powerful is not what US corporate “journalists” are remotely about. They are about mastering the art of what Orwell called “doublethink,” nicely summarized by Chomsky as “the ability to have two contradictory ideas in your mind at the same time and to believe both of them. That’s the peak of irrationality,” Chomsky adds, “and that virtually defines the elite intellectual community.” (“The Chomsky Sessions, II,” ZNet, September 17, 2011).   It also characterizes US “mainstream”[1] media.

Paul Street is a regular commentator for Telesur English. His next book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).


  1. During the Cold War era, we never called the Soviet Union’s state television and radio or its main newspapers Pravda and Izvestia Russia’s “mainstream media.” I see no reason why we should consider U.S. corporate media outlets any more “mainstream” than Pravda or Izvestia when they are just as dedicated as the onetime Soviet outlets to advancing the doctrinal perspectives of their host nation’s reigning elite—and far more effective.


  1. mike sheck August 5, 2014 11:43 pm 

    I have a question for anyone willing to answer it. At what point, historically, did Israel become “wrong”? I have read on this website, that the creation of Israel was concocted by European governments to avoid having to absorb all the Jews into their own cultures. Has Israel been the evil stepchild of the West from inception, or was there some point where they chose to toss the moral compass into the dumpster and just become a bunch of mass murdering hoodlums?

  2. avatar
    Paul Street July 31, 2014 5:58 pm 

    Thank you Richard. I don’t get cable television except when I travel and see it in hotel rooms. Speaking of Democratic activists, I notice in my admittedly modest viewing that MSNBC (MSDNC) seems busy avoiding Israel’s arch criminality in Gaza, focusing on the usual squabbles with the with the ridiculous Teapublicans. When I’ve looked at FOX they seem very energetic in justifying Israel’s crimes and blaming them entirely on Hamas. CNN has been more informative, or at least was when I looked yesterday, putting up some graphic images of horror in Gaza. Last night they repeatedly broadcast terrible footage of an Israeli rocket assault whose targets included an ambulance in Gaza. Then the reporter noted with a stern face that Israel had requested more ammunition from the US so that it can kill more Palestinian children. The request was honored. The US will provide more mortar shells and other ordnance so that Israel can butcher more families in Gaza. The sinister sadism of it all is almost surreal. Almost beyond belief, In full view of the world. It is chilling, very much out of Orwell, though also out of Huxley and Bradbury and even Vonnegut. Again and again in the “mainstream” media I see that current events (examples include the chaos in Iraq, the child migrant crisis from Central America, the Ukraine crisis, the melting ice poles…the list goes on) discussed in the most superficial and childish away because mention of the great elephant in the room — the US Empire —is beyond the doctrinal pale. On CNN, which seems (from my very limited viewing) to be doing the best, Israel’s assault is discussed without any serious reference to the core imperial connection between US and Israelis state power and terrorism….though it was quite suggestive to see the above footage followed by mention of Israel’s request for “more ammunition” (“please help us kill more children”) from Uncle Sam. You have described the ambition behind They Rule – to be a “primer” for cutting through the Orwellian crap. It’s written to be read broadly and not just by a specialized audience.

  3. Richard Bluhm July 31, 2014 2:06 pm 

    Paul – My wife and I were out and about yesterday, and we ran into an activist Democrat acquaintance. We discussed this and that, and I finally asked if he was up on the Gaza situation. He said ” not really,” because he has been busy with this and that. Well, we’re all busy with this and that, but I believe my acquaintance is typical. We are tribal, and we are all distracted by this and that, and by that token, marginalized. I’ve reviewed my copy of “1984” recently, and “Orwellian” is an appropriate description of the present as we embrace the absurd on so many levels: politically, economically, socially, interpersonally, counter-scientifically, psychologically. And here we are playing Russian roulette with our viability on planet Earth.

    I recommend your new book, “They Rule,” to anyone not too distracted by this and that. Of course they must care about how Big Brother is herding us into obscurity as consumers of crap both material and intellectual. It’s no exaggeration to call your book a primer as far as cutting through the crap is concerned. Good job!

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