Jim Jatras — Chronicles Magazine Sept 21, 2016
Several weeks ago the mainstream media (MSM) gave saturation coverage to a picture of a little boy pulled from the rubble of Aleppo after his home and family were crushed in what was dubiously reported as a Russian airstrike. Promptly dubbed “Aleppo Boy,” his dusty image immediately went viral in every prestige outlet in the United States and Europe. The underlying message: we—the “international community,” “the Free World,” the United States, you and I—must “do something” to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his main backer and fellow Hitler clone Vladimir Putin.
Not long before, another little boy, also in the area of Aleppo, was beheaded on video by the “moderate” U.S.-supported jihad terror group Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki. The images of his grisly demise received far less media attention than those of official Aleppo Boy. This other kid received no catchy moniker. No one called for anyone in power to “do something.” In fact, western support for the al-Zenki jihadists—which the Obama administration refused to disavow even after the beheading and allegations of chlorine gas use by al-Zenki—can itself be seen as part of “doing something” about the evil, evil Assad.
Another small detail readily available in “alternative media” but almost invisible in the MSM: Mahmoud Raslan, the photographer who took the picture of Aleppo Boy and disseminated it to world acclaim, also took a smiling selfie with the beaming al-Zenki beheaders of the other kid. But, hey, says Raslan, I barely know those guys. Now let’s move on . . .
For those who have been paying attention for the past couple of decades, Aleppo Boy is a familiar example of what is known as “atrocity porn,” titillating the audience through horror and incitement to hatred of the presumed perpetrators. Atrocity porn has been essential for selling military action in “wars of choice” unconnected to the actual defense of the U.S.: incubator babies (Kuwait/Iraq); the Racak massacre (Kosovo); the Markale marketplace bombings, Omarska “living skeletons,” and the Srebrenica massacre (Bosnia); rape as calculated instrument of war (Bosnia, Libya); and poison gas in Ghouta (Syria). Never mind that the facts, to the extent they eventually become known, may later turn out to be very different from the categorical black-and-white accusations on the lips of western officials and given banner exposure within hours if not minutes of the event in question.
As I have detailed in a recently posted study, How American Media Serves as a Transmission Belt for Wars of Choice, atrocity porn doesn’t exist in isolation. Rather it is part of a well-established pattern. Whenever a U.S. president, whether Democrat or Republican, plots a military intervention in another country, media (particularly the MSM) dutifully parrot government-provided content. Among the key features analyzed:
- Deficiency of knowledge as the American norm: The less we know, the more likely we are to believe what we’re being told. Those least informed are most persuaded of the need to “do something.”
- Reliance on government sources, “ventriloquism,” and information incest: Unknown to the public, much MSM “information” comes from government sources. Ask White House aide Ben Rhodes.
- Centralized corporate ownership: You can’t serve both God and Mammon, but Caesar and Mammon get along just fine. Propaganda interfaces with ratings dollars for six giant corporate conglomerates.
- “Para-journalism,” “infotainment,” and “atrocity porn” as a war trigger: Once government decides on war, they need to sell it. The MSM duly serves up made-to-order atrocities.
- Demonization “Hitler” memes and “weaponization” of media: It’s all black and white, no shades of gray. Compromise and negotiation have no role in confronting absolute evil. War is the default option.
- America and the “international community,” the “Free World,” and “American exceptionalism” and “leadership”: What normal Americans understand by our country’s “exceptional” character is very different from the malign use to which political and media elites put it.
- Disregarding “alternative” media, American samizdat: Accurate information is available in “alternative” media, but the MSM still decide if it exists or not.
- “We never make mistakes,” “stay the course,” and “MoveOn-ism”: U.S. policy has no rearview mirror. Authors of past disasters are not discredited. Those who said “tolya so” are ignored.
The media’s acting as a transmission belt for war is best understood by seeing the MSM as themselves an integral part of a multifaceted, hybrid public-private entity encompassing an astonishing range and depth. Centered in Washington with secondary concentrations in New York and Silicon Valley, it is variously known as the Establishment, the Oligarchy (as called by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions), or the Deep State (as analyzed in depth by my longtime Congressional colleague Mike Lofgren). This entity includes elements within all three branches of the U.S. government (especially in the military, intelligence, and financial sectors), private business (the financial industry, government contractors, information technology), think tanks, NGOs, the “Demintern,” both political parties and campaign operatives, and an army of lobbyists and PR flacks. Students of history will note a startling resemblance to the old Soviet nomenklatura.
The Deep State is not just Dwight Eisenhower’s “Military-Industrial Complex.” Compared to these guys, Curtis LeMay was a peacenik. The Oligarchy’s propensity for war is inseparable from its media falsehood-generator. As Solzhenitsyn observed: “Anyone who has proclaimed violence his method inexorably must choose lying as his principle.” Both have become deeply engrained in our public life and especially in our foreign and military policies.
There is hope, though. Under assault from this year’s anti-Establishment challenges from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the failure of Barack Obama’s policies in Syria and Ukraine, and boiling anger from a shrinking American Middle Class, both the Oligarchy and its media component show signs of losing their grip. Of particular note is growing public skepticism of the MSM in favor of digital “alternative media” across the political spectrum: Antiwar.com, OpEdNews, RonPaulInstitute.org, zerohedge.com, LewRockwell.com, Infowars.com, Counterpunch.com, Unz, Takimag, Consortiumnews, and many others, including upstart independent conservative TV network One America News. Some other publications are open to alternative views and serve as conduits to more mainstream opinion, such as Chronicles Magazine on the (genuine, not Neocon) Right, The Nation on the Left, the libertarian Reason, and the foreign policy realist publication The National Interest. At the same time, the MSM increasingly must take note of “alternative” information in an attempt to preserve some of its diminishing credibility. The most obvious success in this regard is DrudgeReport.com, especially in its Trump-friendly coverage of the presidential race, with Breitbart also worth mentioning. A growing segment of the American public is discovering a skill once well-honed by the citizens of the former communist countries: reading between the lines of the official media (which is assumed to be full of lies) and making informed comparisons to samizdat alternative media, foreign sources, and the rumor-mill to guess what the truth might be. An encouraging sign is Obama’s failure to herd the country into the Syrian war in 2013 in the face of an outpouring of public opposition across the political spectrum. The possibility exists for a peaceful evolution over the next few years to a less warlike posture that would refocus on America’s domestic needs.
There is also grave, perhaps growing, danger. The Deep State’s servitors and beneficiaries could risk a major war in a desperate bid to save their wealth, power, and privileges—with dire consequences for America and the world. Most people may be inclined to dismiss the idea of “kickstarting World War III” as alarmism, if not conspiracy-mongering. Maybe that is the case. On the other hand, such speculation isn’t entirely baseless in light of the willingness of some American politicians, including some who aspire to the Oval Office (and one who might actually get there) to impose a no-fly zone or “safe area” in Syria, and threaten to shoot down Russian aircraft to do it; give lethal aid to Ukrainian forces, along with putting American and other NATO advisers’ and trainers’ “boots on the ground”; or directly challenge Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over rocks in the South China Sea through U.S. and allied air and naval transit despite Chinese warnings of a military response. If such a confrontation were to get out of control, either by design or accident, the resulting conflict could assume unexpectedly catastrophic proportions. Instead of saving the Deep State, a world war (one that is presumed to go nuclear) could hasten its extinction, along with that of much else besides.
How American Media Serves as a Transmission Belt for Wars of Choice: Please read it.
Jim Jatras, a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, comments on financial and foreign policy topics and on U.S. politics in his publication TheJIM!gram. Tweet him at @JimJatras.