Big Brother, in the person of President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, was not persuaded by the findings of the Mueller investigation: “If there wasn’t active collusion proven, then I think what we have here is a case of passive collusion”. To put it another way, if President Trump is not guilty of being a Kremlin agent, in any technical, literal or actual sense, then he is still guilty. Former Director Clapper—along with former CIA Director Brennan and former FBI Director Comey—helped generate the Great Kremlin Conspiracy in the first place. Is there, then, a possibility that James Clapper might have a particular agenda in his strange response to the Mueller Report? Are we, perhaps, on the verge of uncovering one of the great scandals in American history, in which the intelligence agencies of the United States conspired to affect the course and consequences of a presidential election? Do not expect a media outfit such as CNN to take up the story—after all, James Clapper gave his reaction to the Mueller Report in his present capacity as CNN’s “National Security Analyst”. Big Media, regrettably, is no less invested in the Great Kremlin Conspiracy (2015–19) than Big Brother.
Today, news and truth are like passing strangers. It was not supposed to be like this. The Walter Lippmann–John Dewey debate of the mid-twentieth century revolved around the question of whether the ordinary person could ever be expected to interpret meaningfully what was happening in the wider world. Dewey, in an optimistic liberal vein, believed it possible to educate Joe and Jane Citizen with the necessary wherewithal to be informed and insightful enough to make sense of the world for themselves. In contrast, Lippmann believed we were reliant on journalists and editors choosing objectivity over ideology and putting even-handedness before their own interests. That remains, however unlikely, freedom’s best hope.
Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922) was a sceptical—though not cynical—analysis of the problems of ordinary people exercising genuine democratic oversight of their governing class. The supposed purpose of the press and news media, as the Fourth Estate, was to make our political elite genuinely responsive to public opinion. This process, asserted Lippmann, was handicapped by the disjointedness and changeability of the untutored opinions of the public. There were, therefore, two interconnected problems that needed addressing for the health of a modern democracy. First, whatever the assertions of news agencies, facts invariably require interpretation (meaning anything from contextualisation to prioritisation or omission). Second, the modern world has become “altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting” for the private citizen, bound by the limits of “subjective, biased, and necessarily abridged mental images”, to pursue meaningful interpretation without expert assistance. The role of the press and the news media, thus, was the “manufacture of public opinion”, an expression that in 1922 did not attract the opprobrium attached to it since the publication of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s treatise on the mainstream media.
Daryl McCann’s essay appears in June’s Quadrant.
Subscribers had no need to wait for the paywall to come down
The community of journalists, in Lippmann’s original account of manufacturing consent, should advance and articulate public opinion without distorting the facts or manipulating the sentiments of ordinary people. This might be accomplished in conjunction with the expertise of “political science”, an academic field of inquiry only emerging in the 1920s. It is incumbent upon journalists and academics, much like any other professionals, to be scrupulously honest. The leitmotif of their vocation is nothing less than truthfulness. Henry James, the American intellectual antecedent of Lippmann, may have said it best: “We must be content to regard our most assured conclusions concerning matters of fact as hypotheses liable to modification in the course of future experience.” That could be incorporated in the ethics code for any journalistic body in the West. This form of provisional truth is neither the relative truth of postmodernism nor the absolute truth of despotism but, rather, a genuine regard for truthfulness.
Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept was one of the few sites on the progressive side of politics that recognised the irrevocable damage the collusion-delusion would do to the community of journalists. Walter Lippmann, if he were still around, might have to admit that today his notion of manufacturing public consent has little to do with journalists and editors courageously seeking truth—and much to do with propaganda.
Greenwald’s article “Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story”, is a good place to begin reciting the media-induced hysteria. Take, for instance, the Washington Post. On December 30, 2016, it reported that “Russian hackers penetrated the U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont”. Shortly thereafter, Vermont Governor Shumlin (Democrat) was given time on America’s ABC News to declare that “one of the world’s leading thugs [Putin] has been attempting to hack our electricity grid”. The Washington Post, which eventually retracted the story, had obviously not learned from the false news, delivered by them only a month earlier, that “more than 200 websites” could be identified “as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans”. And who can forget the fake report, originating in Slate magazine, published on the eve of Election Day? A “group of computer scientists” uncovered a direct link between a private server in Trump Tower and the Kremlin, via the Putin-linked Alfa Bank. Candidate Clinton, who might have been expected to know a thing or two about private servers, tweeted just three days out from the election: “It’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia.”
Lippmann’s expectation that investigative journalists and political editors would choose objectivity over partisanship has mostly proved unfounded. This has allowed radical critics, such as Chomsky and Herman, to argue that media corporations are little more than apologists for the interests of the governing class, which in turn serves the interests of the corporate class. Our community of journalists is not coerced at pain of death (or banishment to the Gulag Archipelago) to justify the manoeuvrings of the establishment, and yet that is precisely the function our mass media frequently ends up performing.
Chomsky and Herman posited their propaganda model as a way to explain the disparity between news and truth in America and the West in general. Their critique of the media drew heavily on vulgar Marxian concepts. Media corporations, for instance, not only share the interests of the ruling political class but are dependent upon it for their “life-blood”, which is “fresh news”. The economic imperative of the mass media, Chomsky has elsewhere argued, is “corporations selling audiences to other businesses”. Truthfulness is mostly beside the point. The role of editors and journalists, in the main, is to be the favoured recipients of news, as framed by powerful political entities, in order to make the realpolitik of the ruling elite credible in the eyes of the masses. The idea of a “free press”, concluded Chomsky and Herman, was just another bourgeois myth.
Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model has sometimes explained why a political storyline pursued by media corporations served to advance the interests of America’s rich and powerful. For instance, one of the more illuminating cases addressed in Manufacturing Consent was the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup d’état in Guatemala, which saw the overthrow of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz and a victory for America’s United Fruit Company. Chomsky and Herman point out that this concocted Cold War “triumph” was, at the time, dutifully disseminated by America’s press and news media. The mass communication media in the United States, to quote from Manufacturing Consent, performed “a system-supportive propaganda function” to defend dominant economic and political American interests. Certainly, news and media outlets, including the New York Times, Time and Newsweek, conspicuously failed to investigate the truth behind the contrived tale of a win for freedom. The community of journalists voluntarily did the bidding of their corporate masters.
US intelligence organisations, importantly, figured in the Great Kremlin Conspiracy no less than they did in the 1954 CIA-sponsored Guatemala coup d’état. Consider the origins of the Trump–Russia dossier that played a crucial role in engendering the Great Kremlin Conspiracy. It is no longer a matter of speculation that Russian-speaking Nellie Ohr was an employee of the CIA before joining Glen Simpson’s Fusion GPS team or that Fusion GPS itself did investigative research for the Obama administration back in 2010. No less doubtless is that Fusion GPS, a strategic intelligence firm based in Washington DC, handed over the Trump–Russia dossier to the FBI which, in co-ordination with the Department of Justice, used the dossier to obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Donald Trump. Any genuine investigate reporter, you might think, would want to uncover Big Brother’s instigating role in the Great Kremlin Conspiracy, which includes getting to the bottom of the George Papadopoulos affair.
Papadopoulos, briefly a foreign policy adviser in the Trump campaign, has written Deep State Target (2019) to give his side of why he spent fourteen days in jail after committing perjury. For the media champions of the Great Kremlin Conspiracy, from MNBC’s compellingly paranoiac Rachel Maddow to the more cogitated Martin McKenzie-Murray in our own Saturday Paper, the case of George Papadopoulos might be pivotal—but for the opposite reasons Papadopoulos presents in his book. His meetings with the mysterious “Russian intermediary” Joseph Mifsud in April 2016 had appeared to corroborate the theory that the Trump campaign pursued clandestine relations with the Kremlin. Additionally, it seemed to explain why the FBI launched Operation Crossfire Hurricane, an investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, on July 31, 2016. However, given that Special Counsel Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”, would it not be unreasonable to expect Martin McKenzie-Murray, Rachel Maddow et al to revisit George Papadopoulos’s avowal that he was “a deep state target”?
Papadopoulos, in Deep State Target, claims that the mysterious Joseph Mifsud, who sought him out in order to inform him that the Kremlin had “the dirt” on Candidate Clinton, was not a Russian go-between but a CIA one. This is hardly far-fetched given that the Special Counsel “did not establish” a connection between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin despite almost two years and $30 million of investigation. You would hope that at least one reporter from the New York Times or the Washington Post or Time might want to scrutinise the FBI’s likely rationale for the launching of Operation Crossfire Hurricane: that is, the May 6, 2016, conversation in a London wine bar between George Papadopoulos and the Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer. Our intrepid New York Times reporter might even consider it passing strange that, according to both Papadopoulos and Downer, no such meeting occurred on May 6. What did happen on May 6, if we are to believe the account outlined in Deep State Target, is that a young Australian associate of Downer, with (alleged) intelligence connections, met Papadopoulos under false pretences. It was she who arranged the ensuing May 10 tête-á-tête between Papadopoulos and Downer, an ostensible social gathering in which the former has no recollection of mentioning any Russian-hacked Hillary Clinton emails. But instead of questioning the intrigues of Big Brother, Time’s Vera Bergengruen has chosen to describe Papadopoulos as “cashing in” on his public humiliation by defending himself with a memoir and potential documentary. Just as long as we know whose side Bergengruen and her community of journalists are on.
Chomsky and Herman ought to be of some assistance here. If their propaganda model still holds true, we should be able to see a pattern uniting events of the past with today’s developments. So, what was the establishment’s reason—in another time and place—to take down President Jacobo Árbenz? Noam Chomsky explained the underlying motivations for the Second Russian Scare/Cold War propaganda in terms of a power elite (borrowing from C. Wright Mills) wanting to protect and increase overseas markets on behalf of powerful US corporate interests—employing propaganda or, if necessary, the military to vanquish anti-imperialist national liberation movements in Guatemala, Iran, the Congo, Cuba, Bolivia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile and so on. What about the Third Russian Scare, the Great Russian Conspiracy, then? If Big Media and Big Government work together to secure the interests of the establishment, as Chomsky says, what interests of the establishment were served by their concerted campaign against Donald Trump?
Today Chomsky, suddenly, has nothing of any conceptual significance to say. But he does acknowledge that the Great Kremlin Conspiracy has no substance: “I mean, it was pretty obvious at the beginning that you’re not going to find anything very serious about Russian interference in the election.” Russiagate, in the opinion of Chomsky, is about a party of the establishment wrangling for narrow electoral advantage over another establishment party, with “the Democratic Party establishment” wanting to use a non-existent scandal that would “somehow give political success”. Nowhere, as far as I can tell, does he address the fact that more than 90 per cent of America’s media bought into the hoax. This disturbing phenomenon appears to be of no concern to our self-identified libertarian socialist, since he disparages both the Trump administration and the Democratic Party (apart from the emerging socialist wing of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) as a front for “wealth and corporate power”.
Chomsky has spent more than half a century trying to convince us that socialism and democracy are compatible; indeed, that the West must eventually choose between civilised socialism and capitalist tyranny. And yet now he has nothing to say about Big Media being co-opted by Big Brother to attempt a coup d’état in his own country. Chomsky’s only concern is that the Great Kremlin Conspiracy might “backfire” and hand the 2020 election to President Trump, delaying the imposition of the Green New Deal on the American people by at least another four years.
Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model fails because of their misunderstanding of what today constitutes the establishment. Big Government and Big Media, from Chomsky’s ideological point of view, ultimately serve the interests of Big Business. But what if he has got this the wrong way around? What if the socio-economic reality we are inhabiting is not “Late Capitalism” but something else? What if it is not the capitalists who have commandeered the technocrats but, as James Burnham foresaw almost eighty years ago in The Managerial Revolution (1941), the state that has absorbed capitalism? We might need to adopt, in some form at least, Burnham’s notion of a ruling oligarchical arrangement that has replaced a bourgeois era (as perceived by Marxists, liberals and conservatives alike). Certainly, the days when political power resided with a national parliament and local press barons who were, more often than not, receptive to the needs and requirements of a home-grown entrepreneurial class are mostly in the past. Our present-day socio-economic dispensation could, as a consequence, be more accurately defined as the managerial state or the administrative state than as Late Capitalism.
At least the administrative state model allows us, unlike Chomsky, to attempt a meaningful explanation for the mass media’s systematic effort to manipulate people’s beliefs, attitudes and actions throughout the Great Kremlin Conspiracy. The attempt by the establishment to destroy Donald Trump makes sense if we take seriously his conservative-populism and the attendant nationalism of “Make America Great Again”. Today’s establishment (to use Chomsky’s term) is exemplified by transnational corporations, Wall Street, intelligence agencies, the upper echelons of the bureaucracy, lobbyists, foreign-sponsored think-tanks, exclusive educational institutions, well-connected political families such as the Clintons and the Bidens, and so on. It has everything to gain from impenitent globalism and a foreign policy based on Obama-style acquiescence and multilateralism. PC ideology, as I have argued before, is a strategy to broker an alliance—for electoral purposes—between the Left power elite and left-wing identitarian blocs such as LBGTQ+, the Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter, enviro-activists, Third Wave Feminists and self-selected ethnic representatives. We might have to call this a pact between the criminals and the crazies.
The role of the mass media in all this—thank you, Chomsky and Herman—is “a system-supporting propaganda function”. It is the mass media, shaping and in turn shaped by social media, who keep the whole show on the road, even if that means abetting the Thought Police. An alarming claim to make, perhaps, but how else to explain the co-operation between the intelligence agencies and the community of journalists for the duration of the Great Kremlin Conspiracy?
The mass media, through its complicity in the Great Kremlin Conspiracy, has attempted to obliterate Donald Trump’s greatest political asset, his unapologetic patriotism. The media, in the first instance, tried to destroy Candidate Trump on the basis of his political incorrectness. Who can forget, as just one example, celebrity journalist Megyn Kelly trying to take him out, in the very first minutes of the very first Republican presidential debate in 2015, with what some have called a “kill shot”—only it did not kill him. How did Donald Trump survive that early attempt at character assassination and all the ones that followed? The answer, partly, is that he is fast on his feet (and funny) and runs his own one-man media show on Twitter, with some 60 million followers, called @realDonaldTrump. Additionally, if many of Donald Trump’s remarks in his pre-political life were not just politically incorrect but obnoxious, a growing supporter base instinctively understood that PC rectitude is something more than the imposition of acceptable social etiquette. In other words, they made the connection between politically-correct orthodoxy and the ruling class in the administrative state. What did not destroy Candidate Trump in the mass media only made him more popular. The real-estate developer and reality television personality somehow went on to become the Disruptor-in-Chief.
So, it was Plan B for the mass media. Donald Trump’s supporters are traditionalists, the not-so-educated, small business-owners, everyday wage-earners—“the people”, if you like. Trump, the billionaire, became their improbable hero. The principal idea holding them together, over and above a love of sports, a certain earthiness, political incorrectness, secure borders, new manufacturing jobs and the like, is an unapologetic patriotism.
It is here that we encounter the genius of the Great Kremlin Conspiracy, for it held out the promise of brutally severing the bond between the populist leader and his supporters. America’s mass media has prosecuted a ruthless and unrelenting campaign of sabotage and destabilisation, one we now know was based on the Big Lie, to overthrow the duly elected president of the nation. I cannot help thinking of media-abetted conspiracies against Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala and Mohammed Mosaddegh in Iran. At the 2019 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, host Ron Chernow lamented, in front of the community of elite journalists, that President Trump referred to them as the enemy of the people: “When you chip away at our press, you chip away at our democracy.” In the ideal world, in the world of Walter Lippmann at least, this would be a fair call, but in the aftermath of the Great Kremlin Conspiracy, which we have every right now to call the Great Kremlin Hoax, a moment of critical self-reflection might have been in order.
Not likely. While the first part of the Mueller Report did not find any instances of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Special Counsel was not prepared to “exonerate” Donald Trump on the question of obstructing justice; only that the evidence, after almost two years of investigation, did not warrant a recommendation that he be indicted for obstruction. It was left to Attorney-General William Barr to draw the obvious conclusion that President Trump was neither guilty of collusion nor of obstruction of justice. The website Vox has not been alone in wanting to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat by attacking Barr. Although the Special Counsel did not have the evidence to charge President Trump, argues the leftist commentariat, Mueller’s disinclination to “exonerate” the president makes him somehow and, in some way, guilty. This is exactly wrong. Before the advent of the administrative state, as I recall, you could not be exonerated unless charged with a crime and proven innocent. The Special Counsel’s refusal to either indict or exonerate Donald Trump on the charge of obstructing an investigation into a crime that the Special Counsel found no evidence the Trump campaign committed is deeply unjust. How can you prove your innocence, in a legal sense, if you are not charged with anything?
Donald Trump’s real crime, as I have suggested, is that he is the Disruptor-in-Chief. He became a target of powerful interests the moment he made his Grand Escalator Entrance on June 16, 2016. These powerful interests conspired to extinguish his populist insurrection with all the knowhow in their possession. We will learn more about this anti-democratic treachery as the origins of the Great Kremlin Conspiracy are uncovered by genuine investigative reports, but certainly not from mass-media hacks who depend on their “life-blood” of “fresh news” from anonymous sources in the FBI or the Department of Justice. And, finally, we will learn that the only thing President Trump sought to obstruct was the unlawful attempt to remove him from office.
Daryl McCann has a blog at http://darylmccann.blogspot.com.au, and he tweets at @dosakamccann. A regular contributor to Quadrant, he wrote “The True Lies of Zionophobia” in the May issue.