Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Glenn Greenwald on Julian Assange, Wikileaks and the sad state of the Establishment press

This interview with Glenn Greenwald on Julian Assange and Wikileaks is not only informative on those topics. It also puts on dramatic display the all-too-typical dysfunctions of our US national media, especially television.



Greenwald expands on this interview in The merger of journalists and government officials Salon 12/28/2010.

Our national press has very serious problems. The cynics who dismiss politics altogether are happy to say, oh, of course the press is totally corrupt and useless. And overstating the problem in that way harms our understanding of it rather than furthers it. It's important to see what the press currently delivers that still contributes to democratic government and what its specific problems are. Even a softball interview with a senior government official or leading politician can be revealing, sometimes entirely unintentionally. Just as the video above shows the two alleged journalists from CNN, one of which was the Homeland Security Adviser to George W. Bush as President, taking a straight-up polemical stand in favor of the federal government's case against Wikileaks.


At one level it's superfluous to say, but it's still worth noting sometimes that we're not hearing a lot in defense of freedom of the press and open government around the Wikileaks controversy from the Tea Party activists who profess to love freedom and the Constitution so much.

Greenwald's observation here is very much consistent with the interview:

Over the last month, I've done many television and radio segments about WikiLeaks and what always strikes me is how indistinguishable -- identical -- are the political figures and the journalists. There's just no difference in how they think, what their values and priorities are, how completely they've ingested and how eagerly they recite the same anti-WikiLeaks, "Assange = Saddam" script. So absolute is the WikiLeaks-is-Evil bipartisan orthodoxy among the Beltway political and media class (forever cemented by the joint Biden/McConnell decree that Assange is a "high-tech Terrorist,") that you're viewed as being from another planet if you don't spout it. It's the equivalent of questioning Saddam's WMD stockpile in early 2003.
As Gene Lyons, also writing about the press and democracy in Salon on 12/22/2010 says in a line that also became the article's headline, People, we're in deep trouble.

I find it frustrating to write about this without falling into some meaningless generalization, e.g., "we don't have a real democracy." We don't have a generally understood vocabulary in US politics to talk about degrees of democracy. The Deep South in which Haley Barbour (and others including me) grew up spoke the language of democracy. But the Mississippi of the 1950s and 1960s was qualitatively different in the kind of government it practiced than most of the country. It and several other Deep South states could be said to be democracy for whites only until after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed and enforced.

Similarly, it's nothing new to see newspapers and other media siding with local business interests against labor, or to see corrupt old-style city political machines fix elections.

Even today, despite great and continuing efforts by the Republicans to establish 1950s-Deep-South levels of election manipulation in various parts of the country, the voting procedures in the US right now are generally pretty clean.

But when the Supreme Court picks the loser in the Presidential race to place into office, as they did in 2000, that is something new and bad that has happened that reduces the degree of democracy we have. When the national press has travelled the road it has from Whitewater (1992) to Judith Miller and her "weapons-of-mass-destruction" propaganda fraud (2002) to the empty-head-propaganda standard of infotainment passing for journalism that we see in the clip above, something bad has happened that reduces the degree of democracy. When the Supreme Court opens the floodgates of corporate money to influence election outcomes, relying on a legal theory of the corporation as a legal person that was reactionary even in the 19th century, something bad has happened that reduces the degree of democracy.

At the same time, the Internet has created alternative forms of political participation in the last 15 years or so that has been on balance a positive contribution up to now. The political system as a whole doesn't move uniformly in one direction. Progress in one area can come at the same time as retrogression in another.

But the current state of our national press is a danger to democracy in the United States. Not the only one, but certainly one of the most serious. Maybe in the long run, the most serious.

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