Thursday, 8 February 2018

Presidents, Posts and liberal pandering to power

Despite some notable cases of brave, probing journalism, the liberal media has routinely evaded its duty in holding US presidents and other key elites to account.

Carrying a history of editorial incorporation, political obedience and journalistic deference, it hides its sins these days behind faux outrage against Donald Trump.

And while Trump's nocturnal tweets and 'fake news' awards seem manically scripted to by-pass and antagonise his liberal media foes, the latter's increasingly authoritarian reactions suggest much more about its own establishment-serving neurosis and obsequious relationships with presidents past.

All the President's men
Celebrity-staged journalism

Piers Morgan's set-piece interview with Trump, and liberal disapproval of it, shows how the public are being subjected to, both, a spurious 'president-as-celebrity' narrative and an even more sham liberal 'push-the-president' line. 

Despite his ignorant ramblings on climate, immigration, economics, geopolitics, racism, Islam, militarism and guns, Morgan did his dutiful best in this contrived exchange to sanitise and 're-package' Trump.

While Morgan got Trump to apologise over his 'erroneous' Britain First retweet, and 'pressed' him on being potentially snubbed over a royal wedding, the main purpose here was to 're-package' him for "my (Morgan's) country". The 'past Apprentice', no doubt, paying due respect to his 'old boss'.

But Morgan's interview wasn't just a fawning celebrity reluctant to engage Trump on his presidential record. It was a refusal to interrogate him on US crimes at large. 

Conveniently for Trump, there were no big, awkward questions from Morgan on the continuing misconduct of his country: nothing about the ongoing US wars and destabilisation of the Middle East, no mention of America's deepening alliance with the Saudi regime, and total silence on Washington's latest backing for the apartheid state of Israel.

For all his 'counter-establishment' posturing, Morgan is no less a service man to presidents and power in helping to divert public attention from America's unrelenting crimes.

However, it's the backlash to Morgan that's even more illuminating here.

Inevitably, Morgan came under fire from much of the liberal media over his handling of Trump.

The BBC's high-titled World Affairs Editor, and 'in-house sage', John Simpson handed down this lofty 'advice':
The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard - not let them spout self-evident tosh. That's just showbiz.
Here we see the liberal media using Morgan to 'elevate' its own self-proclaimed 'authority'; an indignant rebuttal, and reminder of its 'hard-won status' as the 'only real examiner' of, and 'check' on, presidential misconduct. 

Yet, there was no specific criticism here from Simpson about Morgan's unwillingness to push Trump on all those major and continuing US crimes. That's because the liberal media itself is even more complicit than Morgan in failing to press presidents and other elites on such key issues.   

Aside from his own self-cultivated persona, and nodding to the powerful, Simpson might, more usefully, have directed his attention to fellow BBC 'security correspondent' Gordon Corera and his servile interview with CIA head, Mike Pompeo

It's as though the seemingly star-struck Corera was trying to contain his excitement at being invited into the hallowed foyer of US spookdom. Not a seriously challenging word was offered in response to Pompeo's bombastic claims of 'Russian and Chinese threats, or his pledge that the CIA will steal every secret it can. 

If Morgan's interview with Trump was about caressing a presidential image, the BBC has been no less deferential. While acolytes like Morgan are using their celebrity platforms to protect, exonerate and whitewash Trump, the liberal media has shown itself even more culpable in the celebrity-styled treatment of its preferred presidents and elite figures.     

All the previous President's men and women

Celebrity-hagiographic liberal journalism

It's worth reflecting here on how the BBC, Guardian and wide UK/US liberal media helped consecrate past president Obama as the 'new shining light on the Hill'.

Dutifully displacing any awkward spotlight on his drone killings, war extensions and lifeboat billions to Wall Street, they helped create the perfect showbiz president.

And, as Media Lens remind us, there's been no more gushing hagiographer of Obama than John Simpson. In a piece relating his meeting with Obama, Simpson is almost genuflecting to the president, waxing mystically over his many virtues, and approving America's "active, effective" role as world policeman.
One of Sopel's Twitter headers
As Media Lens also note, Simpson's colleague, North America correspondent Jon Sopel, has been another senior BBC man standing in awe of Obama, helping, in one memorable case, to deny the president's war criminality by reporting that the US bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan had been a "mistaken" act.

Now, as the liberal media rage against Trump, Obama is celebrated as a special post-presidential celebrity, from kite-surfing with Richard Branson to being feted at gala celebrity charity functions.

Besides fawning over Obama, liberal deflection is now so entrenched that many Democrats are even expressing their admiration for George W Bush.

As RT comment:
Loathsome as Trump may be, his sins thus far don’t come close to the list of atrocities committed by Bush. In fact, Trump’s sins haven’t even come close to those committed by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, whose “humanitarian” bombing, to take one example, helped to utterly destroy Libya — once the richest country in Africa, now a failed state and a haven for the slave trade.
And, while the liberal media croon over Obama's economic performanceSarah Abdallah offers her own 'due praise':
Obama also deserves credit for bombing Libya back to the stone age and transforming it into a wasteland where jihadists now sell black Africans in open slave markets.
All the liberal womens' would-be President
Liberal-feminist journalism

The same liberal media and celebrities that helped deify Obama also elevated Hillary Clinton as his 'high moral' replacement, again ignoring her own extensive war crimes, corruption and service to corporate power.

Now they laud Hillary advocates like Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey as 'role models' and potential presidents.

Some more admirable leftist women who resisted the Hillary hype, like Susan Sarandon and the Green Party's Jill Stein - now being smeared as a 'Kremlin agent' - are still feeling the liberal-establishment backlash.

Meanwhile, Cambridge professor Mary Beard has been engaged in admiring liberal feminist conversation with Clinton, all eagerly hosted by the Guardian. As with the Guardian's careful election filtering of 'President Hillary', Beard had nothing to say about Clinton's part in destroying Libya.

Bonnie Greer, another Hillary-praising liberal feminist, has kept the same dutiful silence. Indeed, more intrigued by the 'body language', Greer opted to watch the Trump-Clinton TV debate with the sound down, knowing that:
Nothing that Hillary Clinton could say would make me feel that she was not qualified and able from Day One to become Commander-in-Chief of the largest and most powerful military on earth...
Greer and trusting others have also kept the sound down on Clinton's warmongering and hawk relationships, including her long, close association with notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger.

One sometimes wonders just what it might take for liberal feminists to distance themselves from figures like Clinton, who refuse to distance themselves from figures like Kissinger.

One also wonders how they can turn a blind eye to the leading roles of both Mr and Mrs Clinton in the immense suffering of Iraq. Or, to invoke, Madeline Albright, another criminal Clinton associate, do they think the price is worth it?

All the President's mockers
Liberal 'satire' journalism
"Trump’s hair blew and Twitter liberals have been going crazy all day."
With Trump now seeming like fair game for every form of media ridicule, Hillary Clinton has now assumed a starring role in the great liberal mockery.

While Clinton and assorted liberal stars trot-out lines from Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's titillating tales of Trump's vanities, fantasies and indiscretions, high-ranking Democrats must also be sniggering more quietly at the gullibility of the 'Resistance' in letting them off the hook.

Helpfully, real critical comic observers like Jimmy Dore can still see the whole liberal-centrist playbook.

How readily the liberal media have embraced a caricature version of Trump 'criticism', failing, as Glenn Greenwald shows, to focus its most critical attention on Obama, the Clintons and the DNC machine.

While the whole Trump persona comes as a media gift, liberal satire snuggles in its own conceited cocoon, safely lampooning a monstrous product of the system rather than savaging and subverting the system itself.   

A good example of this can be seen in a recent episode of the BBC's The Mash Report, 'taking apart' Piers Morgan and his Trump interview with its "quick guide to the difference between hard-hitting journalism and a celebrity puff-piece." John Simpson was, of course, held up as a model of the former.

Morgan was, reportedly, unhappy over the piece's crude depictions of himself and Trump. But the BBC seemed willing to take the 'flak', helping to raise its 'street-edge' image and showcase its 'risk-taking' output.

Laughably, this is about as 'subversive' as it gets at the liberal-smug, boundary-pinching BBC.

All the Presidents Club men

Liberal identity journalism 

Alongside other celebrity exposures, the highlighting of Trump's ugly statements and behaviour towards women has helped generate wide discussion on male power.

Some of the debate here is to be welcomed, as a way of encouraging all human beings to treat each other with care and respect.

Yet, the fallout from Trump and other such events has also given rise to an increasingly strident liberal identity politics, which, perversely, has the effect of undermining any more radical politics, thus constraining how we contextualise, expose and challenge power.

Here's a related example. The recent Financial Times revelations over an exclusive Presidents Club dinner offered damning insights on the organised degradation of women. Yet, here was a class-based cabal of corporate elites, political cronies and sundry power climbers indulging their pleasures behind the facade of liberal charity. Why didn't the FT run with that kind of extended context?

There's a much more comprehensive story here, not just about the 'abuse' of power, but the very construction of power as a form of abuse. And the absence of such context shows how media like the FT, and its corporate worldview, form part of the very same system of power and exploitation that's keeping us all, female and male, locked in neoliberal servitude.

One might also ask, in this regard, why the heroic undercover acts of other women are never accorded such attention, such as the courageous mother-to-be who walked on stage and challenged a gathering of black-tie elites at a corporate arms trade dinner.

Here was a young woman trying to highlight and disrupt warmongers and merchants of death, as they sat at their privileged tables. Why are these kind of morally-acting women, or men, never given such wide and approving media coverage?

The ongoing veneration of Hillary Clinton reflects a similar problem with liberal feminist journalism, largely encapsulated in the same false raising of 'identity politics' above real, radical examination and resistance to power.

With Clinton now being questioned over her relevance as a #MeToo advocate, Sarah Abdallah comments on her pledge to keep fighting for the rights and participation of women and girls:
Says the woman who empowered jihadists that enslave women and girls in Syria and Libya, and makes excuses for sexual predators.
It's no accident that so many top female journalists, politicians and celebrities laud such figures. So often, we're urged to celebrate and idolise women, like Clinton, who 'manage to make it' in the corporate and political world, rather than applaud women, and men, who help challenge and resist the brutal ideology of market individualism and cut-throat power politics that's keeping us all from moving towards a truly equal society of compassion and inclusion.

From US Presidents to Presidents Club, what does this all say about the effectiveness of identity politics? Again, that it's part of the vital protective liberal barrier helping to safeguard establishment power.

All the President's Men
Hollywood liberal journalism

The liberal version of 'speaking truth to power' also finds vital projection through Hollywood.

Alan J Pakula's atmospheric film, All the President's Men, is a landmark account of the Watergate affair, and the resilient Washington Post journalists who sought to expose Nixon. But it has also been used as a mythical marker of America's 'free and fearless' press.

Steven Spielberg's current working of that lofty ideal is The Post, a coy liberal interpretation of an embattled press in the lead up to Watergate.

As Spielberg confirmed in an intimate, liberal-laced exchange with the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, The Post was rushed out as an 'urgent response' to Trump's attacks on the 'free media'.

In its cautious depiction of RAND Corporation employee Daniel Ellsberg's brave leaking of the Pentagon Files, and the Post's belated efforts to publish them, The Post plays on all the key liberal tropes: taking on a power-abusing president, upholding the First Amendment, and invoking the Supreme Court as last defenders of free speech.

There's a nominal account here of the lies and cover-up over Vietnam, but Spielberg is deferentially careful not to overstate the villainy of JFK, LBJ, or the deep extent of defence secretary Robert McNamara's deceptions. The dark, cold-war agenda of RAND is barely touched upon.

As iconic Hollywood liberals, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep seem naturally cast as the conflicted, yet noble, voices of the liberal crusading media. Post editor Ben Bradlee's (Hanks) close relationship with Kennedy is suitably glossed over, as is the society friendship between Post owner Katharine Graham (Streep) and McNamara. (At one point, some of the cinema audience around me started applauding Streep, illustrating the power of this film as major liberal propaganda.)

It's no spoiler to say that the Spielberg interpretation of 'speaking media truth to power' emerges as the victor here - sending that all-important message of 'liberal defiance' to Trump.

Nor should we be surprised that there was no end caption noting Ellsberg's continuing anti-war campaigning, or his consistent support for Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.

Imagine Spielberg rushing out an epic about their bravery in standing up to power, and harsh treatment for releasing damning documents to the public.

There's also the damning irony of the Washington Post, which helped publish Snowden's leaked NSA documents, now rejecting calls for him to be pardoned. As Glenn Greenwald notes:
In doing so, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source.
Nor, with current Post owner Jeff Bezoz now on-track to be the wealthiest person in modern history, should we forget that most crucial 'first right' of the 'free press': the right of corporate control.

Rather than The Post, suggests Assange, viewers might more usefully watch The Most Dangerous Man in America, a much more illuminating film, providing deeper insights into Ellsberg the man, his admirable journey from RAND career to moral whistleblower, and all the key political background to Vietnam and the state lies he helped expose.

Zinn, Ellsberg, Chomsky.
May Day anti-Vietnam war protest, 1971
At one point in this fine film, there's a remarkable still photo of Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, all grouped together in a landmark anti-Vietnam protest. A snapshot of three great figures, who, between them, have exposed more political deceit, chronicled more radical history, and challenged more state-corporate propaganda than the entire US liberal media could ever contemplate.

Again, as The Post is hailed at the Oscars, when might we see Hollywood look to the work of these kind of major independent figures as subject matter and sources for stories on America's vast global crimes?

All the Presidents' men and women - not
Real, critical journalism

One of the 'upsides' of Trump's election is that it has helped draw into the open the real authoritarian face of McCarthyite Democrats and liberals, while giving greater, and much-needed, voice to authentic, radical journalism.

As one such exponent, Caitlin Johnstone, warns:
Look at the worldview of the average person who identifies as a liberal and you'll find adoration of psychopathic authoritarian intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI, a significantly warmed opinion of George W Bush and the neocons he ushered into power, a total apathy toward the US war machine and Orwellian surveillance network, a seething hatred of all things Russia and a hysterical McCarthyite beef with anyone who fails to fall in line with approved establishment narratives.
And, as Glenn Greenwald shows, while Trump's release of the, still unsubstantiated, 'Nunes memo' is intended to deflect attention from the potentially damaging, and even more spurious, Mueller investigation, liberal media hysteria over both cases betrays a compliant service to big power and Deep State agencies.

For Amir Amini:

We now have reached a point where liberals praise the Deep State as the pillars of honesty and integrity, think whistleblowers should be executed, foreign media banned and the Cold War revived. All because they couldn’t even beat Donald Trump after rigging their own primaries.
Also bringing welcome, sober analysis to the whole 'Russiagate' panto is The Real News Network's Aaron Maté, who provides a particular service here in taking apart the spurious work of liberal Guardian journalist Luke Harding.

For another sharp insight into what constitutes true, independent journalism, there's a fine testimonial on the great, recently-departed Robert Parry, listing his heroic battles with multiple past presidents and their press protectors.

The article, written by Parry's son, also charts the Washington Post's complicity in using a spurious 'fake news' agenda to smear and blacklist Parry's excellent Consortiumnews, noting how the Post gave approving cover to PropOrNot, a reactionary organisation set up to smear 200 leftist sites.

Like others noted here, the work of admirable figures like Robert Parry reminds us that the best radical journalism lies not just in keeping safe moral distance from venal presidents and corporate elites, but in remaining critically independent from their liberal-media servers.   


Anonymous said...

John, let’s not forget Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon another high profile ‘Hillary-praising liberal feminist’ who lately was eulogising Hillary on BBCR4 Open Book Programme.

Sturgeon admits to being "a big Hillary Clinton fan”.
“I find many of her qualities are admirable. Her sheer resilience I find utterly amazing. She has made it easier for women like me in politics and I think for that I and women across the world really owe Hillary Clinton a debt of gratitude.”

Sturgeon ignored protocol by openly backing Clinton in the US Presidential election. Her fawning over HRC when she met her at the 'Women of the World" event in New York last year was embarrassing as were the selfies and the sycophantic comments posted on twitter.

Sturgeon (whom I once admired) surely cannot be ignorant of Clinton’s corruption and warmongering, her disastrous role in both US domestic politics and foreign policy as Obama's Secretary of State supporting a right wing coup in Honduras and regime change in Libya etc. So just what does this say about Sturgeon and also the SNP?

John Hilley said...

Thanks. Yes, all valid comment here. I wasn't entirely surprised at Sturgeon's endorsement of Clinton, but it was cringing to watch, nonetheless, as I'm sure it was for many SNP members and the Indy movement at large.

It's remarkable just how blind-eyed such leaders can be in desiring to be seen standing alongside people like Clinton, surely knowing their brutal track records. It's that wish to be part of the bigger, 'rarefied' international political club. Sturgeon's admiration for Clinton is another example of how liberal feminist identity politics undermines any true exposure of power.

Regarding Sturgeon and SNP policy matters, there's a very good piece by Robin McAlpine at Common Weal warning of an increasing drift towards the 'Davos consensus', the problem over internal party democracy, and the need for a reassertion of the progressive ideas and values that drove the wider Indy campaign in 2014.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link John, I used to follow Robin but I've been feeling a little disillusioned about independence and have not been following the debates recently.

Re Nicola Sturgeon yes I think she is hugely enamoured with HRC as are other members of the SNP who worryingly gave her their support in the US Presidential election. Sturgeon isn't stupid, she knows Hillary's record & that is why she tries to cover herself by focusing on Clinton's personal qualities and often prefaces any comments with "whatever you think of Hillary's politics....

I think Sturgeon like a lot of politicians has probably been changed by office and personal ambition has taken over from any principled politics. And I do believe she is out of her depth on foreign policy or perhaps I was just naive thinking the SNP would take an anti imperialist position on the regime change wars in MENA. Their position on most foreign policy as Sturgeon admitted to the US Council on Foreign Relations FR is much the same as the UK government.