The other day David Ignatius, a columnist at the Washington Post, declared sententiously that “truth is losing.” He meant of course “the truth” according to the US government. Ignatius recently interviewed Richard Stengel, a State Department official responsible for “public diplomacy,” someone who had previously worked for Time magazine, a stellar source of “truth” and the “American way.” Things are getting tough, Stengel said. We’ve entered “a ‘post-truth’ world, where the facts are sometimes overwhelmed by propaganda from Russia and the Islamic State.” You can see right away where this conversation is headed. And how outrageous to compare Russia and the IS, when the original purveyors of Salafi-Jihadism are located in Washington, DC.
Unhampered by inconvenient facts, Stengel was just getting started with Ignatius. “How do we protect the essential resource of democracy—the truth—from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?”
The State Department official complained that people don’t believe the US government, which is not exactly a revelation. During the Vietnam War, it was called the “credibility gap.” This was an understatement. In fact, the gap was a chasm between what the US government said about the war and the visible, perceivable reality of it reported from the scene.
Back then, there were still journalists who had the courage to speak out against the Washington line. When American journalist Seymour Hersh uncovered the My Lai massacre in March 1968, it was Life magazine which published the photographs of the Vietnamese men, women and children, gunned down by American soldiers. Hersh, who is still at work, was a journalist in the old American tradition of “raking the muck.” His predecessors include people like H. L. Mencken and I. F. Stone. Apart from Hersh, the “muckrakers” are long gone, but the muck remains and so does the “credibility gap.”
Of course that fellow at the State Department in charge of “public diplomacy” would not know a “credibility gap” if it hit him between the eyes. Neither would Ignatius. The chief culprits of State Department woes are, as you might guess, Russia Today and Sputnik, popular English language media based in Moscow and funded by the Russian government. According to the State Department, they don’t play fair. The Russians are trained in “KGB tactics.” For them, news is not about “an information war,” but about making “war on information.” The more the State Department official goes on, the more surreal his narrative becomes. Let’s call it, “truth speak,” borrowing from Orwell’s prophetic dystopian novel 1984. Poor Ignatius is as far from a muckraker as you can get, and swallows the whole State Department gob without blinking. Somebody has got “to restore the currency of truth,” says the State Department man. He mentioned Twitter and YouTube deleting several hundred thousand accounts.
There’s the cue for policing “the truth.” Shut up the people who don’t speak it, according to State Department lights. Just the other day, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, said ”truth” has to be protected and action contemplated against Alternate Media which could threaten “the stability of our familiar order.” Is the groundwork being laid in the West for censorship of discordant narratives?
The week before the Ignatius column ran, the Washington Post published a black list of 200 alternate news outlets accused of “fake news.” “Russian propaganda effort,” the Post headline ran, “helped spread ‘fake news’ during election . . .” The black list came from an anonymous, shadowy group called PropOrNot. Likewise, Turning Point USA, a right-wing NGO, has created a Professor Watchlist of 200 university and college professors who have appeared on RT television or presumably have been too critical of US foreign policy. Untroubled by the budding witch hunt, Ignatius did not write a single word about the blacklists in his column on the Russian “war on information.” That was a week ago, the Post is now retreating fast from PropOrNot to avoid legal difficulties.
The American elite has such a short memory. It was only twenty years ago when American NGOs and “advisors” to then President Boris Yeltsin helped him, it is said, to steal the 1996 presidential election from Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov. For the United States turn-about is never fair play.
Readers may wonder who is in fact producing the “fake news”? In mid-November the State Department spokesman, John Kirby, stated during a briefing that Russian jets had “deliberately” bombed five hospitals and one mobile clinic in Jihadist occupied E. Aleppo. An RT journalist was present, and asked a question. “Can you specify which hospitals and what mobile clinic were hit?”
Mr. Kirby could not name them. We got our information from “aid organisations,” he replied, and that is good enough. But which aid organisations, the RT journalist wanted to know? The exchange went on for a while, the RT journalist asking for names and details which Mr. Kirby did not have and could not give her. “You are citing reports,” she replied, “without giving any specifics.” Eventually, Mr. Kirby lost his temper and tried intimidation.
What happened to the American muckrakers who would not have tolerated Mr. Kirby’s dissimulating verbal gymnastics? The muckrakers are gone except in the so-called Alternate Media. Don’t count on the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN, the Mainstream Media (MSM), to question the US government narrative on what goes on in the world. Their “presstitutes” are high paid shills for US domination and military aggression.
A donkey could tell you that the US “peace” campaign against Russia’s role in Syria, and in E. Aleppo in particular, is aimed at protecting Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups attempting to overthrow the Syrian government. The Syrian “regime,” said Mr. Kirby. We know what that means. A “regime” is the code word for an uncooperative government targeted for destruction by the West. Iraq and Libya had “regimes,” and we know what happened there. The United States and its vassals are financing, arming, training and sheltering jihadist mercenaries waging a cruel war of aggression against Syria. But you won’t read about that narrative in the MSM. It takes audacity for the US government to accuse Russia of causing civilian casualties when the United States has been responsible for so many civilian deaths in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the Ukraine, amongst other places. And that’s not including its earlier bloody depredations in Southeast Asia.
As if to underline US hypocrisy, three days ago (as I write these lines), jihadists hit a Russian mobile hospital in Aleppo treating Syrian civilians. Two Russian paramedics were killed and another was wounded. The Russian high command is angry, as well it might be. Its spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, condemned the jihadist attack on the hospital. He went further: “It is beyond doubt that the shelling was conducted by the ‘opposition’ militants. Moscow understands who gave the Syrian militants the coordinates of the Russian hospital right at the moment when it started working . . . Full responsibility for the killing and injuring of our medics, who were treating children in Aleppo, lies not only with the actual perpetrators [of this crime] . . . The blood of our military personnel is on the hands of the people who ordered the hit . . . [on the hands] of the terrorists’ patrons from the US, the UK, France and other terrorist sympathizers.”
The attack was preceded by yet another meeting between lame duck Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to end the fighting in E. Aleppo. Why Lavrov continues to talk with Kerry is a mystery. The US government has proved unwilling or incapable of keeping any agreement concluded with Russia. No doubt Mr. Kirby would deny that US agents ordered the hit on the Russian mobile hospital, but it is undeniable that the jihadist perpetrators are armed by and in the pay of the West. EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini has even offered financial aid to Damascus in exchange for allowing jihadist forces to stay in power in some regions of Syria. Does she really think Syrian president Bashar al-Assad or Syrians in general are that stupid or can be so easily bought? Just ask the Greeks about EU “financial aid.”
US accusations are like Pot calling Kettle black, or like the aggressor who accuses its intended victim of aggression. Psychologists call it “projection,” projecting one’s own evil behaviour on to “the other.” One set of rules for the United States and its vassals, and one set of rules for everyone else. Call it double standards. “Do as I say, not as I do,” Mr. Kirby would no doubt privately agree with his friends.
Just recently the European Parliament voted, though far from unanimously, to condemn RT and Sputnik, as “tools of Russian propaganda.” One MEP even claimed that “we are at war with Russia.” What a reckless, stupid thing to say. He obviously does not have any idea of what being at war with Russia would mean. Germans know though; perhaps these foolish MEPs should ask their German colleagues what it meant to be at war with the USSR.
The effectiveness of RT, Sputnik, and other such alternate media can be measured directly by the fury of the MSM and their defenders like Messrs. Ignatius and Kirby. More and more people don’t believe them. “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time,” said US president Abraham Lincoln, “but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” The Alternate Media assures the continuing pertinence of this old idea.
One has nevertheless to admire the tenacity of the State Department; it keeps trying to prove that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was wrong. It’s not just Syria where the West seeks to impose its “truth speak.” If the United States and its vassals back jihadists in Syria, they also back fascists in the Ukraine. They accuse Russia of “aggression” in another example of Pot calling Kettle black, though it was the United States and European Union which supported and directed the anti-Russian coup d’état against the elected Ukrainian government in February 2014.
President Vladimir Putin comes in for the greatest abuse. Almost from the first day he took office, he has been subjected to vicious ad hominem attacks. The stronger the Russian state becomes and the more effectively it defends its national interests, the more intense become the West’s animosity. President Putin is a remarkably candid government leader. I can think of no other head of state quite like him. When he speaks, people listen. Putin makes President Barack Obama look like a shambling peddler of clichés and bombastic generalities. In response, the MSM reviles Putin in word and image. Is he Stalin, or is he Hitler? Will the MSM ever make up its mind? The West’s “truth speak” has become so preposterous that public opinion begins to doubt it and to laugh. Is there anything worse than public ridicule? No one in the State Department likes to be laughed at, least of all Mr. Kirby. No wonder the US government and its European fellow travelers are so worried about “fake news.” Alternate Media must make sure their worries continue and that public opinion has reason to doubt the usual fallacious Western narratives.
This article originally appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal.
Michael Jabara Carley is professor of history at the Université de Montréal. He has published widely on Soviet relations with the West.