Reports published by media conglomerates often reveal the ugly truths, but they will never do broader analysis or support the necessary solutions
People who grow up in liberal democracies are taught that the media are an essential element of a free society and that journalists often perform heroic services by uncovering crime and corruption so that the political parties and government bureaucracies can subsequently take action to improve society. At the local level, sometimes a bit of good journalism leads to the resignation of a politician or the cleanup of an environmental problem. When it comes to the big picture, there are the famous examples from the 1970s such as Woodward’s and Bernstein’s exposure of the Watergate scandal, or the New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers. However, in recent decades there have been no examples of a journalistic bombshell that had a noticeable impact on foreign policy or the fate of a government. They report. You decide… and nothing changes. Scandals come and go, hundreds of thousands can march in the streets to oppose war, and nothing happens. There have been plenty of bombshells released by such sources as Wikileaks, the Panama Papers, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Bill Binney and Ray McGovern (from Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), and many other whistleblowers who remain unsung, but they have no consequences. (None, at least, in North America and Western Europe. Wikileaks did have an impact on Tunisia, for example.) Like Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, the entire establishment is now made of Teflon. Nothing sticks.
While it has been demonstrated that the corporate media is systemically biased overall to uphold corporate interests that are represented by the US State Department and other allied government institutions, it is also easy to find examples of “hard-hitting journalism” that tell us just how disastrous our system of “limitless growth on a finite planet” (a euphemism for capitalism itself) truly is. The apocalyptic news is served up daily. There are examples that tell us the dreadful truth about the future, (for example, the consequences of global warming), or the mass atrocities of the past.
To take one example of the latter, consider this article from Canada’s Globe and Mail: “Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet.” This is an excellent report on the career of Canadian senator Murray Sinclair, born in 1951 into the Ojibway nation in Manitoba. His career is summarized in this paragraph from the article:
A strong case can be made that the 68-year-old independent senator and retired judge has done more than any other Canadian to educate the country about the painful realities that have dogged its history and institutions. As chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2009 to 2015, he documented the existence of cultural genocide in Canada’s residential schools. As a leader of justice and policing investigations in Manitoba and Thunder Bay, he exposed officials who were willfully ignoring racism in their police forces. And in his personal writing and speeches, Mr. Sinclair has hit even harder, describing a web of genocidal policies and apartheid laws that Canadian governments deployed in a “war” against Indigenous people—a war he says never really ended.
Senator Murray Sinclair, a sitting member of the political establishment, refers in the article to the revolutionary writer Frantz Fanon while saying “the Canadian government is doing just enough to appease the Indigenous community and keep it from taking up arms or organizing a broader protest movement.” The article related much about what has been done to improve Canadian awareness of the past and to improve some problems suffered by indigenous Canadians. Yet the discussion leaves open the bigger questions about how to solve the systemic poverty in indigenous communities or the violent crimes against indigenous women that have gone unsolved. What exactly is the Globe and Mail prepared to do as a next step after having published this explosive article that condemns Canada as guilty of war, apartheid and genocide against the original inhabitants of the land? One could ask similar questions about what radical actions the media conglomerates would take to solve Canada’s housing crisis—a critical emergency for the next generation of Canadians that political parties are loathe to address.
If you read the article on the Globe and Mail website, it will be interspersed with whatever relevant ads the algorithms decide to show you that day. If you browse through the rest of the site, or turn the pages of the printed version, you will be back to the usual fare that Canada’s newspaper of record is famous for: investment advice, reports on travel destinations, film reviews, lifestyle articles etc., and the standard political reporting on whatever fits within the narrow spectrum of debate tolerated by the Liberal-Conservative duopoly. The article on the next page is not going to tell you more about Frantz Fanon or why the time is ripe for revolution. There will be no denunciation of Canada’s membership in NATO or of the resource industries that have a grip on the people and thus stand in the way of any solution to the fundamental problems described by Murray Sinclair.
Frantz Fanon is not someone who would be familiar to Canadians reading the Globe and Mail in the 21st century. He wrote in the post-WWII years until his death in 1961 from leukemia, with his most famous work, Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth), published posthumously. He argued for the necessity of violent struggle to free African colonies, and he was critical of independence leaders who were so mentally colonized that they would seek non-violent compromise with their masters in order to participate in a new order that would change only superficially. It is thus startling to see Fanon mentioned positively by an indigenous Canadian senator in the pages of the Globe and Mail. The corporate establishment must feel extremely confident that nothing is going to change even if they permit expression of the most radical interpretations of Canadian history. Such acknowledgements in fact help to create an illusion that the media conglomerates side with the little guy and the problem has been solved merely by it having been described. It might be better if they stuck to covering only their true interests and left discussion of radical change to those who really want it. What actually is going on in Canada when the prime minister can apologize one day for the nation’s past crimes against indigenous people then the next day approve a pipeline project that an indigenous community doesn’t want on their land?
Media institutions such as the Globe and Mail will never advocate that readers should do anything, so effectively all that happens is that readers say to themselves, “what a pity” or “something should be done about that.” They may appreciate being educated, but the media conglomerates do not encourage them to take action. They must maintain the pretense of being objective and impartial. Readers finish the article, go to work or to sleep well informed, then just carry on with their lives. It’s a crying shame, but what are you going to do, eh?
Obviously, an effective remedy for the social problems that concern Senator Sinclair would require a radical transformation of society—a new political economy, a new constitution or new organic law that could guarantee social and ecological rights and marginalize monied interests. An economic system that funnels surplus value to corporations and shareholders would have to be abolished. Yet the Globe and Mail is not going to denounce the capitalist order that it belongs to as an asset of Woodbridge Holdings Company, owner of the multinational conglomerate, Thomson Reuters.
To test this hypothesis, readers can review the Globe and Mail’s coverage of the recent coup d’etat in Bolivia (2019/11) that sent an elected indigenous head of state into exile under threat to his life. The Globe and Mail backed it all the way in its “objective” reporting about the events, accepting uncritically the findings of The Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observation Mission to Bolivia, and also legitimizing the notion that these findings—even if they were accurate—could be used to justify the violent ouster of an elected head of state before the vote counting and the investigations were complete.
The article I’ve discussed above is a way of exemplifying and introducing what Michael Parenti had to say in 1997 about the limited role that corporate journalism can play in conducting an analysis of social problems and acting to solve them. The corporate media will always look at problems in isolation and fail to support radical solutions—and keep in mind that that frightening word “radical” simply refers to addressing the root (radix in Latin) of a problem.
Michael Parenti, from Blackshirts and Reds:
… we fail to associate social problems with the socio-economic forces that create them and we learn to truncate our own critical thinking. Imagine if we attempted something different; for example, if we tried to explain that wealth and poverty exist together not in accidental juxtaposition, but because wealth causes poverty, an inevitable outcome of economic exploitation both at home and abroad. How could such an analysis gain any exposure in the capitalist media or in mainstream political life?
Suppose we started with a particular story about how child labor in Indonesia is contracted by multinational corporations at near-starvation wage levels. This information probably would not be carried in rightwing publications, but in 1996 it did appear—after decades of effort by some activists—in the centrist mainstream press. What if we then crossed a line and said that these exploitative employer-employee relations were backed by the full might of the Indonesian military government. Fewer media would carry this story but it still might get mentioned in an inside page of the New York Times or Washington Post.
Then suppose we crossed another line and said that these repressive arrangements would not prevail were it not for generous military aid from the United States, and that for almost thirty years the homicidal Indonesian military has been ﬁnanced, armed, advised, and trained by the U.S. national security state. Such a story would be even more unlikely to appear in the liberal press but it is still issue-speciﬁc and safely without an overall class analysis, so it might well make its way into left-liberal opinion publications like the Nation and the Progressive.
Now suppose we pointed out that the conditions found in Indonesia—the heartless economic exploitation, brutal military repression, and lavish U.S. support—exist in scores of other countries. Suppose we then crossed that most serious line of all and instead of just deploring this fact we also asked why successive U.S. administrations involve themselves in such unsavory pursuits throughout the world. And what if then we tried to explain that the whole phenomenon is consistent with the U.S. dedication to making the world safe for the free market and the giant multinational corporations, and that the intended goals are (a) to maximize opportunities to accumulate wealth by depressing the wage levels of workers throughout the world and preventing them from organizing on behalf of their own interests, and (b) to protect the overall global system of free-market capital accumulation.
Then what if, from all this, we concluded that U.S. foreign policy is neither timid, as the conservatives say, nor foolish, as the liberals say, but is remarkably successful in rolling back just about all governments and social movements that attempt to serve popular needs rather than private corporate greed.
Such an analysis, hurriedly sketched here, would take some effort to lay out and would amount to a Marxist critique—a correct critique—of capitalist imperialism. Though Marxists are not the only ones that might arrive at it, it almost certainly would not be published anywhere except in a Marxist publication. We crossed too many lines. Because we tried to explain the particular situation (child labor) in terms of a larger set of social relations (corporate class power), our presentation would be rejected out of hand as “ideological.” The perceptual taboos imposed by the dominant powers teach people to avoid thinking critically about such powers. In contrast, Marxism gets us into the habit of asking why, of seeing the linkage between political events and class power.
– Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Reds
 . Elisabeth Vos, “The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 6—US Diplomatic Cables Spark ‘Arab Spring,’ Expose Spying at UN & Elsewhere,” Consortium News, January 14, 2020.
. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon Books, 1988).
. Geoffrey York, “Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet,” The Globe and Mail, December 23, 2019.
. Bryan Carney, “The Big Reason We’re Not Serious about Tackling Housing Affordability,” The Tyee, December 30, 2019.
. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (Grove Weidenfeld, 1961).
. Mark Weisbrot, “The OAS lied to the public about the Bolivian election and coup: Facts show nothing suspicious about the re-election of Evo Morales,” Market Watch, November 19, 2019.
. Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism (City Lights Books, 1997), 137-138.