[PE – Pepe Escobar, MB – MediaBite, David Manning and Miriam Cotton]
MB - Noam Chomsky, I believe, has suggested that it is sometimes instructive for readers to consider news reports in reverse, i.e. that important contextual information is often 'tacked' on loosely to the end of pieces. Would you have any advice for readers wishing to become more discerning or critical consumers?
PE - If you read the mainstream/corporate press, that's exactly the case: the crucial info most of the time is in the next to last paragraph, and the story is buried in the bottom half of page A-21. News agency copy is required to provide contextual info – but it's usually superficial and in many cases (e.g. Iran, Palestine, Russia) heavily biased. Papers always need to fill up blank space. That leads to papers in the Middle East, for instance, publishing agency copy – or conservative syndicated columns - that totally contradict their own reporting.
My suggestion is that readers forget about reading serious news on mainstream/corporate media: stick to the sports and entertainment pages. At least you can't politicize infotainment to death – like Sarkozy having an affair with Carla Bruni (well, the Times of India put it on the front page, like it was a major political story…) In the case of weeklies, stick to the actual reporting and forget about editorials (well sometimes even that is impossible; in Time magazine ideology drips from every report). The Wall Street Journal or The Economist may carry excellent reportage, but frankly no one has to swallow as fact Wall Street and the City of London's wishful thinking.
For politics/economics, the real info is on the net. The problem for most people is how to fish for info on the net. You need a lot of time, a lot of patience and a lot of discipline to cut through the ideological fog, the lunatic ravings, the hardcore propaganda and tons of disinformation. Plus you have to keep it all up on a daily basis. But it is possible. Websites like Global Research, based in Canada, Information Clearing House, based in southern California, or rebelion.org in Spanish, provide an excellent analytical digest of top themes in one go. On TV it's a Sisyphean task. Al-Jazeera used to sharply criticize US imperial designs on the Middle East, but now that the House of Saud and the Emir of Qatar have decided to become cozy with each other, all the critical edge is gone. CNN is a (bad) joke – a tsunami of press releases from the State Dept. and the Pentagon read by bubbleheads. Problem is when you are in a hotel anywhere you simply cannot escape it. I stick to local TV networks even if I don't understand the language.
MB - If we are to believe the hawks, the pacification of Iraq is impending, but does this really constituent a 'win' for the home teams? How have the PR machines been so successful in continually re-branding what 'success' would mean?
PE – As far as the PR machines are concerned, congratulations: you have done a "heck of a job", as the Little Emperor would say. "Success" in Iraq has been rebranded so many times that by now the whole country should look like Dubai, and not like the set of a huge disaster movie. When great swathes of American public opinion can be completely manipulated, or easily swallow tsunamis of disinformation – we're back to our theme of the death of journalism by corporate interests - you provoke untold death and devastation, declare it "victory", and get away with it. At least now, mostly thanks to the net, millions of Americans have started to see Iraq for what it is.
Mainstream/corporate media cannot tell it like it really is because they would instantly lose privileged access to The White House, the Pentagon, the State Dept., etc.. Furthermore, the US government – and none more than the Bush administration - acts to defend the interests of major corporations, including the ones who own mainstream media. Fox News, for instance, is no more than the media arm of the Republican Party. The only thing that matters to Rupert Murdoch is to solidify his empire – so he needs to keep his government connections intact.
MB - Balance is a complicated concept for journalists to aim for. In some cases applying 'balance' can simply skew the story away from the verifiable facts. For instance, for months now the mainstream media have been qualifying IAEA findings by framing them in terms of the US' well known political 'concerns'. However, now that the latest NIE report has dispelled all credibility from the apocalyptic talk of World War 3 will the media begin to question their previous unchecked regurgitation of Washington's rhetoric, or will this represent just an instantaneous glitch in the PR siege?
PE – "Balance" has long disappeared from mainstream/corporate media. Everything and everyone that goes against the hegemonic system – from Hamas, Hezbollah, the Sadrists or the Islamic Republic of Iran to Chavez, Morales or Putin – has to be demonized. But "our" dictators" are exempt – from Mubarak to little King Abdullah in Jordan, from the House of Saud to the Persian Gulf monarchies. Even the ghastly Burmese dictatorship got away with their recent bloody repression campaign: Western "pressure" was pathetic. As far as most of the developing world is concerned – especially in terms of plundering of national resources – this is how it works: it if profits Western elites, it is allowed. If it embodies nationalist aspirations somewhere, it's a "destabilizing factor".
Iran once again is a classic case. Everyone who follows the Iranian dossier knew the IAEA had not found any evidence whatsoever of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Those of us who spent time working in Iran also knew there was no "invisible" WMD: what they wanted, as Rafsanjani told a visiting American delegation in 2005, was to master the nuclear fuel cycle and enrich uranium by themselves for civilian purposes – as any country who subscribes to the NPT is entitled to. Now, after the NIE, don't expect mainstream/corporate media to perform even a half-hearted mea culpa. Washington's PR campaign overdrive still stands – and in fact is being re-packaged to "alert" the world that Iran may restart its "military" nuclear program any time it deems fit, especially now that it has started to receive enriched uranium from Russia. You simply can't win against Western propaganda if you are a "problem" developing country – or nationalist movement. The Chinese of course have long ago discovered the best way to deal with it: they simply don't give a damn to whatever the West is complaining about.
This all reflects a major theme: U.S. – and Western - elites are simply terrified that a brand new multipolar order is emerging. China is an unstoppable juggernaut. South America has ditched the IMF and the World Bank with the Bank of the South – and the next move towards integration will be, in the next few years, a common currency, just like the euro. Russia reasserted itself as the Gazprom nation. Iran is inescapably the key regional power in the Middle East. I have heard from a few investment bankers what their wet dream is all about – it's the Bush administration's dream, for that matter: the world as a Green Zone guarded by Blackwater types, everything privatized, provided Halliburton-style, and "out there" a Mad Max Red Zone. In this sense Baghdad is a living metaphor of the future. That's what the Bush administration accomplished. So in this sense they are "winning" the war on Iraq. They get a key node in the worldwide empire of military bases, thus fulfilling "national security interests". The invasion, occupation and fake "reconstruction" was a huge privatized bash – bound to be replicated further – and created with public funds, Mafia racket-style. Now they need "just" an icing on the cake: the Iraqi oil law – which any Iraqi government would accept at the price of endless civil war. None of this, of course, fits into the mainstream/corporate media officially sanctioned narrative, with its avalanche of "benchmarks" measuring "success".
MB - How is it that the context of current US pressure on Iran is kept almost completely separate from that of Iraq? It is as if the US has been given a clean slate, a fresh historical starting point. Up until the release of the NIE summary few journalists chose to frame the 'concerns' and 'beliefs' of the US towards Iran in the context of the illegal invasion of it's neighbour. Since the release of the document the mainstream media, which for the most part sold the fabrications of WMDs in Iraq, is now questioning this new intelligence on the basis of Iraq's intelligence 'mistakes'. In your opinion is this coincidental conversion with powerful rhetoric borne out of faithful concern?
PE – Iran and Iraq cannot be covered as separate stories. The disaster perpetrated by the Bush administration in Iraq worked to the benefit of Iran. There's no possibility of an Iraqi government – even a puppet government – not enjoying very close relations with Iran. Backtracking a bit, the same reasons invoked for invading Iraq – and the same techniques of manufacturing consent - have been branded by the neocons for bombing Iran. Before the NIE estimate the U.S. mainstream/corporate media was all out bent on war, uncritically accepting even torpid variations of the demonization campaign, such as "Iranian weapons" killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. I could bet a case of sublime Bordeaux that post-NIE, the U.S. corporate media will accept any other excuse the neocons may come up with to once again demonize Iran. Because the ultimate goal has nothing to do with the nuclear issue: it's about regime change. The neocons are so desperate that they would go for a false flag operation, or a Gulf of Tonkin gambit, to get their war. Corporate media also loves wars. The 1991 Gulf War made CNN. The Bush administration still has enough time to wreak havoc – and provoke a new war, or at least a new civil war. That's what they do best. They did it in Iraq, in Gaza, in Somalia, and the next is Lebanon. They are trying in Iran – by financing the PJAK, the sister arm of the Kurdish PKK. And they won't stop trying. As for mainstream/corporate media, forget it. It simply cannot speak truth to power because it's embedded with power.