By Scott Ross
May 3rd marked the observation of something called “World Press Freedom Day,” first proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993. There is much irony inherent in this, the first especial instance of which was the passage three years following that initial proclamation of a bill, engineered by Bill (and Hillary?) Clinton and rammed through Congress at his (their?) insistence: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. This blatantly fascistic law has in the years since effectively reduced media control in the United States from 50 corporations to a mere six and jettisoned what I would argue is the single most important component of a free society, without which democracy is impossible: An unfettered press.
There is irony as well in the reactionary and repressive governments —Saudi Arabia springs to mind, as it will — the United States, in foolish contravention of George Washington’s warning,* habitually supports and in which the press is strictly controlled by a state which, further, goes out of its way and across continents to punish with torture and death. I would include in that charming group the current government of Israel, whose military snipers target not only Palestinian men, women and children but clearly delineated medics and journalists. And indeed, the U.S. itself, as evidenced by the appalling video the almost infinitely courageous Chelsea Manning released to WikiLeaks of American military personnel massacring civilians, including journalists, from a helicopter in Baghdad, and laughing as they did so.
The more immediate ironies, which went unnoted save by the progressive left, were that “World Press Freedom Day” was commemorated this year during a period when the Western press generally, and the U.S. corporate media specifically, is (to use their new favorite word) colluding with the Trump Administration and its shadow masters to demonize and depose a legally-elected government in Venezuela. At the same time, the three most egregious examples of free-speech suppression by the West had so recently occurred, and (in the first case) been roundly celebrated by nearly all the ladies and gentlemen of the corporate media and (in the second two) utterly ignored:
- The expulsion (following the promise of a massive American bribe) from the Ecuadoran Embassy and subsequent immediate arrest, on a flagrantly specious charge, of Julian Assange, now in a prison reserved for hardened and violent criminals and soon quite possibly to be turned over to the U.S. and extradited (on equally spurious charges), there presumably to be tortured, placed before a kangaroo installation called the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (known here as “The Espionage Court”), tried without legal defense counsel and sentenced for life — in not indeed to death — to the accompaniment of lusty cheers from the American press;
- The harassment and, lately, arrest of legal and invited protectors of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, in contravention of established world norms for protocol, a violation of international law and the inviolability of embassies throughout the world and which, its unalloyed totalitarianism to one side, will almost certainly generate dangerous blowback elsewhere;
- And the re-imprisonment, largely in solitary confinement, of Manning, her release and her re-re-imprisonment last week, with the added financial burden it will eventually entail, in daily fines of $500 to $1000, in addition to the physical and psychological effects on a woman who has already been charged, sentenced, imprisoned and released for the identical “crime” and which are clearly, and cruelly if not indeed with evil intent, designed to break, or kill, her. Either would, presumably, be acceptable outcomes.
What is being done to Manning makes me so angry, and so frustrated, I can scarcely speak about it without choking. It is iniquitous. It is stunningly vindictive. It is in fact fascist. I am livid, not merely at the court that has imposed this deliberate torture on her, but the overwhelming lot of so-called journalists throughout America who are utterly silent on the subject…. when not actively sneering at and deriding her.
And it this last bulleted item that is most directly related to the main topic of this essay. For, setting aside for the moment that WikiLeaks (indeed, a free press generally) is the bane, not merely of the National Security State but of the corporate class, whose investments in the former are, however obliquely, threatened by exposure of the misdeeds of our military/industrial rulers, much of what now governs the reaction (or lack thereof) of corporate media, and its main consumers, can be boiled down to a simple concept. And the word that best defines this attitude is pique.
As long as Julian Assange, via WikiLeaks, was exposing the misdeeds of the hatred Bush Administration, liberals were more than delighted to receive the news — they were euphoric. Assange was all but nominated for a form of living canonization, feted and fussed over and interviewed at length. It was only when he, and figures like Manning and Edward Snowden, shone lights on the unsavory acts of the Obama regime (to use the favorite word of the mainstream media to describe any foreign government it does not care for) that Assange became suspect. This is due in part to party politics; how dare he — how dare anyone — rip the carefully constructed veil of respectability and moral rectitude off that universal symbol of hope, change and transparency? Revealing the lies and misdeeds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz was one thing. Holding Obama to the same standards? Outrageous! But even that was as nothing compared to the greatest crime Assange committed: Drawing the curtain on the seedy backstage wherein Hillary Clinton exhibited her “private face” for her true public — her Wall Street owners.
That Hillary Clinton is not merely a practiced liar but, seemingly, a pathological one, should be news to no one not lost in the miasma of political team-sports. (As my friend Eliot M. Camarena has noted, we’ve already had one of those in the Oval Office; he was forced to resign.) But that WikiLeaks revealed the extent of her prevarication — that was too much. Of course, Clinton’s deceit goes deeper than assuring her billionaire donors with a wink that she has a public face and a private one so don’t worry, boys, I’ll always be true to you. It involves her takeover, and operation of, the DNC throughout the 2016 election; its subsequent cheating of Sanders and disenfranchising of his supporters and independent voters, the largest proven case of election racketeering in modern American history; her so-called “Pied Piper Strategy,” whereby she and Bill convinced their media assets to prop up Trump (and which, indeed, included that pair’s efforts in getting The Donald to run); and her determination to deflect voter concerns over her sale, as Secretary of State, of uranium ore to the Russian Federation as a means to directly benefit her husband and their phony Foundation, onto her opponent. No wonder she wanted Assange drone-bombed.
It was this unconscionable airing of Clinton’s soiled pantsuits by WikiLeaks that placed Assange officially beyond the pale. This is what I mean by pique. It is the same pique that found in any critical discussion of Hillary Clinton’s neoliberalism (if not indeed neoconservatism) the inevitable accusation leveled at the questioner and regardless of his or her gender, of “sexism.” It is pique that created the Pussyhat Brigade, fueled meaningless acts of protest that continue even now and which embrace such paragons of public virtue as James Clapper and Robert Mueller, and which suggests to them placards (“If Clinton was President I’d be having brunch now”) revealing far more than their carriers realize about their own essential complacence, and the extent of their personal pique. It’s the source of the virus that has engendered the entire so-called “Russiagate” hysteria, the gas that makes it run and which finds its apotheosis in the crazed Red-baiting of Rachel Maddow and that collection of deranged harpies on The View on the sillier end of the spectrum, and the seeming desire for nuclear war with Russia on the more dangerous, deadly, end. And it is Manning’s association with Assange, on a matter completely divorced from Assange’s revelation of the Podesta emails, which governs the lack of support for her and the reaction to her extra-legal imprisonment. She is seen as an expendable means to “getting” the source of their pique.
For pique it is which has seen to it that Trump cannot engage in a meaningful or productive conversation with Putin about anything. It is pique that has given him the greatest re-election gift imaginable. It is pique which demands that Democrats, and their media assets, not give an inch, or admit that the entire two-year investigation was a colossal waste of time, choler and treasure. And it is pique that will ultimately doom the campaign of whichever corporate tool they nominate as their party’s standard-bearer next summer.
But pique has other uses; it can extend the common madness far beyond reason, if not ad infinitum. For it is this same pique that encourages Neera Tanden to observe of the adherents of Twitter, “There are many cultists on this site, but the Assange cultists are the worst. Assange was the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy. That is fascist behavior. Anyone on the left should abhor what he did. Not celebrate it. [sic]” Note that Tanden, who “earned’ over $314K in 2016, is nonetheless a) not literate enough to understand basic tenets of the written word; b) feels compelled to waste two of her 140-character limit on unnecessary spaces between sentences; and c) apparently believes that, “Not celebrate it” is a sentence. (Yes, use of an abbreviated clause can herald an effective rhetorical flourish. But not in this case.) Her sub-literacy aside — the lack of a hyphen between “proto” and “fascist,” for example — Tanden, a Clinton stalwart to the end, thinks she is being clever by expressing a fascist sentiment while deflecting the accusation to those who not only might disagree with her but who know that there is not now, nor has there ever been, the slightest evidence to suggest that Assange, or WikiLeaks, is in any way aligned with, or subservient to, the Russian Federation. Like icon, like acolyte.
I will not accuse Tanden of the staggering ignorance her nasty little Tweet seems to illustrate, as I suspect she knows quite how deliberately she is misleading her hapless followers with that specious accusation, so let us assume that she is well aware that WikiLeaks has published thousands of pages of documentation critical of Russia. She may not know, as many do not, that Putin is no great admirer of Edward Snowden — nor, by extension, of Assange or Manning or John Kiriakou or Bill Binney — believing that the man his nation gave asylum to is guilty of a state crime. (See Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews.) Note too that the Tandens of the world, who without ever offering proof — or who offer self-serving official United States government excuses as proof — invariably state that the elected leader of Russia is, to use their favorite, CIA-directed, phrase, “a brutal dictator.” Yet they see nothing brutal or dictatorial about a band of uniformed “secret police” dragging an obviously ill Australian publisher into a waiting van.
Tanden is, please recall, President of the so-called Center for American Progress (which despite its sunny, double-speak name is in fact a neoliberal corporate “think-tank”) and was, during the 2016 primaries, a close advisor of Hillary Clinton’s. And, as Jimmy Dore recently pointed out, once said — apropos of whether Libya, now a chaotic no-man’s land, owes America for its “liberation” — “We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil.” Could Donald J. Trump have advocated international resource theft any better? It should, however, be remembered that Assange also published some of Tanden’s damaging emails. There is more than a slight whiff of personal vengeance — not to say pique — in her words. Such is the duplicitous game these types play. Tanden’s reaction to Russia asking that Assange’s rights be respected? “Fascists take care of their own.” One is tempted to ape her immaturity and sneer, “Takes one to know one, lady.”
WikiLeaks Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson reports that, not only was Assange being monitored by video and still camera at every moment of his life, including conferences with his Ecuadoran attorney, but that legal documents were stolen and copied, the whole of this illegal surveillance then turned over to blackmailers in Madrid. The Tandens of the so-called “left” say nothing, of course, about the (to use her own word, only properly hyphenated) proto-fascist treatment of Assange. And I would love to hear the smug, condescending British and American reporters who have grilled Hrafnsson and Assange’s Australian attorney Jennifer Robison if their own governments were spying on them in their homes, recording their personal communications, legal discussions, sex lives and bathroom visits.† They’d squeal like stuck pigs. Yet somehow Assange is “naive” for not assuming it’s been done to him — and, presumably, ungrateful for complaining about it. And they wonder that so much of the public, both in Britain and elsewhere, is thoroughly disgusted by the press?
No one has ever successfully challenged the veracity of a single WikiLeaks’ publication. And that, I submit, is the real reason Assange is so hated, both by the National Security State and the permanently piqued.
Irony abounds as well in the fawning treatment of reporters and commentators in the United States (and in Britain) who, out of their pique over Clinton as much as their loathing for Donald Trump, have opportunistically peddled two and a half years of evidence-free accusations concerning the President and his counterpart in the Russian Federation.
Take, for example, the case of Marcie Wheeler, the likes of whom Michael Tracey refers to as “journalist-adjacent types.” This woman did the one thing that Glenn Greenwald correctly maintains is the gravest sin a journalist can commit: Turning in a source to the government. Even now, a year after she did so, and with the Mueller Report released, Wheeler is still speaking as if her informing on a source was of the gravest importance to the investigation and so cannot reveal the circumstances. And the brigade that has made hay (and jack) on the counterfeit accusations against Trump and, by extension, Vladimir Putin, lauded her as a fearless exemplar of the journalistic profession. So we can see where we are now: If you expose a government’s international murders and militaristic duplicity you are beyond the pale; if you snitch on a source to that government, you’re a liberal icon.
Take as well the increasingly deranged, deliberately prevaricating and, I aver, fundamentally dangerous Rachel Maddow, dementedly Red-baiting not only a nation that has not been Red in decades, but anyone who debunks her infinitely debunkable, certifiably reactionary, assertions, not the least insipid of which is that the Kremlin will turn off your heat during record freezes. To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge only the U.S. has, through its secret HAARP program, that ability. But for $30,000 a day, a person like Maddow may, and will, say anything. And the unthinking Piqued cheer this madness on.
Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s and who in our teens looked into the 1950s Red Scare could scarcely believe what we were reading. How, we wondered, could claiming Communist interference on everything, without the slightest scintilla of evidence, not have been looked upon with skepticism by, at least, the more intelligent and well-educated Americans?
We now know the answer.
In the early 1980s, the then-CIA chief William Casey made a statement to the newly-elected Ronald Reagan at their first meeting, which a principled man would have responded to in the only sane possible manner: By, if not calling in the White House guards to hold the maniac until he could be arrested and charged with conspiring against his country, at the very least demanding its speaker resign and his government entity be scrutinized in minute detail and re-aligned as a result of that investigation. Reagan, of course, did none of these things.
“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete,” Casey told him, “when everything the American public believes is false.”
One expects the National Security types to receive this information with nods of approval. One would like to imagine that others — particularly in the press — would express outrage. But those who believe Operation Mockingbird, the 1960s CIA campaign to influence and guide writers, reporters, editors and entire publications and publishing houses in the production of their news and analysis content, was ended merely because the Company told us it was also, presumably, maintain a conviction that the Easter Bunny leaves multicolored eggs in convenient baskets. Perhaps when the day dawns… and dawn it will, ere long… that these same writers, reporters and editors of publications find themselves in shackles, sharing a concrete wall with Julian Assange for the National Security crime of revealing truth to their viewers, readers and listeners, they will grasp the opportunity that fell into their laps to defend their own profession and which they deliberately eschewed in favor of the fast buck and the hosannas of the professionally piqued, and repeat to themselves a variation on the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:
“First they came for Assange, and I did not speak out because I was not Assange…”
*“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” — George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
†Always assuming — a dangerous occupation these days — these governments aren’t in fact doing just that, perhaps through our now ubiquitous electronic devices.
Copyright 2019 by Scott Ross