In the famous children’s story Pinnochio, the liar’s nose grew progressively and involuntarily longer under the stress of telling lies.
Pinocchio - the original
It would be a different world if we were all like Pinnochio. As a species, humans are adept at lying and deceiving others – human and non-human. Unlike dogs, many of us can conceal when we’re delighted (no wagging tail). We can also disguise feelings of disgust. Lying is an artform for those who practise often.
In the modern world, we’ve created entire institutions dedicated to deceit. Quintessential examples are the so-called ‘intelligence agencies’. Lying and spying are woven from the same cloth, so it shouldn’t be any surprise so many of our polticians lie when the secret underbelly of the state is saturated in deception.
These are things I’ve known for a long while. But until approximately ten years ago, I honestly did imagine the western media and publishing industy was generally up to the task of analysing and reporting on the shannanigans of governmental and corporate power. I was aware the media operates under constraints. Clearly some journalists and media outlets are notoriously untrustworthy. But I believed then that in the vast so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’, no significant viewpoints were excluded, especially if supported by evidence and rational argument.
The notion that an atrocity such as 9-11 could be the subject of a mass media cover-up in a most fundamental way didn’t occur to me as possible. I suspect that remains the case for many intelligent poeple in the west. They continue to assume the media simply couldn’t get something as big as 9-11 utterly wrong (that is, reversing guilt and essentially claiming black is white).
World Trade Center Building 7. Intelligent people are expected to believe this 47-storey, steel-framed concrete towerblock collapsed on September 11th 2001 due to fire alone! Some still do!
After 9-11, I waited months, which merged into years, for the mass media to catch on and start reporting the saga with accuracy and balance. But that never happened. Eventually, it became clear this was more than accidental. It was like that other children’s classic, the tale of the Emperor’s Clothes. With a handful of exceptions, no mainstream journalists have been willing to openly discuss doubts about 9-11 seriously since the week following September 11th 2001.
It’s not only accurate reporting about 9-11 that gets left out by the mainstream media.
The story of the attack on the USS Liberty is a classic illustration of a mass media blackout. That saga dates from 1967, when Israeli armed forces attacked a US navy signals vessel off the coast of Sinai during the 6-Day War.
The story finally crept into the US mainstream media in the 1980s and 1990s, Australia’s mass media largely ignored it. I recently did a few web searches, looking inside Australian News Ltd websites as well as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website. I could find not ONE article that mentions the USS Liberty incident in the body of the text. The “USS Liberty” does comes up in quite a lot in searches on those sites – but only in comments from the public, not in the contributions by paid journalists. One might indeed define an Australian journalist as a blogger who gets paid and never mentions the USS Liberty.
USS Liberty, an American naval vessel attacked by Israel in 1967 (followed by covered by a mass media cover-up); US Liberty, currently on life-support
The only major article about the USS Liberty that ever appeared in the Australian mass media, as far as I’m aware, was the opinion piece by Tim Fischer on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the USS Liberty attack.
Fischer had, by then, left politics. Given he’d been Deputy Prime Minister a few years before, I guess his article was hard to refuse; in any event, the Fairfax media had the guts to publish it.
Fisher’s Six days of war, 40 years of secrecy is still well worth reading. It contains innacuracies (for example Fischer wrongly implies the Israeli nuclear program dates from 1967, when it actually began much earlier). It’s not truly hard-hitting. Even so, it remains the most prominent account ever published in the Australian mainstream press about the USS Liberty incident.
The consequence of so much lying and/or truth avoidance for many decades is a steady, long-term decline in the mainstream media’s public credibility.
Gallup has just released the latest in a decades long survey of mass media credibility in the USA. It shows the trend. Credibility today is lower than ever and heading south.
Declining trust in US mass media - Gallup Polls
If the mass media was Pinnochio, its nose today would be twice as long as at the beginning of the Watergate scandal – the early 1970s political scandal that helped boost media credibility at the time and went some way towards restoring public faith in the integrity of the US political system.
It’s annoying there are no plots on the graph in the two decades between 1976 and 1997. It would also be fascinating to see equivalent data from earlier than 1973.
Even so, it seems to me declining mass media credibility is more than just an internet-related phenomenon dating from the early 1990s. At least since the Kennedy assasination in 1963, a significant number of Americans have felt deceived by their media outlets. I’m not aware of similar polling data for Australia – but imagine it would probably reflect a similar long-term downwards trend.
Can mass media credibility be restored?
Absent any serious attempt to tell the truth, that will be hard. The rapid growth of ‘social media’ makes it much harder to cover up media misbehaviour. A popular culture of cynicism about the media is becoming mainstream.
Most of this debate is tittle tattle about relative trivia. Australia, this last week, experienced a ‘twitter-storm’ over the gratuitous outing of an intelligent anonymous blogger (a public servant in his day job) by a Canberra-based News Corp hack called James Massola.
This incident – a saga known as #groggate on Twitter) was like a match in dry undergrowth. Public anger against the Murdoch media empire in Australia has been smouldering for some considerable time and demands for breaking Murdoch’s unacceptably high level of dominance within the Australian media market will grow. No other country in the Anglosphere such a large majority of the national daily readership controlled by one company – a level of ‘influence’ that’s scandalous by any standards. The Australian public resents undue orchestration of public discourse by a single, highly politicized media giant.
But the underlying problem goes deeper, much deeper. News Corp is only the obtrusive ugly end of Australia’s (and the west’s) media beast.
The truth is that public media such as the ABC, which have higher credibility, ALSO pretend the War on Terror is a splendid suit of richly-embroidered, highly plausible regalia. Deceit by trusted journalists who are paid directly from the public purse is, if anything, more egregious than the sins of News Corp hacks. And even smaller ‘independent’ media outfits such as Crikey.com continue to play along with the 9-11 charade.
It is an unstable situation, because journalists are being required to adopt an intellectually indefensible position. For many of them, this must be quite uncomfortable. Quips apart – too many do have consciences. The coming few months, I think, may well see significant breakthroughs, as more and more uncorrupted members of the ‘intelligensia’ finally break ranks and demand real answers about the foundation myth of the 21st Century ‘Age of Terror’.
This recent and well-produced video may help encourage them. It’s not ‘career death’ to question 9-11 – not if you do it in numbers and offer each other mutual support.
To better understand 9-11 in a broader context, The Truth About Terrorism video by James Corbett is recommended viewing:
Also recommended: Be very afraid – we are being fleeced by purveyors of fear (Simon Jenkins,The Guardian, 1st October 2010)