“I was never aware of any other option but to question everything.” ― Noam Chomsky
Journalists are continually facing the likelihood that they will spread propaganda through anonymous government sources. In the vein of past and current invasions and misinformation campaigns, we now see the Canadian government and certain media attempting to corner Russia, Iraq and Syria, who are potentially playing the 2015 version of the enemy, actively facing military aggression or in the stages of buildup. Former military play a role explaining and advocating for war, many of whom have been trained in talking points and are paid by the defense department. Canadian troops are presently in Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria among others. My angle is that journalists may, unwittingly or not, provide cover or “social license” for future wars, military interventions, or attacks of some kind by publishing information from the same government that is involved in the military excursions and planning in the first place. Protocol for, or training of journalists concerning media agendas is needed to safeguard against this, so that citizens can have a fair shot at disseminating for themselves what is true and what is not, and journalists dealing with sources are not manipulated, to whatever degree possible. Especially the 80% of people that Noam Chomsky estimates are meant to follow orders, not think, and who bear the brunt of the consequences.
This analysis will focus on established mainstream media organizations in the United States and elsewhere, including the New York Times and BBC. To quote journalist Glenn Greenwald, writing at the Intercept in response to a “Sunday Times” article on Edward Snowden that accused Snowden of working with Chinese or Russian spies, “That’s just how Western journalism works, and it’s the opposite of surprising. But what is surprising, and grotesque, is how many people (including other journalists) continue to be so plagued by some combination of stupidity and gullibility, so that no matter how many times this trick is revealed, they keep falling for it. If some anonymous government officials said it, and journalists repeat it while hiding who they are, I guess it must be true.” Meanwhile, non anonymous sources have legal action threatened and material destroyed in the face of government pressure.
Now, because Canada is going down the familiar road of austerity and war in the middle east, a critical analysis is timely, to focus on what is being said, by whom, and what is real and what is spin. A country like Canada is influenced by world allies, and “Calls for transparency often emphasize censorship but covert propaganda can be just as distorting to our ability to challenge the direction of British and U.S. foreign policy” Questions surrounding who is being spun are equally important, as are views to the contrary: that in times of war, truth is the first casualty to protect those serving our country. To follow this track, examples of propaganda used by mainstream media will be reviewed, some of which is fed from anonymous sources, who may be connected to government or the military. An examination of repercussions, results, or actions taken because journalists were sloppy, or because the “manufacture of consent” was the priority, will be examined. Finally, a look at solutions, concepts, and ideas for preventing this in the future, or at the very least minimizing it, from occurring in Canada.
Finding ourselves in a Federal Election called for October, details have become scarce surrounding bombing campaigns, as a reaction to the writ being dropped. Yet, the power journalists yield is immense, as Stanca Măda describes it, “War journalists play an important role in creating expectations and making readers adhere to a particular point of view. In other words, they are social actors whose stance matters and may make a difference when it comes to discussing about war or peace journalism” Silence is deafening, and as potentially dangerous as misinformation. Thus, a huge responsibility lies with them. As Goss remarks, “The military/government seduction of media workers gained traction not because of any failure of normal media practices, but precisely because professional journalists were carrying on with business as usual in being recruited into a public relations-style of reporting that followed the lead of their sources in uniform” This is profiled in the the context of war embeds, and the example of Edward Snowden. Greenwald reminds us of the examples of journalists re-using the same discredited government info to attack Snowden, which is ever more troubling in this era where whistleblowers are demonized and threatened with decades in jail. An argument could be made that new media can counteract this propaganda, though, as noted by British Army Colonel Ralph Arundell states “Nobody looks at a viral video on YouTube. . . and goes who planted that? But it needs to be from a known source” How can we know whats real? Contrarily, a goal to win a war may mean “The military may complain that the reporting is too much but that’s the inherent nature of journalism. It’s gadfly of the government itself, and our forefathers recognized that.” according to Mickey Osterreicher, of the National Press Photographers Association. Eight cases of espionage have been brought against various sources of leaked information by the current President.
The work of journalists is harder then ever, as seen by the Pentagons “Law of War” manual which potentially strips them of rights and access, for opposing war. From Vietnam to the second Iraq war and beyond, sources and journalists have played an integral role, both in promoting a war agenda and exposing it. The fourth estate’s role should cover the spectrum of angles needed to unpack a story from all available info, and light should be shone on the influence of the intelligence community in shaping media discourse. Ultimately, it is left to the reader to analyze and identify potential bias, seek out further sources, and to read with contempt. Additionally, become familiar with Edward Snowden, war propaganda, C-51 and actions of your government, and tell others. Confirmation bias exists, as does propaganda from many levels,and awareness is critical.
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