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This is a new blog dedicated to addressing issues and ideas from the perspective of freedom, natural rights and non-aggression.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

State, Media and Terror

            Given their coexistence, the State and the media industry, each motivated above all else by the construction and preservation of the public’s overall perception of their legitimacy, will have the natural tendency to cooperate in the creation of consistent and self-protecting narratives of information.
As for the State, it is true that elected members require the perception of legitimacy to maintain their individual positions of power in a democratic system, but even as a whole, the State needs an overall perception of legitimacy – be it enthusiastic, patriotic support or a passive concession of necessity – in order for its system of law to be respected and enforced as it intends and for it to increase its power without substantial opposition. The interest of the State therefore, in the instance that it releases information or statements to the public, is not to be truthful, but only to do so in a way which enhances or protects its image. The State will tend to utilize any opportunity to employ falsehoods or exaggerations that it believes will improve this general perception, insofar as it sees the benefits of its dishonesty as outweighing the risk of the truth being illuminated and its perception of legitimacy potentially being damaged.
Similarly, media outlets rely on a perception of legitimacy among the market in order to gain an audience of consumers who demand accurate information. The media then may prima facie seem inclined in most or all cases to provide the most truthful and accurate information that it can, knowing that viewers who become skeptical of the accuracy of its reporting will be inclined to opt for an alternative source of media which appears more trustworthy. However, the introduction of the State as a source of information entirely transforms the media industry. The State, rightly or wrongly looked upon as a reliable source of information, becomes a principal source of the information that the media consumes and presents to the public, as all its information comes with a certain inferred seal of government approval. The problem, as suggested above, is that the State has no overpowering dedication to honesty. Thus as the media becomes ever more reliant on the State as a source it is put in an awkward predicament: as the State releases deceptive information designed to bolster its perception of legitimacy – either to set the stage for the usurpation of more power or to cover up past delegitimizing activities – the media must either contradict the information of the State and therefore admit that both its primary source of information is unreliable and even more important, that it has reported inaccurate information in the past, or it must go against its own function of reporting accurate information in order to appear as having legitimate sources and avoid confessing to deviating from the truth in the past and risk suffering the same delegitimization that is feared by the State.
As long as the media relies on the State for information, it will tend to cover its tracks in synchronicity with the State, and thus a relationship of cooperation develops, in which the State lies, the media reports the lie, the State defends the lie, and the media has no choice but to perpetuate the deceptive narrative pushed by the State lest they admit the inaccuracy of their information and risk losing the one quality which keeps them competitive in their respective market. The State and the media then become partners in the quest for public approval – a cartel of deception so to speak – and a partnership that is formed at the expense of the truth.
This partnership is evident more than anywhere else in the realm of United States foreign policy, specifically the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism. Recent instances of terrorism both overseas and within the domestic United States provide perfect illustrations of the collaborative relationship between the State and the media and their collective tendency to act as protectors of each other’s respective images, mutualize their enemies and unify their political agendas.
            Media coverage of the large-scale protests and corresponding embassy attacks across Islamic dominated nations in September of 2012 serves as a prime example of the media protecting the State through a simplified and biased narrative. The protestors in these demonstrations made the focus of their grievances clear through direct and explicit actions, such as burning U.S. flags and effigies of Barack Obama, chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel”, and of course gathering outside, and in some cases even, attacking western embassies. But whereas one might assume the motives of the many thousands of people spread out across numerous countries and multiple continents would be multifaceted and difficult to pinpoint, the media coverage of these events was remarkably one-dimensional in attributing the protests exclusively to one YouTube video that included a disparaging depiction of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed, offering a consistent and simple narrative:

FOXNEWS.COM: "The protests were the latest in a week-long wave of violence sparked by the low-budget film, which portrays Islam's Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester."1
                       
CNN.COM: "The Benghazi consulate was one of several American diplomatic missions that faced protests after the online release of a film that ridiculed Muslims and depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, womanizer and ruthless killer."2

MSNBC.COM: "Throughout the Middle East and Africa, thousands are taking to the streets protesting an American-made film that ridicules the prophet Muhammad."3

REUTERS.COM: "Fury about a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad tore across the Middle East after weekly prayers on Friday with protesters attacking U.S. embassies and burning American flags as the Pentagon rushed to bolster security at its missions."4

            In accordance with the proposed theory of State and media, the source of the media’s quick conclusions regarding the motivations behind the mass protests came from the information put out by the federal government. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney made explicit and repetitious attribution to the film:

We also need to understand that this is a fairly volatile situation and it is in response not to United States policy, and not to, obviously, the administration, or the American people, but it is in response to a video, a film that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting. That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it, but this is not a case of protests directed at the United States writ large or at U.S. policy, this is in response to a video that is offensive to Muslims.5

            The rhetoric used by Carney in addressing the protests seems on the surface very defensive and arrogant; almost self-incriminating in the way he repetitiously denies presupposed allegations that there may be some anti-United States government sentiment in these regions. Of course, hostility towards United States policies in the Islamic world are well documented, with anti-drone policy protests occurring in Pakistan rather frequently of late6 and influential terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda explicitly citing United States policies as their primary grievance and motive. In fact, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri made his own statement on the protests shortly thereafter and in direct contradiction with Carney’s take, specifically advancing opposition to United States policy and not even mentioning the film:

Greetings to the honorable free ones protecting Islam, and (greetings) upon those who raided the American embassy in Benghazi, and the ones who protested in front of the American embassy in Cairo and downed its American flag and raised instead the flag of Islam and jihad. And I invite them to continue their confrontation with the American Crusader-Zionist aggression on Islam and Muslims, and I invite the rest of Muslims to follow their lead.7

            It is hard to understand in the case that Jay Carney’s statements are true (that the protests were only about the film), why the nature of the demonstrations was so specifically directed in ways that would infer angst regarding the very thing which Carney rules out as a motive: United State policy. Why, if the protestors were unconcerned with the actions of the United States government, would they attack western embassies that specifically represent the U.S. government and its allies? Why, if Carney was correct, would protestors burn effigies of the American president – the leader of the U.S. government? Why would they chant “death to Israel” in relation to a YouTube video made in the United States?
It seems that Carney’s attributions were misguided at best. Did he really believe that, if the United States had hypothetically been completely neutral and uninvolved in the Middle East for the past century that these protests would have carried on regardless and without any deviation in magnitude or manner? It is hard to imagine that anyone with knowledge of the subject would make a claim so absolute. On the motivations behind the protests, former head of the CIA Osama bin Laden tracking unit and respected author and expert on Islamic terrorism and Middle Eastern politics Michael Scheuer starkly contradicted Carney’s statements, describing the September protests as being “all about American intervention in the Middle East.” In a television interview, Scheuer explained the protests by focusing on unrest in the heavily Islamic nation of Sudan, and its relationship to United States policy, saying:

You just mentioned that there is a problem in the Sudan now. Well, last year or two years ago, we (the United States government) and the British and the European Union, ripped half of Muslim Sudan away from that country, along with seventy percent of its oil, and gave it to a new Christian nation in the south. This has everything to do with what our government does and it should be clear to Americans. Americans aren’t hated in the Muslim world as people, but their government, under either party, is detested.8

Scheuer and other experts on these regions surely would not deny at least some level of genuine anger over the film cited by the media in regards to the protests. However, for Carney to make absolute attribution to the film and blankly conclude the “obvious” lack of resentment in the protests towards United States is far too simplistic and counterintuitive to be taken seriously. While one side of the debate concedes both factors of the film and policy reactions in its assessment, the other flatly denies one factor without explanation. The question now, for those interested in reality, becomes, to what end were the protests directed at United States policy in contrast to the film, and more importantly for our purposes, why was there so little debate on these initial presumptions in the media?
            As for the latter question, the reasons for the media’s sidestepping of debate on the issue have already been laid out. The implications of Carney’s statements, which denied any aggression against United States policy from the protestors, were that the U.S. government was not at fault – that the violence stirring up in these regions was not a consequence of bad or misguided policies and that there was no blood on the hands of the administration. In turn, the opposite perspective – that the demonstrations were in response to U.S. policy – would imply a failure or level of incompetency from the State. It becomes clear now that in shifting the blame from U.S. policy to this film, the government was seeking to maintain the perception of legitimacy described above. In accepting blame for the consequences of a failed policy the State loses legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and in accordance with the previously proposed theory of State and media, the State will then be motivated to engage in dishonesty, such as falsely ascribing blame to another source for the sake of preserving its image. Naturally, the State comes to its own defense and seeks to protect itself from being held accountable for its own incompetence.
            In conjunction with the State and our theory, the media, rather than taking an objective stance on the issue and bringing light to the blatant inconsistencies in the government’s attribution, instead followed along in lockstep with the administration. For the media to admit the State’s past mistakes and dishonesty it would have to admit to some level its own past mistakes and reporting of that dishonesty. For example, if the protests were, say, in response to a war that the United States waged on the basis of false information, then the U.S. would be inclined to deny the motive of the protests in order to protect its image. In turn, the media, who may have reported that very fallacious information, acting as a mouthpiece for the State, and convincing the public on the necessity of said war, would then be similarly inclined to play along with the State’s excuses and diversions for their own sake, for admitting that the State’s information had been inaccurate in the past would be self-incriminating – delegitimizing – and thus against their interest.
This pattern can be applied universally to deceptive State information and its subsequent reporting by the media. As the media continues to distribute the State’s image-protecting propaganda to its audience and as both institutions attempt to maintain their perception of legitimacy, their narrative of deceptive information becomes ever more intertwined and mutually dependent, constantly progressing from the original point of separation to an endgame of complete consolidated unification of State and media where the information released by the State and that reported by the media are totally indistinguishable and unregulated by the market demand for accurate and unbiased information.
As this State-media merger comes into effect the lies begin to compound and shift from small, petty inaccuracies intended to protect their image into broader, more flagrant deception essential to maintaining the illusion of legitimacy that they have created and cannot afford to lose. It becomes necessary now at every point, both for the State and the media, to treat every news item that might threaten their fragilely build façade with a sense of paranoia and make sure to collaborate in the construction of a simplified and distorted version of the story that fits into their defensive narrative.
All information that challenges the narrative and could potentially damage the now collective perception of legitimacy is quickly marginalized or misrepresented in their favor, as in the case of these protests, where demonstrations clearly directed against United States foreign policy, on some level at least, were broken down into an easily digestible story, consistent with the narrative where presumably crazed religious radicals in undeveloped, undemocratic countries overreact to an offensive video, revealing their inferred savage nature and ignorance of freedom of speech and the like, as opposed to justifiably angered citizens of nations where western military and political intervention and possibly embarrassing policy blunders have created real tension and warranted resentment. Neither the State nor the media are willing to admit that there could be any discontent with their services, for such a concession would be damaging to their image.
As the State and the media become more united and cooperative, the State’s enemies become the media’s enemies too, as the media solidifies itself as a guard against attacks on the State’s reputation (for the sake of its own reputation of course). A premier example of this tendency on a part of the media is their response to the recent Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt of the perpetrators. While certainly newsworthy, this situation of domestic terrorism was covered extensively by the media at a level that could be seen as somewhat over the top, as the faces of the two accused were fixed on the TV screen for nearly a week and news outlets followed the police chase nonstop as if all other news in world had to be postponed until the circumstances had been rectified. Even while these events were dominating the media, over 30 people were killed from a series of bombings in Iraq on the same day9 and even more left dead from an earthquake on the Iranian/Pakistani border less than 24 hours later.10 Whereas a bomb going off a killing three people in Boston should certainly a big deal to an American based media outlet, one might wonder why there was little to no national media attention given to the four people murdered among the 26 shot in Chicago the weekend immediately preceding the bombing incident11. Referencing an even more proportionally fatal fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that occurred that same week12, political satirist Adam Corolla addressed this controversial discrepancy in media coverage during his popular podcast:

Boston has 3 people dead and quite a few injured. But it's 3 people dead, there's that many people during the course of this podcast, that many people times ten die out on highways… Now, you have 15 people dead (fertilizer plant in Texas), but that's the whole thing about it; we're not really into math, we're into feelings, and we're not really into it when it comes to body counts… But if a terrorist touched off that plant, then now we’ve got an issue.13

Whereas the fertilizer plant explosion was most likely an accident, the murders in Chicago, just like the bombing in Boston, were no doubt carried out with malicious intent. While in comparison, a bomb going off in the midst of such a world renowned event may explain the superiority of its significance over the shootings in Chicago to some degree, the disproportionality in contrast of ceaseless, ultra-focused news coverage of one and virtually none for the other calls for some explanation. There was terrible violence committed in both these instances, however, one stark difference exists which might help to interpret the reasons for the great divide in media coverage between the two stories, this being, the difference in the eyes of the State between a common criminal and a terrorist.
The common criminal, be he a murderer or a thief, aggresses against his victims for his own empowerment – power over their property, power over their life – doing so for his own benefit only – his own parasitic sustenance. At the very least one can conclude that this criminality does not pose much of a threat to the State, and therefore, the media sees no need to sound the alarm and condemn his actions. One might even go as far to suggest that the State identifies with the common criminal, as the State too sustains itself through the coercive and parasitic extraction of its citizen’s private wealth. Whereas the State gains enough of a perception of legitimacy to call its form of plunder taxation, the criminal similarly “taxes” his victims on a much smaller scale, and since the State makes the law, it has no reason to fear the criminal.
The terrorist in contrast, acts in political belligerence – committing his act of aggression not for his own sake, but for the sake of his statement or his message. The terrorist seeks to use violence to initiate some political or societal change, and whereas the common criminal is a threat to the public only (those whom the State claims to protect), the terrorist is a threat to State as well. He is their creation – spawned in opposition to their policies – and so for the public to realize that the State is creating enemies through its policies, people who directly threaten the public’s safety (thus contradicting its obligation to protect them by actually putting them in danger), would be devastating to its reputation.
The common criminal seeks to change nothing but his own disposition at the expense of another individual. The terrorist oppositely sacrifices his own well-being to try and weaken or challenge the power of the State. He, just like the State – which enforces its laws through the barrel of a gun – utilizes the threat of violence to advance his political agenda. In sharing the same modus operandi as the State, the terrorist becomes their competition – a rival in the market for control and coercion – and as the State builds its armies, rains bombs down upon foreign nations and uses force to subdue insubordination to its rule domestically, the entrance of a new player into their market becomes a threat to their legitimacy, for the terrorist epitomizes everything that the state is on a microcosmic scale. The only significant difference between them is that one is considered legitimate and the other is not, and so naturally, the State responds to the terrorist like any good monopoly would and seeks to immediately and forcibly destroy its competition.
Respecting their relationship of mutual protection, the media identifies the terrorist as a threat as well. When the terrorist makes his attack, he becomes an almost cartoonish villain in the media’s portrayal. The public is warned of his evils over and over again and a state of fear is induced through constant and aggressive coverage of his supposed imminent danger to the nation. The State’s enemy becomes the media’s enemy, and as the media relays this information to its audience, he becomes their enemy as well.
While the common criminal gets only a mention in the news the terrorist becomes the leading story. In a media that strives to serve its audience in the public, it would seem that the discrepancy between these two forms of criminals would be far less pronounced – based on their level of threat to the public. Yet, as the State’s presence corrupts the media’s ability to remain balanced and impartial, the media’s allegiance to its customers takes a backseat to its allegiance to the State, and so the State’s war is the media’s war, the State’s enemy the media’s enemy, and the State’s agenda the media’s agenda as well.
As the media becomes more centralized and consolidated from the corruption of the State, biased information becomes ever harder to avoid as a consumer of media. Just as the media begins to identify with the State for its own reasons, the general public cannot help but suffer from the same identification. While all the information they receive is filtered through a State-favoring litmus test, the public can only but naturally become swayed by the seeming consensus of pro-State information circulating through the media, and thus just like the media institutions themselves, people become ever more reliant and dependent on the State, allowing it to assume more power as all the information presented to the public has the effect of reinforcing their perception of the State’s legitimacy.
As the public grows to identify with the State, citizens begin to subconsciously do the media’s job of protecting the State’s image for them, and in an instance such as the September 2012 demonstrations in the Middle East, the public shows itself just as eager to find a simplified and non-self-incriminating explanation as the media is. The State’s natural tendency to defend itself and rationalize all its actions carries over through the media to the individuals in the public, who treat the State’s actions as their own and therefore seek to vindicate them with their own personal, psychological defense mechanisms. Likewise, as the State labels an enemy, be it a foreign state or an individual terrorist, the public quickly does the same and cheers on the State against its enemy like a local sports team. The State perverts the purpose of the media, the media contaminates the minds of the public, and all these three factions of society – the producers, distributors and consumers of information – are eventually unified under one Orwellian condition of shameless nationalism, political paternalism and the ultimate deification of the State.

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