Thursday, February 7, 2013

NYTimes and WaPo cover up for the Government

In a story reported in the UK Guardian yesterday and repeated all across the interwebs, we can see another example of how the mainstream media in the US is increasingly little more than a propaganda arm of the US Government. The story in question concerns the existence of a "secret" base in Saudi Arabia from which the US launches many of its drone attacks in the Middle East. As we all know, there are many situations where a journalist would rightly withhold information from her readers. The obvious example is where a reporter has information about US troop deployments but refrains from publishing that information because it would be very helpful to our enemies and damaging to US troops. But, what is the rationale for hiding the location of this base from the American public?

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post made the usual claims about withholding this information for reasons of national security, but as David Sirota reports, a close look at these rationalizations reveals some important truths about the collusion between these media outlets and the government. The New York Times public editor discussed the decision to withhold the information with the editor of the paper, Dean Baquet. The key part of the discussion is as follows:
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts.  ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.”
As Sirota notes, this amounts to the editor admitting that he withheld information from the public because reporting that information might have led citizens to demand a change in governmental policy. He is literally saying that they withheld that information because an informed public would have been inconvenient to the US government! As Gawker's Adrien Chen noted:
The Washington Post and the New York Times revealed today that they were among a number of news organizations that participated in a blackout regarding the location of a "secret" CIA drone base in Saudia Arabia at the behest of the Obama Administration. But it turns out that base had already been reported months earlier—including by Fox News. In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren't protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. 
All of this nicely supports the Propaganda Model of Media described by Noam Chomsky and E.S. Hermann in their seminal work Manufacturing Consent. In this work they discuss five "filters" that shape the content of much of the media in the US. One of these filters concerns the limited range of sources that the media relies on. In this case, the media is essentially only relying on governmental officials, and in order to get those government officials to talk to them, many reporters will be very deferential in allowing those sources to dictate how and when that information can be used. And this is exactly what we see on the part of the New York Times and the Washington Post who deliberately buried an important story and important information so that they wouldn't piss off their government sources.

As always, Glenn Greenwald has a great deal more to say on this important topic.

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