As historians know, events of great significance are sometimes put into motion by some seemingly irrelevant occurrence. This week’s shot across the bow of the mainstream media by one of its erstwhile members probably won’t trigger a stampede for the exits, but it did provide for a timely wake-up call.
Although probably no more harmless than the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings deep inside the Amazon rainforest, news that veteran journalist William M. Arkin severed relations with NBC over its relentless pro-war, anti-Trump narrative was exactly the message the omnipotent media kings needed to hear as attacks on alternative (i.e. conservative) voices have reached totalitarian proportions.
In a farewell letter to his colleagues, Arkin said he was “alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war.”
“We shouldn’t get out Syria,” he asked rhetorically, suggesting Trump’s particular brand of foreign policy has not been a total flop. “We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula? Even on Russia … do we really yearn for the Cold War?”
For many, news of Arkin flipping his bosses the proverbial bird on the way out the door was the sort of salute many have dreamed of delivering to the Legacy Media ever since the conspiracy theory of Russia intervention in the 2016 election turned into a nice excuse for the hulking Orwell Brothers – Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube – to start culling alternative media voices like hunters on the opening day of deer season.
Although Arkin’s letter betrays some naiveté – at one point he says he believed, despite his experience with the Iraq War, that he was invited back to NBC in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign to “break through the machine of perpetual war acceptance and conventional wisdom to challenge Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness” – it is his frank admittance that the media has assumed the role as “cheerleader” for evermore military misadventures that strikes a nerve.
“I would assert that in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable,” he wrote. “No wars won but the ball is kept in play.”
Reading Arkin’s letter forces one to question at what point the mainstream media stopped serving as the voice of reason and restraint and started shaking the pompoms on behalf of military conquest. It seems that something fundamentally changed in the American mindset following the 20-year Vietnam War, which was arguably the last time the Liberals displayed genuine disgust with war.
Despite a plethora of global butchery today that warrants some serious criticism and debate, ‘progressive’ Liberals – from college campuses to Hollywood to the media establishment, institutions they essentially own lock, stock and barrel – would rather devote their time to insanely personal issues instead (specifically, matters related to sexuality, political correctness, feminism and race).
Although it may be argued that many millions of people did take to the streets around the world to protest the 2003 Iraq War, for example, those efforts are known today for what they failed to accomplish: halting the mad rush to war without UN approval against a country that played no role whatsoever in the attacks of 9/11. The fact that the media was overwhelmingly on the side of the hawks certainly did not help the campaign.
In the New York Review of Books, writer Michael Massing ventured to ask members of the mainstream media tribe “where were you all before the war?”
“Why didn’t we learn more about these deceptions and concealments [of the Bush administration with regards to what some had dubbed ‘faith-based intelligence’] in the months when the administration was pressing its case for regime change—when, in short, it might have made a difference?”
Across the pond, meanwhile, the glaring disconnect that existed between the war-wary public and the pro-war press was summed up by Roy Greenslade of the Guardian: “There is a genuine scepticism about the existence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, a readiness to question America's warmongering leadership and an obvious unease at Tony Blair's zealous push for war,” Greenslade wrote. “People…do not seem to accept the views of President Bush and Blair that Saddam Hussein is a threat to world peace. Yet, and here is the rub, the vast majority of the British press certainly does.”
The situation today with regards to the media and its coverage of war is bad to the point of appalling. In the past, it was the generals and political leaders who geared up the nation for war while the journalists at least feigned to be the arbiters of common sense and caution. Today the calculus has flipped and we find the media openly and unashamedly agitating for bloodshed long before the military commanders have sounded the charge. Much of this lamentable situation underscores the hazards of allowing a small clique of super-influential media companies – Comcast, Disney, AT&T, 21st Century Fox, CBS and Viacom – to control the vast majority of what the public sees and hears. But I digress.
It only requires a brief glimpse as to how the media responds to the ‘promise’ of military aggression to understand that something has gone seriously awry with American journalism. What did it take for CNN to quickly shelve Russiagate and finally endorse Trump as POTUS more than a year after he’d been in the White House? It took Trump launching a crack-of-dawn missile strike on Syria in April 2017. CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria could barely contain his jingoistic juices when he declared the morning after the bombardment, “I think Donald Trump became President of the United States. I think this was actually a big moment…Trump understands there is no need to go to a pesky Congress every time they want military force.”
Meanwhile, MSNBC anchor Brain Williams demonstrated far more enthusiasm for military hardware than could be considered healthy when he remarked while watching US missiles streaming towards Syria: “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen,” Williams said, ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons,’ and they are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments what is for them a brief flight over this airfield.” Worse, Williams only ventured to ask a guest “What did they hit?” after this bombastic prelude.
On the flip side, when Trump made the audacious announcement in late December that he would be pulling US troops out of Syria it came off as a Kleenex moment for the media mavens. Max Boot, neocon cheerleader on behalf of non-stop bloodshed wailed in the Washington ‘Truth Dies in Darkness’ Post that “We are at the mercy of an ignorant and impetuous president.” At the same time, Rachel Maddow over at MSNBC showed consternation at the thought of US troops actually exiting some illicit military theater where we have no right to be in the first place.
This is the sort of choice American viewers get when the question of war and peace is on the table.
Amid such groveling behavior from so many ‘loyal’ members of the mainstream media, I will wrap this up by saying ‘hats off’ to William M. Arkin for having the courage to remind his media bosses about the real purpose of journalism, which is certainly not to parrot the official line when it comes to the prospect of war, or worse, push for military offensives on behalf of the military industrial complex. The duty of the journalist is to speak truth to power, even if it means forfeiting a paycheck in the process.