Lapdogs of the national security state

The mainstream media aren't just ignoring the erosion of our rights and civil liberties. They're leading the chorus of voices justifying government repression.

From left: Savannah Guthrie and David Gregory on the NBC News set with Brian Williams (Phil Davis)From left: Savannah Guthrie and David Gregory on the NBC News set with Brian Williams (Phil Davis)

FOR THE biggest names of the American mainstream media, being a mouthpiece to those in power is more important than asking even the most basic questions about the erosion of our rights and civil liberties.

That's the attitude on display from much of the U.S. media toward revelations of the crimes of the U.S. war machine and national security state--and the government's war on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (formerly named Bradley) who leaked the information that exposed those crimes.

Numerous figures from so-called respectable journalism have lined up to heap abuse on not only Snowden and Manning, but the newspapers and websites that published their leaks--often enough with more spite than the Pentagon brass and the spies.

All this has been an object lesson about the "world's greatest democracy." Revelations of the atrocities committed in the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond--and the vast surveillance programs of the National Security Agency carried out in the name of "keeping Americans safe"--have proved once again, as Martin Luther King Jr. declared almost half a century ago, that the greatest purveyor of violence and repression in the world is the U.S. government.

And we also have fresh evidence of another fact about the Washington establishment--that the media which piously claim to scrutinize the actions of government and hold politicians to account are anything but watchdogs.

More like lapdogs.

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SINCE EARLIER this year, when NSA leaker Edward Snowden went public with information about government surveillance, aided by journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, nearly every week has brought a new disclosure about the war on our rights and freedoms--from the scope of government spying to the cooperation of telecommunications and Internet companies in the electronic eavesdropping.

These exposés have caused some outrage in the U.S., but the response is unquestionably more muted compared to similar scandals in countries like Britain and Germany. One big reason why is that the mainstream media have typically saved their criticisms not for the Obama administration, but for whistleblowers like Snowden.

The former NSA contract employee has said from the start that he believes the public should know about the vast scope of government spying programs--yet newspapers and cable TV news have been filled with slanderous speculation about his political motives, his treatment of his longtime partner when he was forced to flee the U.S. rather than go to jail, and much more.

In other words: Shoot the messenger.

The "official" response of political leaders in Washington has been muted, too. It's been left to a handful of liberal Democrats in Congress, including Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, to demand answers from the Obama White House--joined in some cases by Republicans who are at least as interested in finding an issue to use against Democrats as anything else.

The murmurs of official dissent could become louder when Congress comes back into session. But in the meantime, leaders of the two parties in Congress are united in support of government spying. According to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Snowden is a "traitor" who has put American lives at risk. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, says she has "concerns" about NSA spying, but was still part of the 217-205 majority that voted against an amendment put forward in July by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) to curb government surveillance.

But the politicians' pronouncements have, in many cases, been tamer than those of leading journalists.

In mid-August, for example, Time magazine senior national correspondent Michael Grunwald tweeted, "I can't wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange."

Grunwald deleted the tweet, but not before saying he was only sorry about the statement because it "gives Assange supporters a nice safe persecution complex to hide in."

Thus, in 280 characters or less, the eminently "respectable" journalist Grunwald not only welcomed the extrajudicial assassination of someone who helped expose U.S. war crimes, but showed how much he and his ilk are subservient to government interests.

Grunwald may have been the most openly repugnant, but he's just the tip of an establishment journalism iceberg that actively cheers for Assange's arrest (as the Christian Science Monitor did last year), smears Edward Snowden for fleeing the U.S. (Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer), and complains that columnist Glenn Greenwald is complicit in crimes for reporting Snowden's leaks (Meet the Press host David Gregory). They even have the gall to claim journalistic "impartiality," even "integrity."

To the Grunwalds and Gregories, true journalists like Glenn Greenwald--who refuse to hesitate in questioning those in power and, in fact, see this as a fundamental part of their job--are an affront.

Supposedly, Greenwald is suspect because he dares to express an opinion. But, of course, the "journalists against journalism," as Salon.com's David Sirota has called the Gregory brigade, express opinions, too--ones that dovetail neatly with the prevailing wisdom in Washington and are therefore accepted as part of the (non-threatening) status quo.

These same fixtures of the establishment media who are so anxious to exclude Glenn Greenwald from "real journalism" are the same ones attacking Chelsea Manning by ascribing her desire to see the crimes of the U.S. empire exposed to a supposed "mental illness" resulting from her gender identity.

Manning has done far more--and at enormous personal cost--to expose the crimes of empire than these "journalists against journalism" ever will. But adding insult to injury, some mainstream media outlets are now refusing to use the correct name or female pronouns to refer to Manning. Worse, on CNN, guest Richard Herman "joked" that Chelsea Manning would get "good practice" being a woman in prison. And the bottom-feeding Fox & Friends used the song "Dude Looks Like a Lady" to intro a piece about Manning.

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ACCORDING TO the likes of CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin, the British government's illegal detention of Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow airport under an anti-terrorism law was perfectly justified--even though the detention was a blatant attempt to confiscate information being carried between two journalists.

When Toobin was asked by CNN's Anderson Cooper if he thought Miranda's detention was justified, he replied, "I sure do," adding that Miranda was "a mule. He was given something--he didn't know what it was--for one person to pass to another at the other end of an airport. Our prisons are full of drug mules."

As Poitras wrote in Der Spiegel in an article about Miranda's detention, "Revealing the secret partnerships between spy agencies and telecoms entrusted with the private communications of citizens is journalism, not terrorism."

That such a sentence even needs to be written shows how imperiled freedom of the press has become--sometimes at the hands of those claiming to be the press.

But an even more extreme example is the call for "More surveillance, please," as the headline of a Wall Street Journal column by Gordon Crovitz put it. Arguing that the NSA is "doing its best" to protect Americans' privacy, Crovitz, the paper's former publisher, wrote, "In the fantasy world of the Mannings and Snowdens, the U.S. is waging unnecessary surveillance of terrorists while willy-nilly eavesdropping on Americans. In the real world, the biggest risk is that rules to protect privacy could discourage the intelligence agencies from being aggressive enough to stop the next 9/11."

So our basic rights--to privacy, to not be spied on by our own government--need to be sacrificed to stop "terrorism," according to Crovitz--and the public shouldn't even have the right to know.

This comes as the Obama administration has itself escalated attacks on journalists--for example, declaring Fox News' James Rosen a "co-conspirator" in the case of State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who was accused of leaking information about North Korea. In another instance, the Justice Department tapped the phones of the Associated Press in an attempt to track down the source of a story--an outrageous attack on press freedom.

Some commentators have argued that the vitriol directed against journalists like Greenwald represent a tension between the "old" and "new" media: reporters from traditional journalistic entities like daily newspapers who are supposedly required to check their politics at the door versus a new breed of activist reporter/bloggers who use their platforms on the Internet to not just report the news, but become a part of making it.

But the alleged impartiality of "old" journalism was always a myth--something unintentionally underlined by Fox News' laughable slogan "Fair and Balanced." For journalists who rise to the top ranks of the Washington media, the pressure--from their publishers and editors as much as from the elite they cover--is to be a stenographer to those in power.

We at SocialistWorker.org are proud to be on the other side from these lapdogs, alongside Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. We're proud to take a stand--and contemptuous of a mainstream media that feigns outrage at a scantily clad Miley Cyrus performing at the MTV Video Music Awards, while all but ignoring the erosion of fundamental rights and freedoms.