Category Archives: Media Criticism

The Ideal of a Free Media Died Long Ago

Should the media include positive editorial content secretly paid for by major corporations, as London’s Evening Standard newspaper has begun doing, according to new revelations?

Most of us instantly recoil from any blurring between editorial and advertising in the media. How would we know if what was reported was factual, truthful and newsworthy or there simply as public relations spin? How could we trust anything we read?

But here’s a seditious idea. Would that be such a bad thing? Maybe it would better if we were far more wary of the corporate media and began to think of it chiefly as a sales platform – selling us an ideology harmful to our individual welfare and that of our societies.

But before we continue with that line of thought, let’s first recap.

James Cusick has an important article on the Open Democracy website about a £3 million agreement between the Evening Standard and six major corporations, including Google and Uber, to let them buy favourable news coverage and commentary. The project, called London 2020, offers these corporations the chance to covertly influence the paper’s nearly 1 million readers in London.

Corporate cheerleaders

The idea is the brainchild of George Osborne, the paper’s editor. It is perhaps not surprising that it has been left to Osborne to clear the path for newspapers to become more overt cheerleaders for major corporations.

For six years prior to 2016, he was chancellor of the exchequer (Britain’s finance minister) for Conservative governments overseeing strict economic austerity, a policy designed to bleed the British public of money that was used instead to revive the private banking sector and major corporations.

Additionally, Osborne has his finger deep in various lucrative corporate pies. In a blatant conflict of interest since he became the Standard’s editor last year – and one that predates his offer to sell favourable coverage to these six corporations – he has a £650,000 contract to work one day a week for BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager.

BlackRock, meanwhile, has a £500 million stake in Uber – the taxi-app company that is among the corporations that signed up to Osborne’s deal. Uber desperately needs an image makeover as it fights through the courts to keep its licence to operate in London.

What is good for big business is very good for George Osborne’s bank balance. Which is why Osborne’s commitment to real journalism comes a far second to his commitment to his pals in the City.

‘Public relations death’

Nonetheless, it would be foolish to imagine that this is really a battle between Osborne’s slash-and-burn economics and journalistic ethics.

First, we should remember that all corporate media have been blurring the line between editorial and advertising over the past two or three decades. In the past they called it “sponsored content” and advertorials. More recently it has been transformed into “native advertising” – a euphemism for media outlets prostituting themselves to large corporations. Osborne’s crime is simply that he is doing it more brashly and on a larger scale than his competitors.

Second, a senior executive in Starbucks, one of the corporations Osborne approached, says the firm rejected the deal for the following reason: “Buying positive news coverage is PR death… something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here. This wasn’t right for us.”

As the statement implies, Starbucks are not averse to manipulating public perception of their activities to counter a poor image – in their case, because they and other corporations have rigged the UK system so that they pay hardly any tax. But the company was worried that Osborne’s plan might backfire. Presumably they suspected that this dishonest deal would eventually become public – as it indeed has – and would further dent their image. Or, to use their terminology, it risked becoming “PR death”.

As one should expect, the only consideration when corporations try to influence public opinion as they pursue their relentless battle to maximise profits is whether the effort will prove beneficial. Not whether such efforts are honest, or ethical, or in the public interest. Only whether they work – whether the public will think better of the company as it seeks to increase its profits, whatever the costs to the rest of society or the planet.

Invisible deal

In fact, far more sensible than the Evening Standard’s plan for each major corporation to make a one-off deal with a newspaper is for them all to have a permanent, collective and invisible deal with all media outlets – to promote a business environment that allows them to maximise their profits. And that is precisely the situation we already have.

It is not primarily because the media is dependent on advertising, though, of course, that helps to ensure the corporations get their way. What newspaper or commercial TV station is going to attack the very corporations they depend on for the bulk of their income. Attacking these corporations would be the media’s equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot.

But more significant still, the media are themselves corporations, no different from Google, Uber and Starbucks.

Jon O’Donnell, the commercial director of ESI Media, which publishes the Standard as well as the Independent newspaper, alludes to this in a statement cited by Open Democracy.

He says ESI is no longer simply providing advertising services but is now a “media business”, adding that the “strict divide between the so-called ‘church and state’ [editorial and advertising] was doing more harm than good.”

What Osborne and O’Donnell have done is make explicit what was until now largely veiled.

Shared ideology

The media aren’t just dependent on advertising from corporations. They are corporations – enormous ones. Today, six media corporations own 90 per cent of all US media. That destroys even the pretence of media choice and pluralism. But it signifies much more.

It ensures that these massive media corporations share the ideological assumptions of other major corporations, because all of them are driven by the same two considerations. First, to maximise their own profits whatever the external costs, including to the real world. And second, to maximise profits while minimising the damage to their carefully crafted public reputations for being ethical or caring companies pursuing the public good.

That means the core activity of media corporations is to act as the public relations arm for a turbo-charged neoliberal ideology that sanctions the pillage and plunder committed by all corporations – including media corporations – in the pursuit of endless “economic growth”.

The superficial differences between the various media outlets are there only to persuade us, readers and viewers, of yet another myth: that we have choice and control over the media, and that there is some kind of healthy debate taking place in our societies expressed through a supposed media “pluralism”.

The reality, however, is that our choice is between two wings of the corporate public relations industry: one advocating a confident corporate capitalism unapologetically pursuing activities that are destroying our societies and the planet, and another apparently committed to making minor adjustments to corporate capitalism to slow down – but not halt or reverse – the ongoing destruction.

Consumerism as panacea

Through adverts and editorial, all corporate media lobby relentlessly in favour of a mythical – and suicidal – endless “economic growth” and for an intensification of consumerism as a panacea for the very troubles inflicted by consumerism on our societies.

Regarding the most vital issues we face, there is already no distinction between the editorial and advertising sides of the media.

Lonely and depressed? Spend more time on your smart phone that isolated you from meaningful relationships and that bombards you daily with messages telling you that you will be happier if you improve yourself, or at least distract yourself, by acquiring more things.

Want to save the planet? Salve your conscience by ditching your old, polluting car and buy a greener, hybrid car. Soon you’ll need to trade that in for an electric model. Later you can scrap that one to buy a more efficient vehicle running on hydrogen, or maybe pixie dust. And while you’re pondering a greener lifestyle, maybe we can sell you a top-of-the-range bicycle and accessories.

Corporations are now so much in charge of our societies that our main political parties – whether nominally of the left or right – represent their interests above all else. It is no accident that the Evening Standard’s London 2020 campaign to promote these planet-destroying corporations as our allies was timed to coincide with the London mayoral election.

What better idea than to use the corporate media to sell us the idea that other profit-obssessed corporations are really there selflessly to help improve life in London. If the campaign is successful, those same rapacious corporations will have even more leverage over the winning mayor than they do over the present incumbent.

What is happening in London is occurring in every city, from New York and Los Angeles to Paris and Frankfurt. And it is being replicated on the national level. We will remain powerless over our lives as long as the corporations have power over our cities and countries – and our media.

So let Osborne sell the Evening Standard’s soul to the highest corporate bidder. In truth, the newspaper had no soul to begin with. It is time we ditched the Standard and the rest of the corporate media, and created new models of a pluralistic media that represents us, not billionaires.

Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy

The term ‘media bias’ does not do justice to the western corporate media’s relationship with Israel and Palestine. The relationship is, indeed, far more profound than mere partiality. It is not ignorance, either. It is a calculated and long-term campaign, aimed at guarding Israel and demonizing Palestinians.

The current disgraceful coverage of Gaza’s popular protests indicates that the media’s position aims at suppressing the truth on Palestine, at any cost and by any means.

Political symbiosis, cultural affinity, Hollywood, the outreaching influence of pro-Israel and Zionist groups within the political and media circles, are some of the explanations many of us have offered as to why Israel is often viewed with sympathetic eyes and Palestinians and Arabs condemned.

But such explanations should hardly suffice. Nowadays, there are numerous media outlets that are trying to offset some of the imbalance, many of them emanating from the Middle East, but also other parts of the world. Palestinian and Arab journalists, intellectuals and cultural representatives are more present on a global stage than ever before and are more than capable of facing off, if not defeating, the pro-Israeli media discourse.

However, they are largely invisible to western media; it is the Israeli spokesperson who continues to occupy the center stage, speaking, shouting, theorizing and demonizing as he pleases.

It is, then, not a matter of media ignorance, but policy.

Even before March 30, when scores of Palestinians in Gaza were killed and thousands wounded, the US and British media, for example, should have, at least, questioned why hundreds of Israeli snipers and army tanks were ordered to deploy at the Gaza border to face-off Palestinian protesters.

Instead, they referred to ‘clashes’ between Gaza youth and the snipers, as if they are equal forces in an equivalent battle.

Western media is not blind. If ordinary people are increasingly able to see the truth regarding the situation in Palestine, experienced western journalists cannot possibly be blind to the truth. They know, but they choose to remain silent.

The maxim that official Israeli propaganda or ‘hasbara’ is too savvy no longer suffices. In fact, it is hardly true.

Where is the ingenuity in the way the Israeli army explained the killing of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza?

“Yesterday we saw 30,000 people,” the Israeli army tweeted on March 31. “We arrived prepared and with precise reinforcements. Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.”

If that is not bad enough, Israel’s ultra-nationalist Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, followed that self-indictment by declaring there are “no innocent people in Gaza”; thus, legitimizing the targeting of any Gazan within the besieged Strip.

Unfair media coverage is not fueled by the simplistic notion of ‘clever Israel, imprudent Arabs’. Western media is actively involved in shielding Israel and enhancing its diminishing brand, while painstakingly demolishing the image of Israel’s enemies.

Take, for example, Israel’s unfounded propaganda that Yasser Murtaja, the Gaza journalist who was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while covering the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza border, was a member of Hamas.

First, ‘unnamed officials’ in Israel claimed that Yasser is ‘a member of the Hamas security apparatus.’ Then, Lieberman offered more (fabricated) details that Yasser was on Hamas’ payroll since 2011 and ‘held a rank similar to a captain.’ Many journalists took these statements and ran with them, constantly associating any news coverage of Yasser’s death with Hamas.

It turned out that, according to the US State Department, Yasser’s start-up media company in Gaza had actually received a small grant from USAID, which subjected Yasser’s company to a rigorous vetting process.

More still, a report by the International Federation of Journalist claimed that Yasser was actually detained and beaten by the Gaza police in 2015, and that Israel’s Defense Minister is engineering a cover-up.

Judging by this, Israel’s media apparatus is as erratic and self-defeating as North Korea; but this is hardly the image conveyed by western media, because it insists on placing Israel on a moral pedestal while misrepresenting Palestinians, regardless of the circumstances.

But there is more to western media’s approach to Palestine and Israel than shielding and elevating Israel, while demonizing Palestinians. Oftentimes, the media works to distract from the issues altogether, as is the case in Britain today, where Israel’s image is rapidly deteriorating.

To disrupt the conversation on Palestine, the Israeli Occupation and the British government’s unconditional support of Israel, British mainstream media has turned the heat on Jeremy Corbyn, the popular leader of the Labor Party.

Accusations of anti-Semitism has dogged the party since Corbyn’s election in 2015. Yet, Corbyn is not racist; on the contrary, he has stood against racism, for the working class and other disadvantaged groups. His strong pro-Palestine stance, in particular, is threatening to compel a paradigm shift on Palestine and Israel within the revived and energized Labor Party.

Sadly, Corbyn’s counter strategy is almost entirely absent. Instead of issuing a statement condemning all forms of racism and moving on to deal with the urgent issues at hand, including that of Palestine, he allows his detractors to determine the nature of the discussion, if not the whole discourse. He is now trapped in a perpetual conversation, while the Labor Party is regularly purging its own members for alleged anti-Semitism.

Considering that Israel and its allies in the media, and elsewhere, conflate between criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology, on the one hand, and that of Jews and Judaism on the other, Corbyn cannot win this battle.

Nor are Israel’s friends keen on winning, either. They merely want to prolong a futile debate so that British society remains embroiled in distractions and spares Israel any accountability for its action.

If British media was, indeed, keen on calling out racism and isolating racists, why then is there little discussion on Israel’s racist policies targeting Palestinians?

Media spin will continue to provide Israel with the needed margins to carry out its violent policies against the Palestinian people, with no moral accountability. It will remain loyal to Israel, creating a buffer between the truth and its audiences.

It is incumbent on us to expose this sinister relationship and hold mainstream media to account for covering up Israel’s crimes, as well as Israel for committing these crimes in the first place.

Killing Mosquitoes: The Latest Gaza Massacres, Pro-Israel Media Bias and The Weapon of “Antisemitism”

The Palestinians have long been seen as an obstacle by Israel’s leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.

He also noted:

The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the “Araboushim” – a term that belongs with “nigger” or “kike” – must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.1

Recent events encapsulate this all too well. On Friday, March 30, Israeli soldiers shot dead 14 Palestinians and wounded 1400, including 800 hit by live ammunition. By April 5, the death toll had risen to 21. During a second protest, one week later on Friday, April 7, the Israelis shot dead a further 10 Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, and more than 1300 were injured. Among those killed was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist who had been filming the protest. He had been wearing a distinctive blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ in large capital letters. The brutality, and utter brazenness with which the killings were carried out is yet another demonstration of the apartheid state’s contempt for the people it tried to ethnically cleanse in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding.

On the first day of the protest, on March 30, many Palestinians had gathered in Gaza, close to the border with Israel, as part of a peaceful ‘Great March of Return’ protest demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel.  One hundred Israeli snipers lay in wait, shooting at protesters, including an 18-year-old shot in the back while running away from the border. The Israel army boasted in a quickly-deleted tweet that the massacre had been planned, deliberate and premeditated:

Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.

BBC News and other ‘mainstream’ news outlets, including the Guardian, carried headlines about ‘clashes’ at the Gaza-Israel border ‘leaving’ Palestinians dead and injured. As we noted via Twitter, an honest headline would have read:

Israeli troops kill 16 Palestinians and injure hundreds

When the Israelis shot dead yet more Palestinians on the second Friday of protests, the BBC reported, ‘Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protest’. BBC ‘impartiality’ meant not headlining Israeli troops as the agency responsible for the ‘deadly unrest’.

Adam Johnson, writing for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, observed of news reports carrying inappropriate headlines about ‘clashes’:

We do not have one party’s snipers opening fire on another, unarmed party; we have “violent clashes”—a term, as FAIR has noted before, that implies symmetry of forces and is often used to launder responsibility.

Later, the Guardian quietly removed the word ‘clashes’ from its headlines, while adding Israeli military spin: that the protest was a Hamas ploy to ‘carry out terror attacks’; compare this early version with a later version.

On the first Friday of mass killing, we noted that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had reported the presence of Israeli snipers. We asked the public to look for any mention of this on BBC News. Around the time we made the request, the Newssniffer website picked up the first reference to ‘snipers’ on the BBC News website (albeit buried in a tiny mention at the bottom of a news article). Coincidence? Or were BBC editors aware that their output was under public scrutiny?

Within just one day, the BBC had relegated the news of the mass shootings in Gaza to a minor slot on its website. It considered ‘news’ about television personality Dec presenting Saturday Night Takeaway without Ant, and royal couple Harry and Meghan choosing wedding flowers, more important than Israel killing and wounding many hundreds of Palestinians.

When BBC News finally turned to Gaza, with a piece buried at the bottom of its World news page, it was from Israel’s perspective:

Israel warns it could strike inside Gaza

and:

Palestinian groups using protests as a cover to launch attacks on Israel

This disgraceful coverage strongly suggested that Israel was the victim. As political analyst Charles Shoebridge observed:

Editors especially at the BBC aren’t stupid, they know exactly what they’re doing, and the use of very many devices such as this isn’t somehow repeatedly accidental. Indeed, it’s a good example of how the BBC is perhaps history’s most sophisticated and successful propaganda tool.

By contrast, a powerful article in Haaretz from veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed to the reality that the mass shooting by Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces:

shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.

The Silence of Liberal ‘Interventionists’

Last year, Jeremy Corbyn was hounded by ‘mainstream’ media journalists, demanding that he condemn acts of violence by the socialist government in Venezuela. But there was no corporate media campaign calling upon Theresa May to denounce much worse Israeli violence. The same media that devoted sustained, in-depth coverage of Spanish police brutality during the Catalan independence referendum swiftly relegated Israel’s mass murder to ‘other news’.

Imagine if Russian or Syrian troops had shot dead almost 30 civilians, and injured well over 1000, during peaceful protests. ‘MSM’ headlines and airwaves would be filled with condemnations from senior UK politicians and prominent commentators. But not so when it is Israel doing the killing.

We tweeted:

twitter task for today: think of any of the famously impassioned, outraged “humanitarian interventionists” in the Guardian, The Times, the Observer and so on, and check how much they’ve tweeted about the mass killings and woundings in Gaza. Go ahead, try it.

Examples were glaring by their absence.

Writing for The Intercept, journalist Mehdi Hasan asked rhetorically:

Where is the moral outrage from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, the famously pro-intervention, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a “A Problem From Hell,” which lamented U.S. inaction in Rwanda […]?

Where is the demand from Canadian academic-turned-politician Michael Ignatieff, who was once one of the loudest voices in favor of the so-called responsibility to protect doctrine, for peacekeeping troops to be deployed to the Occupied Territories?

Where are the righteously angry op-eds from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, or Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, or David Aaronovitch of The Times of London, demanding concrete action against the human rights abusers of the IDF?’

Hasan concluded:

The ongoing and glaring refusal of liberal interventionists in the West to say even a word about the need to protect occupied Palestinians from state-sponsored violence is a reminder of just how morally bankrupt and cynically hypocritical the whole “liberal intervention” shtick is.

Global realpolitik was highlighted yet again when the US government blocked a vote at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council calling for an international investigation into the mass shooting of civilians by Israeli troops on March 30. The US repeated its block a week later after the second wave of Israeli killing. We have found no coverage in the UK ‘mainstream’ media of the US blocking a UN investigation. In other words, Israel can act with impunity when committing grievous crimes against humanity, backed to the hilt by its biggest sponsor in Washington.

Weaponising ‘Antisemitism’ Against Corbyn

Meanwhile, the ‘MSM’ was continuing to deploy charges of alleged antisemitism against Corbyn-led Labour; and, seen in a wider political context, against realistic hopes of even moderately progressive changes to UK government policy.

A Facebook comment made in 2012 by Corbyn about a mural depicting Jewish and non-Jewish bankers was unearthed and used to mount a remarkable barrage of vehement media attacks. BBC News took its lead from the obviously right-wing, anti-Corbyn agenda across the ‘spectrum’ of the country’s ‘free press’.

The attacks continued with a vicious front-page ‘exclusive’ in the extreme right-wing Sunday Times:

Exposed: Corbyn’s hate factory

The article, based on a trawl of Facebook posts, painted a hugely exaggerated picture of ’racism, violent threats and abuse by leader’s fan base’. Alex Nunns, author of The Candidate, a book about Corbyn’s ‘improbable path to power’, pointed out the absurdly cynical nature of this Murdoch ‘journalism’. Nunns undertook his own Facebook search for posts by Conservatives and quickly discovered examples of misogyny, abuse, an implied threat of violence and implicit racism. The Tory Facebook page he found:

Appears to have links to The Bruges Group, which in turn has links to leading Conservative politicians including Iain Duncan Smith. Headline: “EXPOSED: Iain Duncan Smith’s hate factory.” See how this is done?

Guardian columnist Owen Jones picked up Nunns’ tweets and pointed out in a live BBC interview:

Why has there been no coverage of the despicable racism and abuse found in Conservative Facebook groups?

The BBC news presenter replied:

Because Labour is the story at the moment.

That the ‘MSM’, including the BBC, had made Labour ‘the story at the moment’ was simply not worthy of comment by corporate journalists or, perhaps, permissible thought.

Shamefully, the BBC published a big splash based on the Sunday Times article on ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s hate factory’. The BBC piece was almost gleeful in saying that there was ‘no let up for Labour’:

With negative stories on the front pages of at least four newspapers, this is not a happy Easter Sunday for Labour.

In other words, as it so often does, the BBC was following the lead of the right-wing, anti-Corbyn ‘mainstream’ press. The onslaught of ‘news’ linking Corbyn to ‘antisemitism’ continued with an account of how Corbyn had attended a ‘left wing Jewish event’ organised by Jewdas. The BBC stated:

Jewdas, which describes itself as a “radical” and “alternative” Jewish collective, is at odds with mainstream Jewish groups over allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour.

Three of the principal pro-Israel bodies in the UK, the Jewish Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish Labour Movement, criticised Corbyn for attending the event. The BBC reported:

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “If Jeremy Corbyn goes to their event, how can we take his stated commitment to be an ally against anti-Semitism seriously?”

The BBC not only ran with this latest ‘story’ linking Corbyn to antisemitism, but promoted it as the lead item on the BBC News website.

However, there is nothing that says we must allow BBC News to determine what is ‘mainstream’ and what is not. And, in particular, when it comes to the Jewish Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish Labour Movement, journalist Asa Winstanley of Electronic Intifada notes:

Their primary function is to lobby for Israel, an institutionally racist, apartheid state.

A measure of the Jewish Board of Deputies’ staunch pro-Israel stance can be seen from the tweet they sent in the wake of the brutal Israeli killings in the first Friday border protest:

Alarming developments at Gaza border as Hamas once again using its civilians – inc children – as pawns.

The lack of condemnation from ‘mainstream’ voices in politics and the media to such a disgraceful message reveals widespread deep fear of being accused of antisemitism. This fear, used to constrain reasoned debate, needs to be seen in a broader historical context. In 2002, former Israeli minister Shulamit Aloni explained the rationale behind the charge of antisemitism:

Well, it’s a trick – we always use it. When from Europe somebody’s criticising Israel then we bring up the Holocaust.

And it works. Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group related that he was once told by a senior BBC News editor:

The BBC waits in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis.

None of the above is to deny that there is a significant problem of antisemitism in British politics, or in wider British society. But, as the group Jews for Justice for Palestinians notes, the facts are that:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population.

Moreover, antisemitism has decreased in Labour under Corbyn, and public polling indicates that it is more prevalent among Conservative and UKIP members than among Labour and Liberal members. Indeed, there is ample evidence of an extraordinary scale of Tory racism and abuse.

In summary, then, here is the horrible irony of recent coverage on Israel and antisemitism: the corporate media continued to headline Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism crisis’ – supposedly triggered by a comment about a mural in 2012 – while quickly relegating Israel’s massacres of civilian Palestinians to ‘other news’ at the bottom of the page and running order.

The truth is that the deadliest racism today is indicated by the casual way in which the West and its allies rain violence down on countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Although human rights are typically used as a pretext, the real goal is control of natural resources and the global economy; the tears of compassion evaporate the instant that an Official Enemy obstructing Western control has been overthrown. As Chomsky has noted, this is actually closer to a kind of speciesism than racism:

Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when [President Bill] Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.

A further example, as we have seen, are the yawns of indifference from the corporate media as hundreds of civilian protestors – Palestinian ‘mosquitoes’ – are gunned down by Israeli snipers.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press, 1999, p.489.

The Sharks Circling Around Corbyn Scent Blood

After a short reprieve following Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success in Britain’s general election last year, when he only narrowly lost the popular vote, most of the Labour parliamentary party are back, determined to bring him down. And once again, they are being joined by the corporate media in full battle cry.

Last week, Corbyn was a Soviet spy. This week we’re in more familiar territory, even if it has a new twist: Corbyn is not only a friend to anti-semites, it seems, but now he has been outed as a closet one himself.

In short, the Blairites in the parliamentary party are stepping up their game. Corbyn’s social justice agenda, his repudiation of neoconservative wars of aggression masquerading as “humanitarianism” – lining the coffers of the west’s military-industrial elites – is a genuine threat to those who run our societies from the shadows.

The knife of choice for the Labour backstabbers this time is a wall mural removed from East London in 2012. At that time, before he became Labour leader, Corbyn expressed support on Facebook for the artist, Kalen Ockerman, known as Mear One. Corbyn observed that a famous anti-capitalist mural by the left-wing Mexican artist Diego Rivera was similarly removed from Manhattan’s Rockefeller Centre in 1934.

Interestingly, the issue of Corbyn’s support for the mural – or at least the artist – originally flared in late 2015, when the Jewish Chronicle unearthed his Facebook post. Two things were noticeably different about the coverage then.

First, on that occasion, no one apart from the Jewish Chronicle appeared to show much interest in the issue. Its “scoop” was not followed up by the rest of the media. What is now supposedly a major scandal, one that raises questions about Corbyn’s fitness to be Labour leader, was a non-issue two years ago, when it first became known.

Second, the Jewish Chronicle, usually so ready to get exercised at the smallest possible sign of anti-semitism, wasn’t entirely convinced back in 2015 that the mural was anti-semitic. In fact, it suggested only that the mural might have “antisemitic undertones” – and attributed even that claim to Corbyn’s critics.

And rather than claiming, as the entire corporate media is now, that the mural depicted a cabal of Jewish bankers, the Chronicle then described the scene as “a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money”. By contrast, the Guardian abandoned normal reporting conventions yesterday to state in its news – rather than comment – pages unequivocally that the mural was “obviously antisemitic”.

Not that anyone is listening now, but the artist himself, Kalen Ockerman, has said that the group in his mural comprised historical figures closely associated with banking. His mural, he says, was about “class and privilege”, and the figures depicted included both “Jewish and white Anglos”. The fact that he included famous bankers like the Rothschilds (Jewish) and the Rockefellers (not Jewish) does not, on the face of it, seem to confirm anti-semitism. They are simply the most prominent of the banking dynasties most people, myself included, could name. These families are about as closely identified with capitalism as it is possible to be.

There is an argument to be had about the responsibilities of artists – even street artists – to be careful in their visual representations. But Ockerman’s message was not a subtle or nuanced one. He was depicting class war, the war the capitalist class wages every day on the weak and poor. If Ockerman’s message is inflammatory, it is much less so than the reality of how our societies have been built on the backs and the suffering of the majority.

Corbyn has bowed to his critics – a mix of the Blairites within his party and Israel’s cheerleaders – and apologised for offering support to Ockerman, just as he has caved in to pressure each time the anti-semitism card has been played against him.

This may look like wise, or safe, politics to his advisers. But these critics have only two possible outcomes that will satisfy them. Either Corbyn is harried from the party leadership, or he is intimidated into diluting his platform into irrelevance – he becomes just another compromised politician catering to the interests of the 1 per cent.

The sharks circling around him will not ignore the scent of his bloodied wounds; rather, it will send them into a feeding frenzy. As hard as it is to do when the elites so clearly want him destroyed, Corbyn must find his backbone and start to stand his ground.

UPDATE:

This piece in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz by their senior columnnist Anshel Pfeffer sums up a lot of the sophistry (intentional or otherwise) underscoring the conflation of left wing critiques of neoliberalism and globalism with right wing ultra-nationalism and anti-semitism.

Pfeffer writes:

The conspiracy theories of globalist bankers utilizing mainstream media and corrupt neoliberal politicians to serve their selfish sinister purposes, rather than those of ordinary people, are identical whether from left or right.

And on either side, most of the theorists will never admit to being anti-Semitic. They are just “anti-racist” or “anti-imperialist” if on the left, or “pro-Israel” on the right. And most of them really believe they have nothing against Jews, even while parroting themes straight out of the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion].

Notice the problem here. If you are a radical leftist who believes, as generations of leftists before you have done, that military, political, media, and financial elites operate in the shadows to promote their interests, to wage class war, then not only are you a conspiracy theorist, according to Pfeffer, but you are by definition anti-semitic as well. If you believe that an Establishment or a Deep State exists to advance its interests against the great majority, you must hate Jews.

The logic of Corbyn’s critics has rarely been articulated so forthrightly and so preposterously as it is here by Pfeffer. But make no mistake, this is the logic of his critics.

Apple and the Guardian: Partners in a Death Spiral

This report on Apple CEO Tim Cook’s visit to a UK school to promote the company’s new coding curriculum for schoolchildren could hardly be a better illustration of the way the Guardian newspaper serves as a key propagandist for aggressive global corporate capitalism, helping to create for it a façade of humanitarianism.

The Guardian presents Cook (no relation) as a concerned global citizen, a gay man who fights for LGBT rights and might have been Hillary Clinton’s running mate if things had turned out differently. The article could just as easily have been a press release straight out of Apple headquarters.

Unchallenged by the Guardian, Cook claims via the article to be promoting coding as a universal language bringing people together and serving as a great leveller of mankind, offering everyone the chance to become … multi-billionnaire Tim Cook.

Or as the Guardian puts it:

The one-year coding curriculum adopted by Harlow college, half an hour north of London, is intended to teach students computing skills through the use of a variety of games, lessons and interactive materials. Every student is given an iPad loaded with coding apps and tools, and the teachers guide them through the concepts of coding.

There is not a hint of scepticism or suggestion that Cook and Apple are using the schools coding programme to promote their products among a captive and impressionable audience, and to counter growing concerns – even among those in the hi-tech industries – that the social media integral to Apple products is designed to be addictive and damaging to children.

Indeed, the emphasis of the article is on an apparent concern from Cook – who has no children – with the welfare of his young nephew. The piece accepts at face value Cook’s claim that he gets to decide how much time his nephew spends on social media rather than, as happens in all other families, the boy’s actual parents. Cook says he limits his exposure

In fact, given the growing alarm over the likely role of social media in impairing children’s development, Cook’s visit might be better compared to inviting the CEO of a tobacco company into schools to promote sports as a welcome complement to the habit of smoking 20 a day.

According to Cook, his famous predecessor Steve Jobs’ passion was to “serve humanity”, with Cook readily jumping at the chance to join that mission when Jobs poached him from IBM. “I finally felt aligned,” he adds.

So how did Cook contribute to serving humanity at Apple as senior vice-president of worldwide operations? Here is the Guardian’s extremely brief and bland summing up of his early career at Apple, the period that presumably proved him worthy of being Jobs’ successor:

He closed factories and warehouses, replacing them with contract manufacturers in Asia. He also kept costs under control and secured long-term deals in soon-to-be-crucial parts for the company, including flash memory storage for the iPod Nano, iPhone and iPad, which locked out competitors.

If one pauses long enough to decode that passage – and the Guardian gives every appearance of preferring you don’t – it reveals Cook (as one might expect of a successful CEO of a global corporation about to become the richest in the world) as a ruthless, cut-throat businessman, who turned large numbers of Apple’s employees out on to the street and left many others in far worse conditions, working for “contractors”.

But why delay over trivialities like that? Let’s get back to how great Cook and Apple are. The Guardian hastily returns to hagiography:

Since then, he has put his own stamp on Apple. In a 2014 profile to mark Cook’s announcement as person of the year, the Financial Times noted his passion for doing “things for other reasons than a profit motive, we do things because they are right and just”. As CEO, he has championed health, e-waste and renewable energy initiatives (claiming to run its own facilities mostly on renewable sources) plus Apple’s educational coding projects.

There’s more, much more – and not a word of it suggests that Cook might be primarily thinking of Apple’s brand image, and the effect on sales, as he puts on a few sticking plasters to try to conceal Apple’s central place in an unsustainable pyramid scheme of endless growth and wealth creation on a planet with finite resources.

Cook has, says the Guardian, “become a vocal proponent of privacy against global surveillance, and education to fight issues around gender diversity.”

So presumably all those security flaws and backdoors – the ones we know about so far – that allowed Big Brother states claiming to be western democracies to spy on us were unintended by Apple and its competitors. There is absolutely no way they might have been efforts by these mega-corporations to placate our increasingly authoritarian governments, in a trade-off to ensure no obstacles were placed in the way of their business affairs.

More Cook: “Introducing coding at an increasingly early age will help gender diversity too.”

Now one can see why Clinton might have wanted Cook at her side, the good business cop to Donald Trump’s bad business cop. Cook obviously knows how to exploit identity politics – to the exclusion of other kinds of politics – to maximum effect.

Please do not think I am so naive as to believe that either Cook or Apple could operate in any other way in what is a dog-eat-dog corporate business world. This is not criticism of them for being who they must be in a global competition in which one either devours or is devoured.

But let us not also kid ourselves that this neoliberal world we have allowed to be created in our names is not deeply sick and self-harming – and that, now with climate change accelerating, we are not caught in a death spiral.

We have to change course. That can only happen when we recognise that the corporations we idealise are really psychopathic in nature, and that the corporate media we trust is enabling and hastening their – and our – descent into madness.

Monbiot Is a Hypocrite and a Bully

It is time for George Monbiot’s legion of supporters to call him out. Not only is he a hypocrite, but he is becoming an increasingly dangerous one.

Turning a blind eye to his behaviour, or worse excusing it, as too often happens, has only encouraged him to intensify his attacks on dissident writers, those who – whether right or wrong on any specific issue – are slowly helping us all to develop more critical perspectives on western foreign policy goals than has ever been possible before.

I do not lightly use such strong language against Monbiot, someone I once admired. But his column this week drips with hypocrisy as he accuses the right wing media of being the real villains when it comes to “no-platforming”. Monbiot writes:

But perhaps the real discomfort is that the worst no-platforming of all takes place within our newspapers. In the publications most obsessed with student silliness, there is no platform for socialism, no platform for environmentalism, no platform for those who might offend the interests of the proprietors. …

I believe that a healthy media organisation, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion. I want the other newspapers to keep publishing views with which I fiercely disagree. But they – and we – should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be.

What free speech advocate would disagree with that? Except it is Monbiot himself who has been using his prominent platforms, at the Guardian and on social media, to discredit critical thinkers on the left – not with reasoned arguments, but by impugning their integrity.

Denied a platform

It started with his unsubstantiated claim that scholars like Noam Chomsky and the late Ed Herman, as well as the acclaimed journalist John Pilger, were “genocide deniers and belittlers”. It now focuses on childish insinuations that those who question the corporate media’s simplistic narrative on Syria are Assad apologists or in Vladimir Putin’s pay.

But worse than this, Monbiot is also conspiring – either actively or through his silence – to deny critics of his and the Guardian’s position on Syria the chance to set out their evidence in its pages.

The Guardian’s anti-democratic stance does not surprise me, as someone who worked there for many years. I found myself repeatedly no-platformed by the paper – even while on its staff – after I started taking an interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict and writing about the discomforting issue of what a Jewish state entails. My treatment is far from unique.

Now the paper is denying a platform to those who question simplistic and self-serving western narratives on Syria. And Monbiot is backing his employer to the hilt, even as he professes his commitment to the publication of views he fiercely disagrees with. That’s the dictionary definition of hypocrisy.

‘Selfless’ White Helmets?

The latest instalment of the Guardian and Monbiot’s long-running battle to silence Syria dissidents arrived last month when Olivia Solon, the paper’s technology writer living in San Francisco, developed a sudden and unexpected expertise in a controversial Syrian group called the White Helmets.

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

There are also strong indications that members of the White Helmets have been involved in war crimes, and that they have staged rescue operations as a part of a propaganda offensive designed to assist Islamic extremists trying to oust Assad. (Solon discounts this last claim. In doing so, she ignores several examples of such behaviour, concentrating instead on an improbable “mannequin challenge”, when the White Helmets supposedly froze their emergency operations, in the midst of rescue efforts, apparently as part of a peculiar publicity campaign.)

Guardian hatchet job

Whatever side one takes in this debate, one would imagine that Monbiot should have a clear agenda in support of hearing evidence from all sides. One might also imagine that he would want to distance himself from Solon’s efforts to tie criticism of the White Helmets to a supposed “fake news” crisis and paint those critical of the group as Putin-bots. According to Solon:

The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars. It exposes just how rumours, conspiracy theories and half-truths bubble to the top of YouTube, Google and Twitter search algorithms.

Those are the same algorithms that have been changed in recent months to make sure that prominent leftist websites are increasingly difficult to find on internet searches and their writers’ views effectively disappeared.

Yet Monbiot has been using social media to promote Solon’s cheerleading of the White Helmets and her hatchet job against on-the-ground journalists who have taken a far more critical view of the group.

As set out by Prof Tim Hayward, the Guardian’s response to criticism of Solon’s piece has been typical. The comments section below the article was hastily closed after many criticisms were voiced by readers. The journalists who were singled out for attack by Solon were denied a right of reply. A group of concerned academics led by Hayward who submitted their own article, which detailed publicly available evidence to counter Solon’s simplistic account of the White Helmets, were ignored. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s editors and the reader’s editor have ignored all efforts by these parties to contact them.

Given his claim to be an uncompromising defender of free speech and a fierce advocate of providing platforms to those who can back up their arguments with evidence, however discomforting, one might have assumed that Monbiot would at the very least have lobbied on behalf of Hayward and his fellow scholars. But not a bit of it. Yet again he has joined the dogs of the corporate media baying for blood. Instead he turned to Twitter to claim Hayward and Piers Robinson, an expert on propaganda, had “disgraced” themselves.

Undermining climate concerns

The many tens of thousands of leftists who defend Monbiot, or turn a blind eye to his hypocrisy, largely do so because of his record on the environment. But in practice they are enabling not only his increasingly overt incitement against critical thinkers, but also undermining the very cause his supporters believe he champions.

Climate breakdown is a global concern. Rewilding, bike-riding, protecting bees and polar bears, and developing new sustainable technologies are all vitally important. But such actions will amount to little if we fail to turn a highly sceptical eye on the activities of a western military-industrial complex ravaging the planet’s poorest regions.

These war industries fill their coffers by using weapons indiscriminately on “enemy” populations, spawning new and fiercer enemies – while often propping them up too – to generate endless wars. The consequences include massive displacements of these populations who then destabilise other regions, spreading the effect and creating new opportunities for the arms manufacturers, homeland security industries, and the financial industries that feed off them.

A true environmentalist has to look as critically at western policies in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and many other areas of the globe as he does at UK policy in the Welsh hills and the Lake District.

All indications are that Monbiot lacks the experience, knowledge and skills to unravel the deceptions being perpetrated in the west’s proxy and not-so-proxy wars overseas. That is fair enough. What is not reasonable is that he should use his platforms to smear precisely those who can speak with a degree of authority and independence – and then conspire in denying them a platform to respond. That is the behaviour not only of a hypocrite, but of a bully too.

BBC Debate About Equal Pay Misses Bigger Point

One can be resolutely in favour of equal pay for men and women and still view the current debate about discriminatory salaries among senior BBC journalists as missing a much bigger point. That is neatly illustrated by the furore over comments by John Humphrys, who presents the BBC’s early morning current affairs programme Today on Radio 4.

In a leaked transcript of off-air comments, Humphrys tries to help out an old friend Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America editor – and one of those benefiting from the BBC’s higher-pay-for-men policy. In a pre-interview chat, he seeks to agree with Sopel how they will handle a coming interview about Carrie Gracie, who recently resigned from her post as the BBC’s China editor over her lower salary than men like Sopel.

Humphrys says he will have to raise as his first question whether Sopel should hand over some of his salary to Gracie to encourage her to stay in her post. But then he immediately offers to assist Sopel by making an interjection on his behalf in the planned interview: “And I could save you the trouble, as I could volunteer that I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else and that seems to me to be entirely just – something like that would do it?”

The problem, however, isn’t just that Gracie is being paid less than colleagues like Sopel. They are all being paid huge salaries. It is that there is a correlation between how much they are paid and the kind of political values they espouse for their employer.

Checks and balances

Once journalists were low-paid “hacks”. Most considered themselves in a craft, in which they served apprenticeships little different from carpenters or dock workers. You learnt a skill, and then put it to work for your bosses

Your employer was almost always a millionaire proprietor, but over the course of the 20th century the system developed some checks and balances. Most journalists saw themselves as part of the working classes, and belonged to a union. They worked in close collaboration with other working classes, especially cold-metal typesetters and printers, who could bring publication to a halt through industrial action. Such threats not only ensured a steady rise in wages for newspaper workers, but it placed a check of sorts on the High Tory politics the proprietors would have preferred.

An associated development was that in 1912 Britain produced a genuinely socialist newspaper, the Daily Herald. It was owned and run along largely cooperative lines, and soon became the country’s best-read daily. It was reinvented in the 1960s as the Sun, before Rupert Murdoch bought it – the first step in his relentless war to help create a totalitarian corporate media culture in the UK.

Destroying the unions

Murdoch not only coopted the Daily Herald/Sun to his corporate empire, but destroyed the media unions that acted as a very imperfect balance to the proprietors’ power. He then used the savings made by new media technologies that dispensed with the need for typesetters and most printing staff to upgrade the economic and social status of journalists. They were “professionalised” – encouraged to see themselves as professionals like doctors and lawyers. Rising pay meant that they were gradually transformed into members of the middle and upper middle classes.

How much you were paid was no longer seen an indicator of how much you had been coopted by the biggest corporations – how effective you were as a propagandist for the Establishment – but as proof of your professional skills as a journalist. On this view, the best reporters and news presenters were paid the highest salaries in exactly the same way, and for the same reason, that the best brain surgeons were paid most.

In the process, like many of “Thatcher’s children”, journalists abandoned all ideas of collective struggle and class politics. Instead they enthusiastically embraced a neoliberal ideology that argued society was a place where the fittest were winners in an economic race for survival. The losers dragged the rest of us down.

Humphrys as national treasure

If there is a figure who personifies this modern ugly ideology, it is the “National Treasure” of 74-year-old John Humphrys – the voice several generations of Britons have grown up with as he has framed and contextualised the news most days. He was the man who presented the BBC news every evening through most of the 1980s, the main years of Margaret Thatcher’s rule, and since 1987 has been their morning companion on the radio as they prepare for and head to work.

It is not coincidental that Humphrys is the highest-paid BBC news presenter, earning over £600,000. Humphrys’ conviction that he deserves every bit of his enormous pay packet should come as no surprise. Nowadays, he barely bothers to conceal his deeply reactionary politics, as Mark Doran has documented.

Humphrys’ espousal of a winner-takes-all, anti-welfare brand of politics has on occasion become so unmistakeable that in 2013 the usually supine BBC Trust was forced to make a rare intervention and condemn a programme he headed on the future of the welfare state. (The BBC buried its own coverage of this slap on the wrist by hiding the report in the entertainment section of the BBC’s website rather than the news section.)

The Child Action Poverty Group, which made the complaint to the Trust, observed of Humphrys’ documentary: “This programme, like too many media stories, failed the public by swallowing wholesale the evidence-free myth of a ‘dependency culture’ in which unemployment and rising benefit spending is the fault of the unemployed.”

Smell of warm bread

Humphrys, remember, does not speak for himself. He has been selected for the job because his reassuring, avuncular voice provides the credibility and authority needed by the BBC to sell you propaganda parading as news.

Many years ago scientists worked out that, if the smell of warm bread were piped into the sterile, brightly-lit environment of supermarkets, it turned customers into shopping zombies. Their critical faculties were hijacked and they became passive consumers, ready to be manipulated into purchasing things they did not need.

John Humphrys is that smell of warm bread, piped through the radio to dull the critical senses of millions of listeners as they absorb propaganda presented as “lively debate” – debate between two sides, espousing slightly different policies within a broader neoliberal system whose central value is that of “big dog eat little dog”.

Back to the equal pay debate. Certainly, Gracie needs the same pay as Jon Sopel. But we as audiences would be far better served if both took a significant pay cut.

We don’t need even richer journalists; we need senior journalists in the BBC and elsewhere – and politicians – who understand the experiences of low pay that affect millions of Britons. Then they might remember that their employer is not a neutral disseminator of information and news, but a deeply interested and hugely powerful actor in channelling propaganda to perpetuate the power of the corporate elites that run our societies.

Google’s New Search Engine Bias is No Accident

Alternet has gone public with concerns about the way Google and Facebook have limited traffic to its website and, more generally, undermined access to progressive and independent media.

Its traffic from web searches has dropped precipitously – by 40 per cent – since Google introduced new algorithms in the summer. Other big progressive sites have reported similar, or worse, falls. More anecdotally, and less significantly, I have noticed on both my own website and Facebook page a sharp drop in views and shares in recent weeks.

Alternet is appealing for financial help, justifiably afraid that the drop in traffic will impact its revenues and threaten its future.

Nonetheless, there is something deeply misguided, even dangerous, about its description of what is happening. Here is how its executive editor, Don Hazen, describes Alternet’s problems:

Little did we know that Google had decided, perhaps with bad advice or wrong-headed thinking, that media like AlterNet—dedicated to fighting white supremacy, misogyny, racism, Donald Trump, and fake news—would be clobbered by Google in its clumsy attempt to address hate speech and fake news. …

So the reality we face is that two companies, Google and Facebook—which are not media companies, do not have editors or fact-checkers, and do no investigative reporting—are deciding what people should read, based on a failure to understand how media and journalism function.

“Bad advice”, “wrong-headed”, “clumsy”, “failure to understand”. Alternet itself is the one that has misunderstood what is going on. There is nothing accidental or clumsy about what Google and Facebook are doing. In fact, what has happened was entirely predictable as soon as western political and media elites started raising their voices against “fake news”.

That was something I and others warned about at the time. Here is what I wrote on this blog late last year:

But the claim of “fake news” does usefully offer western security agencies, establishment politicians and the corporate media a powerful weapon to silence their critics. After all, these critics have no platform other than independent websites and social media. Shut down the sites and you shut up your opponents.

Google and Facebook have been coming under relentless and well-documented pressure from traditional media corporations and the political establishment to curb access to independent news and analysis sites, especially those offering highly critical perspectives on the policies and behaviour of western corporations and state bureaucracies. These moves are intimately tied to ongoing efforts to spread the dishonest claim that progressive sites are working in the service of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in his alleged attempts to subvert western democracies.

Shadowy groups like PropOrNot have been springing up to make such wildly unsubstantiated claims, which have then been taken up as authoritative by traditional corporate media like the Washington Post. It is noticeable that the list of sites suffering sudden downturns in traffic closely correlates with the progressive websites defamed as Putin propaganda outfits by PropOrNot.

The pressure on Google and Facebook is not going to ease. And the two new-media giants are not likely to put up any more resistance than is absolutely necessary to suggest they are still committed to some abstract notion of free speech. Given that their algorithms and distribution systems are completely secret, they can say one thing in public and do something else entirely in private.

Other comments by Hazen further suggest that Alternet does not really understand the new environment it finds itself in. He writes:

Ben Gomes, the company’s vice president for engineering, stated in April that Google’s update of its search engine would block access to ‘offensive’ sites, while working to surface more ‘authoritative content’. This seemed like a good idea. Fighting fake news, which Trump often uses to advance his interests and rally his supporters, is an important goal that AlterNet shares.

Fake news can be found across much of the media spectrum: in the New York Times, CNN, BBC, Guardian, as well in Donald Trump’s tweets. It has existed for as long as powerful interests have dominated the media and its news agenda – which is since the invention of print. Fake news cannot be defeated by giving greater powers to huge media conglomerations to decide what people should hear. It is defeated by true media pluralism – something we have barely experienced even now, in this brief heady period of relative online freedom.

Alternet is treating Google and Facebook, and the powerful corporate interests behind them, as though they can be tamed and made to see sense, and persuaded that they should support progressive media. That is not going to happen.

Like the media barons of old, who alone could afford the economies of scale necessary to distribute newspapers through delivery trucks and corner shops, Google and Facebook are the monopolistic distribution platforms for new and social media. They have enormous power to decide what you will see and read, and they will use that power in their interests – not yours.

They will continue to refine and tighten their restrictions so that access to dissident media becomes harder and harder. It will happen so subtly and incrementally that there is a real danger few will notice how they have been gradually herded back into the arms of the media corporations.