by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Gandhi once said that western civilization would be “a good idea.” So would black journalism. One white TV talking head said he was ready to arrest Glenn Greenwald. Not to be outdone, MSNBC's black talking heads too, are ready to personally scalp Wikileaks and put the cuffs on Edward Snowden. Public opinion, which favored Snowden early, has to be pushed in the administration's direction. A dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.
Joy Ann Reid, Melissa Harris-Perry as Prosecutor & Cop Go After Snowden, Wikileaks, & the First Amendment
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees “freedom of the press,” not so that government can tell us what to believe, but so that citizens can publicly receive and transmit to each other news and information about what the powerful are doing, and perhaps what they ought to do about it. Journalism is the only profession with its own constitutional amendment. But just as wealthy corporations and individuals have captured regulatory agencies, whole state legislatures, governors' mansions, the courts, the White House and Congress, they own the media too, and what passes for journalism.
What passes for “journalism” these days is reporters and talking TV heads who uncritically transmit the sayings of anonymous corporate, military and government officials as news, while competing with each other to discourage, defame and denounce real reporters and their sources. Thanks to the elite “diversity” of the Obama Era black America, once the stronghold of anti-authoritarian suspicion, is bombarded with attractive brown faces in elite places, faces who try to leverage the cultural and moral authority of African America to the soulless and bankrupt business of empire.
Two of the biggest names in the corporate stable nowadays are Joy-Ann Reid and Melissa Harris-Perry. Both are part of the Comcast-MSNBC plantation, and are earning their pay this month howling for the scalps of real journalists and their sources.
MSNBC talking head Joy-Ann Reid played the part of prosecutor, not reporter in a June 29 interview with Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson.
JR: “...Obviously the most important question.... is Edward Snowden still holed up in the Moscow airport?”
KH: “I can't reveal his exact location or his travel plans.”
JR: “The Russians have revealed his exact location. They said he was in the Moscow airport. Wikileaks is paying for his travel. Do you guys not know where he is?
KH: “We of course know where he is. We do have a hand in paying for his travel from Hong Kong to Moscow, that is correct."
JR: “If he were to travel on to the next country, he's half indicated he wants to go to South America, Wikileaks would pay for that too?”
KH: “That remains to be seen.”
JR: “But if you didn't pay for it, who would? Isn't Wikileaks providing him with legal counsel? Someone traveling with him?”
KH: “There is a legal aide on his behalf traveling with him. He has access to persons on our legal team and we did connect our legal team with his legal advisors.”
JR: “Who's paying for those legal advisors?”
KH: “Our legal advisers? Some we are paying ourselves and some are working pro bono.”
JR: “I wonder if there was money from -- there is an organization that raises money for Wikileaks – Freedom of the Press Foundation – . is that organization involved in paying for Mr. Snowden's travel?”
KH: “The money that we have access to comes from various sources. One is the Freedom of the Press Foundation. We have a fund in France as well that's collecting money on our behalf. despite the banking block on us. We have funds in Iceland from (the period) prior to the banking blockade against the organization.”
JR: “I ask that question because two journalists obviously Mr. Snowden gave some of the leaked information to are on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Were you aware of that when Wikileaks began paying for his travel?”
KH: “I was aware of their position on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, yes.”
JR: “I want to get you to react to something Lonnie Snowden, Mr. Snowden's father, said. He essentially said 'I don't want him to put him in peril,' meaning his son, 'but i am concerned about those who surround him. I think Wikileaks if you look at its past history you know that the focus is not necessarily on the constitution of the United States, it's simply to release as much information as possible.' What's your reaction to that?”
KH: “I think Mr. Snowden senior has been rather ill-informed by mainstream media in this country and he has no accurate information about the organization. We are concerned about human rights. We are concerned about the freedom of speech and --”
JR: “But he mentioned the U.S. Constitution.”
KH: “Where the U.S. Constitution pertains to these issues we would support the U.S. Constitution.”
JR: “Let me ask you whether or not Edward Snowden was ill-informed about Wikileaks in 2009. When he was in a chat room overseas he essentiall accused the New York Times – we're gonna put up the graphic – that was his screen name. 'thetruehooha' he was calling himself, he was talking about a previous leak in a January 10, 2009 report that President Bush turned down a request from Israelis for bunker busting bombs that it wanted to use to attack iran's main nuclear site. he put up 'wtf, new york times, are they trying to start a war? Jesus Christ, they're like Wikileaks.' Then he talked about anonymous sources, he said those people should be shot in the chicarrones. Was he essentially ill-informed as well when he said essentially 'the New York Times' was like Wikileaks in a bad way for leaking information?”
KH: “It has not been confirmed this is actually from Mr. Snowden.”
JR: “Actually, it has been confirmed.”
KH: “If so, he's obviously changed his position in 2009 and every person should be allowed to change his opinion in a positive way as he has done.”
JR: “I want to open it up to the panel. one of the additional countries added to the potential country hopping that Mr. Snowden is doing is Venezuela which has said they'd gladly accept Mr. Snowden. So now we have a trifecta of countries that might not be the most savory, in addition to Ecuador.”
At this point, Melissa Harris Perry, Reid's fellow Comcast-MSNBC talking head jumps in. If Reid has played the prosecutor thus far grilling Wikileaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, Harris-Perry played the bad historian and hostile cop in a free form diatribe against whistleblower Edward Snowden.
MHP: “I am constantly shocked by this story over the course of the week in that we have clearly an international group of people who are providing resources to keep someone who's broken American law from having to stand for justice in this country...
“The level of sort of privilege associated with such a discourse suggests that we should not be taking this seriously. I wonder if we're even taking it seriously enough, the idea that this individual, who as far as I can tell his opinion has changed, primarily to save his own skin. It seems clear to me that he's willing to take refuge in countries whose stand on public information, on human rights is in fact worse than the United States of America, for whom I have many important critiques. And yet the idea that the human rights violations in China, in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Russia would somehow be less relevant to him is clearly simply because he's only saving his own skin.
“In this country those who have decided to take a position of civil disobedience, because they love and care about their country and want to extend the constitution have always done so with a recognition that doing so also means standing for the consequences of breaking those laws and when they have done that, they have changed the country. But this going on the run thing? This is different. this is dangerous to our nation.”
JR: “And I want to clarify, the Venezuelan president Nicholas Medoro said his government would almost certainly grant Mr. Snowden asylum if he should apply. Do you want to respond to Melissa's point?”
KH: “I think she has to think a little bit more about the Constitution. As I understand the Constitution and what is at stake here, I have a reflection back to the Nixon era when President Nixon sat in the infamous interview with David Frost when he said well when the president does it, it means that it is not illegal. That is the issue --”
At this point, the heads of both prosecutor Reid and tough cop Harris-Perry simultaneously imploded. They both lost it, unintelligibly shouting over each other for more than ten seconds. After they stopped shouting, Hrafsson tried to say the issue was the substance of Snowden's revelations, that the US government was illegally collecting, literally every email, text message, phone call, facebook post and electronic brain fart on the planet and storing it for future data-mining reference. Bad cop Harris-Perry would have none of it, angrily declaring that the issues were Snowden's illegitimacy, because he won't turn himself in, and his possible contact with foreign countries who might mean “to do us harm.”
Prosecutor Reid replied to the Nixon quote with unintentional irony, asserting that Snowden didn't reveal any illegal behavior, because of course the government had done nothing illegal, and as host, ended the segment.
The camera cut away quickly, maybe so we couldn't see the Wikileaks guy laughing.
A day or two later Harris-Perry channeled the cop again, with a Snowden segment on her own show. Harris-Perry insisted from her comfy TV chair, that any whistleblower or dissenter who failed to meekly submit to whatever punishment authorities deign to mete out is illegitimate at least, possibly self-serving as well, though just how the self is served in such cases was unclear. She brought up Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the state senator who filibustered in Texas, and the folks who get arrested for “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina every week, and later in the show, Dan Ellsberg..
Harris-Perry might be a bright professor, but on TV she's a lousy cop and a worse historian.
Nelson Mandela was on the run for years, a fugitive inside and outside South Africa, before being caught. The ANC maintained camps and facilities in African countries neighboring South Africa quite openly during the last decade or two of the apartheid regime, while receiving substantial aid from many African countries and most notably from the Soviet Union. They got none from the United States, by the way. Martin Luther King was arrested many times but usually refused bail for a day or two while the press and religious leaders successfully clamored for his release. Dr. King never faced the prospect of felony time except once, briefly, for breaking a silly law against boycotting. King's longest stretch in jail was 11 days, during which he was allowed to write a short book, Letters From a Birmingham Jail, while receiving phone calls and interviews from people around the world.
Daniel Ellsberg was released on bond after no more than a day or two in custody, and the “Moral Monday” folks are typically booked for disorderly conduct or some such trivial offense.
None of that compares with the way the US treats political dissidents, and even suspected political dissidents today. Bradley Manning has been confined almost 3 years, the entire first year naked and in solitary confinement, no letters, no interviews, no phone calls, no writing materials, and a gag order slapped on his lawyers. What's a gag order mean? It means you can't talk about the case publicly or privately, sometimes that you can't tell an outsider the defendant says “happy birthday” to so-and-so. Veteran civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart is about to die in a federal prison for transmitting an innocuous public message from a defendant convicted of terrorism.
King was allowed to write a book in prison. Iman Jamil Al Amin, who as H. Rap Brown led SNCC and risked his life to start freedom schools, organize co-ops and register voters in rural Alabama was finally framed for the shooting of a deputy in Atlanta. To keep him from family and other Georgia prisoners, he was moved to federal custody and is now in an underground supermax cell half a continent away in Colorado, allowed one phone call and one letter to family per month. California prisoners found with just the name --- not his books, just the scrawled name --- of Black Panther leader George Jackson or other political items are classified as “gang members” and placed in automatic solitary confinement for the remainder of their sentences, which may also be lengthened due to that classification.
This ain't the sixties. Snowden won't get bond any more than Manning has. If captured he may face life imprisonment. The government has done all it can to limit public access to Bradley Manning's trial, has gagged his lawyers and prohibited contact with the outside, so it's reasonable to assume they'll do the same to Snowden. When Harris-Perry remarked, “hey, it's not like we're gonna waterboard him...” her mostly passive guests finally balked, reminding her as meekly as possible that the US DOES torture, and more.
Amazingly, Harris-Perry declared that
“...At this point, if he's arrested, with all the public view on him (the likelihood of) something particularly bad happening to him is very low... we give a lot of this information to google and other sort of organizations that have no democratic elect --- I mean I get the fear of big government, I truly do, but I guess I don't quite understand why we're so pissed that our democratic government, for which we assume there's at least some sort of check, have information that we willingly give away to private corporations that we know have no check...”
After that she tried to lead the discussion away from Snowden, the NSA and government wrongdoing back to the safe and familiar liberal territory of blaming Bush, Republicans, and the Patriot Act, without mentioning that her president has twice extended the Patriot Act in the White House and voted for it in the Senate before that, but only after originally campaigning for the US Senate against it. I won't bore you with how that went, check out the video yourself below, or at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/46979745/#52350212
So why is Joy-Ann Reid trying to indict Wikileaks? Why does Melissa Harris-Perry want to personally slap the cuffs on Ed Snowden? Because they're climbers in the diversity-riddled sphere of corporate media, which always has room for black spokespeople willing to tow the corporate and government lines. It's their job, they're well paid, and they know nobody's career has ever suffered for sucking up to a president. Having talking heads, especially black and female ones, to hammer home this line every time people of color turn on the TV looking for our reflected selves, is massively important. Public opinion, including black public opinion has to be moved, consent has to be engineered.
When the NSA news broke in early June, polls indicated that more Americans thought Snowden was a hero than a traitor. As Snowden himself has pointed out, the government isn't afraid of him or Wilileaks. It's afraid of the people. Corporate media exist to substitute themselves for genuine civic conversation. Branded and approved black TV and radio personalities, from Oprah to Jay-Z to Prosecutor Reid and Bad Cop Melissa are not on TV to represent the race. Prosecutor Reid and Bad Cop Melissa are here to tell black people what to think, what not to think and how not to think it, and being black (like the president) they give lazy liberals the excuse to embrace empire as well.
Only time will tell whether or how well they succeed.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.