Twitter CEO Elon Musk recently became the broken clock that is right twice a day when he correctly pointed out the NPR and the BBC are state affiliated outlets. Corporate media work hand in hand with the state all over the world and censor any narrative coming from the left.
I hate agreeing with anything Elon Musk does, but recently Twitter labeled National Public Radio (NPR) as “state-affiliated media” on the social media site, a move some worried could undermine public confidence in the news organization. The Associated Press reported that it was unclear why Twitter made the move. But Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, quoted a definition of state-affiliated media in the company’s guidelines as “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.” “Seems accurate,” Musk tweeted.
“NPR does receive 1-2% of its funding from the U.S. government, according to Forbes. But Forbes also points out that even if media outlets receive funding from their respective states, they can have editorial independence, like Australia’s ABC News and the UK’s BBC.”
I wonder what the criteria for that to be true is because for about a year now, we were told that media outlets that receive funding from the state are automatically biased in favor of that state, and can’t be trusted to present perspectives that deviate from state-sponsored talking points and “propaganda.” At least that’s the line when media outlets like Iran’s PressTV, China’s CGTN, Russia’s RT and Sputnik International and other foreign outlets with a slant that is critical of US policies toward their respective countries were slapped with the “state-affiliated media” or “state-sponsored media” labels on social media just after the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. That’s what we were told about why those outlets were shut down in the US, as was the case of RT America, or de-platformed from YouTube and podcast platforms, as was the case with every show on Sputnik. We were told that because these outlets received money from their respective states, that their content is heavily influenced, if not completely controlled, by that state, that the outlets have no editorial independence to write what they choose, and that makes the content they produce “disinformation,” and that is why they had to be silenced - to protect Americans from all of this evil foreign-state-sponsored disinformation.
So even though NPR receives some of its funding from the US government, its journalism is unquestionably “fact-based and independent” and has unquestionable editorial independence. But any outlet that is funded by a foreign government is somehow not fact-based or independent, that is if the US has decided that the government is its enemy, is that right? This is exactly the case, according to Caroline Orr Bueno, PhD, who on Twitter said of NPR’s new label, “Wow, way to make this label meaningless. NPR is absolutely not even comparable to propaganda outlets like RT and Sputnik, which have no editorial independence. This is ridiculous and only helps actual propaganda outlets blend in with legitimate news outlets.”
This assertion that the label is now meaningless because it has been applied to NPR is fascinating, first because Dr. Orr disparages the journalistic integrity of people whose work she hasn’t read or heard when she claims that RT and Sputnik have no editorial independence, an allegation to which several journalists at Sputnik responded, only to have her then claim that she was “harassed.” I should note that RT journalists couldn’t respond, because there are no RT journalists in the US because RT America was summarily shut down last year, and those journalists lost their jobs. But freedom of the press, right?
This is important because Dr. Orr is not some random person with a misinformed opinion and a Twitter account, who would have been ignored by me if she were. Rather, this matters because she is a postdoctoral research associate for the ARLIS University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at the University of Maryland. That’s on her own profile. What is ARLIS? It’s the Applied Research Lab for Security and Intelligence, one of fourteen Department of Defense UARCs and the only UARC with a core mission to support the government's security and intelligence communities. So Dr. Orr is literally on the payroll of the US Department of Defense supporting US security and intelligence organizations as an “expert on disinformation,” who is spreading disinformation/propaganda about foreign media outlets being propaganda arms of governments that are declared “the enemy” by the US, and somehow that’s not supposed to be revealing as to her motives.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, because the idea behind her assertion, and those of all the people vociferously defending NPR as editorially independent despite receiving government funds, is that US media outlets are not propaganda arms of the US government like she claims Russian media outlets are. But how in the world can that be true considering how well the lack of editorial independence and even outright truthfulness of US media has been documented for decades.
A 1999 Harvard Business Review article on the lack of editorial independence and journalistic integrity gave the perspective of the problem based on three books about media manipulation in the US: News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works, Paul H. Weaver (The Free Press, 1994); Who Stole the News?: Why We Can’t Keep Up with What Happens in the World, Mort Rosenblum (John Wiley & Sons, 1993); and, Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America, Cynthia Crossen (Simon & Schuster, 1994).
In Paul Weaver’s book, he characterizes the relationship between the media and the government as “...two institutions [that] have become so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.” The author of this analysis is a former political scientist at Harvard University, journalist at Fortune magazine, and corporate communications executive at Ford Motor Company - not the credentials of a critic of the capitalist empire.
The Harvard Business Review article then notes that Associated Press special correspondent Mort Rosenblum, author of Who Stole the News?: Why We Can’t Keep Up with What Happens in the World, said, “.. the press is far too willing to accept government officials’ self-promoting versions of events.” In his book, Rosenblum quotes Reuven Frank, a former president of NBC News, as asserting, “News is whatever the goddamn government says it is.”
And Cynthia Crossen’s book, Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America, while clearly not the Harvard Business Reviews favorite of the three, still garnered valuable insight into the machinations of the media to mislead and misinform the American public. Crossen, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal at the time, asserts in her book that “...more and more of the information we use to buy, elect, advise, acquit and heal has been created not to expand our knowledge but to sell a product or advance a cause.” This is critical in understanding how a nation that grew more and more reliant on statistics, polls, and research to make decisions - driven by the media, of course - are manipulated by special interest groups and the data they manufacture to support their position.
Do the people defending NPR on the basis that US media is not state propaganda believe that it has somehow gotten better since 1999? How can anyone believe that, when just a few years ago, CNN revealed in 2018 that dozens of local news anchors within the conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group were forced to recite a script that reflected then president Donald Trump’s views on “fake news” in mainstream media. Deadspin then produced a compilation of the news anchors reading the script verbatim. This incident was often cited at the time as a prime example of the undue influence conservative corporations, especially those whose CEOs openly supported Donald Trump, had over US media outlets.
But let’s not forget the so-called liberal media colluding to disappear Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign for the nomination for the Democratic Party in 2015. According to a study of network evening news campaign coverage by broadcast news monitor Andrew Tyndall, ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted a total of 504 minutes to the race in 2015, with the Clinton campaign receiving 82 minutes in network news time, which was second only to Trump who received 145 minutes of news coverage. But Bernie Sanders’ campaign received a whopping eight minutes of network news coverage in 2015.
And it wasn’t just network news that tried to disappear Sanders’ campaign, cable news stalwarts were guilty, too. CNN had to admit their own dismissal of Sanders’ campaign saying, “The dismissal of Sanders, including on occasion by CNN as well as other outlets, is especially palpable for his supporters, who feel like the candidate was written off because of both his temperament and his political beliefs.”
MSNBC exhibited what was perhaps the most astoundingly hostile commentary in 2016 about Sanders’ campaign from several of its hosts, with Chris Matthews comparing Sanders’ campaign to Hitler’s SS invading France (for which he later issued a mealymouthed apology), and then in 2020 compared a Sanders Democratic Primary win to what he thought electing a socialist could mean for America, which he said would produce public executions in Central Park like if “Fidel Casto and the Reds had won the Cold War.” James Carville, Bill Clinton’s former campaign guru, went on Morning Joe to rant about how a Sanders nomination would bring about the apocalypse, saying “The only thing between the United States and the abyss is the Democratic Party,” he said. “That’s it. If we go the way of the British Labour Party, if we nominate Jeremy Corbyn, it’s going to be the end of days.” The same day, Chuck Todd, who also hosts NBC’s Meet the Press, read from an article from the right-wing website The Bulwark comparing supporters of Sanders, who is Jewish, to “brownshirts.”
Then in 2019, Bernie Sanders himself criticized the lopsided media coverage, or lack thereof, of his campaign, saying that the Washington Post didn’t cover him because he criticized Jeff Bezos, owner of the Post and Amazon, over his horrible employment practices. In response, Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor, dismissed Sanders’s characterization as a “conspiracy theory.” CNN’s commentators accused Sanders of using President Trump’s playbook, which is also the position that allegedly editorially independent NPR took, dismissing Sanders’ criticisms by likening them to Donald Trump’s claims of “fake news” in mainstream media.
And Black Sanders voters weren’t spared the propaganda war against him either, with Jason Johnson, a political science professor, MSNBC contributor and politics editor at the African-American-focused The Root, who joined in the anti-Sanders chorus during an interview saying that some of Sanders’s staff and supporters were drawn from an “island of misfit black girls,” doing double-duty as a media apologist for the Democratic establishment, and a perpetrator of misogynoir toward Black women who dared not to fall in line behind Hillary Superpredator Clinton.
One of the few MSNBC’s pundits to push back on the anti-Sanders script being adhered to on the network, Anand Giridharadas, who openly criticized Chris Matthews during a segment saying, “Many in this establishment are behaving, in my view, as they face the prospect of a Bernie Sanders nomination, like out-of-touch aristocrats in a dying aristocracy.” It is impossible not to see that this is exactly what corporate media was reflecting, the refusal of the aristocracy of the Democratic Party and the liberal corporate elites to give any credence to a very real possibility of a candidacy of Bernie Sanders in media outlets they controlled, that threatened their grip on power, regardless of what the people who clearly preferred Sanders over both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump wanted.
But if that isn’t convincing enough about how utterly biased and in the tank for the state the US media apparatus is, don’t forget how every media outlet in the US ran like an Olympic sprinter with the Incubator Babies story that was one of the justifications for George H.W. Bush invading Iraq.
Before Democracy Now itself became an apologist for the US/EU/NATO proxy war in Ukraine, Rick MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine, author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War explained on a broadcast in 2018 that the testimony before Congress of 15-year old Nayirah al-Sabah that she witnessed Saddam Hussein’s soldiers who had invaded Kuwait storming hospitals and ripping babies from incubators and tossing them to the floor to die was not only untrue, but the teenager was not just some random victim of the Iraqi army. She was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, Saud Nasser al-Sabah. Worse, her testimony had been coached by the US public relations firm Hill and Knowlton, which was working for the Kuwaiti government at the time. MacArthur discusses how the PR firm sought to use the girl’s testimony to turn US public opinion about Saddam Hussein by likening him to Hitler, which of course would mean that US opinion would shift to supporting the war because who would not want to stop another Hitler?
But most notably, MacArthur points out that the White House didn’t want to have another media situation like Vietnam, with reporters having access to every atrocity they saw US soldiers committing. So, he says, “...the decision was made to pool reporters and to censor them. In other words, you’d send groups of five to the front, wherever the Pentagon decided the front happened to be that day. They would get to take pictures and describe things, in theory, but their report would have to be shared with everybody else—there’d be no competition—and it would have to be vetted by Pentagon censors. So, obviously, the American public saw nothing. The reporters were permitted to see nothing.”
The Pentagon’s control of media coverage of the Gulf War by controlling the press pool was also the focus of a lawsuit filed by thirteen publications and writers, including The Nation, the Village Voice, and Harper's, but no major American news organization joined the suit, which the journalists lost. Do people defending NPR really believe that US media writ large is not still operating under the control of the White House and the Pentagon in regard to what is reported about the war in Ukraine, when media outlets are reporting the same talking points about the war very much like the Sinclair outlets’ anchors read from that pro-Trump script?
And if you think it is only the news media that is under the control of the invisible hand of the White House and the Pentagon, think again. Entertainment in the US is also subject to state approval, with the Pentagon, the CIA, and whatever other US agency that wants to ensure the right message about or involving them is conveyed. Some Hollywood-produced movies do not get made at all because of objections by the Pentagon specifically, over storylines that contain “...any suggestion of military incompetence or war crimes, loss of control over nuclear weapons, influence by oil companies, illegal arms sales or drug trafficking, use of chemical or biological weapons, U.S. promotion of coups overseas, or involvement in assassinations or torture. In fact, precisely the things the U.S. military is known to have been doing.”
And of course I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the pervasiveness of copaganda, and I’m not just talking about scripted television dramas like Law & Order SVU, Chicago PD and their ilk that paint the police in an overly positive light through gripping “ripped from the headlines” relatable stories every week. I also mean the coordinated media collusion to paint the police and their narrative in a positive light with how they report current issues involving policing. Such as how major media outlets will vilify protesters and valorize police, even if the data doesn’t jibe with the claims made. Or how the police themselves will take to social media and post feel-good stories showing them playing basketball with kids, or handing out ice cream, or delivering groceries to residents to make them appear humane and decent, while terrorizing the same population after their slick PR video is uploaded.
And just for good measure, it’s worth noting that just last year Bryce Greene of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) pointed out how NPR continues to tow the State Department line on Afghanistan years after one of the main reasons the US gave for invading the country was thoroughly discredited. But as recently as August 2022, NPR was still trotting out the lie, “...that the Taliban “refused to turn over Osama bin Laden,” and that this “led to the US attack.” But Greene points out that “though part of the commonly accepted chronology of the war, [this] is a gross distortion of history. The truth is almost the exact opposite: The Taliban repeatedly offered to give up Bin Laden, only rejecting George W. Bush’s demands for immediate and unconditional acquiescence without discussion.” With all of its non-government funding and listener support, do people mean to tell me that the editorially independent journalists at NPR couldn’t figure that out?
Greene says toward the end of his article that, “NPR’s historical framing is an attempt to paint the Taliban as prepared to defend Bin Laden to the death, and thus complicit or supportive of the 9/11 attacks. This inaccurate portrayal serves to retroactively justify the US assault on one of the poorest countries in the world.” And he ends with, “In future reporting, NPR should present a clearer picture of historical events to provide proper context for their listeners, and to avoid legitimizing the ongoing, massively destructive policies of the United States by promoting official state mythology.”
So I guess NPR isn’t so editorially independent, after all, just like the rest of US media.
Ultimately I think the defense of NPR claiming that their new Twitter label renders the label meaningless has provided us an opportunity to remind ourselves that there is no real “free press” in the US, not if it is associated in any way with this capitalist imperialist system and the defense of it, and there has not been one among the “acceptable” media outlets for a very long time. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what those “state-affiliated” or “state-sponsored” labels were really meant to do when they were applied to other outlets, something that Liz Woolery, digital policy leader of the literary organization PEN America, alluded to when she said that Twitter’s decision to label NPR was “a dangerous move that could further undermine public confidence in reliable news sources.”
That is what the labels meant all along - an effort by the US regime to discredit reliable and credible non-US news sources that critiqued US foreign policy, so USians would dismiss the information that came out of those sources about US policy in general, and the war in Ukraine in particular, and to not question what comes from US media that is absolutely influenced by the US regime.
The labels never had any legitimacy beyond their application as a form of US state propaganda! Americans simply forgot that the media in this country is the most expansive and sophisticated propaganda machine in the world, having had their memories of this erased by that very propaganda machine.
Jacqueline Luqman is a radical activist based in Washington, D.C.; as well as co-founder of Luqman Nation , an independent Black media outlet that can be found on YouTube (here and here ) and on Facebook ; and co-host of Radio Sputnik’s “By Any Means Necessary” .