The New Observer Media Comment When propaganda is just silly

When propaganda is just silly

I’m reading Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” at the moment. (There will be a review shortly). The main idea of the book is that the “free” media in the West willingly reproduces the government-corporate line. They media is tied to government, and big money, by a number of factors including; the power of advertising revenue, the addictive ease of using well-resourced government and corporate produced press releases, the ownership model of the media; it is owned by finance capital and so tells stories favoured by finance capital, and the fact that media corporations are big businesses, with executives rubbing shoulders with investment bankers and other representatives of the core of modern fiscal power.

This video is really quite funny. The story is that the RAF has intercepted two Russian planes near the Shetland Islands. This happens all the time. And NATO and the US fly surveillance or training missions near Russian borders.

The journalist (like so many) is confusing reporting on Russia with being on a creative writing course. The RAF jets “swooped in”. She says “it is a bit of a puzzle. We got this story this morning that RAF jets swooped in and then what we’re led to believe is that intercepting Russian bombers is not actually that unusual”. It looks like what happened is that the MOD released a dramatic propaganda PR about the incident and/or that was how it was initially interpreted at the Times – but someone has tapped them on the shoulder and pointed out that that won’t fly. This is so routine it is hardly worth a mention, except perhaps for the current context. The journalist herself seems to be struggling with the complexity of all this.

The speaker, for a US-UK think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, tells her that it is quite normal. In his answer though he does not provide the context, which I assume he knows, that NATO (including UK jets) and the US do this to Russia as well. It is normal in both directions. Omitting this context continues the essential propaganda idea that this is yet another example of unprovoked Russian aggression.

The speaker then says that the RAF has to “escort them out of the territory” – which, to people who are not paying attention. might sound like they had violated UK airspace. They haven’t, of course. This kind of phrasing is not accidental.

I had a look at the Henry Jackson Society website (desperately slow). Despite believing in democracy they don’t seem to think it worth mentioning who funds them (beyond “private donations”). The use of think tanks stuffed with establishment “experts” (the speaker did a PhD at Cambridge and was a Conservative Party Candidate) as a key go-to source for a quote by the media is another strand which Chomsky discusses in his book. He shows that the media far prefers to use these establishment think tanks than more critical sources.

I am struck apart from anything else by the incompetence of all this. Surely the journalist should be informed before she opens her mouth as to whether this is a rare “swoop” or something quite routine? And – I suppose one can dream. Wouldn’t it be funny if she asked her speaker, “but don’t we do this to Russia as well in the Baltics and Black Sea?” Strange how confident one can be that this question, obvious and basic, is not going to be asked.