As 2020 ends, Censorship and Tone-policing Increasingly Plague Media
In an attempt to remove a totalitarian leader from office, the media has reverted to their own twisted form of totalitarianism.
In a politically oppressive system, the party in power often exerts control over the people by altering the truth and controlling information. In Xi Jingping’s China, they jail journalists (and sometimes, journalists simply disappear) who express dissent against the ruling class. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro expresses nostalgia for the former military dictatorship, an era when newspapers were censored and some journalists tortured — and uses “fake news” allegations in response to general corruption schemes. In the U.S., a nation where media outlets like Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and others are all guilty of political bias and false reporting, but are rarely held accountable for such such reporting, there is a rising trend in media censorship where the media censors itself. All of these tactics by the media and governments effectively muzzles news that would be deemed anti-government or anti-establishment.
President Trump has spent many years decrying America’s “Fake News.” He seems to be of the opinion that any news that is critical of him must be fake – a common trait of authoritarian leaders. Today, however, it seems that his mantra is ringing true. There is a left-wing bias in media and technology monopolies, and the Democratic National Committee – despite its history of overt corruption – isn’t even to blame.
In the runup to last week’s election, the New York Post released a story detailing Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which has ties to the Chinese government and the Shanghai-based conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co. The Post made these claims after receiving information from a laptop that Hunter Biden left in a Delaware computer repair shop. The emails found in the laptop include communications with Jim Biden — Joe’s brother — who also seemed to have his hand in the dealings. There are clear references to Hunter holding money for “the big guy,” whose identity cannot be confirmed, though some speculate it could be President-elect Joe Biden. If “the big guy” isn’t Joe, then it certainly is some other powerful figure who prefers to remain anonymous. The hard-drive from which this information was retrieved has been inspected for any tampering from foreign intelligence, and is also linked to an FBI subpoena “in connection with a money-laundering investigation.”
The multinational corruption this information exposes, however, isn’t even the biggest story brought to light; corruption within political families is an unfortunate commonality in DC, and the Trump family is as guilty of it as anybody else, most notably through the Trump Organization, which is still owned by the President.
After releasing the story, links to the article were unilaterally blocked across Facebook and Twitter.
Andy Stone, current employee of Facebook, formerly an employee of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
Matt Taibbi, an independent journalist known for his investigative work, accurately summarized the results of this absurd behavior: “the intervention by the two platforms resulted in a predictable Streisand effect, in which an effort to censor results instead in increased attention.” After the article was censored and blocked, and the Post –– one of America’s oldest publications — was locked out of its Twitter account, the story blew up.
The multinational corruption this information exposes, however, isn’t even the biggest story brought to light; corruption within political families is an unfortunate commonality in DC, and the Trump family is as guilty of it as anybody else
Legacy media outlets chose to denounce the Post’s story by claiming — without evidence beyond political pretense — that it was “Russian Disinformation.” Oftentimes they quoted a letter written by 50 “former senior intelligence officials”. The most common line quoted from that letter is that the Post story has “all the classic hallmarks of a Russian information operation.” None of those media organizations seemed to see the irony in the use of the word information rather than disinformation. A more important line in the letter was ignored: “our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.”
The same media outlets also shared that the FBI is probing into the case to investigate if it is a disinformation campaign, but did not share that John Ratcliffe, Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, declared that “Hunter Biden’s laptop is not a part of some Russian disinformation campaign.” The FBI responded through their spokesperson Jill C. Tyson that the bureau had “nothing to add at this time.” Also conveniently left out of coverage: Hunter Biden’s laptop is the subject of a separate FBI probe for money laundering.
Only one reporter was bold enough to ask Biden any questions about his family’s potential involvement in this corruption. That journalist was in turn labeled by many as a Russian asset for his audacity to do his job and ask questions. Biden responded in frustration that it was a “smear campaign,” and then discredited the journalist.
Contrary to what the mainstream outlets are saying, the validity of this Post article has been largely supported. Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work with Edward Snowden on revealing the NSA’s spying campaign, is a clear expert in investigative journalism, particularly when it comes to the validity of sensitive materials. He broke down the reasons this story can be treated as valid:
“The Hunter Biden documents have at least as much verification as those other archives that were widely reported. There are sources in the email chains who have verified that the published emails are accurate. The archive contains private photos and videos of Hunter whose authenticity is not in doubt. A former business partner of Hunter has stated, unequivocally and on the record, that not only are the emails authentic but they describe events accurately, including proposed participation by the former Vice President in at least one deal Hunter and Jim Biden were pursuing in China. And, most importantly of all, neither Hunter Biden nor the Biden campaign has even suggested, let alone claimed, that a single email or text is fake.”
Greenwald continued to explain the importance of the Biden family’s silence:
“…when journalists report on a massive archive, they know that the most important event in the reporting’s authentication process comes when the subjects of the reporting have an opportunity to deny that the materials are genuine. Of course that is what someone would do if major media outlets were preparing to publish, or in fact were publishing, fabricated or forged materials in their names; they would say so in order to sow doubt about the materials if not kill the credibility of the reporting.”
Hypocrisy, lack of true journalism, and general “towing of the party line” rather than sharing accurate information is now well-known in mainstream media outlets. This sort of bias and inaccuracy has trickled down to smaller, independent organizations as well. The above quotes from Greenwald come from an article that he attempted to publish in The Intercept, a media outlet that he himself co-founded. The Intercept was built with the following as part of its core mission: “The editorial independence of our journalists will be guaranteed… Our journalists will be not only permitted, but encouraged, to pursue stories without regard to whom they might alienate.” It was a central tenant to the organization that journalists should have most of the power in terms of the topics and stories to cover rather than the editors or owners.
The important thing to note is that this censorship is not coming from the top-down…[It] is not being imposed by the oligarchical ‘powers that be,’ but by journalists and editors themselves.
Greenwald’s piece on the Biden family, corruption, and media bias, however, was subject to exactly the kind of meddling that The Intercept was supposed to stand against. He resigned from the organization in a flurry. The opening paragraph in his resignation letter reads as follows (emphasis mine):
“The precipitating (but by no means only) cause is that The Intercept is attempting to censor my articles in violation of both my contract and fundamental principles of editorial freedom. The latest and perhaps most egregious example is an opinion column I wrote this week which, five days before the presidential election, is critical of Joe Biden, the candidate who happens to be vigorously supported by all of the Intercept editors in New York who are imposing the censorship and refusing to publish the article unless I agree to remove all of the sections critical of the candidate they want to win. All of that violates the right in my contract with FLM to publish articles without editorial interference except in very narrow circumstances that plainly do not apply here.”
In Greenwald’s resignation letter from The Intercept (released through Substack, a newsletter service now used by several prominent independent journalists), he lamented that “the same trends of repression, censorship and ideological homogeneity plaguing the national press generally have engulfed the media outlet I co-founded, culminating in censorship of my own articles.” The important thing to note is that this censorship is not coming from the top-down. It is not as if The Intercept is being run by Democratic Party assets, or being funded by the DNC. There is no overt corruption in the ownership. There is no overall “agenda.” This article’s censorship is not being imposed by the oligarchical “powers that be,” but by journalists and editors themselves. The corruption and bias have gone so far that even everyday people who have made a living from the profession of sharing truth have gone against the occupational ethos they are sworn to, doubling down on partisan talking points, and eating their own if they step out of ideological lockstep.
The important thing to note is that this censorship is not coming from the top-down. It is not as if The Intercept is being run by Democratic Party assets, or being funded by the DNC. There is no overt corruption in the ownership. There is no overall “agenda.” This article’s censorship is not being imposed by the oligarchical “powers that be,” but by journalists and editors themselves. The corruption and bias have gone so far that even everyday people who have made a living from the profession of sharing truth have gone against the occupational ethos they are sworn to, doubling down on partisan talking points, and eating their own if they step out of ideological lockstep. Censorship in general is a problem. Not only is it against the First Amendment, it can also be used as a blatant weapon against the truth and as a contributor to “fake news”. Truth is the first casualty of war, as the ancient Greek saying goes, and it seems that truth has no place in America. So what does that say about our current state of affairs?
Censorship in general is a problem. Not only is it against the First Amendment, it can also be used as a blatant weapon against the truth and as a contributor to “fake news”. Truth is the first casualty of war, as the ancient Greek saying goes, and it seems that truth has no place in America. So what does that say about our current state of affairs?
We have long been subject to the ridiculously far-fetched and nonfactual opinions of people like Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, and Don Lemon. These people are not held accountable when they lie or commit journalistic malpractice, and anyone who tries to hold them accountable — especially from their “own side” — is silenced and shunned. Jon Stewart was once the voice of reason keeping the media in check. He pointed out the hypocrisy from behind his powerful desk at Comedy Central, often referring to the biased media as “Bullshit Mountain.” But that was over half a decade ago. During his last episode, he left us with the wise words: “The best defense against bullshit is vigilance, so if you smell something, say something.”
That was way back in the summer of 2015. Since then, the media, including the once powerful Daily Show, largely reeks of more and more bullshit. And viewers sit back and watch the nonsense unfold. We don’t care that they are omitting certain truths. We don’t care that it is bullshit, as long as the people spewing talking points support our worldview. We’ve let ourselves be put into boxes where information doesn’t matter, and unbacked opinions do. We would rather get mad at the other side over things that are not proven than take a long hard look at our own side.
So where does this lead us? What happens to a population who understands that they are being lied to, and does nothing about it? What happens to a nation founded on the tenant of Free Speech when it opts out of that freedom and into self-censorship? When we decide that partisan culture is more important than holding the government accountable? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but my guess is that it isn’t good. Truth is the first casualty in war — and I don’t see much truth around.