The Trump-Media Logrolling

By Sam Husseini an independent journalist who contributes to The Nation, CounterPunch, Truthdig, Consortium News, CommonDreams and other outlets. He is also senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of Originally published at his website

Today, hundreds of newspapers, at the initiative of the Boston Globe, are purporting to stand up for a free press against Trump’s rhetoric.

Today also marks exactly one month since I was dragged out of the July 16 Trump-Putin news conference in Helsinki and locked up until the middle of the night.

As laid in my cell, I chuckled at the notion that the city was full of billboards proclaiming Finland was the “land of free press“.

So, I’ve grown an especially high sensitivity to both goonish behavior toward journalists trying to ask tough questions — and to those professing they are defending a free press when they are actually engaging in a marketing campaign.

As some have noted, the editorials today will likely help Trump whip up support among his base against a monolithic media. But, just as clearly, the establishment media can draw attention away from their own failures, corruptions and falsehoods simply by focusing on some of Trump’s. 

Big media outlets need not actually report news that affects your life and point to serious solutions for social ills. They can just bad mouth Trump. And Trump need not deliver on campaign promises that tapped into populist and isolationist tendencies in the U.S. public that have grown in reaction to years of elite rule. He need only deride the major media.

They are at worst frenemies. More likely, at times, Trump and the establishment media log roll with each other. The major media built up Trump. Trump’s attacks effectively elevate a select few media celebrities.

My case is a small but telling one. Major media outlets were more likely to disinform about the manhandling I received in my attempt to ask about U.S., Russian and Israeli nuclear threats to humanity — I’ll soon give a detailed rebuttal to the torrent of falsehoods, some of which I’ve already noted on social media — than to crusade against it.

Other obvious cases: None of the newspaper editorials I’ve seen published today mention the likely prosecution of Wikileaks. If there were solidarity among media, the prospect of Julian Assange being imprisoned for publishing U.S. government documents should be front and center today.

Neither did I see a mention of RT or, as of this week, Al Jazeera, being compelled to register as foreign agents. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert has openly refused to take questions from reporters working for Russian outlets. Virtual silence — in part because Russia is widely depicted as the great enemy, letting U.S. government policy around the world off the hook.

The above are actual policies that the Trump administration has pursued targeting media — not rhetoric that dominates so much establishment coverage of Trump.

Then there’s the threat of social media.

My day job is with the Institute for Public Accuracy. Yesterday, I put out a news release titled “Following Assassination Attempt, Facebook Pulled Venezuela Content.” Tech giants can decide — possibly in coordination with the U.S. government — to pull the plug on content at a time and manner of their choosing.

You would think newspaper people might be keen to highlight the threat that such massive corporations thus pose, not least of all because they have eaten up their ad revenue (the Boston Globe page on the effort is actually behind a paywall.)

The sad truth is that this is what much of the media have long done: Counter to the lofty rhetoric of many of today’s editorials, the promise of an independent and truth-seeking press has frequently been subservient to propaganda, pushing for war or narrow economic and other interests.

The other major story of the day — quite related to this — is that of Trump pulling former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance. NPR tells me this is an attempt to “silence a critic”. But Brennan has an op-ed in today’s New York Times and is frequently on major media. He oversaw criminal policies during the Obama administration, including drone assassinations. If anything, this has elevated Brennan’s major media status.

Those who have been truly silenced in the “Trump era” are those who were critical of the seemingly perpetual U.S. government war machine since the invasion of Iraq.

Trump attacks on the establishment media — like many media attacks on him — are frequently devoid of substance. But recently one of his rhetorically tweets stated that media “cause wars“. I would say “push for war”, but that’s quibbling.

Trump is technically right on that point, but it’s totally disingenuous coming from him. He’s actually been the beneficiary of the media compulsion he claims to deride. When he exalts U.S. bombing strikes in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere, CNN calls him “presidential“.

Many consider “Russiagate” critical to scrutinizing the Trump administration, but the two reporters, apparently picked by the White House, during the Helsinki news conference focused on “Russiagate” — which eventually led to Brennan and others attacking Trump as “treasonous”. Meanwhile, much more meaningful collusion that can be termed Israelgate is being ignored as the U.S. and Israeli governments attempt to further mold the Mideast.

The need for genuinely free sources of information is greater than ever. It is unclear to me if traditional newspapers can be part of the equation. Quite likely, the institutions desperately needed to carry out that critical mission are yet to be born.

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  1. Epistrophy

    The other major story of the day — quite related to this — is that of Trump pulling former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.

    I fail to understand why any ex-government employee should keep a top-level security clearance. When you leave, you leave, full stop. One serves in government at the leisure of the American public. In my view, Brennan is behaving like a mafiosi ‘made-man’, not as a public servant.

    Tech giants can decide — possibly in coordination with the U.S. government — to pull the plug on content at a time and manner of their choosing.

    I cannot figure out what is going on with Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter – lets call them the ‘Four Horsemen’. I cannot believe that they are stupid enough to think that blanket bans are going to stifle the alternative media and enhance Democrat election prospects. Surely they aren’t that naive?

    In fact the exact opposite is happening. The Four Horsemen have super-charged Trump’s base. Before the ban, alternative media at least tried to comply with their Community Guidelines.

    Now, having been banned, alternative media are completely unleashed and their following is exploding.

    1. JTMcPhee

      As to turning to alternatives, I’m not clear on the whole net and web architecture thing. Are there not choke points that the Borg/Panopticon have their strangler’s hands around, so that at some point, when their algos and auguries tell them the time is ripe, they can squeeze, and kill all such outside-the-Narrative interchange? It’s not like the Big Data Piles that the NSA is constantly adding to, with full cooperation from the Four Horsement, don’t already identify and catalog and characterize the “threats” to the project posed by mopes like us, who participate in “well-known Russian outlets” like NC.

      Full spectrum dominance includes planned and actual dominance by the Borg/Pentagram of the entire electromagnetic spectrum too, So even ham radio operators, the people who provide, from their own meager,resources, the communications substrate that has been so helpful in many disasters,, and the remaining broadcasters in the long- and shortwave ranges, will find that their bit of bandwidth will be hashed and crashed. Noting that so much of the content of remaining broadcast media is, shall we say, “affected” by the Borg via “initiatives” like Operation Mockingbird…

      I’m reminded of the back story bit in “Independence Day,” when Jeff Goldblum’s character intuits that there’s a timing signal in the Evil Consumer Aliens’ communication stream that reports the countdown to when the Giant Black Ships (why are Evil Aliens always black? Why not some hippie rainbow coloration?) with their city-destroying weapons are all in position and they can start blasting the hum-ants that might oppose their looting of this planet…

      1. anonymous

        Think of the internet as a tollway with booths at either end and monitoring along the way. When you control a booth, for example, you can see which cars pass by.

        I have seen that process in action and am in favor of privacy tools (VPN, control of Java scripts, ad/malware blockers, etc) to preserve some semblance of anonymity. Even with those in place, there are still ways for actors to observe. Be guided accordingly.

        1. Lord Koos

          From what I understand, a VPN can be hacked but only by using a lot of resources to do it, you’d have to be a person of great interest for them to bother with it. (I use one myself at all times.)

          Beyond censoring social media platforms, the next step would be to remove access to any blog or and site which doesn’t go along with the narrative the state is promoting. I assume that would not be too difficult, but if the site in question is on a foreign server they would have to actually hack it. Has Naked Capitalism ever considered using a foreign host that would be more difficult to compromise?

      2. Epistrophy

        Very difficult to provide choke points – but I am sure they are working on it. Because almost everything depends upon instantaeous network connectivity, such as power systems, logistics systems, communication systems, transport systems, defence systems and banking systems, among others, any interference is going to have side effects that could be quite serious.

        In addition, systems are becoming more and more distributed, with no central control point – blockchain being a recent example.

        For example, I stopped using years ago. Mostly I use bitchute to watch some things directly, view videos through a search engine like DuckDuckGo or view videos embedded in websites like NC.

        Bitchute uses bittorrent to transmit videos – meaning that the viewers of the videos also provide the bandwidth to each other – a peer to peer transmission method – so there is almost no bandwidth cost to Bitchute and no central point of control. The more users or ‘nodes’, the better the system works.

        Youtube, on the other hand, can control or ‘choke’ content, but it has huge central server bandwidth costs.

        As I see it, YouTube is going to morph into a proprietary Netflix-type of service in just a few years. Garage-produced indie content and alternative media startups will probably move to a different platform.

        1. sharonsj

          I checked out bitchute and all I saw were mostly right-wingers, conspiracy theorists and anti-Semitic rants. None of that could be considered reliable news.

          1. Epistrophy

            Sweeping generalizations. The point being: as long as no laws are broken, one has a right to express such views and you, or I, or any other person, have the right not to agree with it, or to present an opposing view, or to not to entertain such views at all.

            Whereas Google, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, etc are only going to let you see and hear what they want you to see and hear. You are only going to see and hear what their corporate sponsors or shareholders (Saudi Arabia?) want you to see and hear. You are only going to see and hear what their political masters (Mark Warner?) want you to see and hear. As the late Russell Means (Wanbli Ohitika) would say: “Welcome to the reservation, White Man”.

    2. none

      It’s normal for clearances to stay active after a person leaves employment where it was required. It can help them get new employment. Example: you’re a machinist at Lockheed milling engine parts for fighter planes. You need a clearance for that, because the engine specs are classified. Now the project ends and you’re without a job. Something else comes online at Northrup Grumman up the street: you already have a clearance, so you get hired. If the clearance lapsed you’d have to go through months of background checks all over again, so you keep it current. That doesn’t mean you keep having access to classified info about stuff you’re not working on, it just means you follow a bunch of regulations like I think you have to report to the feds if you travel out of the country (as if they didn’t already know).

      I see job ads now and then (esp. in aerospace) where clearances are required or preferred (because they have to get one for you if you don’t have it already), for reasons like the above. It’s pretty mundane imho. Like being a licensed electrician almost.

      The situation with Brennan and other grifter spooks is different, but the idea of a clearance just means you’ve been investigated and found to be a low risk for leaking classified info. Just because you leave a job doesn’t mean you suddenly *become* a risk, so there’s no reason to yank the clearance merely because there’s an interval in which you’re not using it.

    3. Ginavon

      I totally agree with you. If x employee needs to be consulted a non-disclosure agreement could be signed. No x employee should retain top-level secret security clearance.

  2. Bill Smith

    “I fail to understand why any ex-government employee should keep a top-level security clearance.”

    It is not unusual for someone who left government service to get contacted by someone who is currently working on a project the ex-employee worked on. The likelihood of this happening certainly decreases as time passes. If the ex-employee doesn’t still have the security clearance talking about the project would be illegal.

    1. JTMcPhee

      And given how revolving door rotates, and how corrupt the majority of those “projects” is, why is it a bad thing that ex-employees (who might, say, have used the NSA’s Panopticon to spy on and harass ex-lovers and present significant others, or to trash people who dare question the Narrative, or to have engaged in the manifold frauds and corruptions that the Pentagram and much of the state security (sic) apparatus have, and are, engaged in?

      There’s no “loyalty to America,” no “defense of the Constitution” by so very many of the current employees (and millions of self-interested “contractors”) who slurp at the government trough, while claiming to be “serving the Nation” as they build and foster the machinery of the Panopticon and perpetual war machine that does not even try to “win victories” except as between procurement projects and in vicious conflicts for better office space. What entitles these people to continue to have the “economic benefit,” and it clearly is one, of a “security clearance,” on departing from such employment? Is that the kind of ‘entitlement” that is worthy of protection, when stuff like Social Security (a prepaid insurance against abject poverty in old age and disability) and Medicar-Medicaid, are as those “security professionals” would say, are “threatened” and “under attack?”

      As to “illegality of communications,” I bet you may be well aware that such “communications” in violation of all kinds of laws and principles of “democracy” are part of the tradecraft and standard practice. Lady Justice wears a blindfold, not for the mythical reasons of treating all equally, but to let the malefactors get away with stuff. She ought to have at least one hand tied behind her back, too, though I guess one hand has to be left free to wield the sword and cut off anyone not protected by ‘current practices” and the Leona Helmsley Rule that “law is for the little people…”

    2. Pat

      So the government has no mechanism they can use to contact these employees for information, say having the current employer act as an agent of the government. Said employee making an appointment at a government facility a t the government’s time and choosing and providing a limited waiver of secrecy for that meeting and that meeting alone would probably satisfy both security issues and the issue of former employee using his knowledge for the good of the people not personal or private gain, revenge, leverage, etc we have now.

      1. JTMcPhee

        Yah, so simple, it would seem. And of course, on the record, and on the history of how this vast, unauditable, covert, growing, immensely corrupt blob operates, not ever going to become the practice. This link kind of overemphasizes sexsexsex stories, but does cover (below the fold) a whole lot of the vast corruption that is standard practice for the Imperial government — just as has been the case, and downfall, of previous empires:

        And all this assumes that the folks still slurping at the govenment trough are acting in good faith, for the general welfare, subject to the Congressionally mandated and smugly ignored oath they are all supposed to swear to:

        Oath of Office for Federal Officials

        Employees of the United States Government including all members of Congress are required to take the following oath before assuming elected or appointed office.

        5 U.S.C. 3331:

        An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services shall take the following oath: I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

    3. a different chris

      >to get contacted by someone who is currently working on a project the ex-employee worked on

      Well before they commence the actual conversation he/she needs to get re-cleared. If it takes 6 months then that’s just the way it is.

      So some guy has a high security clearance, and then you want his input say 10 years later. You’re telling me the CIA/NSA/(insert alphabetic blood-sucking agency here) has been keeping as tight tabs on his behavior as they have the rest of the people in your office? Dude could have gotten a coke addiction and turned to, sigh, the Russians for some moola. Would they really know?

      And “the likelihood decreases” is not a defense. You either have a policy – “security clearance decreases at the following rate: x, y, z” or you don’t.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Does that mean you agree that the Israel-ites actually do drive a lot of the content of ‘our” media, and the behaviors of “our” government? Or is it a “have bara, will travel” kind of comment? Or what? Not clear.

  3. The Rev Kev

    This author is right. I do not know if you would call what the media did a form of virtue-signalling or whatever but the net effect is a demonstration that the media is into coordinated campaigns. I do not think that people have forgotten the “This Is Extremely Dangerous to Our Democracy” Sinclair script a few months ago. This is just more of the same.
    I don’t even know why they act so b***-hurt when Trump attacks their honesty. In the last few months I have seen them call him a traitor, a gay-bitch, they have called for a military coup to unseat him, they have begged for the deep state to rescue them, they have elevated people who are responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers to the ranks of noble heroes of the Republic. As far as I am concerned, they have made their own bed and now they can lay in it, even if they have to share it with Donald J. Trump.

    1. Ginavon

      AND THEY HAVE INFERRED and/or stated outright… THAT HE SHOULD BE KILLED. Treason Sedition throw them into a cell at GITMO NOW

  4. Kokuanani

    Big media outlets need not actually report news that affects your life and point to serious solutions for social ills. They can just bad mouth Trump.

    Substitute “The Democratic Party” for “big media outlets” and you’ve got another accurate picture.

  5. Angie Neer

    Yesterday when I looked at the NYT online, the big featured graphic in the center of the page, typically a photo, was a rotating feed of Trump tweets, in headline-sized text. It struck me as a new low in the pathetic Trump-media feedback loop. It’s all a game of “made you look!”

    1. Bill Smith

      Yeah, they probably got a summer intern to do that.

      Anyone read Ronan Farrows “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence”?

      In one passage he describes a meeting at the State Department where they are complaining that nobody is interested in their policy prescriptions and decide that the problem is that they need some graphs. They all turn to Farrrow and look at him as he is the youngest in the meeting and figure he is the only one who would know how to do that. “Ageism” he thought.

  6. Altandmain

    The problem with the mainstream media calling out Trump is that this is like the pot calling a kettle black.

    Trump is awful, sure. But so is the corporate media with its pro-war and neoliberal economic agenda.

    As Ian Welsh notes, the press is Trump’s enemy, not the servant of the people:

    A case could be made that independent media like Naked Capitalism is doing a key public service. Not the corporate media though, whose main objective is always to maximize advertising revenues and to impose the views of its owners, the very rich, on society.

  7. Lambert Strether

    Two random comments on this topic:

    1) The best justification for giving officials formally out of government clearance on either side of the revolving door is that you may need to call on them for advice. It seems to me that this incentivizes “intelligence” over wisdom. And for wisdom, long experience plus open sources should be enough. (For example, if you want to call in an ex-official on North Korean nukes, they don’t really need to know the details of the latest weaponry, or Kim’s weight gain, or whatever. That can be explained to them by the customer, as needed. What’s really needed is an outside voice — the role played by an honest consultant — plus wisdom about power relations on the Korean peninsula. No need for clearance there.)

    2) RussiaRussiaRussia has been very profitable, not only personally for the talking heads in the intelligence community but for the press. Removing clearance not only hits the talking heads in the wallet, it disrupts the relation between the press and its network of anonymous sources.

    1. Enquiring Mind

      Re 2), there seems to be an element of induced demand to support the preponderance of repetitive coverage, somewhat akin to the dopamine manipulation in video games and on social media websites. Bug and feature.

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