Legacy media

The free press is failing us

From Black Lives Matter to Mexican teachers and Iraqi civilians, corporate media aid and abet the crimes of the powerful
Photo: Mike Gifford

This past week, we have witnessed — in stories from home and abroad — the mouldering, vapid remnants of much of the corporate media.

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In the coverage of Black Lives Matter Toronto, of slain Mexican teachers and in the long-overdue acknowledgement that the justifications for the Iraq war were a catalog of lies, we have seen laid bare the almost universal deference to power that is a defining characteristic — with a few exceptions — of the toady inhabitants of the legacy media, an industry that is on life support and surely dying drip by inevitable drip.

Challenging real, entrenched power invites retribution and, ultimately, excommunication.

What we have witnessed is the fawning acquiescence of scores of journalists-in-name-tag-only who play courier to the instruments of state power, whatever their guise, at the expense of the truth and the powerless.

What has been on undeniable display in these cases are the unmistakable reasons why the cratering corporate media is so deeply mistrusted and disconnected culturally, psychologically and financially from the audiences it still claims, astonishingly, to serve.

The unspoken survival strategy in this fundamentally hollow and punitive climate is simple, easy to discern and, perhaps most importantly, to put into daily practice: You must play along with the powers that be to get along with the powers that be.

This leads me, of course, to the corporate media “coverage” of the recent “Three Amigos” summit in Ottawa.

Media betrays massacred teachers

Now, to grasp just how quickly and completely a bunch of make-believe journalists fell not only in line, but also into their customary roles as little more than giddy stenographers, you have to turn back the clock 72 hours before the equally giddy trio of politicians met.

On the Sunday before Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, enjoyed each other’s carefully-crafted-for-TV-company, a much less inviting scene was unfolding violently in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Led by their union, Mexican teachers pushed back in the streets against the draconian education “reforms” unilaterally imposed upon them by President Peña Nieto. This predictable response of this “democrat” was to unleash his so-called “security forces,” who fired upon the unarmed teachers, students and their parents. (Peña Nieto has a disagreeable habit of doing that.)

Reports vary on how many people were cut down and who they were precisely. Union officials say as many as eight teachers, parents and others were killed. The government put the number at six and has denied that any teachers had been harmed, insisting that “youths” and “local merchants” had been killed — as if that made the state-sanctioned atrocity somehow more palatable. I believe the union.

Three days later, it was as if those Mexican teachers had never existed, had never demonstrated, had never been fired upon, and had never been murdered. They had evaporated from the consciousness of the assembled press who were too preoccupied with recording with such gooey servitude the budding bromances between the ever so telegenic Three Amigos. The show had to go on, and goodness knows, a few little, forgettable dead teachers weren’t going to gum up the diplomatic works even though decency demanded it.

The embarrassing and signature apex of this gushy, teeny-bopper-like attraction to power was a “story” in Slate Magazine that heaved with appreciation for how “hot” and irresistible the Three Amigos were.

Behold the tripe masquerading as journalism. “In what some are calling the Three Amigos Summit, Barack Obama is meeting with Canadian prime minister/feminist dad Justin Trudeau and Mexican president/total dreamboat Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa this week, setting hearts aflame across borders and prompting a million fantasies of a Black Mirror-like scenario in which some enterprising terrorist would blackmail the three into a passionate livestreamed makeout session. (A million fantasies, right guys? Right?),” a Slate “staff writer” wrote.

No mention in Slate’s hard-to-endure dispatch that the “total dreamboat” had arrived in town, smiling his beguiling smile, only hours after Mexican workers had been massacred for simply speaking out.

It’s worth recalling that Trudeau and Obama were teachers. Whatever flimsy solidarity they may have once shared with their fallen brethren had clearly become a vague, distant memory while the amigos stood, laughing, before the cacophony of cameras trying and failing to simultaneously shake hands.

Not surprisingly, the dead teachers merited one lonely question from a Mexican reporter at a joint Trudeau/Peña Nieto press conference. Slate’s poster boy for “hotness” tried to airily dismiss the teachers and their supporters as “dissidents.” I hope those brave Mexican teachers consider Peña Nieto’s slime a badge of honour. I know this teacher does.

For his part, Trudeau rambled on like a member of a bad debating club about how he had privately told his new amigo of the “need to engage in constructive dialogue and ensure a strengthening of the rule of law." That’s code for: “Hey amigo, next time try to talk if you can and not shoot. Now, how about lunch?”

With that prickly business summarily dealt with, the traveling band of power worshipers joined the assembled Liberal glitterati to have a collective orgasm while Obama did a slightly more eloquent impersonation of Sally Field’s “you really like me” speech in the House of Commons. On cue, Obama returned the unbridled affection he received by telling them all that he really liked them, too.

Everyone went on Twitter and home happy, except the dead teachers.

Black Lives Matter vs. Canada’s punditocracy

This deference to power was also on nauseating parade earlier this week in Toronto in the aftermath of a stand taken by the steely and determined Black Lives Matter Toronto during Pride festivities.

What did this band of mostly young, eloquent, media-savvy, and accomplished provocateurs do to warrant the corporate media cavalry descending upon them with such incoherent animus? They sat down in a street and stopped a parade for 30 minutes that went on its merry way after those 30 minutes were up. Oh, the horror.

During those 30 minutes, BLM negotiated in good faith with a top parade organizer and seemingly won concessions from him about limiting, among other things, the police’s presence at next year’s parade.

The derision heaped upon BLM by a slew of white establishment journalists was intended to exploit a perceived opening to discredit a grassroots movement.

This triggered a mass hemorrhage among the usual suspects — including a serial plagiarist — at the usual media outlets who whined like bratty, entitled kids about how those no good, unseemly black “bullies” had “banned” the poor, beleaguered Toronto police from participating in future Pride parades. Oh, the horror II.

Make no mistake, the derision heaped upon BLM by a slew of white establishment journalists was intended to exploit a perceived opening to discredit a grassroots movement that has done more to finally hold Toronto’s haughty, unaccountable police service to real account than any of those fulminating hacks will ever do.

They failed. BLM has caused the Toronto police serious trouble and for that public service the cops’ many media allies have rushed to outdo one another with their hysterical, hyperbolic attempts to teach the movement a sharp lesson about who’s really in charge.

But, like most of the hacks, that playbook is getting old and stale and, by the way, it’s not working anymore. BLM has changed the power dynamic by changing the rules of the game. As a result, the police’s hegemony over Toronto is being chipped away at step-by-calculated-step by engaged citizens who are expertly using peaceful, dogged resistance to do what politicians and the corporate media has failed to do: Tell the police to take a hike.

Damn, the kids are alright.

War hawks and their press parrots silent after Chilcot

Finally, in 2003, lots of other “kids” joined millions in demonstrations around the globe to prevent the launch of an illegal, calamitous war that was orchestrated by liars who told the world a pack of fibs with the enthusiasm of evangelical hucksters.

For their noble efforts, these principled, sensible citizens were tarred as traitors, know-nothing geopolitical simpletons, or latter day Neville Chamberlains, by a corporate media frothing like a rabid dog for war.

The once cocky pro-war zealots have gone mute.

The list of writers and pundits who were complicit in this ugly endeavour is as long as it is notorious. We know who they are in Canada, in Britain, and the United States. We remember their taunts and smears. We remember how they didn’t just “support” the war, but how they loved it, championed it, celebrated it, extolled its virtues, venerated its architects, and told us with obdurate certainty of its historical value.

Thirteen years later, a card-carrying member of the British establishment, Sir John Chilcot, has released a voluminous report that clinically exposes the lies, the liars, and the conduits for the liars and their lies.

The once cocky pro-war zealots have gone mute, save for the blithering idiots who desperately cling to the discredited rationales they have proffered so many times, over so many times.

The damage this horrendous nexus of corporate, political, military and media power has wrought in Iraq and beyond is, as our side imagined it would be — almost incomprehensible in its human nature and scale. I take no solace in saying the we have been vindicated, that we were right, since it is Iraqis who have been killed, maimed, traumatized, and forced to leave the land they love by the millions.

Each one of those lives had a name, a face, a history, a family. They’re gone. But the charlatans that freed the forces responsible for that suffering, and the suffering of Iraqis today, from behind the coziness of their desks in newsrooms are still being feted and treated with respect they forfeited long ago.

But whether they are prepared to acknowledge it or not, Sir Chilcot has already written their epitaphs. They will forever bear the blame and the shame for what’s happened in Iraq and to Iraqis.

Stenographers to power or journalists?

Having catalogued the litany of sins that have been committed recently in the supplicant service of powerful people and institutions, I'm obliged to quickly deal with the predictable retort that this indictment may invite from the deluded members of the establishment press.

Look, just because you may win an ephemeral bauble from time to time for how you “took on the vested interests,” it’s hardly convincing evidence that the “news” organizations that employ you are not genetically-conditioned to protect, advance, and champion the parochial corporate interests, biases, and perspectives of your predominately conservative, myopic owners.

I know this all too well, since I once worked for them, too. But, in time, I came to regret it, while learning this indispensable lesson: Challenging real, entrenched power invites retribution and, ultimately, excommunication. So, don’t kid yourselves: You can safely pick at the comfortable margins, but once you stray for too long beyond those well-established boundaries, the hammer will fall and it will fall fast.

Then, you will understand that it’s all been a charade designed to make you yearn for those glittery trinkets that serve two purposes — to offer fleeting validation to the gullible and to permanently blind you to the inherently corrosive compact that you’ve entered into in exchange for an impressive-looking calling card.

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