19 May 2015

Madison's Farce In The Post-Information Era

The media’s disgraceful reaction to Seymour Hersh’s bin Laden Report

By now, most readers have heard of Seymour Hersh’s latest tubesteak in the London Review of Books.  Hersh outed the Obama Administration’s lies surrounding the killing of Osama bin Ladin in a 10,000 word report.  For readers who have not yet read the Hersh report, Jeffrey St. Claire, editor of Counterpunch, penned an excellent summary as a lead in to an essay written by the late Alexander Cockburn, who criticized the Obama Administration's story about the liquidation of bin Ladin only four days after the event.  St. Claire’s point was not to criticize or diminish Hersh’s work, but to remind people that questions about bin Ladin’s liquidation arose from the get go.  Rumors have been swirling for years, but it was Hersh has put together the most coherent story yet published.  That makes his report worth a careful study and analysis.
In an ideal world, Hersh’s report would trigger more investigative journalism to verify or refute his facts and assertions.  Yet despite its obvious importance, as Trevor Timm cogently explains in the Columbia Journalism Review, the mainstream media’s reaction to the Hersh report has not been to dig deeper, but to shoot the messenger. Vitriol from his fellow reporters is not new to Hersh.  As Mark Ames recalls in Lapdogs Redux, Hersh
“… got the same hostile reaction from his media colleagues when he broke his biggest story of his career: The 1974 exposé of the CIA’s massive, illegal domestic spying program, MH-CHAOS, which targeted tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Americans, mostly antiwar and leftwing dissidents …” 
But Ames also reminds us, Hersh was able to write in the New York Times on 15 January 1975 that William E. Colby,* the director of the CIA, admitted* in a Senate hearing that …
“… that his agency had infiltrated undercover agents into antiwar and dissident political groups inside the United States as part of a counterintelligence program that led to the accumulation of files on 10,000 American citizens.”
The mainstream media’s reaction reminds me of bureaucratic behaviour in the Pentagon (and also in climate science) that instinctively occurs whenever someone identifies problems with the consensus “party line,” or in the sterile language of newspeak, whenever one posits a new “narrative" in place of the consensus “narrative."  
This kind of group-think is very dangerous stuff when it comes to the mass media, because as James Madison implied** almost 200 years ago, the integrity of the Fourth Estate (the quest for knowledge not narratives) is a necessary condition for maintaining the vitality of the American concept of a republic based on the theory of representative democracy:  
“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  -  James Madison, from a letter to W.T. Barry, August 4, 1822
But as one Pentagon wag opined to me in the early 1980s in reaction to my work analyzing the collective delusions embodied in the Plans/Reality Mismatch,  ‘You have shown how the Pentagon is always a step ahead of society.  People talk about the revolutionary implications of the information era, but we have already moved to next rung of progress — Welcome to the Post Information Era.'
* Colby denied “massive” illegality in the Agency’s spying on 10,000 American Citizens
** Madison was talking about popular education, but the point is universal and self-evidently applies to the mass media