Of all the topics I discuss probably the most confusing is propaganda.
This week I’m going to focus on the New York Times, since it’s the premier-elite newspaper that all other media take their cues from. Going further, the Times, sets the tone insofar as class is concerned. You know, “class”, the 5-letter word that we’re not supposed to use here in America, where everyone is supposedly “middle-class”.
To help us we’ll use as a guide Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s, Manufacturing Consent, with their propaganda model. Their 5 propaganda filters for the corporate media are: ownership; advertising; the reliance on government and business experts; flak as a means of disciplining the media; and anti-communism.
The Times, along with the Washington Post, is an essential cog in the billionaire-owned corporate media that controls the dominant narrative. Indeed, many of our feral elite get both their news and opinions from Times, which largely exists to serve and defend the owners of capital and provide a facade of liberal enlightenment values. In other words, if you really want to understand our all-American propaganda system, understanding the Times is crucial.
It will be fun.
Let’s start with some basics skills of critical reading. What are you reading for? News? Information? Research? Or simply enjoyment? Personally I like to read the Times as background research to help understand the values and preferences of the feral elite who rule us.
Not all of them. If you want to understand elite Republicans the Wall Street Journal is the place.
The Gray Lady, on the other hand, is the standard bearer for the modern day Democratic party. Not the one popularized by FDR and his New Deal, but the neoliberal Democrats who voted enthusiastically for Barak Obama, and the Clinton’s. Crucially, the Times is the loadstar for the professional/managerial/class–also known as liberals. A simple examination of the ads located within the pages reveals a class bias that’s driven by the first 2 filters of the propaganda model–ownership and advertising. After all, the readership of the Times are wealthy enough to buy the products and frequent the businesses that advertise within its pages.
As you read the Times, it’s important to use the table of contents on the 2nd page to examine the stories that the Times is featuring. This way you can divide them into categories. While the Times is a propaganda organ there are subtle differences. Many articles are not propaganda, are well written, and you can safely read every word as gospel. Others, especially the ones that concern economics, foreign policy and politics, are ones that you have to approach with extreme caution and read with a jaundiced eye.
Articles in the Times concerning politics, foreign policy and economics bring the 3rd, 4th and 5th propaganda filters into play. The reliance on government and business experts means that the range of opinion on politics and policies ranges from neoliberalism to neoconservatism. With flak, the Times, is constantly disciplined into presenting a very conservative viewpoint as their list of opinion columnists attests. Though they present themselves as “liberal” they feel the need to maintain a house conservative in Bret Stephens, even as the rest of the crew–David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Ross Dougherty, Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, etc–are hardly wild-eyed socialists. And, even though communism has been defunct for 30 years, the anti-communism filter can be seen hard at work in the Time’s coverage of the Democratic primaries with it’s clear bias towards Joe Biden, coupled with its extreme hostility towards Bernie Sanders.
Moreover, the Times is a reliable mouthpiece for the US empire. It hasn’t hurt that many of the Times top writers and columnist over the years have been US intelligence agents working to advance “Public Diplomacy”, through covert methods like operation Mockingbird. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of neoconservatism, the prevailing orthodoxy in the US-centralized power alliance has been to preserve the unipolar world order at any cost. All US foreign policy has been a direct or indirect result of this agenda ever since. The Times is an enthusiastic cheerleader, parroting the official line, whether bashing Russia non-stop with Russia-gate, or, now, neatly pivoting to bash China as the instigator of the pandemic.
This empire cheerleader role is most apparent in articles that focus on countries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and of course, Russia and China, and are almost always propaganda. It is well written propaganda, with a lot of true details and much subtlety so you have to read very carefully. A good tactic with such articles is to read the headline, then contrast that message with the end. A lot of the time they bury the good parts at the end of an article since they know most people only read the first part.
The importance of understanding the role and influence of the Times cannot be overstated. The key takeaway is that when it comes to serious matters such as economics, foreign policy and politics it’s is hardly different from state controlled media and a critical reader should consider the Times to be Pravda on the Hudson.