What journalism is really about – it’s to monitor power and the centers of power.
– Amira Hass, journalist
Marginalization of news discrepant from the ruling class’s ideology, propaganda, and disinformation are corporate media staples. Consequently, many critically thinking news consumers have drop-kicked the corporate media for proliferating independent news sources. The internet is rife with such independent media. Lacking, however, had been independent video and/or television news. Into this void came the The Real News Network (TRNN), which I described as a “promising video-based media entrant,” despite the noted capitalist structure of its business model.1
There are many excellent video reportages on TRNN, but sometimes it fails miserably to distinguish itself from the corporate media that serves as a corporate-government mouthpiece. A case in point is a recent interview by TRNN honcho Paul Jay with Larry Wilkerson, acknowledged as Colin Powell’s former chief-of-staff, into the mystery surrounding the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan on 26 March. Given Powell’s emphatic rejection of North Korean peace overtures — “We won’t do nonaggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.”2 — it is not surprising what kind of response TRNN and Jay received from Powell’s subordinate.
TRNN claims to provide “independent and uncompromising journalism.”3 Bearing that claim in mind, how then does Jay’s interview reflect TRNN’s adherence to Hass’s journalistic criterion of monitoring centers of power?
The TRNN story presents as fait accompli that North Korea fired a missile that sank a South Korean navy ship. The viewing public, however, is presented no definitive evidence to examine? Has TRNN not learned from previous US lies — for example, about Iraqi WMD — to be skeptical of US statements?4
Is the South Korean fingering of North Korea in the Cheonan‘s torpedoing buttressed by an independent assessment? Have any outside independent inspectors been brought in to assess the South Korean claim?
Jay asked why would North Korea would commit such a horrendous act. Notably, Jay did not pose another question: why would anyone else do it? Thus he omitted other possibilities, such as a false flag?
Wilkerson’s reply comes across as risible. Wilkerson accused North Korea of brinkmanship and attention seeking.
Really? Wilkerson asserts North Korea attacked a South Korean ship and killed 46 sailors to seek attention!? How does this jive with the depiction of North Korea as a hermit nation? How does this jive with the North Korea juche (self-reliance; acknowledged by Wilkerson later in the interview)? TRNN presents Wilkerson’s assertions without challenge. In other words, it serves as a mouthpiece for the US government.
Wilkerson talks of a historical cold war relationship across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Necessarily, one of the distinguishing features of independent news is presenting background information that allows news consumers to critically assess the news in its current context. TRNN did not do this. They did not state why there is a DMZ and why is Korea split.5 Korean history expert Bruce Cumings described the Americans’ decision to divide Korea at the thirty eighth parallel as “hasty and unilateral.”6
Why did the US divide Korea? If the Korean people had been permitted to establish their own system of governance, then the masses, which were eager to overthrow the elitist yangban class, were heading toward socialism. The political will of the people was thwarted at great cost. On the southern island of Jeju an “all out guerrilla extermination campaign” by rightists resulted in the deaths of one of every five or six islanders and the destruction of half the villages.7
Wilkerson states that the North Korea backed out of six party talks. There was no background. Jay never questioned why North Korea would back out. Indeed, why would US rejectionism of a nonaggression treaty have any bearing?
Jay asks Wilkerson about the Chinese position? Why? Why didn’t Jay ask a Chinese spokesperson or China expert? Is this proper reporting: asking an ex-US official to respond on the Chinese position without asking China?
TRNN allowed Wilkerson to state that China has no control/influence over North Korea. Would a Chinese spokesperson have said this?
TRNN allows demonization of North Korea: Wilkerson calls it an “Al Capone country” and a “bankrupt regime.” It is a well known axiom that people in glass houses should not cast stones. Therefore, if North Korea is a bankrupt regime, what of Wilkerson’s own country’s regime? Is the Obama regime above being described as a “bankrupt regime”? What about the GW Bush regime that Wilkerson served under?
This is not to resort to tu quoque argumentation; the fact that Wilkerson’s criticism can be directed at his own country does not deflect criticism against North Korea, but it does put it in a comparative perspective
Wilkerson says the PRK is a “difficult area economically.” Why? Is that strange given international sanctions engineered by the US against North Korea? Consider: why is North Korea forced to devote an inordinate expenditure to its security?
Amazingly, Wilkerson acknowledged that South Korea would surely defeat North Korea in a military scenario. What purpose then do US bases and US forces in South Korea serve?
Wilkerson also offers some more refreshing honesty but with insufficient elaboration on Chinese concerns over the North Korean regime falling: “It would lose the buffer it has between a US ally, South Korea, and itself.” In fact, it not only is it a buffer between a US ally, it is – more honestly – a buffer between the US military and China since US forces are stationed on South Korean soil.
Wilkerson accuses North Korea of marketing missiles around the world? Probably, and the US does not do this? Did the US not sell missiles to Taiwan, much to the consternation of China? Or it is okay when the US does this, but no other nation has the right – that is, a refutation of the United Nations charter which accords equal rights among nations (absurd since the UN grants permanent security council status with veto power in the security council).
Discouragingly, TRNN undermines its claim to independent reporting in this story. Why did TRNN turn to a US source (and an obviously biased one)? Why did it not turn to Koreans?
Jay asks, “So nobody really wants this war?” Well, how about US? It has a long history of trying to knock down socialist governments.8
Is it fair to state without conclusive publicly scrutinizable evidence of the navy ship’s sinking who was indisputably responsible? Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu stated, “The issue is highly complicated. China does not have firsthand information. We are looking at the information from all sides in a prudent manner.”
Shouldn’t independent media be equally prudent?9
- Kim Petersen, “Dispelling the Murkiness of the Corporate Media: The Real News,” Dissident Voice, 3 July 2008. [↩]
- Steven R. Weisman, “U.S. Weighs Reward if North Korea Scraps Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, 13 August 2003. The article noted that North Korea sought a nonaggression in exchange for dropping its nuclear program. The Bush administration reserved its right for a pre-emptive attack on North Korea. The result: three years later the North Koreans conducted their first nuclear detonation. Reuters reported that a third nuclear detonation is possible soon. Jack Kim and Jon Herskovitz, “North Korea readying for 3rd nuclear test: report,” Reuters, 20 April 2010. [↩]
- “Our Mission,” TRNN. [↩]
- There is a long history of manufactured pretexts by US regimes and media. See Kim Petersen, “Grasping at Straws: Searching for a War Pretext,” Dissident Voice, 4 March 2003. [↩]
- US professor Bruce Cumings, a Korea expert, answered that question: “it is the Americans who bear the lion’s share of the responsibility for the thirty-eighth parallel.” See Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005): 186. [↩]
- Ibid, 187. [↩]
- Ibid, 221. [↩]
- See, for example, Carole Cameron Shaw, The Foreign Destruction of Korean Independence (Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 2007 and Korean Truth Commission, Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea: 1945-2001 (New York: 2001). [↩]
- I never received a response from TRNN to my queries before this article being published. [↩]