Truth Matters

I have been writing political essays for a few years now. I do so as a reluctant enthusiast, not because I wanted to write on these themes; but because, it seemed to me, that professional journalists were not telling the whole story; that significant parts that would allow people to connect the dots and understand what is happening from a historical perspective, were being deliberately omitted from the official version of current events, and from history.

As propaganda, the elements that are deliberately left out of media are as important as those that are retained. It is propaganda by omission, as much as by content. What people are not told shapes their world view and influences their behavior, as surely as what they are told. Imposed ignorance and selective knowledge go hand in hand to forge public opinion and to shape cultural identity. These conditions set the stage for belligerent government and aggressive nationalism.

It is not coincidental that professional journalists, those who write for profit in the mainstream media, are the least likely to tell us the truth, the whole truth; whereas, free-lance writers, who operate under a different set of rules and out of the mainstream, are more likely to serve the public interest, and tell us what we need to know in order to be a free people, and good world citizens.

Professional journalists are beholden to a code of ethics and personal conduct that free-lance writers are not. Namely, they are part of a fraternity, a part of the cultural orthodoxy, with an incentive in maintaining the established order. The incentive is always financial and professional, and involves creating the acceptance and trust of those in power, which may, when properly executed, even result in the celebrity status of the journalist.

Journalists who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or advancing their careers do not operate in the public interest. Their purpose is not to inform but to deceive.

When a major news anchor reports upon the invasion and occupation of sovereign nations, uncritically putting forth pentagon propaganda as justification for the attack, he or she is in essence acting in the manner of a celebrity athlete endorsing a product. The basketball star may endorse Nike sneakers, manufactured by indentured servants in foreign sweatshops; while the news anchor is endorsing war and disaster capitalism projected around the world by Lockheed Martin and the Carlyle Group. Both are prostitutes.

Mainstream corporate journalism is not about speaking truth to power, it is about selling products and perceptions. It is about creating a culture of ignorant consumers incapable of distinguishing between propaganda and news, fact and fiction.

This is marketing and perception management masquerading as unbiased, objecting reporting. I call it the big lie.

If the mainstream journalist wants to prosper, if they want to have access to the inner circles of power, they must play the game according to the established rules. They must toe the corporate line, and provide cover for the corporate assault on human freedoms, and the conquest of nature, while keeping hidden agendas concealed from public view. Journalists must be able to sell widely objectionable concepts to the people, packaged in the garments of seductive—often patriotic language, in order to make them palatable.

How many soldiers, outside of those under the private contracts of firms like Blackwater, would voluntarily stake their lives for corporate profits, and the subjugation of a sovereign people, if they knew that is what they are really fighting for, rather than the more popular and desirable goal of freedom or democracy?

Freedom, liberation, and democracy have never been corporate objectives; nor can they ever be the objective of corporate governance. They are only selling points that conceal hidden corporate agendas; the attractive packaging for war, occupation, and privatization, obtained at pubic expense.

If news stories are not believable to the multitudes, if they fail to garner popular support by masking corporate agendas behind deceptive language, the majority of governmental polices and private agendas could not be enacted. If the people knew what was being done in their name, and who is profiting from those policies, there might be widespread opposition and even social upheaval. It would be difficult to field a voluntary military that knows it is fighting for the bottom line of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Lockheed Martin, rather than for freedom and democracy, as they are told.

Thus those who would serve in the military as self-ordained patriots are sold a bill of goods. By invading and occupying Iraq, they are, in effect, undermining the very principles they claim to hold sacred, including those set forth in the Constitution and the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Likewise, the average US citizen is sold a similar bill of goods in order to garner support for policies they would, presumably, never voluntarily sustain, if they understood them better.

That is the genius of modern capitalism and its impressive marketing apparatus. The results have been breathtaking.

Skillful perception management always precedes empire. Well presented propaganda allows history to be presented as a kind of fairy tale that ignores the horrible things the government has always done in our name, at the behest of corporate America and our wealthiest citizens, which should be too well known to bear reiteration here.

In our capitalist culture, journalism must not be thought of as a reporting of facts, but as marketing propaganda—the selling of ideas that might not otherwise be embraced by those who must carry out hidden agendas, or the people on the receiving end of them. Seen in this way, the US soldier and the Iraqi citizen are both pawns in a rich man’s game: the former as the implementer of unjust war and occupation, the other as the unwilling recipient of them.

The end result for both soldier and Iraqi citizen is tragic: the soldier is told that he or she is protecting their country from foreign threats, something that is patently false; while the innocent Iraqi citizen, defending his or her home from foreign occupation, knows that she or he is not a terrorist, but is treated like one, nevertheless.

Both occupier and the occupied share a common foe, but it is not each other; it is the criminals, aided and abetted by the corporate media, who put them in formal opposition to one another for financial gain.

Our recent history would have been impossible without the consolidation of the media that occurred during the Clinton presidency and has continued ever since. The entire spectra of mainstream media are now under the control of only four or five corporations. We no longer have reporting on local issues stemming from diverse perspectives rooted in local communities, but a monoculture of state and corporate propaganda that betrays the public trust in its pursuit of corporate profits.

Aided by the president and congress, the public owned airwaves were hijacked and are being used against the people by giant multinational corporations.

The result of this media monoculture, as purveyed by the likes of Judith Miller and Tom Brokaw, and countless others, is tragic. And they represent only the tip of the mainstream iceberg. Think of the horrible and shameless lies, the baseless fear and hate that are continuously voiced by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and the hateful broadcasts that emanate from Bob Jones University, masquerading as Christian theology.

Corporate media is the vanguard of empire and environmental destruction on a global scale.

Unlike its corporate counterpart, reporting truth requires people of unassailable integrity. It requires a thirst for justice with the strength of character to oppose the powerful undertow of manufactured perception and conformity, and the seductive language created to execute the hidden agendas of corrupt governments. Uncovering truth requires commitment to the people, rather than to profit driven corporate agendas.

Only a handful of professional journalists have attained the kind of stature that makes such reportage possible in the United States. Their names are not at all well known, with the possible exception of Seymour Hersch, Robert Fisk, Bill Moyers and Greg Palast.

More often than not, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of independent journalists and unpaid free-lancers. The professional journalist must answer to his/her boss, and portray the corporation that employs them in a favorable light, even if they are profiting from unprovoked war and occupation. In contrast, the free-lancer is bound only by the constraints of conscience, imagination, and ability.

Occasionally, an astonished responder to one of my more poignant essays will tell me that I should forward the piece to the New York Times: to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, or even the BBC. I never have.

It would be hard for me to imagine any corporation undermining its own profitability by exposing its hidden agendas, and denouncing itself as a commissioner of murder and mayhem, motivated by insatiable greed and a lust for wealth and power that would astonish even the staunchest mafia don. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen! Snowballs in hell have a better chance.

Its not that free-lancers like me wouldn’t like to get paid for what we do; it’s that our views do not enhance the bottom line of corporate giants and, in many cases, actually undermine them. Thus it behooves the professional journalist and the corporate media to ignore or discredit us as purveyors of truth and seekers of justice.

Soon it will be an act of sedition to speak truth in this country. Yet, truth will continue to exist, despite all attempts to destroy it.

Whether they admit it or not, virtually all of the best known journalists in the US subscribe to the racist and sexist ideologies of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny, and they go to great lengths to advance these ideas, by presenting them as something other than what they really are. Slight of hand is the rule of mainstream journalism, not the exception.

Conversely, by serving the people, free-lance journalists are, of necessity, undermining the corporate agenda. Thus they are treated as enemies of the state, which has become indistinguishable from the corporation itself. We live in a culture where one cannot value truth and carry forth corporate agendas. Truth is the enemy of empire.

This might also explain why so many unembedded journalists have been deliberately killed in Iraq and the Gaza strip by US and Israeli snipers. The world must not know what the occupiers do, or the propaganda veneer may no longer have its intended effect on the consumers of media.

Speaking truth to power, especially corrupt power, is dangerous business— particularly in war zones and fascist states, like the one evolving in the US.

Corporate media is the vanguard of colonialism and imperialist policy. It plays a key role in preparing the public mind for imperialist wars and occupations and their subsequent puppet governments; it also serves the emerging police state at home that erodes our freedoms, until there is nothing left of them.

Yet, occasionally, even in this artificially constructed myth loving culture, truth wins out simply because someone cares enough to tell it like it is, without sugar coating. Truth matters; and that is—and always will be—of primal importance to some people. Let future historical records show that there was opposition to what was being done in our name, that there were people willing to speak truth to power, to stem the evil tide by standing up for justice, cost what it may.

Future historians of the dominant culture are likely to cast these accounts into the memory hole and pretend that they never existed, carrying forth the myth that the people were always united behind the injustice and tyranny of our time. We saw this in Nazi Germany in the buildup to World War Two, and we are seeing it now in the US.

But a culture that does not value truth and justice is not worth preserving. Such cultures will self destruct and implode upon themselves; the world will eventually unite against them and bring them down. All of the military might in the world, all the subterfuge, is not powerful enough to overcome simple truth.

Any individual who values truth more than lies, who keeps truth alive in his or her heart, despite all efforts to dislodge it from its ethical moorings, is more powerful than even the most advanced weapons systems. Truth emerges unscathed from the rubble of fallen empire as immutable as an inviolable law of nature. Nothing can bring it down because it is real.

If we are to evolve into a justice loving people, truth must become our moral foundation, the basis of our existence as a people. Truth and justice are inseparable partners on the road to liberation from tyranny and fascism.

Concord’s greatest citizen, the poet-philosopher, Henry D. Thoreau, summed it up well: “The one great rule of composition…is to speak the truth. This first, this second, this third; pebbles in your mouth or not.” Perhaps more than anything, that simplistic ability to speak plain truth, and in all languages, is what I most admire about Thoreau. There is much to admire and respect in a man who spoke in those terms, and lived by that simple credo.

Truth is simple and uncomplicated, whereas lies and distortions are complex. Truth stands strong and unwavering without artificial support; lies and propaganda require elaborate schemes and constant propping up, the mask of deception.

More of us must learn the language of truth; we must be its faithful guardians, if we are to be valuable citizens in this world, rather than the useful idiots of empire. By holding truth and justice in the highest regard, we demonstrate that another world is not only possible, but highly probable.

As voracious consumers of media, we must be as careful about what we admit into our minds, as the food we put into our bodies. Food can nourish and sustain us, or it can produce disease and decay. And so it is with media.

To date, we have not been very discriminate, and the result is that we have become a culture of the mentally obese, fed on junk media. Our minds, our souls, have been deliberately poisoned; our perceptions twisted and distorted, our humanity abandoned to the quest for profits and power.

We must purge our minds of junk media and replace it with something more nutritious, if we favor health over disease. Peace is not possible without two essential ingredients: truth and justice. Neither is possible in the absence of the other. We must live as if truth still matters.

Charles Sullivan is a naturalist, an educator and a freelance writer residing in the hinterlands of geopolitical West Virginia. He has an academic background in Appalachian Studies. . Read other articles by Charles.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John Halle said on October 26th, 2007 at 4:20pm #

    Excellent piece.

    One point to pick up on: professional (read corporate) journalists also have the benefit of journalistic educations, professional editors and fact checkers all of which confer a superficial but still real patina of authority on their copy. Those of us without these resources at our disposal, despite our best efforts, will invariably slip up.

    This article contains a couple of these: It’s Seymour Hersh not Hersch. And “poignant” comes across as the wrong word in: “Occasionally, an astonished responder to one of my more poignant essays. . .” Also, the whole thing could probably use a bit of pruning though I’m not enough of a pro to know exactly where.

    I don’t bring this up to denigrate this effort which is in the top 5% of what I’ve seen on lefty blogs but rather to point out how much help is needed to produce writing which people don’t just slog through but actually want to read.

    And it’s damned hard to get this kind of help.

    In any case, I appreciate your putting in the time and energy.

  2. Barbara said on October 26th, 2007 at 7:30pm #

    I had a similar response to John Halle’s; a writer might do worse than to have him as an editor!

    And I wondered why Charles Sullivan referred to a “volunteer” army without mentioning the “economic” draft that figures prominently in story after story told by those who, having enlisted for an education, gave themselves one in order to avoid, or end, a direct complicity in war crimes? — crimes those of us who pay taxes commit every day.

  3. HR said on October 26th, 2007 at 7:32pm #

    Well, if this is spell check, or, worse, grammatic (which is crap), then it’s sleight of hand, not slight. But, I still got the point of the article quite clearly, just as I get the lies and racism, promoted with almost as many errors in major media.

    Yeah, they go to journalism school, or in the case of the racist, lying CNN immigrant hater, to KKK school, but that does NOT make them masters of the English language by any means. Most “reporters” on TV are reading teleprompters, which have been edited by more than one person. That’s why we call them “news” readers, or we did before they became celebrities, honored purveyors of “the truth”. And the ones who report in print are edited by others, too. And, still the scum, which most of them are, make mistakes, on air and in print.

    I find the articles by Mr. Sullivan to be excellent and sensible. I may not always agree with him entirely, but I always get his point. Excepting Moyers and the OCCASIONAL decent documentary on the “public” network, the mainstream corporate media — including PBS/NPR, which for the most part is as corporate as can be — and its omissions and outright lies, does not exist in my world. I rather put up with minor errors than have myself numbed into total submission by the mouthpieces for our fascist state, one which is rapidly becoming a fascist police state.

  4. Lynn Long said on October 27th, 2007 at 12:36am #

    Media consolidation has gone pretty deep. A friend and I have worked for the last 12 years doing freelance for our local weekly, doing features or whatever seemed worth looking into, admittedly with some bias towards looking into the local status quo. There were other papers over the last 30 years before we moved here but we’ve always had a good deal of freedom(mostly)doing this, until recently.

    Our local paper has been bought out by a larger daily in a nearby city, which itself now belongs to an even larger entity. It also happened a little earlier to a small daily in a nearby town. There have been major staff changes at these papers and the freelancers are no longer welcome. These small papers have never delivered big profits so I could understand if someone felt they could turn them into reliable moneymakers and I do see changes. There are more weighty inserts every week from chain stores that represent paid advertising. It’s the other changes that worry me. The papers still give the required local photos, marriages etc. expected in a local paper but there’s nothing contentious, nothing in the line of “don’t you think people should know this.”

    Even more stifling local state officials have always been very cooperative with answers and information. Most of them will no longer talk to us, Everything must now go through a press office that is expert at obfuscation and non-answers. Apparently any information we might want is now classified. One of the best pieces of information we’ve gotten recently is that “when rainfall levels return to normal area streams will refill and return to normal.” Wasn’t anywhere near the question we were asking but certainly comforting to know.

    Even with an admitted bias towards what we look into we have always been fair. If the water utility really needed a rate increase we would lay the facts out and help them get the facts out. Didn’t we get mentioned somewhere in the Constitution? Lately facts are scarce and have taken a back seat to the goals of a few, and who needs a few complainers.

  5. Brian said on October 27th, 2007 at 3:50pm #

    It is called simulcra as defined by the Greek, the simulated “truthiness” of things that are manipulated images of what is true. Thank you for this enlightening article. But remeber now that the Domestic and Homegorwn terrorism law has passed the house by an outstanding vote with wishy-washy definitions that include any ideology contrary to the “offical ideology” are defined as crimes. After senate passes it, this will be a criminal article, on a criminal website, run by common criminals who are dissatfied with the status quo. Please find and read the text of HR 1955, aplty named for the year that Joe McCarthy introduced S. Res. 116 and Rosa Parks decided she was tired and sat in the front of a bus. It was also the year that Martin Luther King made his proclaimation that:

    “This is not a war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love.”
    Montgomery, Alabama, 1955

    So now all of you radical ideolouges will get the swift justice you deserve (tounge very much in cheek) for proposing that peace is the way human beings should live.

  6. Brian said on October 27th, 2007 at 3:52pm #

    Senate Resolution (S. Res. 116) introduced by Senator Joseph McCarthy, June 20, 1955

    Similar to Senate Res. 1955 to supress domestic dissent.

    You are all criminals.

  7. Brian said on October 27th, 2007 at 4:07pm #

    The truth is media and mega-media is simulcra in the Greek, explains clearly that there is the truth of events and then there is the fabricated truth of pseudo-events. Thank you for discriminating between the two.

  8. Donald Hawkins said on October 28th, 2007 at 12:28pm #

    Truth is simple and uncomplicated, whereas lies and distortions are complex. Truth stands strong and unwavering without artificial support; lies and propaganda require elaborate schemes and constant propping up, the mask of deception.
    It sure does and here is a perfect example of that.
    Tuesday 23 October 2007

    Washington – The White House severely edited congressional testimony given Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential health risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents.
    “It was eviscerated,” said a CDC official, familiar with both versions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process.
    Now this is nothing new for this administration. Charlie that is very true what you said about it is not what they say but what they don’t say. Just ask yourself the question why is it important to removing specific scientific references to potential health risks about climate change. Wait don’t tell me because Americans can’t handle the truth. Then again didn’t the President say the other day if you are worried about world war three don’t let Iran get the bomb. So maybe the American people can handle the truth. Charlie I like taking things that are complex and making them simple and man is that hard sometimes.

  9. Lynn Long said on October 29th, 2007 at 12:44am #

    No one is talking about solutions. If you accept that “All politics is local” then the obvious answer is to start taking the media back at the most cost efficient level, the local media, which has been “bought” into the same stream that feeds the Orwellian fantasies being served up.

    I don’t have the money to start local papers but surely someone does. Until the top down media consolidation can be broken up the logical place to start is from the bottom up. It’s all well and good to complain, it’s all I can do lately. But local print media still exists and I think that it can have more power than the internet to effect change.

    Starting local papers ranks with restaurant startups in how to lose money but there is no better way to influence local opinion.

  10. Patty Morlan said on December 11th, 2007 at 7:25pm #

    I loved your piece!

    My political candidate of choice in this election has unfortunately experienced the lies of “corporate media” up close and personal. His campaign is against the status quo and against the moneyed interests in this country controlling our democracy and boy is the corporate media making him pay. They’ve either ignored him or written unflattering pieces about him. Because I’ve followed his campaign so closely I see each day how the media twists the truth. I called one reporter on it the other day (Jake Tapper) by demonstrating in a post how he had twisted the true story to deceive his readers and of course bash my candidate. I did it by using excerpts from another media story that had reported it as a straight story (he had used a few quotes from that piece but had put them in such an order as to distort their meaning). By the next day my comment had been unceremoniously removed from their website. Evidently it was ok to say all the awful things in the world about the candidate but to have the audacity to question the reporter was evidently out of bounds.

    It is very discouraging at times because you feel so powerless to challenge the media in any meaningful way. I almost feel like we need to get all the kids across the country to go out on their bikes and wagons delivering flyers with the truth printed on them like they did in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

    Anyway, thanks again for the piece. It’s nice to at least know that others feel the same way.