Keeping Independent News Independent

Many people realize that the corporate media is feeding them vacuous, tendentious, and dishonest information. Consequently, people are hungering for independent media. Arguably, a key to maintaining independence in media is rejecting reliance on big money sources. The Real News deserves credit for being uncompromising on its independence by steering away from advertising and corporate, government, or foundation sponsorship.

This allows it to pursue news freely.

Nevertheless, there are moments when the stories on the Real News provoke consternation. This has less to do with factual inaccuracies, as that might well be expected on occasion at a nascent news organization like the Real News. What is a cause for concern are the rare moments when the Real News appears to be indistinguishable from the corporate media.

Preponderant Focus on the Political Duopoly in the US

In Part 1, I noted the dearth in the coverage of non-duopoly candidates in the upcoming US presidential elections. Nothing has changed in the meantime. The US elections are presented as a distinctly two-party phenomenon.

In fact, a recent piece saw guest Eric Alterman make a passionate, specious plea for lesser evilism.1

Alterman claims Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is “not conservative” but “broadly progressive”; “Politics is the art of the possible. Politics is the art of compromise and co-operation and getting things done”; “I have so little patience with left-wing romanticism with defeat,” and then he chides “ideological purists”: “I’m so sick of saying we’re pure and they won. Enough of that.”

Alterman’s memory seems very short. It was not so long ago that we won. Like 2006. What good did that do? Then, not so long ago, there was a Democratic president, who as a candidate professed to be pro-labor and anti-trickle down economics. His name was Bill Clinton, and he got things done. He compromised himself; and he presided over the signing of NAFTA and the reduction of spending on social services. So much for impurity and victory.

While the Real News differs in content, there is very little, so far, to distinguish the Real News from the corporate news, in terms of electoral coverage.

Voices

Faces, voices, and personalities are critical to the perception of the news. For example, on one Real News video clip about the occupation in Iraq, Paul Jay rightly lamented: “You rarely hear an Iraqi say anything.”2

Given this lament, the clip “Iraq beyond the surge,”3 struck me as quite contradictory. Jay asks Dutch sociologist Joost Hiltermann, “What do Iraqis want?” I found this really strange. It becomes even stranger when one considers the organization Hiltermann is with: the International Crisis Group whose board is composed of western governmental figures associated with western imperialism around the globe, such as Christopher Patten, former governor of Hong Kong; US Ambassador Thomas R Pickering; and Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia.4 These are persons connected to the governments of the aggressor states that attacked and occupied Iraq.

In the clip, Hiltermann downplayed any break up of Iraq and focused on his own questions:

…So we are now facing a situation where the question is: what good do American forces still play? [italics added] Um, is it useful for them to stay, ah, and if they stay, in what kind of posture should they assume? Um, are they still, ah, playing a positive role? Have they ever played a positive role? Could they play a positive role, or is it better that they leave. There is also the issue of American domestic interests … There are no easy answers.3

But there is one very easy answer (at least a chunk of the answer): the occupiers must leave and turn Iraq over to Iraqis. Many agree that it is the occupation that creates, causes, and foments the violence. If this is correct (and it most likely is), then the occupation must end. If outside assistance is required, then it must be Iraqis to determine this and to determine who it will assist them.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, according to every poll that I am aware of, have always maintained that the occupation forces should leave and the question of whether American occupation forces do good in Iraq is absurd. (Does anyone argue that Israeli occupation forces do good for the Palestinians? Did anyone argue that Nazi occupation forces did good for the French, Danes, Norwegians, etc.?) The Middle East expert Hilterman must be aware of the epidemiological studies on excess mortality in Iraq published in the Lancet that estimate over 600,000 killed. Why then talk of “what good do American forces still play?,” posed as if earlier on in the aggression-occupation that US forces had, indeed, done good?

I asked Geraldine Cahill, communications and volunteer coordinator at the Real News, why the Real News didn’t get an Iraqi, preferably in Iraq, or maybe anti-occupation Iraqis of the Diaspora, to answer that question?

She said that whenever possible that is the ideal that the Real News strives for: a knowledgeable person from the region.

As for my other questions about the Hiltermann interview, Cahill referred me to senior editor Paul Jay.

In a subsequent clip, “US bases in Iraq defend strategic interests,”5 Hiltermann acknowledges that, viscerally, Iraqi citizens want occupation forces out, but, mentally, he argues that Iraqis want them to stay. But Hiltermann turns the question toward Iraq’s so-called leaders.

Jay asked about the US paying “serious reparations,” a “Geneva style conference,” and an end to US dominance in Iraq.

Hiltermann replied:

I think the United States needs to, first of all, acknowledge that it has made a terrible mistake. Um, if not by invading Iraq, then, at least, by messing it up so grossly… That would, perhaps, allow it to regain some certain credibility, um, but it is going to be tough. [italics added]

Killing and destroying masked by the euphemism of “messing it up”? This kind of response — acknowledgement of a mistake, not an apology — seems so incredible, to put it mildly, in the face of genocide.

Hiltermann did not even address reparations.

The Importance of Language

Eric Margolis, contributing foreign editor for American Conservative Magazine and Real News analyst, stated that Americans receive “badly distorted view of what’s going on in Iraq” spun by American networks, the White House, and Pentagon.

Margolis said, “The media has adopted wholesale the vocabulary of government” … like “insurgents” and “terrorists.” Margolis declared these people fighting occupation are a “national resistance movement.”

In “Iraq beyond the surge,” Hiltermann talked about a “broad array of violent actors” in Iraq that he described as “sectarian,” “ethnic,” and “tribal.”6 This is language that Margolis dispelled.

Hiltermann discussed the Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq without reference to how it came to be, as though a government established under occupation could be legitimate. He calls it an “elected government.” Notably, Hiltermann also talks about “US forces” not “US occupation forces.”

There are statements like the US is “incapable of restoring law and order.” Such a statement sows the perception that the US is indeed trying to restore law and order, without questioning whether such is true. It does not refer to when law and order were previously in effect in Iraq … presumably under President Saddam Hussein. Therefore, the removal of law and order was by the US aggression.

Other pundits might point out that the US is doing the opposite in Iraq: it is deliberately sowing chaos, violence, death, and fear.

Hiltermann warned: “Iraq is headed toward being a failed state” and “Iraq is headed toward total disaster.” This wording makes it seem like Iraq is the author of its destiny right now — that the US is only in Iraq in some innocuous capacity. The blame for Iraq’s downfall appears to be placed squarely on Iraq.

Many of Hiltermann’s viewpoints would be quite at home in the corporate media.

Cahill relayed editor Jay’s sentiments about my questions over certain content:

He replied by saying that we speak to a number of journalists and a variety of analysts to gather a swathe of viewpoints. They do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of The Real News Network, and so long as they are factual, will be aired on the website. People are allowed to critique the viewpoints, submit feedback and challenge the journalists. They often do.

I submit that the factual accuracy of Hiltermann’s statements are highly dubious.

What is the difference? People can critique viewpoints, submit feedback, and challenge journalists in the corporate media, although they will probably be ignored. While it is correct that a viewpoint does not necessarily represent that of the presenting media, Real News rejects, selects, and presents points of view. Thus, the Real News has invested itself in the process whether in agreement or not. There are articles that appear at Dissident Voice, for instance, (even selected by myself) that I am in disagreement with, but publication exposes readers to opposing perspectives from which they can form their own conclusions. However, given the extensive reach of the corporate media, there is no reason for independent media to likewise disseminate corporate media viewpoints of a propagandistic or factually dubious nature.

The Hiltermann news clips are not just a growing pain. Recently, a Real News clip courtesy of the corporate media Guardian describes the Taliban and al-Qaeda as “the world’s most wanted men.”7 They are claimed to be operating in, and from, Pakistan, although “the Pakistan government is doing nothing to stop them.”

The video also introduces a new bogeyman to the world, to step in for Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: Baitullah Mehsud.

It is the same-old US good guys versus other bad guys: in this case, Muslim bad guys with a new big demon leading them.

The reportage is blatantly tendentious. The Real News arose after the George W. Bush administration had lied the US into aggressing Iraq. Given that aggression was defined as the “supreme international crime” at Nuremberg, why are the Guardian and Real News not focusing their statements on how other nations or the United Nations are doing nothing to stop the US?

Despite some stories being disconcerting, the Real News does provide, for the most part, what so many of us desire: a window on the world untainted by people with a lot of money and power to influence news coverage. Ultimately, it is up to viewers and supporters of the Real News to hold it to its promise to be independent and uncompromising in its coverage.

Read Part 1

  1. Is Obama a conservative or a progressive realist?” Real News, 30 June 2008. []
  2. Margolis says TV news hiding truth about Iraq civil war,” Real News, 17 August 2007. Or see video clip accompanying this article. []
  3. Iraq beyond the surge,” Real News, 8 November 2007. [] []
  4. Crisis Group’s Board,” International Crisis Group. []
  5. US bases in Iraq defend strategic interests,” Real News, 8 November 2007. []
  6. Hiltermann strongly hints at the violence between Iraqi sects that plays into the corporate media strategy to portray Iraq as being at civil war. Sabah al Nasseri, York University political science professor specializing in the Middle East, made clear that there “can be no civil war under the occupation for the simple reason because the US forces are a direct involved protagonist within this conflict” in Iraq. “Basra: Class struggle, not civil war,” Real News, 1 April 2008. []
  7. Afghanistan: The new ‘great game,’” Guardian, 28 June 2008. []
Kim Petersen is an independent writer and former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Brian Koontz said on July 8th, 2008 at 12:29pm #

    This is a spot-on if simple critique of The Real News. The accurate description of The Real News is “Progressive”. They are not populist, not proletarian, not radical. They support America as a Republic, not a democracy. Though this is their position, the people they interview vary in their own positions.

    The Real News is non-corporate progressive bourgeois news.

  2. Eric Patton said on July 8th, 2008 at 12:32pm #

    The Real News has money behind it. If the left really wanted a first-rate hard-news site, it should have supported the pareconish and now-defunct NewStandard.

  3. bozhidar balkas said on July 8th, 2008 at 1:47pm #

    it is saddening to me that some people in the real news codemn US invasion of iraq because it is a failure/mistake and because bush lied. this lament tacitly posit the notions that if bush told the truth (an impossibility, anyway) it wd have been ok to slaughter 1 mn people and render homeless another 2-3mn.
    but even kim omits these basics. i cannot imagine a circumstance that wd justify any land attacking another let alone a mighty empire attacking a week, failed empire that posed no threat to US and many lands.
    only if saddam used wmd against another land and there was no way one cd arrest perpetrators UN might be justified to wage some kind of war or hunt for criminals only.
    no collective punishment is another basic desirably true premise. and if every nation proclaimed to the criminals, If u do the crime, u’l do the time!
    now, what i have said this far is basics. more relevant/simple questions, statements one just cldn’t, i assert, posit.
    it boggles the mind that one kill, rob, invade, threaten while armed w. truth?
    after all many lands have already used wmd. thank u

  4. the problemwithcaring said on July 8th, 2008 at 2:53pm #

    Slightly OT:

    I just find it so intellectually dishonest, masturbatory and frankly kinda “dickish” to ask “Is Obama a conservative or a progressive realist?” ” with a sitting president like George Bush….

  5. Manitor said on July 8th, 2008 at 3:35pm #

    Sad, I had higher hopes for Real News when it started out. Thank you for the well-written observations.

  6. evie said on July 8th, 2008 at 3:51pm #

    The “left” will get “real news” from one another – when they combine/compare experiences and information – and only from those who have no agenda. Making it damn near impossible since most folks are concerned with name recognition and money. Many others are simply braggarts and bullshitters.

    Today’s “left” (and right) seek “truth” from pros who slant news to fit the reader, regardless how big the ka-ching.

    99% of folks will change their views based on their class mobility, although they may appear to hold the same opinion publicly if it is/was their bread and butter.

    Most folks are not looking for truth – they are looking to bolster their opinion which is already limited as it’s based on halfass information from vetted and paid opinion makers.

    There are many things one can be “tainted” by besides money and power… there’s ego, the Anglo standard education, religion, gnoamism, hearsay from a liar or fool, or simply going along to get along with the spiel of your current significant other, etc.

    Even the mainstream media puts “truth” out there. You just have to know how to read the nuggets.

  7. Giorgio said on July 8th, 2008 at 4:28pm #

    “ What is a cause for concern are the rare (?) moments when the Real News appears to be indistinguishable from the corporate media.”

    After reading this piece, the thought just sprung on me. What if ‘Real News’ is nothing but a covertly sponsored corporate media news outlet? A wolf badly disguised in sheep’s clothing. In a world festered by sinister motives this could be a very real possibility. ‘Real News Network’ to be real would have to report on news that the mogul media would cringe to report, not just some watered down, slightly leftist posturing to bamboozle the viewer to think that ‘now I’m getting to the truth’.
    For example, the news that Joshua Key, an American soldier who deserted from the Iraq war in 2003 and was recently grant asylum by a Canadian federal court decision, reversing a previous order to extradite him back to the US. ‘ It was a great 4th of July gift’, quipped the 30 year old Joshua. And then follow up with an interview in his new Canadian home about his war experiences, his motives for desertion, his witnessing of crimes committed against Iraq civilians, and his having been forced to participate in such heinous abuses, etc.
    This would be the Real McCoy News!
    The Pentagon estimates that since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 there has been circa 5500 desertions. Truthout claims that there are well over 25000. Who is the liar here?
    Then the cherry on top of it all: They urge you to donate some of your hard earned money towards it !

  8. paola said on July 8th, 2008 at 5:51pm #

    Here you can read WHO funds the Real News:
    http://snuffysmithsblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/who-funds-progressive-media.html
    ( This article was originally published by Globalrearch, that strangely deleted it after a few hours: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=9517 )

  9. evie said on July 8th, 2008 at 9:13pm #

    Global Research – lol.

    Michel Chossudovsky – more lol. Gatekeepers.

    Just b/c someone or some group is saying what one wants to hear doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

  10. Giorgio said on July 9th, 2008 at 12:42am #

    Thanx Paola,
    We live in a very murky world, indeed!

  11. Tango Hotel said on July 9th, 2008 at 6:02am #

    I believe your point is well taken and you should volunteer to be the point man for Real News in Iraq. Then you wouldn’t have to rely on obscure (but never referenced) polls for you knowlege of what Iraqi’s think; you could ask them yourself. We would welcome this new front line perspective and unbiased commentary from a source with that obviously has no other agenda but the “truth”. I know the lack of excessive liberal rhetric might cramp your style over there, but I’m sure you’ll survive. I look forward to your first report.

  12. hp said on July 9th, 2008 at 11:09am #

    “Liberals and leftists only hate fascism when it doesn’t involve Israel or Jewish fascists.”

  13. Giorgio said on July 9th, 2008 at 5:29pm #

    Agree!
    FASCISM is alive, well, and living in Tel-Aviv!
    I’m often puzzled by the similarity of the words, NAZI and ZION.
    They both have a Z, the last letter of the alphabet (the dregs, as it were, of society/humanity) and both are four-lettered words..