Manipulating the Media, Clinton-Style

A two-step plan to win the White House

Owned and operated by the one percent, the mainstream media (MSM) is now in the closing stages of a multi-media character assassination of Donald Trump. In effect, it is a backhanded promotional campaign to elect Hillary Clinton. It had to be this way because Hillary has no marketable assets other than her gender. Where Barack Obama could be positively marketed as racial progress and charismatic change, Clinton must be backdoored into office using a variety of calculated attacks on a deeply flawed opponent. The Clinton camp has long understood that Clinton could only win a presidential election by being perceived as the lesser of two obvious evils.

Sad to say, the big guns of the MSM have beaten back the forces of alternative media on the battlefield of public opinion. The howitzers of broadcast media, CNN, MSNBC, the aging B-52 triad of ABC, CBS, and NBC, and the cruise missiles of digitized print, namely The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, have brainwashed millions of Americans into believing a twofold idea: that Donald Trump represents an apocalypse of unimaginable horror, while Hillary Clinton is an almost dovish figure of patient and prudent competence. For a populace steeped in generations of identity politics and culture wars, Hillary Clinton seems like a benign alternative next to Trump’s explosive posturing. She is on the right side of all gender and sexual identity issues, and in America, that’s all that really matters.

In any media war, the casualties are ideological. Millions have been infected with the false faith of American democracy and its sub-strains of hyper-masculinity and exceptionalism. For the MSM, the roving bands of Sandernistas and Trump believers who rightfully sneer at the ruse of reliable elections, are just so much collateral damage. Their fears will be confirmed in a few months’ time, when Hillary beams at a federal judge in the bracing air of a January morn, lays a hoary hand on a bible, and vows to lead America to greener pastures.

Bringing this scenario to life has always depended on two necessary conditions, which the Clinton camp has worked tirelessly to establish. First, Hillary Clinton had to face an historically awful Republican candidate. Second, she had to control the popular narrative. The media is critical to each condition: it must first legitimate an undeserving Republican candidate; it must then focus its klieg lights on that candidate’s flaws, not Hillary’s.

Step One: Find an Historically Bad Candidate to Run Against

Donald Trump has admirably fulfilled the first prerequisite. He was egged on by Hillary’s Svengali paramour, Bill Clinton himself, who knew Trump’s grandiose ego could be massaged into a decision to run for the highest office. Clinton knew what would happen if Trump were to run. His populist tendencies — challenging free trade, NATO, and imperial warfare — would alienate the military-industrial complex and the finance and real estate (FIRE) communities, whose patronage any candidate requires to reach the White House. His history of sexism and racism would be exposed to the horror of the majority of the American public, programmed to care about little except political correctness in the areas of gender and sexual identity. These revelations would alienate a sufficient portion of the electorate. Then, his uneven and narcissistic temperament would badly injure his ability to project a presidential image. And finally, his ignorance of political issues would reveal itself over the course of a long campaign season. (Clinton knew you could only say, “We’re going to do great things for veterans” so many times before someone asked, “Like what exactly?”)

The Podesta email leaks have revealed ways in which the Democrats quite deliberately connived to push the Republicans into extreme positions by co-opting their policies. They also showed that the Clinton camp understood the need to push the media to legitimize him as a candidate; during the primaries, Hillary specifically replied to Trump statements rather than those of other Republican candidates, elevating his status as an opponent.

It is interesting to note that candidate Trump is the natural outcome of this strategy being applied over time. Bill Clinton has been practicing the dark art of “triangulation” in the 1990s. This is also why mainstream liberals are wrong to blame the radicalism of the Republican Party exclusively on the Republican Party. Surely, their embrace of the Christian right and coded appeals to racist whites were terrifically dangerous. But Clinton’s New Democrats caused a seismic shift in the political landscape when they consciously chose to abandon their roots as labor-backed reformers and adopt the agenda of the upper class, specifically the corporate one percent. This agenda pivots on what author Barrington Moore called, “…counterrevolutionary imperialism abroad and token reform at home.” This is precisely the posture struck by the New Democrats. Fully onboard with the profit-seeking, competition-killing strategy of monopoly capitalism, the Democrats smartly retained the rhetorical pose of populism, recklessly burning through the political capital accumulated by FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society initiatives.

As an electoral and governance strategy, triangulation has thoroughly undermined the Republican Party. But it has also made it easier for Democrats to co-opt media organizations, since the rightward drift of the conservative base is increasingly at odds with the liberal intelligentsia so prominent in the MSM. Likewise, the Democrats retain the lexicon of progressives, providing a rhetorical screen for what are often regressive policies.

Step Two: Control the Narrative

The second condition for a Clinton victory was managing the national debate. This was hardly a problem. Since 9/11, the facade of journalistic objectivity has cracked, splintered, and collapsed. (Naturally, older generations would have picked up on this much earlier than 9/11, but it does seem that it was a decisive moment in which the MSM pivoted hard into imperial jingoism.) The media has always been a reliable platform for bullhorning government prejudices at the population. One instructive study showed the facility with which the MSM adopted the government’s perverse rearticulation of torture.

The writing was on the wall as soon as the primaries began. Having been properly vetted in the “invisible primary” that gauges a candidate’s fealty to free-market imperialism, the coverage was apportioned appropriately. Not only that, but cynical ploys such as fudging Clinton’s delegate lead and announcing she’d won the nomination 24-hours before the decisive California primary began. During the narrower presidential election season, the media displayed an obvious bias against Trump, elevating his admittedly regular sexist revelations as far more newsworthy than the WikiLeaks trove of Clinton team emails. To the media, sexism (Trump) was more important than suborning murder (Clinton), and racial bias (Trump) more important than racist policy (President Clinton’s crime bill and welfare scheme). This followed the standard identity politics model in play since perhaps the Seventies, when sexual identity took precedence over large-scale racist wars.

Likewise, the Podesta emails indicate how the Clinton campaign fed the media the storylines it wanted to play. The emails confirmed what we already knew: that the Putin-Trump alliance was a premeditated smear. In a curious irony, this line of attack was perfectly timed to bury coverage of the very WikiLeaks revelations that surfaced the idea of using the smear in the first place. It also helps to have a colleague in the White House. Clinton and Barack Obama together resurrected a long-dead Evil Empire narrative in which anything that touches Russia is fatally contaminated. On a daily basis, the White House and State Department maintain a steady drumbeat of paranoid invective. But nothing can hold the imagination of the public forever, and as the Trump/Putin bromance storyline grew tiresome, another well-timed video leak caught Trump talking about his sexual behavior with women, which was seized upon for its sexist content. Another news cycle lost to media sensationalism.

Aside from leading with the Clinton camp’s preferred media narratives, the press performed a host of additional services to the liberal establishment, treating urgent issues as standard foreign policy quandaries better suited to policy wonks than voters. None of the impact to our civil liberties, security, or faith in what the government tells us was deeply probed. Downplayed issues included declaring Edward Snowden a criminal rather than a valuable public servant; pretending there was nothing worthwhile in the Podesta leaks; leaving substantive climate change questions out of the debates; downplaying or ignoring the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen; treating the blatant constitutional coup in Brazil with tepid coverage or silence; blaming State Department generated destabilization in Venezuela on the sitting government; continuing to ignore the increasingly transparent fact that the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and CIA had all colluded to back foreign jihadists in attempted regime change in Syria (a rare exception lays out the facts); producing a river of histrionic op-eds and articles about Trump’s refusal to accept the election results in advance — a perfectly reasonable statement given American election history; and finally studiously ignoring topics of race, poverty, policing, and imprisonment. All of these topics could have been explored in the context of Clinton’s political past. Clinton’s political future is being prepared as we speak: The Washington-owned United Nations has issued a report accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes. This after another failed attempt to pin chemical weapons use on the Syrian state. In other words, nothing that challenged the corporate state was substantially covered.

Media as Front Organization

In a corporate state, it is the government’s job to open markets for corporations to plunder. It must generally use criminal means to wrest markets from the control of their rightful owners, the broader population. The media used to serve as a journalistic check on the brazenness of the corporate-owned state. No longer. The mainstream appears to have dispensed with any pretensions of journalistic objectivity and signed up as an industrial-scale enabler of state crime. Their job description is to legitimize this criminality by controlling the opinions of the populations whose wealth the corporate state aims to steal.

This theft — of the natural and human resources of other nations, of the livelihoods and tax dollars of ours, and of the ecological patrimony of all nations — is what the media aims to conceal. Its efforts on behalf of Hillary Clinton are a perfect case study. The construction of propaganda is always a two-sided model — first promoting lies, half-truth, and distraction, and secondly, hiding the facts that the public should see. For this election that meant elevating a hysterical Republican crank and burying the bill of indictment that would have buried Clinton’s own candidacy.

Hannah Arendt noted the usefulness of front organizations in offering protective cover to tyrannies of power. Seams are showing in the cover of elite power, despite the media’s tireless sycophancy. There are positive signs of progress, many of them sparked by the disillusionment generated by Barack Obama’s two-term sellout to the one percent. As Chris Hedges said, Occupy gave us the language of the one percent, which is really the language of class. The one percent is capital. The 99 percent is labor. Capitalism’s original construct hasn’t changed, just its nomenclature. Black Lives Matter has brought the subject of institutional racism into view as the MSM never could or would. Sanders supporters helped normalize socialism as an idea. Trump backers have even legitimized a long overdue challenge to free trade and globalization. The narrative of the one percent is coming apart because its front organization can’t close down the avenues of dissent fast enough. It may have done enough to secure four more years of madness, but a nimbus of change has materialized on the horizon.

Jason Hirthler is a writer, political commentator, and veteran of the communications industry. He has written for many political communities. He is the recent author of Imperial Fictions, a collection of essays from between 2015-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at Read other articles by Jason.