US Media World: "Wag the dog" is not a movie, it's reality

Derek Monroe
Derek Monroe is a writer/reporter and consultant based in Illinois, USA. He has reported on international and US foreign policy issues from Latin America, Poland, Japan, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and India. His work appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet, Truthout and Ohmynews, and has been published in over 20 countries.
© Gary Hershorn
On the morning of Oct 3, people in the western hemisphere awoke to news of the US bombing of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, which resulted in the death of 22 people including 12 staff of Medicine Sans Frontiers, a French NGO.

National Public Radio (NPR), America's premiere radio organization, announced that the US military "may" have bombed the Afghan hospital and the resulting casualties "may" have resulted in collateral damage. This despite the fact that it had already been confirmed on the ground by foreign media. There was also the UN official's declaration that if the attack was intentional it will be regarded as a war crime.

The careful recitation of Pentagon's talking points signifies something bigger than it appears at first glance. Suddenly, reports of civilian casualties and confirmed "unconfirmed" reports of Russian airstrikes on US allied "Free Syrian Army" dominated the US airwaves. Strangely enough, missing are the reports coming out Syria and Turkey about the massive wave of dislocation caused by the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda, some of which were equipped courtesy of US taxpayers and facilitated by strategic choices made by the Pentagon.

According to the recent congressional hearings that were buried as quickly as they came out, the $500 million spent on the FSA are as missing as the army it was supposed to train. However, a few weeks back there was a very prescriptive narrative of unfolding events at Palmyra, Syria where the lamentations over the destruction of Roman ruins took precedent over its population and the carnage visited upon them. There was virtually no mention of the concentration of IS forces three days before the attack and the US-backed coalition's premeditated refusal to bomb it.

Palmyra would have been saved, and the devastation that followed avoided. The striking contrast with Libya's Benghazi air attack that stopped Gaddafi's armor a few years earlier was not lost on people who followed the situation as it developed. It appears the West has already decided genocidal and ruthless IS a better alternative than the authoritarian and brutal Assad regime, which happened to be Russia's ally. However, looking at the US media coverage one enters a world of parallel reality where the perception ruled by misinformation and contextual omission is everything.

Fires burn in part of the MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz after it was hit by an air strike © MSF

Just as Putin listed his intention to fight IS, the storm of critical coverage erupted into blaming Russia for the current situation in Syria. This is the world where the Arab Spring, both Iraq wars, Libya, Afghanistan and even 9/11 never happened. As the mainstream commercial media pontificates on the meaning of the America's loss of supremacy in the region, the US public, i.e. non-commercial media, including the NPR, went into analyzing the news to arrive at the forgone conclusion that one country's anti-terrorist action is another one's aggressive and civilian-casualties-filled intervention.

In this mold, the modus operandi is based on inviting guests from thought farms that include a wide variety of outfits from Brookings to the Orwellian-sounding Foundation for Defense of Democracies (ex-CIA director R. James Woolsey's project). Add the amazing unity of thought to the mix of preconceived notions and you have a product worth selling. The NPR is especially good at this as the list of its invited guests come from institutions that almost all have at one point received or receive funding from Ford, Gates, Rockefeller foundations, as well as front and interest groups representing in many cases corporations that have business interests in the region.

Naturally, none of that is always disclosed to the listeners. Ironically, more often than not the "experts" are the very people who worked at the administrations of Bill Clinton, George H.W Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama and who in many cases rooted for Afghani and Iraqi adventurism from the beginning. Furthermore, it is even more ironic that these are the same "arbiters of truth" now as they were then. The supposed analysis based on new and improved "curveball" testimonies is next presented in form of a legal-like case before the jury of watchers/listeners as each side is supposed to present its own conclusions while not letting the facts get in a way of good story.

Russian service personnel at Khmeimim air base © Dmitry Vinogradov

Last week, the NPR-affiliated and Boston-based WBUR's On Point program featured two experts who more less agreed on Russian culpability in Syria without offering any tangible outcome beyond the tired rhetoric of “Assad must go and the situation will work itself out politically afterwards." The idea of political settlement, i.e. negotiations with terrorists whose Islamofascist Caliphate precludes existence of civilized order, is not only absurd; it is a slap in the face to the American families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. It is also a cynical ploy to deflect any responsibility for genocidal carnage that would result in Assad's fall as the zero-sum game scenario would undoubtedly unfold due to the wishes of our State Dept. planners and strategists.

When I called the On Point program several times in the past and presented my views contrary to their "expert" presentation, I was always put on long hold and subsequently disconnected. The next time around, however, I was able to call in and present my view under an alias, stating that contrary to the presented narrative the issue in Syria did not start with quelling of the demonstration in Daraa in 2011, as presented, but around 2005 when the US decided on policy for regime change. I quoted several WikiLeaks documents to prove the point. The producer who took the call instructed me to leave out this info as not to challenge the guests and instead pose a question that can be answered within a framework of the program. I went ahead and quoted the documents anyway and as it happens the response was nonsense.

The style of non-confrontation, while keeping the integrity of the presented narrative, is a hallmark of NPR as in the end the brand is more important than the substance it is made of. Ironically, despite many challenges in spinning and manipulating the facts, the methodology of inviting people who discredited themselves in the past (Iraq, Afghanistan, WMDs) and were wrong then and now is alive and well. It is grotesque to the point of being unbelievable.

National Public Radio logo

On Sept 28, WBUR's "Here and Now" host Robyn Young in outrage and disbelief over Russia's establishment of an intelligence office in Baghdad. She reacted by announcing on the air that this should not have happened as: "I thought Iraq was ours..." The segment has since been removed and replaced with a different interview, making it sound like something from the Soviet Union's playbook. And overall this is the organization that asks its listening public for contributions.

According to the last available report by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (F.A.I.R) from 2004, over 80 percent of NPR reporting staff came from news companies such as New York Times, Washington Post and Wall St Journal. This cultural characteristic is reflected in a very narrow expertise based on previous conditioning and it ushered the new era of generalist "excellence". That means a skill set that is good enough at everything and excellent at nothing. The cultural and organizational bias that was transplanted with migration of the corporate mindset is now permeating the NPR as it has been assimilated into prevailing Washingtonian elitist worldview on economy, society and politics.

Thus listening to the stuff produced by NPR in the Beltway, New York and Boston produces a sensation of complete disconnect to what Americans are feeling and expect in their news, resulting into migration to the internet based platforms. Increasingly they want the unvarnished truth. Instead the revolving door of NPR CEOs that hailed from corporate sector, New York Times, Voice of America (government funded propaganda) and the latest in commercial television is indicative of NPR's split personality and reduction of its abilities and capabilities to a mere propaganda tool.

The business of propaganda masquerading as news is lucrative, especially when one doing it is on the inside track. According to the last IRS fiscal year disclosure (ending 9/30/2014), NPR's CEO makes more than the US president with overall compensation listed at $756,575. Other "stars" of the NPR universe are also well paid, including its flagship morning program's Steve Inskeep at $405,818, Michelle Norris at $349,177, Robert Siegel at $409,689 and Scott Simon, who is able to pull a cool $389,609. All are working the 40-hour week as listed on the IRS disclosure form to which most of contributing listeners can relate to although on quite a different pay scale, to say the least.

© Jason Reed

The money has been a honey trail of the NPR game since its visibly less well-off listening public is regularly harassed by its affiliated stations for money. In Chicago, begging for money is getting increasingly aggressive and grotesque making, it sound like some type of on the air BINGO game punctuated with pledges and featuring prizes big and small. This forced begging and humiliation of the presenters and reporters "pitching-in" to this sorry spectacle of desperation is truly sad. It resembles a relationship between McDonalds and its franchisees while the dollar menu of ideas is being constantly updated for a higher price bracket that will be picked up by corporate donors. Slogans such as $5 Friday bring carnival idiot-like qualities to the game called listener and increasingly corporate supported radio which is probably not surprising given NPR's largest donation given by the fortune created by the Happy Meal.

The self-sustained propaganda machine of pyramid proportions has its up and downs as it was caught with its pants down last year in yet another scandal. This raises more than just the question of transparency, but NPR's real purpose. Why is the web of influencers and influenced not disclosed? Why doesn't it mention personal relationships of its staff with the establishment it is supposed to cover and not serve?

During the Iraq invasion, for example, its chief reporter in Baghdad was Anne Garrels, who also happened to be a spouse of a CIA operative. In 2007, the NPR came under criticism after Garrels used information that was obtained by torture for her story. During the interview with her interpreter/translator, it was even stated that the Iraqi authorities suspected her to work for the CIA.

However, the most blatant conflict of interest that is tolerated comes in shape of NPR analyst Cokie Roberts. In the 1980s, she covered Guatemala during a period of widespread human rights violations by the US-supported military junta. During an interview with Diana Ortiz, a nun who worked with the poor and was subsequently kidnapped, raped and tortured, Roberts contested the nun's version of events that took place. Ortiz alleged that an American was among her tormentors and later her version of events prevailed in court in a lawsuit against a Guatemalan general she held responsible for her treatment.

Roberts also came out strongly in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership, despite the fact that it will hurt many working families in the US. It was later revealed that Patton Boggs, Washington DC based lobbying and law firm run by her brother Tom Boggs, was hired by the Guatemalan government to promote a positive image of the country. Ditto with the TPP, as Patton Boggs was one of the chief lobbying groups pushing for it. Ms Roberts goes on producing her 4-minute weekly segments for the NPR to this day as if nothing ever happened.

The bias in the NPR "reporting" goes beyond dollars and cents as it is infused with ideology as well. In 2012 in the wake of destruction by Hurricane Sandy, the NPR programming featured a "common sense" solution to the shortages of commodities such as gasoline that affected the stricken public. "Make gas $25 a gallon and the lines will automatically disappear" was the ex-cathedra view of its invited economic "experts" whose views resonate with increasingly elitist top NPR echelon.

At the same time radio stations that broadcast the mind numbing pseudo-science as often referred to on NPR's "Hidden Brain" segment, are increasingly employing unpaid interns for its everyday tasks. As only the rich can afford to be an unpaid intern in New York, Boston or Washington, the culture of elitism lives on and decides what is good for the unwashed listening masses.

On the economic front the NPR's corporate donor class also has influence on how the issues are covered when it comes to corporate scandals as well. The daily unrelenting push to make Volkswagen a daily pinata pales in comparison with coverage of economic issues that deserve not only a balanced and proportional coverage but basic fairness.

It is amazing that VW gets a bazooka treatment in both time and scope of reporting while the fraud perpetrated by GM - one of the NPR's biggest donors - in its ignition switch-gate was given very shy coverage regardless of the fact that it cost 124 lives. At the same time, the happy team at NPR's own "Planet Money" keeps on rolling in a framework of peddling corporate messaging to idiots, while its own questionable past and record doesn't seem to present any challenges going forward or even backward.

Nothing represents history of manipulation of the US media better than a quote from great American journalist A.J. Liebling stating that: "freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one."

Americans are increasingly looking for answers and explanations outside of the North American mainstream media mirage that has only served itself to their detriment. As for National Propaganda Radio, as many have derisively come to call the NPR, it needs to look to no further than Norway in 2017 as it ends the FM broadcasting.

Silence is better than the lies.

NPR in Washington declined a request for an interview regarding its programming.

WBUR in Boston did not return repeated requests for an interview about its programming.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.