Barsamian

Kourosh Zibari – Fars News Agency: David Barsamian, a leading Armenian-American radio journalist, believes that as a result of the good performance of alternative press, the young Americans don’t pay attention to the propaganda of the corporate, mainstream media anymore.

David Barsamian, who is the founder and director of Alternative Radio broadcast from Boulder, Colorado, tells Fars News Agency that the journalists in the United States don’t need to be censored or monitored by the government, because they are accustomed to a full-fledged self-censorship.

Mr. Barsamian says that the US government orchestrated a large project of media propaganda against its own people to rationalize and justify its illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq: “[o]f course the case of Iraq is very instructive because it’s almost like a textbook example of the uses of propaganda.”

“The population here in the United States was subjected to months and months of propaganda and the great danger that it posed to the United States; that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to events of September 11, and that he was somehow connected to the Al-Qaeda; all of these things were completely ludicrous and anyone that knew anything about West Asia and the history of Iraq and Saddam regime would have laughed at these assertions,” he noted.

David Barsamian is a radio broadcaster, writer and journalist who has conducted series of extensive, in-depth interviews with prominent progressive intellectuals and thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Eqbal Ahmad and Arundhati Roy. His radio program is broadcast on more than 150 radio stations across the United States and in other countries. The Institute for Alternative Journalism named Mr. Barsamian one of its “Top Ten Media Heroes.”

To discuss the workings of the mainstream, corporate media in the United States, the relationship between the White House and the mass media and the growing influence of the alternative media, FNA spoke to David Barsamian on the phone. The interview was conducted long before the US declared removal of the sanctions and normalization of ties with Cuba and, interestingly, Barsamian has a note to make in this regard. The following is the full transcript of the interview.

Q: My first question is on the growth of progressive media in the United States. Why do you think the corporate media that are owned by multinational companies are pushing for an aggressive US foreign policy, advocating for new wars, military expeditions and trying to entangle the US government into new military adventures? How is it possible to counter such an approach taken by these corporate, mainstream media?

A: Well, I wouldn’t agree with your premise that it’s the media corporations that are the catalysts for the US imperialist foreign policy. It’s the other military corporations that have a much more major influence. The media play two roles in the United States. We have two types of media here. One is a Weapon of Mass Destruction to keep people’s attention focused on the latest divorce in Hollywood, the marriage or the adoption of a Malawi baby and things like that. Then we have an elite media, which is the New York Times, National Public Radio, PBS, the Washington Post and other journals like that in general which support US interventions based on the feeling that the United States has a unique role to play in the world that no other nation can substitute for what the United States can do internationally. So the military corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, United Technologies, Raytheon and all the others benefit greatly from the US militarism, conflict and war. The Middle East, your part of the world and West Asia are flooded with US arms. Hardly a month doesn’t go by when there is some new arms deal negotiated between these military corporations and United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the other feudal Persian Gulf monarchies.

Q: You know that the majority of mainstream and elite media, as you put it, claim to be independent of the government and maintain that their editorial policies are not influenced by the authorities and those in power. Is it really the case that PBS, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and NPR are free and independent outlets that contribute to the free flow of information regardless of what is dictated to them?

A: Well, the rhetoric of course is that the corporate media are adversarial, confrontational, and even hostile to state power. But the evidence doesn’t support that. They have embedded an internalized basic assumption such as the belief that the capitalist economic system is the only way you can organize an economy. They accept the role that the US has a right to intervene everywhere in the world, to have military bases anywhere in the world, to declare its interest anywhere in the world. They accept all of these things. They have internalized these embedded assumptions. And now the only disagreement they have is over tactics. I give you one example. The United States has imposed a unilateral embargo on the island nation of Cuba in the Caribbean for well over 50 years. It’s routinely condemned in the United Nations by votes of 191-2, the two beings the United States and Israel. No other country supports this. Now, the New York Times, which is our best newspaper, had an editorial just a few days back, criticizing the Cuban embargo as now largely ineffective; that it is just window-dressing and that it is time for the embargo to end. New York Times supported the embargo for many many years and now that it sees it as ineffective, it’s recommending that the Obama administration end the embargo. So that’s the kind of a discussion that exists between the corporate and state. They criticize the tactics but not the strategy. So embargos are fine, unilateral actions by the United States are fine; but then occasionally, they are criticized as not being effective or being too extreme, for example. There are so many instances of this that I can talk about for the next three days. There’s an enormous amount of hypocrisy between what the media claim to be doing and what they are actually doing. They are pro-imperialist, they are pro-capitalist, they are pro-US hegemony, and none of this has changed since the United States has become the global superpower.

Q: How does the US government respond to the unpopular stories run by newspapers and magazines, including the intelligence and security revelations or articles and commentaries that are critical of the White House and Pentagon? What about the alternative media’s coverage of the daily events and their reaction to the government’s handling of the current affairs? We haven’t seen cases of American newspapers being closed down or banned because of publishing what the White House people dislike, but they certainly have their own instruments of controlling the mass media and punishing the “wrongdoers.” Am I right?

A: Well; the answer to the first part of your question is that, state largely ignores the alternative media; it doesn’t pay attention to it, but occasionally, it has to, as in the case with Julian Assange and Wikileaks; as in the case with Edward Snowden and the vast amount of information that he has made available to the people of the world in a very courageous act of independence and media freedom. So in those instances, in fact, the government tried to control the flow of information, claiming that national security was at stake and the media corporations should cooperate. Occasionally, the government has imposed censorship on different media during the release of the Pentagon papers, for example, when the Nixon administration tried to block the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing, but the Supreme Court ruled that the public had a right to know, and that this was an interference with the freedom of the press and so the Pentagon papers were in fact released.

In other instances, I know of one in Guatemala when the US was preparing to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, the New York Times cooperated in not publishing the information it had that the US was going to stage a coup in Guatemala. There are other examples of this, but basically they don’t have to impose rigid restrictions on journalists and editors, because the journalists and editors censor themselves. They are part of the power elite and part of the problem, and so they know the boundaries; they know the redlines; they know what can be reported on, and what can’t be reported on. So, to give you an example of the catastrophic war in Iraq, I just heard yesterday on Democracy Now, which is an alternative news program here in the United States, that is based in New York, Phil Donahue was on – he is considered a liberal TV and radio talk show host – he said the Iraq War was a blunder. This is the limit of liberal criticism; it can be called a mistake, a tragedy, a blunder.

Just today, George W. Bush was interviewed on National Public Radio, and there was no question asking him if he should be indicted for war crimes and brought before the International Criminal Court for violating Iraq’s sovereignty on multiple occasions. Well, according to liberals like Phil Donahue, this was a blunder. But I have to disagree. This wasn’t a blunder. It was a war crime and the people responsible should be held accountable. We should have universal norms of justice. You cannot accuse one state of violating the sovereignty of another state; for example, the United States has taken a very virtuous position on Russian intervention in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, which was part of the Soviet Union until 1954 when the then Ukrainian Prime Minister gave Crimea to Ukraine. So, that kind of intervention is considered illegal, criminal and has to be condemned, but when Israel invades or bombs other countries like Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon and continues to occupy the West Bank and carry out major human rights violations and war crimes, that’s not considered worthy of attention by whoever is in the White House and none of the corporate media here report on these vast contradictions and hypocrisies. We don’t need censors in this country. We censor ourselves.

Q: So, do you think that these mainstream, corporate media are playing a role in paving the way for the US military adventures?

A: They legitimize US intervention. They legitimize the capitalist economic system. They legitimize US hegemony and the fact that the United States has 735 military bases around the world. Many of them are in your part of the world, i.e. West Asia. That is the societal function of the media to provide the state with legitimacy and propagandistic base so that the citizenry and the American people will go along with the policies.

Q: What’s your viewpoint about the role the media in the United States played in explicating the tragedy that played out on September 11, 2001 to the American people and giving rise to the Global War on Terror? There were massive demonstrations across the United States in the run-up to the occupation of Iraq and after that. There were also protests against the invasion of Afghanistan, but the Bush administration didn’t pay attention to them and went ahead with its plans for invading Afghanistan and Iraq. Do you think that the media in the United States could play a role in preventing the two wars from happening?

A: Of course the case of Iraq is very instructive because it’s almost like a textbook example of the uses of propaganda. The population here in the United States was subjected to months and months of propaganda and the great danger that it posed to the United States; that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to events of September 11, and that he was somehow connected to the Al-Qaeda; all of these things were completely ludicrous and anyone that knew anything about West Asia and the history of Iraq and Saddam regime would have laughed at these assertions. But they have a huge effect on the population and even though there were demonstrations against the launching of the war on February 15, 2003 – there were demonstrations all over the world, including in the United States, but Tony Blair – let’s not forget him, he is a major war criminal – he, along with Aznar of Spain and Bush in Washington led the charge against Iraq and the consequences of that criminal action are being borne today by the Iraqi, Iranian and Syrian people and the people of the Persian Gulf. It was not a mistake or blunder, but a war crime, and the people responsible for it should be held accountable.

Let’s talk about Iran, about your country. The United States media has been for many years conducting a virulent and incessant campaign of the demonization of Iran largely goaded by Israeli interests who see Iran as some kind of existential threat to Israel. So there has been lots of negative reporting on Iran in the corporate media here, and whenever Iran is discussed, it’s always in negative terms: Iran refuses; Iran denies; Iran is not forthcoming; Iran is not living up to the IAEA treaty stipulation. One should say the United States is not living up to the IAEA stipulations. One of those stipulations is that it should be actively reducing its nuclear weapons stockpile. Our great President Barack Obama recently announced a $1 trillion, 30-year plan to modernize US nuclear weapons. It’s in direct violation of the NPT. We know that Israel has nuclear weapons. We know that India has nuclear weapons. We know that Pakistan has nuclear weapons. They are not signatories to the NPT and are not being held accountable, but Iran which is a signatory and which has been engaging in negotiation is being held out for special criticism. Again, the hypocrisy here is absolutely mind-boggling.

Q: I was about to touch upon Iran before you talked about it. The portrayal of Iran in the Western mainstream media is really lopsided and biased. Whenever there’s talk of Iran in an American TV station, they show footages of a vast desert with camels running in them. They simply equate Iran with the Arab nations of the region and never screen anything about Iran’s glorious past, its ancient culture and the contribution of the great Iranian poets, scientists and scholars to the global civilization. Why is it so?

A: Well, people who are exposed to alternative media, like my program, and others such as Z Magazine, The Progressive and The Nation, have a different view of Iran from that which is laid out in the corporate media. This view, as you say, largely rests upon clichés and stereotypes about Iran and all the orientalist types of thinking which Edward Said brilliantly deconstructed in his classic work Orientalism, as well as in his Culture and Imperialism. So, the little information the general public gets about Iran is all negative, but there are a lot of other people who are tuned to the alternative media and understand that Iran is in fact a very old, ancient and rich civilization; you mentioned the great poetry. For example, Ahmad Shamlu, when he died a couple of years ago, thousands of people marched in his honor in Tehran. I visited his grave in Karaj. There were people honoring him, leaving flowers at his grave. The Iranian cinema is one of the world’s best, and many Europeans, American, Canadian and Latin American people enjoy the great movies produced by the Iranian filmmakers.

Q: How do you think it is possible to counter the hegemony of the corporate media in the United States and elsewhere? How is it possible to forge new channels for getting people exposed to the realities that are withheld and concealed from them?

A: Well, that’s happening right now. The growth of the internet and social media and all the new websites – Glenn Greenwald has a great website called The Intercept, that was actually funded by an Iranian-American Pierre Omidyar, the founder of the eBay, and very good journalists such as Jeremy Scahill are writing excellent articles there about the different aspects of the economic situation of the world, the environmental crisis, the US foreign policy and military interventions. Al-Jazeera has made an impact here in the United States with its reporting. Al-Monitor is very good. There are all kinds of good websites, radio programs and TV programs that are countering of the hegemony of the dominant, corporate media. The good news is that more and more young people are not paying attention to the corporate media here in the United States. They understand that it’s garbage and propaganda and there’s nothing of value there. So they are looking for their independent sources.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.