Hyperbolic reportage of the ‘spy balloons’ story was a perfect example of how the ‘infotainment’ industry works to distract and confuse.
Imagine if our media outlets reported the truth and presented facts that explained the reality of our living experience. Where taxpayer-funded wars were described as scams that enabled multinational corporations to reap continual profits rather than being fictionalised as righteous battles for democracy and freedom.
American writer Walter Lipman once said that in times of war, what is said on the enemy’s side is always propaganda, and what is said on our side is truth and righteousness. What we must ask ourselves is: which side is ‘our’ side?
Perhaps some of us still think we are fortunate to live in a democratic country where free speech abounds, and truth and justice are assured and reflected in an open and honest media. Where news is presented as facts based on independent, qualitative journalism.
But if that were true, where are the news reports explaining how the contradictions of capitalism itself are the true cause of the ‘cost of living’ crisis? Where are the headlines in support of the striking workers who are demanding better conditions – not to thrive but just to survive? Where is the in-depth analysis explaining our rulers’ drive to war in the context of their competing geopolitical interests, profits and power?
If truth and reality were what we were presented with each day in the ‘news’, might we not expect to wake up to broadcasts that illustrated the reality of the gross inequalities of capitalism? To illustrate, after the publication of a recent Oxfam report, our front pages might convey the following:
A tsunami of inequality
In the last two years, a tsunami of inequality has resulted in the richest 1 percent of people acquiring almost as much new wealth as the rest of the world’s population put together. For every $1 of new global wealth earned by a person in the bottom 90 percent, each billionaire amassed around $1.7m (£1.4m).
Whilst most people struggle to survive, 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits last year making $306bn in windfall profits and paying out 84 percent of it ($257bn) to rich shareholders. And whilst this small group of grossly rich elites bathe in their obscene wealth, you, the British worker, join your own select group of 1.7 billion workers worldwide battling to survive against conditions where inflation outpaces wages.
The fact is that western media are owned and controlled by a handful of these powerful elites, whose interests align with and support imperialist ambitions. War with Russia. War with China. Ongoing exploitation of the world’s natural resources. Maintenance of western imperialist hegemony by any means.
Our news media has become entirely subsumed into a huge machine of hyperbolic distraction and misdirection, bombarding us with puerile soundbites that seek to ‘explain’ the perilous conditions of our existence in terms of good versus evil and hero versus villain: the righteous Volodymyr Zelensky fighting the evil Vladimir Putin. Communist dictator Xi Jinping versus leader of the free world Joe Biden.
In the face of said propaganda, the aim is to shrivel our thinking with panic and to keep us diverted from the truth and distracted from its pursuit.
President Biden’s national security strategy outlines how his administration wants to seize this decisive decade to advance the USA’s vital interests and position the country to outmanoeuvre its geopolitical competitors. It says that China is the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it.
So now we begin to understand who or what ‘our’ side is and who we are supposed to perceive as ‘our’ enemy. Our side, according to the newsfeeds, is western imperialism led by the USA, and our primary enemy is China, with Russia a close second.
Propaganda has been perfected to such a degree that the perverted reality we are fed infiltrates and undermines the truth of our actual living experience. Like children whose attention is drawn away from a sore knee by their parents’ suggestion of balloons floating in the sky, western corporate media is immensely adept at the classic magician’s sleight of hand that diverts our focus from where the unjust capitalists’ cruel ‘magic’ is being performed.
Distraction from the detrimental impact to workers of the latest budget announcement, or the realities of political corruption, of the ensuing effect of ongoing inflationary rises, of the rape and pillage of our natural resources, of the preparations for new wars necessitating gross military spending funded by our taxes and in whose name all of this is done – western imperialists, led by the USA.
Hysterical coverage of ‘spy balloons’ takes over the news cycle
Diversionary balloons were literally the case this February, when a giant Chinese-owned weather balloon that supposedly ‘threatened US sovereignty and security’ was shot down to great fanfare by US fighter jets and western media reported the event as a shocking and sinister act of Chinese aggression and provocation.
The saga dominated our media outlets for days and conveniently distracted workers’ focus from two important concurrent stories: a train wreck in Ohio that was described by locals as “a mini-Chernobyl”, spilling deadly chemicals and killing 45,000 animals; and an explosive report by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, detailing how the United States had carried out the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline last year.
If our media was independent and determined to present facts and truth, rather than the Superman comic-book version of ‘truth, justice and the American way’, then surely the catastrophic impact of the derailment, and serious allegations of an act of state-sponsored terrorism by the USA should have dominated our headlines?
After all, demands for President Putin’s arrest following allegations of war crimes from less than credible sources dominate the western ‘news cycle’ at the time of writing. Sources that are noticeably dead to either shame or irony, since they have chosen to renew their baseless allegations just as the world marks the 20-year anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq – the perpetrators of which heinous crime remain at large and largely rewarded.
And it’s not just that the Hollywoodised news media deflect and reroute our scrutiny. Each time the imperialists captivate our attention with pseudo balloons up high, they take another opportunity to recondition us to perceive their adversaries, those who threaten their hegemony, as mortal threats to ‘our’ democratic, free way of life.
President Biden’s comment at the signing of the Aukus deal in March summed it up: “Forging this new partnership, we’re showing again how democracies can deliver our own security and prosperity … not just for us but for the entire world.”
Prosperity and security for whom? Certainly not for the Australian workers who are funding the $381bn investment whilst facing a housing crisis. Workers who have not seen real wages go up in a decade, whilst interest rates have recently surged, and whose healthcare system is in a state of crisis. Sound familiar?
Responding to the twin threats to US global hegemony posed by Beijing and Moscow requires stepped-up defence and national security spending. The saturating media coverage of China and Russia as mortal enemies provide a useful diversionary story, concealing the real problems faced by workers in Britain and elsewhere, and obscuring the true cause of their misery.
Western media play a vital and blinding job in obfuscating the economic, environmental and existential consequences of imperialist war for the world’s people. Their constant bombardment of emotive imagery and falsehoods aim to whip up a frenzy of indignation, fear, uncertainty and righteous superiority against any threat to US and western supremacy.
Their real aim is not to inform or educate, but to manufacture fear and soften us up for our ongoing exploitation; to persuade us that poverty, inequality, economic crisis and war are inevitable, and to make us believe that our rulers’ enemies and interests are also ours.
The truth could not be more different.