"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

The Death of Stalin: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT.

The Death of Stalin, written and directed by Armando Iannucci, is a dark comedy about the power struggle in the Soviet Union in the aftermath of Josef Stalin's death. The film boasts a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Michale Palin and Jason Isaacs.

2018 has thus far been a less than stellar year for cinema. Granted, it is only March and prior to my most recent jaunt to the theatre I had only seen three other films, Black Panther, Red Sparrow and Annihilation, all of which were entirely underwhelming. But ever the optimist, I picked myself up by the bootstraps of my disappointment and made the journey to the local art house to try and break out of the rut of banality that had been the hallmark of my recent trips to the cineplex. 

Thankfully, The Death of Stalin was just what the doctor ordered as it was a powerful antidote to my bout of cinema blues. The Death of Stalin is a comedically taut, deliciously funny and masterfully paced film riddled with exquisite performances from an impeccable cast.

I knew nothing about The Death of Stalin prior to seeing it, except that I assumed that it was a comedy about the death of Stalin…and unlike that great cinematic fraud The Never Ending Story, The Death of Stalin is indeed a case of honesty in advertising. After seeing the film I read a little bit about the director, Armando Iannucci, and discovered that he is the creator of the HBO series Veep, which makes sense because The Death of Stalin is sort of like a super-dark version of Veep set in Stalin's Soviet Union. If you like Veep, you will enjoy The Death of Stalin.

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The cast of The Death of Stalin is fantastic across the board, but Simon Russell Beale and Steve Buscemi are particularly good. Beale, who plays Beria, the Head of State Security, is a British actor whom I had the great fortune to see masterfully play Iago at the Royal National Theatre twenty years ago during my London days. Beale is a meticulous chameleon of an actor who, much like his equally gifted Shakespearean peer Mark Rylance, has been a master of the London stage for the majority of his career. I hope Beale gets the same level of recognition from a wider audience that Rylance has in his later career, as he is most deserving. Beale's Beria is a study in paranoid entitlement, bemused viciousness and the banality of evil that even at its most heightened never rings false.

Steve Buscemi plays Nikita Kruschev with his usual humorous flair and delivers an phenomenal performance. Alongside the comedy of Buscemi's Kruschev is a palpably frenetic desperation to save himself, and Russia, from falling out of the frying pan of Stalin and into the fire of some other brutal tyrant. Buscemi wraps Kruschev in a cloak of bitter cynicism that hides a rabidly patriotic soul. 

The supporting cast all give specific and technically precise performances filled with masterful comedic timing that they are an absolute joy to behold. 

Jeffrey Tambor, fresh off the abysmal atrocity that is/was Transparent, which was easily the worst and most repugnant television show I have seen, does a nuanced and hysterical turn as Malenkov, a member of Stalin's inner circle. Tambor is at his most insecure best as Malenkov, who is living proof that Stalin wanted to surround himself with only those considerably weaker than himself.

Andrea Riseborough is terrific as Stalin's daughter Svetlana who must navigate life without her powerful father, as warring factions try to use her as a pawn in their chess match. Svetlana is not as weak and delicate as she pretends to be, but she isn't nearly as strong and resilient as she thinks she is. Riseborough has the least flashy of all of the roles in the film but her comedic subtlety and dramatic chops make her Svetlana a vital part of the film's artistic success. 

Rupert Friend plays Stalin's drunken, hockey-team losing son Vasily with aplomb. Friend nearly steals the entire show with his volcanic drunken tirades that seem to have no end and no discernible beginning.

Jason Isaacs masterfully plays famed Soviet General Zhukov. Isaacs' Zhukov is a pitbull in a parade uniform and he has little time, and less tolerance for the political machinations of the backstabbing politburo. Isaacs brings a force and energy to the film that elevates the comedy and the drama to an even higher level. 

The rest of the cast, including Paddy Considine, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko and Adrian McLoughlin all do stupendous and seamless work that keep the film right on track. 

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An interesting note regarding the acting is that the entire cast never uses a "Russian" accent. Nor do they all use a coordinated "British" accent which some films use to signify a foreign language without alienating American audiences. Instead in The Death of Stalin all of the actors speak in their disparate native tongues, accents included. This is a very wise choice since comedy, and this type of specific verbal comedy in particular, is difficult enough in an actor's first language, adding any accent and most especially a Russian one, would make it nearly impossible. What is so interesting about this languid language/accent approach is that it comes across as so coherent, effortless and comedically harmonious as to be unnoticeable. 

Director Iannucci plays to his comedy strengths in The Death Of Stalin even more so than he does in his stellar HBO show Veep. Veep is a heightened comedy that refuses to acknowledge any connection to a real world or actual human behavior. In The Death of Stalin on the other hand, Iannucci has made a very funny comedy that is propelled by genuine human behavior. The Death of Stalin, as absurd as it can be, is still based on a solid realism despite its being so funny.

A very effective tactic by Iannucci is how he deftly handles the rather glaring issue of the brutality of Stalin's Great Terror by only giving the audience the perspective of those in Stalin's inner circle. Viewers are unconsciously connected to the protagonists like Beria and Kruschev in the inner circle and Iannucci never explicitly shows the violence and savagery for which these men are responsible. It isn't until we are fully on board and rooting for the good guys to win that we see what the good guys (and we) are capable of, and it isn't a pretty sight. 

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It is impossible to watch The Death of Stalin and not relate it to the politics of our day. For instance, the backstabbing paranoia and positioning of Stalin's inner circle before and after his death certainly resembles the daily drama emanating from the Trump White House. The Trump purges of cabinet members is less bloody than Stalin's, but the impulse behind them is the same. Trump instinctually surrounds himself with people that are intellectually, and even physically, smaller than he is because, like Stalin he wants to be The Big Man. Beria, Kruschev, Malenkov and the rest of Stalin's ass kissing brigade have counterparts right here at home in Trump's cabinet, and could easily pass as Bannon, McMaster and The Mooch. 

Even Stalin's kids are reminiscent of the Trump children. Svetlana, the doe-eyed beauty trying to manipulate her "royal" standing for all it is worth, is Ivanka plain and simple. And speaking of simple, Stalin's son Vasily is as if Don Jr. and Eric Trump were morphed together into one drunken ball of entitled moronity. 

The Death of Stalin is also relevant in the context of the headlines of today due to the plethora of anti-"Russia" news. Russia is currently the enemy du jour and is blamed for everything that could, did or will go wrong in the world. The Death of Stalin is, like the recent Red Sparrow, a rather shameless piece of anti-Russian reinforcement propaganda meant to buttress people's preconceived negative feelings about those conniving and brutal Russians.

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I cannot speak to the historical accuracy of The Death of Stalin, but the fact that Stalin and Russia were the subject of a film at all is indicative of the wave of anti-Russian resentment and hysteria fomented by a calculated Russo-phobic propaganda campaign. For instance, would this film have been made if it were about the machinations behind the scenes when Ariel Sharon was in a coma? Or about when FDR died? or Mao? or JFK? No…of course not. American audiences have been primed to accept that Russians are a particularly loathsome and untrustworthy bunch, so it is acceptable to laugh at them and highlight the worst of them when they are at their most despicable. 

That is why The Death of Stalin is in theaters now, because it buttresses and reinforces the anti-Russian madness by reminding people that Russia, at its core, is only Stalin's Soviet Union during the Great Terror, and nothing else. Nuance need not apply when it comes to the Russia of today, just tune in to MSNBC or read the Washington Post for proof of that. 

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You may be asking what difference does it make if there is anti-Russian propaganda? Well, the biggest issue is that it makes Americans gullible to any anti-Russian story thrown out there. The poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK? Must be Russia, and no proof or evidence is needed to back up that claim. Same with the claims of Russian "hacking" of our elections, voting machines and even our power grids…all unsubstantiated but accepted as Gospel Truth by the opinion shapers in the establishment media. Unproven claims that Russia started a war by invading Ukraine, shot down MH17 and rigged elections in Crimea are treated the same way.

The propaganda campaign against Russia is not just dangerous because people are primed to believe any outrageous claim against that country, but because of where that belief will inevitably lead…a catastrophic war. The biggest problem with the anti-Russian hysteria and hatred that has become mainstream here in America, is that it is lead by the people who would usually be anti-war, liberals and Democrats. With incessant rhetoric being spouted by liberals about how Russia has "attacked America" or "committed an act of war", there will be no speed bumps on the road from a cold war with Russia to a hot one…and that will not end well for anyone. 

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The real lesson of The Death of Stalin is the corrupting influence of authoritarianism on the soul. With authoritarianism on the rise across the globe and in our collective consciousness, The Death of Stalin is now compulsory viewing. The important thing to remember is that authoritarianism isn't just on the rise in the form of Trump, Erdogan, Putin and Xi…but in the hearts and minds of regular people…even those who may share your ideological beliefs. For instance, there has been a spate of people silenced or exiled for daring to question Democratic or liberal orthodoxy. I know this because I am one of them. I was exiled by numerous friends who did not like what I wrote about the last election, and instead of talking to me about it, or God forbid debating it, they exiled me…and my family…from their circle. This is metaphorically just like Stalin's Great Terror where he eliminated those who dare think for themselves or speak truth to power. 

The great danger of our time is not so much Trump, who is a bumbling buffoon of a man and an even worse president, but rather our authoritarian response to him. #TheResistance has proven itself to be a hypocritical outlet for the authoritarian impulses of establishment Democrats. Watch these alleged liberals discard history down the memory hole and contort themselves in all sorts of illogical ways in order to embrace the intelligence community (CIA, NSA, John Brennan, Michael Hayden and John Clapper) and the FBI (and James Comey, Robert Mueller and Andrew McCabe) all in the hopes of destroying Trump and regaining power. With authoritarians, Truth and actual history have no meaning in the quest for power and revenge, and so it has become with establishment Democrats and certain sections of the left. If you can watch The Death of Stalin through the prism of liberal authoritarianism, it will be a very enlightening experience indeed, especially if you're a liberal who likes to banish people with opinions that challenge your own. 

In conclusion, even though The Death of Stalin is yet another piece of anti-Russian propaganda, it is a finely-crafted, exquisitely made piece of propaganda, and that is to the credit of its remarkable cast and director Armando Iannucci. I recommend you put in the effort to see The Death of Stalin in the theatre as it will most assuredly entertain you as it did me. And if you are able to look past the surface of the film and see it not just as another Russo-phobic hit piece, but as a clarion call against all forms of authoritarianism…especially the authoritarianism that lives inside your own heart…and mine, then it might just make you more than laugh, it might even make you think…and cry in despair.

©2018

Red Sparrow: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to see this movie. If you are mildly intrigued by the premise or by the opportunity to see Jennifer Lawrence in her birthday suit, then watch it on Netflix or cable, but arm yourself with very low expectations.

Red Sparrow, directed by Francis Lawrence and written by Justin Haythe (based on the book of the same name by Justin Matthews), is the story of Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina turned Russian intelligence officer who uses her seductive charms to try and uncover the identity of a mole. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Dominika, with supporting turns from Joel Edgerton, Mary Louise Parker, Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons and Matthias Shoenaerts. 

When I first saw the trailer for Red Sparrow I was intrigued because I am a fan of Jennifer Lawrence and respect her work as an actress. In addition, I enjoy a good spy story (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of my sneaky favorite movies of the last bunch of years) and am a bit of a Russophile as well. My Russophilia mostly manifests itself in my choice of literature as I am a sucker for Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov and the rest but I can also appreciate a good Russian narrative in film as well. 

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Days before I went to see Red Sparrow, a friend of mine, the venerable Spyder Le Frenchy, who is an incorrigible pervert, alerted me that he saw Jennifer Lawrence on 60 Minutes say that she appears naked in Red Sparrow. Spyder hasn't been to a movie in a decade, but with Ms. Lawrence's revealing revelation Red Sparrow became a must see movie event for him. I went to see the movie for reasons other than Ms. Lawrence's exposed flesh, but that being said, her nakedness was not something that would deter me from seeing the movie. 

Perversion aside, as a cinephile I found Red Sparrow to be mind-numbingly banal and completely underwhelming. In terms of perversion, I texted Spyder Le Frenchy after the movie and told him that if he is aroused by tedious, boring and incoherent things, then Red Sparrow is definitely the movie for him. 

I understood what Red Sparrow was trying to do, it was trying to be a sexy star vehicle for Jennifer Lawrence. Wrapped in a cloak of Hollywood celebrity (Ms. Lawrence) and allegedly timely drama, the film is also surreptitiously a piece of propaganda meant to reinforce the Russophobia of our age. The truth is, the pieces are all in place for Red Sparrow to be a smash hit, it has the highest paid actress in the world, a stellar cast, and a relevant and potentially compelling story based on a successful book, but in execution, Red Sparrow is a lifeless and stale mess of a movie. 

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Jennifer Lawrence is a terrific actress, dynamic screen presence and a luminous beauty, but she is so burdened by the guttural Russian accent she uses in Red Sparrow that her magnetism seems to evaporate right before your eyes. Ms. Lawrence's accent also occasionally goes in and out seemingly at random, so much so that there were moments where I wondered if her character were doing it intentionally for some secret spy reason…rest assured, she wasn't. 

Ms. Lawrence's performance is ultimately shallow, hollow and rings flat throughout. It felt to me like she was a movie star mailing it in the majority of the time. Ms. Lawrence is certainly a beautiful woman and the camera loves her, but for an actress playing a professional seductress, she struck me as the opposite of smoldering, in fact she came across as remarkably frigid and unsexy. All of the supposedly steamy romance in the film is suffocatingly dull, tedious and entirely devoid of allure, passion or eroticism. 

The cast of Red Sparrow is a group of acting heavy hitters, but every single one of them gives sub-par, entirely forgettable performances. Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Mary Louise Parker and Charlotte Rampling are, like Jenifer Lawrence, good actors who do bad work in this ice-cold clunker. 

Besides the cast's flaccid work, Red Sparrow's script is also a disaster area. Incoherent is the most pleasant way to describe the numerous twists and turns that all go nowhere at a monotonous snails pace. All of the characters are written as flat, one-dimensional stereotypes, and the narrative is a dull maze of standard spy movie tropes. 

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The film is also a pretty heavy-handed piece of anti-Russian propaganda. Russia is presented as a bitter, monolithic, Orwellian tundra populated by equally cold, conniving and vicious human beings. Every single Russian man in the film is an irredeemable degenerate. Some are rapists, or pedophiles, or killers, and some are all three, but all are reprehensible. Russian women don't fare much better in Red Sparrow. According to the movie, Russian women are uniformly lying, manipulative, cold-hearted vengeful whores devoid of genuine human emotion who are proficient only at sex, violence…and occasionally ballet.

The Russia of Red Sparrow is decidedly Cold War era even though the film is set in the present day. Vladimir Putin is never mentioned by name, although a "Russian President" looms over the film's proceedings like a chemical weapons cloud. Red Sparrow's "Russian President" is portrayed in conversation as a cross between Stalin, Sauron and Scrooge…sans the charm. 

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Interestingly enough, actor Matthias Shoenaerts plays a pivotal role in the film, and he is a dead ringer for Putin. Casting a Putin look-a-like in the film's most nefarious role did not happen by coincidence, that I can assure you. Shoenaerts is intentionally meant to represent Putin and his character's actions are meant to embarrass and humiliate him. 

The propaganda of Red Sparrow is what I would deem Reinforcement Propaganda, which means that it is not meant to instigate negative feelings toward Russia, but to reinforce and solidify previously planted negative feelings already in the collective. The most recent round of  Instigative Propaganda (not to be confused with Provocation Propaganda) against Russia started in the U.S. media in earnest in 2014 and has been relentless ever since.

Red Sparrow takes the foundation developed by this round of Instigative Propaganda (2014) and makes it manifest by simply dramatizing what the viewer has been taught to assume is true. That is the beauty of Reinforcement Propaganda, it builds upon Foundational and Instigative Propaganda and solidifies preconceived assumptions among the indoctrinated. In this case, the current coordinated propaganda war against Russia was built upon the much earlier Foundational Propaganda of the Cold War and anti-communist movements, which was heightened with the newest round of Instigation Propaganda started in 2014 (media coverage of the Sochi Olympics and Ukrainian Coup being notable examples). Now Red Sparrow is part of the Reinforcement Wave, that buttresses layers of disinformation that preceded it, and normalizes it through entertainment. 

All of that said, just because a film is propaganda doesn't mean it is automatically bad. Some propaganda, the most effective kind, is encased in a superior film. To be clear, Red Sparrow is not a bad film because it is propaganda, it is a bad film because it is a bad film. 

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As for the specifics of why Red Sparrow is a bad film, I think it is because director Francis Lawrence lacks any vision whatsoever and…is not good at directing. A strong directorial hand may have been able to reign in this unruly film, but the clueless Mr. Lawrence is ill-equipped for such duty. A quality filmmaker of skill would've been able to, through mastery of craft, at least build tension and suspense with this story, but the cinematically impotent Mr. Lawrence is entirely incapable of such a task. Besides poor direction, the film also has no distinctive look to it and the cinematography of Jo Willems is so common as to be listless.  

In conclusion, Red Sparrow is little more than a poorly crafted, middle of the road, bland piece of Hollywood studio junk. Jennifer Lawrence may be a big movie star and the highest paid actress in the world, but even her star power is unable to keep this film's head artistically or financially above water. Red Sparrow could have been at least a halfway entertaining, if not a downright good movie, but due to weak direction and a horrendous script the film is ultimately a wasted opportunity, and a complete waste of your precious time. If you really want to see some creative and imaginative espionage drama involving Russians, my advice is to tune in to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC ( or any cable news talking empty-head) any night of the week, she'll have enough speculative, evidence-free, cloak and dagger Russo-phobic red meat to satiate all of your deepest xenophobic desires.

©2018

 

 

The Pentagon and Hollywood's Successful and Deadly Propaganda Alliance (Extended Edition)

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 48 seconds

The Pentagon aids Hollywood in making money, and in turn Hollywood churns out effective propaganda for the brutal American war machine.

The U.S. has the largest military budget in the world, spending over $611 billion, far larger than any other nation on earth. The U.S. military also has at their disposal the most successful propaganda apparatus the world has ever known…Hollywood.

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Since their collaboration on the first Best Picture winner Wings in 1927, the U.S. military has used Hollywood to manufacture and shape its public image in over 1,800 films and TV shows, and Hollywood has, in turn, used military hardware in their films and TV shows to make gobs and gobs of money. A plethora of movies like Lone Survivor, Captain Philips, and even blockbuster franchises like Transformers and Marvel, DC and X-Men super hero movies, have over the years agreed to cede creative control in exchange for use of U.S. military hardware.

In order to obtain cooperation from the Department of Defense (DOD), producers must sign contracts - Production Assistance Agreements - that guarantee a military approved version of the script makes it to the big screen. In return for signing away creative control, Hollywood producers save tens of millions of dollars from their budgets on military equipment, service members to operate the equipment, and expensive location fees.

Capt. Russell Coons, Director of Navy Office of Information West, told Al Jazeera what the military expects for their cooperation,

“We’re not going to support a program that disgraces a uniform or presents us in a compromising way.”

Phil Strub, the DOD chief Hollywood liaison, says the guidelines are clear,

“If the filmmakers are willing to negotiate with us to resolve our script concerns, usually we’ll reach an agreement. If not, filmmakers are free to press on without military assistance.”

In other words, the Department of Defense is using taxpayer money to pick favorites. The DOD has no interest in nuance, truth or, God-forbid, artistic expression, only in insidious jingoism that manipulates public opinion to their favor. This is chilling when you consider that the DOD is able to use its financial leverage to quash dissenting films it deems insufficiently pro-military or pro-American in any way.

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The danger of the DOD-Hollywood alliance is that Hollywood is incredibly skilled at making entertaining, pro-war propaganda. The DOD isn’t getting involved in films like Iron Man, X-Men, Transformers or Jurassic Park III for fun, they are doing so because it’s an effective way to psychologically program Americans, particularly young Americans, not just to adore the military, but to worship militarism. This ingrained love of militarism has devastating real-world effects.

 

Lawrence Suid, author of “Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film” told Al Jazeera,

“I was teaching the history of the Vietnam War, and I couldn’t explain how we got into Vietnam. I could give the facts, the dates, but I couldn’t explain why. And when I was getting my film degrees it suddenly occurred to me that the people in the U.S. had never seen the U.S. lose a war, and when President Johnson said we can go into Vietnam and win, they believed him because they’d seen 50 years of war movies that were positive.”

As Mr. Suid points out, generations of Americans had been raised watching John Wayne valiantly storm the beaches of Normandy in films like The Longest Day, and thus were primed to be easily manipulated into supporting any U.S. military adventure because they were conditioned to believe that the U.S. is always the benevolent hero and inoculated against doubt.

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This indoctrinated adoration of a belligerent militarism, conjured by Hollywood blockbusters, also resulted in Americans being willfully misled into supporting a farce like the 2003 Iraq war. The psychological conditioning for Iraq War support was built upon hugely successful films like Saving Private Ryan (1997), directed by Steven Spielberg, and Black Hawk Down (2001), produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, that emphasized altruistic American militarism. Spielberg and Bruckheimer are two Hollywood heavyweights, along with Paramount studios, considered by the DOD to be their most reliable collaborators.

Another example of the success of the DOD propaganda program was the pulse-pounding agitprop of the Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun (1986).

Top Gun, produced by Bruckheimer, was a turning point in the DOD-Hollywood relationship, as it came amidst a string of artistically successful, DOD-opposed, “anti-war” films, like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which gave voice to America’s post-Vietnam crisis of confidence. Top Gun was the visual representation of Reagan’s flag-waving optimism, and was the Cold War cinematic antidote to the “Vietnam Syndrome”.

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Top Gun, which could not have been made without massive assistance from the DOD, was a slick two-hour recruiting commercial that coincided with a major leap in public approval ratings for the military. With a nadir of 50% in 1980, by the time the Gulf War started in 1991, public support for the military spiked to 85%.

Since Top Gun, the DOD propaganda machine has resulted in a current public approval for the military of 72%, with Congress at 12%, the media at 24% and even Churches at only 40%, the military is far and away the most popular institution in American life. Other institutions would no doubt have better approval ratings if they too could manage and control their image in the public sphere.

It isn’t just the DOD that uses the formidable Hollywood propaganda apparatus to its own end…the CIA does as well, working with films to enhance their reputation and distort history.

For example, as the War on Terror raged, the CIA deftly used Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) as a disinformation vehicle to revise their sordid history with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and to portray them-selves as heroic and not nefarious.

The CIA also surreptitiously aided the film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), and used it as a propaganda tool to alter history and to convince Americans that torture works.

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The case for torture presented in Zero Dark Thirty was originally made from 2001 to 2010 on the hit TV show 24, which had support from the CIA as well. That pro-CIA and pro-torture narrative continued in 2011 with the Emmy-winning show Homeland, created by the same producers as 24, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa.

 

A huge CIA-Hollywood success story was Best Picture winner Argo (2012), which ironically is the story of the CIA teaming up with Hollywood. The CIA collaborated with the makers of Argo, including alleged liberal Ben Affleck, in order to pervert the historical record and elevate their image.

The CIA being involved in manipulating the American public should come as no surprise, as they have always had their fingers in the propagandizing of the American people, even in the news media with Operation Mockingbird that used/uses CIA assets in newsrooms to control narratives. 

Just like the DOD-Hollywood propaganda machine has real-world consequences in the form of war, the CIA-Hollywood teaming has tangible results as well. 

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For example, in our current culture, the sins of the Intelligence community, from vast illegal surveillance to rendition to torture, are intentionally lost down the memory hole. People like former CIA director John Brennan, a torture supporter who spied on the U.S. Senate in order to undermine the torture investigation, or former head of the NSA James Clapper, who committed perjury when he lied to congress about warrantless surveillance, or former Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden, who lied about and supported both surveillance and torture, are all held up by the liberal media, like MSNBC and even allegedly anti-authoritarian comedians like John Oliver and Bill Maher, as brave and honorable men who should be thanked for their noble service. 

The fact that this propaganda devil’s bargain between the DOD/CIA and Hollywood takes place in the self-declared Greatest Democracy on Earth™ is an irony seemingly lost on those in power who benefit from it, and also among those targeted to be indoctrinated by it, entertainment consumers, who are for the most part entirely oblivious to it.

If America is the Greatest Democracy in the World™ why are its military and intelligence agencies so intent on covertly misleading its citizens, stifling artistic dissent and obfuscating the truth? The answer is obvious…because in order to convince Americans that their country is The Greatest Democracy on Earth™, they must be misled, artistic dissent must be stifled and the truth must be obfuscated.

In the wake of the American defeat in the Vietnam war, cinema flourished by introspectively investigating the deeper uncomfortable truths of that fiasco in Oscar nominated films like Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Born on the Fourth of July, all made without assistance from the DOD.

The stultifying bureaucracy of America’s jingoistic military agitprop machine is now becoming more successful at suffocating artistic endeavors in their crib though. With filmmaking becoming ever more corporatized, it is an uphill battle for directors to maintain their artistic integrity in the face of cost-cutting budgetary concerns from studios.

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In contrast to post-Vietnam cinema, after the unmitigated disaster of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the continuing quagmire in Afghanistan, there has been no cinematic renaissance, only a steady diet of mendaciously patriotic, DOD-approved, pro-war drivel like American Sniper and Lone Survivor. Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker (2008), shot with no assistance from the DOD, was the lone exception that successfully dared to portray some of the ugly truths of America’s Mesopotamian misadventure.

President Eisenhower once warned Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower’s prescient warning should have extended to the military industrial entertainment complex of the DOD/CIA- Hollywood alliance, which has succeeded in turning Americans into a group of uniformly incurious and militaristic zealots.

America is now stuck in a perpetual pro-war propaganda cycle, where the DOD/CIA and Hollywood conspire to indoctrinate Americans to be warmongers, and in turn, Americans now demand more militarism from their entertainment and government to satiate their bloodlust.

The DOD/CIA - Hollywood propaganda alliance guarantees Americans will blindly support more future failed wars and will be willing accomplices in the deaths of millions more people across the globe.

A version of this article was originally published on March 12, 2018 are RT.

©2018

The Death of Edward S. Herman and the Death Knell for Liberalism in America

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes 18 seconds

Last week Edward S. Herman, professor emeritus at the Wharton School of Business and teacher at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, died at the age of 92. In addition to his stellar academic career, Herman is best known for co-writing with Noam Chomsky the seminal book in the field of media analysis and criticism, Manufacturing Consent.

Manufacturing Consent is a staggeringly brilliant book. It is such a paradigm defining and altering work that I believe it, along with the Adam Curtis documentary Century of the Self, should be mandatory reading and viewing for every citizen, voter and consumer of media in the United States. It is impossible to watch the news, read the newspaper or follow political debate the same way after digesting Herman and Chomsky's theories on the media and their propaganda model in Manufacturing Consent and Curtis' revelatory documentary on psychology, public relations and control of mass democracy.

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A great example of the immense importance of learning and understanding Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model was on display recently with the slavish reception by the establishment media of Ken Burns' newest documentary, The Vietnam War. Burns uses a great deal of energy and time (the film runs nearly 18 hours) to make a film that, consciously or unconsciously, goes full bore in proving the existence Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model. Burns' documentary is an homage to the limits of establishment thinking and debate, not a true and honest critical assessment of the war or of America. If you haven't seen Burns' film, read Manufacturing Consent before you do, and if you have seen it, read Manufacturing Consent and watch the film over again. 

I found it striking that the same week that an original thinker and true resister to power, Edward S. Herman, died, America and what currently passes for American liberalism did something to signify its own philosophical, intellectual and ethical debasement and death. On Monday of last week the Justice Department forced the news channel RT America, to register as an agent of a foreign power in order to avoid legal penalties for their employees. (Full disclosure, I am a current contributor to RT.com. I have been informed that I am not effected by RT America being forced to register as a foreign agent because RT and RT America are two different entities. If any readers have legal insight into my situation please feel free to share it with me as I obviously want to stay in full compliance with American law.)

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What was so dismaying about the RT America situation was not the Justice Department going after them, it was the absolute glee that democrats, establishment liberals and #theresistance showed upon learning the news. The intellectual corruption of democrats and establishment liberals knows no bounds, and this was proven by their embrace of the targeting of RT America and their joy at the silencing of an anti-establishment dissenting voice.

The reason that there was such vicious glee emanating from liberals in regards to RT America being targeted and sanctioned, is because liberals have been conditioned to believe that Russia in general, and RT America in particular, is the sole reason for Trump being president. The mainstream media, in fulfilling their position as the propaganda arm for the elites and the military-intelligence industrial complex, has continuously beat the anti-Russia and anti-RT drum.

Liberals are so blinded by their rage at Trump that they are signing on to the criminalization of their own political beliefs. Have liberals read the DNI report about "Russian Interference" in the 2016 election? Every single person I have spoken to about this subject has said that they haven't read the report. And for some, maybe they feel that reading in black and white the reality of the situation, which is contrary to what they imagine it to be, might make their fantasies of nefarious Russians co-opting America's sacred elections disintegrate and leave them with no one to blame but themselves. And not only have these folks never read the DNI report, they have never watched the channel RT America, but in their ignorance are so thoroughly convinced of RT's villainy that they not only cheer its destruction, some also actually express a hope for my personal imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay. 

I have written about this willful blindness and intellectual and philosophical suicide of liberals before, and Edward S. Herman wrote about it in the last article he ever published. If liberals read the DNI report they will quickly learn that the intelligence community has zero evidence that Russia interfered in the election. None. They also would learn that the intelligence community are criminalizing the exact things in which liberals claim to believe and hold dear. 

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For instance, the DNI report spends the majority of its time claiming that the cable news channel RT America was a key piece of the Russian election interfering campaign. The smoking gun evidence the DNI report gives for RT guilt? The fact that RT America hosted third party debates, extensively covered the negative environmental impact of fracking, highlighted the Occupy Wall Street movement, claimed that Wall Street is ruled by greed and that America has a police brutality problem. Are there any liberals reading this who don't wholeheartedly agree with RT's position on those issues? I sincerely doubt it. And yet, liberals have unquestioningly swallowed all the anti-RT and anti-Russia stories the media keeps feeding them. 

The other problem with blaming RT for Trump's victory is that it is completely absurd on its face because RT barely registers in terms of viewers here in America. Cable news channels like Fox News have around 2.2 million viewers in prime time alone, whereas RT doesn't even come close to having 30,000 viewers for an entire day. RT is also not carried by many cable providers in America, thus reducing their reach even more. The claim that RT is some evil Putin-controlled leviathan vomiting its propaganda across the whole of America is ludicrous. 

The fact that liberals were so quick to embrace the demonization of RT is a bad sign for the future of liberalism and America. We need more dissent in America, not less, and if we simply allow America's corporate media to be the gatekeepers for Truth, we will only get the sanitized version that those in power wants us to hear. 

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I just finished reading James W. Douglass remarkable book, JFK and the Unspeakable. In Douglass' book he shows how JFK was surrounded by enemies in his own government and administration because he refused to buy into the virulent anti-Soviet/communist propaganda of the time. JFK had to try and restrain anti-communist madmen like General Curtis LeMay and General Lyman Lemnitzer who were itching for a nuclear first strike against the Soviets. It is remarkable that 54 years later it is the alleged liberals here in America who, just like Lemnitzer and LeMay, are so blindly and rabidly anti-Russian they will gladly cut off their political nose to spite their face. 

A brief look at history, and a reading of Manufacturing Consent, tells us that we must be ever vigilant against the propaganda we are fed by our elite corporate overlords. The establishment media has always been in lock step with every bit of nonsense the elites try and sell us. Look no further than the Iraq war or the financial collapse of 2008 for an example of the corruption of our mainstream press. 

I understand on an emotional level why liberals are so happy to scapegoat RT for Trump and the state of our nation. But to do so is hopelessly adolescent, foolish and is a shot cut to thinking. Trump is an atrocious human being, but all that is wrong with America didn't begin with Trump. Look at Yemen, where the Saudi's are perpetrating a genocide, including famine, upon the Yemeni population. The U.S. backed Saudi war on Yemen didn't start with Trump, it started under Obama. Notice also that if you want to see coverage of the war in Yemen you will need to watch more RT and less American media because the U.S. press is barely covering that abomination, and when it does cover it, it does so without mentioning America's involvement in it at all. For proof of this read this Washington Post article on Yemen which remarkably never mentions U.S. responsibility for the conflict and also read this Alex Emmons piece at The Intercept which skewers a recent 60 Minutes segment which conveniently neglected to reveal U.S. involvement as well. 

Liberals blaming Russia and RT for Trump's victory are alleviating themselves from the desperate need to look in the mirror and learn from their failings. Pointing the finger at Russia for unsubstantiated claims of election interference and supporting punitive actions against RT America will, in the long run, end up being a self-destructive act for liberals that criminalizes liberal beliefs and limits dissent and oppositional voices. Of course, I am well aware that my pleas for rationalism will be lost amongst the whirlwinds of emotionalism that have accompanied our current hurricane of anti-Russian hysteria. 

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To be clear, I loathe Trump with the fury of a thousand suns and I think he is as crooked as a dog's hind leg. If Mueller digs into his business dealings such as those uncovered by Adam Davidson of The New Yorker with his tremendous investigative journalism, then Mueller will have Trump dead to rights. The same may also be true of Obstruction of Justice charges against Trump for his handling of Comey and the Russian investigation. That said, I just don't think the actual charge of Russian election interference at the core of this whole thing is a viable one. I will gladly change my opinion if and when the intelligence community ever releases any actual, tangible evidence of Russian hacking. As of right now, there is just as much a chance that the DNC's and Clinton campaign's emails were leaked as opposed to hacked. Why doesn't the intelligence community show proof of the claim that Russia hacked the emails? And why in the world do people trust the intelligence agencies after all of the lying and shenanigans they have pulled over the years?

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At this moment, and this could change with more evidence, it strikes me that the claims of Russian election interference are just like the claims of the intel community in the case for the Iraq war, and just like the Gulf of Tonkin incident that made the case for the war in Vietnam…in other words, there is no "there" there. All of the evidence of Trump administration figures meeting with supposed "Kremlin-connected" Russians (according to the establishment media every Russian is a "Kremlin-connected" one) mean nothing without proof of the hacking of the DNC/Clinton emails which is the center of the election interference case. Until that is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the rest is all nonsense. 

In conclusion, I think a collective madness has descended upon the United States in general and democrats/liberals in particular. Liberals lionizing the intelligence community have very short memories and are incredibly naive…do they really think the intelligence agencies don't lie to them? The reality is that the intelligence agencies CONTINUOUSLY LIE… the sooner you figure that out the better off you will be. RT America's tag line is "Question More", and regardless of what you feel about RT, that is sage advice that we should all take to heart, especially regarding stories that we so desperately want to be true. 

In honor of the great Edward S. Herman, I wholly encourage everyone to go read or re-read Manufacturing Consent. Once you do you will have the ability to read between the lines of the carefully crafted propaganda we are continually fed by the establishment media and discern something closer to the actual Truth of our nation and our world. It is only with the tools taught to us by Herman and Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent that we are able to break free from our media-induced myopia and wake up from our ignorant slumber to see the glaring Truth that has been hiding in plain sight all along, right in front of our nose. 

©2017

I encourage you to please go read Matt Taibbi's excellent article on Herman's work and death and also read Edward S. Herman's entire final piece at Monthly Review as it is a great primer for Manufacturing Consent. Here is a very long, but worthwhile, excerpt from the article which is extremely useful in understanding our current media climate in relation all things Russia. 

FAKE NEWS ON RUSSIA AND OTHER OFFICIAL ENEMIES by Edward S. Herman Aug. 2017

The demonization of Putin escalated with the Ukraine crisis of 2014 and subsequent Kiev warfare in Eastern Ukraine, Russian support of the East Ukraine resistance, and the Crimean referendum and absorption of Crimea by Russia. This was all declared “aggression” by the United States and its allies and clients, and sanctions were imposed on Russia, and a major U.S.-NATO military buildup was initiated on Russia’s borders. Tensions mounted further with the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over southeastern Ukraine—promptly, but almost surely falsely, blamed on the “pro-Russian” rebels and Russia itself.15

Anti-Russian hostilities were further inflamed by the country’s escalated intervention in Syria from 2015 on, in support of Bashar al-Assad and against rebel forces that had come to be dominated by ISIS and al-Nusra, an offshoot of al-Qaeda. The United States and its NATO and Middle East allies had been committing aggression against Syria, in de facto alliance with al-Nusra and other extremist Islamic factions, for several years. Russian intervention turned the tide, frustrating the U.S. and Saudi goal of regime change against Assad, and weakening tacit U.S. allies.

The Times has covered these developments with unstinting apologetics—for the February 2014 coup in Kiev—which it has never labeled as such, for the U.S. role in the overthrow of the elected government of Victor Yanukovych, and with anger and horror at the Crimea referendum and Russian absorption, which it never allows might be a defensive response to the Kiev coup. Its calls for punishment for the casualty-free Russian “aggression” in Crimea is in marked contrast to its apologetics for the million-plus casualties caused by U.S. aggression “of choice” (not defensive) in Iraq from March 2003 on. The paper’s editors and columnists condemn Putin’s disregard for international law, while exempting their own country from criticism for its repeated violations of that same law.16

In the Times‘s reporting and opinion columns Russia is regularly assailed as expansionist and threatening its neighbors, but virtually no mention is made of NATO’s expansion up to the Russian borders and first-strike-threat placement of anti-missile weapons in Eastern Europe—the latter earlier claimed to be in response to a missile threat from Iran! Analyses by political scientist John Mearsheimer and Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen that noted this NATO advance were excluded from the opinion pages of the Times.17 In contrast, a member of the Russian band Pussy Riot, Maria Alyokhina, was given op-ed space to denounce Putin and Russia, and the punk rock group was granted a meeting with the Times editorial board.18Between January 1 and March 31, 2014, the paper ran twenty-three articles featuring Pussy Riot and its alleged significance as a symbol of Russian limits on free speech. Pussy Riot had disrupted a church service in Moscow and only stopped after police intervened, at the request of church authorities. A two-year prison sentence followed. Meanwhile, in February 2014, eighty-four-year-old nun Sister Megan Rice was sentenced to four years in prison for having entered a U.S. nuclear weapons site in July 2012 and carried out a symbolic protest. The Timesgave this news a tiny mention in its National Briefing section, under the title “Tennessee Nun is Sentenced for Peace Protest.” No op-ed columns or meeting with the Times board for Rice. There are worthy and unworthy protesters, just as there are victims.

In Syria, with Russian help, Assad’s army and allied militias were able to dislodge the rebels from Aleppo, to the dismay of Washington and the mainstream media. It has been enlightening to see the alarm expressed over civilian casualties in Aleppo, with accompanying photographs of forsaken children and stories of civilian suffering and deprivation. The Times‘s focus on those civilians and children and its indignation at Putin-Assad inhumanity stands in sharp contrast with their virtual silence on massive civilian casualties in Fallujah in 2004 and beyond, and more recently in rebel-held areas of Syria, and in the Iraqi city of Mosul, under U.S. and allied attack.19 The differential treatment of worthy and unworthy victims has been in full force in coverage of Syria.

A further phase of intensifying Russophobia may be dated from the October 2016 presidential debates, in which Hillary Clinton declared that Donald Trump would be a Putin “puppet” as president, a theme her campaign began to stress. This emphasis only increased after the election, with the help of the media and intelligence services, as the Clinton camp sought to explain their electoral loss, maintain party control, and possibly even have the election results overturned in the courts or electoral college by attributing Trump’s victory to Russian interference.

A major impetus for the Putin connection came with the January 2017 release of a report by the Office of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Background of Assessing Russian Activities and Intention in Recent US Elections. More than half of this short document is devoted to the Russian-sponsored RT news network, which the report treats as an illegitimate propaganda source. The organization is allegedly part of Russia’s “influence campaign…[that] aspired to help President-elect Trump’s chances of victory when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to the President-elect.” No semblance of proof is offered that there was any planned “campaign,” rather than an ongoing expression of opinion and news judgments. The same standards used to identify a Russian “influence campaign” could be applied with equal force to U.S. media and Radio Free Europe’s treatment of any Russian election—and of course, the U.S. intervention in the 1996 Russian election was overt, direct, and went far beyond any covert “influence campaign.”

Regarding more direct Russian intervention in the U.S. election, the DNI authors concede the absence of “full supporting evidence,” but in fact provide no supporting evidence at all—only speculative assertions, assumptions, and guesses. “We assess that…Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2015,” they write, designed to defeat Mrs. Clinton, and “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process,” but provide no proof of any such order. The report also contains no evidence that Russia hacked the communications of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or the emails of Clinton and former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, or that it gave hacked information to WikiLeaks. Julian Assange and former British diplomat Craig Murray have repeatedly claimed that these sources were leaked by local insiders, not hacked from outside. Veteran intelligence experts William Binney and Ray McGovern likewise contend that the WikiLeaks evidence was leaked, not hacked.20 It is also notable that of the three intelligence agencies who signed the DNI document, the National Security Agency—the agency most likely to have proof of Russian hacking and its transmission to WikiLeaks, as well as of any “orders” from Putin—only expressed “moderate confidence” in its findings.

But as with the Reds ruling Guatemala, the Soviets outpacing U.S. missile capabilities, or the KGB plotting to assassinate the pope, the Times has taken the Russian hacking story as established fact, despite the absence of hard evidence. Times reporter David Sanger refers to the report’s “damning and surprisingly detailed account of Russia’s efforts to undermine the American electoral system,” only to then acknowledge that the published report “contains no information about how the agencies had …come to their conclusions.”21 The report itself includes the astonishing statement that “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.” Furthermore, if the report was based on “intercepts of conversations” as well as on hacked computer data, as Sanger and the DNI claim, why has the DNI failed to quote a single conversation showing Putin’s alleged orders and plans?

The Times has never cited or given op-ed space to William Binney, Ray McGovern, or Craig Murray, leading dissident authorities on hacking technology, methodology, and the specifics of the DNC hacks. But room was found for Louise Mensch’s op-ed “What to Ask about Russian Hacking.” Mensch is a notorious conspiracy theorist with no relevant technical background, described by writers Nathan Robinson and Alex Nichols as best-known for “spending most of her time on Twitter issuing frenzied denunciations of imagined armies of online ‘Putinbots,'” making her “one of the least credible people on the internet.”22 But she is published in theTimes because, in contrast with the informed and credible Binney and Murray, she follows the party line, taking Russian hacking of the DNC as a premise.

The CIA’s brazen intervention in the electoral process in 2016 and 2017 broke new ground in the agency’s politicization. Former CIA head Michael Morell announced in an August 2016 op-ed in the Times: “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton,” and former CIA boss Michael Hayden published an op-ed in the Washington Post just days before the election, entitled “Former CIA Chief: Trump is Russia’s Useful Fool.” Morell had yet another op-ed in theTimes on January 6, now openly assailing the new president. These attacks were unrelievedly insulting to Trump and laudatory to Clinton, even portraying Trump as a traitor; they also made clear that Clinton’s more pugnacious stance toward Syria and Russia was preferable by far to Trump’s leanings toward negotiation and cooperation with Russia.

This was also true of the scandal surrounding former Trump Defense Intelligence nominee Michael Flynn’s telephone call with the Russian ambassador, which may have included a discussion of the incoming administration’s policy actions. The political possibilities of this interaction were quickly grasped by outgoing Obama officials, security personnel, and the mainstream media, with the FBI interrogating Flynn and with widespread expressions of horror at Flynn’s action, which could have allegedly exposed him to Russian blackmail. But such pre-inauguration meetings with Russian diplomats have been a “common practice” according to Jack Matlock, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under Reagan and Bush, and Matlock had personally arranged such a meeting for Jimmy Carter.23 Obama’s own ambassador to the country, Michael McFaul, admitted visiting Moscow for talks with officials in 2008, even before the election. Daniel Lazare has made a good case not only that the illegality and blackmail threat are implausible, but that the FBI’s interrogation of Flynn reeks of entrapment. “Yet anti-Trump liberals are trying to convince the public that it’s all ‘worse than Watergate.'”24

The political point of the DNI report thus seems to have been, at minimum, to tie the Trump administration’s hands in its dealings with Russia. Some analysts outside the mainstream have argued that we may have been witnessing an incipient spy or palace coup that fell short, but still had the desired effect of weakening the new administration.25 The Times has not offered a word of criticism of this politicization and intervention in the election process by intelligence agencies, and in fact the editors have been working with them and the Democratic Party as a loose-knit team in a distinctly un- and anti-democratic program designed to undermine or reverse the results of the 2016 election, on the pretext of alleged foreign electoral interference.

The Times and the mainstream media in general have also barely mentioned the awkward fact that the allegedly hacked disclosures of the DNC and Clinton and Podesta emails disclosed uncontested facts about real electoral manipulations on behalf of the Clinton campaign, facts that the public had a right to know and that might well have affected the election results. The focus on the evidence-free claims of a Russian hacking intrusion have helped divert attention from the real electoral abuses disclosed by the WikiLeaks material. Here again, official and mainstream media fake news helped bury real news.

Another arrow in the Russophobia quiver was a private intelligence “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent working for Orbis Business Intelligence, a private firm hired by the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump. Steele’s first report, delivered in June 2016, made numerous serious accusations against Trump, most notably that Trump had been caught in a sexual escapade in Moscow, that his political advance had been supported by the Kremlin for at least five years, under Putin’s direction, in order to sow discord within the U.S. political establishment and disrupt the Western alliance. This document was based on alleged conversations by Steele with distant (Russian) officials: that is, strictly on hearsay evidence, whose assertions, where verifiable, are sometimes erroneous.26 But it said just what the Democrats, the mainstream media, and the CIA wanted to hear, and intelligence officials accordingly declared the author “credible,” and the media lapped it up. The Times hedged somewhat on its own cooperation in this tawdry campaign by calling the report “unverified,” but nevertheless reported its claims.27

The Steele dossier also became a central part of the investigation and hearings on “Russia-gate” held by the House Intelligence Committee starting in March 2017, led by Democratic Representative Adam Schiff. While basing his opening statement on the hearsay-laden dossier, Schiff expressed no interest in establishing who funded the Steele effort, the identity and exact status of the Russian officials quoted, or how much they were paid. Apparently talking to Russians with a design of influencing an American presidential election is perfectly acceptable if the candidate supported by this intrusion is anti-Russian!

The Times has played a major role in this latest wave of Russophobia, reminiscent of its 1917–20 performance in which, as Lippmann and Merz noted in 1920, “boundless credulity, and an untiring readiness to be gulled” characterized the news-making process. While quoting the CIA’s admission that it had no hard evidence, relying instead on “circumstantial evidence” and “capabilities,” the Times was happy to describe these capabilities at great length and to imply that they proved something.28 Editorials and news articles have worked uniformly on the false supposition that Russian hacking was proved, and that the Russians had given these data to WikiLeaks, also unproven and strenuously denied by Assange and Murray.

The Times has run neck-and-neck with the Washington Post in stirring up fears of the Russian information war and illicit involvement with Trump. The Times now easily conflates fake news with any criticism of established institutions, as in Mark Scott and Melissa Eddy’s “Europe Combats a New Foe of Political Stability: Fake News,” February 20, 2017.29 But what is more extraordinary is the uniformity with which the paper’s regular columnists accept as a given the CIA’s assessment of the Russian hacking and transmission to WikiLeaks, the possibility or likelihood that Trump is a Putin puppet, and the urgent need of a congressional and “non-partisan” investigation of these claims. This swallowing of a new war-party line has extended widely in the liberal media. Both the Times and Washington Post have lent tacit support to the idea that this “fake news” threat needs to be curbed, possibly by some form of voluntary media-organized censorship or government intervention that would at least expose the fakery.

The most remarkable media episode in this anti-influence-campaign was the Post‘s piece by Craig Timberg, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” which featured a report by a group of anonymous “experts” entity called PropOrNot that claimed to have identified two hundred websites that, wittingly or not, were “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” While smearing these websites, many of them independent news outlets whose only shared trait was their critical stance toward U.S. foreign policy, the “experts” refused to identify themselves, allegedly out of fear of being “targeted by legions of skilled hackers.” As journalist Matt Taibbi wrote, “You want to blacklist hundreds of people, but you won’t put your name to your claims? Take a hike.”30 But the Post welcomed and promoted this McCarthyite effort, which might well be a product of Pentagon or CIA information warfare. (And these entities are themselves well-funded and heavily into the propaganda business.)

On December 23, 2016, President Obama signed the Portman-Murphy Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, which will supposedly allow the United States to more effectively combat foreign (namely Russian and Chinese) propaganda and disinformation. It will encourage more government counter-propaganda efforts, and provide funding to non-government entities to help in this enterprise. It is clearly a follow-on to the claims of Russian hacking and propaganda, and shares the spirit of the listing of two hundred tools of Moscow featured in the Washington Post. (Perhaps PropOrNot will qualify for a subsidy and be able to enlarge its list.) Liberals have been quiet on this new threat to freedom of speech, undoubtedly influenced by their fears of Russian-based fake news and propaganda. But they may yet take notice, even if belatedly, when Trump or one of his successors puts it to work on their own notions of fake news and propaganda.

The success of the war party’s campaign to contain or reverse any tendency to ease tensions with Russia was made dramatically clear in the Trump administration’s speedy bombing response to the April 4, 2017, Syrian chemical weapons deaths. The Times and other mainstream media editors and journalists greeted this aggressive move with almost uniform enthusiasm, and once again did not require evidence of Assad’s guilt beyond their government’s claims.31 The action was damaging to Assad and Russia, but served the rebels well.

But the mainstream media never ask cui bono? in cases like this. In 2013, a similar charge against Assad, which brought the United States to the brink of a full-scale bombing war in Syria, turned out to be a false flag operation, and some authorities believe the current case is equally problematic.32 Nevertheless, Trump moved quickly (and illegally), dealing a blow to any further rapprochement between the United States and Russia. The CIA, the Pentagon, leading Democrats, and the rest of the war party had won an important skirmish in the struggle over permanent war.