I have been very open about the fact that I like the work of Matt Taibbi. For one thing, I started reading his stuff long before I even knew that he worked at The eXile. Now obviously there is a lot of problematic things with that, but since then Matt has gone on to do some genuinely great work, and he’s got a very entertaining style as well. So naturally I found this recent tweet a little odd:
Naturally, Taibbi got a lot of flak for that, largely because of who he was retweeting. Johnstone calls herself a “rogue journalist” (translation: not really a journalist at all) who has become known for lecturing the American left (she’s Australian) about how they need to work with the “anti-establishment” right to defeat the “empire” or some such Duginist bullshit. Now in all fairness to Johnstone, she claimed she wasn’t in favor of leftists working with the alt-right, but rather working with figures like Mike Cernovich, who doesn’t identify as alt-right and is often feuding with some people who do. That being said, that argument is stupid and Cernovich is a total scumbag who supports Trump, alt-right or not. Don’t take it from me though, just look at what definitely-not-a-neocon Ben Norton had to say about this:
Now back to Taibbi, who said that people should consider the argument and not who made it, i.e. Johnstone. I wholeheartedly agree- almost anyone can be right on the busted clock principle alone so let’s just leave Johnstone out of this entirely and focus on the argument itself.
First of all let’s just toss out this notion that more diversity in the “mainstream media” would “silence RT.” RT, like Sputnik, are now money making schemes for people like Margarita Simonyan and countless other people on the take. Margarita is on record comparing RT to an information weapon. According to her, it needs funding for the same reason the Ministry of Defense needs funding,
to protect the privileged status of Russia’s tiny elite to “defend” against the dastardly West that hates Russia for no reason.
“The information weapon, of course, is used in critical moments, and war is always a critical moment. And it’s war. It’s a weapon like any other. Do you understand? And to say, why do we need it — it’s about the same as saying: ‘Why do we need the Ministry of Defense, if there is no war?’ –Margarita Simonyan
Now I get that the argument in question is actually implying that if people in the West see more anti-war or let’s say “anti-establishment” voices on their mainstream networks, RT’s audience will dry up and then perhaps the Russian government will start cutting its funding and maybe shutting down bureaus. I can tell you this is bullshit just based on the words of Simonyan I alluded to above.
More importantly, RT doesn’t have a massive audience or following anywhere. Plenty of people have pointed this out in the past. This is why they constantly harp on their Youtube views, despite the fact that their top hundred most-viewed videos include maybe two that have anything to do with Russian politics, and all their channels combined are dwarfed by the audience of a racist Swedish moron who screams at video games.
No, it’s not a lack of audience or ratings that would kill RT’s funding. If anything keeps it in business it’s alarmist quotes from Western leaders and think tank “information warriors” that make it out at something to be feared. RT’s editors actually collect these quotes and celebrate them, as they did in the end of a video celebrating their 10-year anniversary in 2015.
This is not to say that opening up “mainstream” media to more diverse voices, especially anti-war voices when a possible war looms on the horizon, wouldn’t reduce RT’s audience; it just wouldn’t make RT go away. Even if they were bereft of a significant audience because viewers flocked back to “mainstream media” outlets in droves to see more “anti-war” voices, the Russian government would still need to get out its message in service of its foreign policy goals.
See without outside influence, a lot of American and other Western “dissident” types would tend to ignore many issues of great importance to the Kremlin. Were it not for a major Russian propaganda offensive, very few Americans would pay any attention to Ukraine, for example, because that is simply not important to them. In order to make sure people outside of Russia believe that Ukraine is run by gay Jewish Nazis or that the Russian domestic opposition is a CIA front (controlled by gay Jewish Nazi CIA handlers), the Kremlin would need to keep broadcasting its messaging. And so they would, no matter how few people are actually watching.
But as soon as we debunk that part of the argument we get into the bigger problem- what does it mean to give a platform to “alternative views,” including antiwar views? To dissect this we need to first understand that for the left at least, we still haven’t woken up to the fact that a lot of us have been viewing global politics via the prism of 2002-2003, i.e. the invasion of Iraq, for far too long. It was in the run-up to that war that we saw what future historians ought to call The Great Failure of the American Media (specifically American media since international media, including some international versions of US networks, was often more critical or even-handed). Pretty much everyone above a certain age knows this story- in the aftermath of 9/11 news networks didn’t want to appear “unpatriotic.” Fox News was banging the drums of war as loudly as possible and other networks began tailing them. This led to such disturbing actions such as the firing of Phil Donahue from MSNBC and deliberately stacking talk shows with pro-war guests.
But while US media outlets still have their biases towards military interventions of all kinds, one can’t pretend that the political landscape in regards to war is the same as it was under Bush post-9/11, because it just plain isn’t. In the last presidential election, Hillary Clinton was smeared as the “war-mongering” candidate, while conservatives actually started criticizing the Iraq War (to be fair the far-right paleo-conservatives always did that). Sean Hannity, a man who spent years spewing white-hot vitriol at anti-war voices under Bush and on occasion even claimed Iraqi WMDs had been discovered well after the US government reported that they had not, has become Donald Trump’s biggest defender in spite of his repeated isolationist statements. In fact if we go back to 2013, when Assad’s forces first used chemical weapons on a large scale, we see that while Republicans did mostly back the idea of military intervention to punish the regime, they seemed to be mostly in favor of cruise missile strikes or the use of other weapons that wouldn’t endanger American lives. In the end Obama couldn’t find support for any real intervention and ended up making a deal with Putin that obviously didn’t work. Less than a year later, the Obama administration advised Ukraine’s new government to stand down and not resist the Russian takeover of the Crimea even when Ukrainian forces could have spoiled the annexation plan. Even as Putin expanded his aggression with a war in the Donbas, the US administration held fast to its assertion that there was no military solution to the crisis. Putin clearly didn’t see it that way.
Nowadays the situation is quite different. One day we hear Trump is talking about pulling out of Syria as fast as possible, and then a few weeks later he’s launching cruise missiles at Damascus, but very politely warning the regime’s Russian allies well in advance. Before each of Trump’s strikes on Syria (2017, 2018), much of the radical left went into Iraq-era hysterics about war-mongering, often arguing against an Iraq-like ground invasion that nobody had even seriously suggested. I’m sad to say that around the time of the most recent strikes there was a Chapo Trap House episode on the subject that made me cringe because of the bad arguments. But it’s not their problem- the whole Western left, largely because it is stuck in the Cold War, the Iraq War era, or often a combination of both, just plain sucks when it comes to foreign policy. And here’s where we get to the whole problem of having anti-war guests on mainstream outlets.
You see, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq this was a pretty straightforward thing. You could find highly qualified critics of the Bush administration’s case for war who weren’t even necessarily motivated by an anti-war or pacifist ideology. It was a simple matter of the administration trying to make the case that Iraq posed a credible threat to the US and its allies due to its possession of WMDs and programs to acquire bigger, more powerful WMDs, ie nuclear weapons. Many of the claims they would put forth could be roundly debunked at the time, such as the case of the aluminum tubes. Sure they could have brought on ideological opponents of the war like Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges (who by my research appeared on Charlie Rose’s program prior to the invasion), but there were plenty of guests they could have brought on to debunk administration claims based on technical expertise alone. They did not, with disastrous consequences for the whole world.
Today, however, the situation is quite different. Today many people who call themselves anti-war, be they left or right, are often cheering for or at least excusing some other war, either in Syria or somewhere else. If a self-proclaimed “anti-war” guest engages in rationalizing Bashar al Assad’s violence (arguably aggression since he started retaking territory in 2016 rather than suing for peace) or Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, how can they honestly be called anti-war? Oh sure, they’re against the wars you don’t like, but you can’t call them “anti-war.” More importantly for the network, they can’t honestly claim such a guest is anti-war.
Another problem is that in contrast to the potential anti-war guests you might have had back in 2002 and early 2003, nowadays it’s often the so-called “anti-war” guests who, like Caitlin Johnstone, traffic in conspiracy theories that are often generated by the propaganda mills of the Assad regime or their Russian allies (or worseworse). Everything is now a “false flag,” with seven or eight “alternative” explanations being generated sometimes in the space of a week. How can a media company be more ethical by inviting on a person who bases their case against military intervention on a conspiracy theory put out by some Kremlin or Syrian government source, when one can find numerous other theories of the same event, some of which contradict that guest’s particular narrative? Should they maybe bring on two such anti-war guests, one that says there was no chemical attack in Douma and another who says there was a chemical attack but it was carried out by the White Helmets, and let them duke it out on air?
See the problem is that in the run-up to the Iraq War, the Bush administration was making extraordinary claims and failing to provide adequate evidence. As such there were a lot of legitimate anti-war guests they could have brought on. Yet I don’t know any rational opponent of the Iraq War who insists that mainstream media outlets should have brought on 9/11 truthers whose “criticism” of the administration’s case for war was that it was based on a false flag attack carried out by the government itself.
And speaking of false flags, that brings us to another problem- why stop at anti-war guests? There’s no doubt a significant portion of RT’s audience that also listens to Infowars- should mainstream media outlets be inviting Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson on more often to steal some of that demographic from the green monster in Moscow? I know what they could do- next time there’s a mass shooting (there’s possibly one happening as I write this) somewhere in the US they could do a live call with a stringer on site and Alex Jones on the other line. The local stringer can pass on the first responders’ report on the incident while Jones explains how the inter-dimensional demons engineered yet another false flag attack to justify a total gun ban that they forgot to pass after the previous 132 mass shootings in the past few years. That would definitely sap some of RT’s audience!
And you know what? A lot of neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists also apparently love RT, so you know what that means! Now we’ve got to invite more Western neo-Nazis on mainstream media outlets to sap RT’s ratings even further. Well okay, the mainstream media has kind of been doing that already, but you get the idea.
Lastly, I should point out that these days you do see more anti-war or anti-government voices on TV, just not in any way that is helpful. Take Glenn Greenwald’s numerous appearances on Fox News, for example. Should leftists all flock to Fox News? Hell they’d probably be better off sticking with RT- watching five minutes of Sean Hannity has always made me want to punch through the screen whereas Mark Sleboda is just a really silly dude* who inspired one of the greatest memes among Russia watchers.
In all seriousness here, we need to address a much bigger problem in media these days, one that Matt Taibbi has actually written about for quite some time now. Namely, it is the problem of media reorganizing itself to provide consumers with precisely the version of reality they prefer. Taibbi has taken this conversation a step further taken this conversation a step further by writing about how Facebook is now arguably a “de facto media regulator.” Even long before reading that article I noticed how platforms like Facebook and Youtube would recommend pages and videos, respectively, that linked to highly questionable content. And of course if you clicked on any of that, you’d get more recommendations for similar content. Whereas with Fox News you might be forced to occasionally see something that challenges your worldview, the internet gives you the ability to totally block out any contradictory information to the point where you can be confident that the Earth is actually flat, or #QAnon seems like a plausible source of information.
My point is simply that we may have passed a point of no return where simply improving the diversity of opinion in the mainstream media won’t improve anything. RT’s head office could get sucked into a black hole tomorrow and we’d still be just as thoroughly screwed as we have been in the past few years. If anything the problem with people tuning into RT (I have never known anyone who regularly does this) is really just a symptom of that much larger problem. If they’re going to RT to hear the latest false-flag theory about MH17 or the Skripal poisoning, we’re not going to solve anything by airing such bullshit theories on CNN. All we’d be doing is further poisoning an already extremely toxic media space.
So would more anti-war voices help anything? Sure- I’m all for it so long as the anti-war guests are legitimately anti-war, and more importantly, if their arguments are based in reality and not bullshit unfalsifiable conspiracy theories. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.
So I have to say I think Taibbi really swung and missed on this issue, but I know he knows better because he’s written entire books on this kind of problem.
*A silly dude who really wants you to know he has a CRIMEAN WIFE. Never forget, you Western pig whores!