On the sixth of August, 2015, the same night that Donald Trump participated in his first Republican Party Presidential Debate, the final episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart played before an American electorate who were about to forsake their political innocence. In a nation that had long since replaced any semblance of culture with electronic media—and with television in particular—propagandizing the public through mass communication ought to be a most straightforward task. The insouciant Stewart, though, had a decidedly rosier perspective of this American vulnerability: “Bullshitters,” he said in his valedictory speech, “have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected, and looking for it is kind-of a pleasant way to pass the time.” In one sense, not only was he right, but prescient: the underground media, defined by its relentless assault on the neoliberal-neoconservative charade, has flourished in the Trumpish Age. It has run parallel to the corporate media, whose humiliating descent into neo-McCarthyism and hysterical fearmongering have made for easy satire and critical assessment.
However, we the underwriters often preach to the choir for reasons that Stewart inadvertently reveals: “Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy,” he says, implying correctly that the mainstream media’s misinformation used to be more detailed and practiced than it is today. Unfortunately, one could not observe this qualitative decline without first having some familiarity with the media of yesteryear. A person coming into form intellectually today would be incapable, at least initially, of telling the difference. It is this manufactured ignorance that troubles me: although it most likely can be overcome through traditional reading and research, there is always the remote possibility that sustained experience in an environment of intellectual suffocation will inflict lasting damage on one’s cognitive faculties. At the very least, it is one additional and unnecessary layer of manipulation to smother the mind, a few more degrees of inclination added to what is already an arduous uphill climb. Perhaps, as Stewart claims, the mediocrity of the system, accentuated by the omnipresence of the system, will be its undoing, and in optimistic moods I am tempted to agree, but I have known and been convinced by darker visions, too.
In producing their pap so sloppily, the corporate journalists betray a glacial self-assurance, as if to say they know their readers demand nothing better. CNN published an especially perfunctory piece eight days ago, one which was swiftly lost amidst relentless coverage of the Democratic National Convention. Written by Zachary Cohen and Marshall Cohen, the former of whom is prestigiously christened “CNN National Security Reporter”, the article touches on the cadaver of a failed scandal in the doomed and desperate hope of resurrecting it. “Trump Retweets Russian Propaganda about Biden that U.S. Intel Agencies Say is Intended to Influence 2020 Election”, the essay’s prolix title awkwardly informs us, with the superfluous and mildly insulting reminder that “propaganda about Biden”, a presidential candidate, presumably would be “intended to influence” the current election. This also happens to be the only informative section of the entire document, as neither Cohen finds it necessary to explain what the propaganda is.
For almost a year, we have listened to vocal consternation for this malicious “Russian propaganda about Biden”, propaganda so vile and unholy that it cannot be detailed, even in a purely academic context. I am sincerely unsure if I have ever read a single commentator in the American corporate press describe the accusations against Biden. This information appears to be more scandalous than the scandal itself, and while very few Americans are privy to it, and while even fewer can describe it in complete sentences, enough legislators were sufficiently incensed by its reputation to attempt to impeach President Trump, who committed the crime of propagating it. Americans will never be famous for their scholarly diligence, but the multilayered ignorance of this saga is astounding, and quite likely a pessimistic preview of the comprehensive censorship that will be come in this decade. Soon, the so-called “Russian propaganda about Biden”, which I gladly summarized eleven months ago, will be not only taboo, but illegal, and the Cohens, who are already paid to conceal the crimes of party bosses, will happily perform the same dirty work they are doing today.
Technically, we are speaking not of a campaign to erase information, but to harness it and redirect it to serve the ambitions of the American government. How else would the Cohens write in praise, and sans even incidental self-awareness, of “relevant U.S. agencies [that] have adopted a whole-of-government approach focused on countering foreign disinformation”? So rigid are they in their partisanship, they don’t even perceive the irony of their punchline: “There seems to be no plan in place for addressing false information coming from the President himself.” The Cohens, and all of the apologists for the state, write themselves into a corner when they attempt to describe American governmental agencies as monolithic structures functioning independently of human involvement, as such a conception, and the technocratic trust that they invest within it, is incompatible with their hatred for Trump. In all likelihood, they recognize this contradiction, and the broader incoherence of their arguments, but their task is not to be thoughtful: their task is to train their gullible readers in this habit of dysfunctional reasoning.
Consider the readers’ interest in the subject: if they don’t know what the “Russian propaganda” is, then why would they want to read an article about it? They want to read it because the people they trust, the writers and commentators working for CNN, told them one year ago that Trump, whom they despise more than any other person currently living, may be impeached for disseminating this propaganda. Questions about the substance of this propaganda, and any legal protections that might be afforded such dissemination through the First Amendment, were irrelevant from the beginning, just as the patent illegality of the case against Julian Assange was far beside the point, because the only issue of importance was removing Trump from office. Why did the Cohens’ readers believe that this was so important? Because the Cohens and their colleagues have spent the last five years declaring, with a most unprofessionally animated passion, the singularity of the threat Trump poses to the American republic. If this supposed danger is legitimately unique, then how have the Cohens illustrated his departure from the policies established by previous presidents, especially members of the Republican Party? We haven’t the time to answer that question because Trump has retweeted Russian propaganda.
Cohen and Cohen exploit their readers’ naivete, as well as their readers’ well-intentioned concern for their country’s successful stability, and lead them into a state of desperation. They bully them with hateful agitprop and discourage them from trying to understand what they are reading. Many of the corporate journalists working today operate with a similarly disdainful expectation of their readers’ abilities, depending on their ignorance of everything but a few linguistic symbols, each of them politically charged. When the benighted bourgeoisie read the words “Trump”, “Biden”, and “Russian propaganda” in a single sentence, they immediately think back to Ukrainegate, and their repeated instruction, courtesy of unreliable pedagogues like the Cohens, inspires indignation and outrage in them. The Cohens do not inform, educate, or even entertain: they produce propaganda for one of the two major American political parties, and rather cursory propaganda, at that. There is nothing one could learn from their essay that one couldn’t glean from the unimaginative title—unless, of course, one wants to learn what is wrong with the corporate media.
Unlike the Cohens, I want my readers to educate themselves, so I’ve included a link to the article referenced herein: