September 08, 2009

Manufacturing Consent, Updated

I've been reading Glenn Greenwald's blog for a long time, from the days when it was just a lonely, detached site floating in the blogosphere to its present, prominent position on In the old days it was called "Unclaimed Territory," and that's still the general idea. Glenn has found a niche from which to bedevil and harass the Establishment Pundits, and he has a great time doing it.

I would say that he has two central themes. The first is that Beltway Conventional Wisdom, that consensus of elite opinion formed by the politicians and the toadying journalists who "cover" them, often varies to a marked degree from the general consensus of opinion among Ordinary Americans, that irrelevant cohort the politicians nominally represent but ignore completely when it gets in the way of instructions from their corporate lobbyist masters. The second idea Glenn pounds away at is the general sense that the Media-Political Complex has developed a kind of self-protective ethos which refuses to impose any sort of accountability or responsibility on the elites (Media or Political) so long as the act in question is (a) performed by one of them and (b) consistent with the Beltway Conventional Wisdom.

A couple of examples suffice to illustrate the ideas. On the torture question, the Establishment Punditocracy, such as David Broder of the Washington Post, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek or Joe Klein (famous anonymous author of Primary Colors) argue against any sort of investigation or prosecution of Bush officials (including the low-level CIA interrogators who will apparently be the "target" of Eric Holder's Abu Ghraib style whitewash) is a "criminalization of policy differences," "retributive," and altogether Not Done. By and large, Barack Obama has gone along with the Beltway approach, although he hems and haws as if he were seriously considering doing something else (he won't, under the principle that past criminal acts are not the proper subject of present prosecution; only future possible acts should be punished now through preventive detention of those who are not presently guilty but might be if we give them a chance. If you have any doubt that we now live completely in an Orwellian universe, re-read that last part and absorb that it describes present reality).

The torture in question includes waterboarding, but also many other things which have been done to detainees in the Great War on Terror which clearly violate the Geneva Conventions. These are war crimes and felonies under U.S. and international law. There's no serious debate about that anymore. We're not going to do anything about it, however, and thus the Obama Administration has decided to violate the mandatory provisions of the Convention Against Torture (signed by Reagan) which require that we do.

In that last sentence I previewed the trick (I like to think of it as a technique) which Glenn uses over and over to nail the Beltway Blowhards. Glenn's a lawyer turned writer but he has not forgotten a basic technique of cross-examination: the restatement of the effect of words used by the person testifying. Broder, Alter, Klein, et al write in high-minded prose about the pressing needs of the country and echo (or originate) the call to "look forward" which Barack also originated (or now echoes) rather than back at the past, and to excuse the excesses (as they're daintily called) of the Bush Gang to avoid a partisan fight which spoils the happy camaraderie at the cocktail parties in Georgetown the "journalists" and politicians all like to attend together. This stuff sounds good, I guess, but what Glenn does is to restate their position in ways that make these self-regarding "liberals" squirm with discomfort. Greenwald writes that their position is one of "insistence that there be no investigations" and that political elites must never be held to the same standards regarding criminality which apply to all other Americans. This is what Broder/Alter/Klein are actually arguing, but they can't stand the idea of another journalist calling them on their shit so blatantly, so inescapably. So lately (and this is the fun part) Alter (who's writing a book on Obama and doesn't want to mess up his access) and Klein (at least these two) have begun a kind of vendetta against Greenwald to discredit him as "irresponsible" and "untrustworthy." Of course, what else could he be: he's not one of the Insiders.

All of which Greenwald simply reproduces in his own column.

The other theme running through Greenwald's blogs is similar to the first but slightly different. This is the idea that the actual consensus of opinion in the United States is other than what it is, and the difference results from the refraction of reality through the prism of Beltway priorities. Glenn hilariously dissects a recent "round table" on Meet the Press where Tom Friedman (the neocons' darling at the NY Times), Harold Ford Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Tom Brokaw "debate" the Afghanistan war. As Glenn points out, 57% of the American populace now oppose this dumb war but you would never, for a second, deduce this reality from listening to these guys talk. All that is discussed in such a round table are the nuances of how we should continue the war indefinitely. Friedman, in passing and between Serious Pronouncements, made a point of attacking the Internet, and one can imagine why. Before blogging became so dominant, Porn-Stache Tom (h/t: Matt Taiibi) never had his sacred texts challenged by the hoi polloi at large, such as his shameless cheerleading for the Iraq invasion (in which he said that the real purpose of the invasion was to say to the Muslim world: "Suck..On..This"). Thanks to the many in the Blogosphere who have challenged his poorly written screeds, we now know that he's (a) completely inconsistent and (b) a dim bulb who should not be setting policy for the local Rotary Club, let alone Washington, D.C. The incredible damage he has done with his airhead pontificating in favor of Flat World trade policies and unnecessary, ruinously expensive invasions makes one tremble for the country. This guy is an Opinion Maker?

I don't know if Glenn appreciates how much of the theoretical groundwork for his writing was laid by the erratic genius Noam Chomsky, but I think Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent presaged a lot of what Greenwald is doing. Chomsky was ahead of his time and seemed radical in suggesting that the "range" of opinion among a few corporately-held media outlets and the politicians they kowtow to for access would inevitably narrow until, for example, the two choices for Aghanistan become (1) increasing the disaster with more troops and money or (2) maintaining the disaster by simply doing what we're doing ad infinitum. Doing something sane and logical, like packing up and leaving, is not something, as Glenn says archly, that Serious people in the Beltway ever consider. Chomsky's nightmare vision is now our everyday reality. Prophets are rarely honored in their time.

1 comment:

  1. John Read8:39 PM

    Most people seem to have forgotten why we sent troops to Afghanistan in the first place. It wasn't to liberate the Afhani from the Taliban, nor to find weapons of mass destruction, or to make the country into a nicer place. It was to get our hands on Osama and beat the crap out of him. We need to refocus on that noble goal and stop fighting the Taliban.