If all of us rolled down our car windows at 5 pm on weekdays, we would hear a single great voice booming out across the land as if God himself were thundering from the heavens. In reality it would be countless car radios beaming out in unison “All Things Considered,” sometimes known as “Small Things Considered,” so stunted is its coverage of the news. Such jokes abound, “Boring Edition” at morning commute time, with the whole operation labeled “National Propaganda Radio” or “National Pentagon Radio.” My contribution: “National Pablum Radio.”
But NPR is no joking matter; it reaches over 20 million listeners a week. (Rush claims to reach 15 million, 25% less, and even this is apparently, but not surprisingly, hard to verify.) By comparison, the Wall Street Journal has a daily circulation of somewhat over 2 million, The New York Times a little under 2 million and USA Today about 1.6 million. So NPR has enormous reach and influence in the constellation of the mainstream media. Its drive time “news” programs , “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,“ carried by almost all of its 900 member stations are its most popular fare. How could it be otherwise? The listeners are hermetically sealed in their cars for hours each day at these times.
NPR’s coverage of foreign affairs and of the wars of the U.S. Empire is especially nefarious. FAIR and other organizations dutifully and routinely plod through NPR coverage to document bias, an eminently worthwhile project. But such reports come too late to help immunize the average listener. We need a quick and easy way of seeing through the fog of NPR. Fortunately there is such a way: If we simply stop and think with some care about what we are hearing, we will discover it is the grinding day upon day repetition of imperial propaganda. The key is active skepticism, and we badly need to cultivate it in ourselves and our friends.
Let’s take a recent feature as an example. On April 22, Robert Siegal of Small Things Considered went for deep analysis of the situation in Yemen and the Middle East. He interviewed Nicholas Burns, a “professor” now at the Kennedy School of Imperialism (often mislabeled as the School of Government) at Dear Old Harvard. One might think Burns a non-government source, a good professor seeking the truth. Not so. Burns, before he was put out to pasture in that graveyard of Has Beens in Cambridge, “served” in the State Department at the highest levels under Bush I, the Clintons and Bush II. (At the very end of the feature Siegal hastily adds that Burns is “formerly of the State Department.”)
Here is a central item from this interview, found in full here:
SIEGAL: Where does Washington figure in all of this? Well, we’re going to ask Nicholas Burns. ……
BURNS: You know, I think President Obama has a really tough challenge in the Middle East. There are four states in a period of disintegration, in freefall – of course, you know about Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen….. But when you have four states in open civil war, that is a Middle East that we haven’t seen really in a hundred years, since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.
Let’s stop right there. First of all, that there are failed states all over the Middle East is not great insight.
The real question is why the failed states. But does Siegal ask, or does Burns volunteer, where all this instability came from? Not on your life. But we all know the answer. We all know that Iraq and Libya were stable states before the US and its allies bombed them to smithereens and overthrew the regimes there, the one in Libya having at that time the highest Human Development Index in all of Africa. Syria was also stable until the American ambassador appeared in the streets of Damascus joining those calling for the overthrow of Assad, Hillary’s so-called Syrian “moderates,” and until Obama began braying for Assad to go. Obama’s bombing of Syria, however, never commenced, because the British and US public said “no,” and both British Parliament and US Congress, feeling the pressure from below, also said “no.” But beneath the surface, the Yankee destabilization of Syria continued. Finally, Yemen has been the poster child for US drone attacks, which alienated the entire population who then forced out the US puppet president. The panicky Saudi bombing of Yemen backed by the US followed and continues.
So Siegal might have said the following:
SIEGAL: “Good God, Burns, what have you imperial mandarins done? Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, close to 2 million due to war and sanctions in Iraq alone. How can you live with yourself. Should you not be hauled off forthwith to the ICC, along with your collaborators at State and “Defense”? It is an embarrassment to have a war criminal of your likes on this program. I apologize to my listeners. I will have to consider resigning.”
Of course Siegal did not say that.
What did Siegal say?
SIEGEL: Picking up on your observation that the four countries in the region are in freefall – Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen – should the United States be committed to the integrity of these countries if they don’t seem to have the sticking power to hold together?
Here Siegal passes from insipid to astonishing!
Should the US be “committed to the integrity of these countries if they do not have the sticking power to hold together, he asks”? Does he mean the “sticking power” obliterated under US assault? Can a reasonably intelligent listener not discern this perversion of the truth? Of course he or she can. But to do so requires a skeptical, questioning ear. This is the “ear” which we should be cultivating in ourselves. In Eastern Europe the skeptical ear was well developed and it gave rise to reams of ridicule of the offending regimes. We are badly in need of the same.
Such reportage is hawked every day by Siegal and the other snake oil peddlers holding forth on the airwaves of NPR. In the face of this, “Do not believe everything you hear on the radio” is sound advice. Let us ask ourselves when listening to reportage from afar on NPR: Is the obvious being omitted – until it is forgotten? Is the “expert” in fact a member of the ruling imperial elite, whether in government or in one of the imperial think tanks? And is there context and history being offered? (NPR pats itself on the back incessantly, especially during fundraising, claiming that its listeners are superior beings and that it offers “depth,” “context” and “questioning.” It does nothing of the sort for foreign affairs, as one can readily see in this exchange. )
With a skeptical stance the propaganda melts away and NPR is neutralized. Such neutralization may be a matter of life and death, since the imperial mandarins and their media lackeys are hell bent on driving us into an ever more disastrous course, one that may lead to WWIII.
This writer would like to focus regularly on examples of NPR’s misdeeds and propaganda. We need an NPR Watch – desperately. So if you encounter a news atrocity, send it to this writer with your comments. And please include the transcript, both quote and URL, along with comments.
John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com