By Stephen Gowans
It’s easy to rail against The Times of London, The Telegraph, Canada’s The National Post and scores of US equivalents for being the worst kind of purveyors of right-wing propaganda. These advocates of all that is backward, with their philosophy of unremitting indulgence for the rich and limitless harshness for the poor, wear their reactionary, jingoist attitudes on their sleeves. They strive to be “in your face” – and are. But because they make no secret of their right-wing prejudices, their propaganda value in the larger population is approximately zero. These newspapers consciously cater to a right-wing constituency. There’s no need to worry about stumbling into ideological mine fields here; the mine field has been conveniently fenced off and bright warning signs have been deployed along the periphery.
More dangerous, like a mine field cleverly concealed beneath an inviting patch of turf sporting signs reading: “Please walk on the grass” are the respectable, seemingly balanced, quality newspapers. They share the same right-wing prejudices, but skillfully disguise them and package them to be palatable to those who aren’t inclined to spout right-wing shibboleths. Chomsky, Herman and others have been dissecting the reporting of these newspapers – the New York Times in particular – to show that the biases of so-called liberal media tilt just as strongly toward ruling class interests as their unabashedly right-wing counterparts do. The genius of the liberal media lies in reproducing ruling class ideology without seeming to – the deception aided by their being starkly different on the surface from their conspicuously right-wing cousins.
The same can be said of progressive and radical sources of information. In societies dominated by hereditary capitalist families and corporate wealth there are few places hived off from the influence of those who own the society’s productive assets. One way in which the corporate ruling class extends its influence to the progressive and radical communities is through buffer organizations. Buffer organizations include foundations, as well as government agencies that have names that appeal to traditional progressive concerns about peace and democracy. The United States Institute for Peace, for example, sounds like it might engage in the kind of work progressives can applaud, but is a buffer organization of the US State Department and Pentagon. The National Endowment for Democracy, which claims to promote democratization around the world, appears to be engaged in praiseworthy work, but works to destabilize foreign countries whose economic policies are not conducive to the interests of US investment banks and corporations.
It is through these buffer organizations that wealthy individuals like billionaire financier George Soros and former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, hereditary capitalist families like the Fords, Rockefellers and Carnegies, and the governments they dominate, connect with the progressive community. These connections reach into sources of progressive and radical news and analysis.
Consider two recent examples. Last March, Z-Net published an article on Zimbabwe by a founding member of the Movement for Democratic Change, a coalition of foreign-funded civil society organizations that came together in 2000 to oppose Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF government as it was about to embark on a program of fast-track land reform. The leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, acknowledged in 2002 that the MDC is funded by the British government and European corporations. Both Washington and London have since openly admitted to bankrolling Zimbabwe’s opposition and its civil society adjuncts. The author of the piece, Grace Kwinjeh, who has traveled to Washington on George Soros’ tab to confer with Washington’s regime changers on how to get rid of the Mugabe government, failed to acknowledge her MDC credentials, passing herself off as an independent journalist (kind of like Donald Rumsfeld writing commentary on US elections for a Zimbabwean audience while pretending to be an independent US journalist.) To give the article a radical feel, Patrick Bond added his name as co-author. Bond had assured progressives in a Counterpunch article last year that the Western funded Zimbabwean underground movements Zvakwana and Sokwanele, which count among their number “a conservative white businessman expressing a passion for freedom, tradition, polite manners and the British Royals” represent an “independent” left. In Bond’s and Kwinjeh’s lexicon, “US/British funded fifth columnist” equals “independent.”
In April, MRZine published an article titled “China still a small player in Africa,” by Firoze Manji, the director of Fahamu and editor of Pambazuka News. Pambazuka News operates on grants from the Ford Foundation and George Soros. Fahamu is backed by the US Congress-funded Media Institute of Southern Africa, the European Union, and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. (You can read Bond on Pambazuka News, too.)
How far does Grace Kwinjeh stray from the views of the MDC when she’s masquerading as an independent journalist, and how far do the views of the MDC stray from its regime change underwriters in Washington and London? Are Manji’s views independent of the corporate foundations, wealthy individuals and imperialist governments who allow Pambazuka News and Fahamu to operate, and provide him a remunerative and interesting job?
You don’t have to log onto Z-Net to find out what the MDC’s views are and you don’t need to read MRZine to discover what the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, George Soros and the Ford Foundation think about Africa. But if you go to these sources directly, you know what you’re getting into. Not so if you go to Z-Net and MRZine; you might think you’re getting an “independent” left view, but you could be getting a ruling class view, repackaged to be leftist-friendly. This mine field doesn’t come with warning signs.