“If wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth.” — Julian Assange
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world has witnessed one war after another, started by the US and its NATO allies, some argue, because of the collapse of the former USSR. Although that might be true, as the USSR certainly did serve as a balancing force against western powers, another reason why the world has been engulfed by wars is also definitely because of the death of real journalism in the western mainstream media which, arguably, still dominates the news world—though its ability to shape people’s perceptions is declining by the day. Because without real journalism, people remain misinformed and can thus be easily coerced into wars under false pretences and, in cases, not even be aware altogether that their governments are waging wars using their tax money.
But what is “real journalism”? That itself some would say is subjective. So here is my view—real journalism is the pursuit of truth. No matter what it is.
It is no secret that being human, we all have our own biases as well as limitations to overcome those biases and, perhaps, even a willingness to do so, never mind our abilities. But real journalism, similar to the truth, should not be subjected to our own prejudices (to the maximum possible extent), be that ideological, political (party-centric), racial, social, etc. As someone once brilliantly said, “reality is what it is, not what you want it to be.” Similarly, the truth is what it IS. Not what we want it to be.
You could argue that there can be infinite ways of interpreting something, but I would argue that some things only have limited useful interpretations. For instance, you could argue about the nature of reality as scientists, including some working for NASA, have recently said that all evidence point to the fact that we live in a holographic universe, similar to a video game. But the fact is, if you jump off a rooftop, you die (physically at least, according to our understanding), no matter how you interpret the nature of reality, even if the universe is only a video game, it’s game-over. That is TRUTH.
This is why, I believe, that journalism is most useful when it deals with the truth, you could say, facts—notwithstanding that subjectivism does come into play at certain stages—and we can go on and on but for the sake of brevity, let’s end there.
But this is why real journalism is supposed to take us places where we do not want to go, not even real journalists, but where we must, if the TRUTH is truly what we desire to discover and then, only then, perhaps hope to disseminate. Why? I can go on endlessly about this too, but to make a long story short, here is a quote from Canadian Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology (formerly at Harvard), Dr Jordan Peterson:
“Reality is the truth, and how are you going to adapt to it without using the truth? Well, the problem is that reality is the terrible truth, but it is certainly possible that the terrible truth is its own medicine.”
Back to journalism—the death of real journalism in the western mainstream press did not happen overnight. It had been planned, thoroughly thought out and exceptionally well executed. As former CIA director William Casey said in 1981,
“We’ll know our disinformation programme is complete when everything the American public believe is false.”
And, of course, the media has been the primary choice of weapon in achieving that goal. For those who would like to delve deeper into this, I would encourage you to do some research on Operation Mockingbird and other programmes of similar nature.
As regards the times we live in, Wikileaks has done a phenomenal job of exposing, for instance, how numerous western journalists from every news outlet you can think of were, let’s say, willing to “bend” the truth to promote their candidate of choice, namely Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the run-up to the last US elections. And they did so by publishing official government documents (and communications between officials and others) which contained nothing but facts.
For example, in one batch of the Podesta Emails, Clinton’s campaign handlers can be seen discussing the “placing” of stories in the media using “friendly journalists”. One email explicitly says,
“we are all in agreement that the time is right [to] place a story with a friendly journalist in the coming days…For something like this…we feel that it’s important to go with what is safe and what has worked in the past, and to a publication that will reach industry people for recruitment purposes. We have has [sic] a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed.”
Moreover, Wikileak’s Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange has also shown how US journalists in hordes belong to the same think tanks or organisations such as the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested (with evidence) by some to have enormous influence over US foreign policy. Does this not indicate a conflict of interest, or the danger of conformity at the very least?
Unfortunately, journalists in large numbers across the world have blindly followed their cue and amplified the lies or “planted” stories, I would suggest, more innocently than maliciously, as one cannot expect incurious and uncritical minds to dig too deep to discover what is true, especially when millions of dollars are spent packaging those lies. When the priority of journalists, and that of the news outlets, becomes making money—especially from big business and government—one problem the truth faces is, as Upton Sinclair once said:
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
Even more unfortunately, it is because of such conformity that the lies have led to one war after another. The Iraq War was instigated by the lie of weapons of mass destruction. That in Afghanistan with lies about 9/11 (for more on this, see my article: What Really Happened on 9/11. Post-mortem of the “Official Story”), so on and so forth. But what else can you expect when 90 percent of all media in the US is owned by only five corporations?
At the same time, let us not forget that there are some incredible journalists all across the world whose jobs have been made more difficult by the corporate media and its lies, but who have done some fantastic work despite great personal risks. In the Syrian War, for example, hundreds of Syrian journalists such as Danny Makki, Afra Dagher and others (many of whom have died) have done a brilliant job by exposing the lies that have allowed foreign interests to continue waging war against their nation, all the while the global media twists and presents it as a “civil war” to the rest of the world to keep it going.
Not only Syrian journalists, there were also others such as Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett who speaks fluent Arabic and has visited Syria numerous times to report the truth, despite her close encounter (at least) once with death; Vanessa Beeley, who has thoroughly exposed the White Helmets; Patrick Henningsen and others who have exposed the lies of the corporate media. And there are many more incredible and courageous journalists who are doing the same elsewhere.
But going against powerful interests to expose the truth that they prefer to keep hidden is not an easy task by any means. This has been made obvious by the death, or rather murder (by car bomb), of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who specialised in reporting on government corruption, nepotism, patronage, money laundering, links between Malta’s online gambling industry and organised crime, as well as countless others like her.
Sometimes, however, neither is suppressing the truth, as easy, as has been in the case of the murder of Daphne, which simply gave birth to an international consortium of journalists from multiple news outlets joining hands to not only investigate her murder, but to keep her stories alive by investigating them as well. Or in the case of Julian Assange, arguably the greatest journalist—if you look from the perspective of truth tellers—of our time (if not in history).
Despite being holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for more than five years, without sunlight and facing constant, clear and present danger from the world’s most powerful governments and organisations (including possible assassination by drone while in the embassy in complete violation of the Vienna Convention, as suggested by Hillary Clinton, and alternative ways by others)—Assange’s resolve to speak truth to power has not budged one bit. His indomitable will in the face of insurmountable odds has acted as a beam of light for many individuals who, seeing his example, have followed in his footsteps with courage to do some fantastic journalistic work.
Yet, threats to truth are never far away. In March, the Ecuadorian government silenced Julian Assange by cutting off all his communications with the outside world. This, similar to the case of Daphne, galvanised journalists, activists, etc. to join hands and fight for Assange’s freedom of speech and other human rights. Although the battle to reconnect Julian is yet to be won, the entire case is demonstrative of an invaluable lesson that we all must learn from history.
That truth—and journalism (when it is done in the pursuit of truth)—is a most valuable commodity that is always in danger, as is the right to speak it, always challenged by powerful interests that benefit from keeping the majority in the dark. But what we should also learn from history is that light also shines brightest where it is darkest. And Assange has exemplified this in times that are some of the darkest in human history.
What we should also learn is that, because those who wish to cast their shadows of fear, intimidation and lies on the entire human family have a tendency of working together—as that is the only way they can ever succeed—those opposing them must also unite, if what they desire is truth, and not self-aggrandisement, profit, etc. And this is something that Wikileaks has been able to achieve with its 100 percent record for accuracy for over a period of over 10 years, as it has not asked people to unite for Wikileaks, but rather for truth—through its example, not words.
But why should journalists take such enormous risks to pursue the truth? Why not compromise to gain other benefits? And most importantly, why bother at all? I am yet to be able to articulate a concrete answer to that, so I will let Julian Assange answer that for me:
“Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we love. In a modern economy, it is impossible to seal oneself off from injustice.
If we have brains or courage, then we are blessed and called on not to frit these qualities away, standing agape at the ideas of others, winning pissing contests, improving the efficiencies of the neo-corporate state, or immersing ourselves in obscuranta, but rather to prove the vigour of our talents against the strongest opponents of love we can find.
If we can only live once, then let it be a daring adventure that draws on all our powers. Let it be with similar types whose hearts and heads we may be proud of. Let our grandchildren delight to find the start of our stories in their ears but the endings all around in their wandering eyes.
The whole universe or the structure that perceives it is a worthy opponent, but try as I may I cannot escape the sound of suffering.
Perhaps as an old man, I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.”
As for me, the best way I have discovered I can act on them is by trying to find the truth and to speak it to the best of my abilities.
As for the threat to journalism around the world today, it is not really a threat to journalism, per say, but rather a threat to truth itself. Which is why not only should journalists take this current threat more seriously than ever before, but so should everyone else who realises that without truth, all we can do is live a lie—and by realising this, fight back, with the only weapon powerful enough to defeat the current threats: “the truth”.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the Editorial team at The Daily Star, Bangladesh. His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal