TeleSur English, a network operating out of Venezuela, is a fascinating case study of what can and should be expected of a channel like MSNBC, with several news magazine programs roughly akin in format to Dateline or 20/20. One of the things that continues to irk me is the fact progressives in some quarters remain unable to break free of a propaganda system within the mainstream media that makes very conservative positions sound very liberal. For example, Rachel Maddow on MS-DNC has been cited multiple times by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) for giving a faux-progressive sheen to foreign and economic policies that were considered neoconservative dreams three decades ago.
The spectrum through which I view all media is derived from the excellent Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, a set of five critical thinking prompts that teach the consumer of media how the material is filtered before being delivered to the masses. In the form of questions, they are:
- How will this impact media network ownership?
- How will this impact media advertisers?
- How will this impact the willingness of regular sources, such as the White House or 10 Downing Street, to provide us with information?
- What sort of ‘flak’, negative reactions, will we get from our consumers and particularly those consumers within the established power structure?
- Can the subject(s) of this story be presented in a fashion that would be broadly described as either anti-Communist or based on notions of fear so to preserve the credibility and unchallenged authority of the power structure? This fear can take the form of unpaid property expropriation, sexual violence towards women and/or minor children, or catastrophic violence that could be called terrorism.
When combined together, these prompts help to derive a critique of the lamestream that is next to impossible to undermine.
The ideological coordinates of TeleSur are connected directly to the agenda of the heirs of Hugo Chavez. But simultaneously those agenda points can be accurately described as democratic socialist because the Bolivarian revolution that has taken place over the last fifteen years in Latin America has not seen a Cuba-styled single party state rise, instead these countries maintained parliamentary electoral politics and built a movement of peasants and poor workers that put into power through the ballot box politicians that have tried to build a viable welfare state. Right now we are seeing these various electoral efforts under imperial siege, with US-aligned political opposition parties connected to the Koch brothers and other major industrial magnates engaging in everything from acts of violence (Venezuela) to soft power coups (Brazil). It is in the American foreign policy towards the Bolivarian revolution that we see Obama’s true colors. Did Chavez have problems? I don’t doubt there were some. But are most of the talking points articulated in the lamestream coming from the Latino equivalent of the Cato Institute? Yes indeed.
The agenda of these democratic socialists on a global scale can be described as regional multi-polarity, meaning a vision of larger states in the various regions having a sphere of influence that promotes growth and development in its smaller neighbors as opposed to a worldwide superpower (America) and its proxies (NATO, EU, the World Bank, World Trade Organization, soft power NGOs who cite other countries for human rights abuses while forgetting to mention crimes of the US) lording over all and parasitically sucking up all the natural resources in sight before leaving these small nations high and dry with nothing but debt. In terms of regional economics, it is a view that the means of production should not in total be nationalized but that some elements, such as Venezuela’s oil, can be used to fund a robust social safety net.
Here are some of their flagship programs that I have made part of my weekly viewing routine.
Martin is a tough-as-nails investigative journalist who is taking names as “from inside history’s biggest empire” she is “recording a world shaped by war & inequality.” She explores what the impact has been of 53% of our federal discretionary spending budget, $1.6 trillion, being spent on a military that has placed bases across the world while the vast majority of Americans starve and beg for crumbs. The moral certainty and purity of her loathing of this gross disparity inflicted on the most vulnerable so to promote the military-industrial complex has created amazing programs so far, including one episode dedicated to America’s loathing of socialism that dates back to before 1917 and another that exposes the lecherous and totally unjustified nature of the military machine.
Hedges is the former New York Times reporter who resigned in disgust over their support for the Iraq war. Prior to his journalism career, he had been a seminarian, raised in the traditions of the radical emancipatory trends that coalesced around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his white pastoral allies, and had broken with the American church over their failure to defend Liberation Theology in Latin America from Reagan’s death squads. As such, he brings to his weekly interview programs a blend of these two strands of critical thinking. I admit that he has a tendency to be a bit moralizing to the point he sometimes says very stupid things, particularly when it comes to his Victorian ideas about sex workers, as well as a bit of sensationalist, but his ability to create a new Liberation Theology for the 21st century makes his show worthwhile. His recent interview with Josh Fox is an episode that speaks directly to the struggles of our friends in Burrillville and his interview with Michael Hudson is required viewing for people concerned about economics.
British journalist Laura Flanders brings us a show that is mature but certainly relaxing material that is a perfect alternative to your typical Sunday morning programming. Her history with both journalism and the Left (she hails from the family of Claud, Andrew, Patrick, and Alexander Cockburn) gives her questions a level of maturity when she speaks with Tony Kushner or Arundhati Roy that is unequaled by any others.
The man who inspired the classic Rolling Stones anthem Street Fighting Man now comes with a show that provides a critical alternative view on news events while serializing his Global Empire lectures. From Syria to Yemen to Libya he brings an understanding to the geopolitical landscape that helps one better grasp the inter-connections of seemingly disparate theaters of what is actually a wider regional war between oil companies and those who desire national liberation.
These are just a few of the offerings produced by the channel. The network hosts a variety of other programs worthy of honest appraisal.
I would merely emphasize the marked difference between this media and material offered over the past six decades by the Cuban government. For many years, the Cubans would puppet the line of Moscow and the Soviet Communist Party in Spanish-language newspapers that were sold in the Latin American communities. The problem was that it simply was a totally inefficient and alienating set of slogans that had as much appeal as a skunk. The Soviet-aligned Communist movement over the course of the twentieth century and, to a lesser extent, the Chinese-aligned Maoists, were oftentimes their own worst enemies when it came to public relations. They bungled and mishandled communicating everything from foreign policy objectives to integration into the cultural landscape of local communities. This can be blamed on a basic coordinate of Communist political organization, centralized planning.
By contrast, the television shows mentioned here have all been produced with a level of independence and in disparate locales that creates a much more holistic and agreeable set of perspectives that sometimes even come into conflict with each other. Hedges, who is basically feeling his way through this as he goes along, has done some shows that contradict things put on the Flanders show and at other times he has radically changed his opinions on screen about his underlying assumptions regarding a variety of topics. This is part of a healthy progressive media that is much more vibrant than anything seen before.