Tag Archives: CNN

A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam         

23 Jan

[Prefatory note: This post if a modified and revised version of the previous post. I have rarely done this, but due to comments received, and further reflections on my part, I felt there was some aspects of the essay that should be clarified or elaborated. There are threemain points: what we learn about CNN from its treatment of Marc Lamont Hill; the special treatment accorded those that challenge that pillar of the bipartisan consensus that relates to unconditional support of Israel; the targeting of leading African Americans who dare speak out on mainstream controversial issues, a dynamic that goes back to Martin Luther King’s public opposition to the Vietnam War.]



A Tale of Two Speeches: Marc Lamont Hill on Palestine, Martin Luther King, Jr., on Vietnam          


In my last post I complained about the news approach of CNN, and by indirection, the MSM. I complained that by being Trump-obsessed CNN helps pacify the American political scene, making us view demagogic politics as ‘a reality show.’ Beyond this obsession is inexplicable redundancy in which successive news programs cover the latest episode of Trump’s soap opera from virtually identical viewpoints, while ignoring the whole panorama of developments throughout the world.


It is an aspect of what the most perceptive commentators on the decline of democracy have begun with reason to call our post-political ‘democracy,’ which seems the reverse side of the coin in a plutocracy. Keeping the public entertained and diverted allows the grossly unjust and unequal distribution of wealth and income almost to disappear from the radar of discontent.  Part of this post-political reality show is to reduce the operative sphere of American politics to ‘the bipartisan consensus’ established in the United States after 1945. Such a pattern of subtle indoctrination provides an apolitical certificate of permanent approval to global militarism, neoliberal capitalism, and unconditional support for Israel.


Instead of weakening its grip on the national public imagination after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the socialist alternative, by declaring geopolitical peace and acting accordingly, the governing elites went in the opposite direction: privileging capital accumulation at the expense of human wellbeing and equity; a militarized unipolarity that overrides international law, UN authority, human rights, and international morality. It this reconfigured ‘bipartisan consensus’ that became the ideological sequel to the Cold War rivalry. It guides both the deep state and the established leadership of both political parties, which also underpins CNN’s diversionary approach to news coverage. In effect, Trump must go, or at least be managed, so that the bipartisan consensus can flourish.


The Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is somewhat surprisingly more rigidly enforced in public space than the seemingly thicker pillars of global militarism and neoliberal capitalism. CNN occasionally stumbles by allowing a progressive critic of the Pentagon or Wall Street to get some air time. Such occurrences are hard to avoid ever since Bernie Sanders opposed Hilary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and put these issues on the national agenda. Nothing much happens except maybe a backroom reprimand to the producers of the news programs. It is not the same if the Israeli pillar of the bipartisan consensus is shaken even if only slightly. Then heads fall, and a visible reaffirmation of the consensus position is mandatory. CNN despite its wish to be trusted will not hesitate to treat any perception of sharp criticism of Israel as intolerable. The test of sharpness is whether it agitates militant Zionism as illustrated by the their malevolent reaction to the Hill speech.


The CNN dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill is the toxic icing on this particular cake. Hill a professor at Temple University and a regular consultant to CNN was dismissed in deference to unidentified Zionist pressures. Hill’s sole ‘wrong’ was to deliver a humane speech at a UN conference. He did voice support of Palestinian self-determination and other rights. Yet no fair reading of what Hill said at the UN or scrutiny of his overall career would reach any conclusion other than that this was a reasoned call for justice for Palestine along a path in which both Jews and Arabs could coexist within the same contested territory.


Apparently, the closing line of his talk was enough to agitate Zionist militants, which led CNN immediately to dismiss Hill: “free Palestine, from the river to the sea.” It remains murky, and probably will remain so, whether tearing this phrase from the clear intention of the talk was a convenient pretext for outside forces to mount their attack on Hill. The alternative view is that this singled phrase was all that was read by those who indignantly ranted about an anti-Semitic screed delivered at the UN. I am reminded of my own experience two years ago when my co-authored UN report was viciously denounced with no indication of it having been read beyond the title that contained the word ‘apartheid.’ This was enough of a red flag to make the American ambassador, Nikki Haley, adopt a hysterical tone when asserting her arrogant demand that the UN denounce the report, which as with CNN was dutifully done.


As Hill himself explained in a column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer [Dec. 1, 2018]: “Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response.” As Hill points out both Israelis and Palestinians have used that phrase over the years to describe their intentions, including for various proposals of co-existence, especially either the two-state Oslo goal line or the secular binational democratic one-state vision that Hill and many of us favor. To consider such a sentiment to be an anti-Semitic trope is a Zionist slur against someone whose life and scholarly work has been dedicated to social justice and in opposition to all forms of ethnic hatred and intolerance. Given the recent troubles of Angela Davis and Alice Walker it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that African Americans are especially targeted if perceived by Zionist gatekeepers as overtly pro-Palestinian, and somehow vulnerable to being discrediting. The racist message being delivered: ‘Stay in your racist lane, or else!”


Of course, I am not suggesting that white critics of Israel, if seen as vulnerable, are not targeted for punitive treatment as was the unjustified treatment of Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Salaita, Rahab Abdel Hadi, and many others illustrate. It is rather a matter of blocking African American supporters of Palestinian solidarity because they can speak with a special authenticity about ethnic victimization. In this regard, it is hardly accidental that post-apartheid South Africa is of all governments in the world the one most supportive of the Palestinian national struggle.


Surely, a rather grotesque irony is present. These African American cultural and intellectual leading personalities are being implicitly instructed to limit their concerns and activism to their own  grievances associated with the treatment of African American. The abuse of Palestinians, in effect, is none of their business. The message to Jews is somewhat analogous, although interestingly different. If as a Jew you speak too candidly in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle you are not only an anti-Semite, but likely to be labeled ‘a self-hating Jew.’ Here the embedded assumption is that to be authentically Jewish is to remain silent when it comes to Israeli crimes of abuse inflicted on the Palestinian people.  

As Michelle Alexander reminded us in her breakthrough column, Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely perceived as ‘brave’ when he spoke out against the Vietnam War in his famous speech of April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church. It was not a provocation by that stage in the war for white liberals to be publicly opposed to the Vietnam War, and certainly would not be an occasion for the appropriate use of words like ‘brave’ or ‘courageous.’ But for an African American to do so back then was existentially different. It was treated as tactically questionable and even impudent for a black man to act as if fully enfranchised and had the same right as white persons to be a citizen of conscience when it came to issues outside the domain of race. The chastening reality that King was assassinated in the following year, which either intentionally or not served as a reminder that black folks, however distinguished and acknowledged, will be punished it they dare act as if they enjoy the same spectrum of universal rights as the rest of us.


For King to so enter the main lane of political controversy on Vietnam was to cast himself as an uppity black who offended even some mentally colonized African American leaders who at the time lamented, or at least regretted, this supposed distraction from fighting for civil rights in America. The message delivered by dog whistle to many liberals, black and white, was ‘let others worry about the Vietnamese people and American militarism. This is none of your business. Stick to race.” A deeper irony here is that part of the reason that the Vietnamese prevailed in the war against all odds is partly because they derived strength from expressing solidarity with other liberation struggles and seeking as much support from non-Vietnamese peace oriented groups as possible.


We can take note of this subtle form of liberal racism as long pervading American political culture. To observe it so crudely resurfacing in relation to this dismissal of Hill by CNN suggests that despite liberal claims, little progress has been made in dissolving the structures of what might be called ‘deep racism.’ What is more for Anderson Cooper, Chris Cuomo, and Don Lemon to remain silent in the face of the Hill dismissal exposes two lamentable features of how this ‘most trusted name in news’ operates: first, it bows to Zionist pressures to enforce the insidious expanded definition of anti-Semitism is itself malicious. CNN went even further, as Hill’s talk fairly read was actually supportive of the existence of Israel, the wellbeing of Jews in Israel, and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism as properly understood. CNN’s reflex reaction called for apology not dismissal. Thus, what CNN did fell even outside the contours of the recent Zionist insistence on an inflammatory definition of anti-Semitism’ as extended to Israel as well as to Jews. Further, these lead news journalists, who nightly claim to walk the high moral ground, have maintained their public silence in the face of this crippling encroachment on freedom of expression resulting from the dismissal of Hill. Surely, an instance of self-censorship run amok.


Make no mistake, what befell Marc Lamont Hill also serves as a warning to CNN to stay within the confines of its lane as lead propagandist of the bipartisan consensus. It is also a reminder to the rest of us that trusting CNN’s public face is a fool’s errand. The wider effect of Hill’s experience is to send an intimidating warning to anyone in the African American community that they better watch their words or they should expect, at the very least, to receive a rhetorical lynching.


The Hill case shows this to be hardly alarmist. The warning was gratuitously reinforced by the response of Hill’s academic employer. Instead of doing the right thing, giving a fair reading to the UN speech, and then supporting their faculty member, Hill was verbally lynched by the president and chair of the board at Temple University in the harshest imaginable language. In the public press there were calls for dismissal from his tenured position. For what? Speaking out on a controversial issue at a UN conference in a manner completely in harmony with human rights and global justice.


Even now, anyone who cherishes the democratic spirit should insist that CNN reinstate Hill with an accompanying apology for the considerable damage done to his reputation and the psychic anguish inflicted. Also, I would hope that the academic senate at Temple, or some similar body does not imitate CNN by maintaining a stony silence. Even after the fact it would send a different message if the university community summoned the political will and commitment to academic freedom to censure their administrators for their outrageous remarks of condemnation directed at Hill, and along the way chide CNN for caving in, and then refusing to make amends. Hill deserves nothing less, and if this kind of punitive behavior is not repudiated by his university community it sends a chilling and obnoxious message—defamation works as a means to discredit Israeli critics, especially if African American, and the media and universities should blacklist such troublesome characters if they seek smooth sailing.




What’s Wrong with CNN?

16 Jan

What’s Wrong with CNN?


CNN presents itself as the most ‘trusted name in news’ available to the TV viewing public. Of course, this claim of integrity is to be greatly valued if the news channel lives up to such a standard when fairly scrutinized. Democracy, in the complex circumstances of modernity, depends on trust to remain viable. In an important sense CNN seems trustworthy. To the best of its ability it appears to search for and impart the truth with respect to its coverage. Unlike the American president, it does not lie or deliver ‘fake news.’ And for most issues it gives both sides of the story, and doesn’t keep shifting the goal posts to alter the narrative.


But is this record of honesty enough to make CNN trustworthy? I think not.

In recent months, and really ever since the 2016 presidential campaign, CNN, along with the rest of the mainstream media, has been Trump obsessed. At least, compared to Fox, CNN adopts a highly critical stance in evaluating the daily episodes in this ongoing cruel and dangerous Trump soap opera. Surely, such an irresponsible and unscrupulous leadership deserves probing criticism and extensive coverage, but not at the price of erasing the rest of the world as well as much of the news agenda on the home front. This is what CNN has done, at least on the coverage provided by its national channel. CNN International is more inclusive in its coverage, but for CNN in the United States, it has seemingly decided that this is ‘the Trump Century’ rather than ‘The American Century.’  Such an obsession is a travesty on the reality of our 21stcentury world, and a distorting service to its devoted watching audience.


It is quite astounding to tune into the nightly broadcasts on CNN featuring Anderson Cooper, Andrew Cuomo, and Don Lemon as successive anchors. They not only devote their entire coverage to the latest revelations of the Special Counsel regarding various aspects of the interaction between the Trump entourage and Russia, but they repeat one another, somewhat varying only the talking heads, most of whom are invited to make recurrent guest appearances. Not only this, but these news commentators seem in such an uncontainable self-congratulatory mood that they have initiated a new media trope. Instead of ending their program and proceeding to the next one, these familiar faces exchange lengthy and supportive comments with one another on the latest Trump maneuver, laughing with undisguised appreciation of each other’s ironic takes. I find this to be an increasingly tedious display of irrelevance. If this is what it means to be trusted, I might soon opt for some version of the untrustworthy. Indeed, allowing Trump to suck up all the oxygen is not so different over time than falling in line as Trumpsters would wish. This devotion to Trump may be the work of the market advisors that call the shots at CNN, which makes it both understandable, and in its way, even worse.


Erasure of all that is newsworthy but non-Trump is only part of the problem. Distortion and indoctrination are also present, especially when the Trump news touches on the Pentagon, CIA, Wall Street, and Israel. Here the celebrity anchors rely on experts who are loyalists of the ‘bipartisan consensus’ (what traditional Republicans and establishment Democrats agree about, except for tactical nuances) that has dominated American approach to the world ever since 1945. This has meant taking neoliberal post-Cold War capitalism, global militarism, and the special relationship with Israel off the table of responsible debate. Most of CNN’s experts are retirees from the upper echelons of the national security establishment, stalwarts of Washington think tanks, or senior advisors to recent presidents. Never do we hear from a single progressive voice, nor even from those that believe the crisis is structural, requiring thought and action outside the box. Alan Dershowitz is welcome to talk in defense of the Trump presidency or Israel, but never Noam Chomsky. It is this leaning to the right that most makes CNN untrustworthy in my eyes. It shuts out the light with respect to the most compelling issues facing the country and the world, and limits news coverage to fifty shades of gray.


In many respects, theNew York Timesshares this deference to this anarchronistic bipartisan consensus. It is more useful than CNN because it realizes that ‘all the news fit to print’ includes happenings in the world other than the Trump escapades. The Timeseven occasionally gives space sometimes to left-leaning critics, and its own opinion writers include Michelle Goldberg and Paul Krugman, both of whom are ready to challenge some of those fixed orthodoxies that have imposed their discipline on American policy regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control of the White House. Of course, the right is also amply represented by the generally thoughtful conservative musings of David Brooks and the more abrasive forays of Bret Stephens. Yet when it comes to Brexit, Syria, Yemen, and Latin America the news coverage of the Times is invaluably comprehensive and generally reliable except if it touches on such no-go zones as Venezuela or the BDS Campaign.


Also, CNN in America is treated as the poster child of the mainstream media. MSNBC, its main supposedly liberal competitor, is only marginally better. MSNBC also drones on and on while doing its version of ‘the daily Trump show,’ and invites the same sort of dreary guests who make their living inside the Beltway, and hence burn few bridges to the portals of power in Washington. We might have hoped that dissident TV as provided by Vice or Al Jazeera would fill the void, but somehow they have not so far risen to the challenge of offering a different slant on what transpires day by day.


What is at stake goes beyond trust. It concerns what we need to know if we are to act responsibly and effectively as engaged citizens. What we need to know goes to the roots who we are collectively as a people, and what are the real threats to our security, and even our civilizational and biological survival. We should all know by now, or should know, that we live in a political system that is more accurately identified  as a ‘plutocracy’ than a ‘democracy,’ especially when it comes to political parties and the electoral process. Many have long been aware that the TV and print media, along with publishing, is market driven, and corporatized. As a consequence, political discourse is limited to center/right dialogues.


The main trouble is that we need center/left thinking to challenge the bipartisan consensus that has always been center/right, incorporating market and ‘deep state’ bureaucratic forces. In part, the left has lost its voice after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was persuasively (mis)interpreted in the West in ways that designed to wipe socialism off the political map of societal option. At present, climate change, global inequality, emerging technologies of war, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and nuclear weaponry are posing unprecedented challenges that are global in scope and bioethical in depth. In view of this there exists a need for an untethered political, moral, and cultural imagination as never before. We find imaginative innovative responses in pockets of resistance scattered around the country and the world. The recent midterm American elections produced a few women winners with radical messages, which suggests that the national body politic is not yet readied.


Yet until CNN listens, most of the rest of us will not hear or heed what needs to be known and done. At best, we will take refuge in struggling for feasible change unaware that what is necessary is not feasible within existing political and economic structures. At worst, we will be herded by demagogues into death camps or maybe stay alive by some mixture of escapism and denialism.


What we urgently need is a politics freed from the constraints of the feasible,and energized by an awareness of the necessaryand desirable.