Caitlin Johnstone – “In The War Of Propaganda, It Is Very Difficult To Defeat The United States”

What Caitlin appears not to know is that many important media are state-owned in Europe. Not only that, citizens are forced by their governments to pay for many of these directly (not the government), such as the BBC, as well as German state television and radio.

Caitlin Johnstone is a reader-supported independent journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Her political writings can be found on Medium. Articles are re-posted from Caitlins Newsletter.

Cross-posted from Caitlin Johnstone’s substack


One under-appreciated moment from Tucker Carlson’s recent interview with Vladimir Putin came after Putin implied that NATO powers were behind the 2022 bombing of the Nord Stream pipeline. Carlson responded by asking why Putin wouldn’t present evidence of this to the world, so as to “win a propaganda victory.”

“In the war of propaganda it is very difficult to defeat the United States because the United States controls all the world’s media and many European media,” Putin replied, adding, “The ultimate beneficiary of the biggest European media are American financial institutions.”

I don’t know about the specific nature of his Nord Stream insinuations, but Putin is definitely correct about the strength of the American propaganda machine. Of all the fronts one could possibly choose to challenge the United States on, propaganda is surely the least favorable. The US empire has by far the most sophisticated and effective propaganda machine ever to have existed, operating with such complexity that most people don’t even know it exists.

In a “fact-checking” article titled “5 lies and 1 truth from Putin’s interview with Tucker Carlson”, Politico Europe labels the above claim a lie on the basis that Russia has state-run media whereas US media is privately owned.

“The biggest news media companies are privately owned and operate without direct government control, in contrast to the state-controlled media landscape in Russia,” writes Politico’s Sergey Goryashko. “Russian state TV and the primary news agencies there are the property of the government, and the Kremlin controls other media or destroys those not willing to collaborate.”

At the bottom of the article is a line which reads as follows: “Sergey Goryashko is hosted at POLITICO under the EU-funded EU4FreeMedia residency program.”

EU4FreeMedia is a European Union narrative management operation set up to help integrate “Russian journalists in exile” into leading European publications, ie to provide maximum media amplification to Russian expats who have a bone to pick with the current government in Moscow. It is run with participation from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a US government-funded media op under the umbrella of the US propaganda services umbrella USAGM.

I really couldn’t have come up with a more perfect illustration of what I’m talking about here than the US government and its European lackeys running a complex and elaborate project to further slant European media against the Russian Federation, which then manifests as a Politico article calling Putin a liar and claiming propaganda does not exist in the west.

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

A Soviet and an American are on an airplane seated next to each other.

“Why are you flying to the US?” asks the American.

“To study American propaganda,” replies the Soviet.

“What American propaganda?” asks the American.

“Exactly,” the Soviet replies.

In reality the nature of the US-centralized empire allows it to run a massive, nonstop international propaganda campaign through mass media platforms which are mostly privately owned. A diverse network of factors feeds into this dynamic which I’ve detailed in my unusually lengthy article “15 Reasons Why Mass Media Employees Act Like Propagandists”, but the gist of it is that anyone who’s wealthy enough to control a mass media platform is going to have a vested interest in preserving the status quo upon which their wealth is premised, and they will cooperate with establishment power structures in various ways toward that end.

The fact that these mass media outlets look independent but function as propaganda organs for the US empire allows its propaganda to fly into people’s minds without triggering any gag reflex of critical thinking or skepticism, which wouldn’t be the case if people knew those outlets were feeding them propaganda. Propaganda only really has persuasive power if you don’t know it’s happening to you.

The invisibility of US propaganda is further aided by the subtle methods by which it is administered, which we’ve seen exemplified beautifully in the coverage of Israel’s ongoing US-backed mass atrocity in Gaza.

In an article titled “Coverage of Gaza War in the New York Times and Other Major Newspapers Heavily Favored Israel, Analysis Shows,” The Intercept reports that a review of 1,000 articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times about Israel’s war on Gaza found that the outlets consistently used word choices which served Israeli information interests.

“Highly emotive terms for the killing of civilians like ‘slaughter,’ ‘massacre,’ and ‘horrific’ were reserved almost exclusively for Israelis who were killed by Palestinians, rather than the other way around,” The Intercept’s Adam Johnson and Othman Ali report. “The term ‘slaughter’ was used by editors and reporters to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 60 to 1, and ‘massacre’ was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 125 to 2. ‘Horrific’ was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 36 to 4.”

This is the sort of manipulation that a casual news consumer wouldn’t notice. Unless you’re on alert for bias and are keeping track of what words are and aren’t being used where, you’re probably not going to notice the absence of emotionally-charged words when reporting on Palestinians who are killed by Israelis.

This type of slant shows up in all sorts of ways, like today’s headlines about the IDF killing a six year-old Palestinian girl named Hind Rajab along with her family. Reliable propaganda organs of the empire like CNN, The New York Times and the BBC have respectively gone with the headlines “Five-year-old Palestinian girl found dead after being trapped in car under Israeli fire”, “Missing 6-Year-Old and Rescue Team Found Dead in Gaza, Aid Group Says,” and “Hind Rajab, 6, found dead in Gaza days after phone calls for help”. In contrast, Al Jazeera reports on the same story with the headline “Body of 6-year-old killed in ‘deliberate’ Israeli fire found after 12 days,” and Middle East Eye goes with “Hind Rajab: Palestinian girl found dead after being trapped under Israeli fire for days”.

It’s easy to spot the difference when they’re placed next to each other like I just did, but unless you’re really watching out for it and have a good background on what’s going on here you’re likely to miss what’s happening. If you’re like most people and don’t read past the headline, you’d never know from the imperial media headlines that the child was killed by Israel, and you’d certainly never know about her terrified phone call for help while trapped by IDF fire and surrounded by the bodies of her dead relatives. If you look to the legacy media and its algorithmically-boosted online iterations for information about the world, you went one more day with a distorted perspective of what’s happening in Gaza.

The western press constantly write headlines like this when trying to minimize the impact of someone’s death at the hands of a party they sympathize with, particularly with regard to Palestinians. Last month the BBC published an article titled “Record number of civilians hurt by explosives in 2023”, as though they were mishandling fireworks or something instead of being actively killed by Israeli bombs. The BBC later revised their atrocious headline, but revised it in the opposite direction, replacing “Record number” with “High number” to further minimize the impact.

Contrast this with the BBC’s headlines when it’s reporting on Ukrainians killed by Russian airstrikes . Here’s a recent one titled “Ukraine war: Russian air strikes claim five lives in Kyiv and Mykolaiv”, and another titled “Ukraine war: Baby killed in Russian strike on Kharkiv hotel”.

Got it? In Ukraine people die from bombs because Russia launched Russian airstrikes and killed them very Russianly, whereas in Gaza people get hurt by explosions because they got too close to some type of explosive material.

Last week The Washington Post ran an opinion piece titled “Is America complicit in Israel’s bloody war in Gaza?”, which is already a ridiculously skewed headline because the answer is self-evidently yes — implying that there’s any question of this skews things in America’s favor. But even this was too much for the Post’s editors, who re-titled the piece “Has the Israel-Gaza war changed your feelings about being American?” to keep Americans from thinking too hard about Israel’s bloody war in Gaza and their country’s complicity in it.

In a Wednesday article titled “Biden Tries Again With Arab Americans in Michigan”, New York Times editorial board member Farah Stockman wrote the absolutely insane line “The Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel seems to be affecting Biden’s election prospects.” And then The New York Times actually printed it.

Read that line again. She’s saying Arab Americans are rejecting Biden because of the October 7 Hamas attack, which is of course absurd; they’re rejecting Biden because he’s backing a genocide in Gaza. She wrote this nonsensical line because in the New York Times you can’t say things like “Israel’s genocide in Gaza” or “the president’s facilitation of crimes against humanity”, and you won’t be hired if you’re the sort of person who’d be inclined to. Instead we’re pretending that for some inexplicable reason Arab Americans are just hopping mad at Biden because October 7 happened.

But again, these little manipulations fly under the radar if you’re not on the lookout for them. Such is the brilliance of the US empire’s invisible propaganda machine. That’s why it’s very difficult to win a propaganda war against the United States, that’s why westerners have been so successfully manipulated into accepting a status quo of endless war, ecocide, injustice and exploitation, and that’s why the world looks the way it looks right now.


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1 Comment

  1. I don’t believe the headline is true. It’s a fact that the reputation of the US has slumped enormously since, say, 2000. Its cultural influence may be the last piece of power that leaves it, but its political and economical influence are constantly diminishing.

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