Don’t blame it all on Fox News. The liberal media must take responsibility for “the authoritarian mind,” which is vital to healthy imperialism.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, who has received an immense amount of politically irrelevant criticism from conventional liberals in the media, has been one of the few utterly consistent progressives to carve out a powerful voice for himself in the alternative press. By “progressive”, one ought to speak of Glenn’s dependence upon articulating a message that mindfully proves his orientation towards those who are structurally oppressed. By “consistent”, one can simply look at his body of work at Salon, and his latest series on The Imperial Mind and The Authoritarian Mind perfectly illustrates Glenn’s capacity to intellectually provide a defense for those who would otherwise resourcefully lack it.
My own personal inclination towards criticizing the liberal end of the media spectrum is similar to Glenn’s in practice. Condemning the National Review and Fox News for their ignorant conservative programming and reactionary narrative is much too easy, considering the amount of so-called alternatives to Murdoch’s media empire. The alternatives within mainstream newsmedia discussion can, in fact, be described as instinctively liberal. Recently, Glenn further explained that “self-venerating imperial prerogatives are the premises driving the vast bulk of American foreign policy and military discourse.”
A particularly striking example came almost too soon after this article’s publication on MSNBC, which, according to the right wing press, has a “far left orientation”. Chris Hayes, a deservedly respected liberal journalist (especially for having Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on his weekend show, ‘Up‘), made an interesting apology for asking a wrong or perhaps inconceivable question about the US military and the public’s perception of it. Hayes writes in a press-release email:
On Sunday, in discussing the uses of the word “hero” to describe those members of the armed forces who have given their lives, I don’t think I lived up to the standards of rigor, respect and empathy for those affected by the issues we discuss that I’ve set for myself. I am deeply sorry for that.
The standards to which Hayes is referring have a certain connotation to the totalitarian streak in liberal discourse. These standards imply that the questions Hayes asked on his Sunday show were somehow a violation of the unspoken (or perhaps logically obvious) code, but what exactly were these questions?
He mustered enough courage to ask if all troops should be deserving of the word “hero”, or just a select few. Perhaps the word needs some re-definition, he argues, given the glory and significance that the citizenry typically associates with it. Should all the troops be considered “heroes”, or maybe just a select few? Does the word glorify a strategy in Afghanistan that doesn’t deserve glorification? Does the word itself need to be carefully re-defined for this reason?
Was George W. Bush a good president, or a great president? Hayes should have chosen his words more carefully. Evidently, he overstepped the liberal media’s jingoistic boundaries:
“I feel… uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism, you know, hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers, and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”
If one were to take a close look at Hayes’ remarks without a nationalistic microscope, he’s not asking a particularly radical question in the first place. It’s still ideologically bounded to a framework that suggests that the US strategy in controlling its population to at least sympathize with its “democratic endeavors” in Afghanistan is appropriate. At this point, mainstream commentators can openly criticize the military strategy and official policy in Afghanistan and elsewhere all they want—and that’s saying a lot, given the fact that there was almost no deviation from state propaganda in the early stages of the war just 10 years ago. But the crucial point is as follows: one can find this kind of constructive criticism in Hitler’s general staff after Stalingrad, or even Putin’s advisory board during the slaughters in Chechnya.
However, beginning to criticize the government’s most effective and reliable propaganda tool, namely,”support the troops”, is when Hayes starts overstepping the establishment liberal boundaries. Just looking at a phrase like “support the troops” concretely displays how empty such dogma formed by governments can be. It’s devoid of meaning, but like all propaganda that is well-crafted, of course it has an element of truth: one cannot not support the troops. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the line and its corresponding deviations mean about as much as “not supporting the citizens of Iowa”, although it does have an important secondary meaning: support state policy unconditionally and stop asking inconvenient questions.
Hayes’ backpedal around this issue was both unnecessary given his record as an exceptional journalist and exemplary of liberal instinct in the context of American foreign policy. It is an instinct still inclined to support government policy and the corresponding line it holds, thus supporting the institutional structure and the establishment media’s role within it. The political status quo cannot be maintained by the conservative press alone; it’s simply not possible by any measure, although many progressives would like to think in this vain (and, unfortunately, put this focus into practice and thus ignore the structural issue at hand). Rather, the establishment liberal media must take responsibility for what Glenn describes as “the authoritarian mind”, which is vital to healthy imperialism.