A Press As Deadly As The State
The following article was written by Arthur Silber and published on his blog Once Upon a Time..., December 3, 2013.

I am now prepared to state without reservation that the ongoing NSA/surveillance story ranks among the more momentous and nauseating charades perpetrated on a frighteningly gullible public. Any remaining doubt I had on this question — and, in truth, no substantial doubt remained in my own mind — has been obliterated by this story concerning the remarks of Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian‘s editor, to the home affairs committee of Parliament.

All of it is shocking, but this is the worst:

Rusbridger said the leak amounted to about 58,000 files, and the newspaper had published “about 1 percent” of the total.

“I would not expect us to be publishing a huge amount more,” he said.

Some years ago, I remarked that professional (and even semi-professional) apologists for the Democratic Party, such as Digby, offer a credo which amounts to the following, once you strip away the endless, and endlessly dishonest, rationalizations: “We’re 2% less shitty than Pure Evil! It’s all we’ve got!”

I can adapt this credo with full accuracy for the actual role of the so-called “adversarial” press: “We’re 1% less shitty than the evil State! It’s all we’ve got — and it’s all we’re going to give you!”

I’m sure we’re all prepared to storm the barricades of the murderous surveillance State with this rousing call to arms as our inspiration. C’mon, baby, let’s get it on!

I’m also reminded of my observation about “dissenting” journalists like Chris Hayes: “The ruling class loves dissent like this. It’s not ‘dangerous’ in the smallest detail. If ‘dissenters’ like Hayes didn’t exist, the ruling class would have to invent them.” Ditto for the Guardian, and, yes, ditto for the Greenwald/Omidyar venture.

In the short time I’ve reflected on this latest article, I realized that the 1% figure actually tracks what we already knew about the extent of the Snowden documents compared with the number of pages from those documents which have been published. But to see it stated so baldly — especially when coupled with Rusbridger’s additional comment, “I would not expect us to be publishing a huge amount more” — truly does take my breath away. If we add in the pages that have been published in outlets other than the Guardian, under the ever-watchful, “responsible” eyes of the information controllers (primarily Greenwald and Poitras), what total figure would we come up with? Perhaps 2% of the Snowden documents have been offered to the public?

In this latest story, Rusbridger repeats all the usual “justifications” for the refusal to disclose more, including this:

Rusbridger denied placing intelligence agents at risk, saying the Guardian had “made very selective judgments” about what to publish and hadn’t revealed any names.

“Very selective judgments” — yeah, no shit. And it’s a decidedly odd “adversarial” press that adopts the State’s rationales with such enthusiasm (Greenwald completely adopts them, too). Why such concern with “placing intelligence agents at risk”? I suppose you wouldn’t want to endanger the next coup, or throw a monkey wrench into plans for the next invasion. We’re talking about “intelligence agents” who work at the direction and on behalf of a criminal, murdering, brutalizing Death State. One might argue that we don’t need to protect such agents: to the contrary, we need to protect ourselves — and other innocent people around the world — from them.

But that’s just me and my cranky, nutty old man routine. I clearly fail to appreciate what the exercise of power requires, or the eager self-censorship engaged in by those who make themselves indispensable handmaidens to power.

It is certainly true that the 1% or 2% of the Snowden documents that our betters have decided it is “responsible” to share with us have provided additional details of various governments’ surveillance activities. While the details may be new (and sometimes valuable), we haven’t learned anything in general terms that many of us hadn’t already figured out. And the severely restricted focus on the NSA represents a very dangerous shifting of focus to one agency, when the threat is far more widespread.

As for the Guardian doing the State’s bidding (and Greenwald/Poitras/Omidyar as well, since they are all using the same rule book, which is the one devised by the State), additional details are mentioned in this Guardian piece:

During an hour-long session in front of the home affairs select committee, Rusbridger also:

• Said the Guardian had consulted government officials and intelligence agencies – including the FBI, GCHQ, the White House and the Cabinet Office – on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories.

• Said the D-Notice committee, which flags the potential damage a story might cause to national security, had said that nothing published by the Guardian had put British lives at risk.

Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the “debate” publication has engendered — the clamor of public voices demands “reform,” so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) — and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the “truth,” and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.

This is the dream script written by the States themselves — and it’s playing out in blood-drenched, high definition video before the willingly unseeing eyes of the world.

In his remarks, Rusbridger refers to his government’s efforts to “intimidate” the Guardian. I do not underestimate that intimidation, and I think Rusbridger’s comments must be viewed in part against that backdrop. It’s impossible to know to what extent Rusbridger emphasizes how few of the Snowden documents the Guardian has published — and how few additional documents it ever intends to publish — because of his desire to protect various individuals and theGuardian itself from government reprisals. But even if we appreciate this aspect of the charade being performed for us, it doesn’t make any difference in the end. Think of it this way: when you do the bully’s bidding — when you follow the bully’s orders — because you fear even worse results if you do not, you are not resisting the bully any longer. You are making the bully’s grip on power still stronger, and you have made the task of those who genuinely wish to challenge the bully’s stranglehold on power infinitely harder.

And that is precisely what all these “adversarial” journalists are doing: they have internalized the State’s demands almost completely (as I’ve detailed from the beginning of this saga, the journalists’ argumentsagainst disclosure track the State’s justifications at every point of significance), and they continue to willingly submit their decisions to the State for its review before publication. The governments involved have made clear that they are not seriously concerned about any of the disclosures thus far — and all the grandstanding about dangers to “national security” and the like, together with the efforts at intimidation, are designed primarily to discourage anyone who has even a stray thought about more far-reaching disclosure.

So I return to the 1% or 2% of the Snowden documents that have been made public. What would be the effect of publication of 20% of the Snowden documents — or 50%? Now that might likely cause serious disruption of the States’ operations, even at the 20% disclosure rate — and it is painfully obvious that none of the journalists involved have any intention of allowing publication on that scale. So whose side are the “dissenting” journalists actually on? It’s not the side of “the public,” despite all the blather about publication of what is in “the public interest.” No: they’re finally on the State’s side. But the charade allows the interested parties to pretend that a meaningful “debate” is occurring, and that “reforms” are in the offing that will make a serious difference. And everyone can sigh with relief that we finally know the “truth.”

On the basis of 1% or 2% of the total number of documents? We don’t know anything close to the truth and, with this cast of characters, we won’t in the foreseeable future.

Rusbridger’s comments also raise some important questions. Two of them should be answered by the journalists involved immediately. I have followed the NSA stories fairly closely since they began, and I have to state that, at this point, I have absolutely no idea who actually controls the Snowden documents, or various parts of them. Does theGuardian have its own copy(ies) of the entire Snowden trove? Rusbridger’s remarks seem to imply that. But it had appeared that only Greenwald and Poitras now have complete sets (see here for more on this, and this Update as well). And what happens when Greenwald and Poitras work with reporters at other newspapers on stories? Do those reporters get to keep their own copies of the documents about which their stories are written? Or do they only review copies temporarily provided to them? And so on. Since these particular journalists ceaselessly herald the virtues of transparency and accountability, how about some transparency and accountability on this question, especially since it’s now become hopelessly muddled? It should be easy to answer: these people — x, y, possibly, z, a, b, etc. — have complete sets; these people have partial sets (indicating in at least general terms the categories of documents held by additional individuals). As things stand now, except for knowing that Greenwald and Poitras have complete sets, we don’t know who has control of the documents. It seems to me that is of considerable importance. Isn’t it in “the public interest” to know which particular people control this allegedly world-shattering information?

My second question is of equal importance. Since it seems that, at most, a very, very small percentage of the Snowden documents will ultimately be made public, we are entitled to know why 98%, or 90%, or 50%, of the documents will never be made public. What percentage of the documents name names, and would therefore supposedly endanger “innocent” people? Can’t the names be omitted, and the redacted documents then published? Which percentage might endanger “national security”? How are these journalists determining what endangers “national security” (or what “national security” is?) or how much “danger” is permissible, if any? Is there some percentage of the documents that the journalists have determined to be not “newsworthy”? How is that determination made? What are the factors involved? As I noted in one of my earliest posts about this, we are offered only vacuous phrases devoid of specific content when it comes to the reasons for non-disclosure. In fact, we have no specific idea how any of these judgments are being made. Thus, we are reduced to the identical posture with regard to both the State(s) and the “dissenting” journalists: we just have to trust them.

To which, I have only this response: Fuck, NO.

One of the key pillars supporting the pretense of a “responsive democracy” is the belief in a “free,” “adversarial” press. But as described above — and there is much, much more that could be said on the subject — it is difficult to imagine how the NSA/surveillance story could redound more fully to the benefit of the States involved while simultaneously maintaining the illusion of “adversarial” journalism. It is a propaganda coup for the State of notable proportions. I, for one, am sickened by this deadly charade. It’s past time for it to end.

P.S. Before I saw this latest story this morning, I had already begun planning a new article (probably the first of several). The general subject is indicated by my provisional title: “Reflections on Power, Responsibility and Obedience.” The NSA story will be one example of the issues I intend to discuss, but perhaps not even one of the major examples. Nonetheless, the NSA story captures some of the dynamics that concern me with particular clarity. I hope to publish the first of those articles toward the end of this week.

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