Peter Lavelle: Journalism is gone from the Western Mainstream Media
In an interview conducted via Skype with Marwa Osman*, freelance journalist based in Beirut, Crosstalk Presenter Russia Today Channel Peter Lavelle emphasized that the western establishments’ accusations against the alternative news has a chilling effect on freedom of speech. The following is a transcript of the recorded interview exclusively for Khamenei.ir:
Over the past month we have witnessed utter hysteria from the corporate and mainstream media about the situation on the ground in East Aleppo before and during the liberation some of which has caused a global uproar against the Syrian government and its Russian allies. As the majority of the MSM reports were and still are being based on unverified sources, what do you think is the main purpose to be served as a result of this media propaganda?
If you pose the situation with East Aleppo, the situation is very important. However, it is really emblematic of the Mainstream Media in general on so many different topics. We could look at Brexit, we could look at the election of Donald Trump, and we see that all the scripts are written in advance. So, if something happens that overturns that assumption that everyone is supposed to be parroting, then you reach a crisis point. What is happening on East Aleppo was never supposed to happen, yet it is happening. It is cognitive dissonance. You simply can’t comprehend it. You can even be shown pictures and videos and you still come to the same conclusion. That is the very scary moment for journalism and for the media in general. There are any other topics for example like Russia, where you can’t conceivably have a different narrative and you just double down. A second important reason is that the mainstream media and its corporate owners and its partners in the government cannot accept allowing the narrative to be changed by someone else, us (RT International) for example. This is why they see us as a huge threat. So because of all these elements going back to east Aleppo, it is very important to see because you have many elements in play. You have NATO, you have USA leading them, you have Turkey within NATO when it sometimes is a rogue state and sometimes not because the West can’t seem to make up its mind over that. And because Russia is involved in this then it plays into other new narratives. For what has been a Facebook meme for the past six months actually explains it; Cameron is gone, Hillary is gone, Obama is gone, Hollande is gone soon and Merkel will probably be gone but President Bashar Assad is still there. What is happening is that our intelligence is being insulted because we found out the truth. We still remember 2003 and the illegal invasion of Iraq and everyone keeps saying ok it won’t happen again, we are vigilant, but it happens all the time and it keeps happening all over again. So this is a very interesting and critical moment because not only has the media understood that it has lost control of the narrative but we also know that they have indeed lost control of the narrative. So this is like a perfect storm all coming together and they (MSM) are panicking because they will no longer have the same kind of hegemoniccontrol over the news narrative that they had for an entire history of print media and into the electronic age. In 2016 that is a very important occurrence.
Do you think the Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara might have been still alive had the MSM not played a continuous narrative of hegemony and hatred?
Maybe. But again these terrorist organizations that have been essentially created or allowed to come into creation-- first in Iraq and then into Syria -- believe in their own narrative. See this is an interesting derivative of what terrorism is. You have the narrative that you cannot deviate from. It is always referred to as the violent Islam when Muslims themselves are the ones being killed all the time, they are the ones who are the victims most of the time. To answer your question differently is that because the media encourages this narrative president Bashar Assad and what or what not is happening inside Syria, it encourages these fanatics. If you read the broad sheets, I think it was the New York daily news that published a disgusting article entitled “the death of Putin’s lackey in Ankara” I mean it is breathtaking how low people can go and then they call themselves the establishment media. That is just so reckless. I read that this afternoon and it almost brought tears to my eyes. They say that President Assad and Russia and Iran and Hezbollah have no heart and no virtue yet they can’t even look themselves in the mirror. It is really insane what is happening here. What has happened is that they created parallel universes. We now live in parallel universes. On my program on CrossTalk on RT International, just yesterday we had this character came out and started parroting the CNN line and I and the other guests just started laughing. I mean does he still believe in what he is saying?
During your job as Crosstalk presenter on RT, you surely have encountered guests who were openly promoting western narratives of certain regional or international crises, how do you manage these narratives and what kind of feedback does that usually bring from your viewers?
Last week’s episode was a great example. We had 2 Turks. One Turk very skeptical of President Recep Tayip Erdogan and very skeptical of Turkey’s foreign policy. He is a very honest person despite the fact that we disagree on many issues. He has a narrative that is defensible and that is logical and open to interaction and to questioning. Then we had the other Turk who was just programmed in. Now what I do is that I let him have his piece and then I give the counter from a different guest for a different point of view and even though he was very insulting towards me personally but ok fine. But I got to show viewers, well you heard him and now you heard something else, so it is really up to the viewer to decide. The insulting guest took great issue with the liberation of East Aleppo which I provoked on purpose of course and you could see him clearly cringe and then it all started and it got a bit sloppy. As for the reaction of audiences; they are happy that I am keeping those people to account. You know I am never going to convince that guy to change his mind but I want to show him that there are people like myself and like my viewers who don’t believe a word he has to say. Like when they start with “barrel bombs” then ok let’s do the barrel bomb thing and if you can’t really convince they stretch on and say “well look what Russia did to Grozny” and all that propaganda. My answer would be “well you don’t know much about all that”. They don’t understand that if they really wanted to use the parallel to Grozny, then maybe it won’t be such a great idea because you know what? Grozny is the most modern city in Russia right now because it was completely rebuilt. It has become a very quiet and tolerant place.
Recently the Mainstream Media has declared war on the Alternative Media by stating that alternative media has become an “epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda” that is flooding social media. As a result along came the new phenomena of “fact checking” which in reality can cause even more confusion for the audience and work as cognitive dissonance. What are your thoughts about this phenomena and do you think there is still a margin to fight it back?
Look I can’t really remember the exact number, but it is close to only 6% of the American public have confidence in the American media. I mean it is a single digit. How would the mainstream media try to get that trust back? Well I don’t think they are trying to get that trust back, they are just doubling down on the same old narrative. So I think that in the moment that we are in right now, they are definitely putting more pressure on the alternative media. I have talked to a lot of people in the alternative media world on that list of so called “fake news” and to be honest there are some on that list that I would find a bit dodgy and some of them I have never even heard of. But some of the ones that I know I contacted them on Facebook and email and I asked them how their website traffic was going, some of them have been hit really hard and others mildly so. I think that the powers are testing it out, seeing what the reactions might be. But I know for a fact that one of these websites known as 21stcenturynews.com where hit pretty hard. But what we do is that we all get together on social media and spread the word that this website is being attacked or that website is being attacked and notify the public to go directly to the site of the news outlet because what Facebook does is that it filters your timeline and not all your friends would see your posts about it on a timely basis. Or on twitter your tweet will be up for a certain amount of time and then it disappears or it doesn’t reach all your followers. However, taking a step back we should be quite happy about this because they know that we are threatening their hegemonic position in media and it is not going to stop me; on the contrary I am going to talk even more about it. I do a segment on Sunday called bullhorns and what we do is we just pick a part of the media lies and we are talking about media like the Washington post, the new York post, the wall street journal, the Guardian; you know going for those people and tell our viewers that if you read their news then you are contributing to the problem. Going full circle back to the East Aleppo example, we have at work Aljazeera, CNN, BBC etc. and for me it is just breathtaking how they continue to push this false narrative when people are liberating Aleppo and they start cheering and they have a rally and they wave their flags and you have the MSM media describing them as “these poor dreadful people”, “the worst is yet to come”, “The Russians are going to bomb them” at that point even my staff would ask ‘what are they talking about?”. I mean just look at the pictures and they will tell you about the situation on the ground, it tells a completely different story. However, as I said earlier, they can’t admit that they were wrong. They got so used to their monopoly about what the truth is and that’s why article after article, RT gets clobbered and clobbered. But you know what? I read all these articles about RT and the criticism of it but they don’t mention any examples. I wish they’d say an example of Putin’s propaganda on Russia Today are so and so but I never read those lines because I never find them. They just say that RT is a propaganda station without any facts. Look opinions are fine but I deal with facts and I never see what the factual criticism is.
Since we are talking about Russia Today here, what is your take on the countless measures that have been undertaken in the UK and Europe over the last few years to ostracize, shout down, or downright impede the work of RT?
(laughing) Well it is free advertising for us. Our numbers go up even higher when they do such moves. It is like what they did with NatWest-- that bank in the UK -- when they said that unilaterally out of the blue and without any explanation we are cutting ties with RT, our numbers went instantly up. I mean why are they attacking the station? What they do is that they give us more advertising. However, if they do go all the way and they take us off the air in Europe or in the UK, they will not be able to take us off YouTube or elsewhere on the internet. But there is one downside. Google. If the universe is the internet, Google is the center of it which is the sun unfortunately. But you know, they make a lot of money out of us (RT) because RT is the largest news hit provider on YouTube than any other media outlet. Not BBC, not Sky, not CNN it’s RT. So if they want to cut us out then they will cut into their own revenue stream. Look I was told a story about former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak who while on visit once to Qatar went to see Aljazeera and his words were “this is the mouse that roars?!” and this is how I feel about RT. I mean come and see us we are the mouse that roars. I wish I were paid more money, I know everybody else wishes the same way. But the mainstream media wants a monopoly. For example, OfCom in the UK (a communications regulator in the UK) are on my neck all the time and we are just getting used to it. I simply ask “what is the complaint this time?” and they show it to me. One example was that allegedly one of my guest on Sunday said that the NATO summit was held at the presidential palace in Warsaw, but that if I had fact checked it, it was actually held in the sports stadium outside of Warsaw. And my reaction was “WOW this is important for some unknown reason” and my second reaction was “this is something a guest said”… so am I now going to be held accountable for something a guest said? I mean I knew there was a summit but I did not know the venue of the summit and I could not have possibly been able to fact check it simultaneously during the show either. This is really grappling at straw. See I am going for a high level intelligent audience, if you are upset about a venue then just change the channel.
Those in power in the US in specific have been so exposed by alt-media in 2016 that they are growing more desperate by the day. Right now their biggest lie is blaming President Vladimir Putin and Russia for being behind everything gone wrong in the world with the latest claims asserting that Putin’s hackers overturned the presidential election results in favor of Donald Trump. But isn’t the US’s deep state’s accusations against alt-news of being “agents of Russian propaganda,” a screaming attempt to shut down America’s First Amendment right to a free press? And if so, how is it possible that 300 million Americans still can’t see that?
I think the majority of them do. We can look at the Brexit and we could look at Trump. Let us assume that there were any Russian interference, there is no empirical evidence that it had an impact of how voters felt. So even if it is there, it doesn’t have any impact. In both cases of Brexit and Trump, they are using excuses why they were wrong. They are trying to blame someone, but they will never blame themselves. Yes, you are right. This has a chilling effect on freedom of speech. An example of that is what happened on Fox News the other day when Tucker Carlson was interviewing a congressman and he was called saying ‘if you don’t believe me since I am on the intelligence committee then you are Putin’s puppet” it is an amazing clip found on YouTube. I mean here is a conservative congressman who is not friendly towards Russia but he is neutral, probably he has nothing good to say, but he was saying you are not giving any evidence whatsoever on Russia’s involvement in the results of the US elections. I mean come on, people first of all don’t trust the media and now they will look at the mainstream media and say “now you say this is the Russians’ fault?” When in reality deep down a lot of people have a lot of admiration for President Vladimir Putin as he appears to be a leader, they might not like his policies but he appears to be a leader and shows the ability to lead. In my opinion, no one in the western political league exhibits any signs of leadership because they are not leaders, they rather read scripts and so I am not sure it is having any affect. On my program I had 2 retired CIA analysts, a good standing, Philip Geraldy and Ray McGovern and they are well respected among their peers both the retired peers and people that are still at the company. They came on to talk about the Russian matter in the US and they shook their heads almost to the point of laughing. This is complete fraud. The CIA has the means to find out if it really was a hack and anyone can understand if you present the facts but it was a leak. Western media don’t have the courage to bring such analysts but they bring in people who brought us Iraq and people who brought us Syria and who have destroyed east Aleppo and Yugoslavia and they are still there in the establishment. See if you are a pundit you never lose your job to incompetence, you are never held accountable for what you do. Edith Miller for the New York times she was fired but for a very different reason than selling a good of lies about WMDs in Iraq. No one gets fired. But this chilling affect is very damaging because with this concerted effort to deny the legitimacy of Donald Trump, irrespective to whether I like him or not, this is a neurosis growing in the body politics in the United States of America. We don’t trust the media. The heartland voted for Donald Trump, so they want to take that, they want to take his presidency from him. Now you see Obama in the waning days of his presidency [doing] something we have never seen before, dropping the waver against arming the “rebels” in Syria, outing on more sanctions against Russia, I mean isn’t this really the next administration’s responsibility? People can understand the game. The MSM first said that he was elected and now you are saying that there was Russian influence. The president of the United States can’t get his story straight. In total of what we have been saying here today is that something really important is happening. Alternative voices are far more legitimate now than ever before. The more you attack us the more you actually give us legitimacy. I always tell my staff and my viewers, I may not be able to convince you on anything but I can make you doubt about what you have heard and what they tell you is true. If we can create doubt and interrogation, that is a success itself. That is why we are doing this right now. We will continue to thrive in the western media. These are business models, if you want to get at someone don’t call them a name, go after their wallet. That is where it will hurt them. Just stop watching the MSM. You know MSNBC called me last week and they wanted me to go on with them and I said no…I don’t want to legitimize your narrative. Because they will end up asking how often do I beat my wife!!That will be the essence of their questions all the time. That is not honest journalism. And I keep telling the people, don’t engage the MSM anymore. They are dishonest, they know that they are dishonest and they are paid to be dishonest. Journalism is gone from the western mainstream.
* Marwa Osman is a Media studies university lecturer at the Lebanese International University and a political commentator from Lebanon. She is also a member of The Blue Peace initiative's media network. She hosted a political show on 'Al Etejah English' TV channel, and she is often seen on 'Russia Today' as a panelist.
Peter was interviewed by Don DeBar of CPR News