Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sept. 2: A bad day at the Irving press.

For an opener, this warning. The report that Russia is intervening in the Syria war has been denied by Russia – and has not been supported by any other news source. It appeared on an Israeli site, Ynet News. But Russia has denied it, and there is no sign of any confirmation coming.


Back in 1867, newsprint was expensive. The price of printing was expensive. And most people didn't have much money. So the only market for newspapers was the relatively well off. That meant the big news had to do with ship arrivals and investments, with only bits of news about the world. Then there were a few newspapers subsidized by political parties to spread their propaganda. A notable leader in this was the Toronto Globe, subsidized by the Liberal party. Another category, but a small one, was that of newspapers subsidized by churches. Altogether, their circulation was small, and their news very limited.

The technology of the late nineteenth century changed all that, making it possible to print the paper far more cheaply so that it could be sold for as little as one cent. Even in the 1940s, many Canadian newspapers still cost as little as three or four cents a copy. Just about anybody could afford a copy. And that added hugely to the value of the newspaper as an advertising device.

Quite suddenly, the newspaper became very, very profitable and, with their huge readership, very influential. But there were problems with all this.

To draw the readers, the papers had to come up with news that was exciting, often because of its propaganda appeal. At the end of the nineteenth century, the big news was about a brave English army officer, a colonel, who was valiantly and brilliantly holding off a massive force of Boers in a town in South Africa called Mafeking. His name was Colonel Baden Powell.

It went on for months with a public that couldn't read enough about this gallant Englishman, this living proof of British racial superiority.

When British troops relieved Mafeking, the army wanted to fire Baden Powell. It had taken a large party of the army months to get to Mafeking, a place Baden Powell wasn't supposed to be defending in the first place. In fact, he had been an incompetent ass in his defence of the town. But they couldn't fire him. He was a world hero. So they had to promote him to general. Baden Powell got their message, though, and invented a new career as founder of the Boy Scouts.

The newspapers won by playing this for sheer sensationalism. There was no attempt to find out the truth. Sensationalism sold papers. The truth didn't.

In the U.S. William Randolph Hearst took it a step further with his newspaper that spread propaganda favouring a war with Spain. It worked, as the U.S. began its overseas empire-building with the brutal conquest of The Philippines, and then its early interventions in China.

Newspapers became a big business, and so, necessarily owned by wealthy men. And they used it to make money out of sensationalism, and to make even more by using the propaganda power of the newspaper so they could get control of political decisions. The same thing happened in radio and TV with, for example, Fox News. Sensationalism and lying propaganda – those became the staples of almost all major news media in the world. (In Canada, CBC was an exception to the rule. But Harper will change that as soon as he can.)

The Irving press has carried on the tradition of sensationalism and propaganda, and added a third tradition of its own. It's boring.

The news in section A concentrates on boring.__________________________________________

The editorial is better than usual, if still short of smarts. It raises the issue of the decline of the village of Cape Tormentine, suggesting it should be an issue in the federal election because it is linked to the whole future of rural life in this province.

Sure, a Canada racked by concern about recession would certainly change the whole election as it realized the towering importance of rural New Brunswick to this whole nation.

The idea we should address this problem is a good one. But there is no way we can made this a federal issue. To say we can is just dumb. It's a provincial problem. And I have never read any provincial politician say anything about it – and I have never seen the Irving press offer an intelligent suggestion.

The future of rural New Brunswick is an important problem. It raises issues of transportation, medical care, education for both children and adults. And I don't see how closing schools and firing teachers is going to help in solving the problem. Of course, it does solve the problem of saving money so that the premier can give more welfare to the rich. That may be why the Irving press hasn't said much about it.

Why not? Well, it's safe bet that the owner of the Irving press has not the slightest interest in rural News Brunswick except cutting down its trees with cheap labour, and exploiting its minerals for as much profit as possible for him.

The first rule of our form of capitalism is that people don't matter. Only profits matter. (Oh, and they should be hidden to avoid paying taxes on them.)

Norbert treats us to the greatest issue of the day facing this province. He says we should be allowed to bring in beer from Quebec. In a way, making that a big issue manages to be both irrelevant and low-level sensationalism.

Hump Cormier doesn't have commentary. He has cute little story about how he doesn't like dark rooms. And he gets paid for this crap. When will this newspaper learn what a commentary is?

The guest editorial is, we are told, by the vice-president of Canada's leading Christian think tank. It's called Cardus. I've never heard of it. But here's a hint – if the byline has to tell you it's our leading Christian think tank, it almost certainly isn't.

I am sympathetic to its declared goal of bringing religious (but, apparently, only Christian) values into social planning. But I would like to know much more about its funding, and the qualifications of its researchers. As for this commentary, few will read it because it's confusingly written, has hints of political bias, and, in the end, really doesn't say anything. Nor do I see any hint of religious roots in his concern for the way we elect people.

The headline for the story, by the way (a headline usually written by the editor) has no link that I can see to the message (if any) of the commentary.

Alec Bruce saves the day for the whole paper with an excellent column on renewable energy. However, I don't think the boss will like that column. There's no money for the boss in renewable energy.

Section B is a disaster area with big stories on “Accused in Pokemon competition threat case denied bail (Boston); “Kentucky clerk still refuses to issue same-sex marriage licenses”. This is just sensationalism, if at a very low level. I suppose it might thrill people who have a sexual climax when they see dogs sniffing each other.

The only interesting story is on B4. The RCMP has laid a charge about a former Syrian intelligence officer for torturing a Syrian-born Canadian named Maher Arar. Now, get this.

In 2002, Arar was detained in New York, and deported to Syria where he was immediately jailed. Obviously, this was arranged between Syria and U.S. intelligence – and it seems to have been based on false information from the RCMP.

There, he was tortured. (How awful. Americans and Canadians would never do that.)

The charge will never lead to arrest, of course. The torturer is still in Syria and in the middle of a war. But there's an even more intriguing element. Somebody, presumably in the RCMP, is quoted as saying this will send a strong message to people who commit terrible abuses in faraway prisons.

What an absurd statement!

An unenforceable charge is going to send a strong message?

Okay. So when does Canada send a strong message for the illegal detention and prolonged torture of Omar Khadr? Why didn't Harper lead the way in standing up for a Canadian citizen? When do we or any other country plan to send arrest warrants to Bush and Obama for the thousands they imprisoned and tortured – and almost certainly are still torturing? - not to mention the torturing of Americans that still goes on in American prisons.

In fact, in all these years, not a single person involved in decades of massive U.S. torture has been accused of anything Nor has any accusation been made against Canadian officials who cooperated with it.

The only people who now face prison or, quite likely, death are the few who had the honesty and courage to release the truth of what was going on.

Tell me how Canada and the U.S. are any different from Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.

Just to read that dreadful statement….”….will send a strong message...” is enough to make one feel ill at our hypocrisy and sanctimony. For an historian, it's dismaying to see what we have done to what was once one of the most highly respected police forces in the world. I thought of that when I saw the camouflage gang with combat rifles at an anti-fracking demonstration here in New Brunswick. Now we have this story of a further decay created by Harper's kissing up to the U.S. and its fascist ways.

And the editor who wrote that headline should have had the brains to know that the headline is NOT what this story is about. It is NOT about a charge being laid because it will never be enforced. It's about the moral decay of Canada, the U.S. ( and more than a few others) who welcome the fascist states we have become. Fascism and capitalism are close friends. A major feature of Mussolini's fascism is that it made big business automatically a part of any government

In sum, we really need much commentary, informed commentary (and not about somebody who doesn't like dark rooms).

The news story, as rule, tells us very little. We need to know the background to the news if we're going to understand it. That's why I wrote so much about Chinese history in yesterday's blog. Reading the news is just not a very good way to learn the meaning of the news. We need informed (and honest) commentary. The best media for that are newspapers and radio. People are involved in radio and media. With TV, they just look at the changing shapes and colours.

But most commentary in the Irving press is trash. And most radio is just a modern equivalent of the old Juke-box.

For a look at what is happening in the middle east, see the site below.

The next site below deals with a ruling from the World Trade Organization that India must give up a massive plan for renewable energy. The reason? It discriminates against foreign capitalists by cutting into their oil profits, and not giving them a piece of the action. We're in for this sort of thing – and much more – if Harper gets his Trans-Pacific trade deal through.

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