Media Monopoly and Virtual Reality

by Bob Avakian

Revolutionary Worker #1153, June 2, 2002, posted at

"Media Monopoly and Virtual Reality" is an excerpt from a tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, USA, in the aftermath of September 11 and in the context of the war launched by the U.S. government, focused initially against Afghanistan. Major excerpts of this talk are available in a special magazine--"The New Situation and the Great Challenges"--and this week's article is part of a series of additional material from this talk.

The magazine, featured in RW 1143, is available online at and at Revolution Books stores and outlets.

I've spoken previously to some of the ways in which the imperialists are moving to impose and enforce their diktat in this new situation, and how it's becoming increasingly clear that they are less and less willing to tolerate dissent, or even to allow the airing of viewpoints that run counter to and might in some way puncture the whole "propaganda monopoly" they are attempting to achieve. To cite another striking example of this, amidst the battle for Kabul and the takeover of Kabul by forces aligned with the U.S., essentially buried in the U.S. media (and the international media serving U.S. imperialism) was the fact that the Kabul outlet of the Arab-language news network al-Jazeera was bombed by U.S. war planes. I kept waiting to see a report saying that the U.S. had claimed this was an accident, but there never was such a report so far as I know. (This kind of policy is not some "innovation" of the current U.S. regime: during the Clinton administration, when the U.S. waged its one-sided war against Yugoslavia, it bombed the state-run television station in Belgrade because it was broadcasting propaganda representing the point of view of the Milosevic government, as opposed to the propaganda of the U.S. imperialists.)

And the bombing of the al-Jazeera outlet in Kabul came after the U.S. tried to pressure the Emir of Qatar into silencing al-Jazeera . The Emir of Qatar, while in the U.S., was interrogated by the U.S. media--why doesn't he shut down al-Jazeera ? And he replied, "Well, of course, we have to support freedom of the press"! Here is a really ludicrous but also revealing spectacle: the oppressive, autocratic ruler of Qatar lecturing the U.S. media on the importance of a "free press"!

But the fact is that the U.S. imperialists don't want any mass media, any source of information for broad numbers of people, to contradict what these imperialists have to say. They want only one view of the world. They want to create their own "virtual reality"--this big bubble of unchallenged "artificial truth"--which they think they can manage in such a way that it will never implode on itself or be exposed by the reality of events that are actually going on in the world. Of course, in the final analysis this is impossible, but it is what they are actually trying to do.

Another instance of this is when Bush, et al, indicated to the U.S. media that they should no longer run any videos (at least any "uncut" videos) from bin Laden and al Qaeda. And the reason (or rationalization) they gave was that such videos might contain some coded messages--instructions for "terrorist cells," etc. Well, many people (mostly not in the mainstream media) quickly pointed out the absurdity of this. I also want to speak to the insidiousness of it, but the absurdity of it is made plain by the fact that, first of all, al-Jazeera runs these things and the "terrorist followers of bin Laden" are going to be able to see this on al-Jazeera--plus it can go out on the internet and people can get it that way. So, clearly, that was a flimsy, threadbare and almost entirely transparent pretext with which the U.S. media willingly went along, and the real purpose was to try to prevent people from hearing a point of view opposed to that of the imperialists.

And look at the practice of al-Jazeera , in contrast with that of the great "American free press"--the mainstream mass media controlled by U.S. monopoly capital. Al-Jazeera has often had Israeli officials on--it has invited U.S. officials on during this current war. This is an embarrassing contrast for the U.S. ruling class and the "performance" of its media. Even though al-Jazeera obviously has a point of view--and it is not that of the revolutionary proletariat- -its airing of contrasting points of view is objectively an indictment of the actual role of the mainstream U.S. media as instruments of the ruling class in general and a blatant part of its war machinery--the propaganda arm of this imperialist war machine--in the current situation.


And this ties back in with their move to establish military tribunals. The repressive aspect of these tribunals--being able to summarily try, convict, and execute people whom they regard as a threat to them in some form or another, and the general terror that this spreads, the fear and intimidation people will feel in regard to opposing the government--is very important. But also very important is the aspect in which this will make it much more difficult for people to put forward a point of view, including in the context of a trial, that challenges the whole distorted view of the world that the imperialists are putting forward and the whole idea that they're the righteous forces in the world fighting the "evil- doers." When you have a public trial, even though the authorities try, it is difficult for them to completely prevent the defendant (or the defendant's legal and/or political representatives) from speaking about what they did or didn't do, and why they did or didn't do something. And, particularly where the defendant wants to speak to the larger issues involved, it is difficult to entirely suppress that. In other words, in such cases, however much they may try to suppress it legally, political statements come out in and in relation to a public trial. Many of the public trials of "accused terrorists" would give rise to political movements and political statements which, even if they were expressive of a reactionary Islamic fundamentalist point of view, for example, would be likely to expose a lot about the reality that the U.S. imperialists are trying to cover up.

And it is important to realize that these tribunals may not be aimed only at "foreigners" whom the U.S. government declares to be "terrorists." Here again we should keep in mind the Martin Niemoeller statement*--the way in which he is describing how the NAZIs first went after certain sections of society but continued to broaden the scope of their repression, step by step, using the momentum and the terror created through one wave of repression to create more basis for the next. Even at this point, when Bush & Co. are saying that these tribunals would only be applied to non-citizens, they've got certain "talking heads" already calling for applying this to U.S. citizens as well, and you can see the logic. Take Cheney's logic--anybody that we accuse of being a terrorist or aiding terrorists doesn't deserve rights. Well, why doesn't that apply to citizens, too, logically? It's not a very big leap.

So anybody who would put forward a point of view contrary to that of the imperialists, and who would bring out some reality that might tear a hole in the "artificial truth" they are systematically seeking to establish, anyone who would be able to use a public trial as a forum for indicting them politically--well, they can't have that. This is for the same reasons that they bomb al-Jazeera , that they have their "free press" pressuring the Emir of Qatar to silence al-Jazeera , and so on. They can't have anybody putting out any contrary view that breaks the bubble of "virtual reality" that they're trying to create and maintain. Of course, most people in the world see through this to one degree or another, but as long as the American people can be kept in this sort of non-real reality, then it is easier for the imperialists to go ahead doing what they're doing and to hope that this "virtual reality" will never implode or be punctured by the actual greater reality out there.

* "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."--Pastor Martin Niemoeller, 1945, summing up the emergence of Nazi Germany.

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