“Those who hate the truth, hear only hate when the truth is spoken.”
By Guest Contributor- Rachel Blevins
I recently had the privilege of interviewing Ben Swann for a final paper in one of my classes. While the professor wasn’t too fond of the direction my paper went in, I learned a lot from the interview.
In fact, I probably learned more from the 40 minutes I spent on Skype with Ben Swann, than I did during the entire semester in that class!
If you’ve never heard the name before, Ben Swann spent the first fifteen years of his career working in the world of corporate media as a broadcast anchor in Texas and Ohio. He recently made the move to working in alternative media with the Truth in Media Project, which streams content through popular websites and devices, rather than through local media.
Several of the points Swann made during the interview were ones which really made me think, so I thought it was only right to share them.
We all have ways of gathering news throughout the day, whether it’s watching TV, or getting news updates on our favorite websites. I am willing to bet that most of news we watch, read, and listen to is from the corporate media.
It is so easy to just take whatever the corporate stations like CNN, NBC, and Fox feed us, without asking ourselves if it’s really the whole truth. Then there is alternative media – so, my first question was, what is the difference between the two?
1. Corporate Media vs. Alternative Media
Swann explained that all corporate media in the United States is under the ownership of six companies, which are broken into subsidiaries. Even local news outlets are owned by corporations, and these corporations are constantly looking to shrink costs, while increasing the amount of profit. Those with more experience are constantly being filtered out, as Corporate brings in more young, inexperienced people who are more willing to do whatever they are told.
He went on to say that alternative media differs due to the fact that it is run by independent people, working alone and trying to get the news out. While it doesn’t have the pressure of dealing with corporations, alternative media can be negative, because people in alternative media often feel like they have to do something sensational, in order to get noticed.
2. In terms of corporate media, there is a much greater government influence than the general public thinks there is.
Starting at the local level, Swann gave the example of corporate media constantly hiring young and impressionable news anchors and reporters.
He pointed out that, “For example, Public Information Officers for local Police Stations – who, ninety-percent of the time, are former reporters – have learned how to manipulate inexperienced reporters into practically regurgitating press releases, by threatening to cut them off if they report otherwise.”
“Local governments like local media” said Swann, “Because they have learned how to manipulate local media.”
At the national level, Swann said that state and federal governments also prefer corporate media, because even though there is a Left-Right Paradigm, everybody still wants access. It’s much easier to manipulate Media when they want access to your people, which they do through the Left-Right Paradigm system that has been set up. It’s much more difficult for State and Federal Governments to manipulate Alternative Media in the same way, because people in Alternative Media are just looking for anything they can find.
3. Saying that you’re covering both sides of the story creates a presumption that there are only two sides to the story.
In the United States, there is a common belief that everything political is split up into just two sides. This is what Swann refers to as a “Left-Right Paradigm.”
Swann defined the Left-Right Paradigm as the idea that there are two opposing sides: Republican vs. Democrat, Liberal vs. Conservative; if a person identifies with the right side, everyone on the right is good, and vice versa. He said the U.S. government uses this paradigm to “make you think the two sides are fighting against each other when in reality they’re not.”
Swann called stations like CNN, Fox, and MSNBC tabloid news stations, because they do not challenge the status quo. He explained, “Because our media works in concert with the government to sterilize and sanitize much of the news, we are not given an honest representation of what’s out there.”
Swann went on to say, “50% of the entire American electorate is no longer affiliated with the Republican or Democrat parties. What side is everyone else on? They’re not on a side; they have various points of view and political persuasions, but you would never know it watching CNN or MSNBC or FOX. The reason you wouldn’t know is because they don’t want you to know. They want you to believe there are only two sides: the left and the right.”
4. Government isn’t just trying to exert control on the media, they are trying to change the definition of who qualifies as a Journalist.
Swann shared that another way the United States government controls the media is through Media Shield Laws. He defined these laws by saying, “As a Journalist, if I am in a position where I have a source that gives me information, I do not have to reveal that source in a court of law.”
“Using Media Shield Laws, the U.S. government is deciding who gets Journalistic protection and who doesn’t,” said Swann.
“They pretend they’re doing it for the sake of looking out for real Journalists. These Laws don’t cover Bloggers, and for a while they didn’t include student journalists.”
Swann explained that Senator Diane Feinstein of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York have been working to redefine who a journalist is, through Media Shield Laws. Feinstein wants a Journalist to be defined as someone who works for a corporation. The problem with this is that it is possible to have Journalists who aren’t getting paid, but who are producing better work in terms of Journalism, than the corporate people who actually are getting paid for it. Feinstein’s plans for Media Shield Laws also overstep boundaries when it comes to Freedom of the Press.
“If you go back to the First Amendment, and your rights to Freedom of the Press, that is not a profession to be discussed.” Swann explained, “Freedom of the Press does not extend exclusively to someone who is paid to be a Journalist.”
5. Journalism is supposed to be blind, just like justice is blind.
Swann pointed out the fact that, “Journalism is not about shilling for the greater good. It does not weigh whether or not the public should know something, or deserves to know something.”
He explained that, “as a Journalist you do have a right to your Ethics, and to deciding if you’re going to release information that might put another person’s life in danger; but that’s not a pre-requisite for Journalism. That’s just your own ethics, and ethics aren’t about doing what your government thinks is the best idea.”
As George Orwell said, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else if public relations.”
6. Due to the government’s stranglehold, corporate media often gives us the opposite of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Swann explained that, “the American government has convinced the media that they have a responsibility to the people of the United States, when in fact, they don’t. In America, we have this mentality that says we have to protect the American people by keeping certain information from them, that we think isn’t good for them.”
The first example Swann gave of this, was during the war the United States waged on Iraq. He said that when the United States government killed half a million Iraqi’s, the American media did not relay the information to the public, and they didn’t show any images of Iraqi’s that had been killed by the U.S. The United States government convinced the media that showing the public those pictures would make the United States Army look bad, and would put America in harm’s way.
Swann’s second example of corporate media skewing information for the benefit of the United States government deals with U.S. Drone Strikes. He explained that while pictures showing the aftermath of a U.S. Drone Strike have never been shown on National Corporate Media in the United States, the United States has killed thousands of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Mali over the past seven years, using Drones. They are continuing to kill dozens of people in each of those countries on a regular basis, through Drone Strikes. Yet, the American people have never been shown pictures of the “Collateral Damage,” as the Department of Defense would call it.
Prior to Ben Swann, not one Network News Anchor or Reporter had questioned President Obama on the constitutionality of a “Kill List” with American citizens on it.
Swann believes that “if the American People knew what our Drone Strike Policy was like, the government wouldn’t be able to carry it out. If the public knew all of the information, they would see that 98% of the time, U.S. Drone Strikes are killing innocent people, and only 2% of the time, do they actually kill the intended targets.”
7. The United States government has yet to shut down social media, like some countries, but they have found a way to manipulate and control it.
Recently, a recorded conversation between four high-ranking officials in Turkey discussing how to create an incident in Syria that would allow them to then send Turkish Troops into Syria to get involved with the Civil War there, was leaked onto YouTube, and then shared on Twitter. Rather than apologizing for, or denying the conversation, the government in Turkey called the person who leaked the conversation a traitor, and then shut down YouTube and Twitter to keep people from sharing the conversation.
After hearing of these events, I had to ask… “Will there ever be a similar social media shutdown in the United States?”
Swann said, “If the United States government felt for any reason that they could or should limit those outlets, they would, but right now they do something different.”
Swann went on to explain that, thanks to Edward Snowden, we are aware of a program that has been in place, not to restrict access to social media, but to manipulate it. People are paid by our government to create disinformation and crazy, radical conspiracy theories, and to spread them on the internet, in order to create so much crazy content out there that people don’t know what’s true and what’s not. He summed it up by saying, “government is using our tax dollars to take credibility away from the people on the Internet whose theories are actually close to the truth.”
It’s not the same as shutting down the social media sites, but it is a different type of tactic.
8. The most important story of 2013: The War in Syria that never happened.
While it may seem like corporate media’s ties with the government makes them omnipotent, and unstoppable, that is not always the case. One exception was what Ben Swann called, “the most important story of 2013.”
“The United States government was determined to go to war, and to start firing missiles into Syria – even though they were already covertly funding Al-Qaeda in Syria,” said Swann. “Politicians didn’t stand up to it, and Media definitely didn’t stand up to it. Not only was Bill O’Reilly calling for War, but so were Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper. The highest paid people at each of the networks were supporting war in Syria, even though 89% of the American public was not.”
While there was not one report from CNN, FOX, or MSNBC that admitted that going to war with Syria would hand Syria over to Al-Qaeda, new media was able to get the truth out. Ultimately, the reason the public was not for the war, was because new media created content that was shared through social media, that persuaded the public otherwise.
After spending a semester in a class where I was taught to find some middle ground between stations like CNN and Fox, this interview was an eye-opener. It reminded me that there is a whole world of information out there, that is just waiting to be devoured. It also made me take into consideration where loyalties lie when it comes to media. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”