Our News and their News

Americans live in a late capitalist society where the rich have gotten many times richer and the middle class has gotten poorer, where Wall Street bankers have stolen us blind and blamed us for living above our means, where persistent unemployment is worse than in the Great Depression, where most politicians and some judges have been bought by corporations or special interests, where authorities actively conspire to keep people from voting, where the government spies on citizens assiduously without warrant or probable cause, and where the minds of the sheep are kept off their fleecing by substituting celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and half-disguised bigotry for genuine news.

In the Arab world, masses of 20-year-olds have challenged their corrupt politicians and manipulative billionaires in the streets, demanding transparency, an end to arbitrary secret police, and free and fair elections untainted by influence-peddling and plutocracy. I have Arabic satellite t.v. on in the background most of the day, with its dramatic stories of personal risk and human tragedy and bold challenge to a rotten status quo. And I channel surf over to the American cable news and mostly find fluff or de-contextualized reports or, frankly, propaganda. So here is my life, the day’s news given synoptically, our news and their news.

Our news is about Sarah Palin not knowing fifth grade American history about Paul Revere, and her acolytes changing around Wikipedia to make her right.

Their news is about killing 5 US soldiers in Iraq with rocket fire. After the US pledged to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, attacks on American troops almost stopped. Now that Washington and the Pentagon are pressuring the government of PM Nouri al-Maliki to keep several thousand US troops in Iraq after Jan. 1, 2012, militias and guerrillas are again threatening to target US forces in that country; and not just threatening.

Our news is about a rich old French banker charged with assaulting a poor young Muslim maid in a New York hotel.

Their news is about armed rebels setting an ambush and killing 120 members of the Syrian security forces, as a months-long popular revolt in that country turns more serious than ever. Aljazeera reports:

Our news is about a six-term US congressman from New York who has been sexting.

Their news is that Yemen is on a knife edge over whether Ali Abdullah Saleh will attempt to return to the country after surgery in Saudi Arabia, with social violence and perhaps civil war looming if he does attempt to return.

Our news is about an American politician accused of misusing campaign contributions to hide his mistress.

Their news is that Free Libya forces have used light arms and sheer guts to fight off Qaddafi’s tanks, which had been shelling the southwestern desert town of Yefren, freeing it from bombardment and looming food and water shortages. Aljazeera has video:

Our news is about a state supreme court deciding whether workers in that state have a right to have a union and engage in collective bargaining.

Their news is about Egyptians forming wildcat unions, chasing President Hosni Mubarak from office, now cheekily making demands on the transitional military government for workers’ rights.

51 Responses

  1. yup, their news is testimony that their lives are materially a lot worse than ours.

    we’re fat, comfortable and complacent and they have generations to go before they can hope for the same.

    • oh shut up, you really think that’s what they want? to be like us? we’re so pathetic that we don’t even want to be like use. wake the fuck up.

      • Mouse,

        had I said that they wanted to be like us, you would simply be a rude asshole, rather than an errant rude asshole.

    • Sad that your comment has gotten the response it has. It’s obvious people with even slightly more difficult lives take things more seriously. They may even enjoy themselves more if only because they expect less.

      Whatever Americans may say it’s really no fun being spoiled.

  2. … indeed … and some of us hope they (and we?) won’t be fooled again … but just maybe they are braver than we are …
    i wish them well, and, sadly, avoid everyone of us

  3. Prof Cole,

    You knowledge is encyclopaedic and command on English extraordinary. Literary beauty is my weakness and I am very sensitive towards it. Sometimes your eloquence is devastating. I really loved this expression, ” where the minds of the sheep are kept off their fleecing by substituting celebrity gossip, sex scandals, and half-disguised bigotry for genuine news.”

    Your today’s post is not just a temporary commentary dealing with a fleeting occurrence.Its a classic in its own right, and must be remembered and read again and again in future.

    Thanks and congratulations on writing this timeless post.

  4. Your commentary is so refreshingly and consistently excellent, thank you so much for your work here.

    The U.S. is clearly in some sort of late imperial decline. Have you noticed Steve Coll’s article in the June 6th New Yorker, the billions in aid we have given to Pakistan has fueled support for the Taliban and adventurism versus India, plus the Paki military’s burrowing into the civilian economy.

    The only questions are how deep the rot has already gone, and how quickly the slide may accelerate. We’re surely over 20% down from some sort of 1945-55 peak of relative power, but is it really 39% down or 61% down? Hard to tell. And the slide does seem to be accelerating with the increasing idiocy of the major media and the political class.

    • In 1955, we were in a position of rough equivalence with the Soviet Bloc. Yep, we were more powerful than they were, but we were in the same ballpark.

      In 2011, we have lapped the rest of the world, perhaps twice, in terms of relative power. While this might not be as impressive as, say, 1998, when we’d lapped them three times, it’s still a great deal higher, relatively, than in 1955.

      • If you think mere military power, which we can’t afford as a society, is the measure of imperial greatness, I suppose you may be correct.

        I was thinking of the totality of civilizational excellence in things like sustainable, citizen-powered (and citizen-empowering) political, economic and social cultures. Not to mention sustainable relationships with the rest of the world.

  5. But the US is still in the best position to interfere and teach these people about democracy, free speech, human rights, and capitalism.

    • what are you smoking? that’s not what we have, and they don’t want their country to look like ours

    • Well, that may be true, if you mean teach by showing them what *not* to do. The US may have had ideal versions of some of the things in your list at some point, but these days they definitely do not.

      Democracy? When you have a 2-party lock on everything, where analysis shows plainly that whoever spends the most money wins, where legislation is designed by the people it should be applied to, and where legislators and lobbyists literally swap places every few years? It’s not democracy by any definition I would recognise.

      Free Speech? When protest groups at almost any large event are coralled into ‘speech zones’ and arrested if they attempt to get closer to the actions? When a popular senator can say in public that people just attending radical speeches should be locked up? When whistleblowers are prosecuted more forcefully than at any other time in US history while the criminals they blow the whistle on walk free? There are too many examples to list, but I assure you the practise of free speech in the USA is dead.

      Human Rights? Now you are joking, surely? The USA imprisons hundreds of people without any proof, without any charges, tortures, maims, and in some cases kills them outright, then invokes states secrets privilege to prevent them ever seeing the inside of a courtroom? When a US president asserts the right to assassinate anyone, even US citizens, far from any war zone and for reasons he doesn’t have to disclose to anyone? When every US citizen can be spied on without a warrant for reasons again that need not be disclosed? Human rights are a bad joke in the US.

      Capitalism? The economic, financial, and industrial systems in the USA are as far removed from capitalism as is possible. Failed companies are perpetually bailed out by the taxpayers, honest competition is considered a sin by the wealthy elite families and every CEO learns quickly that it is far more reliable and profitable to cheat, bribe, and lobby your way to market domination instead of actually competing equally with other companies?

      I hope those poor developing countries *do* look to the US and learn about all these important subjects, i.e. how they can be subverted and destroyed when enough money is applied.

      And then they find other countries where these things actually exist, and learn about them there as well.

  6. Sheeple is an apt description of the western masses. Where I work there are about 850 other employees and at least 90% of them have no idea what is going on in the ME or, probably worse, they repeat the drivel fed to them by the MSM. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard ” those people” have been fighting for centuries, like Europe was a haven for peace nics and butterflies for the past 2000 years.
    A very sad, but I think engeneered situation.

  7. Bread and Circuses…

    One cannot help but think of the great Roman satirist Juvenal’s scornful words, “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the people have abdicated their duties; the people, that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and long eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses.”

    Just as the Romans lost the capacity to govern themselves by being so distracted by mindless self-gratification, we also have our “bread and circuses” as well as many other outlets for mindless self-gratification.

    According to Juvenal, writing about the Rome of his time, it was hard not to write satire. It is hard not to write satire these days, when we and our government are so consumed with bread and circuses. We constantly satirize ourselves.

    At some point will the audience begin to realize that there is no longer any bread, just circuses?

  8. Then best thing that could happen right now is for Weiner to stand his ground and stay in office. Just say “SO WHAT” to the babbling media and the holier than thou politicians.

    (If the Democrats can capture the philanderer vote in 2012, they will lock up the Presidency and both houses of Congress.)

    When enough well placed, power SO WHAT’s are directed at the media, I think it will get serious. Jellyfish can’t move against the current.

  9. If by “our news” you mean many domestic US channels, maybe, but international channels like france 24, cnn international and euro news have all been covering the events in the middle east pretty well.

    Also the reason why stations like al jazeera wouldnt really cover stories that are embarrassing to its government authorities is due to qatars press freedom being poor and that criticising the government is, according to reporters without borders, highly risky.

  10. Professor: This is an excellent, succicnt, side-by-side comparison of U.S. main stream news vs what is actually happening in the world. I have blamed the MSM for not presenting the “facts” for years, but I now think the fault is “us”, the American people. In general, we are not interested, for a variety of reasons, in what is happening in the world. I am not sure how we can change this, which is frustrating.

  11. The news is a commodity produced by the capitalist, corporate media. Their priority is providing content that attracts the viewers their advertisers covet so they may profit. These capitalist corporations are indifferent to providing information so people may make important decisions about their lives. If it happens every now and again fine, but it is incidental to their overriding profit concerns. This is all we can expect from the capitalist, corporate media.

    Dr. Cole apparently has non-profit motivations, including informing his readers by providing independent and educational analysis of Middle Eastern events. This is one reason why his website is so important.

  12. I trust you’re documenting a fait accompli and not issuing a waring about a grave future, because as fellow Truth-Digger Chris Hedges has shown, our society is now in a post-collapse period, in which the forces of evil have triumphed and the forces of good are vanquished.

    Our news has been Weiner-gate and rich foreigners in trouble for 40 years already. Our political class has been worsening for 40 years now. Our schools have been disasters for 40 years now.

    At some point you gotta cry uncle and recognized you’re whipped.

  13. Thanks for this showing of the PROFOUND EVENTS and SENSIBLE REPORTING in the Middle East and the SMALL EVENTS and RIDICULOUS REPORTING here.

    Non-reporting by USA’s MSM is a major form of pro-imperial corruption, as it prevents USA’s people from knowing what’s what out there in order to inform political activity here. Of course.

    Non-reporting by USA’s MSM of continuous peaceable uprisings against Israeli occupation are another aspect of pro-imperial (Israeli empire, here) corruption.

  14. I am grateful that you do have Arab news on satellite all day, so that I can come here and read what you’ve evaluated and analyzed from it!
    I’ve read/heard reports on the first four Arab news stories you mentioned – but only on the BBC (broadcast via NPR) and from the New York Times. Yet we all know that even the BBC is closing foreign language broadcast offices and even the New York Times is threatened financially. One never hears such dire information about the fluff news media.

  15. “Where Wall Street bankers have stolen us blind and blamed us for living above our means,” where military costs spiral out of control, and instead of requiring DOD to pass a GAO audit, the “leadership” focuses on gutting Medicare…

  16. Dear Professor Cole, In a few short paragraphs you have poetically and incisively described the American malaise that has so troubled concerned citizens in recent years; unfortunately, these citizens appear to be too few in number and/or silent of voice and/or incapable of public action. Sadly it seems we have educated our youth to desire only “bread and circuses” and accept the propaganda line from the wealthy elite as their own world view. This is the legacy that Baby Boomers (the “Me Generation”) leave to their progeny and the world at large. Though Boomers are aged and approaching their own demise, it is not too late for them/us to reach back and resurrect the American ideals of our past, throw off our consumerist malaise and hit the streets, campuses, seats of power and, once more, in active demonstrations of protest of governance misdirection and actions that are contrary to our desires and a betrayal of our American Ideals. Gear up and get going, Grey Power!! We must use our remaining strength to redeem ourselves.

  17. “free Libyans with light arms” ?!? LOL!! The damage done to Libyan AFV’s was from NATO FB’s and AHC’s directed by NATO FAC’s. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there will be a NATO occupation fronted by Cyrenaican puppets/useful idiots

  18. My response to yr words this morning(over coffee for morning depression): I donated $25(a substantial sum for this unemployed blue-collar elder)into your pocket to encourage your exemplary work. And thank you for bringing Comments back, as the roughshod discussions (here, with Greenwald & others is intrinsic to my “continuing education”. We really do live in a media wasteland.

  19. Great post! It certainly seems contradictory that the nation that so often feels it can intervene militarily around the world (under the pretense that it is spreading democracy) is also the nation that has gradually been limiting some of the rights its own people should be entitled to in a democracy that truly ensures equality and freedom for all citizens. Most Americans don’t have the desire to follow “their news” as you call it – the stuff that actually matters in a global context – because that would be less entertaining than “our news.” Laughing at Sarah Palin and the mistakes she frequently makes when speaking publicly (and the subsequent satires/parodies that people like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert create) allows Americans to ignore tragedies and conflicts. It makes it easier for them to go on with their own lives, paying attention to the things that they see directly affecting them. It’s disappointing to realize that although there is the potential for globalization to decrease apathy and improve the world in one way or another, it isn’t really happening. For example, you see American youth more concerned with watching reality t.v. shows like “16 and Pregnant” than with following, say, news coverage of the wars that their country is fighting.

    I only wonder if there is a solution to this imbalance between “our news” and “their news” and “our youth” and “their youth.” To continue with my example from above, I think it would be a step in the right direction if reality t.v. shows like “16 and Pregnant” did not exist. That way, maybe American youth would focus more on global events than on the life of a teen mom. Unfortunately, I don’t think a television network would ever replace reality t.v. shows (that attract large audiences) with shows that present genuine news. Do you have any solutions to offer as to how Americans might care more about and have more access to genuine news?

  20. Although the head of Formula One (FIA) concluded from a fact-finding mission that Bahrain would be safe for the (delayed) F1 Grand Prix there, Ecclestone is actually recommending that teams themselves vote not to hold it.

    The argument is that FIA is only tasked with determining factors such as safety or the ability to hold the race, not making decisions such as not going based on Bahrain’s continual killing and imprisoning and abuse of anti-regime / pro-democracy civilians.

    Such a decision by the teams is very likely. Carrying out the race would be terrible for their image; but it would likely end the possibility for the same next year (aside from some positive outcome in Bahrain I’m not able to currently imagine).

    I think going forward would be a very bad decision for the sport which needs sponsors and manufacturer backing as well as attendees and fans, and widespread Western protests which would occur wouldn’t exactly help that.

    I expect that advertisers and auto companies like Ferrari or Lotus wouldn’t like their marketing image tarnished by people associating them with support of murderous repression by a mid-Eastern potentate.

  21. And we can’t even get al Jazeera on our cable system.

    Our journalism is, with a few great exceptions, shallow and un-serious.

  22. So…our news is about things that happen in the United States, while “their” news is about things that happen in “their” countries.

    Oh, and much more terrible things happen in their countries.


  23. I’m usually a big fan, but I found this post to be lacking. I do think it’s tough for professors who have a vested interest in pushing back against the systems of control to insinuate that our country is complacent. Most academics don’t stick their necks out. They aren’t in the streets. They’re up in the Ivory Towers, and they’re telling students about injustices without leading by example to remedy them. Everyone understands the problems. Blogging amounts to Slacktivism when it’s just posting worn out sophistry and rhetorical tropes instead of digging up new facts or advocating involvement in concrete, specific instances of citizen activism. Anyone upset that more people aren’t out tilting at illusory corporate overlords should mount up their high horses and ride right now. Otherwise, less sanctimony and more insightful on-the-ground reporting.

    Alright that’s my lefty angle. Righty angle, now.

    I don’t think it’s accurate to divide so readily between “our news” and “their news.” You have to be more precise in your claim. Who is “we” and who is “they”? My news includes KCRW’s To The Point, that’s kept me on top of all this stuff. NPR also. I don’t have a satellite, and I’m one of “we.” More importantly, most folks don’t actually care about this stuff because they come home from a long day of hard work at ANY wage and they need entertainment to get them through the craziness of their daily grind. So if “we” turn on local news every night before switching over to law and order, perhaps with an eye toward who we’ll vote for in 2012, I’m happy. Unless “we” are turning to L&O Criminal Intent, because that’s a horrible show. SVU. Full stop.

    Anyway, “propaganda” is a stretch unless we’re ONLY talking about cable news. Very few people WATCH cable news. As David Brooks says, there are more people in America who own ferrets than watch Fox News. It’s a scarecrow.

    With local news programming, there are some salacious stories. But when Al Jazeera gains an established presence and gets more funding, you’ll find the same fluff there too. This is a story about media incumbency v. scrappy market insurgents.

    I’ll conclude. I prefer posts that focus on remedying Americans’ alleged ignorance on the merits than posts shaming or alienating them for lacking the educational chops, the spare intellectual bandwidth, and the sinecure, quite frankly, to sit around ALL DAY for YEARS reading about Yemen on the off-chance case it becomes relevant in 2011. So, um, I guess I would say, get back to work homie.

    • While it’s true that Fox News does not have half the country watching it, it does have enough people watching it to make a difference. It’s a very popular cable channel with a kind of cult following, and that cult following can influence elections that have close margins. Fox News, and MSNBC as well, also point to an overall trend of regressing journalism. We are returning to the days of yellow journalism and sensationalism that was rampant at the turn of the 20th century and the late 19th century which helped to push us into the Spanish-American war. Also, “your news” is far less popular and widespread than organizations like Fox News and thus doesn’t really represent what people are usually watching. I hadn’t even heard of KCRW until you mentioned it.

      I would also be interested to hear what exactly you would like Professor Cole to do instead of blogging and providing an alternative viewpoint. Should he be out protesting? Protesting is basically a waste of time unless it’s incredibly widespread, and even in cases where it does gain a lot of steam, like in Wisconsin recently, it often doesn’t achieve much (in the case of Wisconsin, the bill that they were protesting was still passed). Should he run for congress? Given his views on America and the fact that he is an expert on the Middle East, it’s extremely doubtful the average patriotic (nationalistic would be more accurate) American would vote for him. Until something changes, blogging, as well as researching and teaching in his “Ivory Tower” about the problems in America and the Middle East is the most valuable kind of action that Professor Cole can engage in.

    • MEH, perhaps you and Dr Cole can agree that our society is pretty good at producing and supporting a fair number of people who have the time to read about Yemen and have the ability to both note and decry the shortfall of our media in failing to focus on substantial stories.

      Our society is proficient at producing educators AND entertainers and allowing people to choose whether they wish to learn… or not.

    • “most folks don’t actually care about this stuff because they come home from a long day of hard work at ANY wage and they need entertainment to get them through the craziness of their daily grind…”

      And yet, 80 years ago many of our forefathers were working longer hours under much worse conditions, and they spent their “leisure” time organizing unions and Socialist, Communist and Anarchist political parties. They were better informed about economics and world affairs than we are now, despite having to make an effort to find dissident news sources. They even had the guts to go out on strike and give up what little they were already earning.

      So how was this all sabotaged? Who is to blame? And what condtions would it take to change people’s values (since it seems the problem is that fundamental) to get the old radical outrage back? If we have to continue to regress to 60-hour weeks and starvation wages and Pinkertons shooting strikers, will even that get us angry again, or is something else missing in modern America? Like our souls?

      • super, if they were so well-informed, why were they organizing Communist and Anarchist political parties?
        that’s a waste of leisure time that they could have used to alleviate the ignorance that led to forming those parties.

  24. I agree with much in your post, but I’m unhappy with the expression “late capitalism” in your first sentence because neither you nor I know whether the system in place is on its last legs or will continue for decades or centuries. Human institutional arrangements are always pretty dubious so that it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to find evidence of terminal decadence in any society at any time. Thing is, the only thing that lends the locution “late capitalism” its force is appeal to an ideological narrative. Otherwise, it’s like the old joke about the guy on the bus who asks another passenger about the exit for the zoo. “That’s easy,” he replies, “Wait till I get off the bus and get off at the previous stop.”

  25. I don’t think we can automatically assume that young Americans are the bad guys in this self-lobotomization process. The problem is, America is run by white people, whose numbers are stagnant and aging while the young are increasingly non-white. For our corporate rulers, the young are a threat, and the old are a weapon to beat them down into silence and apathy. Why? The rich have already made clear they intend to keep America going by running wages down to Asian levels, and the old whites are being promised that their own govt handouts will be preserved in the present by screwing future, mostly non-white recipients.

    Thus the actual opinions of young Americans are being ignored. A couple of years ago a survey showed the most liberal group of 18-year-olds seen in decades. Attitudes about gay rights are radically different among the young. Young whites are far less fearful of living in a multicultural society, which I think is why their elders hate them so much.

    But most of all, young Latinos are being stuck with the role of the future proletariat, under working conditions that keep moving backwards, and some of them are trying to organize their workplaces. That is what the American Left has been missing all these awful decades – a real class struggle. It took from the end of the Civil War until 1932 for, mostly, immigrants to organize American labor into a force that could revolutionize society. We are now starting from scratch.

    I think this will continue, because Latin America is deep into its own people’s revolution, like the one that just began in the Arab world 4 months ago. You rightly decry the Anglo corporate media, but Spanish-speaking people have plenty of media from Central and South America in their lives, and how could they not be affected by the successful mass movements in country after country? The radical wave is now moving up through Nicaragua and El Salvador, and the discontent is ramping up in Mexico with Sicilia’s movement to end the drug war. The Latino population does not exist entirely in the American bubble, simply because of language and the fact that they have to work actually making and building things. They have a foot in that outside world you so eloquently describe.

    This is the price the Right must pay for their evil plan to take America back to the 19th Century – streets filled with hordes of workers waving red flags.

    • I hope that super390 understands that a plutocracy which represented “White” interests would not have outsourced
      white working-middle class jobs enmasse in the first place.

  26. The post describes a dis-empowering action by our media and an empowering one by their media. My first reaction was to say ‘that’s what is intended’. Reading these comments, I wonder, and think maybe that’s too easy an answer.

    Does American media go for whatever brings in viewers, listeners, readers; you could think that. It’s the traditional capitalist view, and concentrating on gossip about sex sure fills the bill.

    Or, is there really a capitalist, owner force that is bent on dis-empowering Americans. Certainly, when a corporate ownership of a media conglomerate hinders workers power to fight for higher wages that helps the corporate bottom line. So, that explanation fits the bill too.

    This is what makes it hard to call.

  27. Great stuff. Corporate-administered narcotics, that’s our news. With the parallel, equally successful gutting of K-12 for those not wealthy enough to circumvent it, there is little hope for positive change in American society. When, not if, things get bad enough, America is poised for change, but it won’t be pretty.

    The only hope in my estimation is if the left takes to the street to begin preaching an alternative narrative. We talk to one another, we talk to largely pampered college kids, but we very rarely have an opportunity to commmunicate with those most butchered by what I hope is late capitalism.

  28. “Syrian town empties as government tanks mass outside”


    Why aren’t we intervening, militarily, as in Libya?

    • Military intervention is a very specific tool, useful only in very specific circumstances.

      In Libya, there were front lines, and two sides engaging in military conflict. Military forces were operating in open terrain, working to capture territory held by the rebel military forces. Air support could be uses to arrest the ability of the government forces to conduct military operations.

      Up until quite recently, the situation in Syria involved security forces in and among the protesters, in the heart of cities full of civilians. There are no areas controlled by the rebels – heck, there isn’t even a rebel military force to back at this point. To start carrying out air strikes in such a situation would a cure worse than the disease.

      In addition, there’s the realistic constraint on getting a resolution through the UNSC. For better or worse – I tend to think ‘better’ – the United Nations is the sole legitimate authority that can sanction the use of international force (except in situations of self-defense). Khadaffy managed to offend so many governments over the years that a resolution against him could pass the UNSC. Assad, on the other hand, could probably count on Russia and China to back him up.

  29. Well, for heaven’s sake, don’t watch our news. Watching our news numbs you a little bit every time you listen to their lies and propaganda. Watch the other drivel for entertainment purposes, but get all your news from the internet. It’s amazing how quickly your brain de-fogs when you make the decision to do that.

  30. I’m usually not a big fan of such black and white comparisons, although I should acknowledge that the list drawn up by Dr. Cole is quite compelling indeed. There are a couple of points I wish the author could discuss as that would, I think, deepen his analysis:
    – where, in America’s often mind-numbing media landscape, do blogs such as this one fit in? Surely they are grounds for cautious optimism when it comes to developing and sustaining an informed citizenry.
    – what about the significant protests taking place in Europe, as in Spain most recently? Decline and complacency are threats that are just as big there as they are in the US, yet this hasn’t prevented the people from attempting to take active control of their destinies. How can this be replicated?

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