Editor’s Note: David Rothkopf is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power” and “The Great Questions of Tomorrow.” Follow him on Twitter: @djrothkopf. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.
What word or phrase can convey the perversity and danger of the nation’s largest broadcaster, Sinclair Broadcasting Group, forcing its supposedly independent news anchors across America to parrot identical messages echoing President Trump’s dishonest attacks on the media?
“Orwellian,” of course, given that the words spoken by dozens of Sinclair anchors were put in their mouths by a company with a naked political agenda, and that the twisted arguments they read were the opposite of true.
In “1984,” the government of Orwell’s Big Brother spoke in “doublespeak,” language perverted to obscure the truth or actually turn it on its head. Consider these two lines from the Sinclair catechism: “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias” and “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
In fact, Sinclair officials are pushing their own personal biases on their news employees, and using the power of corporate media to direct people away from honest journalism and toward demagoguery. That is what is extremely dangerous to our democracy.
Another term that comes to mind is the Stepford Wives. If you saw a small army of well-coiffed, neatly dressed, telegenic news bots offering up words designed to please their hidden manipulators, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a sequel to that paranoid 1970’s movie. It’s another engineered reality in which soothing words and attitudes conforming to their worldviews would be mirrored back at them by mindless robots.
But Sinclair’s move is evocative of something even more ominous. In the early 1990s, after the fall of the closed societies of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, we crowed that the onset of the information age had put an end to the ability of authoritarian states to close off their societies to truth and facts and feed their audiences the kind of propaganda that turned them into more easily manageable sheeple.
Yet watch videos of Sinclair’s anchors droning out the same words to support the same corrupted agenda—mimicking the President’s language about fake news, even as they turn their back on the real world facts they are supposed to be reporting on—and it is clear, we were wrong. (Most of the Sinclair stations are CNN affiliates.)
The Soviet-style propagandists are not dead. Technology did not kill them…could not kill them. Rather, they are newly empowered by it. We are witnessing the invasion of the Zombie Media, the undead lurching forward to try to restore a time when morally-bankrupt regimes saw facts both as optional and an obstacle that sometimes had to be disposed by their legions of truth-eaters.
As the Sinclair choir warned, social media has fed the phenomenon of spreading “false” news. But of course, in the tradition of doublespeak, they were using that as a way of sliming the truth with their own politically tailored narratives. The leader of the anti-fact movement in the US has been the President that Sinclair’s management has resolutely supported (and from whose administration they have received business favors).
Donald Trump was the one pushing the idea of “fake media”—even doing so in response to this Sinclair story by supporting them and attacking CNN and NBC, whose stories he does not like. He is the one who has chosen to dispense with the truth altogether under the cover that media zombies like Sinclair provide.
(As an example of this truth twisting, see his tweet this weekend in which he said DACA was killed by Democrats, when in fact he alone stopped the program, and his tweet about the influx of Mexicans into the US, when in fact net immigration flows are actually heading in the other direction, etc.)
For even more egregious examples of this, look to the man the President has protected and defended most consistently during his term in office and with whom he reportedly discussed meeting at the White House: Vladimir Putin.
See how Putin has led a new revolution in propaganda by unleashing troll armies, empowering RT—the Russian government-funded TV network– and shamelessly promoting egregious untruths (like British responsibility for clearly-Russian sponsored poisoning attacks on the Skripals in Britain last month).
Yet for all this cohort of zombie media and their masters has done, they are not the real culprits in the “News of the Living Dead” horror scenario. Because as is well known, while the way to kill zombies is to destroy their brains, the way to kill media zombies is to deny them access to our own brains. We empower them when we listen to them or when we give them credence.
And thus, there is a fairly simple response that will stop them in their tracks. Reach for your clicker. Reach for your mouse. Turn them off. If you do, you not only render them impotent, but you take the first steps toward defeating their masters and returning us all to something that truly never dies: reality-based reality.