The Ruse of The Fourth Estate



We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.
—John Swinton, 19th Century NY Times journalist**

The recent SOPA legislation had another purpose other than protecting intellectual property. It really was a thinly veiled attempt to control our information ecosystem. Our MSM is relatively easy to control. You see, contrary to what most of us grew up believing, mainstream media exists largely to promote the prevailing power elite.

Everyone knew that the old Soviet Union’s largest newspaper, Pravda (the Russian word for ‘truth’), existed to promote the Communist’s party’s central committee wishes. Everybody knew this in the Soviet Union as well as the West. There was no illusion of a free press.

If I may, a personal anecdote will illustrate the point even more clearly. I was born and raised in Chicago most of my life. When I was ten, my folks figured I should learn more about the language, religion and Palestinian culture so they sent me to live with my grandparents on the West Bank. It was 1966 and the West Bank was administered by the King of Jordan.

I was not thrilled to go because among many reasons I was going to miss watching Gale Sayers run through NFL defenses. But I remember a talk my father gave to me that would not make sense for many months. My father, knowing even at ten that I was a bit precocious and loose-lipped, sat me down and said something to the effect, “Son, you have to watch what you say when you get to Jordan. It is against the law to say bad things about the king.”

My aunt was the number one radio news broadcaster for all of Jordan. She read the news in English and it was broadcast all over Jordan and Israel. She lived with us too. More on this in a bit.

One day my grandfather took me to the doctor in Jerusalem. As fate would have it, a huge demonstration against the King was taking place. Arab Spring reminded me of this event in my life. In between Jerusalem and the village where we lived, there was a huge park festooned with the King’s crowns everywhere.

Trying to get home was a nightmare. The King had called up tanks and the entire army was mobilized as he was worried that a revolution was about to take place. All movement from village to village was restricted, but my grandfather asked the taxi driver to continue until we got to the park where the main concentration of tanks were.

All of the King’s crowns were torn down and crowds were chanting anti-King Hussein epithets. The army was not supposed to let anyone through the road block, but my grandfather was an American citizen and showed his passport. They finally, after four hours let us through.

We listened to my aunt’s broadcast later that evening. Not a single word of the massive protests was uttered on air.

Fast forward to 1967 and the “Six-Day War” ensued. My aunt was given scripts to read how the Arab armies were marching on Tel Aviv. She was in Jerusalem, gun shots could be heard everywhere. But she kept broadcasting how Israel was soon to be but a memory. A soldier came into the station who looked worried.

She yelled, ‘what’s the matter with you’ in Arabic. She was puzzled that he did not seem to understand her. So she tried English. This he understood. He pointed the gun at her and told her to leave. Yep, he was an Israeli soldier. She had been reading how swimmingly the war was going and here was an Israeli soldier capturing the station.

My aunt laughs about it now as she lives a retired life in suburban Chicago. But the two events at an early point in my life made me more skeptical about the role of the press in a society. If you lived in the Soviet Union or the Middle East, it is no tin-foil hat conspiracy to recognize the verity of John Swinton’s quote. At times, the elite tell us the truth, but it is buried in a sea of trivial information. Here is a precious quote:

“The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media.”
—William Colby, former CIA Director, quoted by Dave Mcgowan, Derailing Democracy

Was Colby lying or posturing? Was he donning a tin foil hat? One of America’s great novelists/journalists was Upton Sinclair. He wrote a little known book that he made available for free called The Brass Check. It was an early 20th Century expose on how US journalism worked. If you are a journalist and have not read this, shame on you. He wrote:

“The methods by which the “Empire of Business” maintains its control over journalism are four: First, ownership of the papers; second, ownership of the owners; third, advertising subsidies; and fourth, direct bribery. By these methods there exists in America a control of news and of current comment more absolute than any monopoly in any other industry.” – Upton Sinclair, The Brass Check***

No doubt defenders of “the fourth estate” will point to great muckrakers to prove the point of a vibrant press. But the exceptions do not prove the rule. If you are a Ron Paul supporter, much of the above already rings true as he is often odd man out of discussions…unless you follow the most trusted man in news, comedian Jon Stewart.

This brings us back to SOPA. It is my contention that the Internet’s expansion caught the elite flat-footed. As more and more people got their information from the Internet, the stranglehold of the MSM was loosened. The “empire of business” lost control of how mythologies could be maintained and promoted. So how could the elite grab control of the Internet? See SOPA and other similar campaigns down the road.

**Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

*** The Brass Check was a slang term referring to a way in which prostitutes were paid. Upton Sinclair wrote the book of the same title that was self-published and made available to copy free from royalties.

About Jaffer Ali

Jaffer Ali is the CEO of e-commerce company, He is a serial entrepreneur who has touched every part of the online ecosystem since 1998. Jaffer is known as a contrarian thought leader who has contributed over 250 essays to industry trades covering every aspect of online media and marketing topics. A collection of his essays can be downloaded for free: Chasing String In The Digital Era.



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