By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost
I’ve read a lot of smear since Fox News dismissed Tucker Carlson as its premier evening news presenter late last month. How could I not? It was everywhere, and more fecal matter is being flung Carlson’s way as we speak. My favorite in this line so far comes from The American Prospect. “Farewell to a Neo–Nazi Blowhard” was the head on its piece last week. Carlson, you see, is a “neofascist,” TAP wants us to know.
What hollow hyperbole. How few are the level heads in mainstream media these days. How cavalierly do our liberal media debase the English language. How difficult it is to take journalists seriously as they attack another journalist because his views do not match theirs.
What can we learn from all the unhinged denunciations we read daily? What do they tell us about the predicaments of independent minds in journalism—and no matter what you think of Carlson, he has one—and by extension independent journalism altogether?
In my read, independent media are in a state of siege that has escalated markedly of late. Although he worked for a corporate-owned cable network, I take Carlson’s fate as symptomatic of an intensifying attack on any media that deviate from the national security state’s ever more rigorously enforced orthodoxies.
The past week brings grim news of the determination of political elites and deeply insecure mainstream media to stifle dissent in wall-to-wall fashion. It is time to pay close attention. This is more now than the grousing of a few independent journalists such as your columnist. Everything up to how we live and think is at stake.
Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!
Setting aside all the dross casting Carlson as the Beelzebub of our profession, the remarks that stay in my mind are of another kind. Diana Johnstone, the distinguished Europeanist who has corresponded from Paris for decades, sent a brief note after Fox’s announcement, calling Carlson “the last free voice on mainstream television.” I paused and wondered if I agreed. And then decided I did.
“The TV host paid the price because he tried the impossible: straddling the divide between corporate media and critical journalism,” Jonathan Cook, who I hold in the same high regard I have for Johnstone, wrote last week on his blog. “He exposed ordinary Americans to critical perspectives, especially on U.S. foreign policy, that they had no hope of hearing anywhere else—and most certainly not from so-called ‘liberal’ corporate media outlets like CNN and MSNBC. And he did so while constantly ridiculing the media’s craven collusion with those in power.”
Johnstone and Cook share an essential point. It is not about agreeing with everything Tucker Carlson had to say on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” his evening cable broadcast. They don’t and I don’t. This is about the presence of independent voices in American journalism. And Carlson has raised such a voice since Fox gave him a prime-time slot in 2016.
I can’t but note that those celebrating Carlson’s dismissal the loudest are other journalists. They do this by marking him down as a neofascist or a crypto–Nazi or what have you. This has the effect of turning the Carlson case into a left-right question. I do not know Carlson but know people who do. The epithets just noted require no comment. The only way you can get away with calling him a racist—another common charge—is if you buy into the nonsense that all white people are racist because they are white people.
No, the hoards of flunkies working for corporate media have it in for Tucker Carlson because he takes positions that are forbidden to them. Among these many, Carlson opposes the war in Ukraine, the military-industrial complex, covert coup operations in Cuba and elsewhere, Washington’s subterfuge at the United Nations and America’s imperialist project altogether. Carlson took Seymour Hersh’s report on the Biden’s regime’s covert op to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines for what it is: a tour de force piece of work by the premier investigative reporter now writing. Corporate-paid journalists detest Carlson for these things. I imagine there is a lot of subliminal envy attaching to Tucker Carlson’s professional performance over the years.
This is not a left-right question. Not much is anymore when you come down to it, primarily because there is no left left in America to allow for right-left questions. I do not read Carlson as an ideologue of any sort. I read him as an independent mind feeling its way, correct on many things, wrong on just as many.
Jonathan Cook, Glenn Greenwald and others have said all that needs saying about Tucker Carlson’s fate at Fox News. I am interested in this primarily as a case of journalist-on-journalist crime. This is not a right-left question, either. It is a question of independent thinking and dissenting perspectives and those who are fully on now for suppressing both. Tucker Carlson’s is a high-profile case and is complicated by Fox News’s place among corporate-owned media. Let us consider other developments that give us a fuller picture of what amounts to an intensifying war for control of “the narrative” and, at the horizon, our minds.
“Tucker Carlson’s firing reveals how afraid the media is of independent journalists,” is the headline Jonathan Cook wrote for his blog last week. Entirely true, but media (a plural noun, incidentally) are not the only ones now fearful.
I have wondered ever since Elon Musk started releasing the Twitter Files last December how the national security state—and by extension the mainstream press and broadcasters, given the line between the two is now all but nonexistent—would manage to deflect the extraordinary revelations the Files contain. We’ve now got a top Silicon Valley social media platform caught dead-to-rights collaborating with the F.B.I., the Department of Homeland Security and the C.I.A. to suppress dissenting voices in the putrid swamp Twitter had become. The government’s covert intervention makes this a straight-out violation of the First Amendment, and I am sure that is not the only violation of the law.
Well, National Public Radio tried to turn the matter into Musk’s right-wing revenge on liberals—a left-right affair once again. The New York Times went to default position and ignored the news as best it could. Other media followed suit. While I have many, many liberal friends who have either no idea the Twitter Files exist or little idea of what is in them, the damn things keep coming.
In mid–April, it was Mehdi Hasan to the rescue. Hasan, who has a record of this kind of thing, went on the air at MSNBC to (1) misrepresent Matt Taibbi’s reports on the Twitter Files, of which there are many at this point, and (2) denounce Taibbi on the basis of his, Hasan’s, misrepresentations. The next thing you know, some obscure congresswoman from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Stacey Plaskett, is running miles with Hasan’s (mis)report and calling for Taibbi to be tried for perjury for testifying falsely about the Twitter Files when he appeared in Congress under oath on March 9.
There are some hard-to-believe details here. Plaskett alleges Taibbi perjured himself on the basis of a minor error contained in a Tweet he sent out after he testified. The error wasn’t in the testimony itself, but never mind: We want Taibbi on perjury charges and we will have him on perjury charges.
Lee Fang, the perspicacious reporter who recently left The Intercept (a wise move) to start his own Substack newsletter, has revealed that Plaskett’s letter to Taibbi, wherein she threatened with up to five years in prison, “was a group effort that involved senior figures in the House Democratic Caucus.”
Fang wrote that after he asked Plaskett for a copy of the letter “a response to my inquiry was finally sent not by her staff, but by Earnestine Dawson, an advisor to House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries.” The metadata on the letter, Fang added, indicated it was written by Jacqui Kappler, a lawyer with the House Judiciary Committee, who works closely with ranking committee member Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., a been-around-forever Democratic log-roller who previously chaired the House Judiciary Committee.
This is big, we have to assume.
Hardest to believe of all is the conduct of Mehdi Hasan as he set this charade in motion. What a punk. But what can we expect from a young man who made his way into the mainstream by advancing himself as the mascot Muslim of orthodox liberals, quite prepared to do the slimy work? The Hasan-to-Plaskett handoff tells me we just witnessed barely masked collusion. I have three things to say about this. No, four.
One, what Hasan and Plaskett are doing reflects a template that goes back at least to the leaks of Democratic Party mail in July 2016: Go after the messenger, dwell upon them relentlessly in news reports and ignore to the fullest extent what the messenger makes public. Government officials and reporters—senior officials such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, senior reporters such as The Times’s David Sanger—now participate in role-playing exercises at the Aspen Institute, wherein the former train the latter to focus their coverage on the leaker, not what is leaked.
Tucker Carlson’s case reads straight out of this template. You won’t see anything about the views he expressed on the air—only that he is a racist. Have you read much about what is actually in the Twitter Files? Same thing. I wonder: Will we soon read that Matt Taibbi has racist inclinations?
Two, Hasan and Plaskett, and the Democratic cliques behind them, are after Matt Taibbi’s backside for alleging collusion between social media and various constituencies of government—and in their alleging give us an exquisite example, but precisely, of a media organization colluding with government. You want to know how the corruption revealed in the Twitter Files actually works? (Present tense, as this may well continue.) Hasan, Plaskett and the Democratic establishment have just shown you one way it is done.
Three, Mehdi Hasan works for MSNBC, but goddammit, I want to know who else he may work for. It is time to ask these kinds of questions of such people. Anyone with knowledge of American media’s extensive Cold War collaborations with political and administrative power will appreciate this.
Four, saving the worst for last. Congress threatening Matt Taibbi with jail time for his perfectly honorable work: Well, it does not get much graver when we consider the implications here for free speech, the practice of principled journalism and the future of our public discourse altogether. This is what has come of mainstream media’s refusal to defend Julian Assange against the similarly bogus charges leveled against him.
I was out of the country when ScheerPost’s publisher, Bob Scheer, wrote to advise of “The New York Times’s hysterical crusade against this airman whistleblower,” referring to Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guardsman who now faces trial on espionage charges for sharing classified Pentagon documents with some group of video game addicts to which he belongs. “This is the same shoot-the-messenger tactic—disparaging a whistleblower while ignoring his message—that was used by critics of [Daniel] Ellsberg, whom The Times published a half century ago. They have gone off the rails.”
Off the rails is one way of putting it. And the reference to Daniel Ellsberg gives us a good idea of just how far the once-but-no-longer newspaper of record has strayed from anything legitimately called journalism. The apparently hapless Teixeira is a whistleblower of a peculiar kind, O.K. But while once The Times (along with The Washington Post) worked in secret with the man who gave the world the Pentagon Papers, both of these dailies just assigned reporters not to write fulsome analyses of the documents Teixeira leaked but to run down the leaker and effectively collaborate with the FBI’s manhunt.
The Boston Globe gives us a good account of The Times’s role in chasing down the messenger in this case. Naturally, we now read that Teixeira turns out to be a racist with a givenness to violence. But of course. What would the Biden regime do without “far-right extremists” lurking under every American bed?
The documents Teixeira effectively put into the public sphere through his chatroom friends concerned the Pentagon’s pessimistic view of the Ukraine war and various other matters. Of these we have read but drips and drops, no more. The taker of the cake in this case is the press conference PBS broadcast from the Pentagon after Teixeira was arrested. Sheer spectacle. The reporters present, sounding all comradely with the Defense Department spokesman, didn’t want to know much about the contents of the Teixeira documents and what DoD had to say about them. No, they asked repeatedly what the military was going to do to prevent such leaks in the future.
Think about that. Leakers must be stopped, this roomful of robots says. What are you going to do to stop them? Glenn Greenwald makes a neat edit of the taped press conference available via his System Update program:
Stacey Plaskett had the gall to refer to Matt Taibbi as “a so-called journalist.” That’s what these people are. They are the penny-ante scoundrels who populate the lower reaches of Cold War II as our discourse is narrowed to suit an information monoculture.
Journalists—my take-home here—have fundamentally changed the function of the profession. There is among the great majority of mainstream reporters no longer even the pretense of independence from the powers they are supposed to cover. They openly serve now as the clerks of the political and administrative cliques they “report” upon. They give the impression they think this is their proper role.
Know this, readers. Contemplate what this means to the world in which you live and move.
And you thought Russiagate had finally gone away.
So, I wrote last August, when the African People’s Socialist Party, the APSP, first found itself in trouble with the Justice Department for—the preposterous conceit—acting on behalf of Russia as a “foreign agent.” At the time, Justice indicted one Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov, a 33-year-old Russian, who seems to have met members of the APSP and its associated organization, the Uhuru Movement, which are based in Florida and Missouri and live very modestly to put the best face on it. No one in either group was formally charged last summer, but the DoJ alleged nonetheless that they were guilty of “sowing discord,” “heightening grievances,” and “creating strife and division.”
I hope I don’t have to remind readers that sowing discord, heightening grievances, and creating strife and division are entirely lawful under the Constitution. Myself, I think these are three excellent undertakings—patriotic, indeed—given the state of our dilapidated republic. In any case, sowing discord in America in 2023 is like hauling sand to the Sahara.
Late last month Attorney General Merrick Garland extended the charges from Ionov—a token target, after all—to four members of the APSP, including Omali Yeshitela, the group’s founder. They are accused of “weaponizing our First Amendment rights,” as Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen put it, “to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States.” Say whaa? The First Amendment was drafted to serve as a weapon, Mr. Olsen—against people such as your good self, I will add.
If you are not frightened yet, read on. You’re bound to get there.
Now there is one thing that must be stated clearly before going any further. I understand that the APSP and the Uhuru Movement accepted small sums from Ionov from time to time and invested the dough—hundreds of dollars on some occasions, low thousands on others—in their various programs on behalf of African–Americans. If this proves so, these groups made a big mistake. However desperate you may be, however clean the contributions are of interference, you don’t accept them if they come from a foreign power—and certainly not from Russia given the frenzy of Russophobia that now grips us. It would be not only poor judgment; it would also weaken these groups as they fight the government’s case.
This case reeks of unlawful repression, but since when does that mean the DoJ will not prevail? “The department will not hesitate to expose and prosecute those who sow discord and corrupt U.S. elections in service of hostile foreign interests,” Olsen said in the department’s press release, “regardless of whether the culprits are U.S. citizens or foreign individuals abroad.”
The new charges against American citizens carry a maximum sentence of 10 years; three of the APAP members charged could get another five if found guilty of acting as “foreign agents” and not declaring themselves as such.
There are a couple of ways to look at this case. One is to consider the cynical use Justice is making of a small group of activists who are more or less helpless to defend themselves against a force as powerful as the federal government. To put you in the picture as to who these people are, here is a little of what I wrote in last summer’s commentary:
The African People’s Socialist Party and the Uhuru Movement are a half-century old this year  and reflect thought that was current at the time of their founding: Pan–Africanism, an internationalist perspective on race and geopolitics, nonalignment, a Marxian political line. Uhuru is Swahili for freedom. … Among the prominent exponents of African socialism was Julius Nyerere, the gentlest soul among those towering leaders of the “independence era”—Nyerere, N’Krumah, Nasser, and Nehru, along with Sukarno, Lumumba, and various others. …
People of these persuasions are suddenly acting on behalf of the Russians? Get off my cloud. This case is outright cruelty by any other name.
The other way to consider the latest from Atty. Gen. Garland is by way of the broader implications. I do not think Garland and his assistants give a hoot about the APSP or the Uhuru Movement. They chose to go after these groups precisely because they are so insignificant. It is the implications the Justice Department is after—the legal precedent. Garland and Olsen are using these two groups to establish that sowing discord and all the rest can be prosecuted, when this case concludes, as unlawful.
This is not on the face of it a case concerning journalists and their publishers. But what this means for independent journalists and independent journalism should be evident after a brief moment’s thought.
I am reading about this matter in various independent media—on Caitlin Johnstone’s website, on Monthly Review’s website (good old MR) and hearing about it on Glenn Greenwald’s System Update. The last of these, having trained as a constitutional lawyer, is reliably good on these kinds of topics.
I am not reading about this in the mainstream media, apart from a piece in The Washington Post that stays well clear of what the case means for free speech and journalism. This silence is indefensible. It makes corporate-owned media complicit, no less, as the authorities charged with upholding the First Amendment desecrate it on the ridiculous ground that sowing discord in our discordant nation is somehow a crime.
Am I sowing discord in these paragraphs? It seems an absurd question, but now there are grounds to ask it—which is also absurd.
Greenwald refers to the Justice Department’s case against the APSP as “criminalizing dissent.” We had better understand this as so. I am always one for naming things properly, getting the nomenclature right, as the first step to sound understanding. Dissent for the sake of it cannot be the point. Dissent for the necessity of it is the point.
Footnote: What nerve Joey Biden has these days. At the White House Correspondents’ dinner last Saturday evening the president called upon the Russians to release Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter arrested on spying allegations in an arms-manufacturing industrial city in the Urals early last month. Biden’s punchline: “Our message is journalism is not a crime.” As someone dear to me asked, “Did even one correspondent stand up and say, ‘Mr. President, you steal the slogan of Julian Assange’s worldwide defense alliance. What about Assange?’” Not a single one: That’s not what correspondents do anymore.
Additional research and insight by Cara Marianna.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.