Resisting Trump and quelling ‘disinformation’ has empowered media and big tech to forge a new reality for our minds, but who really benefits?
When people have been brainwashed, do they know it?
Of course, the term implies a lack of awareness, but I mean, deep down… is there a sense that something is… off?
We typically think that those susceptible to brainwashing are the uneducated or otherwise vulnerable, but a cursory glance at recent history suggests quite the contrary.
In Nazi Germany, the equivalent of PhDs and even some well versed in the fine arts and literature were among the class of Germans who whole-heartedly embraced the ideal of aryan superiority, and revered the Nazis for driving the “filthy Jews” from their midst.
In Maoist China, there were post-doctorate-level students from the very best universities who rejoiced in the duty of reporting their “bourgeois” parents and professors to the authorities so they may be denounced, possibly even killed. In doing so, they felt they were part of a brave and glorious “progression” forward to build a glorious socialist utopia, and in their hearts, they loved Mao for it.
Less extreme, and more modern examples abound.
Have you ever been to Fenway Park during a pennant race? The admiration, the loyalty… the outright love people shower upon their dear Red Sox, often without knowing a single thing about the character of the players, nor the monetary contracts in place that drive the entire business, nor how the organization is run. When “Sweet Caroline…” starts booming over the loudspeakers, none of that matters. They are lost in their revelry.
And no team allegiance runs as deep as one’s political team.
In recent months, a series of videos on YouTube feature interviews with people on the streets of New York in which they are informed about some prominent features of Trump’s tax plan, but are told these are proposed by Democrats. Invariably, Democratic supporters endorse the proposals whole-heartedly.
When presented with the reverse — prominent features of Democrats’ tax plan but are told they are from Trump’s plan — Democratic supporters denounce the ideas, as racist and stupid.
A similar scenario plays out when Trump supporters are hooked by the same switcharoo tactic.
Yes, it’s a little deceptive, but given the level of animosity hurling back and forth between the two sides, one would think the difference in substance — the actual policies advocated by each side — should exhibit a stark enough contrast so as to not easily be confused. Could it be that the allure of a narrative that “feels right” is far more blinding toward cold, hard facts than we may realize? And it’s not just the uneducated or vulnerable that are fooled.
Perhaps we all drink a little Kool-Aid now and again from our preferred sources.
A hoax for sure, but not Russian
At the final Presidential Debate leading up to the 2020 election, I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment, but not the good kind.
President Trump pressed Biden on what may have been on Hunter’s laptop, including evidence of ties to businesses in Ukraine and China. Biden dismissed the whole thing as a Russian hoax.
I immediately sat up straight. I think I dropped my phone, too.
For more than 20 years, I’ve worked in the human rights community on China issues. We all know a great deal about what’s really happening in China, and the fact that Hunter has not one, but two, businesses doing deals in China, some of them very lucrative, is no secret. And to be clear, the Bidens are not the only ones. U.S. senators, representatives and others have made a killing in China… for years. Much of it, or maybe even most of it, is not illegal, although I would argue that all of it presents a serious conflict of interest for any U.S. government official.
This is all well-established fact, and so what I was expecting, or rather perhaps hoping Biden would say, is something along the lines of: “My son has several businesses, some in China and in other parts of the world, and those are legitimate businesses (not sure this is true, but let’s go with it for now). And I tell you what, unlike my opponent here, if elected, I’m going to not only put all my financial holdings in a blind trust, but also ask that my immediate family members do the same. This way, the American people can rest assured there will never be any conflict of interest in my administration around this issue.”
Now, that would have been a good response, and one that turned the tables on a potential scandal. I could buy that.
So, why the heck did Biden dismiss the whole thing as a Russian hoax? And on live TV? Was this another gaffe? A momentary slip-up? It must have been. I was sure his campaign would straighten this all out with a statement after the debate.
I relaxed in my chair, and reached for some more chips. I didn’t find my phone until some time later.
How is this possible?
Over the following 24 hours, shockingly, the Biden campaign doubled down on the Russian hoax claim and the mainstream media ran with it.
Or rather, ran away from it. Fast.
CNN’s chief international anchor, Christiane Amanpour, literally refused to discuss the matter with an RNC spokesperson invited onto her show, declaring “there has never been any issues in terms of corruption [related to Hunter Biden].” It was a surprisingly broad and all-encompassing statement; something that you’d expect from the Biden campaign but not a journalist. The RNC spokesperson, appearing confused, retorted, “how do you know that?” Amanpour then made it clear the matter was no longer to be discussed on her show.
Social media platforms apparently got the memo.
Twitter not only censored news about Hunter’s laptop, but shut down the entire account of the New York Post when it published an investigative story on the topic. Think about that for a moment: a for-profit corporation that operates a “public square” platform (and enjoys the legal protections therein) decides which newspapers they will shut down or let speak.
For years, I had witnessed first-hand the media, and to some extent big tech’s, inclination to censor and block news that is unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and the reasons were obvious: lucrative business deals with China [I cover these in a separate article, Finding Our True Selves].
Yet, now, it was happening here, in the U.S.
Here we were with a presidential campaign openly declaring a well-established fact as a Russian hoax, and virtually the entire mainstream media establishment and all social media giants toed the line.
It should be noted that after the election the Justice Department announced it was indeed investigating Hunter’s business deals, including in Ukraine and China.
So much for the Russian hoax.
How is it possible for a presidential campaign to get away with this, and why was the media and big tech in on the game?
I doubt there was a memo circulated to the heads of all these media and tech companies, and yet, that is one thing that would explain the uniformity of message and disregard for the facts.
And, if they are willing to lie, obfuscate, and bury this issue, what else might they be doing? And why?
Conspiracy, toxic groupthink, or… worse?
Assessing the validity of conspiracies without clear evidence is, well, just a theory, and I’m not very into conspiracy theories, so let’s set aside the possibility of an actual conspiracy here concocted in the board rooms of these companies.
What is more obvious and bolstered by tangible evidence is the existence of a toxic ideological groupthink, and the New York Times is probably patient zero.
In a scathing resignation letter to the New York Times penned earlier this year, former opinion editor Bari Weiss decried a toxic group think that has taken hold at the Times. “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions,” Ms. Weiss writes. “I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”
While speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last year, Ted Koppel noted that the news media are “not the reservoirs of objectivity that I think we were.” Mr. Koppel went on to say: “I’m terribly concerned that when you talk about the New York Times these days, …we’re not talking about the New York Times of 50 years ago… We have things appearing on the front page of the New York Times right now that never would have appeared 50 years ago.”
Most recently, U.S. political voices have been decried, sometimes removed, from the New York Times opinion pages, while CCP officials and proxies — cronies of a foreign communist regime — are welcomed on those same pages. For example, former New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet had to resign for running an op-ed by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton. Meanwhile, in the past 18 months alone, the New York Times has offered its opinion page platform to the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., a leading pro-Beijing official in Hong Kong, and the head of China’s state-linked Huawei tech giant — all of which pushed ideas to advance the CCP’s power and influence.
To be clear about what this means: at the New York Times, publishing Republican voices can get you fired. Publishing pro-CCP voices and slanted articles attacking Trump are totally fine. So goes the groupthink decried by Ms. Weiss.
In fact, the core component of this groupthink — the war on Trump — is prevalent among most mainstream media in the U.S.
The Washington Post has featured a piece calling Trump the “worst threat to our democracy since the 1930s.” CNN’s “Mental Health Expert,” Dr. Brandy Lee, who is also a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division, put it more bluntly saying that Trump is worse than Hitler. The Washington Post‘s Shalom Auslander concurred, and noted that others have compared Trump to Hitler.
What started this? Why would the media and tech giants mobilize so uniformly against Trump?
Well, for one thing, money.
As for-profit companies, the business of preaching “‘woke” gospel and bashing Trump is a highly profitable one. The media enjoys increased ratings and advertising. This past election, Democratic candidates ran the highest funded Senate candidates in history. Even the Never Trump movement benefits from the windfall: the Lincoln Project took in approximately $80 million to post anti-Trump ads.
But it’s not all just about money. It’s power, too.
“Stopping the next Hitler” has given the media and big tech an excuse to censor information in the name of “stopping Russian disinformation,” restrict free speech, and report events in an extremely slanted way under the guise of “refusing to normalize Trump.” Making themselves the “Resistance” to Trump has allowed media outlets to act like a team, standardizing coverage and even terminology, without complaints. Many even applaud them for it.
After all, this was war, and as is often the case in times of war, some rights are suspended in order to get the job done. When it comes to media and big tech, objectivity and free access to information were the “sacrifices” made to remove Trump from office.
So, yes, it’s possible that the group think and “war powers” seized were sufficient to explain why the Biden campaign felt confident in their false pronouncement, and the media and big tech felt justified to spin and cover for it.
But is that really the whole story?
The Real Puppet Master?
In almost all crime mysteries, the age-old adage to “follow the money” usually leads to the right suspects. This has never been truer than with today’s multi-national corporations where the volume of wealth at play is often in the tens of millions, sometimes billions.
Consider the financial landscape of our mainstream media.
Six corporations control 90% of U.S. media outlets in America, mostly network TV and cable, and these corporations have massive business interests in China. For example, Disney, which owns ABC and several movie studios, has opened theme parks in China. According to J.P. Morgan, the annual revenue of just the Shanghai park alone (before COVID-19) tops $1 billion. According to an account in the New York Times, Disney’s Chairman, Bob Iger, met with China’s top propaganda minister in 2010 and promised to use Disney’s global platform to spread CCP propaganda, essentially becoming an agent of CCP soft power around the world.
CNN’s parent company has a $50 million dollar partnership with a Chinese company overseen by the CCP. Slanted coverage from CNN abounds. For example, there are multiple instances of CNN singing the praises of China’s handling of the coronavirus.
The parent company of MSNBC and NBC, NBC Universal, has inked a deal with China’s state-run Xinhua “news agency” and China’s leading tech giant, Baidu. NBC Universal also has a stake in a Chinese media venture worth $3.8 billion.
The pillars of our print media are equally compromised. The Boston Globe, New York Times, L.A. Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and others have billionaire majority owners that have enormous business interests overseen by the CCP. For example, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim is the largest shareholder of the New York Times. Slim’s ventures with Chinese companies span automotive and high-tech industries, and constitute a significant portion of his wealth.
And what about Big Tech? Even among the platforms banned in China, such as Facebook, the on-going overtures demonstrate that all eyes are on China as the primary market of the future.
Several tech CEOs, including Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg make almost annual pilgrimages to Beijing to cozy up with CCP leader Xi Jinping. Most recently, Tim Cook was made chairman of the advisory board for the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management — a board that is largely a mechanism for U.S. business leaders to lobby the CCP leadership for access to China’s market, and, perhaps more so, a chance for the CCP leadership to coerce U.S. businesses to lobby for them in Washington DC. Cook was caught on camera saying how meeting Xi gave him “chills.” Zuckerberg famously asked Xi to help name his first born child.
It’s all hardly the type of relationship you’d expect with a dictator whose regime has been responsible for the deaths of more than 80 million of its own citizens over the past 70 years, and to be clear, that’s not all just “ancient history.” In China today, at this very moment, there are over a million Muslims held in concentration camps, and a “significant” number of Falun Gong practitioners killed so their vital organs can be harvested. This is today’s communist China.
However, China also represents Apple’s third-largest market, and is expected to grow. It is where a vast majority of Apple’s products are made. Facebook, which remains banned in China, is desperately hoping to gain access to the Middle Kingdom, which is widely regarded as the biggest growth market in coming years.
All this means that both big tech and the CCP leaders have a common enemy: President Trump.
The Trump administration’s economic moves with respect to China went way beyond tariffs. Trump began cutting ties between the U.S. and Chinese businesses known to help the Chinese military. He also moved to limit sending billions of dollars to China via investments where Chinese companies did not have to adhere to standard accounting practices. Trump, in effect, was the first U.S. administration to understand that all major corporations in China are overseen by and serve the CCP, and so any business with them equates to doing business with the CCP, and in many cases, directly funding and empowering the tyranny of the CCP.
Trump was making a lot of people in Beijing nervous. And that was making Wall Street and Silicon Valley nervous.
According to a recorded lecture by Professor Di Dongsheng, who is a deputy dean of the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China (akin to our Harvard Kennedy School of Government) and the deputy director and secretary-general of the Center for Foreign Strategic Studies of the Communist Party of China, the CCP has been able to manipulate Washington DC for decades, and done so largely through connections on Wall Street and other business leaders.
At one point during the lecture, he characterizes the U.S. as just a disjointed collection of interest groups, all of which can be bought off: “If one pile of money doesn’t do the job, two piles will” (this particular comment solicited much laughter from his Chinese audience).
However, professor Di conceded that after Trump was elected president in 2016, Wall Street could not control Trump, and therefore, the CCP could not corrupt Trump through their “old friends.” Professor Di also offered this gem: faced with the obstinate Trump administration, the CCP helped Biden’s son to establish a fund globally, and made strategic moves for Biden to take power, and in so doing, restore the CCP’s ability to buy off and manipulate the U.S.
Professor Di’s lecture is available online from a variety of news outlets, despite some frantic attempts by the CCP to scrub it from the Internet.
So here’s the bottom line: the CCP wants Trump gone so they may again manipulate Washington DC. The media and big tech want Trump gone so they can resume their proliferation of China deal making.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, which makes our media and technology companies pretty good buddies with the CCP, and they are all gunning for Trump.
For us Americans consuming news from our media outlets and social media platforms, the real question becomes: how do these power plays between Beijing, Washington DC, Wall Street and Silicon Valley affect what we consume as “news” and what we’re told is “disinformation?” Do these companies really have our best interest at heart? Or are we being lead, and if so, to what end?
Are we all a little brainwashed?
So, who are we really? At what point is a thought or narrative that we embrace, truly our own, as opposed to something that was inserted into us somewhere along the way? And how easily are these thoughts and narratives altered by others, or in this high-tech era, possibly programmed?
We are, to some extent, brainwashed our whole lives, and not necessarily in a bad way.
Growing up, we believe what our parents tell us; we don’t fact check every point they make. Sure, as we grow up, some cross-referencing and even fact checking will occur as we have our own life experiences, but for the most part, much of what we learn from our parents is simply internalized.
In school, we believe in the substance of what we’re learning; we don’t run home each day to independently fact check the names, dates, and characterizations we read in our history books.
And so too, in our day-to-day lives, we believe, for the most part, what our media tells us; we don’t put the New York Times down on the kitchen table, and then go independently fact check everything we just read. Certainly, some cross-referencing occurs, and hopefully offers a more complete perspective, but generally speaking, we trust our news to be just that, news.
Yet, unlike our parents or even our school teachers, our media outlets are for-profit companies that are increasingly owned and run by a small group of people with enormous business interests often in direct conflict with a fair, open, and accurate telling of the news.
Do we honestly think this would have no impact?
When judges or lawyers are faced with a conflict of interest, they are called upon to recuse themselves from the case. Not so with our media, nor social media.
Under overt communist regimes, everyone knows the media is controlled and lying, so they bring a healthy distrust to the table. We in the U.S. believe our press is free and our social media platforms largely neutral… and so we trust, and in doing so, perhaps, we give away our brains for a thorough cleansing to the whims of for-profit companies.
If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what would.
But what can we do about it?
We must reclaim our minds and the narratives in our hearts. We must make them truly our own again, ensuring they are informed by a complete perspective of the way the world really is, and not just how it is spun on the news or curated on social media.
A key step would be diversifying what we take in away from the companies tied to profiteering in China.
Every once in a while, let’s put the Washington Post down and read Dennis Prager. He’s an old-school Brooklyn Jew that has traveled the world many times over. He offers a grounded perspective from someone who has seen and done much.
Every once in a while, let’s turn off CNN, NBC or ABC, and tune into Tucker Carlson. I know he’s brash and emotional, but he is also highly articulate, and he asks tough, precise questions.
And every once in a while, let’s put the New York Times down and instead, pick up The Epoch Times. It was founded by Chinese dissidents to break the stranglehold on media control and censorship on China issues, and they are bringing that same dogged approach toward speaking truth to power here to the U.S.
If we can truly step out of the world that’s been spun for us by greed over China money, we might just discover our own true thoughts and opinions, and find much peace of mind in their recovery.