See how journalists work as a pack to manipulate us

Summary: Scores of posts here have documented that we are ignorant because we read the news. This note by FAIR gives an example of how journalists act as a pack, using language to manipulate us.

Bart Simpson calls for Regime Change
From “Strong Arms of the Ma.”

A ‘Regime’ Is a Government at Odds With the US Empire

By Gregory Shupak at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting).
20 August 2018. Posted with their generous permission.

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, an article in the Miami Herald (8/5/18) reported that “a clandestine group formed by Venezuelan military members opposed to the regime of Nicolás Maduro claimed responsibility.” A New York Times op-ed (8/10/18) mused, “No one knows whether the Maduro regime will last decades or days.” AFP (8/12/18) reported that “Trump has harshly criticized Maduro’s leftist regime.”

The word “regime” implies that the government to which the label is applied is undemocratic, even tyrannical, so it’s peculiar that the term is used in Venezuela’s case, since the country’s leftist government has repeatedly won free and fair elections (London Review of Books6/29/17). One could argue that, strictly speaking, “regime” can simply mean a system, and in some specific, infrequent contexts, that may be how it’s used. But broadly the word “regime” suggests a government that is unrepresentative, repressive, corrupt, aggressive – without the need to offer any evidence of these traits.

Interestingly, the US itself meets many of the criteria for being a “regime”: It can be seen as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country, has grotesque levels of inequality and bombs another country every 12 minutes. Yet there’s no widespread tendency for the corporate media to describe the US state as a “regime.”

The function of “regime” is to construct the ideological scaffolding for the United States and its partners to attack whatever country has a government described in this manner. According to the mainstream media, the democratically elected government of Nicaragua is a “regime” (Washington Post7/11/18). Cuba also has a “regime” (Washington Post7/25/18). Iraq and Libya used to have “regimes” – before the United States implemented “regime change.” North Korea most definitely has one (New York Times7/26/18), as do China (Washington Post8/3/18) and Russia (Wall Street Journal7/15/18).

When, for the media, does a government become a “regime”? The answer, broadly speaking: A country’s political leaders are likely to be called a “regime” when they do not follow US dictates, and are less likely to be categorized as such if they cooperate with the empire.

WaPo on the Venezuela Regime, 19 May 2018.
WaPo, 19 May 2018.

‘Regimes’ in Latin America.

A search run with the media aggregator Factiva finds that in the nearly 20 years since Venezuela first elected a Chavista government, the New York TimesWall Street Journal and Washington Post have used the phrase “Venezuelan regime” 74 times, “regime in Venezuela” 30 times, “Chávez regime” 68 times, “Maduro regime” 168 times and “regime in Caracas” five times. All of these governments have been democratically elected, but have sinned by trying to carve out a path independent of US control.

Consider, by contrast, coverage of Honduras. The country is hardly lacking in characteristics associated with a “regime.” On June 28, 2009, a US-backed military coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a US-friendly administration. Since then, Honduras has become the most dangerous place for journalists in the Americas; labor leaders and environmental activists have also been regularly targeted for assassination.

According to a Factiva search, the phrase “Honduran regime” has never appeared in the Times, Journal and Post in the years following the coup, and collectively they used the phrase “regime in Honduras” once: It appeared in a Washington Post article (3/31/16) about the assassinations of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres and other environmentalists in the region, in a quote by a professor critical of US support for Latin American dictatorships.

While Honduras’s three post-coup presidents have governed a country where “impunity for human rights abuses remains the norm,” according to Human Rights Watch, these leaders have almost never been described as running a “regime.” A Post editorial (9/5/09) included the only appearance of “Micheletti regime” in any of the three papers. “Lobo regime” returns zero search results. The New York Times has used “Hernández regime” once (2/15/16), but Factiva indicates that the Post and Journal never have. Searches for “regime in Tegucigalpa” or “Tegucigalpa regime” produced zero results.

WSJ on the Syria Regime, 12 July 2018
WSJ, 12 July 2018.

Middle Eastern ‘Regimes’.

Since the war in Syria ignited on March 15, 2011, “Syrian regime” has been used 5,355 times, “Assad regime” 7,853 times, “regime in Syria” 836 times, and “regime in Damascus” 282 times in the New York TimesWall Street Journal and  Washington Post.

Washington’s economic and military partner Saudi Arabia is described as having a “regime” far less often than is Syria, despite its rather “regime”-like qualities: Its unelected government represses dissidents, including advocates for women and its Shia minority, and carries out executions at an extraordinary clip, including of people accused of adultery, apostasy and witchcraft. Saudi Arabia crushed an uprising in neighboring Bahrain in 2011, and  with its US and UK partners, is carrying out an almost apocalyptic war in Yemen.

In the same period examined in the Syrian case, the phrase “Saudi regime” was used 145 times by the same papers, while “regime in Saudi Arabia” registers four hits and “regime in Riyadh” can be found once, in the Post (11/29/17).

Saudi leaders can rest assured that their names are unlikely to be associated with running a “regime”: Factiva indicates that the three publications never used the phrase “Abdullah regime” in the relevant period, while “Salman regime” pops up only once, in a Post editorial (5/3/15).

The Iranian Revolution culminated on February 11, 1979, and the US ruling class has seen Iran’s government as an arch-enemy ever since. Factiva searches of the intervening years turn  up 3,201 references to “Iranian regime,” in the TimesJournal and Post, as well as 326 to “regime in Iran,” 502 to “regime in Tehran,” 258 to “Khomeini regime,” 31 to “Ahmadinejad regime” and five to “Rouhani regime.”

The case of stalwart US ally Israel offers an illuminating counterpoint. Even though Israel violently rules over 2.5 Palestinians in the West Bank and keeps 2 million under siege in Gaza, and even though Palestinians living as citizens of Israel face  institutional discrimination, the Israeli government is almost never described as a “regime” in a way that carries the negative connotations discussed above.

NYT about the Iran Regime, 24 September 2016
NYT, 24 September 2016.

New York Times article (8/2/91) on the Gulf War used the phrase “the obdurate Israeli regime” {correction: “an obdurate”} to describe Israeli conduct in regional negotiations. In 1992, a Washington Post op-ed (3/11/92) called for America to accept Jewish people from the just-collapsed Soviet Union in part because “elements in the Israeli regime are quite ready to place the [Jewish people who moved to Israel from the USSR] in harm’s way,” a reference to the idea that Palestinians are a threat to them. A Wall Street Journal article (7/12/99) employed the term “Israeli regime” in 1999 to describe Ehud Barak’s administration as taking over from “the previous Israeli regime” of Benjamin Netanyahu, and a piece in the Washington Post (10/1/96) used the phrase in the same way.

Otherwise, “Israeli regime” appears in the New York TimesWall Street Journal or Washington Post when the phrase is attributed to critics of Israel (e.g., Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying, “Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken” – New York Times5/12/08), or is part of a compound referring to a country other than Israel, as when Egypt is described as having a “pro-Israeli regime,” or Syria is called an “anti-Israeli regime.”

“Sharon regime” yields four results. There are no results for “Olmert regime.” Since Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, Factiva shows, the only use of “Netanyahu regime” in any of these papers was a Washington Post article (3/1/15) {Ed: see 2/27/15}; there are three instances of the phrase in these papers from his first go-round (1996–99). The New York Times referred to Israel as the “regime in Jerusalem” once in 1981 (3/2/81) and again in 1994 (1/6/94). “Regime in Tel Aviv” only appears when it’s part of a quote from someone criticizing Israel.

Conclusions.

Calling a government a “regime” suggests a lack of legitimacy, with the implication that its ousting (by whatever means) would serve humanitarian and democratic ends; it’s no accident that the phrase is “regime change,” not “government change” or “administration change.” The obverse is also true: The authority of a “government” is more apt to be seen as legitimate,  with resistance to it or defense against it frequently depicted as criminal or terroristic. Thus corporate media help instruct the population that the enemies of the US ruling class need to be eliminated, while its friends deserve protection.

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About the author

Gregory Shupak teaches media studies at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto. His fiction has been published widely. See his articles about media and politics at the Middle East Eye, at Jacobin, at In These Times, and at FAIR. His e-book, The Wrong Story : Palestine, Israel, and the Media, was published this year. See his Twitter feed.

About FAIR: from their “about” page

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. They work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, they expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the about ways to reform America’s politics, about propaganda, and especially these…

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  5. The one tool that rules us and in the darkness binds us.

Classic books about propaganda

The first and in many ways still the best: Propaganda by Edward Bernays (1928).

Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda by Noam Chomsky (1997). One of his best.

"Propaganda" by Edward Bernays.
Available at Amazon.
"Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda" by Noam Chomsky.
Available at Amazon.

11 thoughts on “See how journalists work as a pack to manipulate us

  1. Its useful to imagine who those news articles are written for. Is it the general public? I would say no, International news is of interest to only a very small number of readers. Watching the new on a local Station in New York was pretty interesting, it ran to 10 minutes of local news, big fire in the Bronx, the mayor did something, new regulations on hot food ect, about 4 minutes on National news, President said this, congress passed that, big fire in California, international news was about 25 seconds, and was read at the speed of a disclaimer for viagra.

    My guess is those articles are written for the political class as proof of correct thinking. This will help keep you in with the big boys, and if you want to move into another field in public relations, you have a proved track record in sprouting government press releases/ following the corporate agenda. If you write consistently about the Russian government, or President Putin, rather than Putins Regime, than in the minds of the Policy elite troubling questions have been raised about your reliably to leak too/feed stories.

    1. Gerald,

      That’s an interesting question. My guess is that the audience for news about the world is much larger than you believe. The news media is a business, and they would not fund expensive global operations if the product had such a microscopic audience.

      In my 30 years in finance, people were quite familiar with world events. Ditto with the academics I knew in the San Francisco Bay Area (both physical sciences and humanities). I’m sure there are other large audiences.

      More interesting, imo, is why we read the news. For my answer see A picture of America, showing a path to political reform, the section about “Why we love fake news.”

    2. for written news maybe, but don’ t forget that TV news use the same word and perpetuate the same hoax and that TV reach every one.

    3. “My guess is that the audience for news about the world is much larger than you believe.”

      I would second that. After the 9/11 attacks, for example, many Americans wanted to know “why do they hate us?”

  2. I’m being a bit over the top, but I think there is some truth to this. Many people keep abreast of world news, in a casual sense. In finance this would be especially important for obvious reasons. But most of the general public do not read the international news closely. Those that do tend to be working in occupations that are in some sense international.
    But the Policy elite, the mid ranking and higher managers in corporations, the political class, all read the international papers very closely, they also routinely check who the author is and what else they have written, something the general public almost never does. My gut tells me that when journalists use words Like Government for Israel of Saudi Arabia, but Regime for Russia and Iran (and soon Turkey!), it is not for fear of what you or I think, but for fear of what their sources, and perhaps future employers think.

    My personal opinion on fake news is that we enjoy it more that reality.

  3. I recall Scott Adams describing how the media as a whole started using the term “dark” [unrelated] to describe Trump during the election cycle because it was supposed to be a “linguistic kill shot” like he was dishing out. IIRC, it was after Cialdini took over Hillary’s PR.

    1. Ah, “chaos” was another word it seemed like every news source was sprinkling in their Trump-commentary.

    2. Dark,

      At Trump’s inauguration, I gave high odds that Pence would take over — due to Trump’s ill-health, resignation, or impeachment. That still seems a good bet, although the clock is running.

      If so, I wonder if the Left will be happy to replace a clown with a competent far-right professional politician?

    1. PAT,

      A story as old as the hills. It is more common now, I suspect, because we are so gullible. I talk to foreigners, and hear their astonishment that we believe what government officials and the big corporate media say. They think we’re fools.

      They are correct, of course.

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