Library Juice 5:13 Supplement - April 4, 2002
Inteview with Nancy Snow
by Stephen Marshall of the Guerrilla News Network
Dr. Nancy Snow spent two years working within the ranks of America's
official propaganda organ, the United States Information Agency, and then
surgically exposed the inner workings of the organization in her acclaimed
publication, Propaganda Inc..
In this interview with GNN, Dr. Snow breaks down the covert history of
U.S. propaganda efforts both inside and outside of the country's borders.
Dr. Nancy Snow is the Associate Director - Center for Communications and
Community University of California, Los Angeles. Her book, Propaganda
Inc., can be ordered at your local bookstore or bought online through
Seven Stories Press, Media Channel, Common Courage Press or Amazon. Check
out her homepage and shoot her an email regarding this interview and her
Nancy Snow --- nsnow[at]ucla.edu --- www.snowmachine.com
Guerrilla News Network
STEPHEN MARSHALL : Why don't we start by having you introduce yourself and
giving us a little background on your career and what led you to write
DR. NANCY SNOW : I'm Nancy Snow and I'm the Associate Director of the
Center for Communications and Community at UCLA. I'm formerly an assistant
professor of political science at New England College in Henniker, New
Hampshire and former Executive Director of Common Cause in New Hampshire.
Before that I was a propagandist for the US Information Agency in the
early 90's, the first couple of years of the Clinton administration. And I
wrote a book, Propaganda, Inc., about that experience as well as the
entire history of the US government's propagandizing its message to an
Q: You're one of these people who has seen the inner workings of the US
foreign policy machine - most specifically in the realm of propaganda. And
you are also a Fulbright Scholar who has had great access to the
international organs most involved with promoting US interest in the
global forum. But here you go and write a book exposing all of the facts
of that enterprise. Pulling back the curtain and exposing the wizard. What
was the catalyzing moment for you where you thought you might want to
report on what you were doing, you know, when you thought it was worth
SNOW: Right, well, I didn't really know about the history of public
diplomacy and I should explain that public diplomacy is a euphemism for
propaganda. In the United States, we don't think of ourselves as a country
that propagandizes, even though to the rest of the world we are seen as
really the most propagandistic nation in terms of our advertising, in
terms of our global reach, our public relations industry - we have more
public relations professionals and consultants in the United States than
we do news reporters. So there's an entire history of advertising,
promoting, and getting across the message of America both within and also
outside of the United States.
Now, when I was a Fulbright student, I was in my early twenties and I
didn't know anything about the Fulbright program. I certainly hadn't heard
of the US Information Agency and there's a reason for not having heard of
USIA and that is because, as a propaganda agency, it's prohibited from
distributing its materials to a US audience. So even though the Fulbright
program was an educational program within the agency, it was attached to a
private subsidiary known as the Institute for International Education
(I.I.E.). So when I applied, I was actually applying to I.I.E. which is
located in New York City. It wasn't until I went overseas as a Fulbright
student that I began hearing questions about 'well, who are you, who's
sponsoring you?' And that got me very interested in thinking about
sponsorship because when someone asks you about sponsorship, they're
really getting at the root and the origins of who that person is or what a
program is. And I began to think about 'well, what is the Fulbright
program?' And I started reading about its history.
I learned that it came about at the end of World War II when the United
States started to really get its program together in terms of how it was
going to win the world over from Communism. And so I began to see that my
function as an exchange student, being sponsored by the US government, in
part, and also by the German government, since I was studying in Germany,
that I was there as a tool, as a mechanism to spread that message of
America to the world. Even though I still just thought of myself as a
graduate student, just doing my thing, learning about the world, asking
But you really have to understand that when you're being sponsored, it's
not just about you. It's also about an agency, it's about an institution
that's behind you. And so I began to peel back the layers of the onion a
bit and I thought -- 'Well it's not just the Fulbright program, there must
have been a predecessor to the Fulbright program, there must have been a
precursor to the US Information Agency.' And low and behold, I came across
a fellow by the name of George Creel.
Creel was an American journalist in the early 20th century who was
lobbying the US government, right before the US entered World War I, he
was asking Wilson to form a committee that became known as the Creel
Committee. And it was made up of prestigious journalists like Walter
Lippmann, business people like Edward Bernays, who is considered the
grandfather of public relations, and other prominent men of the day, to
forge a message to the American people. Wilson had just been re-elected
under the slogan, He kept us out of the war, and it was Creel who had the
task of turning around a population that was not oriented toward war and
getting involved in a war some four thousand miles away and turning around
this very pacifistic population into a very war-mongering, German-hating
population. And the Creel Committee, also known as the Committee on Public
Information (CPI), was established by executive order on April 13, 1917,
just days after President Wilson delivered his message of war to the US
Congress. Keep in mind that there were some 40 different peace groups very
active in the US, agitating against American involvement in WWI. The
British propaganda arm in the US, Wellington House, reported to London
that apathy toward war in Europe was pervasive. Creel's task was tall and
as we know, he was ultimately successful. His secret weapon was an army
of orators known as the FOUR MINUTE MEN (FMM), who gave their WHY WE ARE
FIGHTING speeches before moviegoing audiences of the day. In order to
become a FMM, a man had to obtain letters of endorsement from three
prominent citizens in his hometown. It was a prestigious job of
propagandizing for the US war effort. Then the Creel Committee was shut
down in 1919 and disappeared from America's memory at war's end.
George Creel resurrected his efforts when he wrote about his experience in
a fascinating book that really intrigued me because of the length and
bombasity of its title: How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the
Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information that Carried the Gospel
of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe.
Harper and Brothers published this in 1920. So George Creel wanted to
tell the story of the success in spreading the gospel of Americanism.
About his war efforts, Creel wrote in his book that he wanted to create a
passionate belief in the justice of Americas cause that would weld the
American people into one white hot mass instinct with fraternity,
devotion, courage and deathless determination. The Creel Committee is
almost like the initial seed, in a propaganda sense, that led to the
formation of the US-funded Institute for Propaganda Analysis from
1937-1941, which was founded by Edward Filene, the Boston merchant we now
associate with Filenes and Filenes Basement Department stores. IPA
published a Propaganda Analysis Bulletin, which including the writings of
leading academics and journalists, including Walter Lippmann and Harold
Laswell and other university faculty from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and
University of Chicago who were interested in mass persuasion, mind control
and psychological operations that could sway a population in favor of the
United States and US policy. Its from the IPA that we get the so-called 7
tricks of the trade in propaganda campaigns: name calling (bad label for
an idea), glittering generalities (associating your campaign with a
virtuous concept like freedom or democracy), transference (using authority
and prestige to transfer message), testimonials (celebrity endorsements),
plain folks (of the people is always good), card stacking (selection of
facts or illustrations to prevent best and worst case scenarios), and band
wagon (everybody is doing it; we are of one mind). This activity then
sowed the seeds for the establishment of the US Information Agency in 1953
under President Eisenhower, at the height of the Red Scare.
Q: How did that feel to you upon discovering this layer of the onion and
all of the implications it holds for us as a society? Why do you think
it's a dangerous thing for the United States to have such a (relatively)
unknown institution working on this level?
SNOW: Well it's a concern, it's somewhat of a danger when you think of
yourself as a cog in a wheel in a larger institutional setting for which
you don't have control of the message. So when I was a Fulbright student,
I was somewhat naive in just thinking that I was just an educational
exchange student, that my going to study in Germany was about building
mutual understanding, learning about another culture, learning a different
language-all good for my own personal development.
When you put it into the context of propaganda or promoting US economic
interests, US policy, US foreign policy, in particular, the danger there
is that you're working on behalf of a company, an institution, in this
case, the US government, that may or may not represent your point of view.
But because you're being sponsored - which public diplomacy, public
relations, advertising, is about, sponsorship-- then you are being asked,
really, to contribute, to support, to reinforce, the ideology of that
institution. And the danger is that that takes away from free critical
thinking, from really thinking for yourself.
I've noted over my years of studying propaganda that the reason the US is
good at this is because we're very much a non-introspective culture. We
are not really socialized to be a thinking culture. We are socialized to
be an action culture. And this manifests itself in our foreign policy. Of
course we're in 2001 now, and we see this manifesting itself now in an
attack, 'America Attacks' or 'American Fights Back', as the US media
illustrate. Ever since September 11, we've known that we're going to do
something because the American people require it. Well, the American
people require it because they've been conditioned to want a response and
you will hear the government, the administration say, "We must be of one
mind, we must do something, this will not stand" and it takes our
attention away from, "Well, let's look at the underlying causes, the
historical precedents that have led to this attack" - that requires a
truly free people, a truly critically conscious population which we are
not encouraged to be here.
Q: OK - let me back track a bit and ask you what is the United States
Information Agency? And would people be surprised that it even exists and
that taxpayers contribute approximately $1 billion to its annual budget?
SNOW: The US information Agency originated in the 1950's. It was actually
an independent agency that was established from the US State Department.
It's somewhat of an offspring to several entities: the Office of War
Information (O.W.I.) and the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.), which
was responsible for so-called black propaganda, that official government
propaganda activity which, if the source is publicly revealed, could
threaten US national security.
There were people in place and an understanding of propaganda that grew
from the Creel Committee and the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. There
was enough documentation, enough successes, and associates within those
programs that the Eisenhower administration saw the need to establish a
formal agency on the heels of WWII and it was called the US Information
Agency. This was at the beginning of an economic boom period in the United
States, at the beginning of our establishing our global military presence.
There was an acknowledgement that the US really needed to get its official
point of view out there. Now, the US government said that it was in direct
response to the Soviet Union and their ability to market the Communist
message worldwide, but I think as a government, our government was already
quite aware of how good it was at promoting the US government position
overseas. So the USIA has a 50-year history.
In 1999, in this age of convergence and concentration, when the US
government was talking about downsizing, the USIA was folded into the US
State Department. But did the USIA go away? No, it almost went more
undercover. We hear less about it now, we hear a little of that Voice of
America (VoA), but it requires us as citizen activists to pay closer
attention, to look for those networks and footprints of USIA that are now
within the US State Department. There is a new committee, the
International Public Information (IPI) Committee, which sounds a lot like
the CPI, Creel's Committee. It's been around for the last two years since
the USIA was folded into the State Department. It was formed by executive
order under the Clinton administration, which was formed in response to US
image problems during military actions in Kosovo and Haiti. I'm sure it's
been strengthened under the Bush administration to coordinate public
diplomacy across all government agencies, including the National Security
Council, State Department, Treasury, including the Commerce Department. So
it's really a way of making sure that the US government is on message with
its propaganda program. If anything it's being strengthened in the
post-911 era. It will be further strengthened because it's very clear that
the US officially is not ready to shift a paradigm away from action and
begin listening to the other paradigm which I am suggestingI which is to
listen more and learn more about what other country's impressions are of
United States. So I think that IPI will be strengthened and we will see
even further propaganda and psyops programs in development.
Q: Nancy, let me ask you: Is propaganda solely an export product? I want
to ask that because earlier you mentioned that the USIA is not allowed to
have access to the American public. And yet there is surely a profound
level of public persuasion and opinion molding occurring on the internal
front. And let me take that a step further. Some writers in the media are
saying that perhaps the attack was a reaction to policy, to a perception
the United States has created of itself in minds of people overseas. But
isn't there a grand disconnect between how Americans see themselves and
the way the world sees them? Is propaganda also leveled against the public
internally to create that disconnect and does it benefit the
administration to engineer that reality?
SNOW: There are different types of propaganda. There is
government-sponsored propaganda, but there is also propaganda that is
promoted through advertising, public relations, our commercial culture,
our pop culture, and our educational system as wellI our socialization
process - what we learn about ourselves as a people.
What we have learned in the United States is to view ourselves as a good
people; that we do not engage in evil, that it's really not in our natural
way of being. That somehow we are an exceptional people who have this
wonderful democratic experiment and experience here, that must be exported
to the rest of the world, because we are about goodness. And you will hear
this, you will hear the top levels of government and institutions, and
corporations, private industry, really speak to this - that we are a good
people and therefore, we must act in response to what bad people will do.
And the danger in that is that exceptionalism, that American
exceptionalism, leads to the rest of the world feeling that we don't just
quite get it. And, that is that we all are good and bad at the same time.
No human civilization has escaped entirely from bad deeds at one time or
another. So the world see us as we don't see ourselves - that we do
engage in bad policy, at least, the government will on our behalf. But
there's a disconnect between the population, the American people and the
foreign policy of the United States. We keep scratching our heads saying
"We're good, why doesn't the rest of the world like us? We try to reason,
"Hey look, we've been involved in the Marshall Plan. We go and promote
economic development. When we go in we don't knock down buildings. We go
in to try and improve the relations with another country, we try to bring
them up to a standard so that we can engage in trade and so that people
can earn enough to buy a home and have a dream, not unlike the American
dream of owning your own home and having a certain level of financial
Q: Well, we need to listen more to what the rest of the world is telling
us - not just the official sources, even though sometimes official sources
will tell us quite honestly that this enmity towards the United States is
rooted in our history of thinking that we don't have to ask questions.
That we can just go in and operate under our own rules of the game and
that the rest of the world must listen to us and do our bidding when it's
in our interest. You can look at countless examples of international
peacekeeping missions and U.N. engagements. Where, when it's convenient
for us, we will get involved in a multinational or international
coalition, but, when it's no longer convenient for us, when the going gets
tough and maybe some of those coalition partners say, "Hey by the way,
you've got military forces remaining here, you've got a presence that is
really unsettling to our domestic population, have you thought about maybe
not having this global military apparatus?"
SNOW: Well again, you're talking about a different set of rules under
which we operate, and we have set up a military apparatus and an economic
footprint, which is global, and we expect the world then to fall in line
behind that. That global footprint steps on a lot of people. There's
something really magical about being a superpower, even if you try to
knock that term off its pedestal, it works well, and it's very
intimidating. And, on September 11, that powerful pedestal was knocked
down and I'm not sure if the United States is ready to acknowledge that.
That when we say superpower, it has a blowback effect - we've heard that
term being used - it has consequences, it has a way of, again, saying,
"You've got to listen to me; I don't have anything to learn from you."
Going back to our not being a thinking culture, in terms of our
socialization, that means that we don't have a sense of our own history
vis-a-vis the world. Nor do we have a sense of understanding the history
of generations and centuries into which other people are born. Many people
around the world talk about their lineage in terms of centuries and
thousands of years while we are really still in our adolescent phase as a
United States of America. We are still quite young, we are still almost
like in our teenage years, where we're not really reflecting too much, we
haven't lived long enough as a country, as the United States of America,
to really do much reflecting. And I think the 21st century will require
that reflection for our own global survival.
Propaganda Inc.: Behind the curtain at the USIA (Part II)
Q: OK. Now, let's get to some of the other definitions you have elaborated
in the book. For starters, what is the standard definition of propaganda?
And, also, what are the tools that are used for propaganda? You use the
term psychological warfare in describing one aspect of propaganda, it
sounds so harsh, but it is in fact a form of propaganda, isn't it?
SNOW: I've looked at a number of different sources. There are different
types of propaganda but I think the most important point to make here is
that it's not a term to be feared.
There is one definition that I use in my book, which is an encyclopedia
definition for propaganda and it's in more of a war context. It defines
propaganda as "instruments of psychological warfare aimed at influencing
the actions of human beings in ways that are compatible with the national
interest objectives of the purveying state." Now that's an official form
of propaganda. Propaganda really is a mass persuasion campaign. An
individual does not propagandize another individual. It is a form of mass
persuasion that is sponsored by an institution, in this case, of that
definition, a government institution. In a private sense, it could be a
sponsoring organization - like Disney or A&E or CNN - can propagandize
because they are vehicles for mass persuasion. And there are some tenets,
there are some attributes of propaganda. One being that it is generally
one-way, so it is designed to be intentional communication that really
favors the institution propagating that message. By the way, historically
-- the first time we come across the term 'propaganda,' it was used by the
Roman Catholic Church: to propagate, to spread, to disseminate -- the
gospel of Catholicism worldwide.
So, whether you are propagating a message of your organization, be it the
United States government or you are propagating the message of Eddie Bauer
or the Gap, it is not something that people should fear, it is something
that they should understand because we are subjects of propaganda
campaigns. And when you think about the thousands of advertising messages
that we are subjected to on a daily basis, I would urge people to think of
that in the context of mass persuasion: How are these advertising appeals
really affecting communities as a whole? So with propaganda, look at it as
persuasion but more in a holistic, in an environmental sense.
In many of the different literatures that I have looked at related to
propaganda, we think of propaganda as separate from education because we
think of the educational environment as two-way and I'm not so sure about
that. I think that's part of the mythology around education. I think that
educational institutions, including our elite institutions of education,
are wonderful vehicles for propagandizing people because they give people
a sense of 'who is in charge' and 'who you have to answer to' and that
hierarchy is involved and that, again, you, as an individual, cannot do
much to really affect that overarching system. Mass persuasion, again,
tends to stymie free exchange and individual dissent. So it is the
converse, really, of what I believe education and the role of an
educational institution is meant to be. But as we know there is theory and
practice -- and educational institutions, as Chomsky has said, are, again,
wonderful vehicles for propaganda.
Another point I would make is that when it comes to propaganda -- I know
that at the U.S. Information Agency, the propaganda programs we had in
place were targeting the top level, the upper echelon of our target
country. So when I was working in my role as a propagandist, it was to
reach out to the top 10 - 20 % of the target population. Now why would you
do that? Because, generally speaking, the better educated, those who are
in academia, media and business, they are the ones you want to reach
because they are the elites of countries. And many of the developing,
so-called Third World countries, these are the countries that, throughout
the Cold War ear and now in the post-Cold War, if you want to call it,
hyper-Capitalist era, these were the people we wanted to influence when I
was working for the U.S. government. To get them to open up their
countries to U.S. marketing, U.S. business interests overseas. So, what
the masses thought was irrelevant. The masses, for the most part, are
distracted by sports and entertainment which, again, have their own
propaganda function. But these are not really the targeted individuals of
official propaganda - that being, official government programs.
Q: Hmmm. That says a lot to me about the way that we can begin to look at
how those same 10 - 20 % of Americans have been propagandized -- and how
those same masses have been so distracted by, as you call it, sports and
entertainment. It would seem that propaganda truly works on all fronts.
Let me ask you this - when you speak of propaganda and, specifically,
American propaganda, it makes me wonder to what extent that is just the
marketing of capitalism itself. I mean, for many people, America is less
of a cultural entity than a capitalist organ. And that when we speak about
propagandizing on behalf of the United States, on the surface it would
seem that it's about America and national values but really it's more than
that. It's about pushing a whole way of life, isn't it?
SNOW: Sure. When you hear terms like 'democracy', 'peaceful
co-existence', and 'diversity' - these are coded terms for, really,
promoting commercial interests and a consumer-driven culture. That should
concern us a bit because the more that we are appealed to as consumers,
the less we are appealed to as citizens -- the less sense of knowledge and
understanding we have as citizen agitators. And it's important, really, to
be agitators within a free and open society.
Q: If that's what we are.
SNOW: But when we hear about promoting the American way of life, you need
to understand that in a political-economic context. It's really more about
promoting the notion that official sources have of power -- and promoting
what the official sources of that economic power say. Because economic
power is private power. Economic power is also the State, the government,
working in concert, in a healthy marriage, with private power. So the
government really acts as a shadow to private power.
Now, what is private power? Private power would be the very, very top
levels of the multi-national corporations that are really promoting, now,
a commercial culture of people, not working truly independently, but for
conglomerates. That is, a way of life that is really getting away from
ownership at the grass-roots level and giving up ownership, giving up
power to incredibly concentrated avenues of power that are really more
totalitarian than they are democratic.
The conundrum for us in the United States is that we are socialized to
believe that we are truly free, that we are truly democratic. And all I
would say is: 'Well, let's look at how we actually get elected officials
into office. There is an incredible amount of money that goes into that
system where you really, practically, either have to be a millionaire or
have to have a whole list of millionaires to even think about running for
so-called public office. So we have a very, very concentrated private
source for our public officials. Which means that it's basically a farce.
We don't have a true democracy, we don't really have a truly
representative form of government. We have elites who showcase themselves
as really representing the people but these are very, very well-connected
business people, for the most part, lawyers -- the elites whom the U.S
government would target, in a propaganda sense, in other countries. And
they are always public officials when they are running for office. But
once they are in and they are doing their fund-raising, it's very clear
that they are operating in a network that is very limited and, really, is
closed off to the rest of us out here. And I'm referring to the 80% or so
of the masses, the 3/4 of us - if not more, maybe 90% - who are really not
involved in the decision-making process of our political economy, of our
legislation and government. Who are really, sort of, left to join a few
very limited public interest groups that have limited power, that are
under-funded and whose message is diluted and is not really disseminated,
like a good propaganda campaign, to the rest of country to really and
truly empower people at the grass roots.
Q: Let me ask you this then: do you think that people in other countries
are aware of the farce - as you call it - of American democracy? Of the
reality -- of the system and the way that it operates? More so than the
majority of the people here? And, secondly, do you think that there is a
cynicism developing outside of our borders -- one that has become so
dispassionate that some foreign nationals may even feel a sense of
vindication for what happened on September 11? Because they have seen how
our total sense of political apathy has led to harm being inflicted on
their own people, as a result of U.S. foreign policy?
SNOW: Well, I think that 9-11, as a point of reference, was, to many
Americans - I heard it often said - it was a loss of our innocence. And I
really thought, when I woke up to the news that day, that it was chickens
coming home to roost. It was a wake up call.
And that wake up call is that we need, again, to know how the world
understands us, views us. And I do believe that growing up in countries
that are on the receiving end of American business interests, of American
military interests, of American commercial interests -- even led by
multi-nationals, which are nevertheless, perhaps, U.S.-based - there is no
question that when you are on the receiving end of that kind of influence,
that you are probably going to have a better understanding of the
incredible power that is concentrated in that country. And you're probably
going to question, 'how did that come about?' And you may, because of your
geography, be surrounded by countries and citizens of those countries who
are questioning that, just as you are.
Q: It is a position, again, for many countries in the world who just don't
have the kind of concentrated power that the United States has, that
really forces people to begin to question that. It's amazing to me, when
you think about the United States -- if indeed we are as we say we are,
this superpower, then why is our international coverage so limited and why
are so many of our U.S.-based media nothing but cheerleaders for the
institutions of power - both government and private power - of the United
States? Why are they not - as our 'perception managers', which, really,
reporters are - why are they not questioning and critiquing and really
holding the government/private power marriage accountable for its
consequences in the world?
SNOW: Well, they're not doing that because the U.S. media work in
concert, they are the offspring of this government/private power marriage.
And so they act, really, more as official spokespeople for the 'official'
sources of their information. Most of the talking heads on television, the
bulk of those people are really representing the interests of the
political establishment in Washington and the financial establishment in
New York. They are not representing, really, the concerns and
considerations of the majority of the American people. And there is
nothing conspiratorial about that. That's the natural way of doing
business. That's the way that it has always been for the United States.
And when you make the point about hypocrisy -- you know, on the one hand,
we think of ourselves as a good country, as a good people. But then on the
other hand, many people in the world are also saying, 'Yes, but you also
do a lot of harm.'
Q: Isn't that hypocrisy in our foreign policy?
Not really, because the way that the U.S. government views it is that, 'If
our intentions are good, then if we harm -- well, it was all intended to
be good because we are a good people.' So we have duped ourselves into
believing that, if your intentions are good and the result is otherwise,
then the intentions overrule the result.
Q: But the world is looking at the result, though.
SNOW: The world is looking at the consequences. The world is saying,
'There's something wrong here because your rhetoric is not matching your
consequences. And your consequences are causing a lot of harm. Whether you
want to look at Iraqi sanctions, whether you want to look at our
'going-it-alone' approach to international agreements limiting the
proliferation of weapons, if you want to look at the U.S. having a seat at
the table of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, where we are not
seemingly governed by its mandate. The U.S. needs to sit at the world
table and listen to the concerns and charges of other nations.
The United Nations really, again, is part of that family I spoke of
earlier - the private and state marriage, the offspring being the U.S.
media and the U.N., perhaps, being a close cousin there. The United
Nations, really, has been so weakened as an institution. It's not
independent of the U.S. government. Look where it's located. Look where
its headquarters are located.
Q: True. Too true. So, after all this - let me ask you, what can people
SNOW: Absolutely nothing. It's hopeless. (laughs)
Q: Right. No, but what tools can people use, deploy or develop intuitively
to cut through the propaganda?
SNOW: Well, the first thing -- I am a major advocate and activist for -
not just media reform, that's just a sort of feel-good term - I'm really
an advocate for the type of work that you are doing at the Guerrilla News
Network. The type that Davey D is doing with his Hip Hop newsletter. We
have got to establish truly independent media that are not alternative -
because when we use the word 'alternative,' that's a marginalization term,
that's sort of like: 'There, there, go do your thing but just don't upset
the apple cart.' We need to have an entire network of independent media
and build a coalition around this and demand change and call on the elite
media to be more accountable.
And we need to not act so grateful when a member of the elite media wants
to interview us. Let's remind that media that they have a public interest
obligation that involves two parts--to report news fairly and completely
and to act as a watchdog for the public (government) and private
(corporate) abuses of power. The corporate media are less likely to
monitor private abuses because they are owned by private companies.
Nevertheless, we can remind these private media that we are here by
increasing our numbers, establishing our independent media websites,
listserves. This so-called monster, enemy of the state, whether it's Osama
bin Laden or these terrorist cells that we fear -- a lot of their power -
and it's often limited in a terrorist organization, it's here and there,
it's diffused - has come about through technology and through the
Internet. So, if you want to call that the force of evil -- well, the
force of good and the force of change and the force of dissemination of
the truth and what is really going on, we can use the Internet for that.
I'm for positive social change using the Internet as a tool. It's like
the old saying, "here's to the success of our hopeless endeavor." But we
also really have to try to preserve it and sites like yours, Media
Channel, Alternet, and Commondreams are excellent examples of the
independent power of the press. The major corporate mega media, it's
already going so commercial and becoming dominated by advertising. It's
America Online/Time Warner/CNN. It's almost out of reach.
But I don't want to sound like I am giving up because to your last breath
you have to fight and agitate and do it for your own sense of well-being.
And a sense of wanting to make change in the world.
Q: We need a propaganda campaign of our own --
SNOW: Yes. And I would also remind people that with any good propaganda
campaign - for good or for ill - you don't reach everyone. You only need a
critical mass of people. People who are going to really work over the long
term to make positive change, to promote critical thinking.
At times that means stepping outside of an institution when your
principles are compromised. At other times, it means building bridges to
elite media, to work with them. Because there are journalists within these
institutions who are sympathetic to and just as concerned as we are about
the conglomerization of the media. The dumbing down of the media. The
hyper-capitalism. The over-commercialization. The latest on Britney Spears
that is completely trivial and fluff --
Q: Because we want to get back to the substance of our being.
SNOW: There are people there that we can reach out to. It's not useful,
it's not practical to say, 'Hate the media, F*** CNN, we don't need them.
You have to engage. But you can do it in such a way that you make your
point very clear and you say: "I am an activist, I care about this and I
am calling on you to be more accountable."
And they will listen to you but we do need a critical mass of people to do
that. And to do our bidding in various parts -- both here, and in the rest
of the world.
Q: Beautiful Nancy. Thank you. I have one final question which relates to
a report I saw on CNN in which they featured Hafez al Mirazi, Washington
Bureau Chief for the Al Jazeera Arab-language satellite television
channel. The reason I bring this up is that, in the report they also
mentioned that he had worked for Voice of America for some years before
joining Al Jazeera. What do you make of that?
SNOW: I know that the New York Times reported that Hafez al Mirazi "honed
his interviewing skills" at VoA where he worked for 13 years as a
producer, correspondent and interpreter. He interviewed Colin Powell just
six days after the September 11 attacks and days before Powell gave
interviews to many leading U.S. publications. Mr. Mirazi even interviewed
Governor George W. Bush in 1988 during his father's presidential campaign.
Al Jazeera, despite the criticism from the U.S. Government that it is at
times anti-West and anti-U.S., is known as the Arab World's CNN. The
network's staff consists of many BBC alumni and its presence is worldwide
with over 35 bureaus.
What do I make of the VoA/BBC/Al Jazeera connection? The following:
Why does the U.S. need to rely on a VoA when commercial television
stations like CNN and now Al Jazeera can do such a good job of promoting
the administration position, but without the government subsidies? This
connection lies at the heart of propaganda in the 21st Century. The rise
of the corporate persuader - in the form of global media conglomerates -
should not suggest to us that propaganda on an international or national
scale is diminishing. In fact, it seems to be just shifting public
attention. Here you've got the U.S. administration telling Al Jazeera to
"tone down" its coverage and not give so much coverage to anti-American
oratory or U.S.-style freewheeling phone-in shows. Think about it. If
you wanted to use a network like Al Jazeera as a propaganda weapon, then
the U.S. official position must continue to be that Al Jazeera is acting
apart and truly independent of any global media influence, a media
influence that is U.S.-led and U.S.-dominated. Al Jazeera's independence
was put in question when it raised the ire of other U.S. broadcasting
networks following an exclusive arrangement with CNN to air the videotape
of Osama Bin Laden after the October 7 attacks on Afghanistan. What I'm
suggesting is that commercial media are taking the place of
government-sponsored media in propaganda wars of the 21st Century.
Q: Nice. Thanks.
SNOW: Oh, you're welcome. But don't you want to hear my favorite quote
from the book?
Q: Oh yeah, definitely.
SNOW: OK. Here - actually there are three but they really bring home the
As Senator William J. Fulbright writes in his 1966 book, The Arrogance of
Power, "Intolerance of dissent is a well-noted feature of the American
national character." His words are echoed by the Frenchman Alexis de
Tocqueville who wrote in Democracy in America: "I know of no country in
which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of
discussion as in America." My point here is that guess what, you can be a
patriot and a dissenter, a patriot and a free thinker. They are not
And then this comes a little later:
In his book, The Phantom Public, Lippman said that "the public must be put
in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and
perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and
roar of a bewildered herd. Only the insider can make decisions, not
because he is inherently a better man but because he is so placed that he
can understand and can act. The outsider is necessarily ignorant, usually
irrelevant, and often meddlesome."
So -- there you have it. Let's have hope for the bewildered herd in all of
Yes. Let's have hope. Thanks again.
Transcription provided by Lisa Hsu.
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