The Cognitive Dissonance of the MSM
By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 5 April 2014
Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory in social psychology is often cited as holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. The condition is known to cause mental stress and discomfort and is often used in the psychological manipulation of individuals or groups to achieve social engineering goals.
Cue the joint disclosure of yet further malfeasance by the NSA: der Spiegel (dS) led in its first paragraph by stating that "the American government conducted a major intelligence offensive against China" while The New York Times (NYT) in a more muted report waited until the third paragraph before saying "The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen".
Clearly the emphasis of these articles differed but they were essentially in agreement about the cognitive dissonance of the NSA, unlike some elements of the mainstream media (MSM). And so, as quickly as the story was published, the attack began.
In a statement by Jack Goldsmith at Lawfare, he said:
- The Huawei revelations don’t surprise me, but the fact that I am reading them in the NYT is significant.
His point was that US national security interests were now subservient to a powerful global media.
- Publication of an NSA story constitutes an editorial judgment by the media outlet that the information should be public.
And on Goldsmith's point of US media jurisdiction:
- The jingoistic view of what is “newsworthy” is baseless and warped. Somewhere along the way, this idea arose that the only “legitimate” disclosures involve ones showing violations of the rights of American citizens. Anything else, this reasoning holds, is invalid, and because Snowden leaked documents that go beyond the violation of Americans’ rights, he is not a legitimate whistleblower.
- Who created the uber-nationalistic standard that the only valid disclosures are ones involving the rights of Americans? Are we are all supposed to regard non-Americans as irrelevant? Is the NSA’s bulk, suspicionless surveillance of the private communications of hundreds of millions of human beings inherently proper simply because its victims aren’t American citizens? Even more extreme: are American journalists (and whistleblowers like Snowden) supposed to keep the public ignorant of anything and everything the US Government does to people provided those people aren’t blessed with American citizenship? Do you condemn whoever leaked the existence of top secret CIA black sites to Dana Priest on the ground that it didn’t involve violations of the rights of Americans? It makes sense that US government officials view the world this way: their function is to advance the self-perceived interests of the US government, but that’s not the role of actual journalists or whistleblowers.
Benjamin Wittes, also at Lawfare, then entered the discourse and sought to salvage, in part, the reputation of the MSM by saying:
- Over at his new publication, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald has a piece taking to task those criticizing Edward Snowden for news stories that, in fact, reflect the editorial judgments of the newspapers that published them. I actually agree with Greenwald about this. I have criticized both the New York Times and the Washington Post for their editorial judgments regarding Snowden documents.
But in repudiation of Greenwald's point on US media jurisdiction:
- There’s a very simple answer to Greenwald’s question: The United States—like all countries that apply law to espionage at all—treats spying domestically and on its own nationals as legally different from spying abroad. The result is that there’s greater legal question about the propriety of spying on Americans than there is about spying on foreigners overseas. Indeed, we have an NSA precisely in order to spy on people in other countries. So the mystification at the eagerness of the press to blow sensitive intelligence programs, a mystification I share, is a mystification at the press’s eagerness to expose lawful conduct deemed in the national interest by the democratically elected representatives of the people. Greenwald may dissent from their judgment over a great many decades, and that is his right. But the judgment, being reflected in the entire fabric of American intelligence law, makes the decision to report the Huawei story, say, qualitatively different—and a far less obvious case for publication—than, say, the journalistic judgment to expose the metadata program, a sensitive program that involves an aggressive reading of U.S. law with respect to collection that against U.S. persons. Greenwald may regard as jingoistic the distinction the law makes between collection against U.S. persons and collection overseas, but it is the law. And I would challenge him to find a single example of a country that applies the same privacy rules to espionage in foreign adversary countries as it does to its own people—other than countries whose privacy rules are not to have any.
Only for Greenwald to counter with an update to his earlier post:
- UPDATE: Brookings’ Ben Wittes responds to all of this at Lawfare by, first, agreeing with the main point that those who object to particular NSA stories should direct those criticisms to the newspapers which decide to publish them. But he disagrees that NSA surveillance of foreigners is newsworthy. He argues that “the United States—like all countries that apply law to espionage at all—treats spying domestically and on its own nationals as legally different from spying abroad” and that such disclosures are driven by “the press’s eagerness to expose lawful conduct deemed in the national interest by the democratically elected representatives of the people.”
- But there is a huge difference between spying on what are generally regarded to be legitimate foreign targets (political and military officials of adversary governments) and collecting the private communications of entire populations en masse. It’s untenable to claim that bulk surveillance has been democratically ratified given that almost all Americans, even most members of Congress, were completely unaware that any of this was happening until we reported it. One can’t reasonably claim that a government program which almost nobody knew about has been democratically approved.
- More to the point: mere legality is insufficient to shield a program from justifiable transparency; conversely, exposure of illegality is not the only form of valid reporting. Take the classic whistleblowing case of the Pentagon Papers: those documents really did not reveal illegality as much as they revealed government deceit, systematic lying to the American people about the Vietnam War. The fact that such official lying may have been legal hardly means that it should have remained concealed.
- The fact is that American law imposes almost no restrictions on what the US Government is permitted to do to non-Americans, but that does not mean that all such conduct should be off-limits from media reporting just because it has been legalized. Drone strikes that kill innocent people are arguably legal because Congress has approved them, and are often concealed from the public through an abuse of secrecy rules: does that mean journalists should refrain from reporting them? After all, such reporting “exposes [arguably] lawful conduct deemed in the national interest by the democratically elected representatives of the people.”
- Having the US government subject the entire world to a system of suspicionless collect-it-all surveillance goes far beyond what was known or expected or approved; it goes far beyond what is common. It has profound implications for all sorts of critical values. The fact that American law does not prohibit it does not remotely mean that citizens should be kept ignorant that it is happening. Independently, the notion that the US Government should be permitted by journalists to deceive its citizenry – by, for instance, pretending that it is China rather than itself engaging in this form of industrial espionage – simply because such deceit is “legal” is entirely noxious to the most basic tenets of what journalism should be.
The result was obvious, both Goldsmith and Wittes had exposed their own cognitive dissonance for all to see.
There is little doubt that the original intention of the NYT and dS articles were written to expose the cognitive dissonance of the NSA, a task they fulfilled with ease. However, unbeknown to them was the train of events they had set in motion that would ultimately oust the cognitive dissonance of not only a few individual members of the media who sought to berate the NYT and dS, but the overwhelming majority of the MSM who failed to run the story at all.
Once again, there is yet another one of those organisations with a three letter acronym found to have systemic cognitive dissonance.
- Zelda says: I cannot help them.