Government Won’t Save Us from Big Media
Update: as of Monday, February 15, 2021, Parler is back online.
A sitting US president is suspended from Twitter, Facebook, and email service provider Campaign Monitor. A pillow entrepreneur not only loses his personal and business Twitter accounts but also ten retail stores for believing that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Bank of America (BOA) gave federal law enforcement authorities records of 211 of its customers who made purchases with a BOA credit or debit card in Washington, DC, around the time of the January 6 capitol riot.
These and myriad other revelations have sparked a fury among conservatives, conservative pundits such as Tucker Carlson, nationalists, and Trump supporters. But what do many of them think is at root responsible?
For the record, Gab was never “nuked” but slow at times because of a tidal wave of new sign-ups. Trump has started using the platform. While Parler lost its Amazon hosting, it would be back by now but for differences between its owners and the CEO about what speech will and will not be allowed on the new Parler.
Public squares are bastions of free expression? Where? In Havana, Caracas, Pyongyang, and Singapore? In Riyadh, Deera Square is nicknamed “Chop-Chop” for its gruesome public beheadings, sometimes dozens per session. And there’s the infamous Tiananmen, where one man legendarily stood his ground in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989. In return for his courage, depending on the source, the hero of Tiananmen was either executed or forced to flee into permanent hiding.
And then there’s Tucker “Markets Crush Families” Carlson,1 who has pounded libertarians on his show every week this year. Carlson regularly asserts that the American corporate state is a project enthusiastically supported by libertarians, even taking aim at Austrian economics for some heinous yet curiously inexplicable crime.
In assessing these charges against advocates of truly free markets, let’s first examine the nature of traditional media, then the web and social media. Next we’ll consider the conservative nationalist solution (antitrust and more regulation), antitrust in practice, and then look at who really bears more responsibility for the current economic state of affairs in the US.
State Capture of Press and Television Media
Ruling classes have an active interest in controlling mass media, as they correctly recognize their power in swaying public opinion to the benefit or detriment of the public and private interests that serve them. In 1975, a US Senate select committee chaired by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) was assembled to investigate abuses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as well as Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The committee’s report, released in 1976, found that the CIA had formed “a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and … direct access to a large number of newspapers and periodicals, scores of press services and news agencies, radio and television stations, commercial book publishers, and other foreign media outlets.”
As for domestic penetration, the committee found that about fifty employees of US media organizations were CIA assets working as either journalists or contributors. More than twelve news organizations and publishers provided cover for CIA agents working overseas.
The following year, former Washington Post and Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein accused the Church Committee of a cover-up. Bernstein discovered CIA documents showing that the agency had been recruiting journalists since at least 1953, when it sent Joseph Alsop to the Philippines to observe an election. From Alsop on through the next quarter century, more than four hundred US journalists completed various CIA assignments ranging from facilitating espionage to espionage itself.
Regardless of its true extent, state infiltration of traditional US media was unquestionably successful and well known. Whistle-blowers from Christopher Boyce to Edward Snowden concluded that disclosures to the mainstream US media would almost certainly earn them nothing more than negligible publicity and long prison sentences.
Government Control of Websites and the Capture of Social Media
There are differing views on when the foundation for the current wave of suspensions, bans, and restrictions on speech was first laid. On September 4, 2010, seventeen state attorneys general forced Craigslist to close its Adult Services section for allegedly facilitating prostitution and child trafficking despite the fact that Craigslist had enacted a number of safeguards including manual reviews of ads, phone verification, and user monitoring, and had always cooperated with law enforcement.
Craigslist predicted that the government shutting down its Adult Services section would only transfer adult services to other venues, many with fewer safeguards, and it was right. Prostitution, for example, was increasingly repackaged as “sugar dating,” with payments to dates now classified as “gifts” to circumvent laws.
Before Parler, They Came for Wikileaks
Much has been made about Parler being recently kicked off Amazon’s servers, but where was a similar outcry when Julian Assange’s Wikileaks was kicked off Amazon’s servers on December 1, 2010? Whoops, conservatives had no problem with that. In April 2010, Wikileaks published Collateral Murder, video footage showing US troops killing sixteen civilians and two Reuters journalists in Iraq.
Six months later (October 22, 2010), Wikileaks published almost four hundred thousand documents relating to the Iraq War which recorded 66,081 civilian deaths and implicated US commanders in ignoring torture of Iraqi detainees with electric drills. On April 24, 2011, Wikileaks began releasing the Guantanamo Bay Files, almost eight hundred secret reports which revealed that about 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis (never more than taxi drivers, food service workers, and agricultural laborers) were incarcerated for years in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base without charges.
For conservatives at the time, these leaks made Assange equivalent to a terrorist because they made “our troops” and the US military look bad and weakened the post-9/11 legacy of George W. Bush. Some nationalist conservatives only began to change their minds about Assange after October 7, 2016, when Wikileaks published the John Podesta emails, which damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and helped Donald Tr