Speaking Truth AGAINST Power

In an excellent article “Journalism as Subversion” on Truthdig, Chris Hedges, himself a journalist for major newspapers for many years, contends that the best journalism comes from dissidents, not professional journalists. He asserts that global capitalism’s assault is not only economic and political, but cultural and historical as well, seeking to “erase our stories and our histories”:

Its systems of mass communication, which peddle a fake intimacy with manufactured celebrities and a false sense of belonging within a mercenary consumer culture, shut out our voices, hopes and dreams. Salacious gossip about the elites and entertainers, lurid tales of violence and inane trivia replace in national discourse the actual and the real. The goal is a vast historical amnesia.

The traditions, rituals and struggles of the poor and workingmen and workingwomen are replaced with the vapid homogenization of mass culture. Life’s complexities are reduced to simplistic stereotypes. Common experiences center around what we have been fed by television and mass media. We become atomized and alienated. Solidarity and empathy are crushed. The cult of the self becomes paramount. And once the cult of the self is supreme we are captives to the corporate monolith.

As the mass media, now uniformly in the hands of large corporations, turn news into the ridiculous chronicling of pseudo-events and pseudo-controversy we become ever more invisible as individuals. Any reporting of the truth—the truth about what the powerful are doing to us and how we are struggling to endure and retain our dignity and self-respect—would fracture and divide a global population that must be molded into compliant consumers and obedient corporate subjects. This has made journalism, real journalism, subversive. 

After the introduction, Hedges pretty much turns the rest of the article over to the words of P. Sainth, an Indian journalist, author of the book, Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India’s Poorest Districts and creator of the fascinating mixed-media People’s Archive of Rural India.

Here are some quotes by P. Sainth from the Hedges article with the hope that you’ll read it in its entirety.

On the People’s Archives:

We are not there to adore the final product. We show you the labor process. Our potter is not someone sitting in the showroom talking to you. Our potter is a person down in the ditches after the rain digging for clay, on this hands and knees. You see him complaining about running out of clay as the real estate guys take over the area. You see we are running out of clay. We want you to respect that labor. In India labor is invisible. A lot is done by women. I shot a photo exhibition across 10 years called Visible Work, Invisible Women,” from 10 different states. It’s the only photo exhibition in India that’s been seen by over 700,000 people. Because I take it to the villages where it was shot. On the website we’ve digitized the entire exhibition.

On the media and speaking truth to power:

There were 512 accredited journalists covering fashion week in Mumbai and six journalists covering farm suicides, the world’s worst farm suicides ever. And [the suicides] are still going on. It’s partly because the media are not interested, but it is also because of the corporatization of the media. … Murray Kempton [critically] said the job of the editorial writer is to go down into the valley after the battle is over and shoot the wounded. This is what mainstream journalism is doing now. Look at this catchphrase about talking truth to power. As if power is so innocent. Poor things, if we tell them the truth they’ll mend their ways? I say talk the truth about power to the masses who are in the thrall of the power.

We know what’s happening in Iraq. We know what’s happening in Afghanistan. You think power doesn’t know? We know who enabled the creation of an ISIS, who’s the default partner. We know who wants help from Iran on how to deal with ISIS and Iraq. I don’t believe in the innocence of power.

On “professional” journalists:

If you cover farm suicides, if you stay with the story and want to tell the story, you are called an activist. [But] if you sit polishing your stool with the seat of your trousers in the newsroom for 30 years churning yard upon yard of news from corporate press releases—why, then, you are a professional. You will even be highly regarded, a respected professional, because the corporations respect you.

The great journalists in history are never professional in that sense. The best journalism has always come from dissidents. Journalism is also an art of dissent. How many establishment journalists do we remember a year after they are dead? Look at the anti-establishment journalists. Look at Thomas Paine or John Reed. Ten Days that Shook the World will be read a thousand years after all the New York Times best-sellers by the New York Times journalists are in the shredder. The great journalists are all dissidents. They spoke the truth against power and about power. The journalism of dissent is the richest journalism we have. And the Third World and ex-colonial countries have far richer traditions than Europe. In the colonies, journalism was the child of the freedom struggle.

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For an good recounting of how professional corporate journalists undercut the work of dissident journalists, read “Crossing the River of Fire: The Liberal Attack on Naomi Klein and THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING” by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark in the February issue of Monthly Review. If you don’t want to read the entire article (it’s rather long), scroll down a little less than halfway to the subhead “Liberal Critics as Gatekeepers” for the most relevant portion. 

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