Written by Caitlin Johnstone

One of the biggest problems with the urgent push for “media literacy” we’ve been seeing in the west these last few years is that everyone’s being taught about liberal bias and conservative bias in media, but they’re not being taught about US empire bias.

Your average western news media consumer will have some general awareness that Fox News has a conservative bias and MSNBC has a liberal bias, and if you try to use one of them to prove a political point to someone of the opposing ideology they’ll probably hasten to inform you of the biased nature of your source. A somewhat smaller but still very large percentage of the population will be aware that an outlet like RT is going to have a bias in favor of the Russian government, and if you try to cite RT to prove some point about Ukraine or whatever you’ll probably get called out on that right away.

That’s about as far as “media literacy” goes among the general public in the western world, which just so happens to work out very nicely in favor of the western empire. The radius of awareness extends just far enough to pose no threat to the empire’s information interests, and stops there.

What relatively few westerners are aware of is that the entirety of mainstream western media — both liberal and conservative — are so biased in favor of the US and its empire-like global sphere of influence that they are almost worthless for forming an accurate understanding of what’s happening in the world.

Every foreign policy agenda of the US and its allies is reliably facilitated by the western media, because the western media do not exist primarily to report the news, they exist primarily to administer propaganda. The New York Times has reliably supported every war the US has waged. Western mass media focus overwhelmingly on foreign protests against governments the United States dislikes while paying far less attention to widespread protests against US-aligned governments. The only time Trump was universally showered with praise by the mass media was when he bombed Syria, while the only time Biden has been universally slammed by the mass media was when he withdrew from Afghanistan. US media did such a good job deceitfully marrying Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks in the minds of the public in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that seven in ten Americans still believed he was connected to 9/11 months after the war began. To name just a few obvious glaring examples of far too many to list.

Kids aren’t being taught about this type of bias in school. Websites like AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check set up to help improve “media literacy” and teach people about media biases focus only on biases of ideological partisanship, not international conflicts and foreign policy.

You’ve probably seen charts like this one from the Media Bias section of the AllSides website, where the biases of outlets are ranked from “Left” to “Center” to “Right”:

What you’ve never seen anywhere is a chart that ranks outlets in terms of how sympathetic they are to the US-centralized empire, with outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian and Fox News being listed on the extreme end of one side and more US-critical outlets like Consortium News, Mintpress News and Antiwar toward the other side. Notice how the above chart is so completely uninterested in foreign policy that it lists militarist smut rag The Atlantic in the same category as outlets that are often critical of US foreign policy like Jacobin and The Nation.

Here’s what the Media Bias/Fact Check profile on my (currently malfunctioning) website looks like as of this writing:

It places me on the far left ideologically, which is of course fair, but it doesn’t tell you anything about my attitude toward the US and its allies, which consumes a huge amount of my focus and commentary. Am I one of those “yay NATO” lefties or am I a “boo NATO” lefty? Am I one of those lefties who focuses on domestic issues and pretends foreign policy doesn’t exist? In international conflicts do I tend to side with the US, side with some other government, remain neutral, or some mixture of the above? It doesn’t say.

It doesn’t say for anyone else either. The New York Times is listed as having a “left-center bias” with a credibility rating of “high”. The New York Post is listed as having a “center-right” bias with a “mixed” credibility rating. It’s all about where they can be placed on the left-to-right ideology scale and some arbitrary determination about how “credible” they’re found to be, without any mention of the fact that they are both fiercely loyal to the US empire.

This is entirely by design. The whole push to promote “media literacy” and improve online information has never actually been about training people to see and understand the biases of media outlets, it’s been about training people not to see and understand them. At least not where it matters.

Foreign policy is the single most consequential aspect of government behavior when it comes to the US and its allies, because it affects the most people to the greatest degree. Domestic policy has very real consequences for the kind of life people will have under the US power alliance, but you’re talking about questions like whether they’ll be able to afford healthcare or purchase legal cannabis, not whether they’ll be bombed, starved by crushing economic sanctions, or killed in a nuclear war. And yet our entire society is being trained not to look there when determining the biases of the sources we look to for information.

And this is exactly because foreign policy is so immensely consequential. Those who run the empire don’t care whether women can have an abortion or whether marginalized groups are abused by police, so they’re happy for the biases of their propaganda organs to be highlighted on such matters and for everyone to pour all their energy into debating them. What they absolutely do care about a very great deal is the operation of the globe-spanning empire, which is held together by nonstop violence and abuse and the threat thereof.

So we are indoctrinated into supporting the US empire’s agendas of war, militarism, manipulation and resource extraction around the world, and we are trained not to look at the fact that we are being indoctrinated by sources of information who are all wildly biased in favor of that empire.

By keeping the western media’s US empire bias out of the spotlight, imperial spinmeisters shrink the Overton window of acceptable opinion down to those foreign policy views which are promoted by mainstream information sources whose only criticisms of the empire come down to minor quibbles about the specifics of how the empire should be run, instead of whether a globe-spanning power structure should exist at all.

This is just one of the many sly little ways our perception of our world is tilted toward the interests of our rulers. It’s what Chomsky was talking about when he said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

A passive and obedient populace is exactly what the empire wants, so the imperial media keep the debate restricted to things like culture war issues and electoral politics, with the edges of the Overton window eclipsing out issues like capitalism, militarism, oligarchy and empire. In this way we are kept barking and snarling at each other, without ever turning our gaze upon our rulers, and without ever noticing how many more there are of us than them.

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