Deconstructing Media Propaganda and Framing, from War to the Unhoused

Featuring Robin Andersen, Nolan Higdon, and Steve Macek

by Kate Horgan
Published: Last Updated on

In the first segment, media scholars Robin Andersen, Nolan Higdon and Steve Macek come back on the show, this time to discuss their latest edited book, Censorship, Digital Media, and the Global Crackdown on Freedom of Expression. The recent upsurge in censorship is a global phenomenon taking many forms across the media spectrum, as well as in schools, universities and public spaces. We’ve seen physical assaults and legal restrictions on journalists, writers, intellectuals, scholars and much more, including record numbers of book bans and challenges. This book analyzes and evaluates the contemporary phenomenon of censorship in digital spaces, as well as in print, visual and legacy media.
Later in the show, co-hosts Eleanor Goldfield and Mickey Huff talk about a now debunked New York Times story about Hamas and rape from the October 7 attacks. They also discuss the importance of understanding the way unhoused people are framed in the corporate media. They discuss Eleanor’s recent piece at Truthout, and they talk about why it’s important to stop criminalizing the unhoused.

 

Notes:

Robin Andersen is an author and Professor Emerita of Communications at Fordham University. She is a frequent contributor to FAIR, Al Jazeera, Project Censored and more. Steve Macek is Professor and Chair of Communications at North Central College in suburban Chicago, co-coordinator of Project Censored’s Campus Affiliates Program, and a long time Project contributor and judge. Nolan Higdon is an author, lecturer in Education at the University of California Santa Cruz campus, and Project Censored Judge. The three are the co-editors of Censorship, Digital Media, and the Global Crackdown on Freedom of Expression.

 

Video of the Interview with Eleanor Goldfield

 

Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Eleanor Goldfield

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Mickey Huff: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m Mickey Huff.

In this segment, we are joined by my co host, Eleanor Goldfield, and we’ve done this before, so listeners of the program know that sometimes Eleanor and I join forces to talk about the state of our free press or the sordid state of our so called free press.

We also have a segment we’re going to talk about with Eleanor, a recent piece that she wrote for Truthout. It’s over at truthout.org on the unhoused crisis. And we’re going to talk a little bit more about 1 of the stories in top 25 and certainly hear from Eleanor about her experiences around this issue.

But Eleanor, before we get into that, let’s talk a little about the state of the so called free press. There’s been a lot more reporting in the last week or so that is deconstructing the New York Times piece from late last year that was drumming up the Hamas rape story from the October 7 attacks.

That’s of course been challenged and debunked by numerous sources, including more recently, over at the Intercept. And, of course, our colleague Robin Andersen had written about this. We’ve addressed this before, but Eleanor Goldfield, your thoughts on some of what’s been coming out around these stories.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, so first, Mickey, I want to highlight to folks that sexual assault and rape are horrific war crimes that are used around the globe in times of war, but also in times of so called peace, and they are notoriously difficult to prove.

And this is also why, so disgustingly, they are sometimes used as false claims, because unlike, like, if somebody’s decapitated, it’s pretty easy to see that, right? It’s a very clear case. If somebody’s been sexually assaulted or raped, it’s difficult to prove, especially if that person then dies. It’s not like you can ask them what happened.

Now, with the case of the claims of rape and sexual assault by Hamas on October 7th, as you pointed out, Mickey, several outlets covered this, including the GrayZone and Robin Andersen, who’s a frequent contributor to Project Censored. And The Intercept also published a piece just at the end of February, basically pulling together a lot of this in like a massive expose that’s a pretty long read, but an important one and it brings together, though without credit, it brings together insight about the reporting from others about this, and basically showing in a very clear cut way how the New York Times just made this up by using somebody who, and I’m not going to go into all the details because that would take four hours, but basically, a woman who went around to crisis and rape centers around Israel and tried to find evidence of rape and couldn’t.

And then basically they just made it up because they couldn’t find evidence of it, so they just made it up. And I just like to also highlight that this is coming from somebody who has himself pointed out that evidence is not important. And this is Jeffrey Gettleman, who’s a veteran reporter at the New York Times, and he said, this was a while ago, I believe, I can’t recall exactly when this was, but he was giving a speech about so called evidence and his relationship to it.

So he said, “I don’t want to use the word evidence because evidence is almost like a legal term that suggests you’re trying to prove an allegation or prove a case in court. That’s not my role. We all have our roles, and my role is to document, to present information, to give people a voice.”

And he says, “with regards to the claims, we found information along the entire chain of violence, so of sexual violence.”

Which, no you didn’t, Gettleman.

Mickey Huff: Isn’t this a Pulitzer Prize winner at the Times?

Eleanor Goldfield: I’m not sure. I know that he helped the New York Times win a Polk Award.

Mickey Huff: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, Gettleman, I mean, again, being one of the lead authors here, they brought in two other writers and it’s turned out that there’s been some other issues with these people.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah. I mean, but that’s, that’s the New York Times, right?

Mickey Huff: Having no experience in journalism, having no real background, having connections to, I mean, and it’s a bizarre story.

Eleanor Goldfield: Gettleman literally worked with a woman, Schwartz is her last name, who told, in a podcast interview, explained her extensive efforts to get confirmation from Israeli hospitals, rape crisis centers, trauma recovery facilities, and sexual assault hotlines in Israel. And didn’t get a single confirmation from one of them.

And these are Israeli rape crisis centers and trauma centers. Like, these are not like anti-Zionist rape centers. You’re working with a woman who admitted that she didn’t find evidence. And Gettleman’s like, well, look, evidence is not what we do here. That’s not my job.

It’s like, well, I agree. That’s obviously not your job. But how dare you then print it in the New York Times when you clearly are suggesting that you have the evidence?

Mickey Huff: Well, Eleanor, this isn’t new for the New York Times. I mean, you know, they’ve hired people before that have just made things up whole cloth, Jason Blair.

They have contributed to the cottage industry known as Russiagate in recent years, along with MSNBC and others and going back far enough over 20 years, they were the ones with Judy Miller, flogging the nonsensical weapons of mass destruction story over and over and over again and, you know, the atrocity propaganda, or it’s almost atrocity porn at some point, the way the media tries to cover these issues and cover up reality in the process goes back, it’s age old.

Over 100 years ago the U. S. government under the Creel Commission and the committee of public information was spreading wild this information around the U.S. public about Germans ripping the arms off of Belgian babies to get into the war. And, you know, we saw similar things in the Cold War, in Vietnam. We certainly have seen it over 1989/90. We can’t forget when Naira, the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador, was coached by a U.S. public relations firm, Hill Knowlton, to lie to Congress about babies being thrown out of incubators that George Herbert Walker Bush then repeated endlessly to justify support for that invasion, the first Gulf War, where we killed untold numbers of Iraqis, the highway of death.

You know, again, more mis- and disinformation being deliberately planted into the press. We then see it again around well, again, there’s too numerous to mention, but we’re back to the WMD trajectory. Here we are now October 7, turns out that Israel was aware that there were warnings of the attacks as much as a year in advance, and in fact, it looks as though that there have been concerted efforts to really spin yarns and create this narrative whole cloth, with what it seems like no evidence, which is where you just ended your last point, Eleanor Goldfield.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, absolutely. And I’d also like to point out, Mickey, that headlines in the New York Times and all the other legacy media have harped on the hostages, the hostages that were taken by Hamas and how they’re treated. But nobody talks about the prisoners, a. k. a. hostages that Israel has had in jails for decades, including children. Hostages who have also been tortured and raped by Israeli forces, and there is documentation of that going back years. UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees has documented this very well, as well as a lot of news outlets across years.

Where’s the New York Times on that? If you care so much about sexual assault and rape, if that’s really your goal to document that, then where are you on that, Gettleman and the New York Times?

Mickey Huff: Well, again, it’s very selective, right? It’s very one sided. It really smacks in a lot of ways of, it’s okay when we or our allies do it, which is unfortunate. It’s a very unfortunate moment for journalism, for the New York Times, in my view. It’s an embarrassing situation.

Fortunately, there have been many people taking notice of it, Robin Andersen being one. Of course, it’s good to see the Intercept piece, but of course, there have been people at Grayzone and other places that have been rightfully deconstructing this piece.

We’ve yet to see, of course, what will happen at the Times, but we won’t hold our breath about what the alleged paper of record and the old gray lady will do about reporting such propaganda.

Eleanor Goldfield, let’s shift gears at this point. You recently wrote a piece for Truthout.org titled, I’ve been unhoused. It could happen to you. Let’s stop criminalizing it: the push to criminalize the unhoused should be treated as a threat to us all.

And here, of course, we live in basically a glorified real estate company, an investment bank called the United States where even people of great means find themselves struggling to make ends meet with exorbitant rents and real estate market prices and interest rates, oh my.

And one of the stories we did this past year in Censored 2024. On the list, nearly half of unhoused people are employed. I just wanted to segue, you know, and hear about the piece that you recently wrote, but I just wanted to give a little background on this for our listeners in case they were unaware.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, from September of 2022 drawing on a study produced by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago, it’s reported that 53 percent of sheltered unhoused population and 40 percent of the unsheltered unhoused population were employed either part or full time from 2011 to 2018.

Again, the point of this is that it’s showing the way in which the unhoused and homelessness and these things are often depicted in the corporate media are it’s a blight. And of course, out here on the left coast in the San Francisco Bay area, it’s shown as this is the collapse of our civilization. In San Francisco the homelessness is running amok and it’s destroying all the nice things and so forth.

These people that are unhoused again, a majority of these people have had places to live. They face, once you get into a situation, and you’ll talk about this, I’m sure, Eleanor, once one gets into a situation where they’re this economically unstable, it becomes almost impossible to get back to some place of stability, to get in to not just shelter, but get into a home and try to reconstruct

So, that was story 21, and of course our listeners can go and check that out online if they want. But Eleanor, let’s segue to your piece from Truthout. Can you talk a little bit about this because you also wrote this partially from a first person perspective, to ground this in a very staunch reality, Eleanor Goldfield.

Eleanor Goldfield: Yeah, thanks, Mickey. What I wanted to do with this piece was connect issues. It’s a big thing that I really like to try to do: recognize how all of these things are interlocking forms of oppression. And I think that to start here, it’s to recognize that everybody listening to this or everybody who reads that article is one or two emergencies away from being unhoused unless you’re like a trust fund kid, in which case Mazel Tov. But, most people are one or two, because there’s no safety net.

You can call it whatever you want. There’s no, there’s nothing to fall back on. If you have medical bills, you know, 85 percent of people who went bankrupt back in 2015 due to medical expenses had insurance. So it’s like even when you pay exorbitant insurance fees, there’s nothing to fall back on.

So I think it’s also important to recognize that the reasons that people become unhoused cannot be separated from the systems of capitalism, of racism, of sexism, of colonialism, of all of these interlocking aspects of oppression. And so, you know, for me personally, I became unhoused because the situation that I had set up before I moved to LA became unsafe.

And then I couldn’t find anything that I could, A, afford, or B, wanted to step into because, wow, if I had a nickel for every bananas situation that I found on Craigslist, that’s how we did it back in the day, of people who were willing to have me as their housemate, I mean, I’d be a trust fund kid.

So, there were these interlocking reasons that created this, the reasons for why I became unhoused in 2005. And a lot of this also has to do with the accessibility of things like shelters in LA in particular, but this is not unusual. It’s nearly impossible to get into a shelter.

And also if you have any kind of issues, whether that be mental health issues, addiction issues, it’s even more inaccessible. You have to be like this perfect, the perfect unhoused person, which, what does that even mean? So these things are all connected in a myriad ways.

And this connects to things like the criminalization of homelessness, of course, which is something that’s ramping up in this country. And I wanted to show people that this is something that affects you as well, because the criminalization of the unhoused, it’s kind of like the “first they came for” aspect, you know, and if they are criminalizing people for trying to survive in the failing empire, a failing capitalist empire, where does that put any of us?

Our tenuous relationship to housing is therefore also a tenuous relationship to legality, and that’s something that we have to reckon with.

Mickey Huff: And Eleanor, you write in the piece, and this is, you know, contextually very important to, to note, and you said, even if you have housing now, you are still likely only one or two emergencies away from being unhoused, like you were just saying.

In the richest country in the world, where 16 million homes sit vacant while on any given day, Some 650,000 Americans are unhoused, record numbers, you write. And housing is unaffordable to half of all renters in the United States. Seems that we’re on shaky ground.

You do go on to talk about more criminalization of houselessness, cash bail funds, other ways in which houselessness has been criminalized, the way in which we see public spaces transformed as exclusionary, or somehow, merely sitting on a bench or trying to take a break somewhere in public is verboten and we’re putting spikes on chairs and things.

I mean it’s absolutely lunacy the degree to which this has gone, and I think it’s important to contextually frame it the way in which you did, that this is something that actually affects way more people than we think, and it has the potential to affect half or more of people living in places like the US, if there is some unforeseen calamity or tragedy that strikes, and they do. People die, people get sick, people lose jobs, I mean, this is all a pretty normal part of life.

Eleanor, can you address a couple other things from the piece, particularly, if you want to get into any of the other legal issues or particularly maybe some things that you suggest that people might do to raise awareness around this or what are things people can do in their own communities to address these mounting concerns and problems?

Eleanor Goldfield: Sure. Well, Mickey, I think the important thing to notice is that the solutions to this are the solutions that everybody needs, you know, universal health care, make housing accessible and affordable. And if people need housing and can’t pay for it, they deserve a house. I mean, there are way more empty homes in this country than there are unhoused people. It’s not difficult to house them. And then make sure that there’s accessible services to the people who require them, whether that be physical services, mental health services, what have you.

And so the idea that the solutions to the unhoused are something completely different because they’re a different species is like part of the propagandization of how we look at the unhoused in this country. And I think in terms of addressing it wherever you live, because there are unhoused people everywhere, it really starts with something, and I feel like it almost feels trite saying this, but recognize the humanity in unhoused people. And recognize ways to address, if you can’t address the root causes, because most people can’t really build a shelter that has access to mental health care and physical health care programs, address some of the issues that you can, you know, whether that’s food not bombs, or whether that’s ensuring that people might have a place to sit, if you live in places that get really cold, make sure that people have supplies.

This is what mutual aid has done and will continue to do as the empire continues to fall and more and more people become unhoused. Be one of these civilian reporters who documents this. You know, it’s kind of like cop watching. Watch these homeless sweeps and see if your presence there might not keep people from being moved, or at the very least stop them from being brutalized, because that can have that effect.

So I think just like with any other issue, it’s paying attention, and then what does that attention move you to do? Just like on this show, it’s like the news that doesn’t make the news, and why, and then what does that, what does that push us to do in terms of acting on this information that we then have?

Because anybody who has the information of what’s really going on, Mickey, I think will feel moved to act. And, of course, that’s the importance of media literacy and really seeing what’s going on in the world.

Mickey Huff: You know, Eleanor, great points. And, a good note to sort of wrap on. You have a note at the end of the piece that I think is really important because when teaching, you know, sometimes students ask questions about the language we use, right?

And, when they’re used to seeing an issue framed a certain way in, in the establishment press, the homelessness crisis or how it’s attached to all these other bad blight things in urban areas and so forth, the way that it’s stereotyped, you have a clarifying point that talks about why the term unhoused is used versus homelessness.

Can you address that? Because it’s, I think it’s a significant way of trying to get people to think about things outside the corporate frame through which you know, again, we’re back to the United States of Realtors. That frame, that’s just almost automatically accepted. And in this way, by kind of reclaiming the language and talking about the term unhoused, you’re actually calling attention to something.

Could you talk about that briefly?

Eleanor Goldfield: Sure. Yeah. I mean, as you mentioned, Mickey, the language that we use is hugely important because it shapes the way that we think about things. The term unhoused refers to, it emphasizes that those who live on the streets or in their cars do not necessarily lack a connection to place.

And this has been used in particular with Indigenous communities. They are at home in this land and on this land. They do not lack a home. They lack shelter. People also use the term unsheltered because what’s really lacking here is a house, a shelter, something material that the system has an obligation to provide if the system were worth anything.

But homelessness suggests like, Oh, these people just don’t have a home. They’re wanderers, you know, like the old fashioned term tramp. Like they’re just wandering and they’ve got the little stick with the pack on it.

Mickey Huff: But Eleanor, they have cars and phones.

Eleanor Goldfield: Right. Right. And that’s the other thing. It’s like this Oliver twist perspective. So when they, when people see an unhoused person with a phone or with a car, they’re like, you’re doing fine. And it’s It’s like, no, I never said I don’t have a phone. I said I don’t have shelter.

And so it’s really recognizing the myriad ways in which people who are unhoused present in our communities in our modern day age. So it’s not Oliver Twist.

And also then recognizing that the way we use the language unhoused means that the obligation to fix it lies on the system and in the system as opposed to homelessness, which just sounds kind of like hippie dippy wanderer.

Mickey Huff: Yeah, well, or the Oliver twisted logic that if only millennials and Gen Z people would lay off the lattes and avocado toast, they too could buy an exorbitantly priced house.

But I think that that’s important to call out is that I think that there is a stigma around the entire topic. And I think that the language what you just pointed out is significant. It’s important that we understand the language, that we employ the language and I mean, it goes way back, you know, going back even to the to the depression or sooner.

Jacob Reese wrote how the other half lives, et cetera. It seems like that there’s this, this uncanny belief among many working folks, even the middle class that they’re just one break away from being the boss and the millionaire when the clear reality starkly is that they’re actually just one crisis away from having some really serious challenges and, you know, the corporate media really helps further that kind of mythology and they really help bury it by talking about it. And they use it as a meth mechanism of fear, right? That, you know, you better go back to that job you hate, you better go and put up with oppression and being mistreated because you don’t want to be that blight or that issue or that problem, right. We can’t even bring ourselves in the corporate media to talk about it, people who are unhoused as human beings, and that I think is like really what’s at the root of the problem.

Eleanor Goldfield: Absolutely.

Mickey Huff: Eleanor Goldfield, that about will wrap it for the segment here. It’s always great to talk with you, co host to co host about these issues. Do you want to share with our listeners again where, where they can find more of your work?

Your recent article is at truthout.org, but they can also follow you at…

Eleanor Goldfield: All of my work, including links to this show in case you need a reminder are up at artkillingapathy.com.

Mickey Huff: Right on. Thanks so much, Eleanor Goldfield. For the Project Censored Show, I’m Mickey Huff. To learn more, you can go to projectcensored.org and we’ll see you next time.

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