In the first half of this week’s show, Mickey and Project Censored intern Reagan Haynie speak with investigative reporter Alan MacLeod of MintPress News. MacLeod explains that a number of former high-ranking US military and security officials are now executives or board members in the video-game industry, notably with the firm that make the “Call of Duty” game, Activision. He also notes that game’s portrayals of assassinations of foreign leaders as normal, and concludes that games like these are carefully designed propaganda/recruitment devices.
Next, media analyst Nolan Higdon takes the corporate press to task for its refusal to fairly present alternatives to official doctrine about the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures needed to cope with its fallout. Finally, in light of Press Freedom Day, Project Censored associate director Andy Lee Roth explains the multiple ways that journalism truly is the lifeblood of democracy, and journalists serve the cause of human rights, including freedom of expression.
Alan MacLeod is a senior staff writer at MintPress News, and the author of two books on journalism. He writes extensively about media bias, propaganda, and fake news. He discusses his recent article “Call of Duty is a Government Psyop.” Reagan Haynie is a graduating senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She has been Project Censored’s academic intern this past year.
Nolan Higdon is a lecturer in education at the University of California Santa Cruz campus. He’s also the author of the book The Anatomy of Fake News and other works of media analysis. His most recent dispatch on media and politics about the failures of the Fourth Estate using Covid-19 is No Turning Back.
Andy Lee Roth is Associate Director of Project Censored, co-editor of the Project’s annual volume, and co-coordinator of the Project’s Campus Affiliates Program. He has published widely on media issues, including hist most recent article, The Lifeblood of Democracy.
Video of the Interview with Alan MacLeod
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Alan MacLeod
Mickey: Welcome to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today in this segment we are delighted to welcome the Project Censored Academic intern for this past year. Reagan Haynie as our co-host. Reagan is a senior. At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, I actually had the pleasure of speaking there last month.
And Reagan has been contributing to research to our validated independent news program. She’s working on co-authoring the Junk Food News chapter with us this year. And today we are delighted to bring Reagan into the mix and she’s going to be doing an interview with none other than Alan Macleod.
Listeners of this show certainly should know Alan Macleod. He’s a, a guest, fairly regularly senior writer at Mint Press News. We’re going to talk about a really important article he did a while back and he’s doing some follow ups on. Called Call of Duty is a government psyop, and these government these documents, prove it.
So with that, I’m gonna hand things over now to Reagan and looking forward to your conversation with alan today.
Reagan: Yes, hi. I am very happy to be here, very happy to be speaking to Alan Macleod or Alan Macleod. Sorry. And so essentially my goal here is to get an understanding of your article that Mickey has mentioned call of Duty as a government psyop.
And I was hoping that you could essentially unpack your research as well as your findings and Give us a little bit of context surrounding the relationship between the Pentagon and call of Duty video game developers, and as well as the propaganda that comes from that.
Alan: Yeah, sure. Thank you very much.
It’s a delight to be back with you guys. So I’m an investigative journalist and I guess for the past 18 months probably the main theme of my work has been exploring the US government’s increasingly intimate relationship with media of all shapes and sizes. For instance, highlighted how huge Silicon Valley giants like Google, Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook are now filled to the brim with agents of the National Security state from the FBI, CIA, The Department of Defense and other three letter agencies.
And how those quote unquote former spooks now work in highly politically sensitive fields like trust and safety and content moderation. I’ve also looked at the pentagon’s relationship with film and media and television and how the DOD has co-produced and written scripts, for more than 800 Hollywood movies and more than a thousand TV shows, including many of the biggest blockbusters out there.
Now I’ve really turned my eye to having a look at the military’s role in subverting the video games industry in order to sell a more pro-war pro-military message. If you know anything about video games, you’ve probably heard of Call of Duty. It’s one of the biggest franchises in the entire industry.
It’s a first person military shooter, and what I found out pretty much the title suggests it is a government psy-op and these documents prove it. So, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and shared with me show how the military is working closely with Activision Blizzard, the producers of Call of Duty to promote war recruitment and the US military interests in general.
In September, 2018, for example, the US Air Force flew Activision Blizzard producer Coco Franchini to their headquarters in Florida. The explicit reason for doing so the emails wrote was to quote, showcase and quote their hardware, and to make the entertainment industry quote more credible advocates end quote, for the US War machine.
This is a great opportunity to educate this community and make them more credible advocates for us in the production of any future movies and television productions. On the Air Force and special tactics community wrote one of the Air Force community Relations Chiefs. This really seems to have worked because many of the weapons and vehicles Franchini was shown on that day in Florida ended up being central pieces in the Call of Duty games.
And also through my own work I found. A host of just incredible hires coming through at Activision Blizzard over the last few years. In fact, their board and Leadership council now looks far more like that of a US government department or a weapons manufacturer than a fun entertainment company. This includes the company’s C.O.O. Who until 2018, was third in command of the Central Intelligence Agency or the company’s senior council, who is a Bush era official, who nearly.
Who was nearly made head of the FBI under Trump, but instead that appointment was next and she became the executive at a video game company instead. So these sorts of connections really highlight the extraordinary links between the national security states and the supposedly frivolous, but gigantic and influential entertainment companies like Activision Blizzard.
To the point where I feel comfortable describing video game franchises like Call of Duty and the other ones that Activision blizzard produces as state media Now. As to your last point why is this so important? I mean, video games are a gigantic business. The last Call of Duty grossed over a billion dollars in sales in the first 10 days alone, and they’re also a huge avenue for soft power and ideology.
The medium itself kind of lends it. Lends itself to this. I mean, unlike a movie where you maybe watch it once and perhaps you like it, perhaps you don’t like it, people play video games for days, weeks, even months on end. And not only that, they’re particularly popular among children and adolescents of a particularly impressionable age.
So these susceptible young boys play this game over and over and see a glorified image of war that the military uses to recruit them into this war machine. They’re seen as light entertainment and so people don’t really have their guards up like they would if they were, for instance, listening to a politician speaking.
And so it is their very apparent frivolity, which actually makes them such a potent vehicle for ideology to be transmitted
Reagan: that’s really interesting that you brought up the The aspect of weapons manufacturing and their connection to the video game. I recently told this to Mickey, but I was talking to a friend of mine who played a lot of Call of Duty in high school, and he mentioned to me that he can now identify any gun in any movie, simply because he’s played so much Call of Duty and that partnership essentially allows them to to have the most updated military technologies in their video games. And yeah, that was wild to me. But going forward When I think of the military entertainment complex the first thing that comes to my my mind is the manufacturing of American War propaganda.
And I know you touched on this a little bit before, but can you discuss the various strategies and narratives that the military uses to enforce their agenda in Call of Duty?
Alan: Hmm. Generally if media companies accept help from the military, then they really give up creative control over the script and the overall direction of the artwork.
With video games, it’s a little bit different because developers don’t really need access to battleships or jet fighters to make the game like they do if they’re making a movie or a TV show. But nevertheless, the documents that I got show that the military are extremely keen to invite entertainment executives into their world, to wind them and dine them and to make them into allies.
If a game, movie or TV show is not to the Department of Defense’s liking i i e, if it doesn’t have the right message or representation of the military. Then the DOD will either demand extensive rewrites or reject any cooperation at all with movies. This is a virtual death sentence as it’s simply too costly to make a glitzy war film without the military underwriting the costs by providing them with free hardware or thousands of extras.
But this also happens with video games as well. So for example, the FOYA documents reveal that in 2012, a Call of Duty producer approached the Department of Defense for help on a new game, but was rejected outright because the script revolved around the US fighting a futuristic war with China, something, which in 2010 the Department of Defense was keen to avoid.
I think that’s kind of ironic now. Seeing as the US is gearing up for a fight with China for a fight over Taiwan, with China. But yeah, likely because of military objections that game that Call of Duty game was never made. And so if one of the biggest entertainment companies Nix is a project because of minimal pushback from the government, what do you think happens to smaller companies?
And there’s also just so many cases of pure falsification of history, which we could go into as well.
Reagan: Yeah. That’s actually my next question. So I know you mentioned the falsification of history in your article, and I’m aware of a few campaigns like The Highway of Death. That’s a very infamous campaign in Call of Duty.
As well as, this isn’t necessarily a falsification of history, but it’s definitely propaganda is the no Russian operation. So can you provide us with a brief summary of these campaigns as well as the potential that they might have? Or the potential effect that they might have on their audience.
Alan: Yeah. Well, There are so many to choose from, but let’s take the most recent game, call of Duty, modern Warfare ii. It starts off the first mission ludicrously presents you know a general, an Iranian general as under Russia’s thumb, and who is supplying terrorists with aid. This general is clearly based on Cassim Soleimani.
A Iranian general and statesman who the Trump administration assassinated in 2020 under false pretenses. The first mission you have to kill Soleimani via drone. And if you don’t do it then you can’t proceed. And this is actually glorifying a major war crime that the Trump administration.
Carried out in 2020. A lot of people don’t actually know that Soleimani was killed in Iraq and he was in Iraq, not Iran, because he had been invited to peace talks with Saudi Arabia to try to establish a detente among those two countries to try to bring peace to the Middle East for once. This, as we’re speaking, seems to actually be happening now in the cold light of 2023, but they originally tried to do this in 2020.
Soleimani is regarded as a hero inside Iran. A poll done by the University of Maryland found that more than 80% of Iranians consider him to be either, either strongly in approval of him or somewhat in approval of him. And this was before his assassination. And so ultimately, what we have in the latest call of Duty game is the glorification of a major war crime.
And this just continues on throughout all of the games. So likewise, in College Duty Ghosts, for instance the plot is set in Venezuela where players have to fight against General Alma Almagro, who is a socialist military leader, clearly modeled on former president Hugo Chavez. Like Chavez Almagro wears a red berry and uses Venezuela’s oil wealth to forge an alliance of independent Latin American nations against the United States.
As most people are probably aware, Washington did try to overthrow Chavez and his successor, Nicholas Maduro multiple times in the climax of the game, the sixth mission players must shoot and kill Almagro from close range to continue now. When it comes to killing foreign leaders, sometimes it’s even more blatant than this.
So call of Duty Black Ops a 2010 game. It revolves around players assassinating, a real figure. Fidel Castro of Cuba. They describe it as as as him as a dictator. And if you shoot him in the head, you’re met with a huge, gory, supposedly artistic beautiful scene of Castro’s head falling back and the blood spattering the lens.
And if you do this, you obtain a bronzed quote, death to dictator’s trophy. And so thus, players are forced to carry out digitally what Washington has tried to do hundreds of times. I’ll give you one last example. As you mentioned, the highway of death. That was a real incident during the first Iraq War where the United States forces trapped, fleeing Iraqi troops on highway 80, shooting out the front and back of the convoy of these desperate people trying to escape the war zone.
They then proceeded to just go on a, a killing, sweep, killing anybody they could. Nobody knows how many people died, but even people like Colin Powell, who was joint chiefs of staff back then described it as wanted killing and slaughter for a slaughter’s sake. So this, again, could be considered a major war crime, but in Call of Duty, modern warfare, this event does take place for dramatic effects.
However, it’s not the United States doing the killing. It’s actually Russia doing the killing, thereby. Whitewashing a war crime by blaming a, by blaming it on an official enemy. So the effect this has on the audience is it’s a huge propaganda coup for the United States to try to convince young people that the sort of history, the this sort of history didn’t happen.
And some of the sickest bloodiest chapters in the modern history of the world were actually committed by our enemies, not by ourselves. So it allows. The United States to frame their enemies as monsters and present US Special forces, who, by their own numbers, have launched more than 250 foreign interventions since the end of the Cold War to you know, get away with it.
Scott free. They’re essentially guessing people to love their oppressors and hate those, trying to liberate them as Malcolm X said. And, you know, most gamers, particularly kids, are not very political, so, And so they don’t have this sort of intellectual reservoir of understanding to see that they are being forcefed pure ideology from the trash can of history.
This is what the radical Italian academic Antonio Gramsci called the process of establishing hegemony. The means through which elites get the population to see their positions, their understandings, their tastes, and their outlooks as the default and correct position in society. And so yeah, what I’d say is games are serious business and the military understands this.
The battlefield is not just in the Middle East or the Pacific, but it’s for our minds as well.
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today in this segment we are welcoming Project censored intern Reagan Haynie. She is a senior at Loyola Marymount University and has been working with us this year on a variety of research projects, including validated independent news stories for top underreported stories.
One of the stories up for review this year is Alan McLeod’s. Call of Duty is a government psyop, and these governments prove it. Great investigative piece that Alan did at MintPress News, where he’s senior staff writer. And we’re going to now continue the conversation between Reagan Haynie and Alan McLeod Reagan.
Reagan: Hi ,hi. Yes. So, Alan, I know you were just talking about the effect of Call of Duty on its audience and in my research I had found a lot of stuff about the eSports world and I was wondering How the military has inserted itself into that that landscape. And what do you think their motive is for this specifically their involvement with the social media platform Twitch, and what are the implications of a government agency joining these streaming platforms?
Alan: Yeah, I guess I’ll just a point of reference for people who are not terminally online or young. ESports is professional video game playing and a lot of young people tune in to watch the best gamers battle against each other for real prizes. What’s the military’s motive? I guess their prime motive in all of this is in a word grooming.
They are trying to recruit kids into joining the military. Quite possibly breaking the law in the process. Recruiters can’t approach children in real life, but somehow in cyberspace, they’re allowed to push a message of joining the army, implying that you can join up, sign up, and game all day. And if that’s what life is actually like in a barracks, in fact, a lot of the language they use is similarly, similarly, eerily.
The same as online groomers. There’s even more pernicious and bizarre attempts to groom adolescents into the army’s ranks. One of them is Haley Luhan, a 21 year old TikTok star who has nearly three quarters of a million followers on TikTok alone. Probably 50% of her content on Instagram or TikTok is sexually suggestive pictures.
Maybe 25% is memes and the other 25% is hardcore army recruitment videos. The clear implication of her content is essentially, hi boys. If you join up, you’ll get to be with me in loads of her videos. She keeps joking that she is an an army psyop. Here’s the thing. She literally is a member of the US Army’s psychological operations brigade and her videos make it clear that she spends most of her time on a military base.
So I think all of this wink, wink, I’m a psyop stuff is trying to get around regulations about lying during recruitment. Interestingly though all of this hard and creative selling does not appear to be working with young people. A recent poll found that only 9% of young Americans would consider serving in the military.
And all branches of the armed forces are facing huge shortfalls in recruitment right now. The Army was, for instance, 25% below its target last year. And so perhaps that suggests that the kids are all right after all.
Reagan: Yeah, no, it’s really, it’s really interesting seeing I guess the downfall of military recruitment.
And it, it’s very obvious that the military is very eager to to, I guess, Strengthen those recruitment numbers. I mean, their involvement in, in Twitch is very interesting to me. I know that you also mentioned how there was this bait and switch sort of giveaway package where Or I, I don’t know if it was you or if it was I don’t know if you’re familiar with second thought, but there was this bait and switch giveaway where Twitch users were sort of directed to this, this giveaway where they were giving, giving away one of their like, Latest video games or something, and it ended up taking them to an Army recruitment page which is against the law.
And then also I, I read that Twitch users were banned for asking military members what their favorite war crime was, which is also against the First Amendment, which is very fascinating. But considering how heavily censored the pentagon’s actions are the military’s relationship with Call of Duty has received a fair amount of coverage from academics and independent journalists.
So is there anything else that their influence or about their influence that has not been covered, that you think deserves more attention?
Alan: Well, one thing I just mentioned earlier maybe deserves expanding upon, and I think that is just the level and the amount of former US national Security state operatives who now have senior positions, very important and influential roles within Activision Blizzard.
So for instance, Francis Townsend is Activision Blizzard Senior Council, and until September she was the Chief Compliance Officer and executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs as well. Now, who is Fran Townsend? Well, She has a long history in the US National Security State. She started off as the head of intelligence for the Coast Guard, and then in the early two thousands she was the Secretary of State’s Counter-Terrorism deputy.
That was Condoleezza Rice’s right-hand woman. And in 2004, president Bush appointed her to his intelligence advisory board as well. She was the White House’s most senior advisor on terrorism and Homeland Security, right at the height of the Patriot Act and the wake of 9/11 Townsend worked closely with people like George Bush and Condoleezza Rice, and really became the face of the Bush administration’s war. On terror.
In fact, she was one of the people who really helped popularize the term enhanced interrogation techniques, which was a Bush era euphemism for torturing people. Worse still, she appears at least according to a lot of very high up sources to have been directly involved in torture herself.
For instance Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, who is the officer in charge of the Notorious Abu Grave Prison in Baghdad. He alleged on, on camera and under oath that Townsend put pressure on him multiple times to ramp up the torture program at Abu Grave to try to get results. She doesn’t seem to have. Suffered any professional consequences for this. She to, to this day, she is a director at the Atlantic Council, which is the brains of NATO. During the Trump administration, she was hotly tipped to become the director of National Intelligence. And in fact, it was reported that President Trump offered her the role of director of the FBI.
We don’t know why she didn’t take it, but instead of taking that job, she ended up working at this, you know, seemingly in Congress you know, career detour going to become an executive at a video games company instead. And Townsend is far from the only person we could talk about. Perhaps the most blatant one is Brian Bulatao, who I mentioned before.
Until 2018, he was the Chief operating Officer of the CIA, which means that he was third in command of the agency. He was known as Mike Pompeo’s, attack dog. And when Pompeo moved from the CIA to become the head of the State Department the Secretary of State Bulatao went with him and it was, he was appointed under secretary for of state for management.
And after Trump lost the election. Bulatao went straight from his senior job at the State Department to become one of the most senior people at Activision Blizzard, despite having zero entertainment industry experience. And there’s loads more people that I profiled in the article. But that should give you an I idea about what Activision Blizzard’s board is like.
Ultimately then these people have no business whatsoever running a video games company. And their appointments are frankly impossible to fathom in any honest world. But they do become completely understandable if seen through the lens of the US government trying to impose control of an over another key medium of communication.
And that’s how I think really we should be looking at this.
Reagan: Yeah. And and more broadly speaking what do you think the future implications are of the military’s relationships with video game developers, and how do you think that this may affect America’s future wars and imperialism? I know you were, you, you brought up China very briefly.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the potential impact on like Forever wars and things like that. Also with, The potential future of virtual reality gaming. I don’t know if you have any insight on that or Mm. Have thought about, you know, where this, where this relationship might go in the future.
Alan: Yeah, I mean, I guess I’m reminded of when I covered NATO’s 70th anniversary, they held a big meeting whereby the head honchos of the organization, they really described how they saw NATO’s future role much more in cyberspace than just on the battlefield. And so I think we’re. Only going to see more of this co-option of video games and online life more generally.
Future wars are already becoming digitized and gamified. In fact, as you mentioned, drone warfare, it really already strongly resembles a video game except that there’s no respond for people killed and it’s game over for them. Middle Eastern drone pilots. Or rather, middle Eastern drones are piloted by people in Utah and Nevada.
They’re literally using Xbox controllers, and that’s deliberate to try and appeal to gamers to try to bring them into this system. And the interfaces are also deliberately made to resemble video games as well. In fact, I’m, I’m reminded of when Prince Harry went to Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot, and he described mooring down.
Scores of Afghans, he described it as just like a video game. And that’s really what this is all about. Desensitizing people to taking other people’s lives. The US military has produced its own video games, such as Airman Challenge in America’s army, both directly pitched as recruitment campaigns aimed at young people.
And so I guess we’re gonna see more of these two worlds coming even closer into contact than they were before. I mean, if there’s a solution to this, it lies in critical media literacy, which is something that Project Censored champions. We can’t simply accept what we are being fed, especially if it’s from gigantic corporations that are linked to the government.
We really have to scrutinize what we are consuming, not just in terms of news, but also in terms of soft entertainment as well. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. And likewise, if you’re not critically evaluating what you’re consuming, you might just be swallowing anything.
Reagan: Awesome. Thank you so much, Alan. This was really, really interesting. And yeah, thank you for coming and speaking with me and thank you, Mickey, for, for hosting this.
Mickey: No, no, certainly my pleasure. And Alan McLeod. It’s always a joy. I don’t know if that’s the right word. It’s a joy for me because I’m a media scholar and a historian, and so you offer such great insights, you know, that I, I wish more and more people were aware of.
This is certainly what we teach about. This is certainly what Reagan has been researching with us this past year. And again, Alan keep up the great work that you do. Anything else that you’d like to add or a place where people can follow you and learn more about your work?
Alan: Yeah, I mean, I guess I’d just say that video game developers who, as I’ve just described, are now staffed by the same people as the Department of Defense and are essentially acting as recruiters trying to get kids to sign their lives away, to serve Washington’s agenda worldwide.
And that’s something we really have to be clear about what is going on with video games. They’re not just, you know, this fun little thing featuring an an Italian plumber anymore. They’re big business and. The military is involved in terms of where you can follow me. You can find firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you’re on Instagram, I’m at Alan dot r McLeod.
Or if you’re on Twitter, you can follow me at Alan R. McLeod. And McLeod is spelled m a c l e o d.
Mickey: And it’s Alan with one l a l a n. That’s right. So Reagan, Haynie, Alan McLeod, thanks so much for being with us in this segment of the Project Censored Show Today.
Alan: Thank you so much. Great to be with you.
Always a pleasure.
Video of Interview with Nolan Higdon
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Nolan Higdon
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. Today on the segment, we are honored to welcome back. Dr. Nolan Higdon. He is a media critic and scholar, author and co-author of numerous books including The Anatomy of Fake News, United States, of Distraction Podcaster’s Dilemma.
Let’s Agree to Disagree. A book we did for Routledge on Critical Thinking and Critical Media Literacy. And most recently, he’s one of the co-authors of The Media and Me, which is a guide to Critical Media Literacy. For young people. Nolan is regularly interviewed around the country on issues around media and politics, and of course, we’re delighted to bring him back here today.
Nolan Higdon, welcome back to the program.
Nolan: All right. Thanks so much for having me, Mickey.
Mickey: So Nolan recently and you know, you and I have talked about this for quite some time, and you managed to put together more than 3000 words. You know, almost a chapter length piece here for one of the longer dispatches we publish at projectcensored.org.
No turning back. We can’t reverse the damage done by poorer pandemic reporting, but the fourth estate must do. Better. And just in the beginning here, I wanted to put, we had a disclaimer about this because anytime it seems that, that people begin talking about pandemic reporting and wanna criticize media coverage of it, people tend to focus on the subjects rather than the overall meta-analysis of the establishment press coverage, their biases, their censorship.
And so in the article, naturally, You talk about issues around masks, you, you mentioned media coverage of vaccines and virus origins, but clearly the article is not about the efficacy of masks or mandates. It’s not about you know, where the virus actually came from. It’s about how the corporate media framed and covered those events.
And unfortunately, How they often botched reporting on such crucial matters, censored, legitimate counter narratives that posed important questions, and ultimately diminished its own credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of the American public, which this year is now at an historic low point. And simply put, you know, based on the article, we, the people deserve better from our fourth estate and they really have some important work to do to restore.
Public Trust Nolan Higdon. Tell us what your article is about.
Nolan: Yeah. You know, well said Mickey. The, the article is not about necessarily the, the science behind any of these things masks the, or the origin of Covid or any of that. But it’s really about looking at what and how the media covered these topics and how often where there was a divide amongst the scientific community.
Those in media decided to come down on one side or another and dismiss. Any argumentative opinion outside of the one they were providing and it really cost audiences a year, maybe two years. Of valuable reporting and valuable processing that could have been used to better understand things like the origin of Covid, lockdowns, the necessity of masks, the best vaccine distribution process.
All these things were not really left up for debate. Instead what we noticed were trends in media where folks, again, just came down on sort of one side of things, was very rigid and you were dismissed as kind of a loon or a conspiracy theory or perpetuating the, the pandemic, if you dared to ask questions.
And what has emerged in the subsequent years since this type of reporting began is that there actually is, you know, substantive division amongst the scientific community on some of these questions. And so in hindsight, it would’ve been much better if the press had reported that, that, hey, look, we’re, we’re trying to figure out these issues.
Here’s what some people are saying, here’s others are not. You know, we as the press are just kind of reporting what, what scientists are saying, but that’s not the approach they took. Instead, they often utilized and rested their reporting upon establishment sources. And a lot of the establishment sources are not practicing scientists.
They may have, you know, PhDs or MDs or whatever, but they’re not practicing scientists. They’re practicing policy makers and a lot of news media conflated policy making with science. And it led to a lot of problems, I think, held back the public from having sophisticated conversations about critical aspects of the pandemic and our response.
Mickey: Well, Nolan Hagen, one of the issues tackled here was about Covid origins and some now say, well, what’s the difference where it came from? We’re, we’re trying to get past the pandemic. Whether it was zoological coming from the wet market in China, or did it come out of a lab by an accident? Was it leaked on purpose?
I mean, there are a whole host of things. Sam (undistinguishable) has of course been doing good independent research on the, on lab issues, but the lab leak theory was originally just completely dismissed because it was connected to the Trump administration. And sort of as part of the Trump derangement syndrome, anybody that like, wanted to investigate or just do basic research to see how valid of a, a hypothesis even is this was ridiculed and the, the establishment media itself after the Biden administration came in, even had a brief mea culpa and a self-reflective moment when even mainstream establishment media critics themselves. Major academic institutions of journalism began to say, you know, we really dropped the ball on the research on that, regardless of what anyone thinks, and the American public is increasingly interested in the reality of this, and so maybe we should look into it.
But what you’ve discovered and what you write about is that Anthony Fauci and others, they actually worked inside government to dissuade anybody from bothering to investigate any of these claims at all. Putting their thumbs on the scale favoring another (undistinguishable), the wet market theory, even though there was actual discussion or debate happening behind the scenes.
And again, the article isn’t taking sides about what the answer is. Neither are we. We’re simply talking about a gross failure of the fourth estate to effectively and ethically and transparently keep the public informed about very important issues.
Nolan: Yeah. That’s really a good point. That bear’s repeating at the top of the article the Project Censored where it was originally published.
Notes that this article is not drawing a conclusion about where Covid began. I note that in the article multiple times. So if anybody accused me of that, all that says is they probably read the title and drew their own conclusion. You know, the 21st century version of judging a book by its cover.
But for those who actually do read the article, they will find what you’re, you’re pointing out. And to, to get back to your, your original question I, I think it’s absurd not to question where this virus began. If it began naturally. There’s a whole host of things we have to do or think about to protect a pandemic like this from ever happening again, from nature.
If it came from a lab, there’s a whole host of things we need to do to make sure it never comes from a lab again. So, so where it comes from is a really critical question for dealing with the future. I know a lot of people don’t like to, to look to the past because they can’t change things that have been done regardless of how uncomfortable they are.
But it’s very helpful to look at the past to determine what we wanna do in the future, especially when it comes to pandemics. You know, it’s an, it’s not like it would be like the equivalent of like a scientist in, in 2020 looking at covid and refusing to look back at like what we did during like the flu epidemic.
Of course, the scientists look back at the past, what has been done, what do we know? What, what, how can we use this knowledge? And in the the article I talk about how that You know, discovery of knowledge and critical thinking through existing evidence was simply just suppressed throughout the pandemic by some of the policy leaders and the press.
Rather than holding those people accountable as the first amendment of the Constitution empowers them to do, instead the press really acted like a megaphone and echoed these, these viewpoints. You know, Fauci knew from his own community. Now we know due to leaked communications that. There was debate amongst the scientific community about whether or not a lab leak was plausible or whether or not it was from nature, and instead he had them scientists write up a paper.
That said that it was 100% natural origins. And then he cited that paper as evidence that the scientific community had consensus, never mentioning that he commissioned the paper and that he suppressed the voices. That said a lab leak was plausible now in, you know, 2022, starting in 2022. And now in 2023, you know, we know the F B I.
We know the Senate just had a report that came out. This month. And, other agencies have Con Energy Department. The energy department is another one, have concluded that the lab leak is plausible or in the Senate committee report, they actually think that’s where it, where it originated.
There’s plenty of other agencies who disagree. But the point being is we’re still trying to figure this out. We, we don’t know. And the news media rather than let the citizenry get involved in that debate dismissed people. They said it was racist to say that this was a lab leak. You know, it was Glenn Greenwald pointed out though it’s really racist to say that Chinese people are unsanitary and eat weird meats that that contract viruses in, in open markets.
That’s racist. But, but the news media defended that, that narrative and said that no, it was racist to think that. You know, a scientifically engaged country could, could make an error or possibly on purpose, release it from a lab.
Mickey: Another focus of the article, Nolan Higdon, is the disinformation crisis. The covid pandemic really in a lot of ways provided cover for a war on journalism in many ways meaning dissenting journalism or the right to even ask questions. I mean, the whole core of the scientific method is about testing hypotheses and asking questions. Yet there were times during the pandemic when. Fauci in particular said that anyone who critiqued or questions his conclusions was, was engaging in an attack on science itself. And then of course, there’s this whole other element, the World Health Organization, United Nations, et cetera, had a whole joint statement about an info-demic that then spurred this war on disinformation that is more of a euphemism for actively pursuing censorship against unpopular narratives that challenge the status quo.
Nolan: Yeah, if you’re you know, coming out of the election of Donald Trump, Donald Trump put the press back on their heels. They put them on the defensive and they used the, the pandemic to reassert themselves as truth. And so if you dare to challenge their narratives, they tried to scapegoat and ruin you.
And this worked. Look, a lot of people lost their jobs cuz they wouldn’t go along with vaccine mandates. A lot of people in the press were, were suppressed for raising concerns about Fauci and other figures. But some people simply just have too big of audiences and are too influential. You know, you think of like Aaron Rogers for example.
But, but more more to the point. Joe Rogan you know, Joe Rogan had said, announced he had covid. He, he recovered rather quickly. He looked healthy and was able to manage his show. And he, talked about the different remedies he took to deal with COVID 19. And one of them was he tried Ivermectin, there’s no evidence Ivermectin is responsible for his recovery.
But the, the press sort of lampooned him because he was, he was challenging the, the covid narrative, right? That it was gonna be, you know, kill you. And we need to be totally fearful of all people. We’re at, we’re at such great risk, which, you know, some people were, but regardless, Rogan They attacked Rogan Lampooned him.
Him said he was taking horse dewormer. Now it’s true. Ivermectin is used in some like horse dewormers, but it’s used by billions of people for billions of reasons and tons of medicine. So they chose horse de wormer just to insult the guy and, and lampoon him. And they only stopped once. He threatened to, to sue them.
Of course, that’s when they, they stopped doing that. But it was an illustration about the presses that frigging petty. That when someone offers an alternative narrative, rather than use evidence to undermine his narrative they, they borderline defame him with, with false baseless reporting. Right?
Mickey: And of course, Rogan also, not a journalist, but has a 11, 12 million person audience, which is four times that of what Fox’s Tucker Carlson was getting. And he was just sacked. So the real issue with corporate media and, and people like Joe Rogan, is that he’s allegedly peeling away some of their audience.
And certainly we’ve talked about. That issue before. Nolan, the article goes into a lot of detail and of course people can read the article. No Turning Back at projectsensored.org, we’ll have it linked online to the radio program, But it also talks about manufacturing consent and areas where, in particular there were times when Anthony Fauci admitted the lying and misrepresenting information and disinforming the public himself.
But many in the media had to bend over backwards to say he didn’t mean that, or that’s not what was happening. I mean, it’s actually quite remarkable that, that display of behavior. Can you, can you comment on that briefly?
Nolan: You know in science community, they call this like the noble lie, but essentially Fauci said things that he knew were false, but he thought it was for noble reasons.
So, initially during the pandemic he said We wouldn’t wear need to wear masks. But then he later on said, we do need to wear masks. And he said he knew he was lying when he said we didn’t need to wear masks because he didn’t wanna freak people out. So everybody went out and bought masks and there was none for like first responders.
Similarly, he said he knew that we were gonna need a much higher vaccine rate, like probably in the 80%, 80% of people vaccine vaccined to stop the spread of, of Covid 19. But he originally said much lower numbers and like, I think the 60% and things like that because he said, I knew I was wrong, but I didn’t wanna freak people out by, by proposing such a high number.
To me, regardless of the motive, it was, it was illustrative of the fact that this person is okay with lying to the public and the press is okay with accepting it. Even in, in the, you know, introductory to journalism classes, we talk about how you have to have credible sources is this is a person who’s not only lied, but admitted to lying.
That would not be considered a credible source yet the press continued to rely on Anthony Fauci. You know, despite documented litany of opportunities they had to document his lies.
Mickey: So Nolan Higdon, we only have about a minute or two left here. And certainly there’s so much detail in the article and it is extraordinarily cited for people to look at the backgrounds of the argument about the press, about the establishment, press their framing, their coverage.
Their biases, their censorship, their mistakes. Let’s include the fact that honest mistakes can be made in these kind of crisis situations. But your article really goes beyond the mistakes and goes beyond things that were not mistakes. They were deliberately done, and unfortunately acted in many ways.
For a political cover or to misinform the American public. You in the article with a mea culpa sort of the mea culpa and beyond about what the media has been doing since. Can you encapsulate a couple of the ideas from your conclusion? Nolan Higdon?
Nolan: Yeah, I’ll just you know, I, I bring up In the the conclusion, I talk about how this article is being written around the 20 year anniversary of the Iraq War, and I, and I think that that’s a great example of how.
Upteen books and articles have been written about how the news media helped lie the American public into supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. People supported a war based on false pretenses. Everyone knows this. You know, I was even watching jeopardy a couple months ago and it was a clue on jeopardy.
So even like, it’s a jeopardy clue, everyone knows that the weapons of mass destruction did not exist in in Iraq. But there has been no real accountability for these folks. They move on to the next story and they tell the public not to look at the past. You know, kinda like you were talking riffing on earlier about how people say, well, why does it matter where it started?
Well, this is why it’s important. If the press has these gigantic failures and we just move on to the next story, we’re never gonna get a robust press. So, just like the people who lied us into the Iraq war, or lied about Russiagate, or lied about Qanon and January 6th and the the 2020 election you know, I think all of these people in news media need to be held accountable and really thrown outta the profession.
We need credible people doing journalism, and if you participated in acting as a megaphone for the establishment during covid 19, you should go get a job in pr. You should get out of journalism.
Mickey: Nolan Higdon, author of a recent article, No turning Back. We Can’t Reverse the Damage Done by Poor Pandemic Reporting, but the fourth estate must do better.
Very information packed article at project censored.org. You can read it for free online. Nolan Higdon. Thanks once again for joining us and thanks for your cogent analysis and shining a light into the dark places where we really need to see what’s going on in the fourth estate. Thank you so much.
Nolan: Thank you so much for having me.
Video of Interview with Andy Lee Roth
Below is a Rough Transcript of the Interview with Andy Lee Roth
Mickey: Welcome back to the Project Censored Show on Pacifica Radio. I’m your host, Mickey Huff. In the final segment of today’s program, we are going to speak with Dr. Andy Lee Roth. He is the Associate Director of Project Censored co-editor with me of umpteen censored annual volumes, now, including most recently, Project Censored’s State of the Free Press 2023.
One of the things that we’ve been doing at Project Censored here this past year is running a series of articles largely by folks either associated with the project or on issues around media. And Andy Roth has penned a a recent piece. For our dispatches and media politics titled The Lifeblood of Democracy, journalists are on the front lines of battles to defend the right to freedom of expression.
And this is, I think, a very timely article. It’s an article that really extends from the themes that have really run through many censored books, especially the last couple years. With the many different challenges and including serious threats to journalists and people wanting to inform the public about key matters, not not just abroad, but right here, even in the United States where the US ranks around 42nd now in press freedom, it’s been vacillating between 42 and 44.
So that’s a far cry from the, we are number one. Of the exceptionalist cries we often hear here in the United States and Andy Lee Roth. Welcome back to the Project Censored Show to talk about this very important issue.
Andy: Thanks, Mickey. It’s always a pleasure to join you on the airwaves.
Mickey: Yes, it’s great to have you on with us, Andy.
So let’s hear about the lifeblood of democracy. You’ve got three major themes and points that, that go throughout this piece.
Andy: Yeah, I mean, the first is that two cornerstones of democracy. Freedom of expression and freedom of information are under concerted attack in the United States and around the world.
A second kind of major point of the lifeblood article is that journalists are on the front lines of defending those freedoms. The importance of understanding journalists in the many role, important roles they play in our lives as, as also being defenders of human rights. And the third key point of the article is that that role is in some sense grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was instituted in 1948 in the aftermath of World War ii.
And is coming up on its 75th anniversary later this year. So I was prompted to write this article in part thinking about that anniversary and the importance of Article 19 for all of the work that we at Project Censored do. And also inspired by Mickey, our mutual colleague, (unintelligible).
Who’s of course one of Project Censored’s, esteemed judges an editor at the (unintelligible). And Misha’s work on the connections between human rights education and critical media literacy education has been an influence on me. So a shout out to Misha and her work for inspiring this article as well.
Mickey: Absolutely. And this program is airing during the week where Press Freedom Day is right on May 3rd. The past week here was a week dedicated to Daniel Ellsberg, Daniel Ellsberg week. So these themes really continue. And you mentioned article 19. Maybe, maybe read or let’s hear what exactly is, is the verbiage of Article 19, and maybe we can connect that to to the rest of the article.
Andy: Yeah, so Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established in 1948 says, and I quote everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
And I often think about that and we actually wrote some about this in our the book, the Media and Me, our guide to Critical Media Literacy for Young People. In 1948 that that notion of I’m seeking, receiving and imparting information through any media, regardless of frontiers, must have sounded almost like science fiction.
Right. How, you know, beyond Frontiers. Well, of course, in an internet age where digital connections shrink the size of the world and, and make some of those boundaries and frontiers a little more permeable this notion is still a challenging one. Of course, one criticism that people often say is, well, everyone has the right to say anything.
You know, that’s not necessarily good. And that’s something that people have recognized going all the way back to ancient Greece where our notions of free speech in part derived from The ancient Greek term (unintelligible) is conventionally translated as free speech. But when Michel Foucault gave a series of lectures on the topic at, in Berkeley in 1983, he noted among other things that that Greek term could be translated literally as to say everything.
Or it could be translated as to tell the truth. And I read Article 19, not as saying everyone has the right to say everything. Incitements to violence against people is not is not part of the free speech kind of parameters. But the idea that Article 19 provides us with a compass that keeps us oriented in the right direction.
When we’re thinking about restrictions on freedom of information and freedom of expression, Indeed.
Mickey: And we live at a time when there are significant threats to expression and, and of course even to journalists physically. As we’ve written about maybe you can talk about some of the examples both here in the US and maybe around the world of some of the stories that you’ve been tracking and that you write about here in your article on the lifeblood of Democracy and Eli Roth.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah. I mean here in the US I think everyone who probably pays attention on a regular basis to the project Censored show knows about efforts to ban books in schools often done in the name of protecting children. Project Censored has written of course about efforts by entities like the Department of Homeland Security to govern, quote, to quote, govern misinformation.
Globally we know the role of big tech in kind of in engaging in algorithmic gatekeeping in many countries around the world. Since the Covid 19 pandemic governments have passed. So-called fake news laws that ostensibly were used to restrict misinformation about the pandemic and public health responses to it, but in fact and in practice, have been used by governments to suppress journalism and news outlets that are critical of those governments.
Liam O’Connell who was a project censored intern a couple summers ago. Liam and I wrote an article about how that played out, or ha is playing out in Malaysia. That article was published in the index on censorship. So around the world. If we go back to project censored yearbooks past we’ve covered stories about global internet shutdowns.
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say global internet shutdowns, I should say internet shutdowns that take place around the world. Mm-hmm. In specific countries. Also, I always think of the study that Penn America did, I believe it was 2014, showing how government surveillance programs were having a chilling effect on writers, again, all around the world, not just here in the United States.
So there are numerous threats to freedom of expression and freedom of information. This is just a, a, a kind of what’s the right word? We shouldn’t even call these highlights low lights of some of those threats. And one of the points of the article is that the lifeblood of democracy article is that journalists are on the front lines in defending against these threats to freedom of expression and freedom of information.
By the very nature of their work, they’re helping to inform members of the public about. Stories and issues and events that we would not otherwise know about. Right? And therefore they are human rights defenders and they’re human rights defenders of. Specific human rights, the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information that are considered by human rights advocates to be foundational human rights.
This is an important point, the idea that without the right to freedom of information, in the absence of freedom of expression, people are made more vulnerable to having their other fundamental human rights violated or disrespected. So we must protect freedom of information and freedom, access to information as foundational human rights.
Mickey: So, therefore, we all need to be concerned about the state of the free press and the plight of journalists to perform that vital civic task. I mean, it’s a duty really mean in, in fact the, the First Amendment in the United States protects against government interference. But as we’ve long discussed and written theres censorship by proxy, there’s a lot of other different, you know, challenges and different ways that information is curtailed and controlled right up to and including.
Press freedom violations in the US like arrests or assaults or literal violence against journalists. And you write in the article Andy Lee Roth, you cite the US Press Freedom Tracker, which are, we want to cite about such such dark Affairs. Maybe you can talk a little bit. More specifically about how that connects in to, to the article?
Andy: Yeah. I mean, in many people, when they think about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and if they know about Article 19, which declares the freedom of opinion and freedom of expression as, as fundamental human rights, they think. Well, that’s kind of an anachronism from a bygone era of international politics, right?
We’re so far from 1948 today. Or in the context of the U.S. Many people, if they know about Article 19, would dismiss it as a redundancy. We have the first amendment here that protects journalists, but I think one of the things that in, if you spend any time looking at the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker and its careful documentation of the shocking regularity with which.
Journalists working in the United States are subject to arrest and equipment, seizures and assaults, and interrogation by law enforcement. You realize that the First Amendment, though it holds press freedom sacrosanct, there’s a gap between the ideal and the actual practice. The most extreme version of that is when journalists are killed for doing their work.
And again, there’s a tendency for A lot of people to think, oh, well that’s something that happens to journalists in other countries, right. Journalists in Mexico, of course, they’re vulnerable to being that having their lives threatened for doing their work. But it happens here in the United States too.
And one of the cases that I mentioned that I think is so important and shockingly under-reported. Back in September of last year, Jeff German a longtime investigative reporter at the Las Vegas Review Journal, was stabbed out to death outside his home by a former government official who German was was had written about and was, had, had ongoing investigations about.
So here in the us, despite the. Protections of the First Amendment. And, and, you know, kind of aura of, of, of, of those protections that many people seem to think has a kind of halo effect for all journalists. Jeff German lost his life for doing his job as a journalist, and that of course sends potentially chilling, has a potentially chilling effect.
On other journalists, and that is the impetus for this article. And what you just said, Mickey, a moment ago, I wanna reiterate here now it may seem far removed to us when we learn that journalists in Nigeria are effectively being censored. By bogus copyright claims made against their articles. One of the top 20 or one of the stories that Project Censored is considering for inclusion in our top 25 story list.
Now that may seem far removed to us both by geography and most of us aren’t professional journalists. But the key point here is that when journalists writes to information and expression are thwarted, That has a corrosive effect on all of our rights to freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion.
And so it is in our collective interest to defend journalists. And that’s not an abstract notion. That means that we all need to be making calls to end impunity for crimes against journalists, right? And there are important organizations, I can’t name them all now, but I would say the Committee to Protect Journalists the reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute and many others that do that important work.
And those organizations deserve our support for exactly the reasons we’ve been talking about today.
Mickey: Andy Lee Roth, associate Director of Project Censored author. Most recently of this article we’ve been discussing, if you can find it for email@example.com, the lifeblood of democracy journalists are on the front lines of battles to defend the right to freedom of expression.
Andy Lee Roth. Thanks as ever, not only for your excellent article, but for joining us today to talk about it on the Project Censored show.
Andy: Thank you, Mickey.