Both Obama and Guardian prettify the ugly

18 January 2014

Glenn Greenwald makes a brief return today to the Guardian in a column exposing the sham “reforms” President Obama has promised in the wake of worldwide outrage at the NSA’s data mining of its own citizens (and lots of foreigners too). Greenwald elegantly explains why he doesn’t buy a word of Obama’s speech, and then argues that the rationale of Obama’s presidency is about creating a veil of democratic accountability over a fundamentally corrupt political system:

That, in general, has long been Obama’s primary role in our political system and his premiere, defining value to the permanent power factions that run Washington. He prettifies the ugly; he drapes the banner of change over systematic status quo perpetuation; he makes Americans feel better about policies they find repellent without the need to change any of them in meaningful ways. He’s not an agent of change but the soothing branding packaging for it.

As I read those words, I couldn’t help thinking that Greenwald was also explaining rather concisely the purpose of our “democratic” – that is, corporate – media.  That is hardly surprising because the political and media classes, while pretending to be engaged in an adversarial system, are actually members of the same class, representing the same interests. Both serve a system of corporate capitalism, which favours a tiny elite, and are there to shield it from accountability.

It was therefore with a suitable irony that the Guardian itself, in today’s editorial, showed that, while Greenwald may have been a useful device for attracting new readers, he in no way represents the thinking of Britain’s most liberal newspaper.

In the assessment of the Guardian’s editors,

Barack Obama’s speech on NSA surveillance was in many ways the Democratic president at his best and the United States at its best too. … It would be hard to imagine, outside the realm of Hollywood fiction, a more balanced and serious response to the vexed issues of security and privacy abuse than the one Mr Obama offered today. … Mr Obama was able to produce that response partly because the US is at the centre of these global issues, partly because he has the calibre and instincts to treat all the principles seriously, but also because, only months after the Snowden revelations, the US system of government has proved it has the heft, the nerve and enough grounding in democratic accountability to rise to the occasion.

That is the response of the Guardian’s editors to the scandal they, through Greenwald, did most to unearth. No mention, one should add, that Obama and his security services are still hunting for Snowden, the source of the Guardian’s scoop, hoping to see him rot in jail should they ever catch him.

The Guardian is often held up by the left as a media platform that bucks the trend of the corporate media system. That is is deeply misguided interpretation of its role. The paper is certainly at the far limits of the spectrum of what the corporate system can tolerate, but it undoubtedly remains within that system.

The editorial above demonstrates how. Because however much the Guardian implicitly criticises our leaders’ policies it also rushes headlong into buying wholeheartedly the type of political solutions Greenwald shows to be a sham.

It thereby contributes to the democratic, pluralistic facade of our media system while at the same time shoring up our profoundly corrupted political system, investing it with unwarranted legitimacy. That is the function of the corporate media, the Guardian very much included.

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