Remember the New World Information Order? Back in the late 1970s and early ’80s, you’d find torrid denunciations of the NWIO from right-wing columnists like William Safire. The proposed Order was put together by the nonaligned nations at the UN under the supervision of Seán MacBride, a very great Irishman.
The plan was to try to rectify the vast distortions in global information consequent on the First World’s dominance of global circuits. The NWIO itself was an offshoot of a much larger enterprise fostered by the nonaligned nations, the New International Economic Order. All these brave visions were swept away by neoliberalism. A generation later we can look across the world and see that despite the neoliberal counterattack, something vaguely resembling–at least in preliminary outline–a new world information order has arrived all the same.
Here in the United States the old world order is dying. I was reading a New York Times article not so long ago about the Washington Post’s future under its new publisher, Katharine Weymouth (granddaughter of the late KG). The NYT piece referred to the "heavy" audience for the Post‘s website, saying it "draws more than nine million unique visitors monthly, according to Nielsen Online, making it the third-highest for a newspaper Web site." In a strong month counterpunch.org, the site I co-edit with Jeffrey St. Clair, draws more than 2 million unique visitors–showing that the twelve- to seventeen-inch screen is a great leveler.
When I used to go out leafleting the US base at Upper Heyford near Oxford in the early 1960s, we counted it a good day if we could get 100 US servicemen to accept our pamphlets as they drove through the gates of the base. These days Jeffrey and I can check through the monthly audience totals and see that several thousand people at US military bases have read material on our site. I single out CounterPunch because I know the numbers, but there are many others.
The state does not relish the collapse of the old propaganda system. As always, it hates interlopers. The San Francisco Business Times reported recently that the FDIC is worried about the reporting on blogs. After the run on IndyMac, Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, had this to say: "The blogs were a bit out of control. We’re very mindful of the media coverage and blogs in controlling misinformation. All I can say is we’re going to continue to stay on top of it. The misinformation that came out over the weekend fed a lot of depositors’ fears."
Though the Internet is playing only a secondary role in an "old media" imbroglio, a particularly funny example of the sclerosed nature of the official press is unwinding right under our noses. It involves reporting by the National Enquirer, always snooted by the heavyweight press the same way the Star was in 1992 when it broke the Clinton-Flowers scandal.
On October 10, 2007, the online edition of National Enquirer ran an exposé under the headline "Presidential Cheating Scandal! Alleged Affair Could Wreck John Edwards’s Campaign Bid." The story began, "Sources have come forward to charge that the ‘other woman’ previously worked on Edwards’ campaign…. A source close to the woman, whose name is being withheld by the National Enquirer, says that she confessed to having an affair in phone calls and emails, saying that her work with Edwards soon exploded into romance."
Edwards promptly issued a denial. Though she wasn’t named in the Enquirer‘s story, so did Rielle Hunter, on a website. Not a breath of an alleged adultery by a presidential contender ruffled the pages of the nation’s mainstream papers, despite the fact that the Enquirer has many proven scoops under its belt, including Rush Limbaugh’s love affair with Oxycontin and Jesse Jackson’s love child. Though down in numbers from its glory days, the Enquirer still has a circulation of 2,760,000.
On December 19, with the early Democratic primaries looming, the Enquirer struck again. It said Rielle Hunter was in an advanced stage of pregnancy with Edwards’s child and–after the Enquirer‘s October story–had been whisked out of New York City and lodged in an upscale gated community in Chapel Hill. Edwards, flanked by Elizabeth, issued further passionate denials. The New York Times, nine weeks away from running a long, highly speculative story about John McCain’s possible relationship with the much younger Vicki Iseman, kept its mouth shut, as did the rest of the mainstream press. Edwards was able to fight his way through the first primaries without having to battle charges from the national press that he was cheating on a sick wife and had a pregnant mistress stowed back in North Carolina.
On July 22 the Enquirer lowered the boom on Edwards. The weekly reported that it had nailed him visiting Hunter and child in the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles. The Enquirer‘s reporters staked out Edwards and Hunter, ambushed the former as he stepped out of the elevator and pursued the white-faced Edwards till he took refuge in one of the hotel’s lavatories, at which time he seems to have called hotel security on his cellphone and was escorted to safety. A hotel doorman confirmed the story later to Fox News.
So far there’s not been a word in the mainstream press, even though Edwards is certainly a figure of public interest, having been named as a strong contender to be in an Obama cabinet. Of course, there might be compassion for the very popular Elizabeth Edwards, but that’s not enough to explain the dogged silence. The Times and the Post are quite prepared to investigate, or at least infer, possible sexual shenanigans–as the Times’s floating of the McCain-Iseman imbroglio made clear. The most convincing explanation, it seems to me, is simple snobbery. The mainstream press reckons that any acknowledgment of papers like the Enquirer and the Star as getting credible scoops is distressing to its dignity and increasingly threadbare "credibility." The sans-culottes are storming the Bastille on a daily basis.