excerpts from the book

The Last Days of Democracy

How Big Media and Power-Hungry Government Are Turning America Into a Dictatorship

by Elliot D. Cohen and Bruce W. Fraser

Prometheus Books, 2007, paperback


More than three-quarters of US adults rely on local TV news, and more than 70 percent turn to network TV or cable news on a daily or near-daily basis, according to a January 2006 Harris Poll.

Before the first Gulf War, a propaganda spectacle took place courtesy of Hill and Knowlton. This company helped create a national outrage against Iraq by recounting horrifying events supposedly caused by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. A young woman named Nayirah claimed in congressional testimony and before a national audience that she saw "Iraqi soldiers come into the [Kuwait] hospital with guns, and go into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." What the public was not told was that Nayirah was the daughter of Sheikh Sand Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States. The public also wasn't told that her performance was coordinated by the White House and choreographed by the US public relations firm Hill and Knowlton on behalf of the Kuwait government.

Dutch journalist Willem Oltman at the International Campaign Against US Aggression on Iraq - Cairo, Egypt

The Nazi's called us [Dutch resistance movement during World War II] terrorists, Now as the US invades and occupies other countries you do the same thing [to Iraqis resisting the US occupation].

London Times (May 1, 2005) reported the contents of a leaked memo [the Downing Street Memo] recording the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting between Tony and his inner circle of advisers seven months before the US-led invasion -of Iraq.

Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the / policy." The memo also stated, "It seemed clear that Bush / had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." Nevertheless, "If the political context were right, people would support regime change," explained Blair. And, according to the London Times, "a separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to 'create' conditions to justify a war."

There is little doubt why mainstream corporate media didn't report [the Downing Street Memo] initially and then soft-pedaled it afterward. This was no mere oversight, nor was it a simple case of shoddy reporting. It was part of a systematic takeover of a formerly free nation by a politico-corporate machine that speaks only in empty rhetoric about freedom and democracy. What this colossal machine really cares about is money ...

The media was conceived from the start to be an adversary of government, to serve as a watchdog of the people, but this noble guardian of democracy has lost its teeth and has now become a docile lapdog of government. White House press conferences have become coffee klatches with pp restaged questions and even fake journalists infiltrating the press corps to advocate for government. The press secretary himself has become a parrot for the government, not an impartial liaison. Mainstream corporate media routinely wine and dine politicians and take them on vacations just to make headway with corporate lobbies. Official government spokespersons become the final arbiters of the truth as budgets for investigative reporting are scrapped and infotainment replaces hard news. Stories are killed, "edited," buried, or otherwise sanitized to conceal important details. Editorials slanted to the beat of government policy are passed off as "breaking news." Prepackaged "news" produced for the government by public relations firms has been seamlessly knitted into the nightly news of local network affiliates and passed off as "real news."

The mainstream media is complicit in deception every time it passively reports what it hears from officialdom as if it were the truth.

The mainstream media (MSM) is now the mouthpiece for government deception and manipulation of reality to advance its own agenda.

editor Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice

[F]ar from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes

* a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech-and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;

* A president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statues, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;

* A president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror-in other words, perhaps forever; and

* A federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

Cato Institute

The president appears to believe that he is the ultimate arbiter of what's legal and what's illegal... [u]nder this sweeping theory of executive power, the liberty of every American rests on nothing more than the grace of the White House.

The corporate media behemoths are in the pocket of the Bush administration. These giant corporations ) routinely spin off an intricate, seamless politico-corporate / media web of deception. As a result, the mainstay of the daily American news diet is quite literally a paid political / announcement. Instead of protecting against abuses of government power by keeping us adequately informed, these companies have become complicit in destabilizing and undermining our freedom and democracy. They have sold out the public trust to turn a profit. No longer can Americans trust the MSM to keep a watchful eye on government.

Top five media companies in broadcast TV, radio, and cable/satellite TV

Ranking Broadcast TV Radio Cable/Satellite TV

1 Fox/News Corp Clear Channel Comcast
2 CBSIViacom Infinity/Viacom DirecTV/News Corp
3 NBC/General Electric Entercom Time Warner
4 Tribune Company Cox Echostar
5 ABC/Disney ABC/Disney Charter

With very few exceptions, the front men and women of the mainstream media (MSM) - the radio and TV talk show hosts and pundits - are company employees who are willing to toe the corporate line in order to keep their jobs... the net result of such media line toeing is the mass dissemination of government propaganda and deception - all to the beat of what's in the company's best financial interest.

David Letterman to Bill O'Reilly

I have the feeling that about 60 percent of what you say is crap.

Bill O'Reilly about a ballot measure passed by 60 percent of San Franciscans opposing military recruitment at public colleges and high schools.

"[I]f Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off-limits to you, except San Francisco .... You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead.

Ann Coulter, attacking a group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and who have been critical of Bush's handling of terrorism

These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefarazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.

With few exceptions, talk show hosts and news anchors of the major broadcast TV, cable TV, and radio networks, resemble high-priced hookers. For their millions, they have sold our their journalistic integrity - if they ever had any.

Article 1 of the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, titled "Responsibility,"

The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and opinion is to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time. The newspapermen and women who abuse the power of their professional role for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to that public trust. The American press was made free not just to inform or just to serve as a forum for debate but also to bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces of power in the society, including the conduct of official power at all levels of government.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, under "Seek Truth and Report it"

[J]ournalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting, and interpreting information ... [and they] should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

According to the Code of Ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association

"[radio and television journalists should not] accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage"

"[radio and television journalists should] present the news fairly and impartially, placing primary value on significance and relevance."

journalist Norman Solomon

[D]eceptive propaganda can only succeed to the extent that journalists are gullible - or believe that they must pretend to be - while encouraging the public to go along with the charade.

The journalist who works for a news organization that engages in deceptive practices but refuses to accept culpability for the deception is just a coward.

Stephen Colbert at the White House correspondents' dinner (2008)

I believe in this president. Now, I know there are some polls out there saying that this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don't pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in 'reality.' And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Stephen Colbert at the White House correspondents' dinner (2008)

I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.


The conventional wisdom is conventional for a good reason. There has been a concerted effort by individuals and groups variously associated with corporate interests to make this the conventional way of thinking about corporations.

Michael Parenti

Many things are reported in the news but few are explained. Little is said about how the social order is organized and for what purposes. Instead we are left to see the world as do mainstream pundits, as a scatter of events and personalities propelled by happenstance, circumstance, confused intentions, bungled operations, and individual ambitions - rarely by powerful class interests.

The decline in critical thinking as a result of the intrusiveness of marketing in our lives serves a political function: it allows those in power to reshape our way of looking at the world without the fear that we will catch on.

One of the most dangerous influences of the media on our decisions, and one of the most tragic, is their tendency to desensitize the public to the horrific nature of war and violence. In the hands of the MSM, war has become a "political necessity" devoid of the human tragedies that in more sensible times make war a last, desperate resort.

Details of America's wars are primarily provided by the Pentagon rather than reporters on the ground. Vague, tactical information wrapped in patriotic rhetoric is systematically disseminated by an assortment of generals, and on the rare occasion that a serious question is posed by a journalist, the answers are almost always qualified by the assertion that details cannot be revealed because of national security issues.

Our view of the world and of ourselves determines the range of choices we envision, and the corporate media are bent on constraining and restricting that view in the interest of maximizing profit.

Kevin Baker, "Stab in the Back", Harpers magazine, 2006

Every state must have its enemies. Great powers must have especially monstrous foes. Above all, these foes must arise from within, for national pride does not admit that a great nation can be defeated by any outside force. That is why, though its origins are elsewhere, the stab in the back has become the sustaining myth of modem American nationalism. Since the end of World War II it has been the device by which the American right wing has both revitalized itself and repeatedly avoided responsibility for its own worst blunders. Indeed, the right has distilled its tale of betrayal into a formula: Advocate some momentarily popular but reckless policy. Deny culpability when that policy is exposed as disastrous. Blame the disaster on internal enemies who hate America. Repeat, always making sure to increase the number of internal enemies.

Edward Bernays, "Propaganda"

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

... In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on the public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything. We have voluntarily agreed to let an invisible government sift the data and high-spot the outstanding issue so that our field of choice shall be narrowed to practical proportions. From our leaders and the media they use to reach the public, we accept the evidence and the demarcation of issues bearing upon public question ....

You will not likely wake up one day to find that democracy in America has finally come to an end. There will not be any breaking news to this effect. More than likely, you will still hear the usual regurgitations coming across the MSM (mainstream media) and you may even hear an occasional report that seems critical of a government policy. But you will not likely find out how unfree you really are unless you step out of line and challenge the politico-corporate puppeteers who pull the strings. For the majority of Americans who never realize that they are at the other end of those strings, life will seem pretty much the same as ever. That, we think, would be the biggest tragedy.

Democracy in America

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