A Different Point of View....: Old Canadian media promote Washington’s agenda word for word

An analysis of Canadian mainstream media’s reporting of U.S. President Obama’s visit to Vietnam recently was so biased that stories may as well have been written by the White House.

Just about all traditional media provided Washington’s pre-packaged message to the Canadian public:

The good guy Obama was in Hanoi to lift the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam so it could defend itself against the aggressive Chinese, and do what the U.S. could to help the country modernize.  In return, the U.S., one of the worst violators of rights in the world, expects communist Vietnam to improve its human rights record.

    Obama’s visit to Vietnam wasn’t an important story for Canadians but, nevertheless, it is a good example of how American interests dominate coverage that appears in our mainstream media.

    The Toronto Star apparently was the only major Canadian news outlet to carry a substantial story clearly outlining China’s concerns over the implications of U.S. expanded relations with Vietnam.

    The Winnipeg Free Press ran a story that briefly mentioned China’s concerns.

    Major news companies covered only one point of view

    However, the following news organizations reported the story the way Washington would like to have it: At CTV News Channel and CBC News Network hosts read just about the same story ad nauseam for hours.  The stories likely came from The Associated Press, which is strongly biased in favour of the United States.

    In addition, CTV News Channel carried an interview with Donald Baker of the UBC Asia Studies Centre in which Baker presented only U.S. objectives.

    A Global News reporter in Toronto voiced over a full report that laid out the U.S. point of view. From what I could see, CTV National News did a 30-second voice over, while CBC’s The National apparently didn’t cover the story.

    The Globe and Mail reported the basic pro-U.S. story only on its website

    The Ottawa Citizen and The Calgary Herald posted a clip of Obama’s speech on their websites, while The Edmonton Journal did not appear to cover the story.

    As frequently happens at old media, three papers covered the lighter side of Obama’s visit. The Vancouver Sun, The Montreal Gazette, the and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald reported on Obama’s pre-arranged $6 lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

    Important views left out of stories

    There was a lot more that could have been reported on the real self-interest objectives of Obama’s visit and the implications for countries in the Pacific region.

    It would have been best if all stories could have been better balanced and covered the views of the U.S. and other players from the region.

    Just as Obama was announcing the lifting of the arms embargo against Vietnam in Hanoi, China warned the U.S. President not to spark a fire in Asia. The China Daily bluntly stated that Obama’s move was meant to “curb the rise of China.”

    The Chinese nationalist Global Times called Obama’s claim that the Vietnam move was not aimed at China “a very poor lie,” adding that it would exacerbate the “strategic antagonism between Washington and Beijing.” It said the U.S.is trying to knit three nets around China — in ideology, in security and in economy and trade — in an attempt to secure its dominance of the region.

    Meanwhile, the Russian news service Sputnik quoted U.S. analyst and author Dan Lazare: “Just as the United States has sought to cordon Russia off in the West by ringing it with nearly a dozen hostile states extending from Georgia to the Baltics, “it is plainly intent on doing the same in the east by orchestrating an anti-Chinese alliance from Vietnam to Japan.”

    China and Russia are also concerned that the U.S. may be willing to sell deadly, sophisticated arms systems to Vietnam that the Russians have been refusing to sell them, at the request of China. Such sales would escalate militarization in the region. Vietnam may also spend millions to purchase U.S.-made drones.

    Corporate media’s failure to cover these stories in a more balanced way can be blamed only slightly on media cutbacks. Any and all of the Chinese and Russian stories referred to here were available to all Canadian media.

    The way Canadian mainstream media covered the Vietnam visit is typical of how they report on practically all U.S. international adventures, whether it’s the While House effort to demonize Russia, U.S. interventions in the Middle East, or U.S. denying it is involved in helping overturn elected democracies in Latin America.

    The international news coverage of publicly-owned CBC News is only slightly better. For the most part, it uses the same news sources used by corporate media.

    Not surprising corporate media likes U.S. message

    Considering who owns mainstream media in Canada, it’s not surprising there’s strong support for U.S. policies.  Big private media outlets are owned by corporations that also benefit greatly from doing business with the United States. Corporate owners are also ideologically aligned with the right-wing U.S. government. They wouldn’t want their newspapers, TV and radio stations to report stories that contradict U.S. foreign policy.

    In addition, most editors know what’s expected of them. Many of them still have their minds set in the years of the Cold War: Ruskies and Chinamen are bad people. The thinking is that communists are out to destroy democracy, so what they say does not deserve to be covered.

    The victim in all this is the Canadian public, which is denied learning about the views and positions taken by governments in much of the world. The biased coverage also encouraged people to support U.S. policies and think that there are no worthwhile alternative views.

    Can old media be changed to provide a better balance of international news? No. This would require a total revolution occurring in mainstream media, and this isn’t going to happen. Canadians who want better and more balanced news should support the growth of independent media. The future of media exists on the Internet, and several news sites are working hard to provide a strong alternative to old, biased corporate media.

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    A Different Point of View....: 50 years of great Investigative Journalism, from ‘This Hour’ to Amy Goodman

    Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to hear some of North America’s top investigative journalists speak.

    One recent evening it was Amy Goodman, the amazing do-it-all journalist with Democracy Now, the independent U.S. radio and TV program. She gave an uplifting (for any journalist or would-be journalist) talk – ironically from the bowels of the CBC, where a lot of great journalism has been dying in recent years.

    (Note: The hour-long Democracy Now radio program is available on some university or community-oriented stations in Canada. I highly recommend it. )

    The evening was sponsored by the Canadian Journalism Foundation, which was created to boost corporate journalism in the country. Asking the questions was Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley.

    When it was announced Goodman was coming to Toronto, I was surprised and disappointed that her journalistic integrity might rub off on the Globe and Mail, which, among other things, fired all of its progressive columnists over a period of time.

    From Left: Amy Goodman | Michael Maclear | Walter Stewart 

    Goodman, a tiny, engaging woman, has certainly been one of America’s top journalists over the past 20 years. She emphasized the importance of journalists giving voice to the voiceless – going to the places where (in terms of media) there is silence.

    Goodman described how she and fellow investigative journalist Allan Nairn came close to being shot at point blank range while trying to stop the military from massacring dozens of people in East Timor in the early 1990s. Goodman and Nairn were spared, possibly because they made it clear they were Americans and the weapons used by the soldiers were made in the U.S.

    In those days, I knew Allan Nairn as a sometimes nervous and distant voice over the telephone. I was a producer with the CBC Radio Sunday Morning program, and we took in Allan’s dramatic stories over the phone about the atrocities in East Timor, as well as his stories from other hot spots.

    I never got to meet Allan Nairn, but over the years I learned a lot by listening to speeches by some of North America’s top journalists.


    Several of them came to speak at the conferences of the original Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)  (now the Canadian Association of Journalists), an organization I helped set up in 1978.

    Several of them are/were Canadians: Walter Stewart, as good an investigative reporter and author as you’ll find anywhere. When he passed away, The Globe and Mail headed his obituary with: “He was Canada’s Conscience.”

    The little-known Ron Haggart, a bit of a grump who didn’t like speaking publicly, was one of Canada’s greats as the guts and backbone of the fifth estate for many years. A prolific author of letters to newspapers, Haggart never suffered fools gladly.

    We also heard from Linden MacIntyre, recently retired from the more recent era of the fifth estate. MacIntyre, now an author, has great journalistic instincts, and is a wonderful story teller. He also was probably the most trusted journalist in Canada over the last 20 years.

    British-born Michael Maclear became a legend among Canadian journalists who idolized the man for his independent-minded coverage of the Vietnam War. He worked for both CBC and CTV. Maclear strongly believed that documentaries needed to reflect a point of view. He was most proud of his independent film, Vietnam Goes to War.

    This Hour Has Seven Days was probably Canada’s best-ever current affairs show. Its’ confrontational methods were used so effectively to hammer unsuspecting politicians that the CBC took it off the air. It ran for less than two years in the 1960s. Over the years, the CIJ showed many of the program’s amazing episodes, and heard from its hosts, including the cool Patrick Watson.

    On the U.S. side, I got to hear and know Seymour Hersh, perhaps America’s most outstanding modern-day journalist. Hersh reminded me of Walter Stewart because they both had a nose and determination to uncover a big story. Hersh is the guy who broke the story about the Vietnam My Lai massacre and cover-up . His Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation helped turn Americans against their futile and insane war in Southeast Asia.

    Noam Chomsky, perhaps America’s most important progressive/anarchist thinker, to my knowledge, has never been a journalist.  But several of his many books have set high standards for investigative journalism. He can talk about any topic under the sun for at least three hours non-stop. When Chomsky spoke, we needed a heavy-handed moderator to try to keep him on the topic he was supposed to speak about.

    I’ll briefly mention two other greats of a bygone era I’ve heard speak: Jessica Mitford exposed the corruption in the U.S. funeral business; and Morton Mintz  investigated corporate misconduct in the tobacco, automotive and pharmaceutical industries for The Washington Post during the days when it was a great paper. In 1971, he co-wrote America, Inc.: Who Owns and Operates the United States

    Over all those years, I heard only one famous journalist give a laughable speech. Dan Rather  was once Mr. All-American Journalist. He built a bit of a reputation working in small cities in Texas, rose to the face of CBC Nightly News, and went on to be a star with 60 Minutes.

    By the way, I’ve always felt that 60 Minutes aired a lot of “pretend investigative journalism.” The show almost always sought out and exposed “bad guys” on the fringes of corporate America. Easy pickins. They never took on the systematic problems of any aspect of capitalism. The public though the program was great. The on-air presenters were pretty much all millionaires.

    I also had no respect for the 60 Minutes staff because of its unethical behaviour in some situations. Producers monitored other media across the U.S. for little-known but excellent investigative pieces. The pieces were often written by low-paid journalists at small papers. Then 60 Minutes would swoop in with a TV crew for perhaps four days and do up the story. What bugged me was that 60 Minutes broadcast its phoney scoop, usually with no credit given to the local journalist and certainly no compensation. 

    Back to my story: In the 1980s, I was a member of the Board of Directors of the U.S.-based Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). I’m not sure what year it was, but we were excited that Dan Rather was coming to deliver the keynote address.

    The first part of the speech was okay, though I can’t remember what he said. The room was full of many of America’s top investigative journalists. So what was the message of this icon of journalism: He explained over and over again that good journalism had to be: “Deep and down the middle.”

    What? That’s it? While there was no laughter in the room, there was a lot of snickering. Maybe Rather though he was addressing a first-year journalism school class.

    Following Amy Goodman’s speech on Thursday there was a tense moment. Earlier, she made it clear that she has no time for corporate journalism. This caused the Globe’s Walmsley to squirm a little in his chair. During the question period, someone in the audience asked Goodman what she thought about the fact that the Globe had endorsed the Harper government.

    Avoiding a possible dust-up with the Globe, Goodman politely said she didn’t know the situation well enough to respond.

    During the question, the Globe Editor-in-Chief squirmed even more than before, and I seemed to detect his face turned a little red. He nervously leaned forward and said to the effect: “Wow I dodged that one.”

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