Western News Media Exist To Administer Propaganda

Caitlin Johnstone
8 min readMay 20, 2023


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

The single most overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of our society is the way domestic propaganda is used to shape the way mainstream westerners perceive and think about their world.

Typically the only time you’ll ever hear the word “propaganda” mentioned in mainstream discourse is in reference to things other countries do to their own citizenry or as part of foreign influence operations, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the times we’ve encountered propaganda in our day to day lives, the call was coming from inside the house.

The western media have been exposing their role as propagandists for the US-centralized empire a bit more than usual lately. Here are a few recent examples.

Mass media aggressively defend imperial propaganda firm Bellingcat.

Western media have been falling all over themselves to condemn repeated comments from Elon Musk accusing the empire-funded spin machine Bellingcat of conducting psyops — an accusation which, as Aaron Maté explains for The Grayzone, is completely fair and accurate. Bellingcat is paid by western governments to manipulate the information ecosystem in ways that serve the interests of the western empire, which is precisely the thing that psychological warfare is. “Psyops” is short for psychological operations, the component actions in psychological warfare, which becomes more important in cold war conflicts between nuclear powers who can’t confront each other directly.

This obvious fact hasn’t deterred the mass media outlets who cite Bellingcat copiously in their reporting from rushing to the institution’s defense. Bellingcat’s Aric Toler was brought on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” to defend the outlet without being challenged in the slightest, and mainstream pundits like CNN’s Jake Tapper took to Twitter to proclaim the propaganda outlet a beacon of journalistic integrity.

“Bellingcat is a great journalistic organization,” Tapper tweeted. “Conversely, Musk once linked to a deranged article about Paul Pelosi in the Santa Monica Observer, a nutjob website that claimed in 2016 that Hillary Clinton had died and had been replaced by a body double.”

Conversely, Tapper once tweeted that anyone who’s interested in the war in Syria should follow Bana Alabed, a seven year-old girl who was herself used in a blatant imperial psyop, and who has been amplified and supported by both Bellingcat and CNN.

As Alan MacLeod documented for Mintpress News a couple of years ago, Bellingcat is not only funded by western government sources like the CIA front National Endowment for Democracy, but is also staffed by numerous western military and intelligence “veterans”. The way the mass media continually praise and defend this plainly corrupt institution while also routinely citing its work is a kind of information laundering, because they are telling their massive audiences that this government propaganda outlet is a trustworthy source of information and then citing that information in their reporting on the enemies of those same governments.

Bellingcat in and of itself wouldn’t be destructive and toxic; what makes it destructive and toxic is the way western media continually amplify and validate it while publishing its claims under the guise of news stories, without ever disclosing the outlet’s massive conflicts of interest to their audiences. It’s a self-validating circle jerk of war propaganda.

CNN reporter says they “wouldn’t be allowed to report” if Russia struck a Ukrainian arms depot.

Following claims by the Ukrainian government that it shot down 29 out of 30 missiles launched by Russia on Thursday, CNN News Central host Brianna Keilar asked foreign correspondent Sam Kiley whether there was any truth to Russia’s claims that one of its missiles had struck a Ukrainian arms depot.

“Sam, Russia has claimed that it struck a Ukrainian arms depot, is there any truth to that?” asked Keilar.

“There may be; we wouldn’t be allowed to report it if it was,” Kiley answered. He added, “we simply don’t know,” and acknowledged that “there is one missile unaccounted for and we don’t know where it went.”

In explanation for CNN’s opacity on the matter, Kiley said that “this is part of the Ukrainians’ effort to try to make sure that the Russians don’t manage to adjust their fire and targeting based on the information that they may get from us.”

This would be a normal comment to expect from the Ukrainian government or Ukrainian state media, but CNN’s reporters openly saying that the network is protecting the information interests of the Ukrainian military instead of reporting objective facts on the ground is an acknowledgement that CNN is operating as a war propaganda network for a foreign government. This is not impartial reporting; this is an American news outlet reporting on a foreign country, acting as a direct participant in that country’s war as though it is on a war footing against Russia.

And this is of course just an open acknowledgement of what has long been obvious since well before this war even started: that western media believe it is their job to advance the interests of the US-centralized empire and undermine the interests of Russia. Which is to say, they are propagandists.

Lockheed Martin CEO up for CFR board membership.

Responsible Statecraft’s Eli Clifton reports that a slate of ten candidates for board membership in the immensely influential think tank Council on Foreign Relations includes James Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of “what is arguably the world’s largest arms dealer,” Lockheed Martin. CFR members have to vote for or against the entire slate, and cannot vote for or against specific nominees.

Clifton notes that CFR already currently has multiple executives from the military-industrial complex on its board of directors:

“The board of directors of CFR, a New York-based think tank that focuses on U.S. foreign policy and international relations, isn’t a stranger to embracing the weapons industry. CFR’s chairman is David Rubenstein, a co-founder and co-chairman of the private equity firm and defense-industry-focused Carlyle Group, and the board currently includes Raytheon board member Meghan L. O’Sullivan, and Frances Townsend, a director at Leonardo Systems, a Virginia based weapons systems company. (CFR’s biography of Townsend omits any mention of her role at the weapons firm but Leonardo Systems lists her CFR board membership in her biography on their website.)”

To be clear, when I say CFR is immensely influential, I mean it is immensely influential. Its membership spans throughout the major media institutions of the western world, and it once hosted a panel where a former State Department official who was also an editor of Time Magazine openly endorsed the practice of using propaganda on Americans to influence how they think.

Foreign policy “think tanks” are frequently nothing other than influence operations for the military-industrial complex, and the information environment of the global north would be greatly improved if more people were aware of this. So it’s refreshingly honest to see these institutions moving from merely being funded by the war industry to being run by the war industry directly.

A bit more from Clifton:

Last year, Responsible Statecraft asked Taiclet whether receiving $75 billion in Pentagon contracts in fiscal year 2020, one and a half times the State Department and Agency for International Development budgets, was a reasonable balance of expenditure and if it was reflective of U.S. national priorities. Taiclet defended the budget allocation that benefited the company he leads, responding that it was “up to the U.S. government” and claimed “it’s only up to us to step to what we’ve been asked to do and we’re just trying to do that in a more effective way, and that’s our role.”

His claim doesn’t explain why Lockheed spent over $13 million lobbying the federal government last year and focused their lobbying power on the defense budget, according to OpenSecrets.

One day we will look back in horror at the fact that war profiteers not only existed, but were legally allowed to lobby the government to increase its warmongering and use think tanks to help manufacture public consent for war.

Wired gushes about Pete Buttigeig with jaw-dropping effusiveness.

This one’s more light-hearted and less consequential than the other examples, but it’s just as illustrative of the kind of people who work for western news media.

In an article titled “Pete Buttigieg Loves God, Beer, and His Electric Mustang” and subtitled “Sure, the US secretary of transportation has thoughts on building bridges. But infrastructure occupies just a sliver of his voluminous mind,” Wired’s Virginia Heffernan writes the following paragraph:

As Secretary Buttigieg and I talked in his underfurnished corner office one afternoon in early spring, I slowly became aware that his cabinet job requires only a modest portion of his cognitive powers. Other mental facilities, no kidding, are apportioned to the Iliad, Puritan historiography, and Knausgaard’s Spring — though not in the original Norwegian (slacker). Fortunately, he was willing to devote yet another apse in his cathedral mind to making his ideas about three mighty themes — neoliberalism, masculinity, and Christianity — intelligible to me.

My God, it’s a masterpiece. Arguably superior to Heffernan’s 2016 puff piece on Hillary Clinton saying, “Maybe she is more than a president. Maybe she is an idea, a world-historical heroine, light itself. The presidency is too small for her.” Superior even to Heffernan’s description of professional lunatic Louise Mensch as “the Sy Hersh of our time.”

Western journalism, ladies and gents.


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Featured image via Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)