Media activists Stephen Marshall and Anthony Lappé’s first book, True Lies, packs enough journalistic punch and insight to shake to the core even those who have been paying close attention to the political scene in the United States for the last four years. In it, they posit that a combination of the Necessary Illusions that are being brought to us by a corporatized media, have combined with the Vital Lies we tend to tell ourselves anyway to create a misinformation feedback loop of unprecedented scope. The result has been the creation of a fractured consensus controlled through a perpetual delusion dream machine. Public opinion in the US has been atomized, marginalized and somatized while a substantial amount of death and animushas gone down in its name.
Look at what has taken place in the past four years: 9/11, depleted uranium ordnance in urban battlefields, electoral fraud, “America as Empire,” and the stretching of the US Armed Forces to the breaking point. Serious stuff for everyone, in Canada and abroad, as well as in the belly of the beast. All of it has occurred in a world of news information that holds seemingly no uncontested truths towards which one can turn. In this brave new world of “he said/she said, we report you decide” journalism, Paul Krugman of the The New York Times probably summed it up best when he noted that, “If Bush were to say that the world was flat, the headlines the next day would be: ‘Shape of the World? Opinions Differ.’”
It is this trend and these stories that Marshall and Lappé take on with their first Guerrilla News Network sponsored dive into print. True Lies begins with a forward by arguably the world’s premiere investigative journalist, Greg Palast, who describes the situation with estimable succinctness, “our media sucks.” Palast knows the current scene all too well, being the recipient of three Project Censored Awards for stories of his that have bounced off the “electronic Berlin wall.” Palast rightly describes himself and the authors of True Lies as “old-style journalists who view journalism as a public service.” Marshall, Lappé and Palast are stellar examples for the rapidly decreasing number of ink stained wretches that are willing and able to do what the Fourth Estate is supposed to be doing: afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. Meanwhile their colleagues have either been forced by ratings considerations to ape Fox’s simplistic right wing agenda or have found themselves in “liberal” corporate news shops where airtime and funds are insufficient for the nuance, time and expense that investigative journalism demands.
True Lies is based on information Marshall and Lappé acquired for their web broadcast station GNN.tv. The book’s title is clearly a savvy marketing choice, trading on the name recognition brought about by the popularity of a certain Hollywood action thriller that featured the new political star in the American firmament, the Gubernator himself. To my mind, this marketing “piggy back” is inspired, since the movie’s plot presents a view of Americans that their dream machine never tires of touting: always ready at the drop of the hat to meet the “awesome threat” of international terrorism with overwhelming amounts of technology and violence. In True Lies, Marshall and Lappé set out to show both the truth to this lie as well as the lies that are used to make it true.
From the revelation of a funny Al Gore (who would have thunk it?) and the political sabotage that undid him and—separately but just as effectively—African American Congress woman Cynthia McKinney, to an examination of the set of facts that underlie 9/11 conspiracy theories, to Black Box electoral fraud and the extraordinary disregard of the American government for other people’s civilians and its very own soldiers, True Lies maintains GNN’s dual mandate to inform and entertain during an entire roller coaster ride of revelations.
The story that none should miss is the one Marshall and Lappé obtained at considerable personal physical risk. Going “in country” in Iraq in August 2003, they measured the amount of radioactive contamination that has come about as the result of the use of depleted uranium (DU) ordnance in urban warfare settings. What is depleted uranium and why does it matter?
When I asked Marshall, he replied: “DU stands for depleted uranium which, in simple terms, is a substance which is 1.7 times the density of lead, and is used by the U.S. military as ordnance, for shells, for bullets, as well as in tank armour. When it’s fired, it creates a super fine radioactive dust which has radioactive qualities to it and can be breathed in by anyone who comes near it. So Iraqi soldiers, American soldiers and civilians are all breathing these radioactive particles. The tragic irony, of course, is that we were told that the US Army had to be sent in to save the people of Iraq and protect us all from weapons of mass destruction and possible nuclear weapons. Instead they found no weapons and are leaving radioactive battlefields around the entire country.”
When asked whether he felt that this constituted a war crime, Marshall evinced the forthright honesty and elementary logic so painfully lacking these days in virtually all of the mainstream press:
“I do. If you invade a people and claim you are going to liberate them and you use weapons like DU that forever contaminate their environment, of course it’s a war crime.” He went on to make the rather astute and possibly even more frightening observation that, “This puts into context America’s aversion to involving itself in the World Court because this is not just a legacy but a premonition— the future of this planet, at least according to the neo-cons, is going to be based upon a series of aggressive wars.”
For these cursedly interesting days there is perhaps no Canadian who is better positioned to be a chronicler and decoder of events from within an increasingly paranoid and militarized US than Marshall. For one he lives right in New York and was there for 9/11 and its aftermath. For another, The Village Voice praised his groundbreaking, small video work with Channel Zero, “Trust a Canadian to revolutionize television.” His use of music, youthful edgy street politics, and creation of an air-ready piece for a fraction of the cost of mainstream news media placed him squarely at the forefront of the video news revolution.
When technology made broadcast quality tapes available to the many, Marshall was one of the first to take full advantage, with Channel Zero. As a result of the strength and popularity of this VHS news magazine, he became the first ever independent to be asked to produce a series for CBC’s The National. The result was a provocative expose called The Electronic Eye: Canada as a Surveillance Society. In a three-part series, Marshall took a look at the underside of Canada’s love for “order and good government.” It’s a side that we are wary of having pointed out to us and is part of the reason that his effort turned out to be more controversial than the brass at CBC might have liked.
Since that time Marshall has shot documentaries, music videos, won a prize at the Sundance festival and become President and founding member of the internationally renowned GNN. Marshall is convinced that the only way to reach a generation of kids weaned on MTV and video graphics is to produce work that is just as slick and media-savvy in its production values as anything they are used to seeing.
The idea is that when the hook of the eye candy is married to the Guerrilla message of content over frivolity, with a little rage against the machine and street credited music tossed into the mix, the combination will prove irresistible. Considering the success of Eminem’s Moshe Video (put out by fellow GNN’er Ian Inaba, who also contributes to True Lies) and Marshall’s Sundance-winning Crack the CIA, along with many other extraordinary videos put out by Marshall, Lappé and Inaba, it is hard to argue with the thesis.
With True Lies, the authors prove that they are anything but simplistic in their analysis. Marshall and Lappe realize that no single catalyzing event for such elusive goals as truth in journalism and an informed citizenry can ever be as effective as 9/11 was for those who wish to justify “America using her might for good in the world.” They also understand that the only way that they are going to be able to get the “airtime” necessary to tell the stories that desperately need to be told is to set up their own information distribution system. Hence GNN, a web broadcast station that the journalists control. It allows for a kind of journalism that is impossible at Fox, CNN, and, at times of war, even The Post and The Times.
To comprehend Marshall and Lappé’s mandate, cast your mind back five years. The year was 2000—it was the dawning of a new decade, new century, new millennium. (Neo-millennium?) Y2K turned out to be the biggest false alarm since Welles’ War of the Worlds. Alan Greenspan and the US Federal Government’s biggest worry was “excess surpluses.” Despite Torquemada-like perseverance, vitriol, and millions spent, the best Kenneth Star, the first Independent Counsel since Watergate, could pin on the Democratic donkey was a bit of extramarital tail. America was at peace, the world’s undisputed economic leader and generally acknowledged “sole superpower.” And yet despite this relative calm, during the 2000 American election all hell broke loose and the pandemonium shows no sign of abating.
In the five years since the 21st Century began, America’s Bush President has presided over the worst economy in decades, with greater job losses than anytime since the Depression. The current President’s policies have turned a 200-billion-dollar surplus into deficits of half a billion dollars a year. The war in Iraq is, to put it charitably, not going according to plan and is viewed by public opinion worldwide as a war crime. Add to these damaging facts the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, 1400+ dead American soldiers and upwards of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, no weapons of mass destruction aside from DU and BUSH STILL WON a second turn!?
If this had been a Clinton Presidency it’s hard to imagine him being allowed safe exile much less successfully running for another mandate. Then add to this explosive mix the track record of the group running the American administration, a record of manipulation and coercion stretching back twenty-five years to their days spent shaping the Reagan Presidency. It seems all too likely that Marshall, Lappé and the rest of GNN will find no shortage of material over the next few years for satisfying their penchant for keeping really busy. True Lies proves conclusively that there is a great deal of value to at least some “Internet journalism.” We could all do far worse than spending an hour or two a month over the next few years drawing on the resource provided to us free of charge by the computers & cameras of GNN. And that ain’t no lie, damned or otherwise.