This article was originally published by Caitlin Johnstone at Caitlin Johnstone.substack.
American liberals are in an uproar over Twitter’s recent labeling of National Public Radio as “US state-affiliated media”, a designation typically reserved for state media from governments the US is trying to topple like Russia’s RT, China’s CGTN, and Iran’s Press TV.
In an article titled “Twitter labels NPR’s account as ‘state-affiliated media,’ which is untrue,” NPR’s Bill Chappell attempts to argue that his outlet does not deserve to have the same labels affixed to it as state media from naughty governments like Russia and China:
“Noting the millions of listeners who support and rely upon NPR for ‘independent, fact-based journalism,’ NPR CEO John Lansing stated, ‘NPR stands for freedom of speech and holding the powerful accountable. It is unacceptable for Twitter to label us this way. A vigorous, vibrant free press is essential to the health of our democracy.'”
It is an interesting choice to spotlight NPR’s CEO John Lansing while trying to argue that NPR is not state-affiliated, given that Lansing spent his pre-NPR years as the CEO of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM). USAGM is the US government narrative management umbrella that runs overt US state propaganda outlets like Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Voice of America.
In a 1977 article titled “Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the C.I.A.,” The New York Times explicitly names Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Free Asia as part of the network constructed by the Central Intelligence Agency to circulate propaganda. As Fair.org’s Bryce Greene recently noted, USAGM received $810 million in US federal funding in 2022, which is more than twice the amount RT received from Russia for its global operations in 2021.
Lansing’s history is not an anomaly; NPR is regularly overseen by executives who came directly from senior positions in Washington’s official propaganda network. From 1998 to 2008 NPR’s president was a man named Kevin Klose, who previously ran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and then returned to that job after his decade-long NPR stint. A man named Ken Stern became NPR’s executive vice president in 1999 and was appointed CEO in 2006; prior to that, he was the senior advisor to the director of the USAGM’s International Broadcasting Bureau.
So it is a bit funny that John Lansing is now cited complaining about NPR being labeled “state-affiliated media” on Twitter, given that he has devoted his life to promulgating US state-affiliated media. NPR receives funding from the US government, consistently advances the information interests of the US government, and is routinely run by professional propagandists of the US government. You could spend hours of your life just reading through Fair.org’s “NPR” section to see the many, many ways that platform has exhibited wild biases to grease the wheels of the US empire. If NPR is not state-affiliated media, then nobody is.
In his efforts to argue that his outlet is not state-affiliated media, Bill Chappell also hilariously points out that White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended NPR as a wonderful exemplar of journalistic integrity:
When asked about Twitter’s decision during the White House’s daily briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to address Twitter’s content rules specifically. But she also defended NPR’s journalism.
“There is no doubt of the independence of NPR journalists,” Jean-Pierre said. “If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of their questions, you know this.”
Yeah great argument Bill, “The White House says we’re good so we can’t possibly be US state-affiliated media.”
Defenders of NPR try to argue that the label is inaccurate because NPR only receives a small amount of its funding from the US government (between one percent and 15 percent depending on whose talking points they’re reciting), but this claim is undercut by NPR’s own claim that “Federal funding is essential to public radio’s service to the American public and its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR [emphasis theirs].”
It’s probably also worth saying that if I was receiving between one and 15 percent of my funding from the government of Russia or China, I feel quite confident that Twitter would slap me with the “state-affiliated” label immediately, as it has so many others. If you’ve conceded that you receive government funding to any extent, it’s hard to then argue that you are in no way “affiliated” with that government.
It’s probably additionally worth noting that NPR receives a massive amount of funding from oligarchs like Bill Gates. When you live in an oligarchy like the US, receiving funding from oligarchs is not meaningfully distinct from receiving funding from the state.
But what’s especially revealing is the reasons people are giving for why the “state-affiliated media” label is detrimental to NPR.
“Twitter has labeled National Public Radio as ‘state-affiliated media, a move some worried could undermine public confidence in the news organization,” reads a tweet by AP. The tweet paraphrases a quote from PEN America’s Liz Woolery, “For Twitter to unilaterally label NPR as state-affiliated media, on par with Russia Today, is a dangerous move that could further undermine public confidence in reliable news sources.”
Think about what they’re admitting here, and what they’re not saying. They’re acknowledging that this label that’s been getting slapped on the media from nations that disobey the US government “undermines public confidence” in those outlets, which means they know Twitter has been using that label to undermine public confidence in the media from nations that disobey their government. They’re just not taking that understanding to the obvious conclusion: that this means Twitter has been functioning as a propaganda arm of the US government.
Indeed, the problem with the “state-affiliated media” label hasn’t so much been that it exists, but that it will always be unevenly applied. The label gets pinned to outlets like RT and China Daily while left off of known US propaganda outlets like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, and Voice of America. This designation is also nowhere to be seen on other outlets which receive a far greater share of their funding from the state than NPR does, like the UK’s BBC, Australia’s ABC, Canada’s CBC, and the Saudi Press Agency.
There is no valid reason why NPR should carry the label of “state-affiliated media” while those outlets I just listed should not. So while NPR is unquestionably state-affiliated, the fact that it is the sole anomaly in Twitter’s otherwise consistent policy of pro-US, pro-western bias is a pretty clear sign that this designation did not come about because of an interest in truth or facts.
The explanation could be as simple as the fact that NPR published something that Twitter’s new CEO didn’t like, such as its recent article “Dogecoin price spikes after Elon Musk changes Twitter logo to the Shiba Inu dog.” Or it could be something even simpler, like the fact that NPR doesn’t support the same politics as Musk.
In any case, the “state-affiliated media” label is plainly a propaganda construct designed to suppress unauthorized speech in the facilitation of the information interests of the US empire. If it was being used to promote truth and critical thinking it would be applied to every mainstream outlet in the Western world, because those all serve as propaganda organs for the US empire today. While the official job of outlets like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia is to administer US propaganda, their unofficial job is to give people the impression that they are the only kinds of institutions that administer US propaganda.
All this bickering and squabbling about whose voice should be uplifted as trustworthy and whose voice should be squelched as untrustworthy is just a manifestation of the fact that powerful people understand something most ordinary members of the public do not: that whoever controls the narrative controls the world. If you can exert control over the way people perceive reality, then you can control reality itself.
Until the public becomes more aware of this fact, our lives will be subject to the whims of oligarchs, government agencies, and mass media propagandists. Not until then will we be able to awaken from our propaganda-induced coma enough to shake off the psychological manipulations which keep us marching to the tune of oligarchy and empire, and use the power of our numbers to force the emergence of a healthy world that benefits us all.