The scandals that have erupted around the exposure of Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams as having lied about their wartime experiences provide us with a glimpse into the nature of corporate media.
These revelations demonstrate just how easily “facts” and narratives can be manufactured to serve a personal and, more importantly, political agenda.
Let’s begin with the obvious: it’s selfishly satisfying to see two of America’s leading corporate media mouthpieces exposed as liars. Undoubtedly, there are many (myself included) who smile with delight at seeing the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Brian Williams squirming under the spotlight of media scrutiny.
O’Reilly in particular has made a career of spewing venom at all the “pinheads” and “liberal liars” who he accuses of “deceiving America” with their “secular progressive” agenda, or some such nonsense. So, one can’t help but revel in seeing him have to defend his obvious lies – they are lies, not exaggerations or memory lapses – on national TV and in the press.It is akin to seeing a crooked cop go to jail for corruption, or a parasitical bank executive imprisoned for money laundering.
But of course, those of us who are interested in global issues, and how propaganda works in the service of the political and geopolitical agenda of powerful actors, have much more to take from these stories than simply the vicarious pleasure we get from watching these debacles. Rather, it is our responsibility to examine the larger significance of these stories. Specifically, what do O’Reilly’s and Williams’ humiliations tell us about the nature of media in America? And how do we translate that understanding into a broader structural critique of the propaganda matrix that passes for “news media” today?