Letters from Green Island

March 13 2007

Maybe they should start with a mirror -

a commentary on the CBC 'Spincycles' series

Dear Ira Basen,
I've now listened to your full series on spin (Spincycles http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/spincycles/index.html ), and thought I'd take a few minutes to offer a few thoughts on it all (the letter is a bit delayed because I was away for a week as the series finished, and then had some internet problems for another week). Really, one could write a book on the series, taking apart each episode, but I don't suppose there's much point - the major problems were repeated over and over again, in each and every show, so I'll just summarize the main general points, with only a few specific examples.

Let me briefly start by noting that once again I find myself disappointed in the CBC, but no longer surprised (I have been living in Thailand for about 12 1/2 years now, and for most of that time was unable to listen to CBC, so there was almost a 12-year gap between when I listened to the CBC back in Canada pre-1994, and when I started listening again in March 2006). To me, and I think many others, you once represented the very best of journalism, as good as any in the world really, showing us our country and world more or less as it really was, impartially and with some considerable insight and intelligence for those Canadians who wished something more than the tab-style 'news' offered by the mass media catering to the lowest common denominator to max the advertising revenue flow, and also generally pushing a rightwing and 'neocon' agenda through their publications starting in the later 1970s or so. The CBC was a counterforce to much of this, pushing neither right nor left wing POVs (constant whining of the far-rightwing fringe through their increasingly right-wing media notwithstanding - now that was true 'spin' that it might have been informative to examine in a series such as yours), but giving space to all important, and many lesser, POVs more or less equally. But that was then and this is now, and now, it increasingly seems, alas, you have become simply another, if somewhat more sophisticated, propaganda arm of the neocon ruling elite, pushing the NWO, globalisation, corporate perspective and agenda on your listeners, albeit with the odd moment of lip service to opposing POVs - spin for the managerial class, perhaps, or the remaining (but shrinking daily, it appears) group of older, somewhat intelligent people remaining in Canada who remember 'the old days' and oppose the very misguided path the new rulers are taking us down, pushed along by pretty much all the media now. It may be, of course, you were always so, and it has only been in recent years that I have come to understand your actual role. I have not yet had time to consider my past experiences of listening to the CBC in detail in comparison to my now considerably greater understanding of history and contemporary world politics in general, but I suspect that you have indeed changed, along with our government and country, over the last couple of decades as neoconism has become predominant in most of the English world, Canada most certainly included, and is working hard at the rest of it, by stealth where possible, by economic or military violence in other places. But always, propaganda is a central and essential facet of the New World Order - and the 'spin' you speak of here is, of course, not simply corporate product spin, but societal direction and control propaganda, and a central part of the NWO drive.

You conflate 'spin' and 'propaganda' throughout your series, referring to everything as simply 'spin', and it is hard to believe you are entirely ignorant of the difference, and it is equally hard thus to imagine your motives for doing so were benign or simply unknowing. 'Spin' involves putting a good face on something generally unpalatable to most people, and involves one party (with perhaps their hired spin-doctors) - corporations hiring PR firms to explain how their third world sweat shops are actually good things for everybody or global warming is a myth and so on, or perhaps witnesses at the Adscam hearings facing difficult questions with statements such as 'Oh, golly, I don't remember all those details, but certainly everything we did was only with the public interest in mind!' - such persons or entities are 'spinning' their story to try to achieve a certain result in public opinion or judgement. Obviously, 'spin' in such cases often equates quite directly to lies, as can be understood by those whose minds have not been turned to mush by too much tv. Propaganda, on the other hand, is much deeper and pervasive and systematic - when George Bush stands in front of a television and tells the world he wants to go to war because Saddam has WMD and is planning to attack America!!! - well, that is spin from Bush about something he wants people to believe - but then when virtually the entire American and Canadian media, and all departments of both governments, start repeating that lie as if it were truth, and ask no questions about Bush's supportive evidence for such a serious accusation, but rather spend countless hours of air time with 'journalists' and commentators repeating the lie and embellishing it with 'new details' and the American government comes out with an endless stream of doctored reports and 'intelligence' 'supporting' the lies of Bush, etc and etc, with nary a contrary voice allowed to be heard through these mainstream and official channels, although there are many such voices available and the 'reports' are very obviously doctored in various ways and at various levels up to and including outright lies - well, you're getting way beyond spin, and the only appropriate word is propaganda. I hope you understand that difference well - there was no indication in your series that you do or did, as you spent considerable time, for instance, in one show, portraying the selling of the Iraq invasion as simply 'spin', when it was, in reality, much deeper and darker propaganda, propaganda that the CBC, with virtually all of the Canadian media, engaged in willingly and enthusiastically, as it has with so many other things the last few years in support of the NWO.

The most general problem with your series, evident throughout, is that the series about spin is spin itself (a small tip of the hat to McLuhan might have been in order, as he well understood what you are doing - the medium is indeed the message, as the show about spin is the spin...). The true spin that is happening here is that your series, almost every week (reinforcement of certain simple, central messages is, of course, rule number one of propaganda), portrays the media and the journalists of the media almost entirely as some sort of empty conduits through which messages - spin - produced by others with perhaps nefarious motives are simply delivered by the innocent journalists to the public in a stenographic fashion, rather than honestly portraying and exploring the fact you really ought to have been spending a significant part of your time on, that the media itself is a central part, and arguably the central part, of the spin.

It is most disappointing to listen to this, and time and time again listen to mainstream, senior well known journalists who really ought to know better, discussing spin as if it was some abstract thing from away somewhere and not really related to them - when it has become increasingly apparent over the last couple of decades in particular that the mainstream media, and of course the journalists and the people behind the scenes who direct the journalists themselves, who comprise the living bodies of that abstract thing called 'the media', are at the very heart of the spin (and worse) that the Canadian people have been subjected to during that time. It is disappointing at best to hear some senior journalist(s) almost every episode opining that it is a terrible thing that Canadians no longer trust their media, and all because of those darn spinmasters!! - when of course we no longer trust our media because you are the central part of the spin we receive, and a large and growing number of people understand that - you are not some innocent conduit, some tabula rasa upon which the powers of the times are writing, some unformatted computer disc innocent of the contents others write to it - no, you are yourselves complicit in what gets reported, central really, and the spin it receives. No outside spinmaster is holding a gun to your head - you choose willingly to do what you do, and impart the spin you impart, to offer certain perspectives on what is happening in our society and quite deliberately exclude other voices - and very often the excluded voices are speaking for a majority of Canadians, so you cannot plead some sort of excuse of 'covering major opinions' or whatever. To pretend otherwise is simply to lie or be blindingly obtuse - and I don't for a second believe that senior Canadian journalists or media outlets such as the CBC, or the people behind the scenes who direct and produce them, are blindingly obtuse (unfortunately many of the junior staff on local shows I listen to each day would apparently fit that description, but that's another topic not for this short letter, although not unrelated, as they are certainly a central part of the spin-cum-propaganda delivery system that now pervades the CBC, and staff in large numbers both the 'news' and 'commentary' pages of print media outlets like the Sun chain).

Spin/propaganda could not happen without the 'eyes open' willing participation of the media. That is not a theory or abstract idea, it is simply fact, and you insult your listeners' intelligence when you try to spin it otherwise. When Joe or Jane Spindoctor from the gov or some business group or 'think' tank such as the Fraser Institute contact you and feed you stuff, it is entirely your decision as to how, or if, to use that material - you can headline it as some significant story, giving the impression to the listener/reader you accept it all as gospel truth and important information for them to have by the way you present it, and what commentary you use around it - or you can ignore it altogether or belittle it - or you can simply report it as one story among many, and if it is something that could be of some substance or controversy, be sure you offer some alternative point of view, if there is such a thing apparent and held by many people. Sometimes you do this sort of ok (no examples, I'm sure you have a headful of examples of 'fair and impartial' journalism, mostly on things of a less-controversial nature, as there was a time with the CBC when this was the norm) - but often, in the neocon-managed days we are in now, with certain kinds of important stories, you fail miserably in what is theoretically your extremely important role in a free democracy of telling the citizens what they need to know about rather than what certain people want them to know about and think about it - and it is very difficult for the thinking 'media consumer' these days not to believe that that failure is not a matter of chance or somehow having been fooled by those darn tricky spinmasters, but very intentional spin. Or propaganda.

For example (I have a headful of these, I've been following the Canadian and other media for many years through the internet, indeed was doing so before I came to Thailand, when the CBC was about the last mostly honest, minimal-spin media in Canada) - your coverage (when I say 'your' here, in general I refer to the mainstream Canadian media) of the Canadian participation in the Afghanistan invasion and occupation and regime change has been considerably less than exemplary - it has, indeed, been little other than jingoistic boosterism (= propaganda) for years now, with hardly a negative word to be found (prior to the Senate report a couple of weeks ago, which is, it appears, the opening salvo in preparing Canadians for the end of that operation that was pretty much doomed from the beginning (as many of us believed, but the media would not talk about), trying to put the best spin on it, somehow. Although most Canadians have always had either serious reservations about this invasion, or been completely opposed to it, your coverage of these majority dissenting voices, many of them very articulate, has been a small, small percentage of the jingoism I hear pretty much every day on the CBC radio shows, along with the similar coverage in the print media. Every day I know I am going to hear something, often several somethings, that are jingoistic in nature, support our troops!!! rah rah we're winning!!! here's the body of poor dead cpl joe, killed defending Freedom and Democracy in far off lands don't let his death be in vain hoorahhoorah!!! stuff - but it is only very rarely do I hear something that questions the Canadian presence in Afghanistan - even though, as I said, a majority of Canadians do question that, and there are some very articulate voices explaining in detail the reasons we should NOT be there, so your coverage is very slanted, and could be called nothing but spin, or more honestly propaganda. Not spin imposed from the outside on innocent unsuspecting journalists, but a complicit CBC - Canadian media choosing what to carry - and what to ignore.

What you choose to report or not report is of course a central part of spin or propaganda - what world is it you are presenting to Canadians and how are you telling them to see it and understand it? Is it an honest representation of the country or world, or is it a view seen through a certain filter, which allows some things front page space and tries to play down or ignore other things the filter-masters do not want Canadians thinking much about?

For instance, you offer almost daily stories about 'the Iran nuclear problem' - and rarely if ever do you offer commentary from the perspective that this is entirely a 'problem' manufactured by the United States, in support of their military objectives in the area, and world. And you essentially never offer stories about how the US did something very similar about Iraq in 2002-3 prior to their invasion, and how the 'justifications' they offered then have since been shown to be almost entirely lies - information that one would think quite pertinent as they repeat very similar stories in trying to drum up support for an invasion of Iran. Again, pure spin - on YOUR part. Nobody is holding a gun to your head, are they, and forcing you to cover only one side of this very important story? And yet you do, with this and many, many others. Not a conduit for 'spin' at all, but a central, participating element.

Related - the story that the Iranian president 'threatened to wipe Israel off the map that monster!!' shows up regularly as well one way or another (Michael Enright himself, that seniorest and most respected of the CBC staff, does this himself on the Feb 18 show, about 10 minutes in, introducing the Iran segment with this - which is odd, considering that that quote has since been shown to be basically another complete fabrication (i.e. here http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=NOR20070120&articleId=4527 ), which you have never, that I have heard, mentioned - whereas in a world wherein you were concerned with presenting the truth to Canadians rather than spinning everything in a certain direction, the 'wipe off the map' quote would no longer be used by yourselves, and when you did a story talking about someone who used that quote to try to stir up hostility towards Iran, you would be sure to point that out. But of course if you are on the bandwagon of trying to stir up hostility towards Iran yourselves, then ignoring this bit of truth would serve your objectives, whilst reporting it would skewer your objectives - and if that isn't a perfect example of media spin-cum-propaganda, I don't know what is.

Spin is rarely absent from your newscasts, once one is aware enough of the larger context, both current and historical, of what is actually happening in our country and world and knows what is being left out or presented in a certain way, in everything from the almost insignificant (apparently) to much more important issues. For instance, in what would appear a 'trivial' way but is nonetheless strongly indicative of spin-propaganda, hardly a week goes by without a story in the media somewhere about someone being killed in a motor vehicle accident - and either the local commentator or the police are sure to point out that the darn silly person was not wearing a seatbelt, pushing the message that the gov, and the police - and the media - want everyone wearing seatbelts. Is this the job of the media, to promote government-police programs of any sort? How can you be an impartial conveyor of news if this is the first filter? For instance, police surveys every year or so on PEI find 60-70% of people not wearing them, indicating that perhaps support for this law is neither strong nor deep - is it your role to play shepherd (or sheep dog) to the masses you are supposed to be serving by promoting government propaganda concerning something the people are not that interested in? Who makes such decisions? You may feel the seat belt thing is a good example of encouraging people do something for their own good - we'll just leave aside for now the pretentious paternalism of that (a necessary stance of the Big Brother (or Mother) propagandist, of course - 'We know what is best for you!'), but at what point do you cross over a line and become part of the government propaganda? Where are the interviews with someone representing an apparent majority of people who apparently do not think it is necessary to be buckled in every time they get in a car? Where's that funny thing called 'democracy' here? And then on the other side of the scale, things most people would consider significant, what about the constant jingoism about the Afghan invasion, for instance, which surveys show most Canadians do not really support - who are you, as a media 'serving' the people of Canada, to be propagandizing the people of Canada into supporting a war most do not want, when a more representative coverage of those opposing the war, and the reasons for that opposition, along with a fuller presentation of the historical context of everything and regular features of 'talking heads' explaining these things from a contrary rather than supportive position, would very probably provide the catalyst needed to create a strong movement causing the government to listen to the people rather than simply trying to do a better job of 'selling' their invasion? Bigger questions like this tend to show your true allegiance, which is evidently not to the people of Canada in any democratic way. It would be most instructive if you could ever find a mirror and examine whose POV you are spinning, exactly, when you do things like this - and those two examples are but scratching the surface, as almost everything you do is spin of some sort, there is not a day goes by I am not shaking my head in wonder and/or disgust at something you folks are spinning or propagandizing (documented off and on here http://www.rudemacedon.ca/lgi/ogi-home.html if you are interested in media criticism you'll never see in the MSM in Canada).

Spin can be omission as well, of course, of POVs or facts - for instance, hardly a week goes by these days in Canada without a story about some plant closing somewhere or being downsized and people losing jobs - and although you are careful enough to get some 'related' comment about many stories, i.e. the police and seatbelts for MVA deaths, NEVER is there a mention of the fact that 'free trade' and related international agreements signed over the last 20 years (always, as far as I recall, against the will of the people, when they were even told or asked about them) favorable to international corporations but quite detrimental to average citizens are arguably causing this, although there is no shortage of groups and people pointing this out that you could be talking to, and asking questions about the direction Canadians want to be going with international relations and trade agreements of this sort. Both stories are spun, one with a message the media wants us to absorb ('you get that seatbelt on!'), the other with a message the media does not want us to think about (nah, we're not connecting 'free trade' to that plant closing, no siree!).

You begin your series by saying you are wondering 'how we got here', 'here' being, I presume, a country and world dominated by spin (or, more correctly, as I have pointed out, propaganda). It's a very pertinent question, and it would have been very useful if you had of actually explored it a bit, as I was hoping, as the 'old' CBC might well have done, as both Canada and the world are heading the wrong way, and being shepherded along by you folks in the media and all your spin/propaganda - but the first thing you would have to do, along with all of your senior CBC and other media compatriots, is take a good look in the mirror, and then start talking to people like me and many other media critics rather than simply hitting the delete button on your email program when we try to talk to you, or otherwise dismissing us as 'conspiracy' theorists of some sort that you wouldn't waste your time with. That you are very careful not to talk to such people who would point out the things I point out here, and many other related things, is, again, very clear evidence that you are indeed part of the spin-propaganda, and knowingly so (the reference to talking to me was actually not meant seriously, I have no 'voice' in Canada, but there are many eloquent and well known spokespeople around who feel as I do that you could talk to, were you actually seriously interested in exploring the depth to which the Canadian media, and especially the CBC, has become a central part of the spin over the last few years - or propaganda would be a much more truthful word, actually - that is fed to the Canadian people day after day after week after week after year after year.) I have a short history lesson about 'how we got here' in a somewhat larger sense, but that also includes the media, here, if you are interested - http://www.rudemacedon.ca/lgi/pts/pts12.html .

I'll just close by mentioning one 'highlight' that particularly got me shaking my head in disbelief as my poor eyeballs tried to roll backwards into my resistant brain - one of many, actually - but that was probably the final straw that pushed me into writing this little commentary for you, even though I know the odds of you being interested in it are close to nil, if my past experience with such letters to the CBC is anything to go by. You finish part V and promo part VI by saying - (paraphrasing) "Well, golly, what can we do about these bad people spinning we poor innocent journalists!?" This might be useful as an indoctrination question at a junior high level where the entire 'civics course' presentation of what our society is like is almost total fantasy, but it's really quite insulting to any intelligent adult listener, of which I presume there are at least a few of us out here still listening to the CBC - we are supposed to believe that all of you senior CBC journalists over the last 10-20 years have been nothing better than a bunch of naíve high school students conned by some nefarious scheming PR people, and now, well, heck - yea, we can pay a bit more attention to what they are saying, and look beneath the surface a bit, be a bit more skeptical of politicians' promises, etc - honestly, Ira, how stupid do you think we all are? Is this some test to see how effective the last 3-4 decades of school indoctrination reinforced by increasingly full-spectrum media propaganda and spin have been? (Actually, the March 11 Enright show included a good interview with a university prof on how the entire education system is indeed being 'dumbed down' - it's not a theory, as many of us have understood for quite some time, and one would have thought the CBC would have understood this as well - and yes, Enright used to be one of the shining lights of the CBC, although his shine has evidently become considerably dulled the last few years) It simply defies belief that you people have not known exactly what you have been doing for all of these years, known exactly what you were doing when you participated in such things as the endless CBC spin of promoting the Afghan war, promoting the 'terrible danger of 'terrorism'' as you have been doing for the last several years with what could be called nothing but hysterical tabloid nonsense for the most part, your determined promotion of the Official Conspiracy Theory concerning 911, blatant lies and coverup though it all is, your refusal to talk about the money supply issue in Canada that has allowed the elite financial sector to steal hundreds of billions of dollars from Canadians ( http://www.rudemacedon.ca/lgi/debtscam.html ) - with your obviously intentional refusal to offer people who opposed your spin, even when they are well-known, eloquent speakers who represent majority views of Canadians, any sort of decent air time, etc and etc (you can read some more examples, if you are actually innocent of my charges and are curious about what I am talking about, a possibility I suppose, in the same sense that it's possible horny aliens really are abducting innocent corn-belters for sexual experiments, but nothing I'd bet the farm on, in a short piece I wrote a few weeks ago about press responsibility in Canada (to which, for some reason, nobody I sent it to responded), at http://www.rudemacedon.ca/lgi/07/0202-rtf.html ) Perhaps the scariest thing is that I think your efforts ('your' again meaning more generally the Canadian media en masse) have been quite effective for most Canadians - although one can tell from the general mistrust of both politicians and the media among Canadians that you have not been entirely successful - may, indeed, have gone too fast or misjudged the level of Canadian gullibility and indoctrination - one can but hope.

Well, I'll leave it at that - I still listen to the CBC in hopes that the light will shine once again some day, but aside from the odd flash, pandering I suppose to some twinges of conscience in some of the old guard still hanging on there, it just seems to be getting darker and darker.

Find a mirror, Ira, while there's still light enough to see by, and take a good long look some day soon please, and ask yourself if you really want to keep doing this.

Dave Patterson
Hat Yai, Thailand


(I'll give Ira whatever credit he is due, as he did respond to my criticism, which few others have done:

Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2007 22:18:49 -0400
From: "Ira Basen"
Subject: Re: Your Space Comments form submission

Dear Mr. Patterson:

Thank you for your letter. I appreciate the fact that you obviously listened closely to the series, even though it was clearly a painful experience for you.

I can't really comment on your analysis of the long moral and intellectual decline of CBC Radio. I have been a producer here for more than 20 years and I have seen lots of changes. I'm inclined to say that CBC Radio was not as good as you remember it to be back then, and it is not as bad as you think it is now, but you are obviously entitled to your opinion. Nor do I really want to comment on the media's many failings that you outline in your letter. I can't control what other people do.

However, I do believe that some of your characterizations about Spin Cycles were unfair. You seem to paint me and the series as apologists for the mainstream media, always looking to blame others for our failings. I believe I did take a mirror to the media in this series and the picture that emerged was often not very pretty.

In program 2, I discussed the disturbing trend towards "fake news", the use of video news releases that masquerade as news. I made it very clear that although the press likes to blame the PR industry for these abuses, the reality is that no one is forcing TV stations to do this. They do it because they are short of resources, integrity and imagination.

In program 4, I came out very strongly against the media's acceptance of strategic leaks from political spin doctors and outlined in considerable detail the tremendous harm this created in the cases of Dr. David Kelly and Maher Arar. I was unequivocal in blaming the press for the tragedies this created for these two men.

In program 5, I talked about the media's tragic failure to question the Bush administration in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and in program 6 I talked about how the media's obsession with "balance" in the climate change debate made it appear there was a debate within the scientific community long after there ceased to be one.

In short, I am obviously not trying to change your opinion on the series. You clearly found it lacking on many fronts. I just want to point out that I did look in the mirror and I was not oblivious to the failings of the media in this series. In fact, it was what most listeners really appreciated about Spin Cycles.

Ira Basen

- to which I won't bother with a rebuttal - anyone is free to listen to the series and decide whether they agree with my critique or Mr Basin's response)
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