On the front lines of a 40-year information war


After a month of rain we now have…snow. School is cancelled and the kids are at home as I write this and not much else is happening.

For some social contact I turn to the news. Ironically, the top news story last week was… the news. In a "thermonuclear news event," WikiLeaks dropped the first batch of over 250,000 secret documents.

We got an hour-long dose of the controversy while driving home from Christmas shopping and listening to CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup. A recurring theme among callers seemed to be frustration with a general lack of government transparency, and the growing trend toward government control of all information—not just the secret kind.

But what is WikiLeaks, and why should we care? WikiLeaks is a web-based organization that collects political information and redistributes it to the media and the public. As such the organization views itself as an ethical public service organization. And as far as I can tell it’s true. No one at WikiLeaks is getting rich. To the contrary, they’re constantly under threat of reprisals from international governments and organizations.

Including one from Stephen Harper’s former chief-of-staff and adviser, Tom Flanagan, who in a CBC interview last week, quipped, "Well, I think Assange [the head of WikiLeaks] should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something.”

Most people don’t think Flanagan’s comment is exactly funny. After all, this man, Flanagan, has just one degree of separation from the prime minister. Obviously, his opinions matter. And just who is this dude?

Flanagan was born and educated in the United States. As a student he was especially enamoured of Austrians Hayek and Voegelin, both of whom are considered seminal influences on free market philosophy and economic conservatism. He went on to teach at the University of Calgary, and subsequently got involved with Preston Manning’s Alliance Party, and later with Stephen Harper, eventually managing his 2004 Conservative campaign. Flanagan is pretty much the poster boy for American-style conservatism, and a senior fellow at Canada’s leading right wing think-tank, the Fraser Institute.

This connection between U.S. conservatism and its Canadian counterpart is significant. Much of Canada’s new conservative movement comes from the west, which has strong financial ties to the energy sector south of the border, especially in Texas. And that’s Bush country. It’s no coincidence that Alberta and Saskatchewan are primary suppliers of fossil fuel to the U.S. and also share similar political ideologies. America needs our hydrocarbons and needs Canadian politicians who get it.

So if our Canadian political philosophy is beginning to mirror the U.S., what does that mean for Canadians? For one, I expect we will continue to support their war efforts in places like Afghanistan and an ever-tightening control on public information, which has been a hallmark of the Harper government. This new approach to media control has its roots in the negative coverage of the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Iran hostage affair—resulting in an increased tightening up and spinning of information to fit government leaders’ objectives. This media hijacking has fuelled a decade of fear in the United States, facilitated the removal civil liberties through the Patriot Act, “embedded” reporters into the military and diluted reporting on the actual effects of war. It’s been a massive effort to “dumb down” the American—and Canadian public. Which takes us back to the media.

The media is not what it was 40 years ago. The ownership of today’s media has aggregated into fewer hands, most of them highly conservative, such as Australian media mogul Rupert Murdock, owner of the rabidly right-wing Fox television network, and a man never reluctant to reshape the news to fit his own philosophy.

Here in Canada, David Thomson, owner of global media giant Thomson Reuters, is the wealthiest Canadian—by far—with an estimated net worth over $20 billion. Closer to home, Canada’s third wealthiest family, the Irvings, own most of the print media in New Brunswick. This puts enormous power to influence public policy into the hands of the few.

But wait. There’s still the Internet, right? The place where anyone can still say anything? Not for long. Last week the Obama Administration put a bill before Congress that would allow the president to take executive control of the U.S. Internet, including shutting it down entirely for up to four months in case of an “emergency.” And in fact, nothing we do on the Internet is private and secure anyway. Every e-mail can be combed by the government for “subversive” content. Which is what makes WikiLeaks so important. This is the last major battle for a free and open media.

And how’s it going? Not well. On top of the coincidental international hunt for Assange to arrest him on a rape charge in Sweden [he surrendered himself to authorities yesterday], the WikiLeaks site, ironically, has been removed from that bastion of free speech, Google (remember Google’s split with China over censorship?).

Assange and his team are our last media heroes and deserve our support. Go to www.wikileaks.sh to check it out for yourself. Or visit www.collateralmurder.com to get a snapshot of the real war in Iraq.

Then we might all join Tom Flanagan’s mentor, Hayek, in his noble goal: that the “coercion of some by others is reduced as much as is possible in society.” Amen.

* For more on Tom Flanagan and his polarizing effect on Canadian politics go to http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/the-man-behind-stephen-harper-tom-flanagan/


  1. Amen.
    Please, let history teach us SOMETHING, SOMETIME, SOMEWHERE.

  2. It doesn't seem to, does it? But with all the dark there's also the light, and life is so good.

  3. Gerald, one note: there has never been a "rape" charge against Assange. Again, this is a piece of character assassination that our propaganda... I mean, American MSM have been pushing on us.

    Assange has been wanted for questioning in Sweden in relation to extremely dubious "sex by surprise" charges against him, put forward by two women with questionable motives.

    These charges are nothing but a political stunt, but also a major injustice toward the man and a slap in the face of victims of real rape and sex abuse everywhere. Just MHO.

  4. I couldn't agree more. It's a disservice to justice. And it's interesting to see who and what came out of the woodwork, including Hillary Clinton.

    Having been involved in the propaganda machine, it's easy to see the media engineers shifting the story from the leaks to Assange. Classic distraction-and-diversion techniques. The real stories (leaks) get buried, while the rest of us who are still awake just get more cynical...


Post a Comment

Popular Posts