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Free the Press 

If the media won't question authority, who will?

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The respected journalist Seymour Hersh broke the Mai Lai massacre story during the Vietnam War, and the U.S. military's torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004. He investigated alleged gas attacks by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Using excellent sources, including ones in the U.S. security establishment, Hersh determined that Assad never gassed his own people.

Although Hersh was a fixture at The New Yorker for years, the magazine refused to publish his Syrian revelations. He had to go all the way to England, where the London Review of Books published his first Syria story. It was instrumental in preventing President Obama from attacking Syria. But the mainstream media portrayed the truth of Assad's culpability as a "slam dunk."

The London Review of Books paid for Hersh's second investigation on the April 4, 2017, Khan Sheikhoun "sarin gas attack," but then declined to print it. This time, Hersh had to go all the way to Germany, where the Welt am Sonntag newspaper ran it. President Trump subsequently launched 59 cruise missiles at the Shayrat Air Base. While many Americans doubted the credibility of the West's assumptions, mainstream media stories attributed facts to government officials in the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

As the availability and ubiquity of social media has opened up multifarious sources of information, some doubtful, but most not government propaganda, the war waged by the mainstream media intensifies. One cannot imagine President Nixon being toppled if Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had been blacklisted by all major media outlets in America, as happened with Hersh's groundbreaking challenge to misinformation, disinformation and omission.

This example is only one of many in this age of "fake news" and "alternative facts." Governments and think tanks are waging an Orwellian war of words, meant to create a language of orthodox ideology and to discredit any exposure of corruption or war crimes and, in the words of media critic Noam Chomsky, to "strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion." Thus consent is manufactured and the media become the fourth branch of government.

Barry Barnett is a writer, health professional and musician living in Santa Rosa. Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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