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June 5, 2002
Narco News '02
Authentic Journalism on the "War on Drugs" in Latin America
"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simón Bolívar
The New Introduction to the 1997 Text
and the Secret History of Narco News...
The Medium is the Middleman
vs. The Media
A Revolution for a
By Al Giordano
A Narco News Mission Statement
And the answer came from below
Now, what was the question?
Pick a card, any card, kind reader like this one:
Why are we still stuck with this disastrous policy of drug prohibition?
For the past 25 months, Narco News has reported or translated hundreds of works of Authentic Journalism that show, individually and together, that the "war on drugs" is a circus and a farce and the Sina Qua Non (that without which nothing else can happen) to restore Authentic Democracy in our América is that the drug war must be repealed.
But nothing happens. The "war on drugs" marches on.
That's because the "war on drugs" is a policy imposed on all nations by the wealthiest one, the United States, and nothing happens anymore, nothing at all, in the political illusion of that country.
Earnest reporting of the facts and venting of the opinions - the intent behind that country's First Amendment - has only marginal impact, if any, on the political decisions. Washington, the White House, Congress they don't move based on the facts. They only move when an issue reaches a critical mass stage in the media. And although the edges of the media - the Internet, the "alternative press," and occasional stories that slip through the mass media - are, more and more, reporting the failure of this drug war, still nothing happens, nothing at all.
The voters in 10 of the 50 United States have voted to repeal key planks of this drug war. Every time it goes to a vote, democracy says to "stop the war." But nothing happens on a federal level, nothing at all.
Why is that? How can that be in a place that calls itself a "democracy"?
The problem of the decomposed "democracy" of the United States has a name: It is a problem called "the Media."
The commercial media is the tail that wags the dog. It yanks public opinion around by the nose ring, obliterating all opinion and narcotizing the public. Remember the anthrax scare after September 11th? It was page-one news every day for months until it became clear that the threat came from a domestic source, within the United States and not from foreigners. And then the media just shut up. Nary a word is spoken about this trauma that the same media inflicted upon us for the entirety of last autumn.
And so it goes with every matter of importance to humans on earth: The cow of public opinion is jerked from milking machine to milking machine, kept disoriented, and never focused on anything real: From Chandra Levy to September 11th to Bin Laden to Anthrax to bombs raining over Central Asia to atomic saber rattling between India and Pakistan and soon, on to some other diversion. Does any of it ever get resolved?
The public is wary and bored with it all. Newspaper circulation, despite having had the story of the century (9/11) to report, is stuck in the same ghetto it was before the Twin Towers fell. TV news is a joke: "Hey, what will we trivialize and turn into a 15-second distraction today?" Our remotes click from channel to channel in a vain hope of finding something worth watching, and we settle in like bumps on the sofa, as real life is postponed for yet another evening. Pop music and all its market niches, Hollywood, book publishing, and the rest of the grids of expression have sunk to new levels of banality and irrelevance. It's all formula, meant to squeeze the public of what little remains of our wallets and our attention spans.
This hopeless morass of mediated nonsense is what Jeff Buckley (1966 -1997) described when he wrote, "Turn your head away from the Screen, oh people I see you take another drag, let's see you take another drag."
Media is a drug as damaging and addictive as any other, legal or prohibited, and no treatment, cure, antidote or solution has appeared. For years there has been no exit, no coherent way to fight this problem of Media that keeps all other societal problems from being able to be solved.
And then came Venezuela
The Wind from Below
On April 11th, 2002, the moneyed classes of Venezuela, with an assist from the foreign governments of Washington, Madrid and Bogotá, almost set back the cause of Authentic Democracy in our América for 30 years.
For a moment this spring, Caracas 2002 almost became the Santiago de Chile of September 11th, 1973, with a US-sponsored coup against a democratically elected government. The 1973 coup was a successful bloodbath. It installed that narco-dictator, General Pinochet. And the lesson hung for 29 years like a cloud over every Latin American nation: The message delivered on that September 11th was that democracy is only allowed if power and money agree with the decisions the people make. If the people stray from the will of the tyrants, then even democracy gets overthrown and your authentic songwriters (¡Viva Victor Jara!) and leaders will be rounded up in the stadium, tortured and shot dead.
What occurred in Venezuela last April almost reasserted that rule with a new twist: The coups no longer come mainly from the military, but, rather, from the real occupying force over our daily lives and our very consciousness: the Media.
The Venezuelan commercial media and the U.S. commercial media provided the drumbeat, for months before April 11th, to set the stage for The End Of Democracy As We Know It. If they had succeeded in Venezuela, the ascension to the throne by the mediating tyrants would have been complete. This is all so very well documented and obvious to anyone who was paying attention during the immediate history of April 2002.
We reported the facts as they were happening during those Three Days that Shook the Media in Venezuela. The coup did not go according to plan. My essay of April 18th focused mainly on the role of the U.S. media - exposed, now, as enemy of the very democracy that gave it life and rights under the First Amendment - and its attempt to simulate the coup as something other than a coup.
And I wrote about a key difference between the events of September 1973 and those of April 2002: Internet journalism lived its finest hour, and broke the information blockade of the simulators like AP, Reuters, the New York Times and CNN. The coup collapsed, and a very brief series of meas culpas and feigned apologies occurred at the New York Times editorial page and elsewhere. But now they're all back to their old tricks, no heads rolled, nobody was fired, the professional simulators are still in the Latin American bureaus, and nothing has changed in terms of how they manipulate public opinion in favor of the advertising class, always in favor of money. The cow is back on the milking machine, being sucked of life itself.
But the most historic aspect of those Three Days that Shook the Media did not occur online, through this damn screen. For the first time in the history of capitalism, the masses - Oh, the masses! Reports of our death have been so greatly exaggerated! - surrounded the simulating TV stations and the corrupt newspaper offices and shut down the media's power to simulate and manipulate, instantly.
Ponder this, please, kind reader, for a moment: On April 12th and 13th 2002 in Venezuela, the cow of public opinion, its survival instinct intact, threw off the milking machine and turned from docile domesticated slave to charge into the china shop of the mediating tyrants. The shopkeepers of manufactured consent in Venezuela are still whining and crying about what happened: "We feared for our lives! We didn't report the counter-coup because we were afraid of the mob!" The mediating police force was neutralized for a brief shining moment, and democracy lives to fight another day.
The issue is not, as some media critics have explored, that the commercial media in Venezuela did not "report." It is this: That the Media was briefly immobilized and could no longer simulate in the name of "reporting."
This was a good thing, a healthy event, a life-restoring renaissance of Authentic Democracy when the masses of Venezuela shut down the commercial media. (And to those spurious "press freedom" organizations and anyone else who tries to wrap up simulation by commercial powers as a First Amendment issue, I reply with rage and contempt for your hypocrisy, and some very funny upcoming pranks at your expense: Ask not for whom the Masses toll the Masses toll for thee )
We have met the vanguard of the next revolution and it is us: The Masses.
The Return of the Masses
During recent weeks, daily readers of Narco News have noticed (and more than a few have yelled at me, "I WANT MY NARCO NEWS"): I have not authored an original story or essay since April 18th.
Venezuela changed everything. And it now means big changes ahead for Narco News and for your correspondent and, I am certain, for many of you.
This is why I went back to the drawing board during these weeks and with a team of colleagues (you know who you are, and the rest of you will meet some of them soon enough) now have some real news to report today. (And just to drive all you editors crazy, we are backing into the lead of this story step by step building its foundation in violation of the imposed formula of commercial journalism because this is not about selling newspapers or a website this is not about keeping the reader plugged in and reliant upon us No! This is about how real people truly live and think and develop a strategy against the tyrant and then ACT.)
The grand sweeping act of the masses on April 13, 2002 in Venezuela to take the microphone away from the monopoly and thus collapse the absolute power of the Media is the single most historic act so far of the 21st century.
It is more significant than whatever happened (and we still don't know, do we?) on September 11, 2001.
The masses of Venezuela have given us a new way to fight.
The poor and working and creative majority in Venezuela revealed to the world: The masses do not need to be educated, do not need to hear one more fact or report or snippet of "information." The masses don't need the TV news or the daily paper or my next article or your next documentary or even cyberspace: they (we!) already know it is bullshit. Media is about moneymaking and control of public opinion. Media is a power trip. And everybody except the most deluded cyborgs and oligarchs that live off that milking machine knows it already.
What we have lacked for too long is the way to fight, to reclaim the terrain of daily life from this monster, to bypass its mediating control and assert the decisions that we have, as a majority, already made. I speak not merely about repealing the drug war or even of restoring authentic democracy I speak of every legitimate grievance on every "issue" of policy and daily life. Collapse the mediating power of the tyrant, and all flowers will be able to bloom once again.
But the work of this renaissance has only just begun. The events of April 2002 in Venezuela constitute no more or less than a lighthouse that illuminates the place where the sea meets the shore and allows us to navigate.
In Venezuela, in the United States, and all over our América, we still must contend with what scholar Roldan Tomasz Suarez describes as the "avalanche of lies, deceit and manipulation, with which the media bombards us on a daily basis."
In his brilliant essay published this week by the Venezuelan media vheadline.com, Five Truths About April 11, compañero Roldan recalls, "the despicable performance of mainstream print & broadcast media during those April days is irrefutable proof that media bosses were, to say the least, biased in favor of the coupsters, if they weren't actively participating in the coup themselves."
"There is absolutely no excuse to justify the hermetic silence which the media imposed during April 13," he observes. "They claim that there were no guarantees to protect their reporters' security that day. Hadn't they, a day earlier, bragged about the courage of their reporters, who dared film the famous Llaguno Bridge images? Furthermore, there was no need to bring their reporters onto the streets on April 13. It would have sufficed to re-transmit images captured by international news agencies ... it would have been enough NOT to lie to the country trying to convince it that absolutely nothing was happening."
How to Beat the Media?
The lighthouse that now exists after the events of April 2002 have already caused Suarez and so many others to ask the right question for the future of democracy, the US-imposed drug war, and many related priorities: "How to beat the media?"
"It would seem," writes Suarez, "that a large part of the population, especially the part that supposedly enjoys the highest cultural and educational levels, remains completely blind to the evidence. When we hear a typical middle class anti-Chavist talking, we get the impression that we are listening to a series of loose fragments, poorly repeated from radio and TV talk shows. There are a number of empty words that are being constantly repeated in the discourse: authoritarian, meritocracy, steamrolling, dollar-glutton, handpicked, governance, politicization, disunited, etc. etc. etc a rosary of expressions that nobody knows the meaning of any more but which silences thought very effectively it means, in a few words, that media is leading us Venezuelans to the abyss."
"For that reason," concludes Suarez, "there is no political action more urgent at the moment than countering the power of dominant media discourse over public opinion."
The Fall and Rise of
An Immedia Project
The questions being asked today by Suarez and so many others who can now see how vital this question of Media has become to all change agents and Civil Society everywhere are questions that some of us began asking in 1996 and 1997, and that others, before us, began to ask long ago.
Now is the hour to use this double-edged sword of the Internet, and all other grids of expression, to inflict a counter-discourse upon the dominant Media monologue.
Today, for the first time online, we begin to publish the 1997 work, "The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media."
This is a discourse that until now has been spoken in whispers, almost clandestinely, and certainly has not been allowed even a soapbox on the opinion pages of the commercial media, much less as part of the daily "news" coverage. My publication of this 26-page document as a pamphlet five years ago contributed to my complete ruin as a career journalist, my expatriate status, and my 1997 voyage to Chiapas, Mexico, to learn from the Zapatista indigenous rebellion a better way to fight. Media players who had once welcomed me with open arms, under the illusion that I was just "another member of the club," upon reading this document stopped any pretext of backslapping, handshaking, false professional collegiality and no longer returned my calls.
Oh, but what a difference five years makes! Once, in December 2001, the New York Supreme Court ruled in my favor (and that of all Internet journalists) and restored our rights as equal under the law as those of the New York Times, in our court victory over Banamex-Citigroup, my mailbox abounds with invitations to write for many of the same magazines and newspapers who slammed doors in my face out of anger after I had called for "a revolution against Media" in 1997. (I just politely tell them, "Thanks, I'll keep it in mind, but I have my own newspaper to run now." Because, hey, I made some errors, too, in that 1997 document - and in my expressions of anger and sense of betrayal were not always said with the necessary dose of humor and entertainment to make the medicine go down - which I have spent the past six weeks revising, correcting and bringing up to date. As the Revolution Against Media is today reborn, I will try to be more civil about it than perhaps I was five years ago, but, dear colleagues, please don't take it personally: the revolt begins nonetheless, and the slingshot army of thousands has itchy trigger fingers under the new lighthouse of context provided by the recent events in Venezuela.)
One of the guerrilla masks this counter-discourse has worn in battle for the past 25 months is this little website, The Narco News Bulletin.
Narco News did not spring out of the head of Zeus, and the factors that make Authentic Journalism so different and more credible than the discredited form of "journalism" practiced by the commercial media can be traced directly to the marriage of the 1997 blueprint, The Medium is the Middleman, with the strategies and tactics developed by the Mexican and Latin American indigenous movements and their 500 years of experience against impositions from above.
And so, kind reader, presuming that you and I both continue to share the priority of ending the US-imposed "war on drugs" in our América, the renaissance of Authentic Democracy, and all the related matters that we've reported and translated over the past two years, I invite you to participate, dialogue, plot and scheme with us in the coming days and months in a global teach-in which we call "Immedia Summer 2002."
Narco News has covered the wars and conflicts surrounding marijuana, coca, poppy, alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, etc. Today we expand our mission to include Authentic Journalism on the most dangerous drug of all: Media. We don't want to see Media prohibited. It must be legal like all the other drugs. But today, in 2002, it is time to develop a "harm reduction strategy" to collapse the tyrannical power of the commercial media and make progress, again, possible on repealing drug prohibition and all related policies.
As we will post, day after day, beginning now, the chapters of The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media, with updated author's notes, footnotes, corrections and some very important changes in the strategy, I do assure you: Narco News will continue reporting and translating the real news regarding the drug war in our América. Our Andean bureau continues its vital work under the leadership of Luis Gómez in La Paz, Bolivia. We have some additional new members of the Newsroom Team to be announced shortly, and by autumn you will be getting more, not less, Authentic Journalism on the War on Drugs from Latin America through this outpost in cyberspace.
But we think that you, kind reader, and we, the Narco News Team, will make faster progress on collapsing the drug war if we simultaneously arm ourselves to destroy the power of the commercial media to prevent the changes that must come in drug policy and related matters of Authentic Democracy, human rights, an end to military interventions, the environment and all of the other related priorities.
As you know, Narco News has, since day one, reported aggressively on the behavior of the commercial media and its correspondents in Latin America. Corrupted journalists from Mexico to Bolivia have been exposed here and are no longer able to simulate as they did for years before. In April, we were sleepless throughout the attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela breaking the information blockade and bringing you the immediate and accurate information. In that sense, we're not really taking a new step with this greater focus on the drug called Media: We're simply bringing the project to the next necessary phase.
And, as you'll soon see, Phase II of Narco News is not going to occur solely through this Internet screen. We will be inviting you to participate in a battle that takes place on the terrain of daily life, outside of this damn screen, too.
This screen is useful and we will continue to utilize it: Mutant Times Call For Mutant Tools. But it also has its limits, and the Narco News project now moves, simultaneously, both on and away from the screen.
April 2002 was truly Online Journalism's Finest Hour, but online journalism was not what broke the back of the enemies of democracy and stopped the coup. The Internet was merely auxiliary. The vanguard was people who mostly do not have and cannot afford computers: The Masses have spoken. And we are of the Masses, not apart.
"Obedience leads," wrote Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Mexico, without whom there would be no Narco News and I would no longer even try to be a journalist. Narco News, we've said this before, was an experiment in journalistic Zapatismo that, 14 million hits and a New York Supreme Court ruling later, worked beyond our best original dreams for it. The social and indigenous movements of our América really have rewritten history and given all of us a new way to fight.
If we wish to be members of this human race - of Civil Society - then we must place ourselves at the service of it, and not simply try to fight with the tyrant over control of the milking machine. We must disconnect that machine from the cow of public opinion, and destroy its mediating power.
The paradigm has already shifted. The defining battle of the early 21st century has arrived: The Masses vs. the Media. Be of good cheer, kind reader, and spread the news through all the grids of expression: The Masses never died, and neither did Revolution.
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The Medium is
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