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No Such Thing As Dissent In The Age Of Big Tech

Above Photo: Joe Lauria.

Lifelong journalist Joe Lauria joins Robert Scheer to discuss how companies like PayPal, YouTube and Facebook are quashing non-mainstream reporting and opinions on Ukraine.

“Scheer Intelligence” has been reporting on the rise of censorship in the internet age in a number of ways since the podcast was started in 2015. Now host Robert Scheer is concerned that, under the cloak of the Ukraine conflict, all forms of alternative media on the internet could soon be eliminated. Examples already abound: archival videos of Chris Hedges’ RT show “On Contact” were taken down from YouTube; social media companies like Twitter and Facebook have been shutting down any posts that challenge mainstream narratives on the Ukraine conflict;  Google AdSense recently informed publishers, including MintPress News, that, “Due to the war in Ukraine, we will pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war,” lumping any pieces that question the NATO narrative on Ukraine into the content it described; and now, both MintPress News and Consortium News, two longstanding independent media websites founded by veteran journalists, have been banned from taking donations via PayPal.

Consortium News editor Joe Lauria—who spent decades working as a reporter based at the U.N. and has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, and the Wall Street Journal, among other publications—joins Scheer on this week’s “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss what he’s ascertained led to this recent decision by the online payment platform and what these moves mean to journalism. Lauria says it must all come down to reporting by the website, founded in the early 1990s by the late journalist Robert Parry, that contextualized the current conflict in Ukraine. In various pieces, the publication examined NATO’s eastward expansion as well as the U.S. role in the violence that erupted in 2014 in Maidan Square. Lauria tells Scheer he finds it incredible that historians can examine how the 1919 Versailles Treaty led in part to World War II, but any discussion of events that led to the current Ukraine conflict is immediately censored or censured as “exploiting, dismissing, or condoning” it. According to Lauria, the site has in no way taken a “side,” meaning it has not supported either Russia’s or Ukraine’s actions; it has merely attempted to responsibly report on the nuances that he finds are so often lacking from corporate media reports on the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow.

Initially, not only had PayPal banned Consortium News from receiving new donations, but it had informed Lauria that PayPal may keep the nearly $10,000 in the news site’s account as “damages.” After this interview was recorded, PayPal relented on keeping those funds, while, as of this writing, it is still banning new donations. To Lauria and Scheer, these chilling decisions on behalf of inordinately powerful tech companies are ushering a dangerous era of censorship that is even more alarming than the McCarthy period. Listen to the full discussion between Lauria and Scheer to understand why the two journalists have come to this harrowing conclusion about Big Tech, dissent, and the future of journalism as we know it.


Host: Robert Scheer

Producer: Joshua Scheer

RS: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. I know I say that every week, but it is the truth; that’s why I’m doing this, to learn. And I want to learn today from what I consider really a significant journalist, Joe Lauria. And the reason I mention that is because he’s gone from a very important, professional journalism career in the mainstream, with Consortium News—and that was the route followed by Robert Parry, who started Consortium News in 1995.

So they were early participants in internet journalism; they have done great work for, you know, what are we talking now, decades. And suddenly they’re under attack because they dared disagree with the narrative, or some of the official narrative in the reporting about the Ukraine and Russia and so forth. One would think that democracy and a free press thrived on that kind of constructive, informed disagreement.

But I must say, as an old-time journalist, I have never experienced this kind of attack on critical thinking in the media and the political discourse, even under Joe McCarthy. Yes, I was alive then, and even doing some scribbling as a teenager. It’s worse than it was during the Vietnam War; you can take my word for that.

So let me begin, Joe. Tell us about you, Consortium News, and where are we now? It is—you know, yeah, we’ve got to worry about nuclear war, we’ve got to worry about a lot of things now, including also obviously global warming, which has been put on the shelf as a concern. But I must say, this hostility—I mean, you’ve got PayPal cut you off, you can’t even get donations to support your venture. And the alliance between big tech monopoly capitalism and the government—my god, that’s the kind of neofascism we always worried about, after all, government and big business controlling what we see. So take it away.

JL: Well, I’m glad you mentioned that it’s worse than McCarthy, because I’ve been saying that. I—unlike you, although I’m not very young either—was born just after the McCarthy period. But I always imagined what it might be like to have lived through that, and I really have to stop imagining, because I think we’re in that. And I have been arguing that we are in a worse period now than it must have been then.

There’s a lot of reasons for that, one being social media is involved; everyone has a voice right now—can start a podcast, start a webcast, can start a publication on the internet, and they can reach thousands of people with their tweets. I think that has changed the focus of censorship from an era when there were three major networks, and even up until just before social media, with just a few corporations owning all of the media, newspapers and television and radio—that they controlled that message in the government indirectly through a supposedly private and independent media.

That has changed with social media. Many, many more people, as I just said, got a voice. So I think that those people who want to control what the enforced narrative is on big issues—and there’s no bigger one right now than the war going on in Ukraine—have a big problem on their hands. Because if someone in the older days were able to just discuss with their friends or their workmates or their classmates what they heard on the news, today it’s multiplied by thousands. So they have to control the narrative in a way that they didn’t have to before, and that’s to control what’s being published on the internet.

Now, you mentioned Bob Parry. He was an Associated Press investigative reporter, a real one; he spent months on stories, they would pay in those days for a reporter to spend months on one story. And that big story for him was the Iran–Contra affair during the Reagan administration in the 1980s. Bob had some of the biggest stories, the biggest one—

RS: He’s the founder of Consortium News, we should mention.

JL: The founder of Consortium News.

RS: In 1995, so this is really—you are basic to the history of the internet. And I appreciate your coming on to talk about it. And his—I mean, he’s a legend—he obviously passed away, but really a major figure in having the good side of the internet, which is a really good side, that we got independent journalism, and it wasn’t stuck like Sy Hersh was for much of his—I was one of the first to print Sy Hersh with Ramparts magazine, so—

JL:  Wow.

RS: I remember how difficult it was to get stories out there. But Parry really showed us the power, and the potential to educate, of the internet.

JL: Yeah, so it’s kind of an online Ramparts, actually. And he started it because they were spiking his stories, the one about Oliver North that he was going to name, that only inadvertently went out on the Spanish wire by mistake, so they had to run it, the AP. And he got fed up; he went to Newsweek, same thing; they were spiking stories critical of foreign policy of the U.S. government.

So he started this in 1995, November 15, ’95. It was five days before went online. It was about two or three months before the Los Angeles Times went online, the New York Times, CNN. So Consortium News was one of the first online news sites of any kind in the United States. And Bob over the years did a lot of—he continued his investigative work, in his 1980 October Surprise story. He revealed a program of psychological manipulation in the public in the Reagan administration.

And then of course the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Consortium News was out in front of that, in showing that this was not based on evidence, and that this would be a disaster, which everybody now agrees on in Washington, that it was a disaster. And then the 2014 U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine and the influence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine was a story Bob started in 2014—

RS: OK, right now since—hold, hold it! Right now, since I’m doing this for a public radio station, NPR station, KCRW Santa Monica, very good—but if I don’t interrupt you, indeed if I don’t denounce you, if I don’t distance myself from you—

JL:  Go ahead.

RS: —they’ll get kicked off, they’ll lose their license, it’ll be a nightmare. Why? Because if you mention, which you have—actually at the time, the New York Times even covered the 2014 coup in the Ukraine, in which a supposedly pro-Russian leader was forced out, and someone who resonated with the, whatever it is, 30, 40 percent of the Russian-speaking, primarily, population. If you bring that up, then major websites—I mean, not websites, the purveyors, the people who—the trunk lines, the modern AT&T that carries the news, the [unclear] of Google, Facebook—these organizations will then ban you. Ban you.

So we should—we just stumbled on a perfect example of what we’re really here to talk about. That there’s an alliance now between government that wants to manipulate the news, particularly in a time of war, and the purveyors of media, which are the big carriers and so forth, which can block anyone because they’ll say even discussing the 2014 coup is “fake news.” And only supporting their narrative is real news. OK? By that standard, Ramparts couldn’t have existed, but much of independent journalism over the years would have been crushed. It’s now crushed, and nobody even says a word. I can’t even send you money on PayPal to support Consortium News, right?

JL:  That’s right. We were canceled a few days ago, specifically for, I believe, our reporting on Ukraine. They have a section in their user agreement for restricted activities, and it says that anyone using PayPal is restricted, ah—I’m trying to find it. It says here, you cannot provide false, inaccurate or misleading information to other PayPal customers or third parties. And they’ve sequestered $9,000 of our money that was in the PayPal account. They’ve confiscated it, and they may give it back to us, they may not, after a 180-day review. If there was a violation, a customer service agent at PayPal told me, it’s possible the money could be kept by PayPal as damages to PayPal. So they get to decide, in secret, whether whatever it is that we did—because they never gave us—

RS: Who are you damaging? Are you damaging Victoria Nuland, the U.S. official who was calling—you know, she was coaching from the sideline, you know, put this one in, this guy’s no good. I mean, people should be reminded of this manipulation of reality. You know, it’s very interesting—I just want to give you a big idea that’s driving me nuts here. If we reread Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four and everything, the whole notion was you didn’t need a real enemy—you picked a convenient enemy, and if you didn’t have one, you made one up, and you changed the name.

And the irony in all this is that I did a lot of journalism when we had, you know, in quotes, a “real enemy.” We had Soviet communism and Chinese communism, which were then pictured as designs on conquering the world, right? If you wanted to talk about the new Hitlers, certainly Stalin at one point seemed to fit that bill, and maybe you could even stretch it a bit; Mao, certainly. And yet people in what used to be a peace movement—it doesn’t exist anymore—or people who were more liberal would argue we’re exaggerating, you’ve got to think more critically, you’ve got to also criticize your own side. So we were arguing for doing independent journalism, right, when you actually could picture a real enemy that you could say is bent on conquest of the world, you know. Not of a nearby country that it had formerly been integrated with.

And so I’m not justifying the Russian invasion, but the irony here is that this is red-baiting without a red, a formidable red. And in fact we don’t want to anger China, which is really still run by a communist party, because we need them to make everything that sustains, almost everything that sustains our life during a pandemic. So we pick on Putin—OK, yeah, we got one. And the fact that Putin was picked by the U.S. to replace Yeltsin—at least supported by the U.S., because he was at least sober, and could get the trains running on time—now he’s the new Hitler. So it’s a total denial of reality, of fact.

And the idea that you would be punished for writing about what happened in 2014—how in the world could we understand what is going on in the Ukraine—you don’t have to agree on the analysis. But to say this is Orwellian: we can’t, in a journal or on a radio show, talk about the U.S.-engineered—you know, I did it, I ruined my whole career. Whatever remains at this age of 86. That I—yes, I, Robert Scheer, actually looking at the record, being in, I think, in objective journalism, would say that this whole situation in Ukraine was very much engineered and abetted by the U.S. deciding that it knew who the best people were to run the Ukraine, and mobilizing people in an election in a surreptitious way, and meddling in their politics—yes. I think the record would show that. And if that gets you kicked off radio or what have you, I guess that’s the price I have to pay. But that’s the price you paid. That’s supposed to be your crime.

JL: And this is supposed to be the United States of America, too, where that shouldn’t happen, but it is happening. That’s what’s so chilling.

RS: Ah, maybe—I’m sometimes accused of getting a little agitated here and talking too much. You tell me, really—I want to look at Consortium News, a serious news organization with a long history, a real pedigree. You know, wins prizes and everything else—just as my own website has won prizes, including from the National Press Club and everything else; Society of Professional Journalists, got one of them; you know, Chris Hedges got a Pulitzer Prize, writes for us; he’s on your board. I would like you to tell people, really—because I read what happened when they came down on you about PayPal and so forth. That 2014 story, it was the deal-breaker; that’s why you were in the target hairs.

JL: That’s one of the reasons. The other is to mention there was an eight-year civil war against eastern Ukrainian Russian speakers who resisted that coup. You can’t bring up the fact that the Minsk accord is eight years old, never implemented; the U.S. never pressured Ukraine to do that. You can’t—

RS: Can you tell people what the Minsk accord is? This is something I’ve discovered. Americans—this is what Gore Vidal used to call “the United States of amnesia.”

JL: That’s right.

RS: You know, history started at eight o’clock this morning or something.

JL: Well, why don’t they know that? Because this is being excised from corporate media reporting on Ukraine. There’s no mention of the role of neo-Nazis in that coup, in this war. What the war was, was after the coup, there were people who had voted for Yanukovych, who was the president deposed violently and unconstitutionally. They resisted this coup. And what Kyiv did, under the new president, Poroshenko, was to launch a war against these people. Thousands have been killed, and it was going on for eight years. And—

RS: This is the eastern Ukrainians who—

JL: The eastern, Donbass region bordering Russia, yes. And this is something you never hear about. You don’t hear about the Nazis, even though the corporate media did a lot of stories about—

RS: You can’t mention the Nazis. I’m sorry, that would—I’ve been fired three times already.

JL: [Laughs]

RS: You know, really, this is what censorship is all about, let’s just put it out there in the open. They are saying if you make any allegation that this place—you are just a mouthpiece for Putin.

JL: But there’s tons of evidence, has nothing to do with Putin.

RS: No, I know, but before we get to the evidence, let’s just cut to the chase, intellectually, of what is going on here. Now, one could disagree with you; one could say you’re about to exaggerate the role, or even invent it, for god’s sake. That wouldn’t be the first time in history that a journalist has gotten something wrong, or journalism.

The New York Times invented the reason for having an Iraq war. The New York Times. They also invented the reason for a guy named Wen Ho Lee, who was a respected Los Alamos scientist, for being in solitary confinement with the lights on 24/7 for nine months, claiming he gave the key nuclear secrets to the Chinese communists—the guy was from Taiwan. That’s the New York Times. But that’s real news, because they printed it.

They’re now saying if you, at Consortium News, talk about the coup of 2014 in a way that criticizes the U.S., or if you dare bring up that there are elements in Ukraine—I think it would be an exaggeration to say that they dominate, or they get a very small percentage of the vote—

JL: That doesn’t matter, that’s a red herring.

RS: I understand. But let’s say you even got it wrong. You know—so what, you know, the New York Times got the Iraq War wrong; Consortium News might have gotten the role of the neo-Nazis wrong. That doesn’t make them Putin’s agent. The next step is to arrest you for being a foreign agent. You know, that’s what’s really involved here. They’re saying if you dare—this is where Orwell comes in. If you dare utter the words supporting an alternative narrative, you are subject for elimination, arrest. Whatever, silencing. Banning your paper.

That’s what’s going on here. That’s why Julian Assange is sitting in jail there for three years in England; that’s why Edward Snowden is in Russia. And if they can get their hands on Edward Snowden for revealing uncomfortable, inconvenient truths about how the NSA works in the United States—well, they’d get him up for 170 years. You know, so we’re in a very ugly time, and I’m not playing games here when I say we could be punished for the very thing you’re saying. So defend what you’re saying. I don’t want to silence you.

JL: We were punished. PayPal cut off our account. They closed it without any reason. I only could surmise from their user agreement that they think we’ve published false information. What is that false information? What’s being left out purposely, deceptively, by the major media about these important facts to create a context for this Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And historians can talk about the Versailles treaty causing resentment in Germany, which led to the rise of Nazism in World War II, and that’s fine; that’s not excusing. But we can’t talk about the context and the causes of this war. That’s all we report; we don’t support either side. That might be a problem, because we’re not standing with Ukraine, but we are just trying to give a factual analysis of what caused this incredibly dangerous conflict.

And we are not permitted to—well, we are so far, but the walls are closing in. PayPal may be the first step. We’re worried about our bank account. We’re worried about another government-linked agency trying to sully our reputation. So there’s a lot of things going on if you don’t follow the enforced narrative about Ukraine. And it started with Russiagate, because Bob Parry was one of the first to really debunk that fantasy, which has now thoroughly been showed to be false, and there’s no doubt about that anymore. He was one of the first—

RS: For people who got tired of following that, or think it was all true because it was repeated so much, as a journalist, the idea that that case was based on a memo, the Steele memo, that was paid for by the Democratic Party—

JL: That’s right.

RS: —out of Hillary Clinton’s funds, to write a memo that became the holy grail of Russiagate, is one of the most incredible, clearest acts of media fake-news distortion—it’s hardly ever mentioned. [overlapping voices] That’s what scares me, is what’s not mentioned by—look, I’ll leave my little office here and go talk to some of my close—I’m not putting them down. I’ll talk to my neighbors, I’ll talk to my closest friends and so forth. And almost all of them will think I drank the Kool-Aid. Almost all of them will think—you know, Bob, he’s soft on Putin.

I’m not soft on Putin, I was a Gorbachev man! You know, I was in Russia when this was happening in the old Soviet Union. I reviewed Mikhail Gorbachev’s book, I was the first person in the Old Soviet Union to review it; I did it for Moscow News. I knew about the arrangement between Gorbachev and Reagan. I also interviewed Reagan at great length before he was president, and I kept in close contact with his people; I knew him when he was governor. I knew that Reagan and Gorbachev had made a deal that the end of the Soviet Union as it was, international power, and pulling back its borders, and the liberation of Germany and eventually of everything else they had, was something that was not going to come back to destroy any governance of what remained of Russia. There would be peace. That’s the big lie in this whole thing.

But if anybody challenges that, then they’re called a Putin agent—I’m not a Putin agent. The U.S. was the one that supported Putin. I thought they should have stuck with Gorbachev and help him, instead of doing—what they actually ended up doing in the Ukraine, they did to Gorbachev. Nobody ever even brings that up.

JL: Yeltsin was their pliable president that allowed Wall Street and Washington to move into the—

RS: And Putin is Yeltsin’s guy. Putin was put into Yeltsin’s group because he was sober, he didn’t drink, and he was efficient, he was in the Saint Petersburg group of reformers. They keep bringing up his KGB connection—people in Russia had lots of connections to survive under the Soviet Union, you know, but the fact of the matter is, Putin was an early opponent of Gorbachev, and the attempt to save some vestige of communism in the Soviet Union. He was with the Saint Petersburg group of reformers, for god’s sake. And he was brought in because Yeltsin couldn’t see straight, you know, because of booze; it was that simple. He couldn’t get things to function, and Putin turned out to be a superior administrator. You know, if you want, compared to Mussolini in that regard. But my god, you know, this was the guy the U.S.—the same people then meddling in the Ukraine thought would be better.

JL: Well, he wanted to join NATO and Clinton said no. But he in 2007 made that Munich security council speech in which he condemned the U.S. for the invasion of Iraq, for their unilateralism, for their aggression, and for the expansion of NATO towards Russia’s borders—which had been a promise of James Baker, George Bush’s secretary of state, that they wouldn’t expand. And Genscher, the German foreign minister—they all promised Gorbachev, but he didn’t get it in writing. But we now have the memos that have been released, that actually that promise was made.

And that’s a huge part of the reason of this war today. But you’re not going to read about that in the New York Times either, are you, Bob? Or the L.A. Times. It’s the stuff you can’t even talk about, the factual basis for this conflict. And that is not excusing the invasion; historians don’t excuse the Nazis because they talk about the role of Versailles and other causes of the Second World War. That’s what we’re trying to do in real time in journalism, is discuss the facts, and we’ve been punished—first step by PayPal, and we hope it doesn’t go further. We’re in a dangerous, dangerous time, you’re absolutely right.

RS: Yeah, but the world is in a dangerous time. And let me broaden this discussion a little bit, and then I’ll try to shut up for the last six minutes to let you have the whole show. But we’re going to revisit again, because you’ve got problems with a group called NewsGuard; you’re preparing your statement. Somebody I have had respect for, Steven Brill, who is there but he now seems to be connected with the Pentagon, and other government funding, and they’ve gone after you, but I’m going to wait until you issue your public statement, and hopefully we can do this again.

But I do want to make a point about what’s really at stake here, the big inconvenient truth: the target is not Russia; the target is China. And the Chinese know it; that’s why they signed that statement. But the Chinese have been very careful not to intervene now. But the fact of the matter is, we are angry with China not because it’s a communist nation—which it still is, run by a communist party—we like communism now. We like it in Vietnam, where we killed somewhere between four and six, seven million people, depending on whose estimate you take, in Indochina to stop communism. But we just seem to love Vietnamese communism now. And we want business to go from China to Vietnam, and we’re on Vietnam’s side in its fight over these islands with China.

But nonetheless, China is also still a communist country. And yet it’s their capitalism that we fear; it’s their ability to function in the free market, and to make products that American consumers want, as well as consumers all over the world. And I think this is a shot across the bow for China. And the reason they want—they’re saying it now, they want regime change; they want Putin to be in chains; they want war crimes trials; nobody ever brings a war crime trial for anything the U.S. does, because it’s not, it’s not torture, it’s enhanced interrogation. And so the real issue here is, I think, the further isolation of China so they don’t have a big nuclear-armed ally with also petroleum, which China doesn’t have. And they want to humble China and whip it into shape and ultimately have regime change.

And I think that’s why there’s this fierce reaction, crackdown—are you kidding? McCarthyism was child’s play compared to this. They’ve got—because at least in McCarthyism you had the New York Times, you had establishment voices declaiming against this guy. That’s not the case now. It’s coming from the Democrats. You know, in fact, they’re going to probably arrest Trump for being a Putin agent at some point. Did I just go too far? Maybe, but you know, it sometimes feels that way.

JL: It is coming from the democrats. That’s because the neocons are living inside the Democratic Party now. They have migrated from the Republicans. You know, it’s not the party of FDR anymore; there’s a lot of Democratic friends I have who don’t seem to realize that. Bill Clinton changed it by moving to the center-right, as Blair did the Labour Party in Britain, and now it’s the home of the neocons. So this is where you have to focus your criticism, and Bob Parry did that; he was a longtime Democrat who started to criticize the Democratic Party for their policies.

And they are the ones—yes, I agree China is the ultimate goal, but Russia is certainly a problem, and they want to control Eurasia, because there is now—they have actually forced Russia and China closer together, starting from six years ago, and now it’s really—they are creating a separate commercial, financial and monetary system. The U.S. is actually hurting themselves with these sanctions. The Western economies are being hurt as much or more than Russia. Russia is sufficient in fuel and food, and together with China, they have a market; they can buy stuff from China they can’t buy anymore from the West.

This is not the China of 30 years ago. I think sometimes some American policy makers act like that. This is—and you’re absolutely right, they’re worried about being eaten alive economically by China; that’s at the base of it. But they have to take care of Russia first, and I believe they set a trap for Putin in Ukraine by stirring up 60,000 Ukrainian troops that were on the border with the Donbass as part of this eight-year war, and they were going to look like, and there was a start of an offensive—the OSCE statistics show an uptick in shelling from the government side. Putin had to make a decision to go in and save these Russians or to see them get slaughtered. And he went in.

And that’s when the U.S. unleashed this economic war, this information war, and this flooding of weapons, and foreign fighters will go in and keep Russia bogged down in Ukraine for as long as possible to bleed it, the same way Brzezinski admitted the Americans did with the Soviets in Afghanistan to help bring down the Soviet Union. This is the plan—Hillary Clinton said it in MSNBC the second day after the invasion. She said that people are talking about the Afghan model.

This is what’s happening. It was a trap, and Putin went into it, and who knows how this is going to end. It could end in a nuclear confrontation between NATO and Russia. This is how dangerous it is, and the danger for us as journalists is that they’re suppressing any discussion that doesn’t go with the hysteria about what’s going on here as a democratic Ukraine being crushed by Russia. It’s way more complicated than that; we’re not allowed to say that or criticize Zelensky, who’s shutting down political parties and media and arresting leftists and others who are opponents of him in Ukraine.

It’s an ugly situation there. And we need the freedom to be able to report on this the way we like. Like you said, Bob, before, even if they disagree with us, just leave us alone! We are a small publication. We have generally 10,000 readers a day; it’s gone up to about forty on certain days now during this war, because people are hungry for an alternative view, which they can or cannot agree with; they don’t have to agree with us. But they want to stamp out any spark, the slightest spark of dissent that they think could lead to a conflagration of opposition to what they’re doing. You need the population on board when you are—and this is a proxy war; the U.S. is at war with Russia through Ukraine; they’ve been meddling in Ukraine since 1949 when they made an alliance with former fascists, Ukrainian fascists, yes, who were brought to New York, and they did subversion against the Soviet Union there.

And of course when Russia fell, as I said, the Wall Street guys went in there, impoverished the Russian people, [unclear] the former state-owned industries. And this happened in Ukraine, but Putin came to power and reversed that. That’s why they hate him. And that’s why they want a guy like Yeltsin back in there again, so they can move back in and exploit the resources of Russia, and they have continued to do that in Ukraine, because there was never a Putin-like figure, and then when Yanukovych said he wanted to take the Russian deal and not the EU association agreement—that’s when the coup happened. Because the gravy train for Western people’s interests may have ended then, and he had to be gotten rid of.

And this is a U.S., it’s a possession of the United States. Joe Biden was there as the czar of Ukraine. And I believe that he and his son and all the stuff we learned from the laptop is part of this Western carpetbagger activity inside Ukraine that was ended in Russia by Putin. And they want to get rid of him so they can go back in there and make the kinds of huge amounts of money that they did in the eighties, sorry, in the nineties under Yeltsin. This is what I think. And we can’t report this. I mean, we can so far, still, but we’re coming under pressure. And this is not American. I could say so are [overlapping voices] history of censorship in the U.S. Wilson, by the way, wanted censorship in the Espionage Act, and was defeated by one vote in the Senate, and now his getting, his dream has come true, 105 years later.

RS: Yeah, but—OK, and you know, one way we get—one way that we get attacked, and I’ll put myself in that category, is sometimes things seem so outrageous, and the lying by the establishment seems so blatant, you wonder how could they look at themselves—I mean, Hillary Clinton at a White House dinner once said I was her favorite journalist in America, in the world. She said it, it was right there as I was going through the receiving line and so forth; Bill Clinton welcomed me, you know, you didn’t get my letter, you didn’t respond—why? Because I was defending them during the Monica Lewinsky witch hunt; not Monica Lewinsky, she had every right to complain, but you know, there was a Republican witch hunt, and I was writing columns for the L.A. Times. So they loved me. And you know, I understand how that game is played.

But it also is a—when you get frustrated, as you just did—you’re angry. They’re out to get you, they’re out to destroy you—I think that’s true. They’re cutting off your limited funding to put on a publication, that’s not getting around. And no one’s denouncing—where are the liberals denouncing PayPal for taking your money that listeners, readers of your publication have sent you? They’re taking your money; there’s no liberal—you know, we have to go to the libertarians, go to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to get maybe some support that they have no right to do that. But there is no liberal conscience.

But they get us agitated. And so I just want to lighten the mood a little bit, OK, just for a second. Maybe people can’t pick it up—usually my accent, even though I’ve been out of the Bronx for about a half century, comes back; I don’t know if it did in this show. Yours is certainly still there. And I just want to tell people, we didn’t know each other—I’m 20 years older than you—but we grew up in a kind of a similar neighborhood in the Bronx. Only you went—I never thought I would be, at this point in my life, talking to, you went to Cardinal Hayes high school, right?

JL: Spellman, Cardinal Spellman.

RS: Cardinal Spellman, worse! My god.

JL: [Laughs]

RS: Cardinal Spellman was one of the guys who got us into Vietnam.

JL: That’s right. [Laughs]

RS: I wrote that history, that’s how I got into journalism. Cardinal Spellman, you know, because 10% of the population of Vietnam were Catholics, and they started this whole campaign, and we have to save their souls and everything. And so you went to a place which probably turned out more conservatives than everything else. And I went to City College. Now I don’t know—

JL: So did I, City College of New York.

RS: Ah! “Allagaroo, garoo, gara!” God, that’s incredible. So, two City College guys here. And—which I think is a great tribute to the greatest college America ever had; forget that place the Jefferson started—

JL: Harvard of the proletariat.

RS: Yeah, it’s insulting to the City College to call it the Harvard of the proletariat. Come on, Bertrand Russell taught there and actually got forced out. And we had more Nobel Prize winners—at one point I checked it, City College had more Nobel Prize winners than any undergraduate college in America.

JL: That’s right. No longer true?

RS: I don’t know, I haven’t checked it out, we have a hell of a lot of ‘em. And you know—yeah, it’s a great school. It’s one of the few things that I give money to. I’m not allowed to do any fundraising here, but you know. And generally you lived at home when you went there, right?

JL: I did, yep. Took the subway down.

RS: Yeah, we didn’t have any dormitories or anything. You got on the IRT, you went down to 26th Street, and then you came back up the other way to 134th or whatever it is.

JL: Yeah, that’s right, and I had to walk from the 120th street.

RS: And the exciting thing about where it was, it was in Harlem. And Harlem had the highest level of culture in America at that point, the greatest music, the greatest poetry and everything. And it was a hell of a school. And so I want to say, first of all, I’m thrilled that you are this leading figure in American journalism challenging this dominant narrative. And I want to end on one last little point, though. Because people are going to say, but this guy Joe Lauria, he keeps bringing up—you know, I was agreeing with him, and then he brought up Afghanistan, and Vietnam and all that.

And the reason that might sound a little surprising, saying that we wanted to give Putin his Vietnam—because that’s what the Ukraine is about. They wanted Putin stuck with an unpopular war in which he’s against people that are fighting for their independence and freedom—which we never admitted that the Vietnamese were fighting for their independence and freedom and nationalism. And of course they had a good pedigree; Ho Chi Minh had led the fight against French colonialism and so forth. I happen to have known Zbigniew Brzeziński quite a bit—well, knew him, interviewed him and profiled him, in actually the first piece I ever did for the L.A. Times when I went to work there, in my three decades there. Then he got upset with my piece, complained to the publisher and tried to get me fired.

But what you are referring to is actually an interview that Zbigniew Brzeziński—and this is a good little bit of history to take a little longer time on it, because it really goes to what is at the heart of American foreign policy and its meddling. And the fact is that the U.S. had backed the mujahideen against a secular government in Afghanistan that was close to the Soviets, OK? You could say whether they were puppets or close or what have you. And they had their own faults [but] they were secular. Secular—you couldn’t blame religious fanaticism, Muslim fanaticism on them. And the U.S.—and it happened under Jimmy Carter, there’s no question—backed these mujahideen, who morphed into, eventually, Al Qaeda, with the recruits from outside; there weren’t enough wilder, radical Muslims in Afghanistan, they had to recruit them from all over the world. It’s a story that by now is well documented.

And Zbigniew Brzeziński was confronted by the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur, about how could you have backed these Muslim fanatics, you know, against a government because it was allied with the Soviet Union, that basically was supporting the right of women to go to schools and restraining religion? And he made this famous statement—and it’s been accepted, it’s true, it was never challenged even when he was alive, as far as I know—he said, what should I apologize for? Some crazy—I forget the exact words, I don’t have it in front of me—some riled-up Muslims, or the collapse of the Soviet Union? Which he attributed to dragging them into this Afghan war. And so what he meant was that the Soviets got involved—we gave them their Vietnam. And that’s what—and it didn’t work there, because clearly the mujahideen radicals were not great freedom fighters. But now we have it: we have the perfect narrative in the Ukraine.

JL: Three years after that—sorry, Bob—three years after that interview, 9/11 happened, by those “riled-up Muslims.”

RS: Yeah, that’s why Nouvel Observateur did that—yeah, why they were pursuing that, because they already were doing stuff around the world, Islamic fanaticism—which is a minority of Islam, I hasten to say, very much so. Just as Cardinal Spellman was a minority of the Catholic Church [Laughter] when he did Vietnam. [Overlapping voices] But leaving that aside, I’m not going to hold you responsible for the namesake of your high school. [Laughter]

But the fact of the matter is, they have found in Vietnam—and I think they are incredibly manipulative, as you say, these people, these neocons—actually they started, some of them, as Cold War Democrats. I think Richard Perle and others, and Scoop Jackson [unclear] to the Republican Party, and now they’re happily in the Biden administration in very high positions, Robert Kagan and so forth, and his wife I mean, Victoria Nuland. And they think they have the perfect scenario.

And I want to end on this and take just a few more minutes. Because it’s not just China. I think what we’re talking about here now is the, finally, the American reincarnation of the good Roman Empire. Not the bad Roman Empire, the good Roman Empire, you know. And what we’re talking about with this alliance with the EU and everything is an end to any kind of internal criticism. We’re not going to have any French fries changing the name, and France complaining about the Iraq War. We have unanimity—even Finland, which you know, Sweden—apostles of neutrality or independents are now going to join in. And basically a white, Western capitalist world, and it doesn’t bother them that the nations that represent a majority of the world’s people are not with them on this—India, China and so forth are opposed to their course.

But what I see here, and this will probably get me labeled a conspiracy nut, but I don’t see anything that’s secret about it—this is a view of American innocence, American exceptionalism, that means we’ve always been trying to—what Ronald Reagan said, that city on the hill. That we’ve always been out to make the world, yes, in our image, but proudly because we represent democracy, human freedom—no one else has an approach.

And in that joint Chinese-Russian statement, which I would urge people to look at, that they signed just before the Olympics, they have this heresy. They say, you know, what democracy are you talking about? How do you define democracy? Who gets to define it? What’s the role of nationalism? What’s the role of different views around the world? And why are you the preemptive owners of the meaning of democracy? Isn’t that supposed to be a continual work in progress? I think that’s the issue here. If you’re doing journalism of the kind you are, Joe Laurie, then you don’t deserve the First Amendment’s protection because you’re not a real journalist, right?

JL: Let me tell you—

RS: And you don’t believe in real democracy. Real democracy lines up behind Rome. Rome, Rome, Rome—and that’s what we have [overlapping voices] and then I’m going to end.

JL: OK, let me tell you about me not being a real journalist. I worked 25 years based at UN headquarters as a correspondent for the Boston Globe. Six years for the Wall Street Journal. I was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London. Worked for the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, and many other newspapers. So I come out of the establishment. So does our deputy editor; she was an editor at the Wall Street Journal. One of our columnists, Patrick Lawrence, was the Asia editor of the International Herald Tribune. We have CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou as a columnist.

We come out of the establishment; we saw what was going on inside. We know what we’re talking about for the most part, and we’re here to give a different viewpoint. And we’re being punished for this, and we are being threatened. And as far as Rome—I mean, America has been an empire, in my view, from the very beginning, when they wiped out Native American sovereign territory, and certainly when they reached California where you are, that was the end, so they went on to the Spanish war to take the Philippines and Puerto Rico and attack Cuba.

And it’s never stopped. The U.S. was started with an invasion: the invasion of Europeans, of white people, to wipe out the Native population. It started with an invasion, and has never really been invaded except by the British in 1812. We don’t understand what it’s like to be invaded the way Russia does. Russia has been invaded by the premier power of the 19th century and the 20th century, Napoleon and Hitler. So they saw the expansion of NATO; they saw Ukraine being turned into a de facto NATO state as a threat. We have to understand that even if we don’t agree with the invasion and the move, that perhaps it doesn’t follow Article 51 of the charter. According to the UN charter, the invasion is illegal. I make an argument in one of my articles that if you look at the just war theory of the Catholic Church—which I’m sure Cardinal Francis Spellman wasn’t all that keen on, maybe—but that is maybe an argument for what Russia did. But that doesn’t rule the world now. The UN Security Council does.

So this is where we come from. Yes, we criticize empire; it’s been an empire, it became a global empire after the Second World War, when the whole world was devastated except the U.S., and they found themselves with bases all over the world and they never looked back, and every time they want to attack a new nation to bring it under their control, they name that leader as Hitler, right? Milošević, Noriega, Saddam, Putin—they’re all Hitler, because America keeps reliving World War II, when they were the good guys.

Well, they’re not. The idea of spreading democracy and shining cities on the hill is child’s play, and it’s a shame that any American believes any of that crap. They have to look at the economic and geopolitical interests of America’s foreign policy and their aggressive, violent foreign policy of invading nations. Like Panama, like Iraq, like Afghanistan, and many, many others; Vietnam.

So this is the American history. This is the story of America that we were able to tell, and we’re still telling, but we’re worried that we’re not going to be able to for much longer. We’ve moved into a whole new phase of this empire. And of repression of free speech. And Julian Assange, I’m glad you mentioned him, because he is the symbol of this era—he has been punished the most for revealing those crimes of the empire. That is what you can’t do. Look what they did to him, and now they’re moving in on small players like us, and nothing like what they’re doing to him, but they’re expanding it; they want to stamp out every spark, like I said, of dissent.

RS: Well. That’s a frightening warning, and you’re making it quite personal here, and I agree. You’re in the target hairs now; there’s no question. And I understand your concern; these are powerful people. They control the flow of information, they can make up information. I mean, I would remind people that McCarthyism really was not as dangerous as what COINTELPRO and the whole fake news—look, who were the people who tried to drive Martin Luther King to suicide? The FBI, still, yes, under J. Edgar Hoover, but reporting to Bobby Kennedy, somebody I got to know quite well, and under Lyndon Johnson; Democrats were in power, and they knew what Hoover were up to and what he was doing. And they didn’t stop him, because Martin Luther King dared challenge the war in Vietnam, and said his government is the major purveyor of violence in the world today.

So I agree with you about the history of imperial power. But I do want to—I’m going to get the last—ah, I’ll let you have the last word if you object to what I’m saying. I think the saving grace of America is that somehow or other, we had a notion of suspicion of power. That the founders, because they were objecting to the English empire and were revolutionaries and under pressure from the common folk—male, at least, but probably plenty of women agreed even though they didn’t have any votes—you know, put in those amendments protecting our freedom; put in separation of powers. And people like Joe Lauria, my guest today, have been the people who have stayed true to that mandate that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Now, under fear of Trump, fear of made-up enemies, real enemies around the world and what have you, this Orwellian world, we have, we’re down to a situation where today I am talking to an editor, one of the leading dissenting editors on the internet, who actually has a legitimate concern, certainly to begin with, to be bankrupted, to have his publication closed for economic reasons. But also to end up having his patriotism challenged, his loyalty, being called an agent of foreign governments.

This is McCarthyism on speed. This is not McCarthyism. McCarthy was a drunken senator, and not all that photogenic, who was running into very stiff opposition because he was taking on people in the Eisenhower administration. You now have this whirlwind of establishment news organizations, politicians and so forth, calling for the head of anyone who dares challenge their narrative. Free press be damned. And that is a really scary moment. We’ve had a lot of them. I’m going to try to talk to Joe Lauria again in a few days. I need a class of water to get the words out right.

But that’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. I want to thank Christopher Ho and the great staff at KCRW, the wonderful public NPR station in Santa Monica, for carrying these shows, these podcasts. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer. Natasha Hakimi Zapata, our editor and who writes the intro. Lucy Berbeo, who does the transcription. And the JKW Foundation for giving us support to keep going. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

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