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Who is David Hoffman and... what is "Internews"?
"I’ve gone back and forth when researching Internews. One moment I read of some admirable new accomplishment that they’re celebrating and wonder if I’m being unfair. The next I uncover a new contradiction or dubious quotation that makes my jaw drop so far its become dislocated."
“I hate that word - peace”
Ah, Internews. If you and your army of media savvy soldier-trainees work hard you’ll soon rid the world of the kind of monsters who would ever say such a thing. March on, brave soldiers, march...oh, wait a minute. I must have my notes mixed up (shuffle, shuffle...). I’m sorry. No, it wasn’t Saddam Hussein who said that. It wasn’t Osama Bin Laden, a Medellin kingpin or some Afghani warlord. It was David Hoffman, president of Internews, the dynamic, California based “NGO” that “fosters independent media in emerging democracies, produces innovative television and radio programming and Internet content, and uses the media to reduce conflict within and between countries.”
Hold on, let me double check. No, that’s what he said alright. (“Wired” Magazine, Dec. 1995) But surely that’s not what he meant. Ah, here’s his explanation. “I learned early on in New York, talking with network execs, that you so much as mention the word peace and you can see their faces fall.” See? I told you so. I knew there was a good...expla-...uh, well then, why did he say “I” hate that word? I’m sorry. I’m getting confused. But get used to it. Confusion is what it’s all about when when you start getting close to Internews. Perusing their websites, reading articles by and about them. After awhile, well, things just begin to smell funny.
My first hint came when a friend, recently hired by them at the time, stopped by one day, gave me a funny look and said, “you know, they’re all republicans.” The horror. Now as distasteful as this concept may be, (and to whatever extent it may be true) I really didn’t care all that much at the time. That was years ago when Internews was based in a little dilapidated house just accross 8th street from the co-op downtown. I’d never heard of them before and wasn’t all hung up about where my friend was pulling in a paycheck. But one day he gave me some of their literature, very slick and polished. It outlined their mission. Apparently this hundred year old hovel was the “world headquarters” for a global organization dedicated to using “independant media” as a weapon against the most repressive regimes and bringing the first amendment to oppressed areas of the world, struggling for a free voice amidst blood-shed and turmoil. But there was still something vaguely...well, vague about their brochure. Just enough to pique my interest. A seed was planted. Suspicions ensued.
As fate would have it their world “HQ” was right on my route. For years my primary (only) physical/ spiritual ablution has been my regular walks to the Arcata marsh and wildlife sanctuary. Fresh air, trees and birds. Once my friend had alerted me to the hive of republican activity seething in this little old, leaning house I began to take notice. In an article aptly entitled “Arcata’s Best Kept Secret” published in a local weekly in 2003 the writer describes his visit to Internews at their new digs across town as “a disorienting experience. One moment it’s foggy, tie-dyed, laid back Arcata; the next it’s a whirlwind of activity reminiscent of a high-level think-tank in Washington, D.C. Telephones ring, fax machines screech, people scurry about...Something, a lot, is going on here.”
But here the confusion sets in again. Every single time I walked by their “world headquarters,” without exeption, there was no activity of any kind, republican, democratic, Episcopalian...nothing. And the mini-blinds were always in their closed and locked down position, first and second floor. No one going in or out, no one sitting on the stoop smokin’ a ciggy or catching some rays. I understand computers are best used in darkened rooms but I walked by that house literally hundreds of times, at all times of the day, and it was always, every time, the “HQ” of complete in-activity. Seeds germinate. Suspicions multiply.
Internews was founded in 1982 in San Francisco by David Hoffman and two friends who had impressed him with their use of TV in broadening the exposure of various anti-nuclear activities. An anti-nuke activist himself Hoffman had also been involved in labor organizing in the ‘70's. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, he completed doctoral work at the University of Colorado, before getting busy as a peace-nik. Before Internews came along he spent three years living “barefoot in the woods” and reading philosophy in southern Humboldt County, California, apparently after having been disturbed by a viewing of “Taxi Driver” at the movies. “I knew then that I had to leave Western civilization.” But not long after his earthy exile he and his new partners made some impressive strides in their field. They first produced a series of “space-bridges,” televised links between American and Soviet audiences who discussed a variety of subjects via satellite as their governments ground on through the heart of the cold war.
In the late ‘80's ‘space-bridges” evolved into an ABC/Soviet State TV produced series called “Capitol to Capitol” which allowed members of Congress and the Supreme Soviet to debate all manner of sticky topics and see each other up close, a major societal advance for it’s time. It’s important for aging white male politicians to realize that they’re really not so different from, well, other aging white male politicians. This noble effort won Internews an Emmy and its star truly began to rise in earnest. Other examples of positive change attributable to the hard work and diligence of this focused band of philanthropists soon followed, many of which can be read about on their website, a source of much interesting information concerning these intrepid free-speechers.
When the iron curtain fell Internews then used its Soviet connections to move into Russia, its initial, idealistic advance into troubled, struggling democracies abroad, areas hungry for media that delivers something other than state-sponsored propaganda. And so began an expansion that has included not just a ubiquitous presence in the former Soviet Union but bold moves into other politically sensitive areas of the world as well. Internews has offices now in 29 countries, a $20 million budget and a newly refurbished HQ next to the post office in downtown Arcata.
Roughly 20% of Internews funding comes from a broad range of standard philanthropic outfits, some of which are familiar to those of us who enjoy Public Television, a perennial but endangered outpost in the arid expanses of televised news programming. Among these are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Kellogg Foundation, the John D. and Katherine T. Macarthur Foundation and others. Just the kind of donors you’d expect for such an idealistic endeavor. George Soros has also fed the kitty and is one of Internews’ most ardent supporters. But as we go on down the list we notice other interesting entries, ones we don’t typically equate with such egalitarian concerns. Among these are AOL/TimeWarner, GE, the Ford Foundation, Microsoft and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Also appearing on this lengthy support list of anti-government-media-control mavens are a swarthy gaggle of government agencies from all over the world, including France, Russia, Germany, Austria, Canada, Britain, Sweden and Greece. But the long list of U.S. governmental agencies is hard to miss as well. Unesco, the U.S. Information Agency, the U.S. Office of Transition Initiatives (part of the U.S. Agency for International Development, a major Internews funder) are but a few.
Now I understand that burgeoning organizations dedicated to positive change are many, and the funds needed to drive them are scarce and coveted. We mustn't judge Internews too harshly for drawing from a well fed by so many streams. I’ve been the recipient of financial manna from different quarters at various times without always caring about their final, cosmic rectitude. And it’s worth mentioning again that the contributors listed above (just a sample of over a hundred donors listed on the Internews website) in total amount to approximately 20% of the Internews budget. That implies that the average donation by any single one of these funders must be relatively modest at best, (a small fraction of roughly a fifth of a $20 million war chest) surely nothing that would break their back if it was rudely rescinded
This issue of being able to work independently of pressure from financial sources is no joke for most honest, hard working, do-gooder groups. David Annable, head honcho at the International Center for Journalists and another figure quoted in the “Northcoast Journal” article, makes a key point of keeping any such deference to donors at an absolute minimum (his team enjoys U.S. governmental support amounting to about 30% of its total budget). Clearly, when it comes to journalists doing their jobs objectively this kind of independence is critical.
But then again Internews is not a journalistic enterprise. They are not in the business of disseminating news for general consumption. Internews’ mission is to politically overcome the regional constraints that typically paralyze the efforts of those trying to bring freedom of speech (in the form of uncensored media) to areas that often haven’t experienced it before, and may not even know what it looks like. Part of this effort involves a formidable legal department that conducts training seminars in media law. A great deal of energy and money is spent shaping legal guidelines in areas of the planet targeted for enlightenment. Good. Sounds like a rational establishment of priorities, the kind necessary to get “free and open” media started out on the right foot.
Another thing that comes through full force when you peruse any of the many Internews websites (many of the 29 countries where Internews has set up shop have their own offices and web-pages) is the emphasis they place on the training of literally legions of journalists and media people that are subsequently exported all over the world to do their thing. Almost a decade ago Internews began giving “an accelerated education to more than 1,000 journalists, producers and station managers at more than 250 independent stations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Each year Internews brings over working vets from American TV to train the new foot-soldiers.” And this from a current brochure; “Since 1992 Internews has trained over 22,000 media professionals.”
“We have two criteria for the stations we help. First, the station has to be private. They can get a certain amount of state money, but most of it has to be non-governmental.” This quote from the Moscow executive director of Internews, Manana Aslamazyan, (appearing in the same “Wired” magazine article mentioned above) seems inocuous enough, about what you’d expect from such a conscientious crew. In fact this 1995 article is interesting in many ways (find it buried at the bottom of the “Articles About Internews” page on their website. And no, it’s not an alphabetical list). Evelyn Messinger, one of the original three founders, goes on to explain; “TV news in Russia has taken off, vastly improving its image, objectivity and range of reporting.” And; “Few former peaceniks carry the clout and budget Hoffman now commands, and probably even fewer would take up the government banner as avidly.”[my emphasis] Ooo, and this too; “...the head of Ukranian state TV has asked us to do all the news on the state channel too.” Wow. Seems Internews has really done their work well. And that was in 1995. But, once again, confusion stalks us at every turn when we begin asking questions about who they are and what they do.
Demanding accountability from those you’re about to loose your ideological load on is certainly understandable. Insisting that stations reaping aid from Internews be mostly non-governmental in backing makes good sense. But what I neglected to mention above was where the rest of Internews’ budget comes from. In addition to the long list of U.S. and international governmental agencies included in the 20% of funders listed above, Internews has other governmental funders as well that make up not the humble 30% that the International Center for Journalists cautiously allows itself. Nor does it adhere to the “mostly non-governmental” conditions required by them for their aid to others. A unsettling 80% of Internews’ budget comes from the U.S. State Department and USAID. Not only does this fact starkly contradict the conditions on which Internews bases it’s aid to media outposts in “struggling democracies” abroad but think of how 80% government funding reflects on the NGO (non-governmental organization) status that Internews smugly advertises on its web-sites and brochures (we’ll get to the subject of advertising later).
But Mr. Hoffman is there again with another of his glib explanations for anything looking untoward; “ I don’t get much pressure” he says. He always puts me at ease. At least the pressure he does get isn’t “much.” In fact he blames the government itself for its own inability to understand Internews’ noble mission. They just can’t distinguish between what Internews is trying to do and what other governmental agencies (including the military) want them to do. Well, they certainly must be distinguishing something, to the tune of roughly $16 million in endowments. Dilemma, dilemma. But I’m sure Mr. Hoffman will use part of the next check he gets from the U.S. government to do a study and get to the bottom of this awkward conundrum.
As for the invitation to do “all the news” on the state channel in Ukraine, well that can only be topped by their plan (circa 1995) to do a “daily newscast for independent stations from Moscow.” Besides the obvious contradictory nature of this statement (all along Internews has advocated for de-centralized local news-casts) this begins to violate the whole idea of Internews not being a news disseminating organization but rather fostering the means to disseminate various points of view. But we get these contradictions everywhere with Internews...and with David Hoffman.
Before he hit the woods to “zen” himself up in the ‘70's (an effort he credits as being the catalyst for overcoming his “new-left Marxism,” making one wonder exactly what “woods” he was wandering “barefoot” in) Hoffman was apparently involved in the anti-nuclear crusade so popular at the time. But, as I mentioned, he was also active in union organizing, another noble endeavor. So I did the first thing many modern researchers do when they want to learn more about someone or something. I “Googled” him. But I must say I was disappointed and, dare I say it again, confused. For the president of an international organization with outposts all over the world there was, well, next to nothing. There were links to the various op-ed pieces he’s done for the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. But there was very little on David Hoffman the man. In all the research I’ve done on him I’ve found only one example of his labor organizing, and that in his own words (and I’m not making this up); “I even did one at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The first union of nuclear weapons scientists.” So. His egalitarian efforts even extend to those on the opposite side of the philosophical fence. What a guy. An anti-nuclear activist supporting the labor rights of nuclear scientists, presumably, of course, to allow them to do their work more effectively and efficiently (Is it just me or is the room beginning to spin?)
With such a preponderance of contradictions and ambiguity it’s no wonder that Internews has kept such a low profile. I live in this tiny town and have never heard anyone mention a single word about Internews, ever (except my friend who worked there and, of course, the recent “Northcoast Journal” article). But yet again Hoffman has an explanation; “It’s really my personality. Believe it or not I’m ultimately a shy person.” This from a man some describe as one of the most successful and aggressive fund raisers presently active in the business; “Even during his eco-stage he was a promoter at heart...Hoffman is a man rarely without words...”(“Wired”)
But apparently Internews is enjoying a new era in openness and accessibility. In September of 2003 they had an “open house,” finally letting the world in to see the new facility, look around and ask questions. Good for them. All who were interested were welcome. Sure, c’mon over. Unless, of course, you don’t have an invitation! Yup, that’s right. An “open house,” hosted by an “NGO” preaching “open media,” 80%+ funded by your tax dollars, but you can’t get in without an invitation!
But that’s OK. You never know what party crashing crazies might want to, I don’t know, steal toilet paper or double dip Doritos. Besides, its tedious trying to explain to lay-people what they do at Internews. Rick Garza, vice-president of administration and finance, has apparently given up; “I just don’t explain what I do.” Why should he? Us outsiders won’t understand anyway. But Hoffman has an out for this as well; “People would ask me what I do and I’d tell them about the size [of Internews] and it would distance them and I hated that.” (Hmph. For someone who hates the word “peace” he sure is a sensitive kind of guy) Yeah, best just have hand picked insiders at the “open house.” It’ll save on all those tedious explanations (and Triscuits and brie).
We see this condescension everywhere at Internews, a reflection of an attitude that’s like a creeping sickness in the ol’ U.S. of A. As if these odd examples of Internews’ enigmatic disposition weren’t alone cause for doubt, everyone of Internews’ op-ed’s, articles, press releases and brochures parallel in tone and wording what is an increasingly disturbing trend in our contentious, arrogant society in general, but especially in the aggressive global policy practiced by the neo-cons and the Bushites in particular. Namely this brash, tawdry idea that America knows what’s best, for everyone.
I think it’s a myth. I don’t think the people of the world are anywhere near as covetous of our lifestyle as we’re told they are. And I can’t imagine a more depressing scenario than for the world to take our lead in government and cultural matters. Personally I believe our country, our culture, is in absolute crisis, a condition that’s thoroughly and insidiously sanitized by who? Our mainstream, “western-style” mass-media, the archetype for what Internews hopes to ship abroad. And herein lies what I believe to be the ugliest aspect of the “altruistic” motives behind the “noble” work of Internews.
“We pick them up by the scruffs of the neck and show them how to do this stuff...We create them.” “Americans care about this whole democracy thing, far more than the Europeans or Canadians do.” “What I tell the Azeris is ‘friendship has its privileges, and if you want to be America’s friend you have to do a few things.’” “At training seminars she asks the Azeris to play a “democracy game” by choosing an item in the conference room that reminds them of democracy. The Azeris point to the rooms open door, to its light switches and its windows: symbols of freedom and light.” These quotes are from an article, “The Dream Merchants,” listed on Internews’ own website under the tab “Articles about Internews.” “This evangelical zeal, combined with Washington’s vast resources, helps to project U.S. diplomatic power into every corner of the globe.” “But today, it is the Americans who buzz importantly around this city [Baku, Azerbaijan]...and they struggle to...import American ideas and implant an American-style democracy in a long hostile land.” And this from their Africa page; “I've never met HIV-positive people before. Your workshop made them real for me, and made me realize they’re people too.” So this is what it sounds like when doves cry.
It’s one of the first things you notice when you check out their presentations...Internews’ obsession with all the “Stans.” Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan (not to mention Armenia, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Ukraine (and Indonesia and East Timor). These targeted regions are familiar to anyone who’s knowledgeable about the dominant western oil consortiums rabid oil mania and how they’ve had Central Asia, the Caspian Basin and the Mideast smack dab in the crosshairs for years. But these areas are also a central focus of the expansionist plans of the neo-cons and the super-patriot agenda of the Plan for the New American Century (PNAC), many years in the making.
It’s an extremely disturbing thought to ponder. When you take the to-do list of our energy policy’s hawkish, self-righteous and covetous drive for dominance and control of our planet’s last remaining oil rich regions, and superimpose them onto the perky, idealistic goals of the open-media movement, spearheaded as it is by high-minded Internews, we see two movements warmly spooning in a comfy, global feather bed of self-interest. The PNAC is on record as stating that all it would need to push the play button on their plans for a move into these hydro-carbon laden lands is a “Pearl Harbor-like event” that would catalyze the American public into a massive cheer-leading squad, eager to send our boys and girls “over there” to “defend” America yet again by attacking foreigners on their own soil, murder the pesky ones who stand tall in the saddle and then send in the Haliburtons and the Bechtels to build oil wells and lay pipeline.
And right on schedule, that event miraculously transpired. But I don’t want to get into the obvious and unthinkable fraud of 9/11 here. Whether you believe that the attacks were allowed to happen, (a response for decades of abuse and provocation by our government towards the Islamic nations native to these oil-soaked regions) or you are like a growing number of people who are convinced that 9/11 was entirely an inside job, the internet is glutted with information on this subject and I hardly need to go into it now. I have more to say about Internews.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Internews was responsible for the tidal wave of spin that has allowed these horrendous events to be left unscrutinized by a lamentably gullible public. That was the job of our own criminally complicit, domestic mass-media, the most polished and subtle misinformation machine ever brought to bear on anyone anywhere, all the more insidious for its suited, buttoned-down respectability and big-money overproduction.
As far as Internews is concerned I think that the ideas expressed in the quotations above in “The Dream Merchants” and the Internews website say it all. Their army of soldier-trainees may very well be meant for something quite different. Once again “Wired” magazine (under) states it best; “Of course many might look upon Hoffman’s history of absconding with U.S. public monies to infiltrate Russia’s airwaves and to establish mega-advertising nodes among millions of new consumers as suspicious and ethically complex.” No. Internews? Ethically complex? How could you think such a thing. You know what you are? You’re negative.
And for good reason. According to “Wired” Russia’s airwaves were significantly diversified almost a decade ago, admittedly with Internews’ assistance. Listen to the response Soviet dissident Larisa Bogoroz gave in 1991 to the question, “could the clock [of Soviet tyranny] be turned back?” “Never. Television won’t allow it.” If this famous activists answer held water 13 years ago why then the mass-training of yet more legions of “trainees” now that they appear to have gotten the ball rolling? You’ve trained an army of westerners, who’ve trained an army of Russians, who will presumably train an army of their comrades. But once the back of state-controlled news programming is broken and the seeds of independent journalism are well sown by your intrepid posse of “media soldiers” then it stands to reason that you should pack up your stuff, go on home and leave the rest of the job to the people who live there. C’mon, Internews can’t ever have been thought to become a permanent presence in foreign lands or an industry unto itself. That can’t have been the aim of an outfit dedicated to bringing a free voice to the oppressed.
Certainly when “aid” morphs into “industry” questions have to be asked. What is Internews’ exit strategy once the objective has been secured? And why this morbid obsession with the “Stans” of Central Asia if not for something other than altruistic reasons? Russia is a massive country and yet only modest portions of oily Central and Western Russia apparently suffer this awful media manipulation left behind after the collapse of the “evil empire.” There’s no Internews Kamchatka or Internews Siberia. If Internews is so concerned about curbing the controls of state and corporate manipulated media what better place to initiate the experiment than back in the U.S.S.A. whose mainstream media is as shameful an aberration on free speech as you could ever hope to set your high-minded sights on. Ruder still for its having put itself forward as a paradigm of “free and open media” to an already Yankee besieged world.
And this thing of “going into” places and setting things right, this is serious business, to be resorted to only under the direst of circumstances and the most particular of conditions (including, as it should, wide international support). What is this mass-petulance that drives Americans to feel that they have to sort out the problems of countries halfway around the globe when our own track record of dealing with similar problems at home is so sadly wanting? There’s a family down the street who I feel could use some advice on raising their kids, but I’m not going to knock on their door and offer any. How would most Americans respond to some foreign agency “going into” us and rearranging things in a way they felt more suitable to their righteous ideals? We’d call it stark aggression, hire Tobey Keith to write a war ballad and send them all home in body bags, that’s how.
In a Washington Post OP-ED David Hoffman offers advice on how to deal with the prevalence of anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda roaring (understandably) from Muslim controlled TV and radio. We must “begin to insist that governments in countries with majority Muslim populations prohibit this kind of hate propaganda. U.S. foreign assistance should be made conditional on recipients’ meeting a set of basic journalistic standards that we apply to our own society.” Is he kidding? Besides the hypocritical implication of censorship cloaked in this lofty statement the vilification of Muslims has appeared as a staple in our own media for decades. “The axis of evil,” “the evil empire,” the synonymous nature of the words “Muslim” and “terrorist,” these are images we’re fed such a daily diet of that we’re actually beginning to believe it.
And a glaring clue that Internews and David Hoffman primarily adhere to essentially mainstream, State Department-style posturing is this. There sure as hell isn’t any Internews Israel. Our Zionist bosom buddy’s disinformation apparatus is practically legendary, second only, perhaps, to our own. On the Internews website you can click on a tab under “Regions” that brings you to the “Mideast” page. Not a single word about Israel, despite this from Hoffman in an April 2002 article; “Thirty independent television channels and 11 independent radio stations operated in the West Bank before the Israeli army offensive forced many to shut down,” the only words I’ve heard about Israel in any of their literature And even this statement isn’t commented on in any way. It’s just mentioned in passing. Yet Hoffman is rarely lacking expansive commentary about Arabs and their need to lighten up. In fact much of his commentaries in print focus on the Muslim states and their need to get with the program (the Arabic Media Internet Network, AMIN, is officed in Jerusalem and does appear on this page, but it’s essentially just a web-site serving the entire mideast, compared to, for instance, Internews’ sprawling involvement in Azerbaijan).
Hoffman’s rhetoric is always standard, “we must win the war on terrorism” style fare, almost as though Thomas Freidman was sitting on his shoulder, always there to pitch in and lend a hand. But don’t take my word for it. Read Freidman’s glowing endorsement on their “Internet Issues” page. If Internews was truly as fair-minded as they claim would they really enjoy such ardent support from an arch-Zionist cheerleader like Freidman? In Hoffman’s writings (a modest number of usually short op-ed pieces, despite Internews’ claim that he has “written widely”) Muslims are always referred to in a patronizing, deprecating way, the hallmark of conservative, business-as-usual western propaganda. And, typical of this rhetoric, its always the sacred task of the “enlightened ones” (us) to help them (the primitives) see the light. I’m tired of this drivel, but its useful for showing us someone’s true, ideological colors. And I’m deeply concerned about the dark tint on David Hoffman’s sunglasses.
“The U.S. should take the lead in training and equipping a new generation of journalists in Iraq and the Middle East.” (OP-ED, The Christian Science Monitor) Why? What business is it of ours? If we really want to persuade our Muslim friends that our aim is true it’s imperative that we show it in our policy, not on our TV shows! The Muslim nations of the world seem to have done alright without our help for the past few thousand years. The xenophobia and fundamentalism of the Arabic countries isn’t a result of a congenital backwardness in the Muslim mind or a nasty spell of sand-sickness. It’s a familiar pathology seen in regions that have been deeply traumatized by years of widespread, soul-crushing war and misery.
The advent of fanatical ideologies in countries that have been subjugated and humiliated is a relatively common phenomenon. The rise of Third Reich hardliners is thought by many historians to have been the result of the years of inhuman treatment allotted to post WWI Germans by the brutal Treaty of Versailles. The Khemer Rouge was only a marginal reactionary movement before the U.S. bludgeoning of Cambodia and Viet Nam. But perhaps the example most germaine to this topic is the Taliban. Unless you’ve been living in a cave (bad choice of words) you know that Afghanistan is a piece of meat warred over by dogs of many pedigrees for as long as can be recalled. Like scabs forming over a festering wound, or a callous appearing in an area chafed and irritated, the rise of fundamentalism has origins tracable to extended periods of suffering, conditions that even armchair historians are familiar with.
The Muslim nations aren’t angry with us because they’re envious of our way of life, despite what our own corporate-fueled politburo has programmed us to think. The Muslims of the world hate us because they’ve been brutilized and humiliated by Great Britain, the United States and their punchy little brother Israel for generations! Whether you’re talking about the creation of Iraq by the British, the overthrow of Mossedeg in Iran and the installation of the Shah, the legacy of U.S. backed Israeli violence and encroachment in the occupied territories, or the years that the U.S. had Saddam Hussein on the payroll, painting an unfair portrait of Islamic nations as a breeding ground for misguided, violent malcontents is irresponsible and dangerous. And Mr. Hoffman’s patronizing rhetoric betrays him as the most common type of pro-western, mainstream ideologue.
But again, it may not be propaganda that motivates him. This quote from “The Oregonian” (1998) alludes to the training by Internews of Russians making TV ads; “Craig Johnston has been teaching the former communists about television production under the auspices of Internews...‘Internews has determined that if privately owned stations can’t stand on their own legs financially, they’ll be snapped up by companies or individuals who will use them as platforms for their own agenda.’” Now let me get this straight. Are you honestly trying to tell me that in all of the former Soviet Union (who led us in space exploration for years) there’s not one single outfit that can handle producing TV commercials? Seriously now, Russians desperately need U.S. State Department funded Internews to lead them down the road to social Nirvana by teaching them how to make ads for television? Once again that funny smell is back big time.
But if we look close we see another ingredient suspended in this little quotation. More studious observers of society than I have observed that, simply put, fear has become an industry in the U.S. It’s become a staple in many aspects of our lives and is useful in the manipulation and control of the mass’ critical, market-driven attitudes and propensities (it was Goebbels who said that all you have to do to control the people is to convince them that they are under attack). And here we have an exported sampling of this shady phenomenon. Beware. If Internews doesn’t ride to the rescue, bravely teaching Russians how to make TV ads and heroically save the day, “companies and people” will swoop in, the independent media movement will founder and topple and a new wave of Huns will sweep east over the Danube, raping women and killing babies.
Amid the constant contradictions of Internews an effort like AMIN sadly ends up looking like it’s just a bone being tossed at, well, “negative” types like me. The fact that Internews has undoubtedly done some good is a central part of the equation. I have no doubt that many of the (tens of) thousands of recruits involved in their programs are decent, well-meaning people and that Internews, as a whole, has broken ground in certain areas. But we live in a time when we’re surrounded by worse-case-scenarios and things often not being what they seem. Internews wouldn’t be the first lemon-scented enterprise to be co-opted by less well-intentioned entities who see the guileless face of philanthropy as the perfect Trojan Horse for far more wolfish objectives.
“He [Hoffman] spoke of his eventual realization that ‘any ideology is dangerous, whether religious or political,’ his conclusion that conservatives are right on some things...’ and his evolution into someone who doesn’t just simply see the military as something evil. ‘I’ve become much more of a hawk’” (Northcoast Journal) Well I agree that any ideology can be dangerous when tossed in the deep end of the pool, but words of support of any kind for our bloated, fidgety military during this particularly dubious interval in our imperialistic history I find to be unconscionable, especially in a man who’s behind the wheel of an organization whose influence should, by definition, hinge on impartiality and benign goodwill and may well be pivotal in shaping the global landscape of information accessibility in the new millennium.
Our worrisome era is defined by technology’s omnipotence, and in part, its ability to promulgate the shadowy, covert manipulations and sweeping clandestine agendas that shape our perceptions and our world like never before. We often can’t know for sure who was really behind the latest bombing and why. Who knows if that attack we read about in the paper was what they say it was, or if instead it was an elaborate deception, or “psy-op,” (psychological operation) fashioned to seduce some crucial demographic or frame a hated rival. And this is exactly what makes me so uncomfortable about Internews and it’s sulphurous aroma. You end up contorting yourself like a Ukrainian gymnast when trying to reconcile the plague of contradictions that dog their suspicious advance into areas of the world that are historically most in need of a good, old fashioned Yankee white-wash! And you can’t help but be filled with doubt as we watch Internews and their redundant battalions march bravely on, o’er the briny waves.
In several of his op-eds Mr. Hoffman makes the following point. “In many moderate Arab states, government-controlled media have allowed vitriolic anti-American and anti-Israeli propaganda to act as a safety valve for popular anger.” In other words Arab statesman, worried that angry Arabs, frustrated from decades of their own governments mismanagement and propensity to cave into western pressure, (and, worst case, allow puppet regimes to brutalize and humiliate their own people) let hate propaganda flow on the airwaves because it takes the heat off them and places it squarely on the west. The outrageous irony of this statement is that mainstream western ideologues like Hoffman are the ones who never miss a chance to sluff off western responsibility for Arab anger back onto Arabs!
Using the same angle that Israel has taken for decades (we’ll deal with the Palestinians only if they calm down and stop being so snippy) he instead wants to place the onus on the Arabs to curb their behavior first, then we can be friends again. Well if Mr. Hoffman’s really so concerned about Arab hate speech he should hop on a plane to D.C., convince his State Department sugar-daddies and the Zionist lobbyists they play racket ball with to curb their relentless smear campaign and racist vilification of the Arabs first, a policy that is the historical conception of this big, ugly mess in the first place. Western hardliners have always been the aggressors in this ongoing hate-fest and it is the “western-style” media (a phrase that appears often in Internews literature) that Hoffman’s peddling around the world that has spun it to look otherwise. Western power brokers started us down this road to hell decades ago when they embarked upon a policy of stealing Mideast oil instead of negotiating for it in good faith. That single policy shift was the beginning and end of the relentless misery we see haunting our TV screens each night on our “free and open airwaves.”
But Internews is diversifying. Another key facet of their mission to “fix” the wayward road our beleaguered foreign friends have taken is devoted to making bold strides in the reform of election laws in “struggling democracies” abroad that have long kept so many unfortunates shackled in oppression and misery. Now if Internews puts even a fraction of the resources into exporting “western-style electioneering” that they’ve put into exporting “western-style media” well then, praise the Lord! It won’t be long before our dream of spreading the hope and promise of freedom and democracy (ie, achieving de facto global corporate dominion) will finally reach fruition.
There is perhaps no more urgent matter facing Americans today than the fiasco of “western-style,” computerized touch screen voting. It is perhaps the most critical issue posed by this monsters ball we call “conservatism,” the blue-print of which has been disturbingly refined during the rise of the Bushites. Just “Google” Diebold and educate yourself on the subject, if you haven’t already. All three of the dominant companies that manufacture computerized voting machines are republican owned and controlled. They leave no paper trail and are so vulnerable to hacking that there’s even a web-page that, with just rudimentary insider information, you can hack into from any PC with a modem. In invitations to a Republican Party fund raiser at his home this past summer Wally O’dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., made clear his commitment to “deliver [Ohio’s] electoral votes to the president next year.” In an investigation of the recall election in California last fall auditors “could not find a single machine running certified software, and some were running totally non-qualified code which had never even been submitted for certification.”
Once again, like an old lady peeking out her window and making a list of the things everybody else is doing wrong, we see Internews’ myopic propensity to focus on the problems of others, as they shamefully turn a blind eye to the transgressions of their primary funders, the government of the United States and its exhausted taxpayers.
But Internews is also involved in hammering out the international regulations on which internet access will be based as we move headlong into our brave new world. The Global Internet Policy Initiative (GIPI), an Internews alliance with the D.C. based Center for Democracy and Technology (some of these acronyms alone give me the creeps), are spearheading this effort and hope to become the vanguard in establishing the legal and ethical groundwork for internet access worldwide. It’s legal department and frontline soldiers are already involving themselves in pressuring China and India to relax the stringent conditions on which it allows internet access to penetrate their society.
Clearly Internews is playing a pivotal role in perhaps the most critical and pervasive issue of our time, defining the landscape of global information dissemination (in all forms) in the years to come. Certainly the magnitude of this endeavor cannot be overestimated and surely the most thorough scrutiny is wholly warranted. But I’ve spent oceans of time wending the web, haunting “open,” alternative news websites by the score, following leads on controversies that extend to all areas of modern life, especially politics and the media, and I have never, never stumbled upon a single word about Internews. If I didn’t live in Arcata I’d never have known they existed. This is extremely disturbing when one remembers what Internews is supposed to be all about. Openness.
Listed third (out of fourteen) in their “code of ethics” is this sage edict (oddly defensive for such a well-meaning crowd, don’t you think?); “We accept the freedom of comments and criticism if it is based on checked facts and is clearly differentiated from suppositions and versions.” That’s not a “code of ethics”! That’s a coat of chain-mail (and clearly a threat of litigation) aimed outwardly at anyone or anything that might cast doubt on the essence of their noble crusade. At a time when control of the media (internet, TV or the written word) is already in questionable hands (especially here at home) we must ask this terribly important question; “Who is David Hoffman and what is Internews?”
Moving towards an answer to this query let’s pause and look at what we’ve got. Internews is a $20 million global philanthropic organization demanding conditions from its beneficiaries that it doesn’t even come close to meeting itself... whose mission is to export “western-style” mass media and openness to the helpless abroad, and yet whose own origins and workings are shrouded in secrecy and contradictions...that, at a time when the majority of liberal minded social programs are struggling tooth and nail to stay afloat, enjoys millions of dollars of administration endowments, just moved into spiffy new diggs and is thriving more than ever during the advent of the neo-Bushites...led by a former peace-nik whose motivation is presumably the spread of first amendment rights into democratically challenged regions, but who 1) spouts mainstream, pro-western spin, 2) ignores the sins of his own culture, 3) has become more of a “hawk”over the years, 4) apparently hates the word “peace,” 5) seems strangely concerned how “New York execs” look at him, and 6) fought the war against nukes by unionizing nuclear scientists. I don’t know about you but this is giving me a headache!
But then again, I’ve always been “negative.” And clearly I’m just using Internews to draw attention to myself. What kind of a person am I to imply that Internews may be “ethically complex?” How cynical must I be to doubt their noble intent and instead accuse them of installing “mega-advertising nodes” all over the world. After all, look at all the good they do. There’s always some malcontent like me to find fault. And the implication that non-liberals aren’t capable of altruistic deeds I find particularly reprehensible in Mr. Baker’s article. Plus, I “Googled” him and didn’t find a damn thing. He must be a covert agent of the “vast left-wing conspiracy.” We’d better keep an eye on this Baker guy.
I’ve gone back and forth when researching Internews. One moment I read of some admirable new accomplishment that they’re celebrating and wonder if I’m being unfair. The next I uncover a new contradiction or dubious quotation that makes my jaw drop so far its become dislocated. And, like a criminal that works at a soup kitchen by day but breaks and enters by night, the good things Internews does do end up looking like sleight of hand instead of a labor of love. Instead of lauding their brave mission I want to carefully investigate all their claims and accomplishments. I want to interview for myself in person the dissident freed from jail because of Internews’ hard work, or sign myself up for one of their seminars and see Internews from the inside. But that’s just it. What ever Internews does is all carefully sequestered abroad, in the most alien of lands, well beyond the scrutiny of those most suspicious of their motives. I’ve read and reread this article many times and I stand by every word. Mussolini said that fascism should rightly be called corporatism, and I’m very concerned that the quiet, mousey outfit that’s set up shop in our remote little town may be the “world headquarters” of something very different than what it claims and may be playing a pivotal role in a far less laudable agenda.
Like many questionable corporate endeavors, it’s doubtful that anything Internews is doing is illegal, leaving anyone who wants to “do something about it” pretty much without boots. What a sweet gig. If anyone anywhere defies the advance of Internews and its bold and beautiful soldiers they can immediately be accused of thwarting free speech and condoning censorship and oppression. I certainly care about “struggling democracies” anywhere they exist, but I’m chiefly concerned about the worlds twitchiest “struggling democracy,” the one right here in the increasingly tyrannical U.S.A. Our culture presently requires far more careful scrutiny than we’re humble enough to give it, before anyone should bother themselves with exporting it overseas.
Our way of doing things may well be more workable than what many foreign people are forced to endure, but still, these God-like judgments of others and what’s best for them are, in the end, not our call to make! You don’t help people by approaching them on their own soil, “picking them up by the scruffs of the neck” and “creating them,” or making grown adults play “democracy games.” And you really know you’re in trouble when these aggressive western “advisors” start naming their programs after pop-stars; “And they create their own networks of grassroots organizations, sometimes using what they call the Spice Girls method: handpicking a few key local personalities, training them and funneling them a regular supply of money.” And this from William McKinney, co-ordinator of the Azerbaijani office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (a key Internews funder); “We've nudged them in the direction they'd like to go in.” [my emphasis] So, decide for them what they want and just give’em a nudge, huh Bill? Well sorry, but I remain wholly suspicious of Internews and its “lofty” intentions.
Riddle me this. If, hypothetically, we woke up tomorrow morning and the world had been transformed into an Eden of freedom and complete media openness, would Internews throw a big international party, (this time without invitations) praise one another for a job well done and then cancel the leases on their office space, recall the hoards of media professionals they’ve sent abroad, happily close down the shop and, with satisfaction in their hearts, return to their families and find new careers? I’d like to think they would, but we here in America can institutionalize anything, even our good intentions, and I’m worried that that’s what’s happening across town at “Arcata’s Best Kept Secret,” Internews.
The author would like to thank Keith Easthouse for his article “Arcata’s Best Kept Secret” (“The Northcoast Journal,” 2003) , Andrew Meier for his article “The Russian Media Revolution” (“Wired” magazine,1995)  and Geoffrey York for “The Dream merchants” (“The Globe and Mail”, 2000)  all of which can be read on the Internews web-site.
by courtesy & © 2004 Jeremy Baker
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