I’m going to reverse my normal convention when I have a cross post but have something to add. Here I first offer you a MacroBusiness post (which in the layered ways of the Web relies heavily on an article by David Graeber) and natter afterwards.
Lee Camp: How to Write Propaganda for the NY Times - As Demonstrated in an Article About Me
On June 7, the New York Times vomited up a hit piece on little ol’ me – a guy who has been doing stand-up comedy for nearly 20 years and thought maybe that comedy could be used to inform and inspire audiences, rather than just make fun of the differences between men and women.
At first when you’re the center of a smear job, you’re annoyed and frustrated. But as I read further through the piece, I realized it was a master class in how to write propaganda for one of the most “respected” news outlets in our country. I’m actually grateful it was written about me because now I can see with my own eyes exactly how the glorious chicanery is done. I count no less than 15 lies, manipulations, and false implications in this short article, a score that even our fearless prevaricator-in-chief Donald Trump would envy.
So here now is a “How To” for writing propaganda for the New York Times, using the smear piece against me as an example.
Step One: Prime the Readers
The author Jason Zinoman starts the piece this way:
Last week, Lee Camp, an acerbic left-wing comic, dedicated six minutes of his topical TV show, “Redacted Tonight,” to the discredited conspiracy theory that it wasn’t Russian hackers who leaked emails during the presidential election but Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staff member killed in a botched robbery
Okay, folks, we’re off to the races. Now what does one take from that opening paragraph?
I bet you assumed that this crank, Lee Camp, did a segment bolstering a discredited nonsense theory about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
But in fact, the segment I performed on-air does nothing but cast doubts on the theory that Seth Rich was murdered for the leaked e-mails. You can watch the segment here and judge for yourself.
Zinoman does go on in the next paragraph to say “Mr. Camp’s tepid take — he doesn’t know the truth, but he’s skeptical.” So despite Zinoman’s sheepish second-paragraph admission that I didn’t back the conspiracy theory, he’s already made use of a nice little psychology trick called “priming.” His opening paragraph has primed the reader to believe I give credence to discredited conspiracy theories. That, along with the title of the article – “An American Comic on a Russian Channel: What He Avoids Speaks Volumes” – has set the reader up to believe I’m a Russian agent of sorts putting forward conspiracies and our brave Ivy League author has been able to spot my sinister plot. (Thank god he was here or the plot might very well have destroyed America!) And in fact Zinoman goes on to reference the Seth Rich segment multiple times as if I had supported the theories.
That brings us to our next propaganda trick….
Step Two: Guilt by Association
That Mr. Camp does this on RT — which describes itself as the ‘Russian view on global news’ and which paid Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, to speak at the gala where he sat next to Vladimir V. Putin — raises questions about the comedian’s independence, particularly when he delves into the conspiracy about Mr. Rich. Just last month, Andrew Feinberg, a former White House reporter for Sputnik, another Russian-financed media outlet, said that his bosses ‘wanted the Seth Rich story pushed.’
So now he’s somehow looping in me and my comedy news show with Michael Flynn, Putin, Sputnik (the radio channel), Seth Rich conspiracies, and I’m pretty sure he mentioned something about me hanging out with Bill Cosby.
Here’s the problem with that paragraph – I have nothing to do with Sputnik. I have nothing to do with Michael Flynn, Andrew Feinberg, nor Vladimir Putin. I have never spoken to or met any of them. (Nor do I speak Russian, so a conversation with Putin would consist of me grunting and trying to act out references to The Hunt For Red October.) I have never been told by anyone at RT America to say anything about Seth Rich, nor have I seen anyone being told to talk about Seth Rich, nor did my segment even support the theory that he was killed by the DNC.
So basically nothing in that paragraph has anything to do with me, but Zinoman wants to lead you to believe it does. This technique is called “guilt by association,” although Zinoman couldn’t actually find the “association” part so he just included a paragraph about these people to imply guilt by association. Subconsciously the reader is left to think, “If Lee Camp didn’t have anything to do with any of those things, then our fearless author would never have brought any of it up.”
Furthermore, Zinoman is correct that RT has said in the past that they are “the Russian view on global news” in the same way BBC has said in the past that they are “the British view of global news.” However, BBC also creates many shows that are outside the realm of straight news – such as Dr. Who. I’ve rarely heard anyone accuse Dr. Who of being the British view of global news. (Why do those crazy Brits always insist on taking flying police boxes to go everywhere?)
My show, written by me and my correspondents, is certainly not the Russian view of global news and neither is – for example – Larry King’s show on RT America. (I get that Dr. Who is further afield of news than my show is, but the analogy is simply meant to say these networks create shows that are not strictly straight news.) And anyone who thinks CNN, for instance, isn’t the American view of global news is kidding themselves. But I have to agree that CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown did a terrible job of covering the terror attacks in London.
I speak only for my show – I don’t speak for any other show on RT America. I write the words I say on Redacted Tonight and have never been told I have to say anything. Compare that to… (Oh, so many examples to choose from! How can I only pick one?!)… let’s say Melissa Harris Perry on MSNBC. After being forced out she said she was censored often. As an example she said – close to showtime – that she was told not to cover Beyonce’s Black Panther inspired Super Bowl halftime show. In no uncertain terms MSNBC heads stopped her from talking about it. Perry was literally forbidden from discussing the two most popular things to ever exist on our planet earth – Beyonce and the Super Bowl (and I’m including food and sex).
Now that we’ve established a good foundation of guilt by association (without the association) and some priming and some baseless implications, it’s time to move on to:
Step Three: Write Off Good Attributes That Don’t Fit the Storyline
Mr. Camp’s hard-edge critique of corporate greed and American policy is genuine; he was taking this line in his stand-up act before working for RT. But context matters.
Writing about the fact that I have spent nearly two decades involved in comedy, much of it political, much of it trying to make America better, trying to stand up for people over profit… well, that just wouldn’t fit with the author’s theme. So he had to find a way to get this stumbling block out of the way of his race to propaganda victory! He did that by casually mentioning the good attributes before writing them off as meaningless. My work and what I stand for is beside the point because “context matters.”
Step Four: It’s What the Person Doesn’t Say That Really Matters
Because Zinoman wasn’t able to find any statements from me pledging allegiance to Russia, or supporting war by Russia (or anyone for that matter), or even voicing support for Donald Trump in any way, shape, or form (because none of those statements exist), he had to resort to going after what I don’t say. …And oddly, I agree with him that what people don’t say can be important, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
As hacking and Russia’s relationship to the Trump campaign increasingly dominate headlines, Mr. Camp’s refusal to dig into the story is conspicuous. He avoids the subject on air, and while he does criticize President Trump, his considerable comic bile rarely focuses on him.
Despite all his extensive research (sarcasm), Jason Zinoman failed to read the title of my show. …Redacted Tonight. I’m hoping he knows what the word “tonight” means but maybe the “redacted” part eluded him. “Redacted” means “censored,” and my show tries very hard to focus on the news that (ironically in this conversation) is NOT being covered on the mainstream media, the stuff that is being censored. As he just admitted, bullshit about Trump and hacking claims FILL the mainstream airwaves. Some of it true, some of it not, but all of it covered intensively. I have no interest in being a mainstream media or government mouthpiece for anyone – which is why I created REDACTED Tonight. It’s also why the things I say (particularly the anti-corporate things) are not allowed on any standard American TV channel. Zinoman, on the other hand, is quite content working at a propaganda outlet like the New York Times – also more on that later – and after all, context matters.
Zinoman tepidly says “while he does criticize Trump his considerable comic bile rarely focuses on him.” Well, first of all, for anyone who watches my show regularly, you know that hardly an episode goes by in which I don’t call Trump a megalomaniacal fascist man-boy with the decision-making capacity of a gopher recently run over by a Hummer (or something similar). You can watch some examples HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, & HERE. In fact I went harsher on Trump than pretty much all of the mainstream media during the campaign season. Please point to the moments when Anderson Cooper or Brian Williams called Trump a fascist, or a psychopath, or photoshopped his head onto Hitler’s body. (I did all those things.)
And the reason I don’t spend EVEN MORE lengthy segments on him is that A) We’re the “redacted” stories, remember? The title of my show is not “Stories Everyone Has Heard 8 Billion Times On Cable News… Tonight.” And B) I don’t believe Trump is the cause of our country’s main problems. I believe he is a symptom of an incredibly corrupt corporate-ruled system. He is a horrible and rather – not bright – man, but he is not the cause of the millions of hungry and homeless and imprisoned in our country. He is not the cause of the flaws in our democracy and our media. He is just the pimple that has risen up. So either Zinoman is intentionally misunderstanding the viewpoint of my show or he’s just so desperate to push his talking points that he’s looking past it.
And I believe the New York Times is one of those directly responsible for making Trump president by – along with other mainstream outlets – giving him $5 BILLION of free coverage during the campaign season. In fact, Bernie Sanders supporters got so angry with the Times for their lack of coverage that the Times eventually issued a response. Even in that response in which they say they’ve covered Sanders plenty, they admit that in one sample month Sanders had 14 articles about him while Trump had 63 articles. If that distribution of coverage had been ANYWHERE NEAR even, we would have either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton as president. So, Mr. Zinoman, let me know when you’d like to apologize for your outlet giving us the Trump presidency.
Step Five: Fuck It, Insult the Guy’s Looks
Mr. Camp — who looks like a Broadway musical costume designer’s idea of a counterculture comedian, with ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ hair and T-shirts bearing images of Bill Hicks or ‘Catch-22’…
The NY Times has so deeply fallen into their own propaganda hole, they’ve resorted to just insulting the looks of people they feel threatened by. I don’t know what Jason Zinoman looks like, but I’m sure it’s awesome.
Step Six: Trot Out Discredited Neocon Think-Tank-Backed Source
Liz Wahl is a former journalist for RT who quit on air, accusing the network of ‘whitewashing the actions of Putin’ in its coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ms. Wahl calls Mr. Camp a ‘stooge’. …Ms. Wahl was working at RT when “Redacted Tonight” had its premiere in 2014, and she recalled that it was envisioned in the style of “The Daily Show.”
There’s only one problem with this statement… It’s not true.
Liz Wahl was not working at RT America when Redacted Tonight premiered.
Liz Wahl quit on March 5, 2014. Redacted Tonight first aired at the end of May, 2014. So, you know, at least Wahl and Zinoman were only about three months off.
But I can’t blame Zinoman for not catching something that Wahl incorrectly described since doing so would’ve required at least one – if not TWO – Wikipedia searches. (And who has the time??) Egregious mistakes like this don’t just speak to the sloppy work of the author, they also speak to his eagerness to portray me and my show in a certain light. He seems to have thought, “If I can’t find someone who has an inside track on how Redacted Tonight is secretly sinister, I’ll pretend I do.
But besides that, Liz Wahl’s claims about how and why she left RT America have been completely debunked, including this TruthDig article entitled “How Cold War-Hungry Neocons Stage Managed RT Anchor Liz Wahl’s Resignation.” It details how the Foreign Policy Institute (FPI) was in fact tweeting about Wahl’s on-air resignation before it ever happened, and they had had a longstanding relationship with her. The authors say:
The tweets from FPI suggested a direct level of coordination between Wahl and the neoconservative think tank. …Launched by Weekly Standard founder William Kristol and two former foreign policy aides to Mitt Romney, Dan Senor and Robert Kagan (the husband of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland), FPI grew directly out of the Project for a New American Century that led the public pressure campaign for a unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq after the Bin Laden-orchestrated 9/11 attacks.
So a completely discredited source gave Jason Zinoman the incorrect statements he was looking for. This is not the only time in recent months the New York Times has been caught flat-out lying about such things. In fact former RT host Abby Martin issued a response to the fake news put out about her which you can read here. Apparently the Times is just tripping over themselves to push this propaganda, so much so that they can’t or won’t verify simple facts.
Zinoman doesn’t let any of this stop him from quoting Wahl in the article. He’s hoping you won’t learn these things about her and her past. But you know… context matters.
Step Seven: Lie
Enough beating around the bush, it’s time to flat-out lie.
According to several people in the comedy scene, his stand-up diatribes succeeded with like-minded fans but had more trouble with crowds that didn’t share his point of view. ‘We wouldn’t book him for a weekend, let’s put it that way,’ said Cris Italia, one of the owners of the New York comedy club the Stand.
First of all, I’d love to know who these mysterious “comedy scene” people were. Waitresses? Busboys? Phantom of the Opera types lurking underneath the stage silently judging my satire? Unfortunately, we’ll never know because “the comedy scene” only speak on deep cover. (First rule of comedy scene – Don’t talk about comedy scene!)
Secondly, Zinoman claims that Cris Italia told him that the comedy club the Stand in NYC would not book me on the weekends. Cris had actually contacted me two days before the Times article came out to tell me that a reporter had reached out to him about me and that he could tell from the questions the reporter was trying to portray me in a negative light. (Read: Trying to push an agenda rather than being, you know, a journalist.) Italia said:
I told him you were liked by everyone. I also said what Dennis Miller, Janeane Garofalo, & Marc Maron were for their generation, you were for this generation.
But Zinoman did the smart thing for a propaganda machine – leave out the stuff that does not fit the false story you’re pushing. (I picture Zinoman cringing on the other end of the line as nice things are said about the unscrupulous Russian agent – Lee Camp. After jotting down the quote about Dennis Miller, he furiously rips the page out of his notebook, chews it up, and swallows it.)
Cris Italia says he was next asked whether the Stand would book me on a Saturday, and he replied that they don’t book headliners on weekends. (Most NYC clubs do what’s called a “showcase” show in which many comics get onstage over the course of the evening.) Zinoman – upon not getting the quote he wanted – must have figured he could slant this into something saying the Stand would not book me. He either didn’t understand Italia or chose to misquote him. So Zinoman is sloppy at best and a fraud at worst.
Final Step: Leave the Reader With the Same (False) Prime You Started With
The article wraps up by describing my live stand-up performance at the Cutting Room in NYC a few weeks ago. Zinoman attended the show and in the article wrongly states that I performed with two correspondents from Redacted Tonight. Only one of the openers – John F. O’Donnell – is from Redacted. But getting that fact correct would have required ANOTHER Google search. (The work never ends!) Zinoman of course fails to mention in his description that A) The 250-capacity room was nearly sold out with excited fans B) The show went great and I think everyone left having had a wonderful time C) My stand-up performances (unless done for a TV special) have no connection to RT America at all. They are my own events. But the author leaves all of that out even though… context matters.
Anyway, the article ends like this:
Once Mr. Camp finished and the crowd had filed out, I lingered for a minute on the sidewalk. And while there wasn’t any rally, I couldn’t help noticing two beefy guys speaking in Russian and laughing uproariously.
What Zinoman really REALLY doesn’t want you to know is that those “beefy Russians” were almost certainly not there for my stand-up comedy show. The Cutting Room had a show starting after mine that had nothing to do with my show. And guess what – that show was a rapper named Noize, who is described as “The most outspoken, daring and exciting Russian rapper.” That’s right, the reason there were people in line speaking Russian outside my comedy show is because they were there to see a Russian rapper that had nothing to do with me.
And don’t forget – context matters.
Either Zinoman knew about the rapper and decided not to reveal it (so he’s basically a liar), or he didn’t bother to look at the massive sign listing the performances, nor ask the Russians (who probably spoke English) why they were there (in which case he’s possibly the worst “journalist” to walk the earth). It’s tough to say which one of those two things is worse.
But describing those laughing Russians serves a purpose greater than an interesting tidbit. Zinoman sat through an entire 90-minute stand-up comedy show in which I covered everything from how our leaders force us into endless war, to how we can feed every human on the planet, to how we are sold an infinite parade of lies, to how my comedy doesn’t go over well at children’s birthday parties. He saw me cover all those important issues. He saw an audience of over 200 people loving it and coming up to meet me afterwards. He saw a guy who has fought hard for 20 years to just do stand-up comedy that matters – that enlightens and informs and entertains. He saw it all. But none of THAT fit with the propaganda he needed to push. In fact, it went against the storyline he was trying to create.
So instead he leaves the reader with the idea that either A) My show is meant for burly Russians (according to online analytics roughly 80% or 90% of my viewers are Americans) or B) My show is being watched over by burly Russians to make sure I don’t say anything “out of line.” Both of those are fake news. The reality is that burly Russians like a rapper named Noize.
I want to conclude with a little bit of context about the New York Times, and how they’ve become such a propaganda outlet that they would even hire journalists who pump out loads of fake news like this article on me.
Chris Hedges worked for 15 years as a foreign correspondent at the Times and won a Pulitzer for his work. He now hosts the show “On Contact” at RT America. He once said of his former employer,
…many at the paper have no real moral compass. They know the rules imposed by the paper’s stylebook. They know what constitutes a ‘balanced’ story. They know what the institution demands. They work hard. They have ingested the byzantine quirks and traditions of the paper. But they cannot finally make independent moral choices. The entire paper — I speak as someone who was there at the time — enthusiastically served as a propaganda machine for the impending invasion of Iraq.
Hedges went on to say,
[The senior editors] do not question the utopian faith in globalization. They support preemptive war, at least before it goes horribly wrong. And they accept unfettered capitalism, despite what it has done to the nation, as a kind of natural law.
The Times was a strong cheerleader for the War in Iraq. (Don’t worry though – they still have reporters out there looking for the weapons of mass destruction. …Any day now.) When Hedges came out against the Iraq War, the paper reprimanded him for “public remarks that could undermine public trust in the paper’s impartiality.” …So basically they said, “Either stand behind this flawed, illegal invasion of Iraq or else you’re not welcome at the Times.” Hedges left the paper soon after.
Want some more evidence of exactly how the New York Times operates? Here’s world renowned political philosopher Noam Chomsky going through a single issue of the Times in 2015 explaining how it is pure propaganda.
Best-selling journalist Greg Palast (BBC, Rolling Stone) wrote to me after he saw the article. Here’s his unsolicited opinion –
The hatchet job on Lee Camp by the NY Times is the pathetic new Red-baiting 2.0. The Times man claimed Lee was afraid to attack Trump because that would displease the owners of RT. Really? What in Lee’s statement, ‘Fuck Trump,’ sounds like an endorsement?
So the next time you’re reading so-called journalism in the New York Times, remember… context matters.