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Interview, Part 2: MintPress News’ Mnar Muhawesh On Media’s ‘Fast Food Headlines’

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, as well as the blasts in Beirut, I interviewed Mnar Muhawesh, founder and editor-in-chief of MintPress News (MPN), about the Paris attacks and the response of Western countries to the violence.

During the latter part of the interview, Muhawesh addresses challenges media organizations should be taking on today and critiques the news media, which she describes as being driven by “fast food headlines.” Muhawesh condemns the two-party system as she talks about the effect the presidential election has on journalism when the media is so dependent on covering every tiny detail. She also talks about a disruptor in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, an activist named Terry Burke, who has targeted her at speaking events because she opposes interventionist foreign policy in Syria.

Listen to Part 2 of the interview by clicking on the below player. You can also listen and download the interview by clicking here, or find our recordings on iTunes under “Shadowproof Presents.”

Below is a transcript of Part 2 of the interview with Mnar Muhawesh.

GOSZTOLA: How do you view journalism and some of the challenges you think need to be taken on by media organizations? My view is you really have to convince people, in the United States in particular, that journalism is a public service and that on some level you’re going to have to invest in it if you want to get news that isn’t the sort of thing that you and I have spent time railing against in this interview. And so, somehow with independent organizations, you have to find a way to convince people that you’re offering them something that is a public service.

MUHAWESH: Right, and right now, we live in a very fast food headline-driven news industry. I didn’t talk too much about that in your last question. That’s really why I started MintPress, because we live in the very fast food headline-driven industry.

People are getting snippets of what’s happening around them, if they’re even getting that. Most of the coverage now is infotainment. It’s celebrity-driven. It’s sensationalized news stories. And the truth of the matter is most people don’t know what is going on around them. We’re inundated day in and day out with the same kind of sensationalized news coverage. This context, this substance to news, is completely lost. So people today don’t really even know what real journalism is and what news media is and that’s no surprise because over 60 percent of Americans don’t even trust the media anymore, and although we do still consume it, most people see it as a form of entertainment and sensationalism. They don’t see it as a source of really getting informed and educated.

What we’re trying to do at MintPress — I know you’re trying to do this at Shadowproof — is reinvigorate the public through this public service of informative journalism that is lost, that just doesn’t exist anymore and that is because of the consolidation of the media. The media, even in 1980s, was made up of over fifty corporations that owned the media. And, since 2001, they’ve consolidated to about six corporations.

So, now we have six corporations literally controlling over ninety percent of what Americans see, hear, and read, and so when it comes to conflicts, like what’s happening in Syria or what’s happening in Libya, or issues taking place in Venezuela or Colombia, or even here. The issues that take place here with corporate ownerships and corporate takeover of our own government and the infringements on our Fourth Amendment and First Amendment rights with the spying that is happening toward journalists and regular citizens and activists.

Most people aren’t getting the truth and then when it comes to me and you, who are presenting the truth, a lot of people either get really, really excited, which is why we have the readership that we have, because people really want something with substance. They’re so excited to see that real journalism does exist. Or, the neocons come out with their attacks, and the attacks are usually not against our journalism, if you notice. It’s usually against something about us personally. It becomes an ad hominem, just like the ad hominems that [Edward] Snowden gets everyday for exposing the government spying.

Why isn’t the media talking about and acting as a watchdog to the government? The media is supposed to be the Fourth Branch of government to keep the government in check. Why isn’t the media talking about government spying and this infringement on our Fourth Amendment [rights]? Instead, they’re going after Snowden, calling him a Russian aid or un-American. If anything, Snowden is the most American person and most patriotic person that probably exists today. So, that’s what we’re trying to do is bring back the true meaning, the real meaning of journalism as defined by our First Amendment and by the Constitution.

GOSZTOLA: You were talking about infotainment, and one of the more critical issues is that we’ve gone to a model with media that is entirely driven by the elections that happen every four years. It’s very draining on anybody’s effort to do investigative journalism. In fact, at Shadowproof, we adopted a policy of for the most part ignoring any of the horse race in so far as it doesn’t relate to movement issues. So, if the candidates are taking stand and movements are responding, we will do coverage about that. But we’re not going to post videos of candidates dancing or post things that are like this candidate said this really dumb thing yesterday and everyone went wild.

What’s your thought about how everything has developed in this country to where media is so reliant on the presidential election?

MUHAWESH: The presidential election is honestly just a circus, if I may say. Really, it does not truly represent the people. It’s really disturbing, and the only reason they are going with it is because a lot of these media organizations are getting thousands upon thousands of dollars in ad revenue from posting about these candidates; their campaign advertisements. And then, they’re getting special interest money from the actual campaigns to push a certain candidate.

When we have coverage of people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson’s ridiculous statements, it really just shows that it is all a dog and pony show. That’s really all it is. And the real question the media should be talking about is, where are the third party candidates? Most countries have more than two parties that represent the people, and here in the United States we have two-party system and it acts really more like a dictatorship to us, because they don’t truly represent us. They’re representing corporate and special interests and war agendas.

So, even at MintPress, sometimes we have from our syndicating partners we’ll post something like Ben Carson said this or Donald Trump said this, and how ridiculous it is. But the real coverage should be in why aren’t we giving a voice and why aren’t third-party candidates like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson—Why aren’t they being given a voice? People like Ron Paul even in the last presidential election was ostracized and demonized and ridiculed for speaking up against a pro-war agenda and exposing the corporatocracy that we live in.

That’s really where the coverage should be, and I really appreciate when independent journalists give those other candidates a voice because we really can’t rely on our media to do that. And that’s unfortunately encouraging people to only vote for those two parties, which is the Democratic and Republican Party. But I believe the number is over sixty percent of Americans don’t identify as Democrat or Republican.

If we actually listen to Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, we’d probably more identify with independent candidates, which is the truth. And, if we actually put our hearts and minds and we followed what their campaigns stand for, we might actually start to see change within our system. But we’re told day in and day out that we have to vote for only those two parties, and, of course, the media just encourages that and pushes that. So, we know why the media doesn’t really work for us. It’s working for that corporate dictatorship that rules over us.

GOSZTOLA: It does seem that it fuels arguments and polarization, the very same people usually like to stump and pretend they’re very much against. If you had other parties that were involved, and it wasn’t just always Republican versus Democrat, then you don’t see everything like the way CNN likes to present it, where it’s like there’s two sides to every issues. It’s, oh, now, there are like four or five different perspectives, and here’s maybe one or two that are sane.

MUHAWESH: Yeah. Absolutely. We’re being given a very polarized view of politics, but this nation is so diverse. I would like to think we’re not a racist nation, as Donald Trump seems to represent. I would like to think that we’re not a bunch of xenophobes, as Ben Carson likes to represent. We’re really not. At the end of the day, most people want access to jobs. They want access to healthcare. They want access to a good education. They want security. They don’t want any more war, that’s for sure.

And then we have candidates that tell us that’s what they’re going to do, like Bernie Sanders, which I have a lot of respect for Bernie Sanders because he did bring attention to the corporate ownership of America. But at the same time, he is still parroting those same talking points that serve the military industrial-complex, like he’s going to continue Obama’s drone program and continue military aid to apartheid Israel and Saudi Arabia. So, we really have to be careful with these supposed leftist or peace candidates and kind of dig a little bit deeper for the candidates that actually represent our wants and needs.

GOSZTOLA: Last thing I want to ask you about is part of what motivated this interview was a column that was written by somebody who you have had to deal with in the Twin Cities of Minnesota named Terry Burke. This is a person who acts like an infiltrator. Maybe you could shed a few details before I go on to the other part of my question.

MUHAWESH: Sure. So, yeah, Terry Burke has been basically harassing me for nearly two years now. Whenever I have an event, I expect her to be there. I’ve never met her before. I’ve never even seen her face. I don’t know what she looks like because I don’t think she has any photos of herself online. But she has been coming to my events as a heckler or a disrupter to the events.

Of course, she tells the organizers she is an antiwar activist and she is a liberal, a leftist — all of those things, but she comes from an organization called CISPOS, which is the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria. It supposedly works to bring attention to Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes, which Assad has definitely committed war crimes in Syria. But she attacks journalists. She attacks other activism groups if they focus on non-interventionist foreign policy, which is just really change.

This woman had been a part of Women Against Military Madness. It’s a national organization. It’s woman-based. It’s like CODEPINK but just a little bit smaller. She used to sit on their board, and she was a part of the group. But when the group spoke out against the war in Syria, this woman, Terry, went on to disrupt their events, smear them locally. She contacted other media to say they are pro-Assad, even though all of these organizations, including myself, are just trying to bring attention to a non-interventionist foreign policy.

She’s been disrupting and acting as heckler to not just myself — I’m just the latest victim of her disruptions — but to several antiwar groups, including the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. And her thing is to smear these organizations as pro-Assad, and I just find that really, really interesting.

GOSZTOLA: The reason I wanted to raise this with you is that I followed the cases of activists—around half of them are from the Twin Cities area. The Anti-War Committee was raided by the FBI in 2010. The activists there, and then there’s people around Chicago and Michigan, had been involved in organizing a march at the Republican National Convention in 2008. The climate there for organizing has been and continues to be one where people are probably on edge and very concerned about anyone around them, who would engage in this sort of behavior. Because there was a woman who identified herself as Karen Sullivan and infiltrated their group and was part of the planning meetings for the march at the RNC in 2008.

I don’t know if you have anything to add, but in your experience, this is something you have to be concerned about when faced with characters who approach you so relentlessly, like Terry.

MUHAWESH: I was actually contacted by a few antiwar groups [in the Twin Cities] about people like Terry and about Terry herself. We don’t know. We just don’t know, but they suspect based on her behavior, of being a part of the antiwar group then being really supportive of the war in Syria or at least parroting those establishment talking points about Syria and then disrupting events, like my event.

Last year, I had an event that was called “How the Corporate Media Beats the Drums of War.” She was outside my event. I had never heard of her before, never met her, and the organizers had told me she had been disrupting all of their events and smearing them as pro-Assad. So, based on this behavior, they do actually suspect locally that she is an infiltrator within the movement. She’s made quite the name for herself, and she’s trusted quite ironically by people at MinnPost, who are a part of an establishment media organization, who give her a voice.

But what she’s doing is really just McCarthyism. She wants everybody to not speak up against U.S. intervention. Although she says that she’s antiwar and her organization, CISPOS, is antiwar, she’s very adamant about all of us not speaking up against that. We most only talk about Assad’s crimes. Of course, Assad has committed grave crimes. He reacted to the rebels infiltrating in his country with grave, grave force. It’s just a mess in Syria.

It’s not that all of us are trying to blame just the U.S. government or just NATO for what’s happening there, but we really have to get to the root cause of this. When we act as watchdogs, we get these people to harass us. Again, I think it’s all a diversion. The smearing and this infiltration is just diversion to break us up. In fact, CISPOS is now responsible for breaking up several antiwar groups. She’s divided several antiwar groups in rallying to support the war in Syria. You know, I don’t know but these organizations do believe she could be an infiltrator based on her behavior.

GOSZTOLA: Nobody knows. I’ll be tremendously clear about that, but it wouldn’t take much. All the FBI would have to do is maybe be in conversation every now and then. You wouldn’t have to be an informant or be working meaningfully for the FBI. They could just be talking to her and she could [be made to] feel like she’s doing something important and have conversations with the FBI. I just know they have been active in the Twin Cities.

MUHAWESH: They definitely have.

GOSZTOLA: To wrap, I’d like to end on a strong point here. It’s always been my opinion that when you’re writing about anything or providing commentary or putting together investigative journalism that you focus on the actions, the misconduct, or crimes of your country, and that you’re particularly focused on what you’re government is doing because you’re a citizen or resident of that country. That’s what matter mosts. I can’t really do anything about what Vladimir Putin is doing to other people. I’m not Russian. I can’t really help topple Assad. I’m not Syrian. But I can do something for the Syrian people by speaking out about what my government is doing to make things more difficult for Syrian.

I’ll make that statement and allow you to wrap up our interview with any final thoughts you have.

MUHAWESH: I don’t know if I have anything else to add. You said it perfectly. We are taxpayers. We are citizens of the United States. It is our job to keep our government in check. The last time I checked we were supposedly a democracy. The only way to have a functioning democracy is to have a free press that acts as a watchdog to our government. And that’s what we need to continue doing, and when we do get attacked, which this happens to so many of us —

When we get pressured, when we get critiqued for not exposing our things, whatever it may be, it’s really just a diversion because we are truly making an impact, and I think a lot of us need to wear these attacks and the smears against us as a badge of honor, especially when they’re coming from people or organizations that are parroting those neoconservative talking points. It’s definitely something to be proud of.

*For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."