In order to understand the effectiveness of the culture of censorship which exists in America media, it is first necessary to distinguish between three different types or levels of censorship. These are
1. Vertical censorship
2. Horizontal censorship
In explaining these three categories, it should be noted that a given instance of censorship may simultaneously be an example of more than one of these distinct types. It is quite common for a specific instance of censorship to simultaneously exemplify both vertical censorship and horizontal censorship. However, first they should be explained as distinct types, before we begin any discussion of cases wherein these categories overlap.
The most paradigmatic case of vertical censorship is when the government uses the coercive power of the state to censor media.
“Horizontal censorship” refers to forms of censorship within organizations, or on the interpersonal level or between peers, which do not require the coercive power of the state.
Self-censorship is when an individual desists from expressing their own thoughts – it happens on the purely subjective, phenomenologically internal level.
Now, as previously stated, there may be overlap between these distinct categories in a given case.
For example, when an editor refuses to run a story written by one of the journalists on his staff for ideological reasons, this case has aspects of both vertical censorship and horizontal censorship. On the one hand, the coercive or punitive machinery of the state is not employed, and the censorship occurs within a privately owned news-organization. So we might categorize this as horizontal censorship. On the other hand, the journalist in this case is dealing with an editor, in effect with his line-manager, who being in a position of professional seniority, still has some coercive and/or punitive power over him, even if that power does not derive from the machinery of the state. So we might also categorize this as vertical censorship. It has aspects of both vertical and horizontal censorship at the same time.
The cynical genius of the United States’ culture of censorship, and the key to its historically unparalleled effectiveness, most centrally consists in the point that it is not heavily reliant on the coercive power of the state. That is to say, it usually does not operate on the level of paradigmatic “vertical censorship.” It operates far more effectively precisely because it works primarily through horizontal (interpersonal) censorship and self-censorship. In this sense, it is a perfect encapsulation of liberal hypocrisy. On a comparative basis, we can say that both the United Kingdom of Great Britain and France have more draconian statutes concerning vertical censorship than the United States – both of these countries employ the coercive and punitive machinery of the state to censor more than the US does.
And yet public debate is more stifled in the United States than in any other western country.
This happens in part because almost all American media-organs are privately owned, and therefore commercial pressures largely dictate their editorial agendas. It is simply impossible for any mainstream media-organization in the United States to strongly criticize their nations’ larger financial institutions or their privately-owned military-industrial complex. To do so would be to commit financial suicide.
Another crucial level on which censorship operates, not also in the United States but also in Western Europe, is through the existence of “gatekeepers” – that is to say, people and organizations who determine which individuals should be given the opportunity to broadcast, publish, and so on…. Apart from editors themselves, the United States’ most pervasive gatekeepers are academic institutions, whose institutional loyalty to the United States’ financial elites is guaranteed insofar as they receive generous donations from philanthropists and other large financial entities. Academic institutions determine which individuals receive post-graduate accreditation, and therefore which individuals’ academic backgrounds will be deemed prestigious enough to subsequently work as journalists within the upper echelons of the most widely distributed media-entities (New York Times, Washington Post, television networks, etc).
Being granted this type of prestige is strictly dependent on absolute intellectual obedience to the Washington consensus. For that matter, if a postgraduate student in a European university is publicly skeptical about the future of the EU, then that will also seriously jeopardize his/her chances of securing post-graduate academic funding. When it comes to the future of the “European project,” the EU’s academic establishment and the institutions which finance it only want to hear good news. Obviously, this incentivizes self-censorship.
In both the United States and the European Union, the academic study of both the social sciences and historical disciplines is coercively politicized in a far more vulgar way than it was 30 years ago. This has a direct bearing on which people, and with which political orientations, eventually gain employment as journalists. So we really have to consider both the United States’ and the European Union’s cultures of censorship within their media-industries together with the role of gatekeepers both within the media-industry and outside it, and also the role played by their academic establishments.
Finally, we address the issue of self-censorship within the political sphere itself. I will offer the following example.
When the American congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard appeared on the ABC network’s TV-show “The View” recently, she repeated her well-known arguments against US military intervention in Syria and Venezuela.
She began “Bashar Al-Assad is a brutal dictator, but….”
It is quite probable that, privately, Tulsi Gabbard does not see President Assad as a dictator. However, she is perfectly well aware that, in order to even be listened to, she is required to pay lip-service to certain liberal pieties before beginning her argument in earnest. She understands that her argument must be ideologically encrypted.
Similarly, one of the central strategic purposes of the demonization of President Putin within contemporary American discourse is to encourage Americans to self-censor. As soon as any public figure in the United States publicly questions the establishment’s institutional conduct, he/she is immediately accused of “carrying water for Putin….”
This is something which Russian people may not fully appreciate – the calculated demonization of President Putin by American media is devised to suppress debate within the United States itself, to reinforce the culture of self-censorship.
No government in human history has ever had the economic resources or manpower resources to singlehandedly stifle debate as effectively as it has been stifled in the United States today. Both the scholar of Russian studies Stephen Cohen and the political scientist John Mearsheimer have expressed alarm at the absence of any meaningful public debate on contemporary US-Russia relations, and at the dangers for international security which the absence of any such debate poses.
However, herein lies the cynical genius of the American censorship-model. By outsourcing the role of censoring to media-organizations, academic institutions and other gatekeepers – that is to say, by largely eschewing the “vertical” model of state-directed censorship in favour of the “horizontal” model, and by incentivizing self-censorship – it has constructed a culture of censorship which is far more pervasive and far more effective than any state-directed vertical model ever could be.