(5) "Freedom of speech" in name only
In the US, the media is juxtaposed with the executive, the legislative and the judiciary as the "fourth branch of government" and journalists are considered "uncrowned kings". Though US media organizations claim to be independent from politics and serve freedom and truth, they are actually serving financial interests and party politics.
A few media conglomerates maintain control of the US news media and have morphed into a political force with outsize influence. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the federal government is required to relax regulation over the ownership of media outlets. This has led to an unprecedented wave of mergers and a crippling erosion of the diversity and independence of the US media. The drastic reduction in the number of media outlets has enabled a few companies to expand into monopolies. In the US, a few media conglomerates are now in control of over 90% of media outlets, netting them an annual profit even higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of some developing countries. These media behemoths, while eager to make more business footprints, have extended their reach into American politics, attempting to sway political processes through lobbying, public relations campaign or political donations.
The US media monopolies have become "invisible killers" of civil and political rights. Robert McChesney, a leading US scholar in the studies of political economy of communications and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, notes in his book Rich Media, Poor Democracy that media companies, profit-driven by nature, confine people to the world of entertainment programs, depriving their access to diversified information, distracting their interest in public affairs, diminishing their ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and muting their voice in the decision-making of social policies. In an American society dominated by media narratives, traditional notions of civic and political involvement have shriveled. Depoliticization has turned democracy into a political game without citizens. A report in Miami’s New Herald argues that as the media is controlled by the elite and conglomerates, people are not able to distinguish between facts and political propaganda.
The US media is no longer a "gatekeeper" of democracy. The political wrangling between the Left and Right in the US media has further entrenched the estrangement and division between the two parties and between the elite and the mass public. It has aggravated political polarization in the US, pushing the political Left further left and the Right further right. And it has fueled the spread of extremist ideologies and populism in the US.
According to a study by Sejong Institute, a think tank in the Republic of Korea, over 80% of conservative voters in the US see news reports by mainstream media outlets, such as New York Times, as false information and have a biased trust in media. Voters believe in only a few media outlets and would ignore communications at the national level. Levelheaded discussions and consensus-building have been replaced by megaphone politics and negative partisan strife. The Digital News Report 2021 issued by the University of Oxford and Reuters Institute indicates that among 92,000 online news consumers surveyed in 46 markets, those in the US have the lowest level of trust in news, a mere 29%.
In the information age when traditional media is on the decline, social media has become a new favorite for the general public. Yet, like traditional media, social media is also under the control of big capital and interest groups. To increase their website traffic, social media sites use algorithms to create "information cocoons", leaving extreme content unchecked and uncontrolled. This drives users toward self-reinforcing their existing views, exacerbates identity politics, and further divides public opinion.
In October 2021, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked tens of thousands of pages of explosive internal documents of Facebook. She disclosed to Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) that Facebook would not hesitate to sacrifice public interests to keep users on its platform and make profits. Facebook has become a main platform for social extremists and is fraught with hate speech, disinformation and misinformation. Action is only taken on 3-5% of hate and about 0.6% of violence and incitement on the platform.
3. Disastrous consequences of US export of its brand of democracy
Without regard to huge differences in the level of economic development and in the historical and cultural backgrounds of countries around the world, the US seeks to impose its own political system and values on other nations. It pushes for what it calls "democratic transition", and instigates "color revolution". It wantonly interferes in other countries’ internal affairs and even subverts their governments, bringing about disastrous consequences for those countries. In other words, the US has attempted to model other countries after its own image and export its brand of democracy. Such attempts are entirely undemocratic and at odds with the core values and tenets of democracy. Without producing the expected chemistry, the American-style democracy has turned out to be a "failed transplant" that plunges many regions and countries into turmoil, conflicts and wars.
(1) The "color revolutions" undermine regional and national stability
The US has a habit of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs in the name of "democracy" and seeking regime change to install pro-US governments. A former senior CIA official once talked about making people "what we want them to be" and "follow our directions", and the possibility of confusing people’s minds, changing their values, and making them believe in the new values before they know it. Former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo openly admitted "I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment."
The US has developed a system of strategies and tactics for "peaceful evolution". It would start with "cultural exchanges", economic assistance, and then public opinion shaping to foster an atmosphere for "color revolution". It would exaggerate the mistakes and flaws of incumbent governments to foment public grievances and anti-government sentiments. In the meantime, it would brainwash local people with American values and make them identify with America’s economic model and political system. It would also cultivate pro-US NGOs and provide all-round training to opposition leaders. It would seize the opportunity of major elections or emergencies to overthrow targeted governments through instigating street political activities.
In recent history, the US has pushed for the neo-Monroe Doctrine in Latin America under the pretext of "promoting democracy", incited "color revolution" in Eurasia, and remotely controlled the "Arab Spring" in West Asia and North Africa. These moves have brought chaos and disasters to many countries, gravely undermining world peace, stability and development.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, people have long been under no illusion about "the American-style democracy". Any attempt of the US to promote its self-styled "model of democracy" would be only self-defeating and self-humiliating. In 1823, the US issued the Monroe Doctrine, declaring "America for the Americans" and advocating "Pan-Americanism". In the following decades, the US, under the excuse of "spreading democracy", repeatedly carried out political interference, military intervention, and government subversion in Latin America and the Caribbean. The US pursued a policy of hostility toward socialist Cuba and imposed blockade against the country for nearly 60 years, and subverted the government of Chile under Salvador Allende. These were blatant acts of hegemonism. "My way or no way." That’s the US logic.
Since 2003, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have seen the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia, the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, and the "Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgyzstan. The US State Department openly admitted playing a "central role" in these "regime changes". In October 2020, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service revealed that the US planned to instigate "color revolution" in Moldova.
The "Arab Spring" that started in 2010 was an earthquake that shook the entire Middle East. The US orchestrated the show behind the scene, and played a key role. The New York Times revealed in 2011 that a small core of American government-financed organizations were promoting democracy in "authoritarian" Arab states. A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the "Arab Spring" revolts received training and financing from US organizations like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Mustafa Ahmady, an African and international affairs specialist in Ethiopia, contributed an article to Ahram Online entitled "Promised Lands", explaining that it was largely due to Obama’s famous statement "Now means now" that furious Egyptian protesters overthrew Mubarak, and that they paid a heavy price as a result of the political change. Seeing what the US had done, the Arab people have come to realize that the US wants to force a stereotyped model of democracy on them regardless of their own will.
In countries forced to copy and paste American values, there is no sign of true democracy, true freedom, or true human rights. What have been left in these countries are prevailing scenes of persisting chaos, stagnation and humanitarian disasters. The US export of its values has disrupted the normal development process in the recipient countries, hindered their search for a development path and model befitting their national conditions, brought political, economic and social turmoils, and destroyed, one after another, what used to be other peoples’ beautiful homelands. The turmoils, in turn, have given rise to terrorism and other long-term challenges that threaten and jeopardize regional and even global security. As suggested by the French website Le Grand Soir, democracy has long become a weapon of massive destruction for the US to attack countries with different views.
The US applies different standards in assessing democracy of its own and other countries. It praises or belittles others entirely according to its own likes or dislikes. Following the Capitol attack on 6 January 2021, an American politician compared the incident of violence to the 9/11 terror attack, calling it a "shameful assault" on the US Congress, constitution and democracy. It is ironic that in June 2019 the same politician called the violent demonstrations at the Hong Kong Legislative Council building as a "beautiful sight to behold" and commended the rioters for their "courage". What a blatant double standard.