A History of Dissent

The Western establishment doesn’t appear to understand how Western journalists could exercise their own agency and judgment to critique U.S. foreign policy without them being agents of a foreign power, writes Joe Lauria.

Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, parc Montsouris, Paris. (couscouschocolat from Issy-Les-Moulineaux, France/Wikimedia Commons)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The United States was founded by dissenters. The Declaration of Independence is one of history’s most significant dissenting documents, inspiring people seeking freedom around the world, from the French revolutionists to Ho Chi Minh, who based Vietnam’s declaration of independence from France on the American declaration.

But over the centuries a corrupt centralization of American power seeking to maintain and expand its authority has at times sought to crush the very principle of dissent which was written into the United States Constitution.

Freedom to dissent was first threatened by the second president. Just eight years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, press freedom had become a threat to John Adams, whose Federalist Party pushed through Congress the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. They criminalized criticism of the federal government. There were 25 prosecutions and 10 convictions, under the Sedition Act. The acts expired and some repealed by 1802.

The Union then shut down newspapers during the U.S. Civil War.

Woodrow Wilson came within one vote in the Senate of creating official government censorship in the 1917 Espionage Act. The 1918 Alien and Sedition Act that followed jailed hundreds of people for speech until it was repealed in 1921.

Since the 1950s, McCarthyism has become the byword for one of the worst periods of repression of dissent in U.S. history.

The closest we’ve come to Wilson’s troubling dream is the Biden administration’s Disinformation Governance Board under the Department of Homeland Security, which after heavy criticism was disbanded. 

The roots of repression are in the earliest English settlers in North America, described in The Scarlet Letter and applied to McCarthyism in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Though its industrial and scientific achievements are most lauded, America’s tradition of dissent is probably the greatest thing in U.S. history and it is once again under threat.

The Current Climate

NewsGuard’s accusations against Consortium News that could potentially limit its readership and financial support must be seen in the context of the West’s war mania over Ukraine, about which dissenting voices are being suppressed. Three CN writers have been kicked off Twitter.

PayPal’s cancellation of Consortium News’ account is an evident attempt to defund it for what is almost certainly the company’s view that CN violated its restrictions on “providing false or misleading information.” It cannot be known with 100 percent certainty because PayPal is hiding behind its reasons, but CN trades in information and nothing else.

CN supports no side in the Ukraine war but seeks to examine the causes of the conflict within its recent historical context, all of which are being whitewashed from mainstream Western media.

Those causes are: NATO’s expansion eastward despite its promise not to; the coup and 8-year war on Donbass against coup resisters; the lack of implementation of the Minsk Accords to end that conflict; and the outright rejection of treaty proposals by Moscow to create a new security architecture in Europe taking Russia’s security concerns into account.

Historians who point out the onerous Versailles conditions imposed on Germany after World War I as a cause of Nazism and World War II are neither excusing Nazi Germany nor are they smeared as its defenders.

Consortium News can be wrong at times, but never as wrong as mainstream media was on WMD in Iraq or Russiagate. CN got both those consequential stories right while they were happening, and contends it is correct in its analysis of the Ukraine crisis. In any case, it is entitled to its analysis.

On Iraq, Russiagate and Ukraine, Consortium News has clashed with the conventional wisdom forged by powerful forces and its corporate media allies. In response CN has been repeatedly smeared as agents of Iraq and Russia.

An overly self-confident Western establishment cannot appear to understand how experienced Western journalists could exercise their own agency and editorial judgment to critique U.S. foreign policy in real time, without them being agents of a foreign power. Consortium News sued the Canadian television network Global News for publishing such a smear.

It is evidently not enough for powerful forces to simply disagree and respect CN’s constitutional right to free speech.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Abrams v. United States wrote: “[T]hat the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. … That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution.”

Justice Louis Brandeis added in Whitney v. California that the remedy for ill-conceived speech is more speech, not enforced silence.

NewsGuard’s judgement of Consortium News and other independent media is a test case: Can the U.S. establishment tolerate dissent or is it joining the tradition of Adams and Wilson to crush it?

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

Donate Today to CN’s

2022 Winter Fund Drive

Donate securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:

20 comments for “A History of Dissent

  1. robert e williamson jr
    January 5, 2023 at 16:39

    Remember this “Patriotism” is supporting your country all the time and your government when is deserves it!

    Mark Twain

  2. robert e williamson jr
    January 4, 2023 at 21:53

    I recently left a comment on Caitlin’s piece about Biden beating Trump. Very amusing stuff! But it is also the brutal truth.

    Very few who currently hold dissenting opinions to the two party’s line coming from the swamp are much surprised by the conduct of “Joey Biden” the current POTUS. Some of us knew exactly what we would get.

    The only good thing coming form the election of Mr. Biden, other than we got repulsive parasite out of the White House, and just barely, is that we now have living proof that the two parties are pretty much one in the same. One Passive, (Dems) the other Aggressive (Repubs) both of whom have the rest of us in the middle.

    The democratic leadership didn’t give one shit about the criticisms of the party generated by the rigged nomination of Uncle Joe for POTUS. Some of them must have known such criticism was because voters wanted more liberal policies in the vein of better social programs for the struggling have-nots among us. Less military spending and much more attention to climate change.

    POTUS Joe seems to have no clue about what Americans feel they need from government, and is more attuned to what his legacy might be. Poor guy can’t see the forest for the trees.

    In one of what might become known as the greatest of all presidential “bait & switches”, we as a country seem to have gotten what I feared when Joe ran, another candidate who when elected seems to be hell bent on becoming the next, ” you are either with us or against us ” Pentagon mouth piece. See again the Patriot Act.

    The Patriot Act is a cruel title for an Act that does so much to limit personal freedom in the country while undermining the power of states and counties by pulling them into the realm of the “Unified Command Rule” that places local agencies at the disposal of the federal government’s FEMA through the Office of Homeland Security by the provisions of said Patriot Act. This was nothing more than a power grab by the Feds from locals.

    You do see of course the pressure that is applied to CN by the right wing propaganda driven News Guard.

    We have already been had, we are being had and if we don’t do something will all will have been had again and thoroughly smitten by our own government. A government that I’m not for currently.

    Different year same ole shit!

    Thanks CN

  3. Piotr Berman
    January 4, 2023 at 21:28

    As the power of manipulating the public increases, so do the abuses.

    For example, political parties had to care about electability of their candidates, hence with fewer hallmarks of venality and/or incompetence. From that point of view, Sanders would be a much safer choice than both HRC and Biden, the first failing, the second squeezing through a very narrow margin. Sanders could even have coattail effect. Although Sanders could introduce some policies less acceptable to the money lobbies, perhaps, but Democrats would actually be stronger.

    But with increased abilities to manipulate, any blemish that could be sufficiently (or ALMOST sufficiently, in HRC) covered, so no need for bitter compromises (not bitter to the readers of CN).

    There was a time when I believed that party system and politics can evolve in positive direction, power of money can be substituted with charismatic and sensible program+personality, volunteers could substitute for saturation with media ads etc. From those times I have several T-shirts in my closet, starting from Howard Dean, and ending with Tulsi Gabbard. But now, it looks more and more like a theoretical concept…

    But there is still some common sense left in the population, and some media like CN (I follow several others too), so once the impunity leads to a failure that is too large to hide, this “theory” may become practice.

  4. Arch Stanton
    January 4, 2023 at 14:31

    I recently saw a visual online that showed how the ownership of global media has become ever more concentrated since the early 1980s.

    According to the chart, in 1981 approximate 190 entities owned the worlds MSM, today its just 6, and those 6 entities shareholdings (Newscorp, Viacom, TimeWarner, Comcast, Sony & Disney) are majority owned by just 2 entities, Blackrock & Vanguard!
    Blackrock & Vanguard both own substantial stakes in each other with the dynastic Rothschild banking family being significant stock holders.
    This media consolidation is all by design from what I can see. It has coincided with with the US & Israel becoming more and more extreme in their behaviour across the world.

    Too much power has been concentrated in too few hands and the fact that this has been allowed to happen goes to show that no checks and balances for media exist anymore.

    This is what the likes of CN is up against

    • CNfan
      January 5, 2023 at 18:31

      Thanks for that extremely relevant information. That lays out potential lines of ownership and control that could explain the uniformity of the corporate press in their false narratives. It is not plausible that they all make exactly the same mistakes at the same times. Their deviations from the facts are too coordinated to be random accidents.

  5. vinnieoh
    January 4, 2023 at 13:07

    The test of reliability, or truth, or accurate information, is how well a source’s information holds up over time. My visits here and support of this site is based on the fact that since the waning days of GW Bush’s POTUS tenure (when I first started visiting here,) CN has proved to be an accurate source of information, as after-the-fact ‘forensic’ comparisons prove out. The entire MSM joined in the blatant lie that was the ‘Second Gulf War’ aka the illegal and immoral invasion, occupation, and destruction of Iraq. Ditto “Russiagate” and as Mr. Lauria points out above the fierce and vicious narrative control surrounding the conflict in Ukraine.

    I must continue to point out however, that in the interest of understanding this present moment, and the forces at play, that the importance of Nordstream II must not be overlooked. It should have been listed in Joe’s paragraph containing the causes of the conflict. When the ‘official’ organs of information continually harp on a single meme then I am absolutely certain – based on the behavior of my nation of the last 50 years – said meme is to be understood by the listener to be absolute, undeniable, and unimpeachable. Such a meme was the assertion that Russia eventually or ultimately would use the supply of gas to Europe via Nordstream II for the purpose of blackmail or coercion singularly or collectively against the members of the EU: for several years before Feb. 24, 2022 that meme was repeated over and over by all the (Green checked) MSM. That meme has become “an undeniable fact” even though in reality it remains an unfounded indictment of future predicted behavior.

    My concerns that this point is overlooked at the expense of greater understanding is rooted in the history so far of post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine. Almost since the Soviet collapse there was friction between Russia/RU and Ukraine over the operation of the Russian pipelines traversing Ukraine into Western Europe. Though I could never quite determine (through reading/research) which party made the first complaint, the bad blood revolved around transit royalties, supply allotments, and the payment or non-payment of same. Both parties acted at turns in bad faith in a several decades long downward spiral of worsening friction. With the 2014 coup that re-aligned Ukraine into the tender embrace of US/NATO the RU knew that an alternate route for the gas it wished to sell to Europe must be built. Hence NSII and the southern pipeline around the waters off Crimea. Of course, this was a no-no for the coup-plotters at the US State Department, who believed they had fairly won the current round by capturing the government functions of Ukraine (and I believe prod Ukraine to blackmail Russia through control of those pipelines – international law be damned, which is the current US modus opeandus.)

    It is my belief that deep within the decision-making circles of the US powers-that-be is the absolute determination to use the control of energy as the ultimate weapon to shape events and outcomes to whatever ends are desired or formulated. This is hardly deniable in light of US’ aggression of the last several decades towards any energy-rich sovereign nation that does not politically, militarily, or culturally align itself officially with the US.

    There is also the additional fact that the shale gas boom in the US produced more gas than this nation could possibly use at this time. Gas produced makes no profit unless it is sold and consumed, so the US shale gas industry (in fact a shrouded mix of domestic and global investment interests) was to be aided through the use of US foreign policy towards Europe. Hence the US determination to absolutely block NSII and substitute the Russian gas with US shale gas – compressed, shipped, re-gasified, and distributed to Europe. And at a much higher cost, it should be noted, than the Russian gas, which it should also be noted, the contracts for same (Russian gas) were all negotiated according to the rules and regulations of the EU.

    Since “SOMEONE” blew up a section of NSII, Europeans now find themselves on the receiving end of US blackmail and coercion using energy as the leverage of choice.

  6. rosemerry
    January 4, 2023 at 12:59

    What really is “NewsGuard”? Is it a private company known for its truth and integrity like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter??????? Why is anyone allowed to decide what is the truth? Is this some sort of religion and their God is always right? What century are we living in?
    Anyone can look back at youtube for the years 2014 to 2021 and see large numbers of videos on the corrupt, indebted,dangerous situation in Ukraine, showing Nazi-infested groups of militarized adults and even children, not even ashamed of their behavior which now seems to be generalized and accepted by the “West” as good and desirable. The Russia-hatred, formerly perhaps confined in the USA to the Democratic Party, is widespread, and also in the UK and to a lesser extent in Western Europe, but is whipped up by the leaders, especially by the European Commission. To demonstrate the actions of Zelinsky government actions and Russian actions is normal for an honest site or journalist, if we care about truth. Keep on CN! Only warped observers will keep away or complain!!

  7. Vera Gottlieb
    January 4, 2023 at 11:29

    More often than not it seems to me that those screaming the loudest (right or wrong) are the ones who carry the day – intimidating those who voice a different opinion. Actually, it works both ways.

  8. Lois Gagnon
    January 4, 2023 at 11:21

    The crooks who have seized power require compliance to continue to asset strip the planet. They will do anything to achieve it. We must be more determined than they are to be sure they don’t. Thanks Joe and CN.

  9. Rob Roy
    January 4, 2023 at 10:38

    I know all the reasons Putin invaded Ukraine and they are good, logical and reasonable reasons.
    I’m rootin’ for Putin. How many people know Zelensky us corrupt to the core?

  10. susan
    January 4, 2023 at 09:01

    The National Security State doesn’t want their slaves (the rest of us) to know the truth – that is why sites like CN and journalists like Julian Assange are under attack…

  11. Henry Smith
    January 4, 2023 at 07:55

    You know you are over the target by the amount of flak you receive.
    Well done guys, keep riling the establishment with your inconvenient facts.

  12. Sarah Glass
    January 4, 2023 at 00:51

    To an old person, the changes in the ‘press corps’ are obvious if you stop and think about it.

    These days, Biden is criticized for carrying cheat sheets with the answers to questions to the podium. But, nobody thinks it odd that the President actually knows in advance what questions will be asked. At a press conference of say Nixon or Carter, that would have been out of the question. I remember a lady from UPI that used to get to ask the first question of Dubya and she usually tried to stump him. Go back not too far into American history, and the notion of a press corps telling the President what the questions would be in advance would have been laughed at. I’d imagine a politician ‘planted’ a few questions among the corps, but otherwise a press conference was closer to a free-for-all. No way a President could have the ‘answers’ in advance. And these were weekly affairs, so a President was much more engaged with at least surrogates of the public via a press with wider and more independent ownership.

    Also, the DC press corps used to have two reputations. One was that every journalist was trying to make their name, break the story that would get them the big network job, basically draw attention to themselves. The other was that the press had a ‘pack mentality’. Compare that to today. Remember when the AP reporter asked the CIA agent at the State Dept ‘show me the evidence’. It made an anonymous AP reporter very well known overnight. Asking that question created ‘news’. And what happened? Did other reporters do the same to make a name for themselves and get the many views on social media? Did the pack jump into action, asking spokespeople from every agency ‘show me the evidence?’ Nope. None of the above.

    The changes from the press corps of say the 1970’s are obvious and quite noticeable and not to the benefit of democracy.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      January 4, 2023 at 05:50

      That lady who used to ask the first question was the late Helen Thomas.

      • Rob Roy
        January 4, 2023 at 10:35

        Yes, Helen Thomas, and when she made her so-called faux pas, she was ostracized by all in a split second. Not one journalist stepped up for her after all her years of asking hard questions of presidents. That she was she was treated so badly was a shame on the newspaper world that still lingers.

      • Robert Sinuhe
        January 4, 2023 at 11:44

        Unfortunately, Helen Thomas was hounded into retirement by making a simple remark about Israel. She was already over 80 but I think the experience hastened her death through disappointment.

        • Cal Lash
          January 4, 2023 at 17:29

          Joe, good piece.
          I continue to support you all.
          As i mentioned before i cancelled Psy Pal and wrote to Newsguard

  13. David Greenlees
    January 3, 2023 at 22:21

    In the UK, political opponents are (supposed to be) described as “loyal opposition” though when tempers get frayed the idea of loyalty often gets overlooked. While the principle is assumed by many to be extended to activists and journalists, the experiences of Julian Assange and Craig Murray testify otherwise, and is reinforced by the draconian Official Secrets Acts (even though their specific cases were disposed of using lesser guns).

    Craig Murray’s trial judge declared that MSM journalists are protected from prosecution, whereas establishment opposers are fair game. Only government approved journalists, politicians and officials are afforded free speech, i.e. the freedom to lie and dissemble without penalty; the plebs will shut the f**k up and do as they’re told.

    Such is 21st century Britain. As concerning as the US situation may be, that in Britain is considerably worse.

  14. Terry49
    January 3, 2023 at 20:53

    The right to doubt what one is officially told, either by the government or by the mainstream media, is [or should be] the cornerstone of any democracy. As one individual once noted over fifty years ago:

    “A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular.”-Adlai Stevenson

    • Tony
      January 5, 2023 at 08:02

      Adlai Stevenson II:

      The circumstances of his death in London in 1965 are rather curious. A possible assassination carried out by the CIA on President Johnson’s orders.

      Ten year’s later, the existence of a CIA heart attack gun was revealed to the Church Committee.

Comments are closed.