Former left-wing media analyst joins transition team
By S.T. Patrick
At a 2018 panel organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Stengel said, “There’s another word for ‘master narratives.’ It’s called ‘history.’ Basically, every country creates their own narrative story. My old job at the State Department was what people used to joke as the ‘chief propagandist.’ I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it and they have to do it to their own population. I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.” Today, Stengel is the most prominent media appointee to Joe Biden’s transition team.
As Barack Obama’s undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, Stengel created what he described as the “only entity in government, non-classified entity, that combated Russian disinformation.” The entity was the Global Engagement Center, Ben Norton of “TheGrayzone. com” described as “a massive vehicle for advancing U.S. government propaganda around the world.”
There are a couple of pillars that fortify Stengel’s beliefs about the government’s relationship with the media and the media’s relationship (and obligation to) the people. He spent his time in the Obama administration outlining them publicly—but with limited reach—to friendly think tanks and universities. He has espoused his evolving ideologies on media even further in his recently published book Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.
As a proud strategist in what he openly calls an “information war,” Stengel believes that the public’s access to information—and the information presented to them—should be carefully managed so that it fits the master narrative that has been approved for public consumption by an “authority.”
Though he once self-described himself as a free speech absolutist, Stengel now proposes a “rethinking” of that idea. “Having once been almost a First Amendment absolutist,” Stengel said in 2018, “I have really moved my position on it, because I just think for practical reasons in society, we have to kind of rethink some of those things.”
Ben Norton appears confident of where the Biden team is headed in relation to media censorship. He wrote, “Stengel’s appointment appears to be the clearest signal of a coming escalation by the Biden administration of the censorship and suppression of online media that is seen to threaten U.S. imperatives abroad.”
Stengel came to the Obama team from TIME Magazine, where he was the managing editor from 2006-2013. In 2008, under Stengel’s leadership, TIME put Obama on their cover 14 times and named him “Person of the Year.” After serving in the Obama administration, he went to Snap, Inc., the company that controls social media apps Snapchat and Bitmoji. He then joined MSNBC as one of their team of analysts pushing the Russiagate theory. Stengel is well known for proclaiming that Donald Trump had a “bro-mance” with Vladimir Putin. He now heads the Biden-Harris agency review team for the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM).
Stengel’s book was highly praised by historian Jon Meacham, who appeared on MSNBC to praise the Biden acceptance speech at the Milwaukee convention without notifying MSNBC that he, himself, had helped write the speech. In essence, he appeared on MSNBC as a historical analyst to praise his own work. MSNBC has since stated that they will not be paying Meacham for further analysis, but that he will still be asked to appear on the network in an unpaid capacity and with full disclosure of any work he performs for the administration. Meacham is best known for his book Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.
MSNBC has also reported that Barbara Mc-Quade and Ezekiel Emanuel will no longer appear as paid analysts since joining the Biden transition team. McQuade joined Mr. Biden as part of the legal agency review team and Emanuel joined the Biden-Harris team as a member of the coronavirus task force.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Eric Wemple writes, “Hey MSNBC: You’re supposed to be challenging Fox News in viewer ratings, not in the number of folks that you feed into the White House!”
Granted, Fox News fed quite a few appointees into the Trump White House. There is a systemic problem in news that news channels now rely on “analysts,” news celebrities, and pundits (or “talking heads”) more heavily than on journalists. The immediate problem resides in
the idea that Mr. Biden is promoting a media figure who proposes and supports propagandistic techniques to oversee agencies that deal with the dissemination of information—and this at a time when social media companies continue to clamp down on independent journalists and foreign news agencies who fight U.S. interventionism. Those who fight the “master narratives” created by state actors for public consumption inch yet one step closer to being “enemies of the state.”
S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected] He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available from the AFP Online Store.