The Lies of Our Times, in Those Times

Posted on July 2, 2011

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Every once in a while, I think it’s a good idea to preserve historical items that are on the verge of extinction or erasure from the collective memory. I rarely meet anyone who remembers Lies of Our Times, one of the first, I think, regular and accessible magazines that brought news analysis into popular discourse. So, as apparently one of the few primary sources on the phenomenon, I bear witness to history.

Extra!, which predates LOOT by a few years, is still around, and still doing well even at a critical moment for journalism, in which the physical magazine gives way to the electronic. But in a time when there was a growing concern about the ideological foundations of print and broadcast media–and as the corporate consolidation of print and broadcast neutered the independence of news rooms across platforms–there were precious few sources on which to establish critical thinking and valid skepticism. There were just a few seminal works that pointed the way, Chomsky and Herman’s “Manufacturing Consent” and earlier less analytically framed studies such as Edwin R. Bayley’s “Joe McCarthy and the Press”–but very few magazines dedicated to the regular analysis of current reportage of events.

At a time when my own skepticism was just beginning to grow–fueled by a visceral repugnance of the embedded racism in reporting on Latin America and the Middle East, especially after the invasions of Panama and Iraq in the nineties–I found LOOT quite by accident in the periodical shelves of Modern Times bookstore in San Francisco. I was attracted at first by just how amateurish, and in that moment in my worldview and aesthetics, “cool” it was. Since I had never actually seen the masthead of the New York Times, the magazine’s masthead, which was an obvious parody of it, reminded me of cholo artwork and graffiti. For that, and many other reasons of formatting and imagery, it seemed more like a punk zine than anything else, despite the advanced age of both the contributors and the founders–William Schaap and Ellen Ray [who also founded and published Covert Action quarterly, which was my radical news reader for a decade until the advent of a usable internet made it obsolete].

But what held my interest was the fantastic writing and well documented and sourced arguments. It was my first encounter with the idea of an evidence based analysis, as funny as that sounds to write today. Until that point, and like many Americans, I made arguments according to how I viscerally felt about an issue, not realizing that sometimes those views were simply dumb and reactionary, but that other times they were right on, but weakened by their lack of substance.

Unlike many on the left, perhaps, who were fans of Schapp and Ray’s publications, this was my first exposure to left-wing politics, a sort of Rosetta stone that took me a while to decipher. I often didn’t know much of the political background then, having to assemble histories and facts through other methods–the information superhighway of those days, the encyclopedia. But it was an incredible primer, where I was introduced to the accessible works of Noam Chomsky, Michael Parentti and Laura Flanders. After the demise of LOOT, I went searching for other periodicals, and found Covert Action, the Middle East Report, and FAIR‘s Extra! [which I’ve been fortunate enough to write for on several occasions]. And, of course, it inspired a me and a friend to start our own media criticism ‘zine, the horribly formatted and awfully argued, but well-sourced, Disinformation Interference Squad, which we distributed for free in New Orleans of the mid nineties.

I often wonder if it hadn’t been for LOOT, if I’d have found those others, and if my thirst for counter-establishment arguments would have been stoked as effectively. In any case, they’re worth taking a look at, and the entire run is archived thankfully, in PDF here: