Paul Jay on the role of conspiracies in history; and national identity and the war in Ukraine. Jay is interviewed by Reed Hoffman.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button. Subscribe if you’re on YouTube. Most importantly, come to the website and sign up on the email list. In a few seconds, I’m going to be back with a student, Reed Hoffman, who asked to interview me, and that’s what we’re going to do.
So Reed Hoffman wrote me asking for an interview. Here’s the first paragraph of what he wrote me:
“As a 25-year-old from California, I just returned to school this semester after spending the last eight years of my life working in the restaurant industry and specializing in farm-to-table organics. Having spent eight years of my life working 60-plus-hour weeks, having nothing to show for it, and seeing myself surrounded with people in similar situations, I began to seriously investigate our political-economic systems to understand why exactly this was.”
So as I said, Reed asked me for an interview for school, and I suggested we do it on video. I’m going to turn things over to Reed now. Thanks, Reed, and over to you.
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to this, and I have been for quite a while.
The first question I wanted to ask you is what is your background, and how did you get involved in the media? Specifically, how should I say adversarial national security reporting? Certainly adversarial to a lot of our governments in the West and even outside of the West, their narratives and all that. How did you get interested in this? How did you become involved?
Well, of course, it’s a long story. I’m getting old. I wouldn’t call it adversarial in the sense that that’s not my objective to be adversarial. I think in the note you wrote me, you talked about being involved in anti-imperialist media.
That’s not my objective either. Personally, of course, I’m opposed to imperialism. Anyone that isn’t opposed to imperialism, I suppose, is making money from imperialism, which is actually a lot of people, far more than you would think. If you’re living in the United States, large sections of the population profit from America being the leading imperialist power, not just the people that own shares in the military-industrial complex. One of the things the United States elites are able to do is share some of the plunder of the world with certain sections, even of the working class. Especially workers that are working in the military-industrial complex and some other places that are relatively higher-paid. Although even some of those sections are less higher paid than they were just a few years ago as a result of global wage competition, which is deliberately created.
My starting point is not how to fight imperialism. My starting point is to seek as much truth. I know that word is overused and can mean just about everything and anything to everybody, but I like to understand the world. Yes, I want to change the world, but I think my role in it is to try to base analysis on facts, seek those facts, and that’s where my starting point is.
So, of course, I believe that facts are on the side of the anti-imperialist cause, but that’s often quite debatable just what that is. Nothing’s more clear how that can break out. People can have very different opinions who all claim or are anti-imperialist, and that’s the war in Ukraine, the invasion of Ukraine. So my starting point is not an ideological objective assumption. Of course, no one is immune from such things, but I try to mitigate it, leave my mind open and seek facts. I’m primarily a journalist, although I don’t hide my opinions. I think my role, and I’m not saying this should be everybody’s role.
There is a role for propaganda. If you’re in the trenches and you’re fighting, then one of the tools of fighting is propaganda. Now, I think the best propaganda is based on facts and isn’t bullshit, but when you’re in the trenches, it’s not the same role as a journalist. I think people need journalists that seek facts as open-mindedly as possible. So that’s what I think my role is.
How I got into it is a long story. I stumbled into it. I guess people that follow what I do know I didn’t really even finish high school. I worked for five years on the railroad. I worked for three years in the post office driving a truck. I was a Carman mechanic on the railroad. I got into filmmaking. I guess it was filmmaking that brought me to what I’m doing now because I was able to use filmmaking as a way to explore the world, anything from anthropology. I made a film called The Birth of Language.
“Language was the result of a long and complicated evolutionary process. A process that gave rise to a qualitatively new being, the human.”
I made a film called Return to Kandahar, where I got to go to Afghanistan and get somewhat a handle on what was going on there.
“I witnessed the fanaticism of the Mujahideen leadership. I began to question why the Americans were supporting such extreme forces. I came to realize that the West, which we thought wanted our freedom, was only interested in a victory in the Cold War. Then the world abandoned Afghanistan. After the Russians withdrew for five years, the country was plunged into a brutal civil war.”
Then I was executive producer of the main debate show on CBC television in Canada for ten years, where we were the debate show for the country. This got me more towards a journalism approach.
Well, I have one more question about you, specifically about you. Feel free to give a rather short answer because it was partially covered by the last one. What challenges have you faced that you think are specific to your field of journalism and what you do that you may not have otherwise faced when you were, say, pre-debate show? When you were making films and this type of thing, institutional pushback, these sort of things?
When I was doing the debate show, and when I was more of a filmmaker for quite a few years, I wasn’t an active documentary filmmaker. Although, I’m going back to it again now. We’re working on a documentary series with Daniel Ellsberg based on his book Doomsday Machine. The institutional pushback, strangely enough, was not all that much. It was a strange moment in Canada in two ways. In terms of filmmaking, when I was really actively making films in the late ’80s-’90s, I should say, into the early 2000s. There was actually a lot of money to make films. The Canadian government was subsidizing and trying to get the film industry going. I was able to get into a position of being a fairly successful filmmaker and able to raise money. For a while there, there was not so much institutional pushback.
Now I was making films that were not directly so political. I made a film called Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows about Brett Hart and the World Wrestling Federation, which is what it was called then. It was about values and was political, but only in the course of the storytelling.
I made a film called Lost in Las Vegas, which is about two guys that play the Blues Brothers. They go from Toronto to Vegas looking for a job. It was really about hyper-capitalism, but I didn’t say so.
“An old blue song says there’s a town that has it all, though it ain’t very fair the price of your dreams may be more than a heart can bear. Got your six-string guitar. Got your great big house. Try to sing like money water. Play like landon sound.”
So my filmmaking was kind of positioned in a way that it was more storytelling and the political content fell out of that story. I actually think if you’re making, for most films, that really is the best way to do it if you want to engage a large audience. I started getting some pushback from some of the broadcasters that I would sell to. My stuff went on mainstream TV—anything from A&E, CBC, BBC and so on. As we headed into the 2000s, the commissioning editors were more and more super ratings-driven. More and more wanting to go towards creating more reality TV. So I did get fed up with some of the commissioning editors and the difficulty it was to sell films that have more substance to them.
To some extent that may have changed now because of all the streaming services. There’s quite an interesting variety of films on the streaming services and some of the cable channels, to some extent, more than when I was more active. I’m not saying that theAnalysis is so, what’s the word, with the depth I would like to see, but pretty good in some cases. I think the main thing I learned is that the institutions are not monolithic. You get some good people that make decisions. If you can find some good people that are progressive, then it’s not impossible to get some good documentaries and dramas on TV.
Now, the main institutional pushback right now we’re feeling, and that’s fairly serious, is from the Big Tech. For us, specifically YouTube and, to some extent, Facebook. Youtube, which for theAnalysis is one of our main points of distribution, came pretty close to trying to shut us down. The reports I did on January 6, one of the reports I did on the role of Christian nationalism in the military, they took down some of those stories. They threatened to close down the channel. It was only because Matt Taibbi, the journalist, was writing a piece exposing this. He contacted YouTube, and then they backed off.
We’re pretty sure what they’re doing is what people call shadow-banning, where they don’t promote us. Our YouTube channel used to do tens of thousands of views, and now we’re lucky to do 10,000 views and often less. I’m quite sure there’s an algorithm in place to suppress our views.
I did a report on 9/11 the other day. Somebody tried to share it on Facebook and got a message saying this is not allowed to be shared because some people find this reporting abusive. This was a report on Senator Bob Graham, the Head of the Congressional Joint Investigation into 9/11. I mean, very mainstream sources. Except these are sources that believe [George W.] Bush / [Dick] Cheney deliberately facilitated, knew and facilitated the attacks. All the sources I’m quoting are serious mainstream sources. Same thing with my January 6. They were all mainstream sources.
Anyway, I would say in terms of institutional suppression, one, it’s the Big Tech, and two, I and many others, I would say, progressive journalists who don’t go along with the official narrative. I never get invited onto mainstream television or radio, ever. I’m somebody with a mainstream track record. I came out of executive producing a mainstream TV show for ten years. My films have all been, as I said, on mainstream television. So I got a mainstream history, and I don’t get invited on to anything because they don’t want the content. The same thing happens with other people.
Gore Vidal was a massive celebrity and an extremely well-known pundit. In the late ’60s, he was on TV all the time. When I got to know him in the early 2000s, he barely ever got invited on television because they didn’t like what he had to say.
Yeah, I noticed a lot of that, and it’s not just you. You see people like Chris Hedges, who previously worked at the New York Times. Now he’s nowhere to be seen on mainstream media. Same with Matt Taibbi after the whole Russiagate situation. He called it like it was, and they just stopped letting him on.
Yeah, that’s right.
Well, I think a good segue here because I had a question specifically about your piece that you recently did on 9/11 with Law and Disorder Radio. You mentioned that wars have a tendency to be started with conspiracies in that interview. I was wondering what conspiracies if any, do you think are at play fueling the war in Ukraine?
Well, I’m glad you asked me that, actually. I didn’t know you were going to ask me that. I wanted to talk about this because I’ve had a bunch of emails since I did that report on 9/11. Some of them quoted [Noam] Chomsky, who was critiquing this idea of conspiracy, particularly with 9/11 and some others. I haven’t actually read the whole piece of Chomsky on this. I’m guessing what he had to say, and if it isn’t, then I don’t agree with him. Conspiracy is not the driving force of history. If you focus on the conspiracy and leave it there, you don’t understand why things happen, and you don’t understand what solutions look like. That said, there has never been a war without secrecy. There has never been a coup without secrecy and conspiracy. It’s unimaginable. Oh, okay, we’re going to wage war on you and here are all our plans. It’s ridiculous. Oh, we’re going to stage a coup in Venezuela, and we’re going to tell everyone what we’re doing before we do it. I mean, it’s a ridiculous idea that there’s such a thing as no conspiracy.
When it comes to 9/11, do we think 17 or 18 hijackers got on the planes, and that’s not a conspiracy? It’s ridiculous. Obviously, the hijacking of the planes and flying them into buildings was a conspiracy. The only question is, who was in on it? Not was it a conspiracy? The lead-up to the war in Iraq and all the lies about weapons of mass destruction, that wasn’t a conspiracy? Cheney, Bush and all their bureaucrats, including people like John Bolton, deliberately fabricated evidence about weapons of mass destruction. Deliberately suppressed people that came forward and said, wait for a second, there’s no evidence there are any. Including Joe Wilson, the Ambassador who was sent to go find yellow cake in Africa and came back and said, hold on, Saddam Hussein didn’t buy any yellow cake. There was no yellow cake. The whole story is made up. Not only did they try to go after him and suppress him, they essentially outed his CIA wife, Valerie Plame. I mean, it’s all at the level of conspiracy.
Now, what’s important to understand about conspiracy, because obviously there is, that’s the motivating underlying reasons for the Iraq war or for other wars. It’s not because some people just said, oh, shit, let’s have a war. Let’s conspire to have it. Obviously, when it came to Iraq, first and foremost, and this is again, in the realm of conspiracy, it was the oil. Dick Cheney’s Halliburton made, I can’t remember how many billions of dollars.
I think it was a $9 billion no-bid contract leading up to the war in Iraq to make plans for taking over the Iraqi oil industry. Geopolitically, there was this vision which people can read. This is the thing about a lot of these conspiracies; some of the documents are quite public. The Project for New American Century is all about, first and foremost, reasserting American military might in what was then considered a one superpower world to a massive increase in expenditure on the military. Then it says quite clearly, that the Americans will never accept another war, and they won’t accept a massive build-out of the armed forces military budget without a new— and this is a direct quote— a new Pearl Harbor. Well, that was in print. I mean, that wasn’t secret. These guys that were all in on writing that document wound up getting positions in Bush’s presidency, all around [Donald] Rumsfeld. And they didn’t plan that? Did they publicly declare, oh, we’re going to start a war in Iraq because we want to grab the oil, make lots of money, and geopolitically it’s the first step in regime change? We go from Iraq to Syria to Iran. The big objective is regime change in Iran.
Anyway, all, of course, are underlying economic motives in terms of profit-making for the military-industrial complex. In terms of the consciousness of the people that play this out, of course, they conspire. So with the 9/11 thing, when you’ve got a Bob Graham, a Senator and an insider in terms of the American intelligence community, saying that he thinks that Bush-Cheney knew the attacks were coming and facilitated them. People can listen to my interview for the details on it.
Now, I don’t know, me, Paul Jay, I don’t know that Bush-Cheney facilitated the attacks for 9/11. I wasn’t in the room with them. I can’t verify it. The fact that Bob Graham says it is news because of who he is. He’s not some guy that’s just sitting in front of a computer blabbing. This is a serious player in the intelligence committee, and I couldn’t get anybody in mainstream media to pay attention.
Now, as far as Ukraine goes, well, to some extent, a lot of what NATO and the U.S. did was in the open. So I don’t know exactly what the conspiracy was there. They armed Ukraine pretty openly in the months leading up to the Russian invasion. They’re even saying openly now that they want to use the Ukraine war to weaken [Vladimir] Putin. I’m not exactly sure what that has to do with defending democracy.
It rarely has anything to do with that.
Rarely. Now on Putin’s side, there’s a lot of lying. As I said, every American war was based on lies, and so was this Russian invasion of Ukraine. I don’t believe there was an imminent attack ready on Donbas. Now they’re claiming the attack; I think in some recent Russian statements, they were expecting an attack on Crimea. I don’t see the evidence for it, maybe. There are lots of steps to defend Crimea, assuming one even accepts that Russia should even have Crimea. Crimea is a little bit fuzzy for me because it has got a weird history, which people watching this probably know. There was not such an imminent attack that it required this kind of response. I’m not sure there was any evidence of any imminent attack on Crimea or Donbas.
I keep saying over and over again that I don’t know how much violence there was from the Ukrainian Army toward Donbas in the lead up to February 2022. I do know that everybody, including the Russians and everyone who’s defending the Russians, uses this number of 14,000 people killed. They claimed when they used this number, they were killed by the Ukrainian government. Well, I only know of one place that 14,000 number comes from, and that is the UN release of the report by the OSCE, I guess it is. This is where the 14,000 number comes from.
In that report, it’s 3,400 civilians, not 14,000. Almost entirely between the years 2014 and 2016, when there really was a war going on between the Ukrainian government and forces within Donbas, of that 14,000, there were actually more Ukrainian soldiers killed. I’m doing this by memory. I think it was more than 4,000. So more Ukrainian soldiers were killed than civilians in Donbas. Then there’s another category of death, which I believe is called armed groups. I’m guessing this is the Nazi militias, but I’m not sure of that. This number is around the same number as Ukrainian soldiers killed. Anyway, the point is that there were not 14,000 civilians killed, according to that report.
Now the same report, the same source of the number 14,000, they say from 2018 to 2021, the total number of civilian deaths in Donbas was 310. Now that’s got to be less than people killed by car accidents. So this is not an imminent genocide.
Now, yes. Do I think that the Ukrainian government should never have used force to suppress what seems to be a legitimate aspiration of the people in much of Donbas, maybe not all. No, I don’t. I don’t think the Ukrainian Army ever should have. I don’t think the Ukrainian Army should ever allow Nazi militias to operate at all. They should suppress them. They should arrest them. They should throw them all in jail. That is still not a reason to invade and kill thousands of people. There’s no basis for a Russian invasion.
Is it a conspiracy? Well, in the sense that there was so much lying going on in the Russian side. Including up to the point where they had 230,000 troops, and Putin was still saying they were not going to invade. Of course, wars are always conducted in secrecy.