The first two parts of the book, which was published by CounterPunch, AK Press in 2007, pay special attention to the Washington Post and the New York Times. In the former, the demise began with the Watergate affair in 1974 where the role of the press was expanded way beyond its scope of coverage. At this point, the corporate world saw that winning over the press had become crucial, especially after the decline in profits noted in the 1970s. Eventually journalists began receiving generous salaries and the words of corporate America became truths and were marketed accordingly. According to contributing author Ken Silverstein, ‘behind the media’s violent swing was an expensive, carefully planned corporate campaign to recapture the culture’.

As for the New York Times (NYT), Cockburn finds that it is no longer even worthy of criticism. Its promotion of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of unverified claims has dealt a blow to its integrity. The newspaper contributed to the creation of the myth around the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Some reporters even forged stories on their own to press for the war, like Jeffrey Goldberg who made up supposed links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. In 2006, the NYT issued an apologetic editorial for its role in promoting the war. It is interesting that no names were mentioned of the responsible journalists. And as with other media and US intelligence agencies, the scapegoat was of course Ahmad Chalabi. But can he really be blamed if his allegations were never even questioned?

In an article entitled ‘How to Sell a War’, St Clair dissects the propaganda undertaken by the US government and media. To convince the public of his endeavor, George Bush never presented a legal case for it, but rather employed his psychology of fear. Colin Powell, aware of the importance of the media’s role, hired America’s most successful public relations woman Charlotte Beers for, in his words, ‘the branding of US foreign policy’. Her project, Brand America, cost $500 million to spread US propaganda into the Muslim world. After the onset of the war, the Pentagon tightened its grip on the media coverage reaching the US from Iraq and tried to stop the broadcast of al-Jazeera. St Clair finds that Americans were ‘the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortion, deception and lies’.

Domestic politics also saw the media deployed for the service of the government’s corruption. The book expands on a number of examples through which the media has targeted America’s black community. Ishmael Reed, in his essay ‘How the Media Use Blacks to Chastise Blacks’ discusses how employing black anchors and hosts can be an easier way to broadcast messages that would otherwise be thought of as racist. These media personnel blamed the victim and portrayed America’s blacks as the cause of the country’s social problems. Other essays shed light on how the media ignored the deliberate isolation of the black vote in Florida and how black victims of hurricane Katrina were portrayed differently from white victims.

The fourth estate, as depicted by Cockburn and St Clair, has lost a great deal of its credibility. As was the case when the media blatantly made up lies about the necessity of a war on Iraq, its content has become very much a function of the political or commercial environment that fosters it. The book reveals to the reader of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’, which the average reader/viewer would not normally account for. The important lesson one learns from the book is that nothing is to be taken for granted, no matter the reputation of the writer, newspaper, TV station, presenter, etc…