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The Fake News Nazi: Corbyn, Williamson And The Anti-Semitism Scandal

One of us had a discussion with an elderly relative:

He can’t be allowed to become Prime Minister.

Why not?

It’s so awful…

What is?

The way he hates the Jews.

The last comment was spoken with real anguish, the result of continuous exposure to just two main news sources: the Daily Mail and the BBC.

What is astonishing is that, just four years ago, essentially no-one held this view of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn first became an MP in 1983. He stood for the Labour leadership 32 years later, in May 2015. We searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 18 hits

Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 11,251 hits

None of the 18 hits accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. For his first 32 years as an MP, it just wasn’t a theme associated with him.

We also searched the ProQuest database for UK newspaper articles containing:

Labour Party and anti-semitism before 1 May 2015 = 5,347 hits

Labour Party and anti-semitism after 1 May 2015 = 13,921 hits

The archive begins in 1980, which means that more than twice as many articles have included these terms in the last four years than in the 35 years from 1980 until May 2015 when Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership. A standard response to these findings runs along these lines:

Irrelevant backbencher gets less Press attention than Leader of The Opposition SHOCKER. What’s your next scoop, Water Wet, Sky Blue?

But, in fact, Corbyn was not an irrelevant backbencher. We found 3,662 hits for articles mentioning Corbyn before May 2015. Many of these are mentions in passing, but he had also long been a high-profile anti-war MP at a time of numerous wars. And he was frequently smeared, only not about his supposed anti-semitism. Consider, for example, an article that appeared in The Sun in 1999, under a typically cruel title:

Why did it take you so long to dump him, Mrs Corbyn?1

The story:

EXTREME Left MP Jeremy Corbyn has been dumped by his missus after an amazing bust-up over their son’s education.

The key issue, according to The Sun:

Now the question on everyone’s lips is: Why did it take her so long to leave the loathsome Lefty, and more importantly, why is she only moaning about his choice of schools?

Because there was, apparently, plenty to moan about. The Sun described Corbyn as ‘class crusader Jeremy – a rabid IRA sympathiser’ who ‘not only looks and dresses like a third-rate Open University lecturer, he thinks like one too. In 1984 the Provo stooge invited twice-convicted terrorist and bomber Linda Quigley to the House of Commons just 13 days after the IRA’s murderous attack on Tories staying at the Grand Hotel in Brighton’.

This was pretty brutal stuff. The Sun added of Corbyn’s ex-wife:

Claudia’s saviour of the masses also suffers incredible delusions of grandeur. Communist states may be falling like dominoes, but raving Red Jeremy still believes his outdated views are relevant to modern-day Britain.

And:

Not only is Jeremy a political coward who backs terrorists, he is also a self-confessed big girl’s blouse.

And:

Jeremy’s mis-shapen suits, lumpy jumpers and nylon shirts are not exactly what the well-dressed radical is wearing in 1999… Claudia should be aware her ex is irredeemably, unforgivably, annoyingly stupid.

Given the no-holds-barred nature of the smear, it is amazing that The Sun made no mention at all of Corbyn’s vile anti-semitism, viewed as his most obvious and dangerous defect now.

The reason is that, as this shows, not even his worst enemies viewed him as an anti-semite. The extreme Tory press aside, the accepted view of Corbyn pre-2015 is indicated by a long, admiring piece in which Jewish journalist Deborah Ross, whose family members were murdered in Polish pogroms even before the Nazi Holocaust was unleashed, interviewed him for the Independent in 2005. Ross commented:

He is also, it is generally agreed, an exemplary constituency MP. Even my friend Rebecca, who recently sought his help on a local issue, and never usually has a nice word to say about anybody, which is why I like her, describes him as a “totally genuine mensch”.

Ross added:

As The Sun would have it, Mr Corbyn is a “beardy Bolshevik” and “loathsome lefty” but he does not come across as either. He has strong opinions but does not demand you listen to them, if you don’t want to.

He is scandal free, unless you count the hoo-ha a few years back when it was revealed that Jeremy’s oldest son would be attending a grammar school outside the borough.

Joseph Finlay is a former Deputy Editor of the Jewish Quarterly, who co-founded a range of grassroots Jewish organisations such as Moishe House London, Wandering Jews, Jewdas and The Open Talmud Project. On 2 March 2018, Finlay wrote in his blog under the title, ‘Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, not an anti-Semite’:

Firstly we need to restore some perspective. The Labour party has thousands of Jewish members, many Jewish councillors, a number of prominent Jewish MPs and several Jewish members of its ruling council. Many people at the heart of the Corbyn team, such as Jon Lansman, James Schneider and Rhea Wolfson are also Jewish. Ed Miliband, the previous party leader, was Jewish (and suffered antisemitism at the hands of the press and the Conservatives). I have been a member for five years and, as a Jew, have had only positive experiences.

Finlay added:

Jeremy Corbyn has been MP for Islington North since 1983 – a constituency with a significant Jewish population. Given that he has regularly polled over 60% of the vote (73% in 2017) it seems likely that a sizeable number of Jewish constituents voted for him. As a constituency MP he regularly visited synagogues and has appeared at many Jewish religious and cultural events. He is close friends with the leaders of the Jewish Socialist Group, from whom he has gained a rich knowledge of the history of the Jewish Labour Bund, and he has named the defeat of Mosley’s Fascists at the Battle of Cable as a key historical moment for him. His 2017 Holocaust Memorial Day statement talked about Shmuel Zygielboym, the Polish Bund leader exiled to London who committed suicide in an attempt to awaken the world to the Nazi genocide. How many British politicians have that level of knowledge of modern Jewish history?

Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook notes that a recent Labour Party report ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics ‘not only of endemic anti-semitism in Labour, but of any significant problem at all’. Cook summarised:

Over the previous 10 months, 673 complaints had been filed against Labour members over alleged anti-semitic behaviour, many based on online comments. In a third of those cases, insufficient evidence had been produced.

The 453 other allegations represented 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.

He added:

That echoed an earlier report by the Commons home affairs committee, which found there was “no reliable, empirical evidence” that Labour had more of an anti-semitism problem than any other British political party.

In ‘Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain: A study of attitudes towards Jews and Israel’ by the Jewish Institute for Policy Research, L. Daniel Staetsky found:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population. Yet, all parts of those on the left of the political spectrum – including the “slightly left-of-centre,” the “fairly left-wing” and the “very left-wing” – exhibit higher levels of anti-Israelism than average. The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.

The report notes that ‘the prevalence of antisemitism on the far right is considerably higher than on the left and in the political centre’.

Noam Chomsky has commented:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.2

Suspending Chris Williamson

On February 27, a propaganda blitz was launched against anti-war Labour MP Chris Williamson who had been filmed saying that Labour Party responses to claims of anti-semitism had exacerbated the crisis:

I’ve got to say, I think our party’s response has been partly responsible… Because, in my opinion, we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

Williamson added:

We’ve done more to address the scourge of anti-semitism than any political party.

It is clear that Williamson was strongly endorsing the fight against anti-semitism and was proud of the Labour Party’s record. Actual anti-semites talk of ‘the scourge of Judaism’, Williamson talked of ‘the scourge of anti-semitism’. He was suggesting that the party had been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign attempting to destroy Corbyn by exploiting the issue of anti-semitism.

Others chose to see it differently. Guardian columnist Owen Jones responded to Williamson’s comments:

This is utterly out of order. When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry? Why is he, a non-Jew, right and Jon Lansman – a Jewish socialist who founded Momentum and ran Corbyn’s second leadership campaign – wrong about anti-Semitism?

We replied:

When does the left ever say we’ve been “too apologetic” about fighting racism or bigotry?

He’s *endorsing* the fight against racism and bigotry. He’s saying Labour has been too apologetic in responding to a cynical smear campaign to destroy Corbyn in the name of anti-racism.

Ash Sharkar of Novara Media tweeted:

Chris Williamson has been had the Labour whip suspended pending investigation, which I think is the right decision. But much more work must be done to proactively confront and dismantle conspiratorial and antisemitic thinking on the left, and it goes much further than expulsions.

Aaron Bastani, also of Novara Media, wrote:

I think media coverage of the “Labour anti-semitism crisis” is completely disproportionate – primarily because it underplays problem more broadly across society.

Equally, hearing & reading the things I have in recent days I wouldn’t feel welcome in the party as a Jewish person.

In our latest book, Propaganda Blitz, we noted a key factor driving home these smear blitzes:

While a demonising propaganda blitz may arise from rightist politics and media, the propaganda coup de grace ending public doubt often comes from the “left-liberal” journalists at the Guardian, the Independent, the BBC and Channel 4; and also from non-corporate journalists who crave acceptance by these media. Again, the logic is clear: if even celebrity progressive journalists – people famous for their principled stands, and colourful socks and ties – join the denunciations, then there must be something to the claims. At this point, it actually becomes difficult to doubt it.3

Foreign Wars – Racism versus Speciesism

The truth of the corporate media’s ‘ethical concern’ becomes clearer when we consider Corbyn’s record on foreign wars. While the UK affects to care deeply about racism, Chomsky has noted that the West’s endless ‘interventions’ – all reflexively supported by the same media damning Corbyn now – are manifestations of a prejudice, beyond even racism, that is a kind of speciesism:

Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.4

Even if Corbyn was an anti-semite, a racist, he would still be a far safer ethical choice than Tory and Blairite speciesists who value human beings on the level of ants. After all, we find that Jeremy Corbyn:

Consistently voted against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Consistently voted against the Iraq war.

… voted to say that the case for war against Iraq has not yet been established’.

… voted against a motion stating the Government should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Support for the motion by the majority of MPs led to the UK joining the US invasion of Iraq two days later.

Generally voted for investigations into the Iraq war.

… acted as teller for a vote on UK Air Strikes Against ISIL in Iraq.

… voted against the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya.

… voted against the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan.

… voted to decline to authorise UK military action in Syria.

… voted against UK airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

Generally voted against replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system.

Consider, by contrast, the record of the Labour MPs who have left the Labour Party, supposedly in protest at the rise of anti-semitism, to form The Independent Group:

Chuka Umunna: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Angela Smith: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Mike Gapes: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Chris Leslie: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Luciana Berger: Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Joan Ryan: Consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas,  Consistently voted for the Iraq war, Consistently voted against investigations into the Iraq war.

Ann Coffey: Almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Gavin Shuker: Voted a mixture of for and against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

Not even his most extreme critics are suggesting that Corbyn is offering the kind of threat to Jewish people consistently offered by Tory and Blairite MPs to millions of people in countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Iran and Yemen. Even if Corbyn had erred in failing to perceive the ugliness of a mural declared antisemitic by the press; even if had been lax in taking action against party racists, and so on, how do these failings compare to the destruction of whole countries in lie-based wars of aggression?

Why do corporate media never make this moral comparison? Because they are incapable of perceiving US-UK crimes against humanity as crimes; a wilful moral blindness that renders them completely unfit to pass judgment on Corbyn. Especially as they are themselves, of course, complicit in these same war crimes.

Conclusion

The claim that Corbyn is an anti-semite presiding over a surge in Labour Party anti-semitism is fake news; it is a scam of the utmost cynicism and brutality. It should be viewed as the latest in a long line of attempts to destroy Corbyn by all necessary means. He has been smeared for not bowing low enough, for not singing loudly enough, for hating women, for disrespecting gay people, for consorting with terrorists, for refusing to unleash a nuclear holocaust, for being a shambolic leader, for being a shambolic dresser, for leading Labour towards certain electoral disaster, for being a Putinite stooge, for aping Trump, and so on. Now, finally, someone widely admired for thirty years as a decent, socialist MP, has been transformed into an anti-semite; or as game show assistant and political commentator Rachel Riley implies, a ‘Nazi’.

Anti-semitism does exist in the Labour Party, as it exists throughout UK society, and, of course, these delusions should be resisted and exposed. But the smear campaign against Corbyn is not rooted in concern for the welfare of Jewish people; it is not even about blocking a political leader who cares about Palestinian rights. It is about preventing Corbyn from undoing Tony Blair’s great achievement of transforming the Labour Party into a second Tory Party, thus ensuring voters have no option challenging corporate domination, including the ‘humanitarian interventions’ for oil and other resources. The goal is to stop Corbyn letting democracy out of its box.

Stephen Law of Heythrop College, University of London, warns that cavalier accusations made ‘on the basis of obviously flimsy or nonexistent evidence’ are ‘disrespecting the memory of the millions who were slaughtered by real antisemitism during the Holocaust’. But, in fact, it is worse than that. State propagandists and their corporate media allies are exploiting the suffering of these millions as part of an attack on British democracy. This is obscene. But it is not particularly shocking after the campaigns of deceit which, as discussed, knowingly risked and then shattered the lives of millions of innocent human beings in US-UK wars of aggression.

One thing is certain, if Corbyn and his style of socialism can be made to disappear, we’ll hear no more about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, just as we heard no more about Iraqi democracy after Saddam Hussein, or human rights in Libya after Gaddafi; just as we will hear no more about press freedom in Venezuela, if Maduro is overthrown.

As this alert was being written, news emerged that Corbyn had been subjected to a physical assault in London, to muted concern from almost all corporate media and journalists (compare ‘mainstream’ reaction to news that Conservative MP Anna Soubry had been called a ‘Nazi’). Journalists claimed Corbyn had merely had an egg thrown at him. Labour MP Diane Abbott tweeted:

I was there. He punched Jeremy very hard. He happened to have an egg in his palm. But it could have been a knife. Horrible

Perhaps journalists couldn’t bear to express concern for a person they have so completely reviled for almost four years. Or perhaps they knew their smears of a thoroughly decent, well-intentioned man would be thrown back at them. More likely, they just didn’t care. And that, finally, is the truth of their ‘ethical concern’ – they don’t care.

  1. Ally Ross, The Sun, 13 May 1999.
  2. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018.
  3. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Press, 2018, pp.8-9.
  4. Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ 31 July 2007.

“We Don’t Do Propaganda”

Earlier this month, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, author of Utopia For Realists, was interviewed by the high-profile Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. During a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Bregman had bluntly told billionaires that they should stop avoiding taxes and pay their fair share:

“We gotta be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit, in my opinion.”

His comments went viral which, in turn, led to him being invited on to Carlson’s television show. It’s safe to say that the interview did not go as the right-wing host would have liked. In fact, Fox News decided not to air the segment. However, it was captured on mobile phone footage in the Amsterdam studio where Bregman was doing the interview and it was later distributed via Twitter. He told Carlson:

‘The vast majority of Americans, for years and years now, according to the polls – including Fox News viewers and including Republicans – are in favour of higher taxes on the rich. Higher inheritance taxes, higher top marginal tax rates, higher wealth taxes, it’s all really mainstream. But no one’s saying that at Davos, just as no one’s saying it on Fox News, right? And I think the explanation for that is quite simple, is that most of the people in Davos, but also here on this channel, have been bought by the billionaire class. You know? You’re not meant to say these things. So I just went there, and I thought, you know what, I’m just going to say it, just as I’m saying it right here on this channel.’

Carlson was happy enough at this point. Indeed, he praised Bregman for what he’d said in Davos: “That was one of the great moments – maybe the great moment in Davos history.”

Carlson added: “If I was wearing a hat, I’d take it off to you.”

The Dutch historian continued:

‘America is still pretty much the most powerful country in the world, right? So if it really would want to, it could easily crack down on tax paradises. But the thing is, you guys have brought into power a president who doesn’t even want to share his own tax returns. I mean, who knows how many billions he has hidden in the Cayman Islands or in Bermuda. So I think the issue really is one of corruption and of people being bribed, and of not being, not talking about the real issues. What the family—what the Murdochs [owners of Fox News] basically want you to do is to scapegoat immigrants instead of talking about tax avoidance.’

By this point, it was clear that Carlson was unhappy with how the interview was going:

‘And I’m taking orders from the Murdochs, that’s what you’re saying?’

Bregman responded reasonably:

‘No, I mean, it doesn’t work that directly. But I mean, you’ve been part of the [right-wing libertarian think tank] Cato Institute, right? You’ve been a senior fellow there for years.’

The Fox News presenter interjected aggressively, seemingly rattled: “Well how does it work?”

Bregman replied:

‘Well, it works by you taking their dirty money. They’re funded by Koch billionaires, you know? It’s as easy as that. I mean, you are a millionaire, funded by billionaires, that’s what you are. And I’m glad you now finally jumped the bandwagon of people like Bernie Sanders and AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a newly elected Democrat politician in New York], but you’re not part of the solution, Mr. Carlson. You’re part of the problem, actually. … All the anchors, all the anchors of Fox—’

By this point, Carlson had lost it: “You would have to be a moron, you would have to be—”

Bregman carried on speaking:

‘They’re all millionaires. How is this possible? Well it’s very easy, you’re just not talking about certain things.

‘You are a millionaire funded by billionaires, that’s what you are… You’re part of the problem.’

Bregman then correctly predicted: ‘you’re probably not going to air this on your show.’

He added:

‘But I went to Davos to speak truth to power and I’m doing exactly the same thing right now. You might not like it, but you’re a millionaire funded by billionaires and that’s the reason you’re not talking about these issues.’

Carlson: “But I am talking about these issues.”

‘Yeah, only now. Come on, you jumped the bandwagon. You’re all like, oh, I’m against the globalist elite, blah blah blah. It’s not very convincing to be honest.’

That was too much for Carlson who exploded:

‘I wanna say to you why don’t you go fuck yourself ― you tiny brain. And I hope this gets picked up because you’re a moron. I tried to give you a hearing, but you were too fucking annoying…’

Unflustered, Bregman interjected with a smile: “You can’t handle the criticism, can you?”

Afterwards, Bregman shared the clip on his Twitter feed:

‘Here’s the interview that @TuckerCarlson and Fox News didn’t want you to see. I chose to release it, because I think we should keep talking about the corrupting influence of money in politics. It also shows how angry elites can get if you do that.’

As predicted, Fox News did not air the segment. No doubt prompted by Bregman releasing the exchange into the public domain, Carlson addressed it on his show:

‘Things went fine for the first few minutes and then Bregman launched into an attack on Fox News. It’s not clear that Bregman has ever seen Fox. But he wanted to make his point. Fine.

‘But then he claimed that [adopts a fierce voice] my corporate masters tell me what to say on the show, and that was too much.’

Carlson continued:

‘Whatever my faults or those of this channel, nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on the air – never – not one time. We have total freedom here and we are grateful for that. I have hosted shows on both the other cable channels so I know first-hand how rare that freedom is. On this show, thanks to Fox, we get to say exactly what we think is true, for better or worse.

‘But there was no convincing Bregman of that, he knew what he knew. So I did what I try hard never to do on this show, and I was rude. I called him a moron and then I modified that word with a vulgar Anglo-Saxon term that is also intelligible in Dutch.

‘In my defence, I would say that was entirely accurate. But you’re not allowed to use that word on television. So, once I’d said it out loud, there was no airing the segment.’

Carlson then pointed out that Bregman had released the exchange and that you could find it online:

‘There is some profanity, and I apologize for that. On the other hand, it was genuinely heartfelt and I meant it with total sincerity.’

It was a far from convincing explanation for why Fox News had not aired the segment. After all, a simple bleep could have overridden any profanity: a standard procedure used in television.

Note that we are not claiming that everything Carlson says can be dismissed as kow-towing to his ‘corporate masters’. Last year, for example, he admirably challenged the establishment consensus on Syria. That expression of dissent may well have boosted his ratings: always a welcome factor for a media outlet. Our point is that there is no freedom to ‘say exactly what we think’ on a corporate outlet. As Herman and Chomsky explained in Manufacturing Consent, there are structural limits in the ‘mainstream’ media:

‘the “societal purpose” of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises.’1

That phrase, ‘keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises’, is crucial. Thus, for instance, a Fox News presenter who looked critically at the ownership and advertising behind that network would not last long; indeed, would likely never have been promoted into that trusted position in the first place.

‘You Say What You Like, Because They Like What You Say’

What was perhaps most interesting in Carlson’s riposte to Bregman was his defence of Fox News:

‘nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on the air – never – not one time. We have total freedom here and we are grateful for that. I have hosted shows on both the other cable channels so I know first-hand how rare that freedom is. On this show, thanks to Fox, we get to say exactly what we think is true, for better or worse.’

Even former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger understood the absurdity of this response. In 2000, he told one of us in an interview:

‘If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, “Rupert Murdoch”, or whoever, “never tells me what to write”, which is beside the point: they don’t have to be told what to write… It’s understood.’

In fact, Bregman had already noted when he released the exchange:

‘I stand behind what I said, but there’s one thing I should have done better. When Carlson asked me how he’s being influenced by Big Business and tax-avoiding billionaires, I should have quoted Noam Chomsky.’

He expanded:

‘Years ago, when he was asked a similar question, Chomsky replied: “I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”‘

Long-time readers of Media Lens will recall this example very well. It came up in a BBC2 programme in 1995 called The Big Idea when Andrew Marr – then of the Independent and now with BBC News – interviewed Chomsky about the propaganda model of the media. The quote in question comes when Marr is struggling to grasp the propaganda system that filters for obedient, power-serving journalists who are able to carve out a successful career in the ‘mainstream’.

Marr: ‘I’m just interested in this because I was brought up like a lot of people, probably post-Watergate film and so on, to believe that journalism was a crusading craft and there were a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism. And I have to say, I think I know some of them.’

Chomsky: ‘Well, I know some of the best, and best-known, investigative reporters in the United States – I won’t mention names – whose attitude towards the media is much more cynical than mine. In fact, they regard the media as a sham. And they know, and they consciously talk about how they try to play it like a violin. If they see a little opening, they’ll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn’t make it through. And it’s perfectly true that the majority – I’m sure you’re speaking for the majority of journalists who are trained – have it driven into their heads, that this is a crusading profession, adversarial, we stand up against power. A very self-serving view. On the other hand, in my opinion, I hate to make a value judgement but, the better journalists and, in fact, the ones who are often regarded as the best journalists have quite a different picture. And I think a very realistic one.’

Marr: “How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…’

Chomsky: “I’m not saying your self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’

Chomsky’s phrase, ‘if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting’ sums up the propaganda system of the corporate media. What Tucker Carlson appears not to understand is that he has ‘total freedom’ to say what he likes on Fox News because he has shown that he can be trusted to remain within acceptable limits. He has obviously never heard Noam Chomsky explain how it works. Nor does he seem to be familiar with US critic Michael Parenti whose riposte to the proud boast by many a corporate journalist that ‘nobody tells me what to say or write’ was:

‘You say what you like, because they like what you say.’

Parenti expanded on the theme during a talk titled ‘Inventing Reality’ in 1993:

‘And, you know, the minute you move too far – and you have no sensation of a restraint on your freedom. I mean, you don’t know you’re wearing a leash if you sit by the peg all day. It’s only if you then begin to wander to a prohibited perimeter that you feel the tug, you see. So you’re free because your ideological perspective is congruent with that of your boss. So, you have no sensation of being at odds with your boss.’

Perhaps the Pulitzer Prize-winning US author Upton Sinclair put it most succinctly when he wrote:

‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’

Obviously, the same applies to a woman. Indeed, Deborah Haynes, then defence editor at The Times and now foreign affairs editor at Sky News, tweeted proudly last year: “No one tells me what to think.”

Orla Guerin, a veteran BBC News journalist currently reporting from Venezuela, believes herself to be scrupulously impartial and neutral:

‘Thank you for watching, but we don’t do propaganda. We call it they [sic] way we see it, even if that does not suit the pre-conceived idea/ ideals that some have.’

Jeremy Bowen, the BBC News Middle East editor, opined:

‘We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.’

At first glance, the claims made by Guerin and Bowen sound plausible. After all, the BBC is widely admired and lauded around the world. In reality, the BBC is structurally and institutionally incapable of reporting fully and honestly the crimes of the West and its allies. It has never told even a fraction of the truth about US-UK crimes in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere. It has never properly reported these crimes or placed them in an accurate historical conquest, showing how the West has consistently attacked independent national movements abroad to ensure that local tyrants, armed and supported by ‘us’, suppress local people to the benefit of Western corporate interests. This framework of understanding is considered completely beyond the pale in ‘polite’ BBC discourse; it is not even thinkable for them. Moreover, the BBC exactly reverses this apologetic stance in its endless channelling and hyping of condemnatory Western government claims, often fabricated, against Official Enemies such as Iraq, Libya, Syria; thus preparing the way for Western sanctions and other forms of ‘intervention’, including full-scale invasion.

BBC reporting on Venezuela is a current ugly example. Because the US, UK and its allies are the world’s leading human rights violators, and because senior BBC News journalists and editors cannot even conceive of this possibility, BBC output must be considered propaganda on every issue relating to international – and, indeed, often domestic – affairs. Our media alerts and books are chock-full of examples and analysis that show this in great detail.

To take just one recent example: if Bowen’s absurd claim about the BBC were true, it would have reported extensively on former FBI Director Andrew McCabe quoting Donald Trump:

‘I don’t understand why we’re not looking at Venezuela. Why we’re not a war with Venezuela? They have all the oil and they’re in our back door’.

But you will never see this become the lead item on BBC News at Ten. Why not? Because that would sink the story we’re supposed to believe: that the US is acting out of humanitarian concern for Venezuelans. In a sane media, McCabe’s account of a meeting with Trump would have been central to countless news stories and discussion about Venezuela. BBC News, ITV News and Channel 4 News would all be leading with this on their news bulletins. The newspapers would have it on their front pages. In fact, our database searches show that not a single ‘mainstream’ UK newspaper has reported the remarks. The left-wing Morning Star is the only national newspaper to have covered the story.

Likewise, ‘mainstream’ news media seem supremely disinterested in similar remarks from the notorious US neocon hawk, John Bolton, resurrected from the war crimes of the Iraq invasion, and now anointed as the US National Security Advisor. He made crystal-clear the realpolitik considerations driving US policy towards Venezuela:

‘It’ll make a big difference to the United States if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela’.

Imagine if Putin had made similar remarks threatening war on Venezuela, and been entirely open that the objective was the vast oil reserves there. There would be no end to the headlines devoted to his monstrous intentions and the perfidy of Russian imperial ambitions.

We challenged Paul Royall, the editor of BBC News at Six and News at Ten, about not reporting the former FBI director citing Trump’s desire for war on Venezuela:

‘Hello @paulroyall. You are the editor of @BBCNews at Six and Ten. Why is *this* not front and centre in your news reports on #Venezuela? Why have you instead *buried* a crucial factor that helps to explain US policy towards #Venezuela?’

As ever, Royall – who follows us on Twitter – remained silent. Similar challenges to Orla Guerin and Andrew Roy, BBC News foreign editor, also blew past like the proverbial desert tumbleweed. Likewise, an earlier tweet of ours was ignored:

‘Your news reports present a highly partial, US-friendly view of #Venezuela. By omitting crucial facts, you are misleading your audiences’

As the veteran journalist John Pilger has long pointed out, this phenomenon is called ‘lying by omission’. It is a major factor in enabling senior journalists at major ‘mainstream’ news organisations to claim wrongly, as Orla Guerin did, that, ‘We don’t do propaganda’. This is a deadly myth. Deadly, because it masks the fact that corporate media, especially BBC News, are responsible for propaganda that pushes more Western ‘intervention’, more war, more stolen natural resources, more mass deaths of innocent civilians, more refugees, more corporate profits, more fossil-fuel burning, more species loss and, ultimately, more planetary destruction; perhaps even human extinction in an era of climate chaos.

  1. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1998/2004, p. 298.

Dump the Guardian

We were sad to hear that the comedian Jeremy Hardy had died on 1 February. Typically, media reports and obituaries prefixed the label ‘left-wing’ before the word ‘comedian’ as a kind of government health warning. What they really meant was that he was ‘too far left’. Normally, the media don’t label entertainers as ‘extreme centrists’, ‘neocon sympathisers’ or ‘Israel supporters’, when perhaps they should.

Hardy was a regular panellist on BBC shows, the News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. His ability to be extremely funny and sharp-witted, as well as being popular with other panellists and the public, probably allowed him a measure of corporate BBC indulgence to inject left-wing bullet points that others might not have been afforded. Fellow comedian Miles Jupp noted that:

Many people have the ability to express their political beliefs coherently and many people have the ability to be funny. Jeremy Hardy, who has died of cancer aged 57, had an astonishing ability to do both things at the same time.

He added:

From the earliest days his socialist beliefs were a thread that ran throughout his comedy, as they did his life and his campaigning.

One of us (Cromwell) saw Hardy perform twice at Nuffield Theatre at the University of Southampton, where he had studied in the 1980s. On both occasions, he was very funny, sharp and thoroughly engaging. During the second performance, on 15 October 2017, he spoke passionately about the blatantly negative media coverage targeting Jeremy Corbyn:

The worst is the liberal media. Take the Guardian. What is it that the Guardian actually guards? It guards how progressive you’re allowed to be. You can go this far to the left and no further.

This echoed Noam Chomsky’s well-known remark about the liberal media policing the bounds of permissible debate:

‘Thus far and no further.’

It is ironic, but entirely apt, that the Guardian’s obituary noted that Hardy wrote a column for the paper between 1996 and 2001, but neglected to mention that he was dropped for being too left-wing.

In his final, potent column on 4 April, 2001 Hardy had written:

Some of you will be relieved to know that this is the last column I shall be writing for the Guardian. Others may be sorry, and I thank you for that. I have been told that my column has run its course, which is a self-fulfilling accusation…also told that I shouldn’t use the column as a platform for the Socialist Alliance.

By contrast, commentators – including those holding senior Guardian positions – have not been told to stop using their columns as a platform for the apartheid Israeli state, neoliberalism or Western ‘intervention’ around the world.

Hardy crammed in many astute observations that make poignant reading now, 18 years later. He rightly observed that:

Most of the exciting developments in politics are happening outside the electoral orb.

Ironically, it was grassroots pressure outside Parliament and ‘the electoral orb’ that enabled Jeremy Corbyn to be elected Labour leader and pull off results in the 2016 General Election that stunned ‘seasoned’ political ‘analysts’. Consider, too, the recent Extinction Rebellion movement that is literally campaigning for the survival of the human species – precisely because electoral politics has utterly failed; or rather succeeded in entrenching the interests of a right-wing, super-rich and powerful elite.

Hardy warned presciently of the dangers of the Lib Dems attaining power in a coalition – which they did after the 2010 General Election, propping up an extremist Tory-led government. He also pointed to the emasculation of the trade union movement:

For me to write this will appal those socialists who still hold the line that “Labour is the party of the organised working class”, but I think it’s time to replace the word “working” with “capitalist”, and try the sentence again. Trade unionists put tremendous effort into the relationship but it’s an abusive one. I’m sure union leaders will say, “But Tony’s not like that when he’s with me”, but they’re just throwing money at the problem.

Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented via Twitter:

Fascinating reading now the late comedian Jeremy Hardy’s last column for the Guardian in 2001. He admits he was pushed out for refusing to use humour simply to provoke a postmodern chuckle and for being too outspoken against Tony Blair, who would go on to wage illegal war in Iraq.

When we highlighted on Twitter that the Guardian’s Jeremy Hardy obituary had omitted the uncomfortable fact that the paper dropped him for being too left-wing, the deputy obituaries editor of the Telegraph retorted:

He wasn’t dropped for being too left-wing. He was dropped for not putting in enough jokes. Read the column.

In fact, anyone reading the column beyond the first paragraph would have noted the crucial part when Hardy said he was ‘told that I shouldn’t use the column as a platform for the Socialist Alliance.’ It was clear from reading the whole column, and using common sense to read between the lines, that Hardy had indeed been dumped by the Guardian for his left-wing views. Hardy’s first wife, Kit Hardy, confirmed this:

As his wife at the time, I can vouch that he was dropped for being too left wing. It wasn’t about jokes. He’d have been kept on without jokes if he’d been willing to write inconsequential nonsense. He wasn’t.

Guardian readers with a long memory may recall that comedian Mark Steel, a good friend of Jeremy Hardy, had earlier been ditched by the Guardian in 1999, after contributing a column for over two years, for his ‘unflinching’ support of ‘unfashionable left-wing causes’ such as striking Liverpool dockers. A more recent example of a progressive columnist being dumped by the Guardian is the 2014 defenestration of Nafeez Ahmed for overstepping the mark in his critical reporting of Israel.

Eventually, even the hugely-respected, award-winning journalist John Pilger, with an unparalleled record of reporting the truth ‘from the ground up’, became persona non grata at the Guardian. He said in a radio interview in January 2018:

My written journalism is no longer welcome in the Guardian which, three years ago, got rid of people like me in pretty much a purge of those who really were saying what the Guardian no longer says any more.

And yet, the Guardian continues to employ, for example, Luke Harding who abruptly left an interview by Aaron Maté on The Real News Network when he was challenged to provide convincing evidence of the ‘collusion’ referred to in the title of his book, ‘Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win’. Harding was also behind the fake Guardian ‘exclusive’ last December that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, had met Julian Assange three times in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Harding and the paper’s editor Katharine Viner have shamefully remained silent in the face of robust questioning of their CIA-friendly propaganda story that appears to have no basis in reality.

US comedian Jimmy Dore, interviewed on RT’s Going Underground by Afshin Rattansi, who previously worked at the BBC, said scathingly:

‘Well, the Guardian has been doing fantastic work on this story. “Fantastic” meaning “fantastic fantasies” because the most surveilled building in the world has got to be that Ecuadorian embassy. And, somehow, the Guardian has a story that Manafort visited Julian Assange three times, and even knew what he was wearing, but there isn’t a picture of it.’

Dore concluded of the Guardian:

They’re pushing propaganda; they’re not doing journalism.

Dore also pointed to extremely well-paid, supposed ‘progressives’ in the US who have high-profile slots on US networks such as MSNBC:

You know how much MSNBC’s Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow makes? They make $30,000 a day. That’s a lot of money and that buys your integrity.

He added, echoing his comments about the Guardian on Assange:

It’s just CIA talking points. In fact, they hire people from the CIA to be their “news analysts”. That’s the opposite of journalism, that’s propaganda.

On a recent MSNBC show, Maddow even speculated that, with parts of the US shivering in sub-zero conditions, the Russians or the Chinese might launch cyber attacks on vital pipelines and the power grid. This grotesque Red-scaremongering was justified as ‘the intelligence community’s assessment.’

She asked:

What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo today? What would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power on the same day the temperature in your backyard matched the temperature in Antarctica?

Dore rightly pointed out how this nonsense is but a part of the huge current wave of anti-Russian propaganda that is even worse than the anti-Red hysteria of the McCarthy era in 1950s US. Why worse?

Because it’s being pushed ubiquitously. The first Red Scare in the States came from the right. Well, the left is now pushing the Red Scare because they don’t want to admit that neoliberalism failed at the ballot box in 2016. 90 million people didn’t come out to vote in that election in 2016. And Hillary Clinton, the biggest, most well-funded political machine in the history of the United States lost the election to a political novice gameshow host who everyone referred to as a joke and a clown: Donald Trump.

Dore said of MSNBC management:

They wouldn’t even let their hosts cover Bernie Sanders [in the race to become 2016 Democratic Presidential candidate, losing to Hillary Clinton] because he was progressive. In fact, Ed Schultz got fired for covering Bernie Sanders.

He continued:

That tells you that all the people on air at MSNBC go along with war propaganda when told to, and don’t cover progressive politicians when ordered [not] to. Every one of those hosts goes along with the edict from the top of the corporation Comcast [owners of MSNBC] to tell them what they can talk about, and how they can talk about what they can talk about. They’re all puppets and they’re bought.

In a similar way, although with much lower salaries, the silence of Guardian commentators on numerous issues has also, in essence, been ‘bought.’ Not a single one, as far as we can tell, has called out the Guardian’s fake Manafort-Assange story. Not a single one has castigated the Guardian over its long-running cynical vendetta against Assange and WikiLeaks. Not a single one has exposed the Guardian’s editorial line that upholds the myth that Western foreign policy is largely determined by concerns over universal human rights, democracy and development. Not a single one has made any significant criticism of the Guardian‘s actual role in setting the limits of acceptable ‘news’ and commentary at the ‘liberal’ end of the media ‘spectrum’.

Complicit In Western Imperialism And Rampant Capitalism

To do proper journalism on vital topics – not least UK war crimes – seemingly requires that one leaves the Guardian to do so. Thus, Ian Cobain, formerly a senior Guardian reporter, recently published a shocking exclusive on the Middle East Online (MEE) website that the British army permitted shooting of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Soldiers who served in Basra in 2007 say they were told they could shoot anyone holding a phone or a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously.

The British army operated rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan that at times allowed soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians who were suspected of keeping them under surveillance, a Middle East Eye investigation has established.

The casualties included a number of children and teenage boys, according to several former soldiers interviewed by MEE.

Cobain continued:

a former Royal Marine says that one of his officers confessed to his men that he had been responsible for the fatal shooting of an Afghan boy, aged around eight, after the child’s father carried his body to the entrance of their forward operating base and demanded an explanation.

Why has this not made front-page news in the Guardian or elsewhere in the British press, as far as we are aware? Likewise, needless to say, you’d be hard-pushed to find honest and disturbing accounts of UK war crimes making the headlines on BBC News at Ten.

Last November, Cobain reported that UK spy agencies knew that an important source of false Iraq war intelligence, a Libyan militant called Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, had been tortured. Cobain observed that UK government ministers ‘relied upon his answers to help justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.’ Again, Cobain’s piece appeared on the MEE website.

As Jonathan Cook said:

Interesting that the award-winning author of this article, Ian Cobain, used to work at the Guardian. Why is that writers like this, who are so effective at digging up the dirt on western intelligence agencies, no longer seem to find a home at the Guardian?

Meanwhile, as historian Mark Curtis pointed out, the Guardian continues its love affair with Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister who led this country into war on a false premise, leading to the deaths of around one million Iraqis:

The man who oversaw this criminality and public deception campaign has another article in the Guardian today – Blair is loved by the Guardian, the Anglo-American power elite’s main liberal asset in the UK.

That this keeps happening, and that the British public is routinely soaked in pro-war propaganda, exposes the untruth that there is genuine media oversight and regulation in the UK. Ofcom claims that:

We keep an eye on the UK’s telecoms, television, radio and postal industries to make sure they’re doing the best for all of us.

Really? ‘For all of us’? How does this square with the incessant media propaganda pumped out about Venezuela, currently threatened by Western power?

As John McEvoy noted for The Canary in a devastating, in-depth account of the Guardian:

It has a long record of smearing the Venezuelan government, supporting opposition power grabs, and presenting Western intervention as a noble solution. In doing so, it is complicit in offering moral authority to the current coup attempt in Venezuela, and therefore complicit in Western imperialism.

On 1 February, the Guardian published its first ever news piece written by a ‘bot’. A cynic, or perhaps a realist, might suggest that all Guardian news pieces on WikiLeaks, Venezuela and much else besides, might as well be written by ‘bots’. Depending on the source material fed to the bots, of course, they may well be more accurate and less propaganda-filled than the efforts spewed out by obedient, careerist, power-serving humans.

Journalist Matt Kennard, formerly a Financial Times reporter, has warned of:

how corporate media works to drain young journalists of idealism and infects them with an ideology they can’t even see (that’s the beauty of it).

In the afterword to his 2016 book, The Racket: A Rogue Reporter vs. the Masters of the Universe, he expanded his thoughts. First, he defined ‘the racket’:

An amalgamation of different players, including transnational corporations, banks, hedge and mutual funds, and insurance companies; in effect, the many different concentrations of private wealth we have in our society. We often don’t know the names of the people who run these institutions, but they hold the real power in our world, and are backed by the U.S. government, and as a last resort the U.S. military. But the racket is nothing without the media.

This echoes our arguments, rooted in the pioneering work of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent (Vintage, 1988) that, in the current era of extreme climate instability:

The corporate media, including the liberal media wing, is a vital cog of the rampant global capitalism that threatens our very existence. (Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Books, 2018, p. 213.)

What happens to graduates who enter these corporate media outlets? Kennard warned:

As I saw young journalists coming up in the industry I noticed opinions changing or moderating as they became acclimatized to the institutions…slowly, you stop expressing opinions that are different from everyone else’s, shed any previously held idealism. If you do carry on thinking as before, you quickly become a “maverick” or, even worse, “immature” and “childish.” It’s hard to go into work every day for a whole career under this kind of groupthink pressure and stay sane.

After Kennard left the Financial Times, he tried contributing to the Guardian. He soon discovered that ‘progressive’ outlets like the Guardian and the New York Times:

‘are vital to maintaining the facade of a free and fair media. They give the impression of fighting against the racket when in fact they support it in the fundamentals.’

The Guardian is:

among the most biased and self-righteous institutions around…full of private-school-educated Oxbridge graduates who see themselves as crusading liberals fighting against corporate and state power. But if you step a bit to the left of them, you will know about it. They guard their left flank religiously, instructing the world that anyone operating there is beyond the pale.

Is it any wonder that over the past two decades, the ‘liberal’ Guardian has shed reporters and columnists deemed to have been operating ‘beyond the pale’? Is it any wonder that it has exploited ‘fake news’ about an ‘antisemitism crisis’ under Jeremy Corbyn‘s Labour? For anyone who cares about journalism that truly challenges the elite consensus, it is long past time to dump the Guardian, break the corporate media monopoly and support real progressive journalism instead.

Venezuela Blitz: Press Freedom, Sanctions And Oil

Press Freedom – Taking A Glance At A Newspaper Stand

In support of their claim that Maduro is a ‘tyrant’ who does not allow free elections, corporate media consistently point to a lack of press freedom. When British academic Alan MacLeod of Glasgow Media Group reviewed 166 Western media articles evaluating the state of press freedom between 1998-2014, he found that all depicted Venezuelan media as ‘caged’, or unfree. Last week, Canadian political analyst Joe Emersberger commented in The Canary:

The idea that Venezuela has a “caged” media has to be one of the most unforgivable pieces of Western propaganda about the country. And a simple analysis shows just how ignorant that allegation is. Indeed, just a few days ago, one of Venezuela’s most widely read newspapers, El Universal, published an op-ed enthusiastically applauding the efforts of the US-backed opposition to bring about President Nicolás Maduro’s ouster by recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s new president. The op-ed said Guaidó was managing his US-backed strategy “perfectly”. And it joyously stated that the US and its allies had Maduro surrounded, and almost ready to be ousted.

In 2016, Emersberger wrote of earlier protests:

In fact, the protests and the leading opposition leaders’ take on the protests are being extensively covered on the largest private networks: Venevision, Televen, Globovision. If people abroad sampled Venezuela’s TV media directly, as opposed to judging it by what is said about it by the international media and some big NGOs, they’d be shocked to find the opposition constantly denouncing the government and even making very thinly veiled appeals to the military to oust Maduro.

The Venezuela Analysis website tweeted:

A cursory glance at any newspaper stand in Caracas will reveal that vast majority of Vzlan papers are anti-govt. Opposition also has massive social media presence – just search Twitter for “Venezuela” w/ Spanish filter. Intl journalists been lying re lack of media freedom for yrs

Independent journalist Abby Martin did exactly as suggested and visited a Venezuelan newspaper stand. She offered this summary:

So, out of the seven papers, four are anti-government, two are pro-government, and one is neutral, can go either way. So, it looks like the press is not as controlled as we think.

This is the kind of research even corporate journalists should be able to conduct for themselves.

Economic Warfare – Blocking Recovery

Just as they blamed Saddam Hussein for the devastating impact of US-UK sanctions on Iraq (1990-2003), corporate media are united in laying the blame for Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis at Maduro’s door. In fact, Venezuela has long been subject to severe US sanctions. In 2017, political analyst Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) commented:

At the end of August, the Trump administration imposed harsh sanctions on Venezuela that prevent the country from borrowing or selling assets in the US financial system. The new embargo will exacerbate shortages of food, medicine, and other essential goods, while severely limiting the policy options available to pull the country out of a deep depression.

Trump’s order ‘makes a sustained recovery nearly impossible without outside help—or a new government that is approved by the Trump administration’.

This week, Alexander Campbell, also of CEPR, reported:

Last week, the US formally adopted sanctions on Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA, as well as on CITGO, its US-based distribution arm, as part of its press for regime change in Caracas. National Security Advisor John Bolton estimated the actions would affect some $7 billion in assets and would block $11 billion in revenue to the Venezuelan government over the next year.

Campbell summarised Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez’s 2018 analysis of the impact of sanctions:

Rodríguez’s basic story: the oil industry is critical to the Venezuelan government; underinvestment and the rapid decline in oil prices caused a significant drop in revenue; then, as oil prices began increasing, Trump imposed sanctions making any international financial transaction extremely difficult and potentially “toxic.” Rodríguez explains… how Venezuelan and Colombian oil production both declined at the same rate, until the Trump financial embargo was implemented in August 2017. Then, Venezuela’s oil production collapsed…

The US media watch website, FAIR, placed all of this in context:

Trump ramped up the Obama administration’s sanctions, an action that caused Venezuelan oil production to plummet (FAIR.org, 12/17/18) and the economy to nosedive. Furthermore, US economic warfare against the country has cut Venezuela off from global capital markets—with the Trump administration threatening bankers with 30 years in prison if they negotiate with Caracas a standard restructuring of its debt (AlterNet, 11/13/17). The UN Human Rights Council formally condemned the US, noting that the sanctions target “the poor and most vulnerable classes,” called on all member states to break them, and even began discussing reparations the US should pay to Venezuela.

Last month, Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, told the Independent that US sanctions are illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law:

Former special rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, who finished his term at the UN in March, has criticized the US for engaging in “economic warfare” against Venezuela which he said is hurting the economy and killing Venezuelans.

The Independent continued:

“Sanctions kill,” he told The Independent, adding that they fall most heavily on the poorest people in society, demonstrably cause death through food and medicine shortages, lead to violations of human rights and are aimed at coercing economic change in a “sister democracy”.

On his fact-finding mission to the country in late 2017, he found internal overdependence on oil, poor governance and corruption had hit the Venezuelan economy hard, but said “economic warfare” practised by the US, EU and Canada are significant factors in the economic crisis.

And:

Despite being the first UN official to visit and report from Venezuela in 21 years, Mr de Zayas said his research into the causes of the country’s economic crisis has so far largely been ignored by the UN and the media, and caused little debate within the Human Rights Council.

Our ProQuest UK national newspaper database search for the last 30 days for articles mentioning:

‘de Zayas’ and ‘Venezuela’ = 1 hit

That is, one mention in the entire UK press, the Independent article cited above.

An idea of the extent of Western economic warfare against Venezuela can be gained from this thread of examples sent by tweeter Francisco Nunes.

In 2015, a minimum wage comparison across Latin America by Mexico’s Financialred.com.mx found:

Costa Rica has the second highest minimum wage in Central America and third in Latin America, US$516 monthly. Venezuela tops the list at US$885 and Panama US$667.

The average monthly minimum wage across Latin America is US$354.

The study reported:

The lowest in purchasing power is Colombia, where the minimum salary covers only 49.57% of the Canasta Basica; in other words Colombians need more than 2 minimum wages to cover their basic needs. Colombia’s minimum wage is COP644.350 Colombian Pesos, while the cost of the Canasta Basica is COP1,300,000.

A similar situation is lived in Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador.

Deep poverty is a problem across the region, but these crises never make the news. Even worse disasters are raging elsewhere, of course.

Since March 2015, a ‘coalition’ of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the US, Britain and France, has been dropping bombs on neighbouring Yemen. In 2016, the independent journalist Felicity Arbuthnot reported that in one year, 330,000 homes, 648 mosques, 630 schools and institutes and 250 health facilities had been destroyed or damaged. In December 2016, it was reported that more than 10,000 people had died and three million had been displaced in the conflict. According to Patrick Cockburn in the Independent, the death toll now likely exceeds 60,000.

In August 2016, Oxfam reported that in excess of 21 million people in Yemen, out of a total population of around 27 million, needed humanitarian aid, more than in any other country. In December 2016, a new study by UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, reported that at least one child was dying every 10 minutes in Yemen.

As far as we are aware, nobody in the UK parliament or press has called for the overthrow of the Saudi regime, nor indeed of the UK government, for creating poverty and suffering that far exceeds anything seen in Venezuela.

Indeed, in October 2016, Labour shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, placed a motion before the House of Commons that merely sought ‘to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen’ and ‘to suspend [UK government] support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen’ pending an investigation of human rights violations. More than 100 Labour MPs – almost half the Labour Party – failed to support the motion. As a result, it was defeated by 283 votes to 193.

Similar indifference greeted the UN’s finding, in 1999, that the US-UK sanctions regime in Iraq had caused the deaths of 500,000 children under five. Senior UN diplomats who set up and ran the sanctions programme – and who later resigned in protest, describing it as ‘genocidal’ – were almost completely ignored by the UK press. One such senior diplomat, Hans von Sponeck, wrote a superb, forensic book detailing US-UK responsibility for this mass death, ‘A Different Kind of War – The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq’ (Berghahn Books, 2006). The book has been mentioned once in the entire UK press and never been reviewed.

US Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein made the point:

The same blowhard politicians talking about “bringing democracy” to Venezuela have aided & abetted the Saudi dictators executing dissidents, murdering journalists & starving millions of kids in Yemen. They don’t give a damn about democracy or poor people’s lives. It’s about OIL.

As Adam Johnson notes wryly, it is as if US liberals ‘keep a real-time report card on these Official Bad Regimes, and if these regimes—due to an ill-defined rubric of un-democraticness and human rights—fall below a score of say, “60,” they become illegitimate and unworthy of defense as such’.

Of course, no ‘real-time reports’ are kept on ‘us’ and ‘our’ allies. The result is propaganda, not journalism.

Oil – ‘We Could Have Had Anything We Wanted’

If Maduro is not, in fact, a tyrant, if Venezuela does in fact have a comparatively free press and fair elections; if the US-UK corporate press is not in fact concerned about the fairness of elections, press freedom, poverty and mass death, even when caused by their own governments – then what is their problem with the Maduro government?

A vague gesture in the direction of Truth was made by Channel 4’s Alex Thomson, who asked on January 27:

Curious how much Venezuela suddenly matters to the EU when the recent notorious election in Bangladesh didn’t register like this…nor the Catalan question… nor the host of murderous dictators it supports across the Gulf. Why Caracas guys?

As we replied, the reason is hardly in doubt. We linked to a WikiLeaked US document:

‘US GOALS, OBJECTIVES AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT… VENEZUELA…
‘OUR FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS IN VENEZUELA ARE:
‘THAT VENEZUELA CONTINUE TO SUPPLY A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF OUR PETROLEUM IMPORTS AND CONTINUE TO FOLLOW A MODERATE AND RESPONSIBLE OIL PRICE POSITION IN OPEC’

RT’s Going Underground tweeted a list of the ‘Largest proven oil reserves in the world’:

1. Venezuela
2. Saudi Arabia
4. Iran
5. Iraq
9. Libya

The US is pursuing regime change/executed regime change against 4 of these countries in 16 years.

On Twitter, redfish provided some detail on quantities of oil, showing that Venezuela is top of the list.

In an interview with Sky News, Peter Watt, lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield, noted that ’90 per cent of Venezuela’s oil exports are destined for the United States, it’s about 700,000 barrels of oil every day’.

Marco Rubio, the US Senator for Florida, tweeted:

Biggest buyers of Venezuelan oil are @ValeroEnergy & @Chevron. Refining heavy crude from #Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast.

For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President Guaido & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime.

A few days later, apparently with complete unawareness, Rubio tweeted again:

Blessed the man who sets his security in the LORD, who turns not to the arrogant or to those who stray after falsehood.

Psalms 40:5

In 2011, before becoming President, Donald Trump lamented the outcome of the US ‘intervention’ in oil-rich Libya:

The fact is, what we should’ve done is, we should have asked the rebels when they came to us. We should’ve said, “We’ll help you, but we want 50% of the oil.” They would have absolutely said, “Okay!”, one hundred per cent. In fact, they would have said, “How about 75%?”… Isn’t it sad, we could have had anything we wanted. We could’ve had 50% of those oil fields. You know, in the old days when you had a war, it’s “To the victor belong the spoils.” So, we could have had some something special.

Who cared that the oil belonged to Libya? Anyone who doubts that this same ‘compassion’ informs US concern for the people of Venezuela now, should reflect on the naming of Elliott Abrams as America’s special envoy for Venezuela. Abrams has a simply appalling record of brutalising Latin America and other regions as part of the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. In 2002, the Observer reported of the coup that temporarily overthrow Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that ‘the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams’ and that he ‘gave a nod’ to the plotters.

US national security adviser, John Bolton, has urged the Venezuelan military to overthrow the democratically elected government:

We also today call on the Venezuelan military and security forces to accept the peaceful, democratic and constitutional transfer of power.

Bolton has also said:

It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.

The Independent reports:

Venezuela’s government-in-waiting will allow foreign private oil companies a greater stake in joint ventures with its state-owned oil giant, Juan Guaido’s envoy to the US has said.

Conclusion – What We Are Supposed To Think

On January 26, the BBC reported:

Maduro given ultimatum by European leaders

We tweeted in response:

An ultimatum? By what right?

Our question was retweeted 369 times and liked 649 times.

Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Gaddafi in Libya also received ‘ultimatums’ from the self-designated ‘Rulers of the World’, who then went on to destroy both countries. Lessons learned by corporate journalists on ‘our’ right to act as moral arbiters? None.

Consider, for example, the moment on February 4, when Channel 4’s Jon Snow gave Labour MP Chris Williamson a piece of his mind:

Look, Mr. Williamson, you and Mr. Corbyn are in a very nasty corner now. You’ve got a country that is in terrible, terrible condition, and that is down to the people who ran it and the people you supported. Isn’t it time you changed sides and got behind what is happening now?

As noted above, many countries are in ‘terrible, terrible condition’, often thanks to Western ‘intervention’, without journalists being the least bit concerned. And notice a key point: Snow was asking Williamson to get behind Trump’s policy in Venezuela. Yes, that Trump – the monster that ‘mainstream’ media have endlessly depicted as an out and out fascist. Snow’s comment was a perfect example of a journalist being swept up by the mindless conformity of a propaganda blitz – everyone always, always has to get behind ‘what is happening now’ when power is targeting Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela. To do anything less is irresponsible, shameful, is siding with ‘the Bad Guy’.

And what do the people of Venezuela – the people who have suffered so much under US-backed, right-wing tyrannies in the past – actually want? The Canary reports that ‘the vast majority of Venezuelan people oppose military intervention and US sanctions’:

The poll, conducted by Hinterlaces in early January 2019, found that “86 percent of Venezuelans would disagree with international military intervention”. More than eight out of ten Venezuelans also oppose US sanctions on the country.

Corporate politicians and journalists are playing a very familiar game. We, the public, are supposed to think:

– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they really do know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Maybe they genuinely are worried that he might use them or give them to terrorists. Bush looks totally convinced, Blair seems honest and sincere.

In fact, Saddam Hussein did not have any WMD – it was fake news. In 2007, economist Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, wrote in his memoir:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.1

We are supposed to think:

– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they are worried that Gaddafi is going to commit a terrible massacre in Benghazi. Obama seems deeply concerned, so does Cameron.

In fact, Gaddafi was not planning a massacre – the claim was a fraud. In 2011, Real News interviewed Kevin G. Hall, the national economics correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, who had studied the WikiLeaked material on Libya. Hall said:

As a matter of fact, we went through 251,000 [leaked] documents… Of those, a full 10 percent of them, a full 10 percent of those documents, reference in some way, shape, or form oil.’2

Hall concluded:

It is all about oil.

We are supposed to think:

– Yes, there’s lots of oil, but maybe they really are worried that Venezuelans are suffering terribly, maybe they really do believe they would be better off under a new leader. Trump seems deranged, but maybe he has a heart after all.

Time and again, we are asked to give the benefit of the doubt to famously cynical, greed-driven Western political leaders and parties. We can’t believe they can be simply lying to us, making it up – week after week, month after month – so that they and their powerful corporate allies can get their hands on oil. Time and again, too many of us defer to authority and whole countries are destroyed.

The final pages of human history before climate collapse may show that the climate-denying Trump regime trashed one more country in its determination to control and burn yet more oil, thereby guaranteeing its own destruction and the destruction of the entire human race, and most of life on earth. With all this the work of a groping, orange-haired, reality-denying reality TV billionaire selling himself as a ‘man of the people’.

A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing, indeed.

  1. Leader, ‘Power, not oil, Mr Greenspan,’ Sunday Times, 16 September 2007.
  2. ‘WikiLeaks reveals US wanted to keep Russia out of Libyan oil, The Real News, 11 May 2011.

Venezuela Blitz: Tyrants Don’t Have Free Elections

In our new book, we describe a ‘Propaganda Blitz’ as a fast-moving campaign to persuade the public of the need for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ furthering elite interests. Affecting great moral outrage, corporate media line up to insist that a watershed moment has arrived – something must be done!

A classic propaganda blitz was triggered on January 23, when Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself ‘interim President’. This was presented as dramatic new evidence that the people of Venezuela had finally had enough of Nicolas Maduro’s ‘regime’.

In reporting this news the following day, the BBC website featured a disturbing graphic of a captive with arms tied behind his back being tortured. The caption read:

Inside Venezuela’s secret torture centre

The image linked to a complex interactive piece that allowed readers to explore the torture centre. There was also a long report on the same centre. The interactive report included this statement by a former prisoner, Rosmit Mantilla:

In a country like Venezuela there’s no difference between being in or out of prison. You are equally persecuted and mistreated, and you can die either way.

Venezuela, then, is a giant gulag. The interactive piece had clearly taken a good deal of time and effort to produce – odd that it should appear on the same day that news of Guaidó’s coup attempt was reported. The BBC followed this up with a piece on January 25 openly promoting ‘regime’ change:

Venezuela’s Maduro “could get Amnesty”

Self-declared leader Guaidó also appeals to the powerful army, after receiving foreign backing.

In fact, Guaidó, also received foreign rejection from China, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Syria and Iran. On January 29, the BBC front page headline read:

Venezuela, “living under dictatorship”

The opposition leader tells the BBC President Maduro has abused power, and renews calls for polls.

Echoing the BBC’s ‘amnesty’ front page story, the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, also talked up the merits of the coup:

It seems clear that Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader, has the backing of many if not most Venezuelans.

A remarkable claim, given that George Ciccariello-Maher reported in The Nation that an opinion poll in Venezuela conducted between January 7-16 had found that 81 per cent of Venezuelans had never heard of Juan Guaidó. But then this is the same Simon Tisdall who wrote in 2011:

The risky western intervention had worked. And Libya was liberated at last.

The Guardian may currently be Guaidó’s greatest UK cheerleader. After the opposition leader gave the paper an exclusive interview, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook tweeted:

Extraordinary even by the Guardian’s standards. Juan Guaido, the CIA’s pick to lead a coup against Venezuela’s govt, gives the paper one of his first interviews – and it simply acts as a conduit for his propaganda. It doesn’t even pretend to be a watchdog’

On February 1, Cook added:

Oh look! Juan Guaido, the figurehead for the CIA’s illegal regime-change operation intended to grab Venezuela’s oil (as John Bolton has publicly conceded), is again presented breathlessly by the Guardian as the country’s saviour’

The BBC continues to administer a daily dose of propaganda. On January 31, the big morning news story was:

Venezuela opposition “speaking to army”

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó says his team has held talks with the army about regime change

As we noted, if a US version of Guaidó made that admission in public, he would soon be paid a visit by Navy Seals, perhaps shot on the spot and dumped at sea, or bundled away to a life on death row for probable later execution.

On February 4, the front page of the BBC website featured a heroic picture of Guaido’s mother kissing her son on the forehead at a protest rally. Sombre, stoic, the saviour’s head appears bowed by the weight of the hopes and expectations of his people (people who, until recently, had no idea who he was and had never voted for him). This was a pure propaganda image. More will certainly follow. We discussed earlier BBC efforts here.

“Tyranny” as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

The BBC, of course, is not alone in promoting the view that Venezuela is a ‘dictatorship’. The Times offered a typically compassionate ‘view on Venezuelan protests against Maduro’:

Paradise lost – A ruthless dictator has driven his people to the brink.

The reference to ‘paradise lost’ recalled a famously foolish remark on Venezuela made by BBC journalist John Sweeney in the Literary Review in 2013:

The country should be a Saudi Arabia by the sea; instead the oil money has been pissed away by foolish adventurism and unchecked corruption.

Apart from any obvious issues of head-chopping tyranny, the fact is that Saudi Arabia is ‘by the sea’.

The Economist focused on:

How to hasten the demise of Venezuela’s dictatorship

Recognising an interim president instead of Nicolás Maduro is a start.

The Mail on Sunday wrote of the ‘despot of Venezuela’. In the Telegraph, Ross Clark discussed ‘brutal dictatorships like Venezuela and Zimbabwe’. The editors of the Sun appeared to be holding a vigil for the suffering people of Venezuela:

We hope too that Venezuelans finally topple Nicolas Maduro, the crooked hard-left tyrant Corbyn once congratulated, and rebuild their economy.

The Sun’s Westminster correspondent Kate Ferguson reported that John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, was backing ‘the hard-left Venezuelan despot Nicolas Maduro’. The Express wrote of ‘the corrupt regime in Venezuela’.

Writing in The Australian, Walter Russell Mead observed that ‘dictator Nicolas Maduro clings to power’.1

Under the title, ‘Venezuelan spring,’ Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

The latest Venezuelan effort to topple dictator Nicolas Maduro is a pivotal moment in Latin American history…

The Guardian habitually uses the term ‘regime’ to signal the illegitimacy of the Maduro government.

An emotional Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan – who once worked as a trader of oil and refined products, initially with Royal Dutch Shell, and who, in 1989, set up Harcourt Consultants, which advises on oil and gas matters – told Parliament:

The UK and our partners cannot and will not stand by and allow the tyranny of Maduro’s regime to continue. He has caused endless suffering and oppression to millions of his own people…

The people of Venezuela do not need the weasel words of a letter to The Guardian, from assorted Stalinists, Trotskyists, antisemites and, apparently, dead people, and also from members of Labour’s Front Bench. What they need is our solidarity with the legitimate, elected, social democratic president of the National Assembly: interim President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.

Writing in the Independent, Patrick Cockburn commented in September 2016:

Sir Alan does have a long record of befriending the Gulf monarchies, informing a journalist in July that Saudi Arabia “is not a dictatorship”.

Sir Alan tweeted:

The dictatorial abuses of Nicolás Maduro in #Venezuela have led to the collapse of the rule of law and human misery and degradation.

We replied:

How much human misery and degradation did *you* cause by voting for war on oil-rich Iraq in 2003 and by supporting oil-rich Saudi tyrants attacking famine-stricken Yemen? Your compassion for the people of oil-rich Venezuela is completely and utterly fake.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tweeted:

We stand with the people of #Venezuela as they seek to build a better life. We cannot ignore the suffering or tyranny taking place in this proud nation. Neither should other countries who care about freedom and prosperity.

Political analyst Charles Shoebridge commented:

Now speaking of “US standing with the people of #Venezuela against tyranny”, when just days ago he was also speaking of the US standing with US allied repressive tyrannies such as UAE Saudi Arabia Bahrain.

Glenn Greenwald made the same point, adding:

I’d have more respect for the foreign policy decrees of US officials if they’d just admit what everyone knows – “we want to change this country’s government to make it better serve our interests” – rather than pretending they give the slightest shit about Freedom & Democracy.

Writing on the Grayzone website, Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal describe how:

Juan Guaidó is the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers. While posing as a champion of democracy, he has spent years at the forefront of a violent campaign of destabilization.

Almost entirely overlooked in ‘mainstream’ coverage, the New York Times reported last September:

The Trump administration held secret meetings with rebellious military officers from Venezuela over the last year to discuss their plans to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, according to American officials and a former Venezuelan military commander who participated in the talks.

Associated Press reported last week:

The coalition of Latin American governments that joined the U.S. in quickly recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president came together over weeks of secret diplomacy that included whispered messages to activists under constant surveillance and a high-risk foreign trip by the opposition leader challenging President Nicolas Maduro for power, those involved in the talks said.

In mid-December, Guaido quietly traveled to Washington, Colombia and Brazil to brief officials on the opposition’s strategy of mass demonstrations to coincide with Maduro’s expected swearing-in for a second term on Jan. 10 in the face of widespread international condemnation, according to exiled former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an ally.

Labour MP, Chris Williamson, virtually a lone honest voice on this issue in the UK Parliament, commented:

Donald Trump, who received nearly 3m fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, throws his weight behind a guy [Guaidó] who didn’t even stand in last year’s Venezuelan presidential election and UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, gives Trump his servile support

Williamson was impressively rational in this interview with Going Underground. Sir Alan remains unimpressed, commenting shamefully of Williamson in Parliament:

I’m astonished he’s even been prepared to show his face in this House today.

Lack of Free Elections as a Motive for Corporate Media Concern

As we have seen, the corporate media’s first great reason for opposing Maduro is that he is a ruthless ‘dictator’. This label is credible only if he prevents free elections, which, of course, are intolerable to any self-respecting tyrant.

Again, corporate media are as one in their opinion. The Guardian’s Latin America correspondent, Tom Phillips, writes that Maduro was ‘re-elected last May in a vote widely seen as fraudulent’. The ‘impartiality’ of Phillips’ reporting on Venezuela is clear even from the tweet ‘pinned’ to his Twitter feed:

It is 20 years since Hugo Chávez’s election kicked off his ill-fated Bolivarian dream.

A Guardian editorial noted that Maduro had won a ‘dodgy presidential vote boycotted by the opposition’. The Economist went further: ‘The election he won in May was an up-and-down fraud.’ Ross Clark in the Telegraph:

Opposition politicians have been jailed, while observers in last May’s election reported inflated vote tallies.

The Observer editors opined on January 27:

Nicolás Maduro was re-elected Venezuela’s president last May by fraudulent means, as regional governments and independent observers noted at the time, and his leadership lacks legitimate authority.

Echoing its positions on earlier ‘regime change’ efforts that brought utter catastrophe to Iraq and Libya, the Observer added:

Given this grim record, Venezuela would be well rid of him and the sooner the better. If Maduro truly has the people’s best interests at heart, he should recognise that he has become an obstacle to national renewal – and step aside.

Venezuela needs ‘national renewal’, or ‘modernisation’ in Blairspeak. Like the Guardian, the Observer then insisted that reasonable options ’emphatically do not include US intervention in Venezuela’. Nobody should be fooled by this apparent anti-war sentiment. US media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR made the point:

I love this thing where nominal leftists run the propaganda ball for bombing a country 99 yards then stop at the one yard and insist they don’t support scoring goals, that they in fact oppose war.

A further prime example of propaganda ball-running was supplied by The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan:

I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.

Beyond the ‘mainstream’, credible voices have argued that last May’s elections were free and fair. Human rights lawyer Daniel Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, writing for Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, commented:

I just returned from observing my fourth election in Venezuela in less than a year. Jimmy Carter has called Venezuela’s electoral system “the best in the world,” and what I witnessed was an inspiring process that guarantees one person, one vote, and includes multiple auditing procedures to ensure a free and fair election.

I then came home to the United States to see the inevitable “news” coverage referring to Venezuela as a “dictatorship” and as a country in need of saving. This coverage not only ignores the reality of Venezuela, it ignores the fact that the U.S. is the greatest impediment to democracy in Venezuela, just as the U.S. has been an impediment to democracy throughout Latin America since the end of the 19th century.

More than 150 members of the international electoral accompaniment mission for the elections published four independent reports. Their members ‘include politicians, electoral experts, academics, journalists, social movement leaders and others’. The mission’s General Report concluded:

We the international accompaniers consider that the technical and professional trustworthiness and independence of the National Electoral Council of Venezuela are uncontestable.

The Council of Electoral Experts of Latin America, a grouping of electoral technicians from across the continent, many of whom have presided over electoral agencies, commented:

The process was successfully carried out and that the will of the citizens, freely expressed in ballot boxes, was respected…the results communicated by the National Electoral Council reflect the will of the voters who decided to participate in the electoral process.

The African Report:

Our general evaluation is that this was a fair, free, and transparent expression of the human right to vote and participate in the electoral process by the Venezuelan people, and that the results announced on the night of May 20 are trustworthy due to the comprehensive guarantees, audits, the high tech nature of the electoral process, and due to the thirteen audits carried out previous to and on the day of elections which we witnessed.

We can also conclude that the Venezuelan people who chose to participate in the electoral process of May 20 were not subject to any external pressures.

And also the Caribbean Report:

The mission was satisfied that the elections were conducted efficiently in a fair and transparent manner. All of the registered voters who wanted to exercise their right to vote participated in a peaceful and accommodating environment. Based on the process observed, the mission is satisfied that the results of the elections reflect the will of the majority of the voters in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

If all of this has been ignored in the current debate, it is because corporate media, in fact, do not care about free elections in Venezuela.

Consider the elections held in Iraq on January 30, 2005. On the BBC’s main evening news that month, reporter David Willis talked of ‘the first democratic election in fifty years’.2  A Guardian leader referred to ‘the country’s first free election in decades’. The Times, the Financial Times, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Independent, the Express, the Mirror, the Sun and numerous other media repeated the same claim hailing Iraq’s great ‘democratic election’.

But this was all nonsense. Iraq was not just under illegal, superpower occupation; invading armies were waging full-scale war against the Iraqi resistance. Just weeks before the election, Fallujah, a city of 300,000 people, was virtually razed to the ground by US-UK forces. Six weeks before the election, the UN reported of the city that, ’70 per cent of the houses and shops were destroyed and those still standing are riddled with bullets.’ A quarter of a million people had been displaced from this one city alone by the onslaught. One year later, The Lancet reported 655,000 excess Iraqi deaths as a result of the 2003 invasion.

There was obviously no question of a free election under these lawless, extremely violent conditions. The corporate press was not the least bit interested or concerned. Indeed, our search of the LexisNexis media database at the time of the elections showed that there had not been a single substantive analysis of the extent of press freedom in Iraq under occupation anywhere in the UK press over the previous six months. And yet the media were all but unanimous in describing the elections as free and fair.

• Part 2 coming soon

  1. Walter Russell Mead, ‘Moscow savours latest Latin American crisis to destabilise region,’ The Australian, 31 January 2019.
  2. Willis, BBC News at Ten, January 10, 2005.

Democracy Or Extinction

What will it take for governments to take real action on climate? When will they declare an emergency and do what needs to be done? How much concerted, peaceful public action will be required to disrupt the current economic and political system that is driving humanity to the brink of extinction?

Meanwhile, climate records continue to tumble. 2018 was the hottest for the world’s oceans since records began in the 1950s, continuing a deeply worrying trend. Moreover, the last five years were the five hottest. The consequences are likely to be catastrophic. The oceans are crucial to the Earth’s climate; they absorb more than 90 per cent of the heating generated by greenhouse gases. Yet another sign of serious climate disruption is revealed with seemingly no impact on the juggernaut of economic ‘growth’ and government decision-making.

John Abraham, one of the authors of the new scientific study on this alarming rise in ocean temperatures, said:

We scientists sound like a broken record. Every year we present the science and plead for action. Not nearly enough is being done. We can still tackle climate change, but we must act immediately. We have the means to make a difference, we lack only the will.

It is, of course, heartening to see scientists finally being this outspoken. But it is not accurate to keep repeating the mantra, as many well-intentioned people do, that ‘we’ lack ‘the will’. Who is the ‘we’ here? Big business, powerful financial interests and corporate lobbies have fought tooth and nail to oppose any substantive action. They have battled hard over decades to obscure, rubbish and downplay the science – with huge sums devoted to disinformation campaigns – and to bend government policy in their favour.

US environmentalist Bill McKibben recently observed of the fossil fuel lobby that:

The coalition ha[s] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the earth.

One could argue that there is a lack of public will to expose and counter corporate power in collusion with nation states; that there needs to be a grassroots revolution to overturn this destructive system of rampant global capitalism. Perhaps there needs to be a revolution in human consciousness; an increased awareness of what it is to be fully human that respects ourselves, other species and the planet itself. Most likely, all of the above. If so, it is vital to say and do much more than merely say, ‘we lack only the will’.

Take the ad-dependent, establishment-preserving, Corbyn-hating Guardian. It obfuscated along similar lines in an editorial sparked by the record-breaking ocean temperatures. Global warming, the editors said:

can still be tackled if we act immediately; this is a test of will, not ability.

But where is the Guardian‘s systemic analysis of root causes of climate chaos and what needs to be done about it? The Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, who was murdered by right-wing paramilitary forces one hundred years ago this month, warned that global capitalism would lead to environmental destruction. This is not a defect of capitalism, she argued, but an inherent feature of a system that is rooted in brutality, gaping inequality and the unsustainable extraction of natural resources.

In her discussion of Luxemburg’s legacy, Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Bath, noted:

This is evident in the recent decision of Brazil’s new far-right president, Bolsonaro, to “integrate the Amazon region into the Brazilian economy”. This would expand the authority and reach of powerful agribusiness corporations into the Amazon Rainforest – threatening the rights and livelihoods of indigenous people and the ecosystems their lives are entwined with.

This destruction of indigenous peoples and ecosystems has been inflicted on the continent since Columbus ‘discovered’ America in 1492. Globally, the process intensified during the Industrial Revolution and, in more recent decades, with the rise of destructive ‘neoliberal’ economic policies pursued with ideological fervour by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and later acolytes. No wonder that Luxemburg saw a stark choice between ‘socialism or barbarism’. Today, the choice is most likely ‘socialism or extinction‘.

To any reader unsettled by the scare word ‘socialism’, simply replace it with ‘democracy’: a genuinely inclusive system where the general population has proper input and control, and does not simply have its wishes overridden by a tiny elite that enriches itself at our, and the planet’s, expense.

Media Barbarism

As we have long pointed out, the corporate media are a crucial component of this barbaric and destructive system of global capitalism. Our previous media alert highlighted that even the very names of ‘our’ newspapers propagate a myth of neutral, reliable news (‘Express‘, ‘Telegraph‘, ‘The Times‘, ‘The Observer‘) or a stalwart defender of democracy (‘The Guardian‘). And, as we have also noted, BBC News promotes itself as a trusted global news brand because it supposedly ‘champions the truth’.

Propaganda is what Official Enemies – such as North Korea, Iran or Russia – pump out. But not ‘us’. Thus, BBC Newsnight will readily grant BBC correspondent John Sweeney the resources to compile a condescending report on Russia’s Sputnik News:

Sputnik UK is well-named – it’s a tin can that broadcasts its curious one-note message to the universe: Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.

Recall that Sweeney is a serial Western propagandist who welcomed, indeed pushed for, the invasion of Iraq. He wrote in the Observer in January 1999:

Life will only get better for ordinary Iraqis once the West finally stops dithering and commits to a clear, unambiguous policy of snuffing out Saddam. And when he falls the people of Iraq will say: ‘What kept you? Why did it take you so long?’

If, by contrast, a BBC correspondent had repeatedly called out the UK media’s ‘one-note message’ in boosting the war crimes of Bush and Blair – an extremely unlikely scenario – would they still have a major BBC platform? Of course not.

Or consider a recent BBC News article that proclaimed:

Facebook tackles Russians making fake news stories

That fake news is a systemic feature of BBC coverage, and the rest of Western ‘mainstream’ media, is virtually an unthinkable thought for corporate journalists. Try to imagine Facebook taking action against BBC News or the Guardian, or any other ‘mainstream’ outlet for their never-ending stream of power-friendly ‘journalism’.

Try to imagine BBC News critically examining Western propaganda, including its own output, in the same way that it treated Russian propaganda in this BBC News at Ten piece by Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford.

Try to imagine Guardian editor Katharine Viner being made accountable for the fake viral Guardian exclusive last month that Trump’s former campaigner manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy. She has simply kept her head down and tried to stonewall any challenges.

Try to imagine BBC Question Time host Fiona Bruce being punished by her BBC bosses for brazenly misleading viewers about Labour being behind the Tories in the polls. Or for her poor treatment of Labour guest panellist Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, who described the BBC’s behaviour as a ‘disgrace’. Bruce is married to Nigel Sharrocks, Chairman of the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board which earns significant sums of money from the BBC. There is no mention of this on Fiona Bruce’s Wikipedia page; nor is there a Wikipedia page on Sharrocks himself.

Veteran journalist John Pilger, effectively barred from the Guardian since 2015, and largely shunned by the corporate media, is clear that:

Real journalists act as agents of people, not power.

Such a simple powerful truth shames all those editors and media ‘professionals’ masquerading as journalists on BBC News, ITV News, the Guardian and elsewhere. When was the last time you saw a BBC News political editor truly challenging any Prime Minister in the past few decades, rather than uncritically ‘reporting’ what the PM has said or even fulsomely praising them?

Pilger was asked how journalism has changed in recent years. He responded:

When I began as a journalist, especially as a foreign correspondent, the press in the UK was conservative and owned by powerful establishment forces, as it is now. But the difference compared to today is that there were spaces for independent journalism that dissented from the received wisdom of authority. That space has now all but closed and independent journalists have gone to the internet, or to a metaphoric underground.

He continued:

The single biggest challenge is rescuing journalism from its deferential role as the stenographer of great power. The United States has constitutionally the freest press on earth, yet in practice it has a media obsequious to the formulas and deceptions of power. That is why the US was effectively given media approval to invade Iraq, and Libya, and Syria and dozens of other countries.

Pilger added his strong support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

The truth about Iraq and Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia and many other flashpoints was told when WikiLeaks published the revelations of whistle-blowers. […] Julian Assange is a political refugee in London for one reason only: WikiLeaks told the truth about the greatest crimes of the 21st century. He is not forgiven for that, and he should be supported by journalists and by people everywhere.

In reality, Assange has been ignored, traduced, ridiculed and smeared by corporate journalists; not least by the Guardian which capitalised on his and WikiLeaks’ work.

Living Through the Worst-Case Scenario

Returning to the pressing issue of climate catastrophe, we are currently living through the worst-case scenario considered by climate scientists. According to a recent study in Nature, global temperatures could rise by a massive 5C by the end of this century. To understand the appalling seriousness of this, Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, warned several years ago that:

the difference between two degrees and four degrees [of global warming] is human civilisation.

In other words, we are talking about the end of human life as we know it; perhaps even human extinction.

Rob Jackson, an Earth scientist at Stanford University and the chair of the Global Carbon Project, which tracks worldwide emissions levels, warns of the huge risk of assuming that humanity will be able to develop technology to remove carbon directly from the atmosphere any time soon:

It’s a very dangerous game, I think. We’re assuming that this thing we can’t do today will somehow be possible and cheaper in the future. I believe in tech, but I don’t believe in magic.

And even the most magical high-tech fixes removing carbon or blocking sunlight will not be able to resurrect, for example, the 98 per cent and 75 per cent of insects already wiped out in Puerto Rican jungles and German nature reserves, respectively. These insects are the key to the survival of the entire food chain; when they are dead, they will remain dead, and we will die with them.

Instead of magic, scientists are increasingly calling for immediate radical action. But their urgent calls make, at best, a tiny splash for a day or two in the corporate news bubble; and then the ripples die away, leaving an eerie, deathly silence.

Almost in desperation, climate experts say that:

it may still technically be possible to limit warming to 1.5C if drastic action is taken now. [our emphasis]

Scientific research shows that the impacts of climate change could be mitigated if a phaseout of all fossil fuel infrastructure were to begin immediately. The internationally agreed goal of restricting global warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels is still possible, say scientists. But it is:

the choices being made by global society, not physics, which is the obstacle to meeting the goal.

Worse still, the scientific analysis:

[does] not include the possibility of tipping points such as the sudden release of huge volumes of methane from permafrost, which could spark runaway global warming.

We have now had three decades of increasingly alarming reports from climate scientists since the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in 1988. Last October, the IPCC warned that we only had 12 years left to turn things around, taking radical action now. But alarm bells from scientists have not, and will not, stop governments in their tracks. Only peaceful and massive concerted action from citizens around the world stands a chance of doing that at this desperately late stage.

Remembrance: The Dehumanised Human

It is clear even from their titles that corporate newspapers are objective, balanced and impartial. Or so we are to believe. The Telegraph and Mail are disinterested systems of communication – the prejudices of telegraphists and postmen/women certainly do not influence the content of the messages they deliver. The Times and Financial Times simply reflect the key events of our time, as, of course, does the Mirror. The Sun impartially spreads illumination to the benefit of all life on earth. As does the Independent, with no shadows cast by the Russian oligarch by which it is owned or the adverts on which it depends. The Observer looks on and records, a mere Spectator. Only the Guardian hints at political engagement. A staunch defender of ‘free’ comment and ‘sacred facts’, the title is commonly understood to indicate the paper’s determination to act as a guardian of ordinary people against powerful interests.

And, as the name suggests, the Express is an entirely neutral rapid information delivery service – we will have to look elsewhere for political bias. Last November, the editors of the tabloid opined:

From the smallest village memorial services to the 10,000 who marched solemnly past the Cenotaph, the nation came together yesterday in an overwhelming display of respect for the fallen.

With poppies and soldier silhouettes, with beach artwork and bell-ringing, or simply with quiet reflection, they honoured those who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear. Up and down the country, the two-minute silence was immaculately observed, though the message it conveyed was deafening: We will not forget. Leading it all, as ever, was the Queen. She has lived through most of the 100 years since the Armistice that ended the First World War and she remains as staunch and dependable as ever.

There was no hint of bias in this idea that the ‘nation’ was united in this view of the Great War and its commemoration. The nation ‘came together’ in ceremonies led by royalty and religion, with the key focus – appropriately enough – on silence.

Why this constant emphasis on silent remembering: ‘We will not forget’? What is it that we are supposed not to forget, and to what purpose? What exactly is the point of it?

Of course, we are being asked to ‘remember’ the suffering and death of ‘the fallen’, of those who ‘served’ and ‘sacrificed’. But, in fact, they did not fall. They were pushed: by bullets, shells and bayonets. They were pushed by elite-run systems of propaganda that think nothing of exploiting the vulnerability of children to patriotic, religious and militaristic manipulation long before they are capable of intellectual self-defence. They were pushed by nationalistic sloganeering and shaming, by the threat of jail, by the threat of bullets from a firing squad. In 1895, Tolstoy observed:

From infancy, by every possible means – class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments – the people are stupefied in one direction’ – unquestioning patriotism.1

And as psychoanalyst Erich Fromm explained on the basis of decades of research:

The average individual does not permit himself to be aware of thoughts or feelings which are incompatible with the patterns of his culture, and hence he is forced to repress them.2

The psychologist Stanley Milgram agreed, noting:

The individual often views authority as an impersonal force, whose dictates transcend mere human wish or desire. Those in authority acquire, for some, a suprahuman character.3

Milgram concluded of the modern individual:

The culture has failed, almost entirely, in inculcating internal controls on actions that have their origin in authority.4

This is the reality behind the claim that the ‘fallen’ had ‘sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’. They ‘sacrificed’ themselves to defend a system that attacks the freedom of the young to think for themselves in challenging the views of ‘authority’ on the crucial issues facing us as human beings.

Consider religion as a further example. A child, of course, has not the remotest idea about the meaning of the word ‘God’ that features so prominently at times of ‘remembrance’. And yet innumerable societies throughout history have taken for granted that children should be exposed to education from the earliest age to ensure they become ‘good’ Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists. What strange, heretical parent would encourage the child to think, feel and decide for him or herself on these issues, to consider different ideas about how best to relate oneself to existence, how best to experience love, truth and delight?

Proudly irreligious parents need not crow too hard. Their tiny children enjoying the inborn delight of non-competitive being are trained just as fanatically for ambition – to exult in coming first in class, to despair at coming last, to get to the best university, to get the best job with the best salary – before the child has any idea of what is at stake, of what he or she stands to lose. Which school explores the mystical philosophy of purposeless being, the sheer ecstasy of living in the moment, comparing it to the heart-rending stress of exam-oriented, ‘success’-oriented living that subordinates the present moment to some future moment deemed far more important? Anyone who understands that authentic religion is fundamentally concerned with identifying and dropping the ambitious ego, knows that this, too, is a form of religious indoctrination.

In the Guardian, columnist Suzanne Moore wrote of the ‘remembrance’ ceremonies:

The act of remembrance is significant because forgetting is what destroys us.

But is it? We come closer to the truth when we amend Moore’s observation that: ‘Terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks can end.’ The reality, of course, is that terrible wars are happening right now that no one thinks about at all; that no one thinks, writes or cares about.

‘Don’t you care about Yemen?’ Moore asked as an example of ‘petty political point-scoring’ at a time when we should all be united in ‘remembrance’. In fact, this was the sixth time since the war began in 2015 that Moore has mentioned the word ‘Yemen’ in her Guardian column5 – all have been the briefest possible mentions, all in passing. Moore has not offered a single substantive comment on the nature of the conflict – on the civilian death toll, on Britain’s role in waging a truly devastating war against an impoverished, famine-stricken country.

And this gives the lie to the whole focus on ‘remembering’. It is not ‘forgetting’ that destroys ‘us’; it is a level of power-serving propaganda, mendacity and indifference that overwhelmingly destroys ‘them’ while ‘we’ know little or nothing of what’s happening. There is no risk of us forgetting because we don’t know. We don’t know because journalism has been transformed into one more corporate product where celebrity media workers sell their ‘brand’ as columnists without risking their privileged lifestyles by treading on important toes.

A Country That Is Not Yours Needs You To Kill And Be Killed

The ‘fallen’ were pushed by a fantastically distorted version of the world calculated to manufacture their consent. The implication is unavoidable: the choices they made were not free choices.

In 1931, Winston Churchill noted ‘the reputation of the British empire as a valiant and benignant force in the history of mankind’.6 Churchill later described ‘what is called colonialism’ as ‘bringing forward backward races and opening up the jungles’.7 Like everyone else, he was ‘brought up to feel proud of what we had done’.

Historian Mark Curtis takes a different view:

As regards the promotion of the principles noted above – peace, democracy, human rights and Third World economic development – much of Britain’s history is embarrassing by virtually any standards.

Britain ‘led the world in enslaving what is now known as the Third World by a series of human slaughters and military conquests before instituting an economic imperialism that enforced virtual (and real) slavery on tens of millions of people while using their resources for Britain’s enrichment’.8

In November 1935, Major General Smedley D. Butler supplied a rare honest insight into the role of the West’s military:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service as a member of our country’s most agile military force – the Marine Corps… And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.

Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City boys to collect revenues in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.9

When groups of powerful, violent egotists clash in pursuit of empire, extreme violence is inevitable. This is essentially what happened with the Great War, in which 1 in 3 British men aged 19-22 in 1914 were killed.

Of course, when exploitative elites clash, the public is told, ‘We are at war!’ What began as rape and pillage, as ‘opening up the jungles’, is magically transformed into a noble cause. Up to this point, there was no question of elites insisting ‘We are at business!’ or, ‘We are at self-enriching conquest!’ The spoils are not shared in the same way that killing and dying are shared. But when the violent thieves of state power meet resistance from other state thieves, ‘We are at war!’ ‘The nation is at war!’ and so: ‘Your country needs you!’

Suddenly it’s ‘our’ country! The giant corporations, banks and the elite class that owns them are imaginatively turned over to us, and thus ‘our’ country needs us!

In 1937, anarchist writer Rudolf Rocker commented:

The love of his own nation has never yet prevented the entrepreneur from using foreign labour if it was cheaper and made more profit for him. Whether his own people are thereby injured does not concern him in the least; the personal profit is the deciding factor in such a case, and so-called national interests are only considered when not in conflict with personal ones.10

Consider, for example, the behaviour of German capitalists after the Great War:

It never occurred to them that in order to rescue the rest of the nation from helpless despair and misery after the war they might be content with smaller profits. They stole what they could lay their hands on, while the nation fed on dry bread and potatoes and thousands of German children died of under-nourishment. None of these parasites ever heeded that their uncontrolled greed delivered the whole nation to destruction. While the workers and the middle class of the great cities perished in misery, Stinnes became the owner of fabulous riches. Thyssen, who before the war had approximately two hundred million gold marks, is today the owner of a fortune of a billion gold marks, and the other representatives of German heavy industry enriched themselves in the same proportion.11

As the modern climate change crisis reveals with even greater clarity, establishment self-seekers do not care much even for themselves, much less for ‘the nation’. Even as these interests have driven governments to invade Iraq and Libya to gain control of oil resources, fossil fuel interests, the most powerful industries in the world, have waged a no-holds-barred propaganda campaign against their own domestic populations to prevent them from understanding the true seriousness of the climate disaster.

This week, the Guardian reported that Brad Lister, Professor of Biology at Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the United States, had returned to a Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years. Lister found that 98 per cent of ground insects had vanished: ‘The most likely culprit by far is global warming’. Lister commented:

It was just astonishing… It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest. We began to realise this is terrible, a very, very disturbing result.

He added:

We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on this planet, along with all the other life on the planet. It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.

This follows research in 2017 which found that 75 per cent of flying insects in Germany’s nature reserves had vanished over the previous 25 years. Professor Dave Goulson of Sussex University warned:

We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.

The response: last year, the world’s airlines carried 4.3 billion passengers, up 38 million compared to the year before. At a time when rapid and massive reductions are desperately needed, global carbon emissions reached an all-time high, up 2.7 per cent, after a 1.6 per cent increase in 2017. Unsurprisingly, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also reached an all-time high in 2018, 410 parts per million (ppm). Science writer Peter Gleick commented on Twitter:

The last time humans experienced 410 ppm was… never. Never. Humans hadn’t evolved yet.

Corporate media around the world have sometimes reported but always essentially shrugged off these terrifying developments – the focus on consumerism, entertainment and indifference continues as before. Even now, with scientists warning of a ‘climate emergency’, of imminent catastrophe, and even of human extinction, corporate interests are continuing their campaign of denial, even though their own lives and the lives of their children are at stake.

These are essentially the same forces driven by the same goals that built empires on the suffering of weaker peoples and animals throughout the world for hundreds of years. Remarkably, it turns out that, in 1914-1918 and in 1939-1945, ordinary men and women killed and died to defend a status quo that, within a few short decades, would bring humanity to the brink of extinction.

Who made fully aware of even a portion of this reality would have been willing to fight for the British Empire against the German Empire in the war of 1914-1918? Who would have been willing to experience the obscenity of killing another human being – of mutilating, burning alive, shredding; of being oneself mutilated, burned alive, shredded – for this cause?

Unsurprisingly, we are told in no uncertain terms that ‘respectability’ requires that ‘remembrance’ of this mass deception, this mass capitulation to self-destructive illusions, requires, not rational, open discussion, but solemn silence. We are to quietly ‘remember’, to sadly reflect, to quietly thank the ‘fallen’ ‘who sacrificed themselves for the freedoms we hold dear’ but do not possess.

The emphasis on silence serves a purpose; it is used to suggest that painful questioning is an insult to the ‘memory’ of the dead. As if a memory can be insulted. As if the dead can be insulted at all. As if responding with patriotic platitudes and deceptions would not be viewed as an insult by the people killed by them.

All too many of us have bowed low to ‘authority’s’ demand for silence. The result could hardly be more catastrophic. Erich Fromm saw it with astonishing clarity:

This attitude of the dehumanised human – of the person who does not care, of the person who not only is not his brother’s keeper but is not even his own keeper – this attitude characterises modern man.12

  1. Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p. 95.
  2. Fromm, Beyond The Chains Of Illusion, Abacus, 1962, p. 120.
  3. Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p. 162.
  4. Ibid, p.164.
  5. ProQuest newspaper database search, January 15, 2019.
  6. Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 1.
  7. Ibid, p. 5
  8. Ibid, p. 5.
  9. Butler, quoted, Sidney Lens, The Forging of the American Empire, Pluto Press, 2003, pp. 270-271.
  10. Rocker, Culture and Nationalism, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p. 261.
  11. Ibid, p. 264.
  12. Fromm, ‘On Being Human’, Continuum, 1997, p. 29.

Veneration Of Power Leading To Climate Catastrophe

In a recent media alert, we presented a few rules that journalists must follow if they are to be regarded as a safe pair of hands by editors and corporate media owners. One of these rules is that ‘we’ in the West are assumed to be ‘the good guys’. This seriously damaging narrative, flying in the face of historical evidence and endlessly crushing state policies, ensures that the public is kept ignorant and pacified. The consequences have been deadly for millions of the West’s victims around the world, and now mean climate catastrophe that could end human civilisation.

First, take the recent devout coverage following the death of George Herbert Walker Bush, US President from 1989-1993, and Vice-President under Ronald Reagan from 1981-1989. When a (former) Western leader dies, the raw propaganda is often at its most fawning and servile. On Bush’s death, ‘mainstream’ media outlets broadcast and published eulogies and fanciful words of praise, divorced from reality. For example, BBC News channelled former President Barack Obama:

George HW Bush’s life is a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling. And he did tremendous good along the journey.

The Clintons – like the Bush dynasty, part of the US ruling class – added their own gushing propaganda tribute:

Few Americans have been – or will ever be – able to match President Bush’s record of service to the United States and the joy he took every day from it.

Referring to the massive US attack following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the 1990-1991 Gulf War, ‘impartial’ BBC News launched into full-blown Orwellian newspeak:

The subsequent battle proved to be a triumph for American military expertise and a major boost for the nation’s morale.

Likewise, the Guardian‘s obituary described Bush Senior’s devastation of Iraq as ‘triumphant’; ‘the president did not put a foot wrong’; ‘his most impressive achievement’; ‘Bush’s masterly management of the first Iraq war’; and so on, in an elite-friendly script that was essentially a press release from the very centre of US power.

The cruel reality of Bush’s ‘most impressive achievement’, as we noted in a 2002 media alert, was that Iraq’s entire civilian infrastructure was targeted and largely destroyed under the rain of bombs. All of Iraq’s eleven major electrical power plants, as well as 119 substations, were destroyed. 90 per cent of electricity generation was out of service within hours; within days, all power generation in the country had ceased. Eight multi-purpose dams were repeatedly hit and destroyed, wrecking flood control, municipal and industrial water storage, irrigation and hydroelectric power. Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed. According to Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, the allied bombardment:

effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry and health care.1

Under the 88,500 tons of bombs – the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas – that followed the launch of the air campaign on January 17, 1991, and the ground attack that followed, 150,000 Iraqi troops and 50,000 civilians were killed. The Guardian‘s glowing obituary omitted all of these brutal facts. The Observer, the Guardian‘s Sunday sister paper, sang from the same hymn sheet, describing the former head of the CIA and US president as:

an American patriot with a deep sense of duty.

The guff piece was written by serial propagandist Simon Tisdall who has variously been a foreign leader writer, foreign editor and US editor for the Guardian. Tisdall waxed that:

Bush set great store by civility in public life. As Republican candidate in 1988 he called for a “kinder, gentler nation”. He was, quintessentially, a decent man, with a taste for the lifestyle of an English country gentleman.

Bush’s ‘most admirable quality’, opined the Guardian man, was ‘his deep sense of public duty and service.’ That word ‘service’ again, repeated over and over like a mantra. But who was really being served by Bush’s violence?

The Guardian devoted a section of its website to Bush Sr, featuring headlines such as:

A different command”. How Bush’s war shaped his work for peace’

a man of the highest character’

The “dear dad” dedicated to faith, family and country’

Steady hand during collapse of communism’

“Dear Bill.” Clinton heralds letter from Bush as source of lasting friendship

When Official Enemies portray their Glorious Leaders in this way, western commentators routinely sneer with derision. Al Abunimah, editor of Electronic Intifada, highlighted the above litany of nonsense in a single tweet, and rightly scorned the Guardian as ‘a bastion of regime propaganda and sycophancy to powerful elites.’

Meanwhile, BBC News, like the rest of the corporate media, virtually canonised Bush as a saintly agent of Western benevolence. Even his ‘service dog’ Sully paid a ‘touching last tribute‘, sleeping beside the late President’s casket. We were to understand that Sully was heart-broken after long years spent devotedly serving his ‘master’. In fact, he had been assigned to assist Bush in the summer of 2018, just a few months ago.

By glaring contrast, a Morning Star editorial gave an honest assessment of Bush Sr’s contribution to the world, summed up as:

A lifetime in the service of imperialism.

Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs, listed numerous appalling crimes and abuses of human rights carried out by Bush, almost entirely buried by sycophantic journalists on his death, and concluded:

Coverage of George H.W. Bush’s death proves that Noam Chomsky’s media theory is completely true.

‘Mainstream’ media professionals do not know, or do not care, what Bush actually did in his life. Perhaps they also assume that the public do not know or care either. Obedient journalists have simply buried the destruction and mass death wreaked on Iraq in the Gulf War. In his Bush obituary, Nick Bryant, the New York-based BBC News correspondent, brushed all this away and stuck to the standard deception of ‘mistakes were made’ in Iraq. By ‘mistakes’, Bryant meant that the US encouraged the Kurds and Shia-dominated south to revolt against Saddam Hussein, but then failed to offer sufficient backing. Under BBC ‘journalism’, Bush’s ‘mistakes’ do not include mass killing and destruction. That is simply unthinkable.

The truth is that the corporate media, the BBC very much included, do not care about the deadly effect of mass sanctions and infrastructure destruction on Iraq through the 1990s, up to the 2003 Iraq War. Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, reported that 4,000 more children under five were dying every month in Iraq than would have died before Western sanctions were imposed. A total of half a million children under five died, amongst a total death toll of over one million Iraqis. There is clearly no need or desire for western corporate media to dwell on Bush Sr’s role in such horrors.

Nor do corporate journalists care about his service to death, torture, secret assassinations, and propping up of dictators in his role as head of the CIA. They do not care that, as Vice-President, Bush refused to apologise for the shooting down of Iran Air flight 655 over the Persian Gulf by the US warship Vincennes on July 3, 1988. All 290 people on board the plane were killed, including 66 children. Instead, he said callously:

I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are. … I’m not an apologize-for America kind of guy.

Clearly, most corporate journalists do not care that Bush shares responsibility for the multiple bloodbaths that soaked Latin America in the 1980s. They do not care that Bush was, as historian Greg Grandin notes, an ‘icon’ of ‘brutal US oppression in the Third World’. They do not care that Bush invaded Panama in 1989, in the biggest deployment of US force since the Vietnam War, ostensibly to capture former US ally Manuel Noriega on charges of drug trafficking. US planes heavily bombed populated areas, resulting in the estimated deaths of 3,000 Panamanians. Grandin says that the ‘lasting impact of the Panama invasion’ is the US wars that followed in subsequent decades. On Bush’s death, the corporate media did their job of whitewashing his blood-soaked legacy; just as they covered for his crimes when he was in power.

‘Climate Catastrophe Now Inevitable’

All this matters because the media’s veneration of Bush, and western leaders generally, is a glaring symptom of a deep truth about the corporate media: their primary function is to project a severely distorted view of world events, one that embodies state and corporate priorities rooted in power and short-term profit at any cost.

The public is perennially starved of rational facts about the real state of the planet, and the greed-driven policies that hold sway over electorates and even over global ecosystems. The appalling consequence is that we are now certainly headed for climate catastrophe. Even a few within the corporate media have started to admit as much. Science writer Robin McKie noted in the Guardian that:

Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable.

McKie added that the US has produced around one third of the carbon dioxide responsible for global warming:

Yet it has essentially done nothing to check its annual rises in output. Lobbying by the fossil fuel industry has proved highly effective at blocking political change – a point most recently demonstrated by groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Heartland Institute, which helped persuade President Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement, thus dashing the planet’s last hope of ecological salvation.

He cited environmentalist Bill McKibben:

The coalition [fossil fuel lobby] used its power to slow us down precisely at the moment when we needed to speed up. As a result, the particular politics of one country for one half-century will have changed the geological history of the Earth.

Global carbon emissions reached a new high in 2018. In other words, nothing of real significance has been achieved in thirty years of supposedly trying to cut emissions – other than making the problem very much worse – and we now only have a decade to completely turn things around. The blocking effects by powerful industry lobbies and corporate-captured political ‘leaders’, hugely underreported by the corporate media, are a disaster for the human race. Stefan Rahmstorf, a senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, highlighted a new analysis of carbon emissions by the Carbon Research Project and said:

See how easily we could have solved the climate crisis if we had started in 2000! Only 4% reduction per year. Now we need 18% per year. You can thank climate deniers, lobby groups and cowardly politicians for this delay.

Kevin Anderson of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Research concurred:

Spot on by [Rahmstorf]. The academic community also take some responsibility for all too often remaining quiet about completely irresponsible decisions. Just listen to the roar of complicit silence over the UK’s shale gas plans, the new oil platform, airport & road expansion.

Renowned climate scientist Michael Mann declared:

We’ve got a LOT of work to do folks. After flat-lining for 3 years, CO2 emissions have now ticked up two years straight. This is no time for climate change denying/delaying politicians. We must vote them out & elect in their place politicians who will LEAD on climate.

He added:

It is no longer enough for politicians to just say the right things about climate change. They must demonstrate a commitment to meaningful actions & specific policies aimed at rapid reductions in carbon emissions. We are now officially starting to run out of time…

Julia Steinberger, Associate Professor of Ecological Economics at the University of Leeds, put the scale of the challenge succinctly:

If people had ANY idea of the harm and loss that is coming our way with #ClimateBreakdown, they would stop driving, flying, eating meat, overheating and overconsuming pretty much instantly, and work tirelessly to build new low carbon societies.

Instead, powerful industry lobbies are working tirelessly to block the radical action that is required.

A new Met Office study shows that the UK summer heatwave this year was made thirty times more likely by the human impact on climate. Met Office scientist Peter Stott issued a deadly warning:

Humanity just won’t be able to cope with the world we are heading for.

Last year, Arctic News editor Sam Carana pointed out the dangers of methane, a highly potent global warming gas:

As the temperature of the Arctic Ocean keeps rising, it seems inevitable that more and more methane will rise from its seafloor and enter the atmosphere, at first strongly warming up the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean itself – thus causing further methane eruptions – and eventually warming up the atmosphere across the globe.

A giant ‘burp’ of methane gas could happen suddenly and increase global temperatures rapidly. If this sounds like a scare story, Harold Wanless, Professor of Geology and a specialist in sea level rise at the University of Miami, puts it in perspective:

Scientists tend to be pretty conservative. We don’t like to scare people, and we don’t like to step out of our little predictable boxes. But I suspect the situation is going to spin out of hand pretty quickly. If you look at the history of warming periods, things can move pretty fast, and when that happens that’s when you get extinction events.

I would not discount the possibility that it could happen in the next ten years.

In summary, scientists are calling for immediate large cuts in carbon emissions. Given the normally conservative pronouncements by overly cautious experts, such warnings should stop us all in our tracks. Climate scientists are virtually screaming at those running our political and economic systems to make drastic changes now.

However, at the start of a new UN climate conference in Poland, the follow-up to the 2015 Paris summit, a BBC News article observed starkly:

The gap between what countries say they are doing and what needs to be done has never been wider.

In other words, the dangers of rapid and cataclysmic global warming are now so glaring that some degree of urgency is being communicated occasionally, very occasionally, from within the corporate media. It would hurt establishment media credibility too much in the eyes of the public were that otherwise.

Safe ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough has become more outspoken of late. He addressed the UN conference:

We’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

He told the BBC:

All over the world there are people who are suffering as a consequence [of climate change] whose voices have not been heard.

Last week, the Daily Mirror went as far as putting Attenborough’s warning on its front page:

Time Is Running Out To Save Planet

But the daily diet of ‘news’ pumped out by the major news media is still a massive distraction from the huge widespread changes in society, politics and the economy that are needed immediately. Why is the climate crisis not a vital component, perhaps even the primary component, of news reporting on the economy, business, commerce, politics, and Parliament? Why is it usually restricted to science and environment ‘stories’? For instance, how often does the BBC’s business editor, Simon Jack, address the climate crisis in his reports? Never, if our occasional sampling is indicative. Nor does he ever respond to our polite challenges to do so. The same applied to the recently departed BBC economics editor, Kamal Ahmed. This is a gross dereliction of duty by the BBC to the public who pays for it.

Are we supposed to obsess over slight changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, the FTSE 100 index, and the size of the UK economy, even while the planet’s natural resources are plundered, ecosystems collapse, and the mass loss of species accelerates? Why are these much latter, more crucial numbers and facts about the state of the planet not routinely cited in corporate media reporting on the state of business and the economy? Perhaps we are supposed to regard the number of rivets on the Titanic a reliable measure of the ship’s robustness, even as it plummets beneath the waves.

Just consider the US news media reporting on the appalling forest wildfires in California last month. Although scientists have stated clearly that climate change is a significant factor in these catastrophic wildfires, national US television networks made the link with climate in less than four per cent of their reports on the calamity. We are not aware of any similar study of UK television coverage. But it was certainly apparent that BBC News at Ten made very little mention of the links between global warming and the Californian wildfires, just as climate was glaringly absent from its coverage of this summer’s drought in the UK.

It is true that the burgeoning grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, and the remarkable 15-year-old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, are not entirely absent from news coverage. But, given the stakes, their activism and their urgent messages to society as a whole would be making headlines every day in a sane media system. Extinction Rebellion are calling for peaceful mass civil disobedience to demand:

an immediate reversal of climate-toxic policies, net-zero emissions by 2025 and the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to oversee the radical changes necessary to halt global warming.

During one recent climate protest that blocked five major bridges in central London, one protester said:

We have tried marching, and lobbying, and signing petitions. Nothing has brought about the change that is needed.

Extinction Rebellion issued a stark warning:

Our aims may be ambitious. But we are striving for nothing less than the fate of our planet.

The inspiring clip that goes along with these words depicts suffragettes, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and many others pushing for positive changes in the world. Thunberg has explained in very simple and powerful terms how and why she became so motivated to do something about climate change. It happened in school at the age of nine:

They [teachers] were always talking about how we should turn off lights, save water, not throw out food. I asked why and they explained about climate change. And I thought this was very strange. If humans could really change the climate, everyone would be talking about it and people wouldn’t be talking about anything else. But this wasn’t happening.

Now, at 15, her commitment to go on school strike to devote herself to climate activism is an inspiration to many around the world, including the Extinction Rebellion movement. She has a succinct riposte to those who accuse her of neglecting her education:

Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?

The time has passed for the public to rely on political leaders taking the right steps to tackle the climate crisis. As Thunberg said in her speech to the UN climate conference:

So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.

As ever, it is up to each one of us to ensure that this change happens.

  1. Quoted Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995.

Limits of Dissent

When we think of prisons, we tend to think of Alcatraz, Bang Kwang and Belmarsh with their guard towers, iron bars and concrete. But in his forthcoming book, 33 Myths of the System, Darren Allen invites us to imagine a prison with walls made entirely of vacuous guff:

Censorship is unnecessary in a system in which everyone can speak, but only those guaranteed not to say anything worth listening to can be heard.

Is this true? For example, how easy is it to encounter genuinely uncompromised analysis locating the Guardian within a propaganda system designed to filter news, views and voices to serve powerful interests?

It is a key issue because the Guardian is the best ‘centre-left’ newspaper we have. If The Times and Telegraph define the limits of thinkable thought on the ‘mainstream’ right, then the Guardian does the same at the other end of the ‘spectrum’. In other words, the Guardian defines corporate media limits in accepting left views and voices. If it’s not in the Guardian, it’s not going to be anywhere else in the ‘mainstream’.

Are the Guardian‘s famous in-house dissidents willing and able to address this crucial issue? How about leftist firebrand Owen Jones? In November 2017, Jones lamented on Twitter:

I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column. Weirdly this doesn’t seem to work the other way round.

Jones can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the corporate media, as long as he doesn’t dish the dirt on his employer. Ironies inevitably abound. Last April, Jones commented:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

Even as Jones was speaking out on this ‘suffocating groupthink’, his comment was being suffocated by his obligation to spare his colleagues’ blushes.

In December 2014, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook challenged George Monbiot:

@GeorgeMonbiot Guardian, your employer, is precisely part of media problem. Why this argument [on the need for structural reform] is far from waste of energy. It’s vital.

Monbiot brazenly stonewalled:

@Jonathan_K_Cook that’s your view. I don’t share it. Most of my work exposing corporate power has been through or with the Guardian.

The Guardian: ‘Solid And Reliable’

The first rule of Guardian club, then: you do not criticise the Guardian. The second rule of Guardian club… etc.

Far greater hope for the kind of serious criticism we have in mind seems to lie with renowned dissident Glenn Greenwald who worked for the Guardian for more than a year and who helped secure a Pulitzer prize for the paper’s reporting on the NSA story. After all, unlike Jones and Monbiot, Greenwald certainly is willing to criticise the Guardian.

The latest example is his response to the paper’s recent, front-page claim that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Guardian article, which appears to be a stellar example of ‘fake news’, was apparently intended to bolster claims that Assange had conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s supposed Russian allies, to fatally damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to become US president. Greenwald commented:

The reason it will be so devastating to the Guardian if this story turns out false is because the Guardian has an institutional hatred for Assange. They’ve proven they’ll dispense with journalistic standards for it. And factions within Ecuador’s government know they can use them.

Speaking to The Canary, Fidel Narváez a former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, insisted that the Guardian‘s claims are entirely false:

It is impossible for any visitor to enter the embassy without going through very strict protocols and leaving a clear record: obtaining written approval from the ambassador, registering with security personnel, and leaving a copy of ID. The embassy is the most surveilled on Earth; not only are there cameras positioned on neighbouring buildings recording every visitor, but inside the building every movement is recorded with CCTV cameras, 24/7. In fact, security personnel have always spied on Julian and his visitors. It is simply not possible that Manafort visited the embassy.

The Washington Post reported this week:

One week after publication, the Guardian’s bombshell looks as though it could be a dud.

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting. News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

WaPo noted that the Guardian ‘has stood by the story, albeit somewhat halfheartedly. It has said little to defend itself amid mounting criticism’.

Indeed, the Guardian has so far merely commented:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

But in fact WikiLeaks did deny that the visits took place in a tweeted response to one of the Guardian authors of the article.

In an attempt to encourage a more serious response, Greenwald sent a series of excellent, challenging questions to Guardian editor Kath Viner and journalist Luke Harding. Greenwald has pointed to huge holes in the story and condemned the paper’s hatred of Assange. However, Greenwald has also commented that, apart from the issue of Assange, ‘the Guardian’ is ‘an otherwise solid and reliable paper’. He has repeatedly affirmed this view:

Like I said, I think the Guardian is a solid paper that has good journalists and does good work, and I wouldn’t derive any pleasure from seeing its reputation obliterated by a debacle of this magnitude, though I do think it’d be deserved if the story proves to be false.

He even said:

I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange’s most devoted haters, because it’s so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there’s video. Let’s see it.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook responded:

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Cook indicated the clear limits of Greenwald’s dissent by providing the kind of rare, honest analysis that explains the Guardian‘s role within the propaganda system:

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist leftwing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for leftwing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s rightwing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where leftwing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

On November 29, we tweeted Greenwald:

Hi @ggreenwald, you have consistently soft-pedalled your criticism of your former colleagues at the Guardian, most recently describing the paper as “solid and reliable'” Will you respond to @Jonathan_K_Cook’s astute and rational criticism of your position?’

At time of writing the tweet has received 57 retweets and 82 likes. Greenwald has been tweeting and must have seen some of these responses and yet has chosen not to reply. We would guess that he finds himself in a pickle: if he attempts to defend his false claim that the Guardian is ‘solid and reliable’, he will be shot down in flames for the reasons described above by Cook. And if he agrees with Cook’s analysis, he risks alienating former colleagues and important allies on the paper.

The conclusion, then, is that Greenwald is following so many Guardian and other ‘mainstream’ journalists before him in simply blanking reasonable, rational questions.

Greenwald and the Progressive Left

Despite defending us against critics in the past, and despite the fact that we are writing from a similar political viewpoint inspired by Noam Chomsky, for whom he has expressed immense admiration, Greenwald has almost completely ignored our work. We cannot remember that he has ever retweeted our media alerts or retweeted any of our tweets (there may have been one or two exceptions). Our Twitter search ‘from:ggreenwald “medialens”‘ suggests very little interest or interaction from his side. We saw no point in sending him a review copy of our new book, Propaganda Blitz, about which Chomsky has said: ‘Great book. I have been recommending it.’ (Email to Media Lens, November 22, 2018) We, on the other hand, have cited, praised and tweeted Greenwald’s work many times.

One might certainly ask why Greenwald would bother with a two-man, tinpot operation? Who are we? But it does seem extraordinary to us that Greenwald comments so much on the UK press whilst apparently ignoring writers who are indisputably the most honest, important and popular critics of the UK press, and of the Guardian in particular.

John Pilger is arguably the finest political journalist of our time and certainly the most high-profile critic of UK corporate media, especially the Guardian. No-one else who has appeared regularly in ‘mainstream’ newspapers and on national TV comes close to matching the honesty and accuracy of Pilger’s criticism. As far as we are aware, Greenwald ignores Pilger’s work. Using the Twitter search engine, we checked for mentions of Pilger, ‘from:ggreenwald “pilger”‘, and found zero mentions in any of Greenwald’s 50,000 tweets. This is exactly like a UK dissident critically analysing US media without mentioning Chomsky or Edward Herman.

In 2011, Jonathan Cook won the prestigious Martha Gellhorn special award for journalism. We have cited above his powerful criticism of the Guardian, lent even more weight by the fact that he worked as a staff journalist at the paper for five years. Cook tells us he has never seen Greenwald mention or retweet anything he has written. In 2014, Greenwald did make a positive comment in response to criticism from Cook:

I’ve long been a fan of your work as well…

Curiously, this ‘fan’ does not even follow Cook on Twitter.

The British historian Mark Curtis is another rare, honest critic of corporate media. Chomsky commented on his book, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent’s Tail, 2010):

Unearthing this largely hidden history is a contribution of the highest significance, and could hardly be more timely.

Curtis is also highly critical of the Guardian. Last month, he tweeted:

All decent writers must now reflect: do you really want to contribute to an outlet producing utter fabrications in service of the state? Even retweeting G [Guardian] articles should stop, IMO.

Curtis told us he has never seen Greenwald mention or tweet his work.

By contrast, Greenwald can often be found applauding and retweeting Guardian journalists and commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot, and, of course, former New Statesman political editor and Guardian contributor, Mehdi Hasan, who now publishes in The Intercept alongside Greenwald. Is Greenwald so reluctant to alienate the Guardian that he is steering clear of UK media analysts who are strongly critical of the paper?

None of this is intended as condemnation of Greenwald.  Perhaps he is right to maintain friendly relations with powerful allies when facing so many heavyweight political enemies in the US. But it is a rare form of cognitive dissonance that praises both the Guardian and Chomsky.

The key point, for us, which has nothing to do with lefter-than-thou sniping, is that this indicates the extraordinary extent to which the best, supposedly ‘centre-left’ media are protected from rational criticism. Even a comparatively honest, Chomskyite journalist like Greenwald is either not willing or not able to tell the whole truth about a paper that has done enormous harm in supporting Blair (still now), attacking Corbyn, and in promoting Perpetual War with endless nonsense about ‘our’ supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians in oil-rich countries like Iraq and Libya. The Guardian has, at last, begun responding to the climate extinction crisis with some urgency, but it has long downplayed the gravity of the crisis and the truth of corporate denialism, while simultaneously promoting high status consumerism and fossil fuel advertising.

And this is why the Guardian and other liberal media are held in such absurdly high regard: very few journalists indeed are willing to subject them to the serious criticism they deserve.

The Filter Bubble: Owen Jones And Con Coughlin

There is something dreamlike about the system of mass communication sometimes described as ‘mainstream media’. The self-described ‘rogue journalist’ and ‘guerrilla poet’ Caitlin Johnstone tweeted it well:

The Iraq invasion feels kind of like if your dad had stood up at the dinner table, cut off your sister’s head in front of everyone, gone right back to eating and never suffered any consequences, and everyone just kind of forgot about it and carried on life like it never happened.

In a dream, the common sense rules and rationality of everyday life are, of course, suspended – we float to the top of the stairs, a cat smiles, a person is beheaded at the dinner table and the vegetables are served.

In similar vein, Iraq was destroyed in a nakedly illegal oil grab, more than one million human beings were killed, and the ‘mainstream’ continued to treat the criminals responsible as respectable statespeople, and to take seriously their subsequent calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’ in oil-rich Libya. With Libya reduced to ruins, the same journalists dreamed on, treating the same criminals with the same respect as they sought yet one more regime change in Syria.

This nightmare version of ‘news’ is maintained by a corporate ‘filter bubble‘ that blocks facts, ideas and sources that challenge state-corporate control of politics, economics and culture. It is maintained by a mixture of ruthless high-level control and middle- and lower-level compromise, conformity and self-serving blindness.

It stands to reason that anyone seeking employment within this bubble will have to accept an unwritten agreement not to challenge the integrity of the bubble by which they are granted wealth and fame. Any ingrate deciding to renege is attacked, reviled and cast out; treated almost as sub-human, not entirely real. Politicians like George Galloway challenging the bubble can be beaten up in broad daylight and it is of no concern. Idealistic hippies like Russell Brand preaching love can be torn to shreds and silenced by the press pack – it doesn’t matter. Whistleblowing activists like Julian Assange can be trapped, threatened with life imprisonment and death, and it is a laughing matter. Whole countries can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The climate can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The filter bubble has its own dream logic, follows its own cosmic laws as if the real world was none of its concern.

It is fine for one corporate bubble-head to criticise another bubble-head’s take on current affairs – boisterous, jovial, intra-bubble gossip is welcome. Anything that challenges the integrity of the bubble is forbidden, hated; tolerated in tiny doses, perhaps, to keep up appearances. It is just understood.

So what happens when a high-profile political commentator breaks the rules and thrusts a pin of Truth at the filter bubble? What happens when a fellow journalist is exposed in a way that has negative implications for all newspapers, all media outlets? How will the rest of journalism respond?

Owen Jones on Con Coughlin

On October 11, Guardian columnist Owen Jones broke the usual rules in an attack on the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, Con Coughlin, who, Jones noted, had attended a party at the Saudi embassy in London:

Hi @concoughlin. You left tonight’s Saudi Embassy bash at the @NHM_London safe and well. That’s more than can be said for your fellow journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who allegedly was chopped into pieces in Turkey’s Saudi Consulate. Any pangs of conscience?’

The following day, Jones tweeted a thread exposing Coughlin that included these comments:

A thread. The Telegraph’s Defence Editor churns out Saudi propaganda after going to a Saudi party.

He is married to Katherine Bergen who worked for Meade Hall & Associates, paid lobbyists for Bahrain’s dictatorship, which was propped up by a 2011 Saudi invasion.

Katherine Bergen is a former journalist who wrote pro-Bahrain propaganda for publications ranging from The Daily Mail to Standpoint Magazine.

Con Coughlin himself has a history of churning out pro-Bahrain propaganda. In a now deleted Telegraph blog headlined “Why is Britain harbouring Bahrain’s dissidents?” (referred to in the book Oil States in the New Middle East) he fawns over Bahrain’s ruling dictator.

Con Coughlin’s output on Saudi Arabia is ludicrously Pravda-esque fawning. Scan through the articles he’s written here: it is beyond belief. Seriously, have a sickbag ready.

Here is a fawning interview Coughlin conducted with Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in March, who he describes as a “human dynamo”. He concludes: “With this young royal at the helm, Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds.”

All Coughlin does is churn out Saudi propaganda and Saudi talking points. Check this out when Saudi Arabia and its allies clashed with Qatar. Is this news reporting, or a de facto press release Saudi Arabia might as well have written?

Having described Coughlin’s role in promoting Saudi propaganda, Jones turned to other areas:

A 2000 article reveals Coughlin was fed material by MI6 for years, which he then turned into Telegraph news articles. One false story fed to him by MI6 about Saif Gaddafi led to the Sunday Telegraph apologising for libel ( …)

Stories published by Con Coughlin include a front page splash: ‘TERRORIST BEHIND SEPTEMBER 11 STRIKE WAS TRAINED BY SADDAM’. It was based on a forged letter which had been fed to him.’

Con Coughlin went on NBC to tell viewers that the (forged) letter was “really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam”. This false claim was invaluable: it justified one of the Bush administration’s false pretexts for the invasion of Iraq.

As his “story” fell apart, Coughlin said: there’s “no way of verifying it. It’s our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens.” Errrrr.

A book by Pulizter-winning journalist Ron Suskind claims the Bush administration forged the evidence.

Jones unsubtly hinted at Coughlin’s true role:

According to Suskind, Coughlin was “a journalist whom the Bush administration thinks very highly of” and was “a favourite of neoconservatives in the U.S. government.” Suskind says Coughlin got the letter from the former CIA and MI6 agent, former Iraqi exile Ayad Allawi.

Remember the discredited 45 minute claim? Conveniently after the invasion of Iraq Coughlin went to Iraq and found a source who claimed it was “200 per cent accurate.” I’m sure that the scandal-hit British intelligence services were delighted.

In our media alert of November 4, 2004, we noted that, having worked hard to pave the propaganda way to war on Iraq, Coughlin later worked hard to justify this terrible crime. In June 2003, under the title, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ he wrote in the Telegraph:

Another day and another mass grave is unearthed in Iraq.

He added:

So many of these harrowing sites have been uncovered in the two months since Saddam’s overthrow that even the experts are starting to lose count of just how many atrocities were committed by the Iraqi dictator’s henchmen… If this were Kosovo, the Government would be under fire for not having acted sooner to prevent the genocide.

His conclusion:

Having just returned from three weeks in post-liberation Iraq, I find it almost perverse that anyone should question the wisdom of removing Saddam from power.1

Commenting on Coughlin’s ‘reliance on unnamed intelligence sources in several far-fetched articles about Iran,’ the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) identified key features in reports filed by the Daily Telegraph’s then foreign editor:

Sources were unnamed or untraceable, often senior Western intelligence officials or senior Foreign Office officials.

Articles were published at sensitive and delicate times where there had been relatively positive diplomatic moves towards Iran.

Articles contained exclusive revelations about Iran combined with eye-catchingly controversial headlines.2

Jones emphasised the significance of his tweets:

Read through this thread, and bear this mind. Con Coughlin was Foreign Editor, and is now Defence Editor of one of Britain’s main broadsheet newspapers. He is treated as a respected journalist. What does this tell us about the British media?

As The Canary website noted, ‘After the revelations Con Coughlin had so little credibility left, he deleted his Twitter account.’

On October 17, Jones tweeted:

Con Coughlin has just had another load of shameless Saudi propaganda published by the @Telegraph, it is utterly remarkable

We responded:

Even more remarkable from ProQuest UK newspaper database, last 30 days:

“Your search for (Owen Jones) AND (Con Coughlin) found 0 results.”

Silence across the media “spectrum”.

In other words, no UK journalist anywhere had picked up on Jones’ damning comments on Coughlin. They had been ignored. In possibly Jones’ first ever positive response to us, he replied confidently, indicating that a Guardian article was on the way:

about to change this.

We retweeted this, taking Jones at his word. One week later, on October 24, he published an article in the Guardian titled, ‘Britain has sold its soul to the House of Saud. Shame on us’. So how much of Jones’ criticism of Coughlin had survived the attentions of the Guardian editors? The answer is contained in this single paragraph:

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, attended the National History Museum bash [hosted by the Saudi embassy], posting the next day an article accompanied by the tweet: “Was Jamal Khashoggi a liberal or a Muslim Brotherhood lackey who reviled the west?” He has written fawning interviews with Bin Salman, describing him as a “human dynamo” under whose rule “Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds”.

Attending the Saudi bash was the least of the sins exposed by Jones, and the ‘fawning interviews’ are rather less damning than Coughlin acting as a conduit for MI6 propaganda. We wrote to Jones:

Owen, we absolutely loved your thread exposing Con Coughlin. But what happened to the promised Guardian article on this? I’m asking because you told us you were writing something on Oct 17. The piece then came out a week later on Oct 24 with almost all the meat missing. Did you run into internal opposition at the Guardian?3

We received no reply. Jones, of course, is not about to reveal what happened to his article. Perhaps the Guardian editors simply published what he submitted. One thing is clear: somehow, at some point, the filter bubble worked its magic and prevented a damning expose of a senior UK journalist reaching the Guardian’s readers.

In a tweet, Jones asked of the Coughlin case: ‘What does this tell us about the British media?’ Without the filter bubble, journalists would surely be asking exactly that question of ‘defence’ and ‘diplomatic’ journalism more generally.

The problem was indicated by one of the great Freudian slips of our time, supplied by a Fox News anchor on March 24, 1999, as Nato was preparing to wage war on Yugoslavia:

Let’s bring in our Pentagon spokesman – excuse me, our Pentagon correspondent.

In 2002, Michael Evans, The Times’ defence correspondent, reported:

Saddam Hussein has ordered hundred of his officials to conceal weapons of mass destruction components in their homes to evade the prying eyes of the United Nations inspectors.

This was fake news – Iraq’s WMD had been dismantled and destroyed by December 1998. In a guest media alert, ‘Hacks And Spooks’, Professor Richard Keeble, then Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, described Evans’ comments as an example of ‘disinformation… spread by dodgy intelligence sources via gullible journalists’.

On the April 12, 2005 edition of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, diplomatic editor Mark Urban discussed the significance of a lessening of Iraqi attacks on US forces since January:

It is indeed the first real evidence that President Bush’s grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work.4

The claim that Bush aimed to create a democracy in the Middle East clashed impossibly with his actual grand design of controlling Iraq’s oil.

In 2011, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, anticipated a new report on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with a piece titled ‘Iran “on threshold of nuclear weapon”‘. The accompanying photograph depicted a giant mushroom cloud from a nuclear weapons test. In fact, Iran had no nuclear weapons, nor even a nuclear weapons programme.

Why are defence editors, defence correspondents, diplomatic editors and the like so often biased in favour of the Western defence and diplomatic establishment they are covering? And why are they allowed to demonstrate this bias without anyone so much as commenting?

The filter bubble ensures that these questions can never be asked, much less answered.

  1. Con Coughlin, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ The Sunday Telegraph, June 1, 2003.
  2. Campaign Iran, ‘Press Watchdog slammed by “Dont Attack Iran” Campaigners,’ May 1, 2007.
  3. Direct message, Twitter, November 8, 2018.
  4. Urban, Newsnight, BBC2, April 12, 2005.