All posts by Media Lens

Israel Is The Real Problem

Elite power cannot abide a serious challenge to its established position. And that is what Labour under Jeremy Corbyn represents to the Tory government, the corporate, financial and banking sectors, and the ‘mainstream’ media. The manufactured ‘antisemitism crisis’ is the last throw of the dice for those desperate to prevent a progressive politician taking power in the UK: someone who supports Palestinians and genuine peace in the Middle East, a strong National Health Service and a secure Welfare State, a properly-funded education system, and an economy in which people matter; someone who rejects endless war and complicity with oppressive, war criminal ‘allies’, such as the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

In a thoroughly-researched article, writer and academic Gavin Lewis has mapped a deliberate pro-Israel campaign to create a ‘moral panic’ around the issue of antisemitism. The strategy can be traced all the way back to the horrendous Israeli bombardment of Gaza in the summer of 2014. A UN report estimated that 2,252 Palestinians were killed, around 65 per cent of them civilians. The death toll included 551 children. There was global public revulsion at Israel’s war crimes and empathy with their Palestinian victims. Support rose for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) which campaigns ‘to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law’.

As Lewis observes, BDS came to be regarded more and more as a ‘strategic threat’ by Israel, and a campaign was initiated in which Israel and its supporters would be presented as the world’s real victims. In the UK, the Campaign Against Antisemitism was established during the final month of Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza. Pro-Israel pressure groups began to bombard media organisations with supposed statistics about an ‘antisemitism crisis’, with few news organisations scrutinising the claims.

In particular, as we noted in a media alert in April, antisemitism has been ‘weaponised’ to attack Corbyn and any prospect of a progressive UK government critical of Israel. Around this time in Gaza, there were weekly ‘Great March of Return’ protests, with people demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. Many were mown down by Israeli snipers on the border firing into Gaza, with several victims shot in the back as they tried to flee. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 155 Palestinians were killed in the protests, including 23 children and 3 women. This is part of the brutal ongoing reality for Palestinians.

Recently, much media attention has focused laser-like on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including 11 associated examples. Labour adopted 7 of these examples, but dropped 4 because of their implication that criticism of Israel was antisemitic. As George Wilmers noted in a piece for Jewish Voice for Labour, Kenneth Stern, the US Attorney who drafted the IHRA wording, has spoken out about the misuse of the definition. It had:

originally been designed as a “working definition” for the purpose of trying to standardise data collection about the incidence of antisemitic hate crime in different countries. It had never been intended that it be used as legal or regulatory device to curb academic or political free speech. Yet that is how it has now come to be used.

Examples of the curbing of free speech cited by Stern in written testimony to the US Congress include Manchester and Bristol universities.

In an interview on Sky News last weekend, one pro-Israeli commentator stated openly that the aim is to push Corbyn out of public life. As The Canary observed, Jonathan Sacerdoti, a former spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism (mentioned above) was:

clear that his motivation for wanting Corbyn gone is, in part, opposition to his position on Israel.

Lindsey German, national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, reminds us of something crucial that the corporate media has been happy to downplay or bury:

We should not forget either that the Israeli embassy was implicated in interfering in British politics last year when one of its diplomats was recorded as saying that he wanted to “bring down” a pro-Palestine Tory MP, Alan Duncan. While he was sent back to Israel in disgrace, the matter went no further – disgracefully given that this was blatant interference in the British political system.

In 2017, an Al Jazeera undercover sting operation on key members of the Israel lobby in Britain had revealed a £1,000,000 plot by the Israeli government to undermine Corbyn.

German continued:

Are we seriously supposed to imagine that this was a maverick operation, or that there is no other attempt to influence British politics, especially when both Labour and Conservative Friends of Israel organisations have strong links with the embassy? The present ambassador is Mark Regev, the man who was press spokesman in 2009 when he defended the killing of Palestinians through Operation Cast Lead, and who has defended the recent killings of Gazan Palestinians by Israeli forces.

For shared elite interests in Israel and the UK, there is much at stake. Historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis highlights ‘the raw truth’ rarely touched by the corporate news media:

The UK’s relationship with Israel is special in at least nine areas, including arms sales, air force, nuclear deployment, navy, intelligence and trade, to name but a few.

Indeed, arms exports and trade are increasingly profitable to British corporations doing business with Israel. Moreover, senior government ministers have emphasised that the UK-Israel relationship is the ‘cornerstone of so much of what we do in the Middle East’ and that ‘Israel is an important strategic partner for the UK’. As Curtis notes:

The Palestinians are the expendable unpeople in this deepening special relationship.

A Shameful Outburst

Unsurprisingly, then, the Israeli lobby have been trawling through Corbyn’s life, trying to find past incidents they can highlight as ‘support’ for the ludicrous and cynical claim that he is ‘soft’ on antisemitism or even himself antisemitic. Hence the manufactured controversy of Corbyn hosting an event in 2010 during which Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer compared Israel’s behaviour to that of Nazi Germany.

An Independent editorial, titled ‘Corbyn has been found wanting on antisemitism – now he must act’, asserted that he was ‘a fool to lend his name to this stunt’. It was:
such an egregious error of judgement that Jeremy Corbyn, an extraordinarily stubborn man, has had to apologise for it.’

Under a photograph of Corbyn sitting at the 2010 meeting with Meyer, Times political correspondent Henry Zeffman said that:

Corbyn has led Labour into a nightmare of his own making. The veteran left-winger will never recant the views on Israel that he formed over decades in the political wilderness.

In the Daily Mail, the caption to the same 2010 photograph of Corbyn sitting with Meyer led with the word, ‘Offensive’.

And on and on it went in the ‘mainstream’ media.

Adri Nieuwhof, a Netherlands-based human rights advocate and former anti-apartheid activist, was a friend of Meyer, who died in 2014. In an article for Electronic Intifada, she wrote:

The 2010 Holocaust Memorial Day event took place the year after an Israeli assault on Gaza [Operation Cast Lead] that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and injured thousands more.

Meyer was very upset by the assault because Palestinians were trapped in Gaza due to the blockade on the territory that Israel imposed starting in 2007.

He could not help but compare the situation of Palestinians trapped under Israeli occupation and bombardment with Jews caged by the Nazis in ghettos like the Warsaw Ghetto.’

She added:

Those attacking Corbyn today have no restraint and no shame. They will even call a man who survived Auschwitz and lost his parents in the Holocaust an anti-Semite if they believe that is what it takes to shield Israel from consequences for its crimes.

Nasty abuse flung at the Labour leader has even come from supposed colleagues. Last month, right wing Labour MP Margaret Hodge called Jeremy Corbyn ‘a fucking anti-Semite and a racist’. The corporate media gleefully lapped up her outburst – the Guardian moved swiftly to grant her space to declare Labour ‘a hostile environment for Jews’ – and stoked the ‘Labour antisemitism row‘  for weeks afterwards, with over 500 articles to date according to our ProQuest newspaper database search.

Two days ago, Jewish Voice for Labour delivered a letter of complaint to the BBC, condemning a ‘lack of impartiality and inaccuracies’ in its reporting of Hodge’s allegations against Corbyn. Her accusations were ‘repeated numerous times without denial or opposing views’ by BBC News. Moreover, Hodge’s assertion that she represents the entire ‘Jewish community’ has been allowed to pass unchallenged.

Trashing a Dedicated Anti-Racist

Last month, the UK’s leading Jewish papers – Jewish News, Jewish Chronicle and Jewish Telegraph – all carried the same front page on ‘the community’s anger over Labour’s anti-Semitism row’. They had taken this unprecedented step because of:

the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. We do so because the party that was, until recently, the natural home for our community has seen its values and integrity eroded by Corbynite contempt for Jews and Israel.

These outrageous claims were rejected by Stephen Oryszczuk, foreign editor of Jewish News. He told The Canary:

It’s repulsive. This is a dedicated anti-racist we’re trashing. I just don’t buy into it at all.

He made three vital points:

1) Jeremy Corbyn is not an antisemite, and the Labour Party does not represent an ‘existential threat’ to Jewish people
2) The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism threatens free speech, and Labour was right to make amendments
3) The ‘mainstream’ Jewish media is failing to represent the diversity of Jewish opinion

The corporate news media itself is undoubtedly ‘failing to represent the diversity of Jewish opinion’. Worse, it has, in fact, been a willing accomplice in promoting and amplifying the pro-Israel narrative of a ‘Labour antisemitism crisis’. Consider a recent powerful piece by Manchester Jewish Action for Palestine, published in Mondoweiss:

As Jewish people in Manchester, England, we resent the despicable racism shown towards the Palestinians by Guardian stalwarts such as Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Jessica Elgott, Eddie Izzard, Nick Cohen, Marina Hyde and Gaby Hinsliff among others, all saturating comment sections on mainstream news websites with attacks designed to bring down the UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and to protect Israel from accountability.

They added:

UK commentators take the morally defunct option of backing right wing mainstream Zionist organisations’ outrageous cries of “anti-Semitism” the moment Corbyn’s Labour get ahead in the polls, or the moment there is a risk of serious public condemnation of Israel’s horrific crimes against the Palestinians.

The article continued:

Why were Palestinians not consulted on the whole debate about Israel and anti-Semitism, when they are the people being slowly squeezed out of existence by Israel? Where are the Palestinian voices in the Guardian?

Where indeed?

We, as Jews, will not mindlessly pretend that protecting the Jewish people and protecting Israel are the same thing, on the hopeless say-so of a crew of establishment hacks at the Guardian.

The Manchester-based Jewish group singled out one prominent Guardian columnist, and former comment editor, for particularly heavy criticism:

‘Jonathan Freedland, one of the UK’s most effective propagandists for Israel, while giving Palestinians occasional lip service so he and the other liberal elitists can make doubtful claims to “impartiality”, has been the most relentless in his attacks on Corbyn. Freedland routinely uses his opinion editorial position in the Guardian to do more than most to “strong-arm” the Labour Party into backing the whole IHRA definition, flawed examples and all. It is unsurprising that he would push for the guideline, “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” to be included as anti-Semitic trope, given he is on record excusing the crime against humanity that was Israel’s foundational act – the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population in 1947/1948.

One of Freedland’s Guardian articles that the group must have had in mind was published last month under the title, ‘Yes, Jews are angry – because Labour hasn’t listened or shown any empathy’. Leon Rosselson, a children’s author and singer-songwriter whose Jewish parents were refugees from Tsarist Russia, argued that the article:

is a devious, dissembling, dishonest piece of special pleading that shames both Freedland and the Guardian.

Earlier this month, Corbyn himself had a piece in the Guardian in which he wrote:

I do acknowledge there is a real problem [of antisemitism] that Labour is working to overcome. […] We were too slow in processing disciplinary cases of antisemitic abuse, mostly online, by party members. And we haven’t done enough to foster deeper understanding of antisemitism among members.

A Telegraph editorial typified the corporate media’s reaction to Corbyn’s article:

he respond[ed] with Soviet-esque institutional lethargy… just the latest in a long line of obfuscations that betray a central fact: Labour’s leader is unhealthily obsessed with Israel, and tainted by association with fanatics.

Corbyn cannot do anything right in the eyes of the corporate media. As Rosselson said:

Corbyn concedes and Corbyn apologises and the more he concedes and the more he apologises the weaker his position becomes and still the pressure grows and the attacks continue because this is not really about antisemitism and definitions but about getting rid of Corbyn or undermining him to the point where he is powerless.

Sadly, the Labour leader has failed to properly address this relentless and vicious campaign, focusing instead on trying to fend off accusations of antisemitism. By sticking within this narrative framework set up by the powerful Israeli lobby, a twisted framework that can only be maintained with corporate media connivance, he and his colleagues have made a serious mistake. Asa Winstanley put it bluntly back in March:

Jeremy Corbyn must stop pandering to Labour’s Israel lobby.

Winstanley pointed out that the campaign has been going on for years, and he expanded:

Too many on the left seem to think: if we throw them a bone by sacrificing a few token “extremists,” the anti-Semitism story will die down and we can move on to the real business of electing a Labour government.

But years later, Labour is still being beaten with the same stick.

Any close observer of Israel and its lobby groups knows this: they cannot be appeased.

Other commentators have made the same point. An OffGuardian article in April, titled ‘Corbyn should learn his lesson: compromise with the devil is not an option’, observed:

Corbyn seems to think a few little compromises will get him accepted in the mainstream media. It pains me to say it, but this is fundamentally untrue. You can’t compromise with someone who wants nothing but your total destruction. Hopefully Corbyn has learned this lesson by now.

Sadly not, it appears. A Morning Star editorial correctly observes that Corbyn and his advisers:

fail to appreciate the ruthlessness of his opponents or the unrelenting nature of their goals.

Earlier this week, Winstanley published an article revealing yet another element of Israel’s intense campaign against Corbyn: the use of an app to promote propaganda messages via social media accusing Corbyn of antisemitism. The app is a product of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry which ‘directs Israel’s covert efforts to sabotage the Palestine solidarity movement around the world.’

As Jonathan Cook cogently explains on his website:

Labour is not suffering from an “anti-semitism crisis”; it is mired in an “Israel crisis”.

To those who bemoan that Corbyn and his team are not sufficiently ‘media-savvy’, that he has not done enough to present himself as ‘PM material’ via the press and television, David Traynier has written a strong rebuttal. Two essential facts need to be understood, he says: first, the corporate media ‘filter’ and distort the news as described by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their ‘propaganda model‘ of the media, introduced in Manufacturing Consent. Second, journalists and editors are themselves subjected to a ‘filtering’ process as they rise up the career ladder. They are selected for positions of ever-increasing responsibility only if they have demonstrated to corporate media owners, managers and senior editors that they can be trusted to say and do the ‘right’ things; even think the ‘right thoughts’. As Chomsky famously said to Andrew Marr, then the young political editor of the Independent and now with the BBC:

I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.

In short, says Traynier:

the idea that a socialist party simply needs to manage the press better is a nonsense. The corporate media is not there to be won over, it can’t be “managed” into giving Corbyn a fair hearing. In fact, once one understands how the media works, the burden of proof would rest with anyone those who claimed that it wouldn’t be biased against Corbyn.

Despite the intense campaign against Corbyn – and perhaps, in part, because of its obviously cynical and manipulative nature – many people are perceptive enough to see what is going on. Israel is the real problem.

“World On Fire”: Climate Breakdown

What will it take for society to make the deep-rooted changes required to prevent the terrifying and awesome threat of climate breakdown? This summer’s extreme weather events are simply a prelude to a rising tide of chaos that will be punctuated by cataclysmic individual events – floods, heatwaves, superstorms – of increasing severity and frequency. How long before people demand radical action from governments? Or, and this is what is really needed, how long until citizens remove corporate-captured governments from power and introduce genuine democracy?

Consider just some examples of this summer’s extreme weather. In Japan, ferocious heat killed more than 80 people and flooding killed more than 200. In Greece, 80 people died in terrible wildfires. In Canada, a heatwave killed more than 70. In many places around the world, including northern Europe, central America, Russia and parts of the US, extreme drought has put harvests at risk. Across the globe, 118 all-time records were broken or tied. In the United Arab Emirates, a record temperature in excess of 51C was recorded, Montreal broke 36C, the Baltic Sea reached 25C and the Swedish polar circle saw temperatures in excess of 32C. The Russian Arctic experienced ‘anomalously high temperatures’ more than 20C warmer than usual. And on and on.

To his credit, BBC News North America correspondent James Cook gave a sense of the scale of the climate disasters that were unfolding, with the reported death toll in Greece still rising:

‘Climate change. It’s here. It’s catastrophic.

This month alone:

— “50 dead” in Greece wildfires

— Arctic Circle ablaze

— Japan heatwave, flooding and landslides kill hundreds

— Record temperatures in Algeria, Morocco, Oman

— Drought squeezes US lemons’

Under the heading, ‘The world on fire’, Assaad Razzouk, a commentator on climate and clean energy, also tweeted a disturbing set of numbers:

‘New July 2018 temperature records

UAE: 51.4°C

Africa + Algeria: 51.3°C

Tunisia: 49.2°C

LA: 48.9°C

Baku: 42.7°C

Yerevan : 42.4°C

Japan: 41.1°C

Kabul: 40.5°C

Tbilisi: 40.5°C

Montreal: 36.6°C

Lapland: 33.4°C

Swedish polar circle: 32.5°C

Baltic Sea: 25°C’

Scientists report that the ‘signal of climate change is unambiguous’ in these extreme phenomena. In Europe, climate change driven by humans has made such events more than twice as likely to occur, and possibly as much as five times more likely.

By the 2040s, heatwaves even worse than this summer’s will likely occur every other year, if not more often. This will lead to a tripling of annual heat-related deaths in the UK to 7,000. MPs say that the country is ‘woefully unprepared’ for such deadly heatwaves, with ‘the government ignoring warnings from its official climate change adviser.’

Andrew King and Ben Henley noted in an article on The Conversation website:

The world has so far had around 1℃ of global warming above pre-industrial levels, but at the global warming limits proposed in the Paris climate agreement, hot summers like that of 2003 in central Europe would be a common occurrence.

At 2℃ of global warming, the higher of the two Paris targets, 2003-like hot summers would very likely happen in most years.

Similarly, we know that heat exposure and heat-induced deaths in Europe will increase with global warming, even if we can limit this warming to the levels agreed in Paris.

Climate scientists have ample evidence that human-driven global warming is already ‘making heat waves longer, hotter and more frequent’. Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, describes the evidence as ‘really compelling’.

Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, says that:

The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle. We are seeing them play out in real time and what is happening this summer is a perfect example of that.

He added:

We are seeing our predictions come true. As a scientist that is reassuring, but as a citizen of planet Earth, it is very distressing to see that as it means we have not taken the necessary action.

‘The Climate Change Monkeys are in Full Voice’
How have the media been responding to the ‘very distressing’ reality that humanity has not taken the ‘necessary action’ to avoid climate breakdown? Some of the usual fringe voices lurking beyond the realms of rationality, yet still enjoying high-profile media platforms, issued standard denunciations of reality.

For instance, in a Mail piece about ‘hysterical doom merchants’, Quentin Letts gave the UK Met Office a piece of his mind:

The Met Office, once a level-headed analyst of barographs and incoming weather fronts, issued bubonic plague-style warnings that we should not step outside in this heat and should not open our windows.

The commentator sighed:

Whatever happened to Keep Calm and Carry On?

In the Sun, Rod Liddle scoffed that ‘the authorities’ have declared that ‘nice summers are a crisis’, adding:

those tiresome drongos at the Met Office put out an amber alert when the temperature rose this week.

“Don’t go out! Stay in your homes! Or you will die — DIE, I tell you.”

Oh, with the greatest respect — f*** off!

Liddle bemoaned that:

the climate change monkeys are in full voice.

In short:

The Met Office can stick advice where sun doesn’t shine — let us enjoy the heat while it lasts.

In slightly less intemperate language, but still rejecting the huge weight of scientific evidence, longtime climate ‘sceptic’ Christopher Booker declared:

Yes it’s scorching, but claims that the heatwave is down to climate change are just hot air: June was even hotter when Victoria was on the throne.

He went on:

‘this kind of summer heat is far from unprecedented. In fact, as people have begun to observe, the nearest parallel to what has been happening this year was the celebrated “drought summer” of 1976.’

In fact, the comparison to 1976 is deeply misleading, as a viral tweet from Simon Lee, a meteorology PhD student at the University of Reading, brilliantly made clear:

The big difference between the heatwaves of 1976 and 2018. June 1976: the UK was one of the warmest places relative to normal across the globe, with most areas cooler than average. June 2018: the UK was just another warm blob in a mostly warmer than normal world. #GlobalHeatwave.

So much for Booker’s science-denying diatribe and the other media extremists still trying to dodge climate reality and promote climate fiction. As Carbon Brief editor Leo Rickman pointed out:

As temperatures in the UK near record levels, MPs warn today that heatwave deaths could triple by 2050. So what do the editors of the Daily Mail and the Sun do? Order their writers to aggressively attack climate scientists…

Staring in “Open Mouthed Disbelief” at the News

But what was the media response in more ‘respectable’ quarters, particularly the BBC? Media Lens does not have the huge resources required to monitor all BBC News coverage across television, radio and the internet. But observations suggested strongly that, although the link with climate wasn’t entirely ignored, the bulk of the broadcaster’s coverage of global weather extremes gave it short shrift.

Citing Simon Lee’s comparison of the 1976 and 2018 heatwaves, Emma Pinchbeck, an executive in the renewable energy industry, tweeted the BBC:

More reasons that climate change should be getting a mention in your drought coverage .@BBCr4today @BBCBreakfast (sorry if this repeated exasperation is getting… exasperating… but honestly I start every day in open-mouthed disbelief at the news)

For some time during the day on July 24, BBC News website actually had three of its top six stories about weather extremes, but with no substantive discussion of the link to human-driven climate instability.

Even mild exceptions to the rule stood out, such as when BBC science correspondent David Shukman spoke briefly about the role of global warming:

We can never say that a particular weather event like this heatwave is just because of global warming. What you can say, that the science allows you to say, is that the world is warming, that makes certain things more likely.

While welcome, this was the most conservative expression of scientific caution – typical of the BBC. Compare with the kind of urgent and impassioned comment seen above from Michael Mann: that ‘it is very distressing to see’ this summer’s weather extremes ‘as it means we have not taken the necessary action’.

Also in a low-key, cautious vein there was a pre-filmed Newsnight segment, ‘Heatwave 2018 explained’, on July 24 featuring climate scientist Joanna Haigh of Imperial College, London. She told BBC reporter David Grossman:

The sort of temperatures that are occurring now would’ve been a 1 in 1,000 occurrence in the 1950s & now they’re about a 1 in 10 occurrence.

This was a rather dry statistic; but perhaps it served as a preamble to the requisite urgency that was still to be addressed? The opportunity came in a follow-up, live studio interview conducted by Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis with two more climate experts: Stephen Belcher, the chief scientist at the Met Office, and Chris Hope, a climate change policy researcher at Cambridge University. But, once again, they made rather careful statements that did not stray far into territory in which urgent and radical action would be made crystal-clear.

Scientific rigour is, of course, necessary. But, given the stakes of what is involved, academics now need to speak out forcibly and repeatedly against ‘business-as-usual’ and for sane alternatives. Kevin Anderson, a Manchester-based professor of energy and climate change, is a much-needed outspoken example. He tweeted recently:

How far will we go to justify our lies – Heathrow expansion, shale gas & more roads are all good for the climate. Fortunately the uproar from our vibrant & ethically robust academic community will soon draw attention to such aberrant nonsense – or will it be a compliant whimper?

All too often it is indeed just a compliant whimper. Consider, by contrast, the warning from leading climate scientist James Hansen:

There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem. The misapprehension is based on the Paris climate summit where all the government leaders clapped each other on the back as if some great progress has been made, but you look at the science and it doesn’t compute. We are not doing what is needed.’

In an interview, Hansen was even more blunt, describing the Paris climate summit as ‘a fraud’:

It’s just bullshit for them [government leaders] to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.

More climate scientists need to speak out in this way. The time for remote detachment from the urgent need for societal and political action, out of a misplaced fear of being perceived as a biased activist academic, is long gone. Being fully human, and expressing valid criticism of government policy and priorities, does not negate one’s capacity to be a rigorous researcher.

At least this particular edition of Newsnight showed that one thing had improved in BBC climate discussion, however. Ten years ago, as Leo Hickman observed, one of the two interviewees would likely have been an extremist climate ‘sceptic’ like Nigel Lawson to maintain the BBC’s notion of ‘balance’.

However, Newsnight shot itself in the foot when it later gave a misleading account via Twitter of what the Met Office’s Stephen Belcher had actually said in the discussion. Newsnight tweeted the first part of his essential message:

The heatwave that we’ve got is probably part of natural cycles in the weather.

This made it sound as though human-driven global warming probably plays no part in current weather extremes. But his full remark was actually:

The heatwave that we’ve got is probably part of natural cycles in the weather but it’s superimposed on this background of global warming, and that’s what’s elevating our temperatures.

In other words, anthropogenic climate change is behind the heatwave. Newsnight later corrected its ludicrous error.

What about press coverage? Using the ProQuest newspaper database, we found the following search results on July 31 for UK newspaper articles since June 22 (i.e. around the date the heatwave began):

‘heatwave’: a total of 3101 results
‘heatwave’ + ‘climate change’: 255 results. 8% of the total
‘heatwave’ + ‘global warming’: 95 results. 3%
‘heatwave’ + ’emissions’: 89 results. <3%

While this set of results is not intended to be an exhaustive study of UK media coverage, it strongly suggests that the link between summer extremes and global warming has been hugely underplayed.

James Murray, editor of the BusinessGreen website, summed it up well:

Maybe it’s the shirt-soaking, mind-melting, temper-fraying heat, but I’ve had it. I’ve had it with articles and radio discussions about heat waves and hosepipe bans that don’t mention climate change. I’ve had it with features explaining record-breaking heat across the hemisphere, which mention climate change but then major on how ‘it’s not just down to climate change’. And I’ve had it with the near complete silence from our political leaders and mainstream media opinion formers on links between extreme heat and climate that a six year old could understand.

There were hints that, after a month-long heatwave, parts of the corporate media were grappling towards some semblance of climate truth. A Mirror editorial proclaimed:

We must prepare for the consequences of climate change. Or, better still, tackle it.

The question of how to tackle it was left unexplored.

A Financial Times editorial said:

Unprecedented heat cannot be ignored. […] the need for action by policymakers, businesses and private individuals becomes more urgent.

What kind of action?

[Action] must combine “adaptation” to make society more resilient to the inevitable future impact of climate change with “mitigation” measures that cut carbon emissions…One of the most important issues is how and where we build homes…

That was about as far as it went. As you would expect from the house journal of capitalism, there was no demand for a radical restructuring of the economy; no call for an equitable redistribution of power and wealth.

Along similar lines, a Guardian editorial called for ‘decarbonisation of the electricity supply, heating and transport’. Such a move has cross-party support ‘but commitment by politicians is inconsistent’. The assertion that political ‘commitment’ has been ‘inconsistent’ flies in the face of reality: the massive state subsidies and structural support for fossil fuel industries, the endless drive for economic ‘growth’, and a ‘democracy’ run for the benefit of corporate and financial elites.

For the Murdoch-owned Times, the emphasis of any concern on climate was highlighted by its laughable assertion that:

corporate America […] has embraced environmentalism because it is, after all, simply a call to use resources more efficiently. The best hope for green growth in the emerging world is therefore more globalisation rather than less.

Yet more globalisation which has, in fact, led to systemic and worsening global inequality, social injustice and environmental collapse?

The editorial continued:

Technological ingenuity rather than arbitrarily reduced consumption or changes in behaviour are [sic] the best hope.

Arguing against reduced consumption or changes in behaviour, even as wildfires rage, ice sheets melt, and rising seas threaten to engulf coastal cities? Could anything be more insane? Simply put, the masters must remain in charge of the world, while the rest of us bear the costs.

A ‘Doubly Terrifying Phenomenon’

In a recent talk, Noam Chomsky emphasised that the worst case projections of global warming seem increasingly likely. Last December, a scientific paper published in Nature, found that global temperatures could rise by nearly 5C by 2100. To put this in stark perspective, Professor John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, observes that ‘the difference between two degrees and four degrees’ of warming ‘is human civilisation.’ In other words, we are talking about the end of human life as we know it; perhaps even human extinction.

As Chomsky said:

The prospects [of climate breakdown] are extremely serious. In fact, they’re really awesome…

He pointed to the sheer madness of the US government, ‘the most powerful institution in human history’, relentlessly pursuing a fossil-fuel economy:

our federal government, for which we [i.e. US citizens] are responsible, is dramatically leading a race to destruction while we sit and watch. That’s pretty astounding. That ought to be the screaming headline in every day’s newspaper. It ought to be the main topic you study in every class. [There’s] never been anything like it.

Chomsky added:

And it is astounding, as is the lack of attention: another doubly terrifying phenomenon. We should be asking, among other things, what this tells us about our society and about our culture, what we are immersed in. And remember, all of this is imminent. We’re approaching this rapidly – this century.

An urgent debate about the fundamental steps that need to be taken to stand a chance of averting climate breakdown, as well as promoting justice and equality, is almost entirely missing from corporate media coverage. Typically, you will search in vain for in-depth, critical and sustained ‘mainstream’ news coverage of:

• The massive corporate lobbying of governments and the huge fossil-fuel subsidies made to climate-breaking industry
• The role played by the fossil-fuel economy in driving expansionist, imperialistic Western foreign policy in the Middle East and around the globe
• The huge efforts of corporate advertisers to promote unsustainable levels of consumption on a finite planet
• The resultant vast destruction of ecosystems and species, leading to the sixth mass extinction in geological history

BBC News, in particular, has failed to hold to account the governments, corporations and institutions that are burning the planet. Like the rest of the corporate media, the BBC, paid for by the public and supposedly run in the public interest, is complicit in bringing human civilisation to the brink of disaster. As we note in our forthcoming new book, ‘Propaganda Blitz‘, published next month:

In not giving climate change the very prominent coverage it deserves, the BBC is obstructing the public debate that is vital to prevent climate catastrophe. In effect, the BBC is firmly on the side of the state and corporate forces that have been fighting a decades-long, heavily-funded campaign to prevent the radical measures needed to avoid climate chaos.

However, climate scientist Michael Mann says it is not too late to make the carbon cuts required:

It is not going off a cliff, it is like walking out into a minefield. So the argument it is too late to do something would be like saying: “I’m just going to keep walking”. That would be absurd – you reverse course and get off that minefield as quick as you can. It is really a question of how bad it is going to get.

No Nerve Agents Found

In terms of suffering caused, there is often not, in fact, much to choose between dismembering and burning people alive with high explosives, shredding them with shrapnel, and choking them with poison gas. Modern ‘conventional’ weapons can be far more cruel and devastating than, for example, chlorine gas. But chemical weapons, prohibited by international law, are extremely potent in allowing Western ‘humanitarians’ to justify ‘intervention’ in response to crimes – real, hyped or imagined – that the West has itself far surpassed using more respectable forms of mass murder.

Noam Chomsky has observed that ‘propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state’. This is certainly true for social control at home, but propaganda also allows nominally democratic states to wield their military bludgeons abroad in much the same way as totalitarian states.

Thus, in April, it happened again: the entire corporate media system rose up with instant certainty to damn an enemy state for crimes against humanity on April 7, in Douma, Syria.

This was not acceptable death by bomb and bullet; this was a nerve gas attack. The villainous agent on every journalist’s lips: sarin, a highly toxic synthetic organophosphorus compound that has no smell or taste, but which quickly kills through asphyxiation.

As we discussed at the time, there was no question that this was a repetition of the fake justification for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, the Guardian editors insisted that this certainly was ‘a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth’. From the safety of his Guardian office, assistant editor Simon Tisdall hammered the drum for a war that risked even nuclear confrontation:

It means destroying Assad’s combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad’s and Russia’s control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.

By contrast, Scott Ritter – a former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq who understands the issues – was more cautious:

The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons…

No matter, on April 14, three days after Ritter’s article appeared, the US, UK and France attacked Syria in response to the unproven allegations.

Robert Fisk of the Independent visited Douma and spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged chemical attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.

When Fisk’s report wasn’t ignored, it was sneeringly dismissed. A headline in The Times read:

Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

The Times, which is no stranger to controversy, suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk’s record:

Fisk is no stranger to controversy.

 No Organophosphates Found

On 6 July 2018, the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), issued an interim report on the FFM’s investigation regarding the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The passage that jumped out of the report:

No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties.

No sarin! But is it possible that any nerve agents had degraded and disappeared before OPCW investigators reached the site? An April 17, Guardian article had reported:

The OPCW has been racing against the clock to collect samples from the site of the attack, a three-storey house in Douma, in which scores of people died in a basement. Jerry Smith, who helped supervise the OPCW-led withdrawal of much of Syria’s sarin stockpile in 2013, said samples of nerve agent rapidly degrade in normal environmental conditions… The Russian military and Syrian officers have had access to the house since last Thursday, raising fears that the site may have been tampered with. However, Smith said it was likely that residual samples of nerve agent would remain for at least another week, even after an attempted clean-up.

The OPCW later commented:

On 21 April 2018, after security concerns had been addressed, the FFM team conducted its first visit to one of the alleged sites of interest, and it was deemed an acceptable risk to enter Douma…

In other words, OPCW’s race ‘against the clock’ appeared to have been successful. Charles Shoebridge a former Scotland Yard detective and counter terrorism intelligence officer, observed:

if OPCW find no traces, likely not due to any inspection delay

Before we examine ‘MSM’ reaction to the OPCW report, particularly to the failure to find ‘organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products’, let’s look at their initial reaction to claims of a nerve agent attack on April 7.

Initial Response: ‘Those Symptoms Don’t Come From Chlorine’

CNN reported on April 14:

Senior US officials expressed confidence Saturday that both chlorine and sarin gas were used in Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on the Damascus enclave of Douma last week…

CNN cited reports ‘from media, nongovernmental organizations and other open sources’ that ‘point to miosis – constricted pupils – convulsions and disruptions to central nervous systems. Those symptoms don’t come from chlorine. They come from nerve agents… It’s a much more efficient weapon, unfortunately, the way the regime has been using it, and it’s resulted in higher deaths, it resulted in terrible pictures.’

The Financial Times cited Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the UK’s chemical biological radiological and nuclear regiment (see here on his credibility as an impartial source):

There’s no doubt this was a major chemical weapons attack. The big question is whether it was chlorine or sarin. I am favouring a mix of the two.1

A Telegraph article opened with this harrowing line:

The victims were found exactly where they had been when the gas hit. Their silent killer had given little warning.

This clearly suggested a very powerful nerve agent, as the article explained:

Medics on the ground reported smelling a chlorine-like substance, but said the patients’ symptoms and the large death toll pointed to a more noxious substance such as nerve agent sarin.

“The number of casualties is so high and that’s not typical for chlorine,” said Dr Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which assists hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. “Unfortunately, because of a lack of resources, we can’t take blood samples.”

The claims did indeed suggest something much more powerful than chlorine, as The Daily Mail made clear in a report also citing de Bretton-Gordon:

If it was chlorine, they could have escaped. But they died after just taking a few steps.2

The Mail cited an ‘activist’ making the same point:

Ibrahim Reyhani, a White Helmet civil defence volunteer, said anyone who touched the bodies started getting sick, and said he believed a mixture of sarin and chlorine had been used.

He told the Sunday Times: “If it’s just chlorine, if you smell it you can escape. But sarin you breathe and it kills you.”

The Telegraph published an op-ed by de Bretton-Gordon:

‘There have been a number of chlorine attacks, but it would appear that chlorine, although outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention, is below the threshold for the UK and France to strike.

‘Saturday’s attack, with so many deaths and casualties, looks possibly to be a mixture of chlorine and the nerve agent sarin, and this atrocity must surely stretch above their threshold for action.’

It is worth reiterating again – as media responses to the OPCW’s latest report, conspicuously, have not – that chlorine was not a sufficiently deadly agent to cause either the claimed level of carnage or the claimed level of Western moral outrage. In 2015, Barack Obama noted: ‘Chlorine itself, historically, has not been listed as a chemical weapon.’

Charles Shoebridge commented:

‘while headlines of chemical weapons are undoubtedly dramatic, the relatively low lethality of chlorine makes it an ineffective – and therefore arguably also unlikely – choice of weapon…

‘Indeed, given the low toxicity of the allegedly small amounts used and the unpleasant bleach smell that always betrays chlorine’s presence, in most instances people could avoid being killed by simply walking away – another indication of its near uselessness as a weapon. Perhaps the only way it could be tactically effective is if used to drive people from trenches or bunkers to allow them to then be killed with bombs and bullets – but again, the amounts of chlorine needed would be far more than is alleged, and the accuracy needed to target in this way is unlikely to be achieved using unguided rockets as alleged this week in east Ghouta, or by dropping a “barrel bomb” from a helicopter.’

Chlorine gas was not included in the list of Syrian chemical weapons reported to the OPCW. It is an unsophisticated weapon that could also be deployed by ‘rebel’ forces and to which they have had access. The OPCW reported in August 2016: ‘Chlorine is available to all parties in the Syrian Arab Republic.’

A Guardian leader also linked the alleged attack in Douma to sarin:

‘Dozens of civilians in the Douma district were killed by Syrian government chemical attacks on Saturday.’

It continued:

‘This is not the first time this has happened. Since the use of sarin at Khan al-Assal in 2013 there have been dozens of chemical attacks by the regime.’

Peter Hitchens commented on the Guardian‘s coverage in the Mail on Sunday:

Here is the Guardian, on 9th April 2018: “Aid workers and medics described apocalyptic scenes in the besieged city of Douma, where at least 42 people have died from what appears to be a chemical attack, as they scrambled to save the survivors of the latest atrocity in Syria…

“Doctors said the symptoms had been consistent with exposure to an organophosphorus substance.”

Hitchens asked:

Which doctors? Note the absence of named, checkable sources in a story written some distance from Damascus. This was typical of almost all western media reports of the episode at the time.

Hitchens observed that OPCW had found no traces of organophosphates but that ‘The quoted “doctors”, being unidentified, cannot now be approached to ask for their response to this.’

Responding To OPCW’s July 6 Report

The skwawkbox website noted that the BBC had covered, and distorted, OPCW’s July 6 report. A BBC headline read:

Syria attack was chlorine gas – watchdog

The deadly attack in Douma in April left dozens of civilians dead and caused and international outcry.

This was complete invention. As skwawkbox commented: ‘the OPCW report emphatically does not say that chlorine gas was used‘. The report actually said:

Along with explosive residues, various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from two sites, for which there is full chain of custody. Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is on-going. The FFM team will continue its work to draw final conclusions. (Our emphasis)

Chlorinated organic chemicals are extremely common, found in degreasers, cleaning solutions, paint thinners, pesticides, resins, glues, and many other mixing and thinning solutions. The BBC amended the article, which later read:

The report said two samples from gas cylinders recovered at the scene tested positive for chlorine.

Skwawkbox commented again:

This is a classic example of a technically-correct claim that is completely misleading.

The [OPCW] report does note the presence of chlorine in some samples tested from the cylinders – but not chlorine gas or the residues that would be expected from its reaction with other substances…

The relevant page of the OPCW’s full report states that no ‘relevant chemicals’ were found from a swab inside the opening of one cylinder:

In debris and on other items around the cylinder, chlorine compounds were found – but these are common compounds that would be unlikely to be formed simply by chlorine reacting with something on site.

In similar vein, Alec Luhn, the Telegraph‘s Russia correspondent, tweeted:

The April chemical attack in Douma was caused by chlorine gas, the OPCW says. Or it was completely staged, if you still believe the Russian authorities

Sharmine Narwani, a writer, commentator and analyst covering Middle East geopolitics, replied brusquely but accurately:

No, the OPCW didn’t say that. It found traces of chlorine on the scene, which it would find in your house or office or water supply too, if sampled. Try actual #journalism.

Off-Guardian noted several headlines covering OPCW’s findings. Reuters reported:

Chemical weapons agency finds “chlorinated” chemicals in Syria’s Douma

The Independent wrote:

Syrian conflict: Chlorine used in Douma attack that left dozens of civilians dead, chemical weapons watchdog finds

As Off-Guardian noted, the headlines should have read: No nerve agents found.

Remarkably, these rare mentions aside, the OPCW interim report has been ignored by most major newspapers and media, including the Guardian.

  1. David Bond and Rebecca Collard, ‘Experts say gas attack proof will take weeks: Civil war. Douma Inspectors are struggling to access site of alleged atrocity as Assad’s troops move in,’ Financial Times, 12 April 2018.
  2. Vanessa Allen, ‘Little girl left foaming at the mouth by horrific gas attack,’ Daily Mail, 16 April 2018.

Enlightened Corners: The Russia 2018 World Cup

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian‘s sneering with his review of the World Cup’s opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim ‘Mr Vladimir Putin’ – think Vlad the Impaler – was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin’s Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world’s crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he’s doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.

Ronay added:

A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president’s performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.

Driven by an army of ‘Russian bots’, the ‘Putin alternative reality machine’ is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump’s presidency, to Corbyn’s rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West’s alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of “Vladimir, Vladimir”. When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia’s involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron ‘possibly expected’ the Games ‘to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community’, having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the ‘international community’ that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered ‘less enlightened corners of the world’, given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in ‘less enlightened corners’, including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist’s dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.1

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in ‘a human rights activist’s dream’.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the “dictator” Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah’s opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a ‘thuggish pariah’.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

Williams’s stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn’t of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull…

As for the event:

It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.

Kelner’s piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically:

So nice of Robbie to say hello.

In The Times, under the title, ‘Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,’ chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

What does Russia want from this tournament?

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was ‘about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life’.2

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a ‘modern, progressive approach to life’ will have nodded sagely from their more ‘enlightened corners of the world’.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV’s senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that “Stalin had a proper ‘tache”. Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, “a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive.”3

And:

The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: “They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match.”

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya’s oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

“I’d be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won’t,” she admits. “But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that.”4

And then there was ‘Putin’s Russia with David Dimbleby’, a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

“In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here…” So begins David Dimbleby’s thoughtful film in which – as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament – he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin’s 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.’5

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 – one day after the US-UK’s Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them ‘smart bombs’ – Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

Isn’t it in fact true that America is… by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we’ve seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it’s beginning to look as though you’re going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.6

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

London 2012 – A ‘Festival of Light’

By contrast, the London 2012 Olympic Games’ opening ceremony was widely hailed as ‘a masterpiece’. For The Daily Telegraph it was ‘brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers and utterly British’. The BBC’s chief sports writer Tom Fordyce commented: ‘no-one expected… it would be quite so gloriously daft, so cynicism-squashingly charming and, well, so much pinch-yourself fun’.

‘Cynicism’, which certainly had been ‘squashed’, was off the agenda. In an article titled, ‘Festival of Light’, The Times preached from a patriotic pulpit:

From London these next few weeks will come joy in a time of trouble, will come spectacular feats and great human dramas, will come triumph and will come tears. The great dream of the Olympic founders, that the Games would eliminate war, was naive. But they can at least unite us in common endeavour. Mankind has many moments of great darkness, but this will be a festival of light.

Yesterday’s opening ceremony was a triumph. Adventurous, self-confident, playful, entertaining and all with a sense of history. It was suffused, in other words, with the spirit of the Games to come… Festival of Light: Great feats of athletic ability; great unscripted stories of triumph and disaster; a great sense of national spirit. Britain will rise to a shining occasion… For our country, as well as the athletes from around the world, this is a time to shine.

This was a time to exalt in Britain’s greatness, ‘a time to shine’. It was not a time to sneer at ‘our’ great wars of aggression.

In an article titled, ‘Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night’, the Observer’s editors also waxed lyrical on the opening ceremony:

Sport has a special hold on the imagination. This is sport of the most special kind. We didn’t drop the torch. We didn’t foul up or shrink from the daring option. We put creativity first. Now, why on earth should all that go hang when it’s all over?

The Observer sought out any remaining readers not yet reduced to tears of patriotic joy:

It sought to sum up a country – a very multicultural land manifestly – which had played a full part in world literature, world construction, world invention (even if very few of those feats are taught in our core curriculum these days). It was anxious to show us, in short, that we’d mattered – and hint that we could perhaps matter again.7

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian:

Here too the opening ceremony set the tone, suggesting that we should love the country we have become – informal, mixed, quirky – rather than the one we used to be.

Freedland soared on a reverie of poetic possibility. The Olympics had offered hope of a place ‘where patriotism is heartfelt, but of the soft and civic rather than naked and aggressive variety; a place that welcomes visitors from abroad and cheers louder for the Turkish woman who came last in a 3,000m steeplechase heat than it did for the winner.

This is the Britain we let ourselves see these past two weeks. It will slip from view as time passes, but we are not condemned to forget it. We don’t have to be like the long-ago poet who once wrote: “Did you exist? Or did I dream a dream?”

The sublime, lovely and inspirational were everywhere in reviews of the London 2012 opening ceremony and Games.

Three weeks before the ceremony, Amnesty International published a report, ‘Libya: Rule of law or rule of militias?’, based on the findings of an Amnesty visit to Libya in May and June 2012.

The militias, Amnesty reported, were now ‘threatening the very future of Libya and casting a shadow over landmark national elections… They are killing people, making arbitrary arrests, torturing detainees and forcibly displacing and terrorizing entire communities… They are also recklessly using machine guns, mortars and other weaponry during tribal and territorial battles, killing and maiming bystanders. They act above the law, committing their crimes without fear of punishment.]

Amnesty added:

The entire population of the city of Tawargha, estimated at 30,000, was driven out by Misratah militias and remains scattered across Libya, including in poorly resourced camps in Tripoli and Benghazi.

None of this was up for discussion by Britain’s sports writers and broadcasters, nor even by its political commentators. It would have been deemed as outrageous for journalists to mention UK realpolitik then as it would for them to not make at least some passing reference to brutal Russian realpolitik now.

  1. Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, ‘Thursday’s best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,’ The Guardian, 14 June 2018.
  2. Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018.
  3. Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,’ Telegraph, 14 June 2018.
  4. ‘World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,’ The Sun, 9 June 2018.
  5. ‘What’s on TV tonight: Putin’s Russia, The Fight for Women’s Bodies and Beetlejuice,’ Telegraph, 13 June 2018.
  6. Quoted, John Eldridge, ‘Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,’ Routledge, 2003, p.14.
  7. Leading article, ‘London 2012: Let’s build on the triumph and hope of Danny Boyle’s night,’ The Observer, 29 July 2012.

The Syrian Observatory: Funded By The Foreign Office

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The “Observatory” says on its website that it is “not associated or linked to any political body”

To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that “the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras.” That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair.1

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is ‘the fast-talking director of arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group’, SOHR:

When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR’s influence is astonishing:

Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.

Described by Reuters as an ‘opposition group’, SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

“I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes”.

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, ‘like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism’, Stratfor argued: ‘the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.’

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as ‘a pro-opposition watchdog’. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

“I’m between two fires. But it shows I’m being neutral if both sides complain,” he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal:

Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian “rebels” and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by… the world’s leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, “main street bias” and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school (chair of Biostatistics Dept), so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!2

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. “At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began.” This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.3

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.4

As we described at the time, the ‘mainstream’ hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR’s methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western ‘intervention’.

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of ‘activists’ supplying information from Syria. Claiming that ‘I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’, Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: ‘But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.’

Innumerable ‘mainstream’ reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday‘s front cover, which read:

SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?

The text beneath read:

There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western ‘silence’:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being “partners” in the killing “because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed”.

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: ‘the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear’. Mood commented significantly:

Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria… is that I should not jump to conclusions.

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it ‘could not rule out any of these possibilities’: local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had ‘a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators… were aligned to the Government’. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.

Last February, the BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from ‘rebel’-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War… The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.

‘Rebel’ claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from ‘areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them’.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes ‘citizen journalist’ investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is ‘a notorious vehicle for US soft power’.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western ‘humanitarian intervention’.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms ‘Peter Hitchens’ and ‘Syrian Observatory’. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government’s £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

  1. Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018.
  2. Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to Media Lens, October 30, 2004.
  3. Aaronovitch, ‘The great war of words,’ The Times, March 18, 2006.
  4. Helle Dale, ‘Biased coverage in Iraq,’ Washington Times, December 1, 2004.

“Skirmishes”: Israel’s Syria Blitz

A key ‘mainstream’ media theme in covering the Israeli army’s repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel’s military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as ‘clashes’.

This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.

To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a ‘clash’ suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a ‘clash’. There was no ‘clash’ in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.

Following Israel’s massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, ‘mainstream’ coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:

Israel retaliates after Iran “fires 20 rockets” at army in occupied Golan Heights (Our emphasis)

For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression – they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.

The BBC reported of Israel’s attacks:

They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights. (Our emphasis)

Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:

Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria

Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011. (Our emphasis)

The New York Times also reported:

It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier. (Our emphasis)

And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:

Iran’s rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday. (Our emphasis)

According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.

So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:

Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.

Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:

On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised – they were often shown as merely “responding” to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).

Was Iran Skirmishing?

But was Iran even involved at all? The opening, highlighted sentence in a front-page BBC piece by diplomatic editor Jonathan Marcus left the reader in no doubt:

These are the first skirmishes in a potential war between Israel and Iran that promises a fearful level of destruction – even by the standards of the modern Middle East.

So this was a ‘skirmish’, a clash involving Israel and Iran – they were both involved in the combat. And yet, in the second half of the article, Marcus wrote:

The alleged Iranian attack last night – I say alleged because at this stage there is no confirmation from Iranian sources as to the precise authors of the attack – involved a single and relatively short-range system, what appears to have been a multiple-barrelled rocket launcher.

How can the Iranian attack be merely ‘alleged’ half-way down the article but a bald fact in the highlighted opening sentence?

In fact, not only has there been ‘no confirmation’, there has been outright Iranian rejection of the claims. Abolfazl Hassan-Baygi, deputy head of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, commented:

Iran has nothing to do with the missiles that struck the enemy entity yesterday.

Associated Press (AP) reported Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi commenting that Israel’s attacks were based on ‘fabricated and baseless excuses’, and were a breach of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.

AP quoted a senior Lebanese politician and close ally of Syria and Iran, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, as saying: ‘this time the Syrian retaliation was in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights but next time it will be in Israel proper. (Our emphasis)

Later in his BBC piece, Marcus wrote:

The immediate tensions stem from an Israeli air strike on what they claimed was an Iranian drone facility at the so-called T-4 air base, near Palmyra, on 9 April, which reportedly killed several Iranian military advisers.

This again challenged the idea that Israel had ‘retaliated’, but again it was not given the kind of prominence that could challenge Israel’s version of events.

So the ‘skirmishes’ may actually have consisted of Israel first attacking an Iranian drone facility killing Iranian personnel, and then launching a massive attack against Iranian positions across Syria, without Iran responding at all. And yet Marcus wrote:

It is a conflict that needs to be averted and the time to do it is now. However Israel and Iran remain on a collision course.

Despite the uncertainty on whether Iran had attacked, Marcus concluded:

Iran’s strategic intent is clear…it is unlikely to be dissuaded from its efforts.

He added:

Israel has drawn its red lines and it is clearly not going to back down either.

Obama also famously drew his ‘red line’ in Syria in 2012, threatening a massive attack in the event of Syrian government use of chemical weapons. But for Marcus, Israel’s actual launch of a massive attack merely constituted the drawing of ‘red lines’.

And again, ignoring his own doubts about what had happened, the required warmongering ‘balance’ was favoured:

For the immediate future, the pattern of strike, attempted riposte, and counter-strike is likely to continue.

If it had started at all! Marcus concluded his article with three ominous lines identifying another threat alongside the danger of Israel drawing more ‘red lines’ with more massive attacks:

One clear danger is that Iran may seek to exact its revenge outside the Middle East.

Pro-Iranian factions have in the past attacked Israeli tourists abroad or Jewish organisations, notably in Latin America.

A successful terrorist attack of this kind would inevitably alter the picture, pushing Israel and Iran to the brink of a full-scale war.

The word ‘terrorist’ thus made its first appearance in the last line of Marcus’s piece, in reference to a hypothetical Iranian atrocity.

The idea that Israel might already have committed terrorist atrocities in Syria by launching unprovoked attacks, by illegal bombings committed completely outside of international law, is unthinkable.

Douma: “It Just Doesn’t Ring True”

Jonathan Freedland’s ‘committed denialists and conspiracists’, and Paul Mason’s victims of Putin’s ‘global strategy’ clutching at ‘false flag theories’, presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He’d had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn’t ring true.

It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there’s likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there’d be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France…

We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets – who, let’s face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they’re very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they’re not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish – I would say: “Look, we’ve got to wait until there’s another attack by Assad’s forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they’re dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we’ll get the next attack from the allies….” And it is the only way they’ve got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

The debate that seems to be missing from this… was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning… Don’t take my word for it. Take the American military’s word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom – he said to Congress the other day, “Assad has won this war, and we need to face that”.

Then you’ve got last week the statement by Trump – or tweet by Trump – that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

And then suddenly you get this…

At which point Shaw’s sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.

Only ‘looking’ for actual evidence?

As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.

Before Trump’s latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons…

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

‘#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta’

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was – always – less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it’s tumbling.

Robert Fisk – Hypoxia, Not Gas

Veteran Middle East journalist Robert Fisk visited Douma and reported his findings in the Independent. He spoke to a senior doctor who works in the clinic where victims of the alleged chemical attack had been brought for treatment. Dr Rahaibani told Fisk what had happened that night:

I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.’

Not gas poisoning? Why was this not immediately headline news in the ‘mainstream’ press and on BBC News? In fact, almost throughout the ‘MSM’, it was quietly buried. The glaring exception was an article in The Times with the pejorative headline:

Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

The piece suggested that there were big question marks over Fisk’s record:

Fisk is no stranger to controversy.

A list of Fisk’s ‘controversies’ followed. There was no mention that, among many accolades, the Arabic-speaking Fisk has won Amnesty International press awards three times, the Foreign Reporter of the Year award seven times and the Journalist of the Year award twice.

In an article published by openDemocracy, Philip Hammond, professor of media and communications at London South Bank University, observed that:

In seeking to close down such dissident thought, Times journalists are acting, not as neutral defenders of truth, but as partisan advocates for a particular understanding of the war.

A Guardian article by diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour and world affairs editor Julian Borger commented of Douma:

A group of reporters, many favoured by Moscow, were taken to the site on Monday. They either reported that no weapon attack had occurred or that the victims had been misled by the White Helmets civilian defence force into mistaking a choking effect caused by dust clouds for a chemical attack.’

Not only was Fisk not mentioned by name, he was lumped in with reporters ‘favoured by Moscow’. Jonathan Cook’s observation said it all:

They managed the difficult task of denigrating his account while ignoring the fact that he was ever there.

In The Intercept, columnist Mehdi Hasan wrote an impassioned open letter addressed to ‘those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’ The piece began:

Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists,

Sorry to interrupt: I know you’re very busy right now trying to convince yourselves, and the rest of us, that your hero couldn’t possibly have used chemical weapons to kill up to 70 people in rebel-held Douma on April 7. Maybe Robert Fisk’s mysterious doctor has it right — and maybe the hundreds of survivors and eyewitnesses to the attack are all “crisis actors.”

So, Fisk’s evidence with its ‘mysterious doctor’ was clearly worthless, something shameless ‘apologists’ were using to try and convince themselves of an absurdity. Hasan named no other names, but readers could guess from the many smear pieces in The Times, Huffington Post, on the BBC, and spread by the likes of Oliver Kamm, George Monbiot and Alan Mendoza.

Hasan portrayed Assad as a satanic figure while the US and its allies – countries that have sent 15,000 high-tech anti-tank missiles, as well as billions of dollars of other weapons and training to fighters in Syria – are mere ‘meddlers’. The jihadists are ‘rebels’ (a generally noble term), not fanatical invaders from Libya and Iraq. Hasan referenced biased sources including Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, Martin Chulov of the Guardian, and the White Helmets.

The Intercept’s co-editor, Glenn Greenwald, defended the piece:

There is a meaningful debate to be had on Syria and, as I’ve said before, most media outlets (including us) have been quite one-sided about it. That said, Mehdi’s article, well-documented though it was, didn’t name anyone who guilty of loving Assad so I’m not sure who is offended

We replied:

Mehdi’s article, well-documented though it was, didn’t name anyone. That’s the problem. Hasan’s article arrives in the context of a cross-spectrum, name-and-shame smear campaign making similar points

We linked to three high-profile examples from the BBC, The Times and Huffington Post.

Political analyst Ian Sinclair declared Hasan’s article a ‘Necessary and important piece’.

It certainly wasn’t ‘necessary’ to damn Assad yet again – the world’s corporate media have been packed with news and comment pieces doing exactly that for years. As for the need to expose left ‘apologists’ – as we have seen, corporate media are currently mounting a fierce campaign targeting leftist university academics, apparently with the intention of getting them fired.

The question of importance is less clear-cut. The piece will, of course, have no effect whatsoever on Assad, whom Western ‘apologists’ on ‘the anti-war far left’ would be powerless to influence even if they came round to Hasan’s view. On the other hand, as a purported ‘leftist’, Hasan’s piece is important as ammunition for foreign policy warmongers, neocons and others. Thus, Jonathan Freedland tweeted:

Strong piece from @mehdirhasan

George Monbiot:

To all those who have been trying to persuade me that the Assad government is simply maintaining order, please read this excellent article by @mehdirhasan #Syria’

Oliver Kamm of The Times:

Is this atrocity denial really necessary?” Well said by Mehdi on the extraordinary, scandalous spectacle of people purporting to be anti-imperialists while denying the crimes of Assad.

Hasan, of course, knew his article would receive this kind of favourable attention, and he has form in reaching out to this audience. In 2010, whilst senior political editor at the New Statesman, he wrote a letter offering his services to Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre:

I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values. I believe the Mail has a vitally important role to play in the national debate, and I admire your relentless focus on the need for integrity and morality in public life, and your outspoken defence of faith, and Christian culture, in the face of attacks from militant atheists and secularists. I also believe… that I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages of your award-winning newspaper.

For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left – especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public… I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left (as the senior political editor at the New Statesman).

Because, as we all know, being ‘ultra-critical’ of the left ‘from “inside” Labour and the left’ – for example, asking ‘the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?’ – carries enormous weight.

In his piece for The Intercept, Hasan commented:

And, look, we can argue over whether or not to support… regime change in Damascus (I don’t).

And yet, in 2013, he wrote:

I want Assad gone and I believe him to be a brutal and corrupt dictator.

Hasan’s angry mockery of doubters on Douma is ironic indeed, given his own record on Libya. At a crucial time in March 2011, with NATO jets bombing Gaddafi’s troops, Hasan commented:

The innocent people of Benghazi deserve protection from Gaddafi’s murderous wrath.

The reality, as we saw in Part 1, is that the claim was ‘not supported by the available evidence’.

Fisk’s account, irrationally scorned by Hasan, was backed by on-the-ground testimony from reporter Pearson Sharp from One America News Network:

Not one of the people that I spoke to in that neighbourhood said that they had seen anything, or heard anything, about a chemical attack on that day… they didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

As far as we could tell, there was nothing on the flagship BBC News at Six and Ten about any of this testimony from doctors and residents claiming that there was no evidence of a chemical attack in Douma on April 7.

It is shocking that the BBC ignored evidence supplied from Syria by Fisk – one of Britain’s finest journalists – when it has cited hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times evidence supplied by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is run by a clothes shop owner in Coventry who supports regime change in Syria.

On BBC News at Ten on April 15, presenter Mishal Husain, Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and political editor Laura Kuenssberg discussed the missile strikes on Syria and the political fallout here at home. There was no mention that the strikes had taken place just as OPCW inspectors had arrived in Damascus. Nor was there any discussion of expert opinion from international lawyers contradicting the government’s assertion that the attacks were legal. A group of international law experts warned:

We are practitioners and professors of international law. Under international law, military strikes by the United States of America and its allies against the Syrian Arab Republic, unless conducted in self-defense or with United Nations Security Council approval, are illegal and constitute acts of aggression.

Meanwhile, the BBC joined the McCarthyite witch-hunt against anyone challenging the official narrative. In a piece titled, ‘Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories’, an anonymous BBC journalist commented:

Despite the uncertainty about what happened in Douma, a cluster of influential social media activists is certain that it knows what occurred.

Of course, the irony is that an incomparably bigger and better funded ‘cluster of influential’ state-corporate media has been vociferously claiming certainty about what is happening in Syria; not least 100% conviction of Assad’s guilt for a string of chemical weapon attacks.

We have no idea who was responsible for the event in Douma – we don’t know even if there was a chemical weapons attack. Our point is not that credible, sceptical voices are right, but that they should be heard.

On April 12, novelist Malcolm Pryce sent us this poignant tweet:

I remember in the run-up to the Iraq War a friend I had known all my life suddenly said to me, “We must do something about this monster in Iraq.” I said, “When did you first think that?” He answered honestly, “A month ago”.’

This is the power of the corporate media to shape the public mind it is supposed to serve.

But to achieve this effect, it must present a black and white view of the world – ‘we’ are ‘good’, ‘they’ are ‘bad’; ‘we’ are ‘certain’, ‘they’ are morally bewildered ‘apologists’. When reality threatens to get in the way, when there is no choice, an increasingly extreme ‘mainstream’ will resort to deception in plain sight.

• Read Part One here

Douma: Deception In Plain Sight

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the ‘Enemy’, while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a ‘denier’, ‘pro-Saddam’, ‘pro-Gaddafi, ‘pro-Assad’. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: ‘Apologist… Apologist… Apologist’.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.

The ‘mainstream’ responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was ‘a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth’.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian’s assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

It’s time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad’s ability to murder Syria’s citizens at will.

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

It means destroying Assad’s combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad’s and Russia’s control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.

But surely after Iraq – when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – ‘we’ should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump’s air raids:

When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.

Oborne added:

Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.

Tisdall was having none of it:

Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had ‘the motivation’ to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed ‘writhing’ under gas attack. Tisdall’s pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper’s comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

Besides, how much evidence do we need?… To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad’s guilt is clear.

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of ‘inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch’. But when we actually click Freedland’s link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not, in fact, unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall’s claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as ‘denialists’ and ‘apologists’ – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In ‘mainstream’ journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

Syria has paid a terrible price for the west’s disastrous policy of doing nothing.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA’s billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian ‘rebels’ via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian’s George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

Don’t you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn’t think Assad did it.

Monbiot replied:

Then he’s a fool.

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

I continue to attract attacks from the “respectable” corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.

Monbiot tweeted back:

I’m sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.

The idea that Murray’s effort has been ‘to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes’ is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an ‘apologist’ for ‘the enemy’.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term ‘apologist’ might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad’s responsibility is ‘apologism’, then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as ‘Trump apologists’, or ‘May apologists’, or ‘Jaysh al-Islam apologists’? The term really means little more than, ‘I disagree with you’ – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.

Why Are These Academics Allowed?

The cynical, apologetic absurdity of questioning the official narrative has been a theme across the corporate media. In a Sky News discussion, Piers Robinson of Sheffield University urged caution in blaming the Syrian government in the absence of verifiable evidence. In a remarkable response, Alan Mendoza, Executive Director of the Henry Jackson Society, screeched at him:

Who do you think did it? Was it your mother who did it?

Again, exact truth reversal – given the lack of credible, verified evidence, it was absurd to declare Robinson’s scepticism absurd.
Mendoza later linked to an article attacking Robinson, and asked:

Why are UK universities allowing such “academics” – and I use the term advisedly because they are not adhering to any recognised standard when promoting material with no credible sourcing, and often with no citation at all – to work in their institutions?

In 2011, Mendoza wrote in The Times of Nato’s ‘intervention’ in Libya:

The action in Libya is a sign that the world has overcome the false lessons [sic] of Iraq or of “realism” in foreign policy.

The UN had ‘endorsed military action to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding’.

In fact, the unfolding ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ was fake news; Mendoza’s mother needed no alibi. A September 9, 2016 report on the war from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons commented:

Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence….

The Times launched a shameful, front-page attack on Robinson and other academics who are not willing to accept US-UK government claims on trust. The Times cited Professor Scott Lucas of Birmingham University:

Clearly we can all disagree about the war in Syria, but to deny an event like a chemical attack even occurred, by claiming they were “staged”, is to fall into an Orwellian world.

In similar vein, in a second Guardian comment piece on Douma, Jonathan Freedland lamented: ‘we are now in an era when the argument is no longer over our response to events, but the very existence of those events’. Echoing Soviet propaganda under Stalin, Freedland warned that this was indicative of an intellectual and moral sickness:

These are symptoms of a post-truth disease that’s come to be known as “tribal epistemology”, in which the truth or falsity of a statement depends on whether the person making it is deemed one of us or one of them.

And this was, once again, truth reversal – given recent history in Iraq and Libya, it was Lucas and Freedland who were falling into an Orwellian fantasy world. Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens made the obvious point:

Given the folly of the British government over Iraq and Libya, and its undoubted misleading of the public over Iraq, it is perfectly reasonable to suspect it of doing the same thing again. Some of us also do not forget the blatant lying over Suez, and indeed the Gulf of Tonkin.

Hitchens clearly shares our concern at media performance, particularly that of the Guardian, commenting:

Has Invasion of the Bodysnatchers been re-enacted at Guardian HQ? Whatever the dear old thing’s faults it was never a Pentagon patsy until recently. Rumours of relaunch as The Warmonger’s Gazette, free toy soldier with every issue.

Hitchens questioned Guardian certainty on Douma:

But if facts are sacred, how can the Guardian be so sure, given that it is relying on a report from one correspondent 70 miles away, and another one 900 miles away.. and some anonymous quotes from people whose stories it has no way of checking?

He added:

The behaviour of The Guardian is very strange & illustrates just what a deep, poorly-understood change in our politics took place during the Blair years. We now have the curious spectacle of the liberal warmonger, banging his or her jingo fist on the table, demanding airstrikes.

Indeed, in discussing the prospects for ‘intervention’ in the Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff, former political editor of the Observer, described the 2013 vote that prevented Britain from bombing Syria in August 2013 as ‘that shameful night in 2013’. Shameful? After previous ‘interventions’ had completely wrecked Iraq and Libya on false pretexts, and after the US regime had been told the evidence was no ‘slam dunk’ by military advisers?

In the New Statesman, Paul Mason offered a typically nonsensical argument, linking to the anti-Assad website, Bellingcat:

Despite the availability of public sources showing it is likely that a regime Mi-8 helicopter dropped a gas container onto a specific building, there are well-meaning people prepared to share the opinion that this was a “false flag”, staged by jihadis, to pull the West into the war. The fact that so many people are prepared to clutch at false flag theories is, for Western democracies, a sign of how effective Vladimir Putin’s global strategy has been.

Thus, echoing Freedland’s reference to ‘denialists and conspiracists’, sceptics can only be idiot victims of Putin’s propaganda. US media analyst Adam Johnson of FAIR accurately described Mason’s piece as a ‘mess’, adding:

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.

Surprisingly, the Bellingcat website, which publishes the findings of ‘citizen journalist’ investigations, appears to be taken seriously by some very high-profile progressives.

In the Independent, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas also mentioned the Syrian army ‘Mi-8’ helicopters. Why? Because she had read the same Bellingcat blog as Mason, to which she linked:

From the evidence we’ve seen so far it appears that the latest chemical attack was likely by Mi-8 helicopters, probably from the forces of Syria’s murderous President Assad.

On Democracy Now!, journalist Glenn Greenwald said of Douma:

I think that it’s—the evidence is quite overwhelming that the perpetrators of this chemical weapons attack, as well as previous ones, is the Assad government…

This was an astonishing comment. After receiving fierce challenges (not from us), Greenwald partially retracted, tweeting:

It’s live TV. Something [sic – sometimes] you say things less than ideally. I think the most likely perpetrator of this attack is Syrian Govt.

We wrote to Greenwald asking what had persuaded him of Assad’s ‘likely’ responsibility for Douma. (Twitter, April 10, direct message)

The first piece of evidence he sent us (April 12) was the Bellingcat blog mentioning Syrian government helicopters cited by Mason and Lucas. Greenwald also sent us a report from Reuters, as well as a piece from 2017, obviously prior to the alleged Douma event.

This was thin evidence indeed for the claim made. In our discussion with him, Greenwald then completely retracted his claim (Twitter, April 12, direct message) that there was evidence of Syrian government involvement in the alleged attack. Yes, it’s true that people ‘say things less than ideally’ on TV, but to move from ‘quite overwhelming’ to ‘likely’, to declaring mistaken the claim that there is evidence of Assad involvement, was bizarre.

Political analyst Ben Norton noted on Twitter:

Reminder that Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is a notorious vehicle for US soft power.

Norton added:

It acts like an unofficial NATO propagandist, obsessively focusing on Western enemies.

And:

Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, which is funded by NATO, US, Saudi, UAE, etc.

And:

According to Meedan, which helps fund Bellingcat — along with the US government-funded NED — Bellingcat also works with the group Syrian Archive, which is funded by the German government, to jointly produce pro-opposition “research”.

And:

The board of the directors for Meedan, which funds Bellingcat, includes Muna AbuSulayman—who led the Saudi oligarch’s Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation—and Wael Fakharany—who was the regional director of Google in Egypt & North Africa (US gov. contractor Google also funds Bellingcat)

And:

Bellingcat—which gets money from the US gov-funded NED and fixates obsessively on Western enemies—claims to be nonpartisan and impartial, committed to exposing all sides, but a website search shows it hasn’t published anything on Yemen since February 2017.

Although Bellingcat is widely referenced by corporate journalists, we are unaware of any ‘mainstream’ outlet that has seriously investigated the significance of these issues for the organisation’s credibility as a source of impartial information. As we will see in Part 2, corporate journalism is very much more interested in challenging the credibility of journalists and academics holding power to account.

• Part 2 will be published soon!

Killing Mosquitoes: The Latest Gaza Massacres, Pro-Israel Media Bias and The Weapon of “Antisemitism”

The Palestinians have long been seen as an obstacle by Israel’s leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.

He also noted:

The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the “Araboushim” – a term that belongs with “nigger” or “kike” – must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.1

Recent events encapsulate this all too well. On Friday, March 30, Israeli soldiers shot dead 14 Palestinians and wounded 1400, including 800 hit by live ammunition. By April 5, the death toll had risen to 21. During a second protest, one week later on Friday, April 7, the Israelis shot dead a further 10 Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, and more than 1300 were injured. Among those killed was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist who had been filming the protest. He had been wearing a distinctive blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ in large capital letters. The brutality, and utter brazenness with which the killings were carried out is yet another demonstration of the apartheid state’s contempt for the people it tried to ethnically cleanse in 1948, the year of Israel’s founding.

On the first day of the protest, on March 30, many Palestinians had gathered in Gaza, close to the border with Israel, as part of a peaceful ‘Great March of Return’ protest demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel.  One hundred Israeli snipers lay in wait, shooting at protesters, including an 18-year-old shot in the back while running away from the border. The Israel army boasted in a quickly-deleted tweet that the massacre had been planned, deliberate and premeditated:

Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed.

BBC News and other ‘mainstream’ news outlets, including the Guardian, carried headlines about ‘clashes’ at the Gaza-Israel border ‘leaving’ Palestinians dead and injured. As we noted via Twitter, an honest headline would have read:

Israeli troops kill 16 Palestinians and injure hundreds

When the Israelis shot dead yet more Palestinians on the second Friday of protests, the BBC reported, ‘Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protest’. BBC ‘impartiality’ meant not headlining Israeli troops as the agency responsible for the ‘deadly unrest’.

Adam Johnson, writing for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, observed of news reports carrying inappropriate headlines about ‘clashes’:

We do not have one party’s snipers opening fire on another, unarmed party; we have “violent clashes”—a term, as FAIR has noted before, that implies symmetry of forces and is often used to launder responsibility.

Later, the Guardian quietly removed the word ‘clashes’ from its headlines, while adding Israeli military spin: that the protest was a Hamas ploy to ‘carry out terror attacks’; compare this early version with a later version.

On the first Friday of mass killing, we noted that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had reported the presence of Israeli snipers. We asked the public to look for any mention of this on BBC News. Around the time we made the request, the Newssniffer website picked up the first reference to ‘snipers’ on the BBC News website (albeit buried in a tiny mention at the bottom of a news article). Coincidence? Or were BBC editors aware that their output was under public scrutiny?

Within just one day, the BBC had relegated the news of the mass shootings in Gaza to a minor slot on its website. It considered ‘news’ about television personality Dec presenting Saturday Night Takeaway without Ant, and royal couple Harry and Meghan choosing wedding flowers, more important than Israel killing and wounding many hundreds of Palestinians.

When BBC News finally turned to Gaza, with a piece buried at the bottom of its World news page, it was from Israel’s perspective:

Israel warns it could strike inside Gaza

and:

Palestinian groups using protests as a cover to launch attacks on Israel

This disgraceful coverage strongly suggested that Israel was the victim. As political analyst Charles Shoebridge observed:

Editors especially at the BBC aren’t stupid, they know exactly what they’re doing, and the use of very many devices such as this isn’t somehow repeatedly accidental. Indeed, it’s a good example of how the BBC is perhaps history’s most sophisticated and successful propaganda tool.

By contrast, a powerful article in Haaretz from veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed to the reality that the mass shooting by Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces:

shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.

The Silence of Liberal ‘Interventionists’

Last year, Jeremy Corbyn was hounded by ‘mainstream’ media journalists, demanding that he condemn acts of violence by the socialist government in Venezuela. But there was no corporate media campaign calling upon Theresa May to denounce much worse Israeli violence. The same media that devoted sustained, in-depth coverage of Spanish police brutality during the Catalan independence referendum swiftly relegated Israel’s mass murder to ‘other news’.

Imagine if Russian or Syrian troops had shot dead almost 30 civilians, and injured well over 1000, during peaceful protests. ‘MSM’ headlines and airwaves would be filled with condemnations from senior UK politicians and prominent commentators. But not so when it is Israel doing the killing.

We tweeted:

twitter task for today: think of any of the famously impassioned, outraged “humanitarian interventionists” in the Guardian, The Times, the Observer and so on, and check how much they’ve tweeted about the mass killings and woundings in Gaza. Go ahead, try it.

Examples were glaring by their absence.

Writing for The Intercept, journalist Mehdi Hasan asked rhetorically:

Where is the moral outrage from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, the famously pro-intervention, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a “A Problem From Hell,” which lamented U.S. inaction in Rwanda […]?

Where is the demand from Canadian academic-turned-politician Michael Ignatieff, who was once one of the loudest voices in favor of the so-called responsibility to protect doctrine, for peacekeeping troops to be deployed to the Occupied Territories?

Where are the righteously angry op-eds from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, or Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, or David Aaronovitch of The Times of London, demanding concrete action against the human rights abusers of the IDF?’

Hasan concluded:

The ongoing and glaring refusal of liberal interventionists in the West to say even a word about the need to protect occupied Palestinians from state-sponsored violence is a reminder of just how morally bankrupt and cynically hypocritical the whole “liberal intervention” shtick is.

Global realpolitik was highlighted yet again when the US government blocked a vote at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council calling for an international investigation into the mass shooting of civilians by Israeli troops on March 30. The US repeated its block a week later after the second wave of Israeli killing. We have found no coverage in the UK ‘mainstream’ media of the US blocking a UN investigation. In other words, Israel can act with impunity when committing grievous crimes against humanity, backed to the hilt by its biggest sponsor in Washington.

Weaponising ‘Antisemitism’ Against Corbyn

Meanwhile, the ‘MSM’ was continuing to deploy charges of alleged antisemitism against Corbyn-led Labour; and, seen in a wider political context, against realistic hopes of even moderately progressive changes to UK government policy.

A Facebook comment made in 2012 by Corbyn about a mural depicting Jewish and non-Jewish bankers was unearthed and used to mount a remarkable barrage of vehement media attacks. BBC News took its lead from the obviously right-wing, anti-Corbyn agenda across the ‘spectrum’ of the country’s ‘free press’.

The attacks continued with a vicious front-page ‘exclusive’ in the extreme right-wing Sunday Times:

Exposed: Corbyn’s hate factory

The article, based on a trawl of Facebook posts, painted a hugely exaggerated picture of ’racism, violent threats and abuse by leader’s fan base’. Alex Nunns, author of The Candidate, a book about Corbyn’s ‘improbable path to power’, pointed out the absurdly cynical nature of this Murdoch ‘journalism’. Nunns undertook his own Facebook search for posts by Conservatives and quickly discovered examples of misogyny, abuse, an implied threat of violence and implicit racism. The Tory Facebook page he found:

Appears to have links to The Bruges Group, which in turn has links to leading Conservative politicians including Iain Duncan Smith. Headline: “EXPOSED: Iain Duncan Smith’s hate factory.” See how this is done?

Guardian columnist Owen Jones picked up Nunns’ tweets and pointed out in a live BBC interview:

Why has there been no coverage of the despicable racism and abuse found in Conservative Facebook groups?

The BBC news presenter replied:

Because Labour is the story at the moment.

That the ‘MSM’, including the BBC, had made Labour ‘the story at the moment’ was simply not worthy of comment by corporate journalists or, perhaps, permissible thought.

Shamefully, the BBC published a big splash based on the Sunday Times article on ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s hate factory’. The BBC piece was almost gleeful in saying that there was ‘no let up for Labour’:

With negative stories on the front pages of at least four newspapers, this is not a happy Easter Sunday for Labour.

In other words, as it so often does, the BBC was following the lead of the right-wing, anti-Corbyn ‘mainstream’ press. The onslaught of ‘news’ linking Corbyn to ‘antisemitism’ continued with an account of how Corbyn had attended a ‘left wing Jewish event’ organised by Jewdas. The BBC stated:

Jewdas, which describes itself as a “radical” and “alternative” Jewish collective, is at odds with mainstream Jewish groups over allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour.

Three of the principal pro-Israel bodies in the UK, the Jewish Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish Labour Movement, criticised Corbyn for attending the event. The BBC reported:

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “If Jeremy Corbyn goes to their event, how can we take his stated commitment to be an ally against anti-Semitism seriously?”

The BBC not only ran with this latest ‘story’ linking Corbyn to antisemitism, but promoted it as the lead item on the BBC News website.

However, there is nothing that says we must allow BBC News to determine what is ‘mainstream’ and what is not. And, in particular, when it comes to the Jewish Board of Deputies, Jewish Leadership Council and Jewish Labour Movement, journalist Asa Winstanley of Electronic Intifada notes:

Their primary function is to lobby for Israel, an institutionally racist, apartheid state.

A measure of the Jewish Board of Deputies’ staunch pro-Israel stance can be seen from the tweet they sent in the wake of the brutal Israeli killings in the first Friday border protest:

Alarming developments at Gaza border as Hamas once again using its civilians – inc children – as pawns.

The lack of condemnation from ‘mainstream’ voices in politics and the media to such a disgraceful message reveals widespread deep fear of being accused of antisemitism. This fear, used to constrain reasoned debate, needs to be seen in a broader historical context. In 2002, former Israeli minister Shulamit Aloni explained the rationale behind the charge of antisemitism:

Well, it’s a trick – we always use it. When from Europe somebody’s criticising Israel then we bring up the Holocaust.

And it works. Professor Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group related that he was once told by a senior BBC News editor:

The BBC waits in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis.

None of the above is to deny that there is a significant problem of antisemitism in British politics, or in wider British society. But, as the group Jews for Justice for Palestinians notes, the facts are that:

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.

Moreover, antisemitism has decreased in Labour under Corbyn, and public polling indicates that it is more prevalent among Conservative and UKIP members than among Labour and Liberal members. Indeed, there is ample evidence of an extraordinary scale of Tory racism and abuse.

In summary, then, here is the horrible irony of recent coverage on Israel and antisemitism: the corporate media continued to headline Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism crisis’ – supposedly triggered by a comment about a mural in 2012 – while quickly relegating Israel’s massacres of civilian Palestinians to ‘other news’ at the bottom of the page and running order.

The truth is that the deadliest racism today is indicated by the casual way in which the West and its allies rain violence down on countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Although human rights are typically used as a pretext, the real goal is control of natural resources and the global economy; the tears of compassion evaporate the instant that an Official Enemy obstructing Western control has been overthrown. As Chomsky has noted, this is actually closer to a kind of speciesism than racism:

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 [President Bill] 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.

A further example, as we have seen, are the yawns of indifference from the corporate media as hundreds of civilian protestors – Palestinian ‘mosquitoes’ – are gunned down by Israeli snipers.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press, 1999, p.489.

No Spirit Of Liberty: The Salisbury Case, Corbyn And The Need For Dissent

Fifteen years ago this month, the US-led ‘Shock and Awe’ offensive began against Iraq, supposedly to disarm the country of its ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The illegal invasion and subsequent brutal occupation led to the loss of around one million lives, created millions of refugees, destroyed the infrastructure of a country already ravaged by over a decade of cruel UN sanctions, and contributed significantly to the rise of Islamic State. All of this might never have happened were it not for an intense campaign of propaganda and deception in which the so-called ‘mainstream’ media, including ‘impartial’ BBC News, were enthusiastic participants.

In the Guardian, Martin Woollacott had declared of Saddam’s supposed ‘WMD’:

Among those knowledgeable about Iraq there are few, if any, who believe he is not hiding such weapons. It is a given.

This conformity throughout the corporate media was remarkable. Ardent armchair war supporter David Aaronovitch, also writing in the Guardian, confidently asserted:

If nothing is eventually found, I – as a supporter of the war – will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again.

As the Downing Street Memo showed, intelligence and facts were ‘fixed around’ the pre-existing policy of invasion. The Chilcot Report, finally released in 2016, was damning of the way Tony Blair’s government took the UK into war. Analysis of the report published last year by Sheffield University’s Piers Robinson, emphasised the fundamental deception at the heart of the ‘war on terror’:

9/11 was exploited in order to pursue a regime-change policy against countries unconnected with Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Iraq was not a one-off. As we have documented, an onslaught of media propaganda facilitated the 2011 devastation of Libya, the deaths of up to 25,000 Libyans, including the brutal murder of Gaddafi, and a refugee crisis that has seen thousands drown trying to make the perilous sea crossing to Europe. The rationale for ‘intervention’ was the alleged threat of a massacre by Gaddafi’s forces in Benghazi.

The Guardian‘s Jonathan Freedland had declared:

If those nations with the power to stop these pre-announced killings had stood aside, they would have been morally culpable. Benghazi was set to become another Srebrenica – and those that did nothing would share the same shame.

After ‘something’ had been done, the BBC’s Nick Robinson observed that Downing Street:

will see this, I’m sure, as a triumphant end.

Libya was David Cameron’s first war. Col. Gaddafi his first foe. Today, his first real taste of military victory.1

In September 2016, a report into the Libyan war was published by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. In contrast to the near-total uniformity in media coverage at the time, the parliamentary report concluded that:

the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence.

As with Iraq, virtually an entire country’s infrastructure had been destroyed by the West’s ‘intervention’:

The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL [Islamic State] in North Africa.

Cynical geopolitics and media disinformation campaigns have also characterised the ongoing war in Syria, with confident and immediate declarations of Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons (for example: see here, here and here). Rational challenges to this establishment consensus, and reasonable questions raised, have elicited howls of outrage from establishment politicians and commentators. Dissent simply will not be tolerated.

The parallels with the confident and immediate declarations of Russian responsibility for the nerve agent Novichok poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4 are disturbing.

Instant Certainty?

Prime Minister Theresa May’s response was to declare it ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack. Russia’s ambassador to the UK was summoned to the Foreign Office on March 13 ‘to provide an explanation’. May said that if there was no ‘credible response’ by the end of that day, the UK would conclude that there had been an ‘unlawful use of force’ by Russia.

The following day, the very first line read out by presenter Sophie Raworth on BBC News at Ten was a propaganda bullet point:

Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow fails to explain the chemical attack in Salisbury.

The loaded phrase, ‘after Moscow fails to explain’, was the UK government-approved framing: the alleged perpetrator of the crime was required to ‘explain’ its actions. The conformity to this state script was widespread across the ‘free press’.

A Telegraph editorial demanded total consensus for the government’s agenda:

Theresa May needs the whole country’s support to see Britain through this crisis with Russia.

A Sunday Times editorial stated:

Mrs May must show Russia that she is an Iron Lady too.

A Guardian editorial declared that the Prime Minister had made:

a compelling case for Kremlin culpability in the Salisbury incident and is right that such a reckless, hostile act by another state requires a robust response.

In the Commons, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had very reasonably challenged the government by asking for evidence for its claims, and by insisting that international law and conventions be upheld. The Guardian, however, found Corbyn’s response ‘dispiriting’:

He sounded too keen to find another explanation for the use of the nerve agent novichok in the attack.

And:

his reluctance to share Mrs May’s basic analysis of the Salisbury incident made him look eager to exonerate a hostile power.

This was the editorial response by supposedly one of the world’s leading liberal newspapers.

A Telegraph leading article hinted at an underlying truth: that the incident was being exploited for the benefit of ‘defence’ and intelligence services:

To protect itself, this country has to give its intelligence services the tools they need and invest properly in its defence forces. This week’s spring statement must guarantee better funding.

‘Mainstream’ media coverage has been instrumental in presenting a misleading image of May as the ‘strong, stable’ leader she has long tried to claim for herself. John Pienaar, deputy political editor for BBC News, noted:

Among senior ministers and officials, there’s quiet satisfaction that the Russia crisis seems to be going according to plan. Maybe even better.

All the better if you have a compliant corporate media onboard.

The headline to a ‘politics sketch’ by the Guardian‘s John Crace, whom we are supposed to find amusing, was comical for the wrong reasons:

Theresa May transforms into cold war colossus by not being Jeremy Corbyn

Under the cover of ‘comedy’, Crace slipped in this smear:

Jeremy had never met a Russian he didn’t like or trust – especially one that had been head of the KGB.

The portrayal of Corbyn as some kind of Putin stooge was continued on BBC Newsnight on March 15. Reporter David Grossman posed the leading question, ‘Does Labour have a Russia problem?’. The Labour leader was then depicted in a huge studio backdrop using an image that seemed to be deliberately manipulated to make him look embedded in the Kremlin. Even Corbyn’s cap appeared to have been altered to look like a Russian fur hat.

A post on our Facebook page noting this BBC propaganda went viral, with around 650,000 hits at the time of writing (most of our posts achieve hits in the low thousands). This was a strong indicator of public awareness and outrage at the BBC’s biased portrayal of Corbyn; and a sign of the power of social media in challenging ‘MSM’ distortions.

The following evening on Newsnight, Guardian commentator Owen Jones rightly criticised the programme’s Corbyn imagery. But when Newsnight later tweeted a clip of Jones’s appearance, they omitted the section where he took them to task. (The deleted section can be seen here).

Responding to the tsunami of public challenges, acting Newsnight editor Jess Brammar defended the use of biased imagery, commenting via Twitter:

‘By all means criticise Newsnight. That’s healthy, and we will always welcome people like @OwenJones84 coming on the show to criticise us from our own studio. But no one photoshopped a hat.’

She added:

the Russia background was a rehash of one Newsnight used a few weeks ago, for a story about Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary.

This ‘explanation’ got short shrift across social media. The manipulation of Corbyn’s image, including its placement close to the iconic St Basil’s Church in the Moscow skyline, the red tinting and the altered appearance of his ‘Lenin-style’ cap, obviously served a clear propaganda purpose.

As the remarkable WW2 veteran and social justice campaigner Harry Leslie Smith said on Twitter:

I think you will find most see that the particular photo used of Corbyn dead in the middle of the backdrop with a super enhanced cap to make it look more soviet and the shot of Gavin Williamson in a suit, not in frame, imply two different things.

Clearly, one figure (Williamson) was depicted as a sober, responsible and senior government politician; and the other (Corbyn) as an untrustworthy figure with dubious ideological links to an Official Enemy.

No doubt deluged with public complaints, the BBC subjected itself to scrutiny and swiftly adjudged that it had done nothing wrong. Long-time readers of Media Lens will recall that former BBC Chairman Lord Grade once described his experience of complaining to the BBC as ‘grisly’ due to a system he said was ‘absolutely hopeless’. If that is what he thought, then what hope for the rest of us?

But, embarrassingly for the BBC, evidence has emerged that the corporation does knowingly manipulate images to portray Corbyn in a negative light. Barrister Jo Maugham QC revealed:

Just remembered I have a written message from a senior BBC bod explaining (unambiguously) that the BBC does code negative messages about Corbyn into its imagery. [Our emphasis]

He followed up with:

The message was communicated to me in confidence so I will give *no* further details. But I would swear a witness statement that this tweet is true.

BBC News coverage basically echoed and amplified UK state propaganda over the Salisbury attack on the Skripals, dangerously ramping up tension with Russia. On BBC News at Ten on March 12, BBC ‘security’ correspondent Gordon Corera said of the Novichok nerve agents:

The crucial thing is that these agents were only developed by Russia.

The careful wording, in line with the government script, indicated there was no unequivocal proof of Russian involvement. The flood of propaganda continued for days, with contributions by several senior BBC News journalists, including diplomatic correspondent James Landale, Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford and home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford.

In the meantime, strong scepticism about the established ‘MSM’ consensus appeared across social media. An important briefing document, titled ‘Doubts About Novichoks’, published by an academic group working on media and propaganda, noted that there was no solid evidence that the compounds used to poison the Skripals were:

military grade nerve agents or that a Russian “Novichok” programme ever existed.

The document also observed that ‘the purported “Novichoks” is within the capability of a modern chemistry laboratory’, such as nearby Porton Down, less than ten miles from Salisbury. In 2015, the Independent reported that Porton Down had run secretive chemical and biological weapons experiments on hundreds of thousands of unwitting civilians during the Cold War, including on the London Tube.

Craig Murray, a former UK ambassador, said that he had:

received confirmation from a well placed FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation.

This echoes the manipulation and distortion of intelligence about Iraq’s alleged WMD for the political objective of launching an invasion.

Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed observed that Russia has been:

certified by the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] as having destroyed its chemical weapons programme, including its nerve agent capabilities. The OPCW found no evidence to indicate that Russia retains an active [Novichok] capability. The same is not the case for the US, Britain and Israel.’

Ahmed concluded sensibly:

It may turn out that Russia did indeed carry out the Novichok attack. But at this time, the British state has no real basis to presume this. Which implies that the state has already decided that it wants to manufacture a path to heightened hostilities with Russia, regardless of the evidence.

If BBC News and the rest of the ‘MSM’ were actual news organisations based on proper journalistic principles, they would extensively report and investigate serious concerns about the official narrative on the Salisbury nerve agent attack. When we challenged BBC News journalists Gordon Corera, Sarah Rainsford, James Landale and Laura Kuenssberg to do so we were met with the usual wall of silence.

‘I am Scared, and I Never Have Been Before’

Hyping Russia as an Official Enemy is a natural consequence of the corporate nature of the media. Big profits are there to be made. It is an age-old strategy to boost fear in bogeymen abroad, all in the interests of a huge military-industrial complex with strong ties to state-corporate media.

A piece by Kenny Coyle in the Morning Star correctly observed that:

The media has not considered how Russophobia is benefitting big business.

Coyle addressed the extensive business and military links of former British army officer, Colonel (rtd) Hamish de Bretton-Gordon:

Quoted daily by multiple media outlets on the Skripal case, de Bretton-Gordon has become a very public expert, relied upon for unbiased comment and analysis by the British and foreign media on chemical weapon threats from Salisbury to Syria.

For some time, he has been:

urging greater government expenditure on chemical protection counter-measures and equipment. He has used his columns in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, as well as TV appearances to repeat this message.

Coyle added:

While his Guardian online biography selectively mentions his military record and work on Syria, it overlooks his day job — de Bretton-Gordon is managing director CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] of Avon Protection Systems, based in Melksham, Wiltshire.

Last month, reported Coyle, Avon Rubber, Avon Protection’s parent company, announced a five-year £16m contract to supply the Ministry of Defence with equipment.

Journalist John Pilger summed it all up succinctly when he said that the:

Skripal case is a carefully-constructed drama as part of the propaganda campaign that has been building now for several years in order to justify the actions of Nato, Britain, the United States towards Russia.

He continued:

Russia is ringed by missiles, has Nato right up on its western border. This is unprecedented since the Second World War. Most people in Britain, most people in the United States, don’t understand these dangers; the dangers of this propaganda.

As Pilger pointed out:

Why on earth would Russia, on the eve [of] an election, and on the eve of staging the world football cup, want to destroy its international name with such a crime?

He added:

But there’s plenty of motive on the other side. […] This is part of a carefully constructed drama in which the media plays a role, the government plays a role, both sides of the House of Commons play a role, unfortunately.

Craig Murray described how he has been hounded and subjected to abuse for raising rational questions about government claims:

In 13 years of running my blog I have never been exposed to such a tirade of abuse as I have for refusing to accept without evidence that Russia is the only possible culprit for the Salisbury attack. The abuse has mostly been on twitter, and much of the most venomous stuff has come from corporate and state media “journalists”. I suppose I am a standing rebuke to them for merely being stenographers to power and never doing any actual research, but that hardly explains the visceral levels of hatred exhibited.

Owen Jones made a crucial point about the treatment meted out to those who challenge official propaganda:

It’s the same [thing], every time. Iraq, Helmand Province, Libya. Anything other than total subordination to the government line invites accusations of being a stooge for Saddam/Taliban/Gaddafi, of treachery, of cowardice. All dissent has to be bullied out of existence.

As he noted in a short, powerful clip on Sky News:

Why are the politicians and pundits who brought us Iraq and Libya still treated as statesmen and sensible hard-headed pundits?

By contrast:

Those who were (tragically) vindicated are traitors and cowards.

Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of The Canary, rightly emphasised the point:

The same people who spent the last three years bemoaning the “post-truth era” are now denouncing as heretics anyone who wants facts re: the Skripal poisoning. And they see nothing contradictory in that *at all*. Welcome to modern McCarthyism. The witch hunt is on.

Veteran journalist Peter Hitchens warned:

In the past few days I have begun to sense a dangerous and dark new intolerance in the air, which I have never experienced before. […] The treatment of Jeremy Corbyn, both by politicians and many in the media, for doing what he is paid for and leading the Opposition, seems to me to be downright shocking.

He continued:

There’s no real spirit of liberty left in this country.

Yes, I am scared, and I never have been before. And so should you be.

George Galloway observed of the distasteful media treatment of Corbyn:

The grisly collection of #Russian exiles, opposition exiles, absconded thieves and oligarchs donated £3 million to the Tories and zero to #Corbyn. That “the story” is instead Corbyn expressing the same view as France & Germany shows the absolute corruption of the British media.

In an excellent Morning Star piece titled, ‘Desperate Establishment resorts to fear-mongering’, Callum Alexander Scott recalled that a 2016 study by media scholars at the London School of Economics found that:

the British press has repeatedly associated Corbyn with terrorism and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.

Scott points out that, on the eve of last year’s general election, the Daily Mail ran a front-page headline calling Corbyn and his colleagues ‘Apologists for Terror’, while the Sun ran a headline that read ‘Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades.’ More recently, the Daily Mail screamed, ‘Corbyn The Collaborator‘ and ‘Corbyn, The Kremlin Stooge‘. Meanwhile, the Sun shrieked, ‘Corbyn and the Commie Spy‘.

Dan Hodges, also in the Mail, confidently declared that ‘Corbyn is most certainly an agent of Russia’. Readers may recall that a comment piece in 2016 by Hodges bore the notorious headline, ‘Labour MUST kill Vampire Jezza’.

In its own subtly insidious way, the BBC is also playing a powerful role in ramping up the ‘patriotic’ fervour. For example, Sarah Smith, presenter of the BBC Sunday Politics show, ‘impartially’

At times like this you might expect the leader of the opposition to back up the Prime Minister.

Is that so? Who is this ‘you’? And might we not instead, as Peter Hitchens noted, expect Corbyn to continue ‘doing what he is paid for’ by ‘leading the Opposition’?

The BBC’s primary role as a bulwark of the establishment is shockingly obvious at times like these. Perhaps never before has dissent been so marginalised, so demonised. However, the more that BBC News and the ‘free press’ act so obviously like state mouthpieces, the more people will recognise and reject their propaganda. Elite power, especially the state, fears any threat to the status quo. And a well-informed, well-motivated public is the greatest threat of all.

  1. BBC, News at Six, October 20, 2011.