All posts by Media Lens

Caught In The Cross Hairs: Media Lens And The Mystery Of The Wikipedia Editor

In June, the BBC reported that someone operating under the name ‘Philip Cross’ had been extraordinarily active in editing Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit:

“Philip Cross” has made hundreds of thousands of edits to Wikipedia pages. But in the process he’s angered anti-war activists and critics of British and Western foreign policy, who claim he’s been biased against them.

Political analyst and former UK British ambassador Craig Murray described the scale of Cross’s activities:

“Philip Cross” has not had one single day off from editing Wikipedia in almost five years. “He” has edited every single day from 29 August 2013 to 14 May 2018. Including five Christmas Days. That’s 1,721 consecutive days of editing.

133,612 edits to Wikipedia have been made in the name of “Philip Cross” over 14 years. That’s over 30 edits per day, seven days a week. And I do not use that figuratively: Wikipedia edits are timed, and if you plot them, the timecard for “Philip Cross’s” Wikipedia activity is astonishing if it is one individual.

So who is Philip Cross? The BBC commented:

BBC Trending has been able to establish that he lives in England, and that Philip Cross is not the name he normally goes by outside of Wikipedia.

The excellent Five Filters website looked deeply into these issues and noted of the person writing as Cross:

After George Galloway, Media Lens is his second most edited article on the site. Cross is responsible for almost 80% of all content on the Media Lens entry.

This is deeply flattering for a two-man organisation run on donations facing some pretty heavyweight competition:

Cross calls his Wikipedia targets “goons”. The list includes anti-war politician George Galloway, former MP Matthew Gordon-Banks, historian, human rights activist and former UK ambassador Craig Murray, investigative journalist Dr Nafeez Ahmed, Edinburgh University professor Tim Hayward, Sheffield University professor Piers Robinson, and media analysis group Media Lens.

The Canary website reported of Media Lens:

Its Wikipedia page has had 851 edits by Cross (57.27% of page total) and is the editor’s second most active page.

The Canary has itself fallen under Cross’s cross hairs. The website’s Wikipedia page was created on 2 June 2016 at 11:41pm. Cross made his first edit at 8:55am the next morning.

Is Cross offering a neutral, impartial view of our work? In May 2018, he tweeted:

@medialens is two blokes called David who the mainstream usually ignore with good reason, but are of interest because they are so catastrophically wrongheaded. (Tweet, May 7, 2018; since deleted)

In the Sunday Herald, Ron McKay noted that Cross’s targets tend to have two characteristics in common:

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that there are common threads here. All of those [targeted] are… prominent campaigners on social media and in the mainstream media vigorously questioning our foreign policy. All have also clashed with Oliver Kamm, a former hedge-fund manager and now Times leader writer and columnist. All have been edited on Wikipedia by Andrew Philip Cross whom the complainants believe, without conclusive evidence, to be Kamm after dark. He denies it.

Professor Tim Hayward of Edinburgh University asked:

Does Oliver Kamm have Wikipedia editor Philip Cross doing his bidding in amplifying smears and vendettas? Evidence coming to light suggests serious questions concerning possible misuse of media influence and unethical conduct.’

Cross did not appreciate this and other interventions from Professor Hayward. Two weeks earlier, Cross had sent him this disturbing comment:

You may be having an uncomfortable conversation with one of your Associate Deans/Deans in the near future & his wife. Pity you blocked me before you had a close look at my followers. (Tweet, May 12, 2018; since deleted)

As part of its investigation, the BBC interviewed a highly experienced Wikipedia administrator known as Orange Mike, who specialises in dealing with conflicts of interest, asking him:

One of the people whose pages he [Cross] has been editing, and has edited over 1800 times, is George Galloway, and he says he knows that Philip Cross is being paid to do this. Do you think that’s likely?

Orange Mike replied:

I would not even be remotely surprised. The people who hate Galloway the most are often powerful and often rich. And the idea that they could find someone to use as their tool would not surprise me in the least. But I have no evidence to prove it and therefore would reserve judgement.

That is also our position. A tweeter, Malone (now called Read JFK), commented to us on the coincidence that Cross has often edited our Wikipedia page on the same day that Kamm has mentioned us on Twitter:

kamm’s tweets crossreferenced with cross’s medialens wiki edits. 82 edits on the exact same days kamm tweeted about you! at least 243 including surrounding days (243 is a severe underestimate).

We are not alone. Tweeter RLM noted the people Kamm has tweeted about on the same day Cross has edited their page:

Chris Hedges, Max Mosley, Mark Wadsworth, Peter Oborne, LabourLeave, David Ward, Ken Loach, Nick Timothy, Alex Salmond, Nafeez Ahmed, Owen Jones, Diane Abbott, Tim Hayward, Piers Robinson, Craig Murray, Alex Nunns, Glenn Greenwald, Media Lens, “Douma Chemical Attack”, Robert Fisk (edited a day before, not the same day), George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn, Media Lens, Seumas Milne, Edward S. Herman, Paul Flynn, Afshin Rattansi, Mo Ansar, John Pilger, Andrew Murray, Jim Fetzer (tweeted the day before, not the same day).

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray described what happened to his Wikipedia entry after he strongly criticised Kamm:

The very next day, 8 February, my Wikipedia page came under obsessive attack from somebody called Philip Cross who made an astonishing 107 changes over the course of the next three days. Many were very minor, but the overall effect was undoubtedly derogatory. He even removed my photo on the extraordinary grounds that it was “not typical” of me.

We noted on Twitter:

The word “Kamm” appears in the @Wikipedia entry for Media Lens twelve times. “Media Lens” appears in Oliver Kamm’s entry… zero times.

The thoroughness of Cross’s campaign against us has been impressive. In 2005, then BBC Newsnight editor Peter Barron wrote of how Media Lens had ‘prolifically let us know what they think of our coverage, mainly on Iraq, George Bush and the Middle East, from a Chomskyist perspective’. He added graciously:

In fact I rather like them. David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they’re plain right.

These were remarkable and important comments. A senior editor who had himself come under intense criticism from us and hundreds of our readers was nevertheless able to recognise that our points were reasonable and well-intentioned, that we were not nasty people pursuing some dark agenda. Quite reasonably, someone added Barron’s comments to our Wikipedia page. The addition was noticed by Cross, who replaced the quotation with this:

Peter Barron, the former editor of the BBC’s ”Newsnight” commented in November 2005 that although Cromwell and Edwards “are unfailingly polite”, he had received “hundreds of e-mails from sometimes less-than-polite hommes engages – they’re almost always men – most of whom don’t appear to have watched the programme” as a result of complaints instigated by Media Lens.

Notice that in editing the Newsnight editor’s quote, Cross had to carefully read through Barron’s original article to find less positive comments to patch in. This was meticulous work to remove a positive opinion about us, not a rush job.

The Five Filters website tweeted on a similar intervention:

This made me laugh. Cross, who is obsessed with Media Lens, removes David Edwards’ (Media Lens co-editor) book from Chomsky’s Wikipedia bibliography section because “obscure book by obscure writer” https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?diff=721546372 … Unbelievable! @medialens’

Tweeter Leftworks commented on edits made to the Wikipedia page for the Iraq Body Count (IBC) website:

Guess who’s been looking after the IBC page on Wikipedia and removing all references to @MediaLens? The one and only Philip Cross!

As some of our readers will know, we did a lot of work explaining how media favourite, Iraq Body Count, was recording perhaps ten per cent of the Iraqi death toll. Philip Cross has seen to it that our work on this issue has been completely erased from Wikipedia history.

‘Absolutely No Evidence’

Apart from Cross, in the 17 years we have been working on Media Lens, only one other person has subjected us to a relentlessly negative campaign that is in any way comparable. Almost ten years ago, we documented how Oliver Kamm had been pursuing us relentlessly across the internet – writing blogs about us, posting grisly comments about our genocide ‘denial’ under online interviews with us, and often warning journalists who mentioned our work – or who, god forbid, praised our work – or who interacted with us in any way, that we were blood-drenched ‘genocide deniers’ and/or seedy ‘misogynists’.

In 2013, Mehdi Hasan, formerly senior political editor at the New Statesman, now a columnist with The Intercept, commented to Kamm on Twitter:

I cant help but be amused at the way you swoop down in at any mention of MediaLens. Got ’em on an alert?

Despite continuing to seek out and attack us online, Kamm has shown admirable restraint in not extending his campaign to Wikipedia. We are not aware that he has added a single edit to either of our individual pages, nor to our Media Lens page. It seems that, for Kamm, when it comes to Wikipedia, it is always the Christmas truce.

And by the way, we have never edited Kamm’s page on Wikipedia. In fact, we have never made any political edits on Wikipedia at all.

Daniel Finkelstein, Baron Finkelstein of Pinner, Kamm’s colleague and friend at The Times, sent a flurry of tweets strongly rejecting the idea that anyone was using Cross to target political enemies:

But literally so far there is absolutely no evidence. My ears are wide open. My fingers aren’t in my ears. I am ready, waiting, willing to see or hear this evidence. But there isn’t any. Just a bloke called Philip Cross making some edits.

When Five Filters responded by sending serious evidence relating to Cross’s edits, Lord Finkelstein replied:

I appreciate your interest but really I just haven’t got time for studying some blokes Wikipedia edits.

Blanket Silence: Corporate Media Ignore New Report Exposing Distorted And Misleading Coverage of Corbyn

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the 17 years since Media Lens began, it’s that media professionals generally hate being challenged, critiqued or criticised. This fierce antipathetical belligerence underlies the corporate media’s total refusal to mention, far less discuss, a recent damning report on how the corporate media have been misreporting Labour and its supposed ‘problem’ with antisemitism.

The report was published last week by the Media Reform Coalition (MRC), set up in 2011 in the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, to promote debate about the media and democracy. The MRC coordinates effective action by civil society groups, academics and media campaigners, and is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, Professor of Communication and Media at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The urgent need for such a media initiative is highlighted by the disturbing reality that Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with just three companies in control of 71% of national newspaper circulation and five companies running 81% of local newspaper titles.

In the careful MRC study, articles and news segments on Labour and antisemitism from the largest UK news providers, both online and television, were subjected to in-depth analysis. The research was undertaken by Dr Justin Schlosberg, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media at Birkbeck, University of London, together with Laura Laker, an experienced freelance journalist.

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

myriad inaccuracies and distortions in online and television news including marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered. Overall, our findings were consistent with a disinformation paradigm.

In other words, the corporate media have been pumping out reams of ‘fake news’ promoting a narrative that Corbyn and Labour are mired in an ‘antisemitism crisis’.

Out of over 250 articles and news pieces examined by Schlosberg and Laker, fully 95 examples were found of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In particular, there were (our emphasis):

• 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by news presenters or correspondents themselves, six of them on BBC television news programmes, and eight on the Guardian website.

• A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single -source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated value-based assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.

Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1. Nearly half of Guardian reports on the controversy surrounding Labour’s code of conduct featured no quoted sources defending the party or leadership.

This is, to say the least, totally unacceptable from any supposedly responsible news outlet. It is even more galling when it comes from the Guardian and BBC News, both with large global audiences, who constantly proclaim their credentials for ‘honest and balanced reporting’.

Much recent corporate media coverage has focused on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of ‘antisemitism’. Corporate media across the spectrum have argued that in refusing to accept the IHRA definition in total, with all of its accompanying examples, Corbyn has promoted antisemitism, alienated Britain’s Jewish community and divided his own party.

Philip Collins wrote in The Times of Corbyn (our emphasis):

He has, for some reason he cannot articulate, insisted that the Labour Party should be just about the only institution that does not accept the definition of antisemitism approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

In July, a Times editorial stated of Labour’s National Executive Committee (our emphasis):

Instead of adopting a standard definition of antisemitism formulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, and endorsed by governments around the world, the NEC has amended it in unacceptable ways… Let there be no doubt: these are unconscionable and antisemitic accusations.

In September, another Times leader opined (our emphasis):

Labour’s national executive committee will vote today on whether to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism. It is essential that it does. Governments and organisations worldwide have adopted the carefully worded text developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Jeremy Corbyn’s hamfisted attempt to rewrite it, without consultation and with the apparent aim of protecting certain activists, shames his party.

The Times added:

British Jews are well placed to define what constitutes racism towards them, just as any minority deserves the last word in the debate as it applies to them. Gordon Brown has called for Labour to “unanimously, unequivocally and immediately” adopt all the examples. Anything less would mark a dark day indeed for the party.

Noting that three leading British Jewish newspapers had declared that a Corbyn-led government would pose ‘an existential threat to Jewish life in this country’, senior Guardian columnist and former comment editor Jonathan Freedland asked:

How on earth has it come to this?

Part, but not all, of the problem, Freedland suggested, was (our emphasis):

Labour’s failure to adopt the full text of the near universally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including all its illustrative examples.

He added:

When Jews hear that the IHRA is not good enough, they wonder: what exactly is it that Labour wants to say about us?

And yet, as the MRC report [pdf] makes clear, although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves. Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency – a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based – and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies. Moreover, academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by four leading UK barristers.

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Nearly 50% of Guardian reports failed to include any quotes from those critiquing the IHRA definition or defending Labour’s code of conduct on antisemitism. In fact, media reporting (our emphasis):

effectively gave those attacking Labour’s revised code and championing the IHRA definition a virtually exclusive and unchallenged platform to air their views. By comparison, their detractors – including a number of Jewish organisations and representatives of other affected minorities – were systematically marginalized from the coverage. Furthermore, Labour MPs adopting even moderate positions defending the code were subjected to far more aggressive questioning from interviewers than those adopting extreme positions attacking it.

In a calm, methodical and rigorous manner, the MRC has exposed to public view the blatant anti-Corbyn bias of even the ‘best’ media outlets: the BBC and the Guardian.

Response to the Media Reform Coalition Report

Our searches using the ProQuest newspaper database reveal that there has not been a single news article or editorial published about the report. This is a remarkable symptom of the glaring tendency of the media to reject, or simply blank, reasoned, well-researched criticism.

When The Canary website published an article about the MRC report, they approached both the Guardian and the BBC for comment. The Guardian‘s response was boilerplate rhetoric – ‘The Guardian has featured a wide range of voices in this debate’, etc – that failed to acknowledge the paper’s unambiguous distortions and omissions. The BBC did not even provide a comment.

The sole newspaper mention to date is a letter in the Guardian which may only have been published because Noam Chomsky is one of the signatories, along with high-profile figures such as Brian Eno, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach and a number of media academics. They make a crucial point that relates to criticism of the Guardian itself (mentioned earlier):

‘In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance” in which critics of Labour’s code of conduct dominated coverage, with nearly 50% of Guardian reports, for example, failing to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition.’

The letter also notes the MRC researchers’ conclusion that media distortions and inaccuracies:

were not occasional lapses in judgment but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party.

Chomsky and his co-signatories add:

In covering the allegations that Labour is now “institutionally antisemitic”, there have been inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions across our most popular media platforms. We believe that significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from antisemitism elsewhere, including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.

Given the Guardian‘s appalling record of boosting fake news of a Labour ‘antisemitism crisis’, and given its vehement opposition to Corbyn’s brand of moderate socialism, it is no wonder that #DumpTheGuardian and #BoycottTheGuardian were trending in the UK last Friday as part of a dedicated Twitter campaign.

Pro-Corbyn Labour MP Chris Williamson tweeted his support in response to the MRC report:

My reference to McCarthyism vindicated by this report. The Guardian newspaper’s deplorable contribution explains why so many people are saying #BoycottTheGuardian

Last Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech to the Labour Party conference in which he dared to criticise the British corporate media who have been gunning for him ever since he became the party’s leader:

It turns out that the billionaires who own the bulk of the British press don’t like us one little bit.

Now it could be because we’re going to clamp down on tax dodging. Or it may be because we don’t fawn over them at white tie dinners and cocktail parties.

He added:

We must, and we will, protect the freedom of the press to challenge unaccountable power.

Journalists from Turkey to Myanmar and Colombia are being imprisoned, harassed or sometimes killed by authoritarian governments and powerful corporate interests just for doing their job.

But here, a free press has far too often meant the freedom to spread lies and half-truths, and to smear the powerless, not take on the powerful.

You challenge their propaganda of privilege by using the mass media of the 21st century: social media.

Pippa Crerar, Guardian deputy political editor, responded with the standard kneejerk conflation of Corbyn’s reasoned comments with the idiotic ‘fake news’ mantra of Trump. She tweeted:

Corbyn criticises some parts of British media, claiming they “smear the powerless, not take on the powerful”. As a journalist, makes me very uncomfortable to hear him leading attack on our free press. Dangerous, Trumpian territory.

We responded:

Honest, rational criticism is not an “attack”, and it is not “dangerous”. A corporate press that refuses to listen or respond to this kind of reasonable criticism is itself dangerous. If anyone has a right to criticise media smears, it is @jeremycorbyn.

The level of popular support for this view is indicated by the fact that our tweet has so far received 518 retweets and 1,222 likes; a massive response by our standards.

To her credit, Crerar did engage with us reasonably, unlike the vast majority of her media colleagues over many years:

Totally agree media has to reflect/listen. Not for a minute saying we’re perfect (some elements extremely *imperfect*). But orgs also do invaluable work eg Windrush, grooming scandal, MPs expenses so just not true to say we don’t hold power to account.

We answered:

Thanks for replying, Pippa, very much appreciated. Glad you agree “media has to reflect/listen”. Doesn’t that mean taking Corbyn’s thoughtful, reasoned criticism seriously, rather than lumping it in with Trump’s awful tub-thumping? Corbyn and Milne really aren’t “dangerous”.

Her follow-up:

I’ve sat back today & watched pile-on. I’d always rather engage but not when abusive. Like I said, media far from perfect, but I fear JC’s comments ignored excellent journalism that does exist & undermined journalists who produce it. Of course, nowhere near as extreme as Trump.

And our reply:

Our response generated nearly 800 [now 1,700] likes and retweets – that gives an idea of the strength of feeling. Like other media, the Guardian‘s smearing of Corbyn has gone way too far. It’s time to start listening to your readers @KathViner.

To date, there has been no further exchange; and certainly not a peep out of Guardian editor, Katharine Viner; which is typical for this extraordinarily unresponsive media professional.

Justin Schlosberg, lead author of the MRC report, told The Canary:

Neither the Guardian nor the BBC have acknowledged or even directly responded to the myriad reporting failures highlighted in our research. It is completely inadequate to offer blanket dismissals or simply kick into the long grass of their respective complaints procedures.

Schlosberg pointed out:

The failure to answer to these allegations is even more serious than the reporting failures themselves.

Conclusion

As a further, related example of bias, consider the corporate media’s stunning indifference to the bomb threat that interrupted the screening of a new film, The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker, in Liverpool on September 25. Walker is a former Momentum Vice-Chair who was suspended from the Labour party as part of a propaganda blitz attempting to silence critics of Israel. The screening was organised by Jewish Voice for Labour which has been supportive of Jeremy Corbyn.

If the corporate media were genuinely motivated by concerns about alleged rising antisemitism, this shocking threat would have generated headline coverage. Instead it was met by a blanket of silence. A brief online Guardian piece was, to say the least, ambiguous in its narrative. Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook noted:

Another “fake news” master-class from the Guardian. A bomb hoax to stop Corbyn-supporting, Jewish Labour members screening a film about how Labour’s “anti-semitism crisis” has been manufactured is framed as *more* evidence of Jew hatred in the party!

According to our ProQuest database search, the only mentions in the print press have been in the Liverpool Echo and The Times of Israel. Where are all the editorials and major comment pieces in the Guardian, The Times and elsewhere?

As for the Media Reform Coalition report itself, it is no surprise that the BBC, the Guardian and the rest of the corporate media should brush away detailed reasoned criticism of their biased reporting, or pretend such clear evidence does not exist. These media outlets sell themselves as publicly accountable; or, at least, as defenders of the public interest; a valiant fourth estate standing up for the truth and honest, neutral news coverage. And yet, when the alternative media makes a mistake, or says ‘the wrong thing’, there are angry howls and screaming mockery from the corporate commentariat. The hypocrisy is staggering, and, again, entirely predictable.

• Authors’ Note:  Propaganda Blitz, the new Media Lens book, has just been published by Pluto Press

Guest Media Alert by John Pilger: “Hold the Front Page. The Reporters are Missing”

Note From Media Lens

This is a slightly amended version of the foreword to the new Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz – How The Corporate Media Distort Reality, published today by Pluto Press. Warm thanks to John Pilger for contributing this superb piece to our book.

*****

The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.

Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.

Driven from the “mainstream”, Hersh must publish his work outside the United States. Parry set up his own independent news website Consortium News, where, in a final piece following a stroke, he referred to journalism’s veneration of “approved opinions” while “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality.”

Although journalism was always a loose extension of establishment power, something has changed in recent years. Dissent tolerated when I joined a national newspaper in Britain in the 1960s has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism moves towards a form of corporate dictatorship. This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new “groupthink”, as Parry called it, dispensing its myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.

Witness the witch-hunts against refugees and immigrants, the willful abandonment by the “MeToo” zealots of our oldest freedom, presumption of innocence, the anti-Russia racism and anti-Brexit hysteria, the growing anti-China campaign and the suppression of a warning of world war.

With many if not most independent journalists barred or ejected from the “mainstream”, a corner of the Internet has become a vital source of disclosure and evidence-based analysis: true journalism. Sites such as wikileaks.org, consortiumnews.com, wsws.org, truthdig.com, globalresearch.org, counterpunch.org and informationclearinghouse.com are required reading for those trying to make sense of a world in which science and technology advance wondrously while political and economic life in the fearful “democracies” regress behind a media facade of narcissistic spectacle.

In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens — remarkable partly because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism: the BBC, the Guardian, Channel 4 News.

Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they ask a journalist why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths.

The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.

I would say Media Lens has shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate that deconstructs and demystifies the media’s power.

What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards was a teacher, David Cromwell is a former scientist. Yet, their understanding of the morality of journalism — a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity — is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.

I think their work is heroic and I would place a copy of their just published book, Propaganda Blitz, in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.

Take the chapter, Dismantling the National Health Service, in which Edwards and Cromwell describe the critical part played by journalists in the crisis facing Britain’s pioneering health service.

The NHS crisis is the product of a political and media construct known as “austerity”, with its deceitful, weasel language of “efficiency savings” (the BBC term for slashing public expenditure) and “hard choices” (the willful destruction of the premises of civilised life in modern Britain).

“Austerity” is an invention. Britain is a rich country with a debt owed by its crooked banks, not its people. The resources that would comfortably fund the National Health Service have been stolen in broad daylight by the few allowed to avoid and evade billions in taxes.

Using a vocabulary of corporate euphemisms, the publicly-funded Health Service is being deliberately run down by free market fanatics, to justify its selling-off. The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn may appear to oppose this, but does it? The answer is very likely no. Little of any of this is alluded to in the media, let alone explained.

Edwards and Cromwell have dissected the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whose innocuous title belies its dire consequences. Unknown to most of the population, the Act ends the legal obligation of British governments to provide universal free health care: the bedrock on which the NHS was set up following the Second World War. Private companies can now insinuate themselves into the NHS, piece by piece.

Where, asks Edwards and Cromwell, was the BBC while this momentous Bill was making its way through Parliament? With a statutory commitment to “providing a breadth of view” and to properly inform the public of “matters of public policy”, the BBC never spelt out the threat posed to one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. A BBC headline said: “Bill which gives power to GPs passes.” This was pure state propaganda.

There is a striking similarity with the BBC’s coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawless invasion of Iraq in 2003, which left a million dead and many more dispossessed. A study by Cardiff University, Wales, found that the BBC reflected the government line “overwhelmingly” while relegating reports of civilian suffering. A Media Tenor study placed the BBC at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they gave to opponents of the invasion. The corporation’s much-vaunted “principle” of impartiality was never a consideration.

One of the most telling chapters in Propaganda Blitz describes the smear campaigns mounted by journalists against dissenters, political mavericks and whistleblowers. The Guardian’s campaign against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the most disturbing.

Assange, whose epic WikiLeaks disclosures brought fame, journalism prizes and largesse to the Guardian, was abandoned when he was no longer useful. He was then subjected to a vituperative – and cowardly — onslaught of a kind I have rarely known.

With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also disclosed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.

The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”

Moore, who describes herself as a feminist, later complained that, after attacking Assange, she had suffered “vile abuse”. Edwards and Cromwell wrote to her: “That’s a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone ‘the most massive turd’? Vile abuse?”

Moore replied that no, she would not, adding, “I would advise you to stop being so bloody patronising.”

Her former Guardian colleague James Ball wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like more than five and a half years after Julian Assange moved in.”

Such slow-witted viciousness appeared in a newspaper described by its editor, Katharine Viner, as “thoughtful and progressive”. What is the root of this vindictiveness? Is it jealousy, a perverse recognition that Assange has achieved more journalistic firsts than his snipers can claim in a lifetime? Is it that he refuses to be “one of us” and shames those who have long sold out the independence of journalism?

Journalism students should study this to understand that the source of “fake news” is not only trollism, or the likes of Fox news, or Donald Trump, but a journalism self-anointed with a false respectability: a liberal journalism that claims to challenge corrupt state power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it. The amorality of the years of Tony Blair, whom the Guardian has failed to rehabilitate, is its echo.

“[It is] an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives,” wrote Katharine Viner. Her political writer Jonathan Freedland dismissed the yearning of young people who supported the modest policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “a form of narcissism”.

“How did this man ….,” brayed the Guardian’s Zoe Williams, “get on the ballot in the first place?” A choir of the paper’s precocious windbags joined in, thereafter queuing to fall on their blunt swords when Corbyn came close to winning the 2017 general election in spite of the media.

Complex stories are reported to a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission: Brexit, Venezuela, Russia, Syria. On Syria, only the investigations of a group of independent journalists have countered this, revealing the network of Anglo-American backing of jihadists in Syria, including those related to ISIS.

Supported by a “psyops” campaign funded by the British Foreign Office and the US Agency of International Aid, the aim is to hoodwink the Western public and speed the overthrow of the government in Damascus, regardless of the medieval alternative and the risk of war with Russia.

The Syria Campaign, set up by a New York PR agency, Purpose, funds a group known as the White Helmets, who claim falsely to be “Syria Civil Defence” and are seen uncritically on TV news and social media, apparently rescuing the victims of bombing, which they film and edit themselves, though viewers are unlikely to be told this. George Clooney is a fan.

The White Helmets are appendages to the jihadists with whom they share addresses. Their media-smart uniforms and equipment are supplied by their Western paymasters. That their exploits are not questioned by major news organisations is an indication of how deep the influence of state-backed PR now runs in the media. As Robert Fisk noted recently, no “mainstream” reporter reports Syria, from Syria.

In what is known as a hatchet job, a Guardian reporter based in San Francisco, Olivia Solon, who has never visited Syria, was allowed to smear the substantiated investigative work of journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett on the White Helmets as “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government”.

This abuse was published without permitting a single correction, let alone a right-of-reply. The Guardian Comment page was blocked, as Edwards and Cromwell document. I saw the list of questions Solon sent to Beeley, which reads like a McCarthyite charge sheet — “Have you ever been invited to North Korea?”

So much of the mainstream has descended to this level. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is the “perception”.

When he was US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus declared what he called “a war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media”. What really mattered was not the facts but the way the story played in the United States. The undeclared enemy was, as always, an informed and critical public at home.

Nothing has changed. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker, whose propaganda mesmerised the German public.

She told me the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of an uninformed public.

“Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said. “Propaganda always wins, if you allow it.”

Charges “Without Merit”: Jeremy Corbyn, Antisemitism, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky

Last week, Peter Brookes tweeted his latest cartoon for The Times, commenting:

#Novichok not the only poison being spread around Britain. #LabourAntisemitism #Corbyn.

Referencing allegations that two Russian agents had been responsible for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4, the cartoon depicted a British policeman holding up mugshots of a menacing, bug-eyed ‘Jeremy Korbynski’ (wearing an ‘I Love Hamas’ badge) and a vampiric, evil-looking ‘Seumasov Milne’ (wearing a ‘Down With Israel’ badge), with the policeman saying:

THESE TWO MEN ARE SUSPECTED OF SPREADING POISON AROUND BRITAIN…

As Brookes made clear in his tweet, the alleged ‘poison’ Corbyn and Milne, Labour’s director of communications, are supposedly spreading is, of course, antisemitism.

We have always been struck by the sense of complete unreality surrounding this debate and decided to check when and how often Corbyn has been accused of antisemitism since first being elected as an MP in 1983.

Labour was defeated in the general election of May 7, 2015, causing leader Ed Miliband to resign. On June 3, the BBC reported that Corbyn had joined the contest to replace him. We monitored this period closely and it is simply unarguable that Corbyn was portrayed by journalists, and even party political foes, as a basically decent person. He was depicted as a left relic, certainly – irrelevant and ridiculous – but also as sincere and well-intentioned. There was no sense whatever in ‘mainstream’ media coverage that Corbyn was a malign individual.

In July, we conducted a ProQuest newspaper database search, which found the following hits for UK press articles mentioning:

‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ before May 2015 = 18 hits

‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ after May 2015 = 6,133 hits

None of the 18 mentions before May 2015 included any accusation that Corbyn was antisemitic. And it was not, as some people have claimed, that Corbyn, a leading anti-war MP, was unknown or unworthy of attention. ProQuest found 3,659 hits for ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ before May 2015.

Writing for the Medium website last month, Patrick Elliot described his own research confirming these results. Elliot noted that the first story ever to be published in a UK national newspaper with the words ‘Corbyn’ and ‘antisemitism’ in the same sentence appeared in the Guardian on August 13, 2015, reporting an accusation the previous day in The Jewish Chronicle. The voting process for the Labour leadership election began one day later, on August 14. Elliot wrote:

During the three years of Corbyn’s Labour leadership, the association of antisemitism with the Labour Party has been a relentless media narrative. The 2,087 articles published in that time have come at an average of nearly two per day.

Yet in more than six and a half years prior to his election, just 178 articles were published associating the Party with antisemitism, at an average of one every fortnight. Is antisemitism 25 times more prevalent in the Party now?

Freedland’s ‘Game Changer’

In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland – now into his fourth year of relentlessly attacking Corbyn – highlighted the Labour leader’s ‘2013 attack on a group of “Zionists” he’d encountered’. In fact, Corbyn did not ‘attack’ them; they had berated the Palestinian ambassador after he delivered a speech at a meeting in Parliament. Freedland noted that Corbyn said of these activists that despite ‘having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony’. Freedland explained the significance:

The implication of that remark is clear – and it has nothing to do with defending Palestinians. It’s that Corbyn sees Jews as fundamentally alien, foreigners who might live here a long time, might even be born here, but are still essentially other. People who will never be truly English.

Political analyst Alex Nunns had already exposed the fallacy of the same argument made in an article by Guardian columnist Simon Hattenstone, to which Freedland linked with the comment:

For many, including some [like Hattenstone] who’d long defended the Labour leader, that was a game changer.

Nunns pointed out the absurdity of Hattenstone’s logic:

This is an inversion of what Corbyn said. He compared a group of pro-Israel activists to the Palestinian ambassador whose talk they attended, saying the latter had a better grasp of irony. That only makes any sense if he was saying the activists WERE actually “properly English.”

Nunns spelled it out:

In clearer language, the point Corbyn made was: “Despite being English, these particular pro-Israel activists have a poorer sense of irony than the Palestinian ambassador whose speech they attended”.

Corbyn was making a wry comment about a non-native English speaker understanding nuances in the language better than native English speakers – the exact opposite of what Hattenstone/Freedland were suggesting.

The Guardian’s George Monbiot tweeted a response to Hattenstone’s piece:

It dismays me to say it, as someone who has invested so much hope in the current Labour Party, but I think @shattenstone is right: Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 comments about “Zionists” were antisemitic and unacceptable.

This reminded us strongly of Monbiot’s investigation into a ‘malign intellectual subculture’ on the left, comprised of Edward Herman, John Pilger, Media Lens and others who were guilty of ‘belittling the acts of genocide committed by opponents of the western powers’. Monbiot was again dismayed:

And, to my great distress, as I rate him very highly, #NoamChomsky doesn’t come out of it too well either.

Monbiot confidently denounced Corbyn’s ‘antisemitic’ comments in several tweets. One day later, having learned of Alex Nunns’ analysis, Monbiot tweeted:

For fairness, here is another explanation of what Jeremy Corbyn said, which casts it in a very different light.

Was this Monbiot performing another of his famous U-turns? It’s difficult to say. Responding to the suggestion that he perhaps should have highlighted Nunns’ analysis, not Hattenstone’s, Monbiot responded with sarcasm.

Freedland went on:

Similar was the mural of hooked-nose bankers, counting their money on the backs of the poor. The artist himself said he had depicted Jews, but when Corbyn heard it was to be removed his response was “Why?” He literally could not see anything wrong with it. Again, that’s nothing to do with opposing Israel. That’s just old school antisemitism.

The key comment here: ‘The artist himself said he had depicted Jews.’

The deceptiveness of this version of events becomes clear when we look a little closer. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in March:

Not that anyone is listening now, but the artist himself, Kalen Ockerman, has said that the group in his mural comprised historical figures closely associated with banking. His mural, he says, was about “class and privilege”, and the figures depicted included both “Jewish and white Anglos”. The fact that he included famous bankers like the Rothschilds (Jewish) and the Rockefellers (not Jewish) does not, on the face of it, seem to confirm anti-semitism. They are simply the most prominent of the banking dynasties most people, myself included, could name. These families are about as closely identified with capitalism as it is possible to be.

In his outstanding essay, ‘The chimera of British anti-Semitism (and how not to fight it if it were real)’, Norman Finkelstein, Jewish author of The Holocaust Industry and the son of Holocaust survivors, comments:

The degree of anti-Semitism infecting British society has been the subject of numerous polls over a sustained period of time. These surveys have uniformly, consistently, and unambiguously concluded that anti-Semitism (1) has long been a marginal phenomenon in British society, infecting under 10 percent of the population, (2) is far less salient than hostility to other British minorities, and (3) is less pronounced in the UK than almost anywhere else in Europe.

Finkelstein argues that Jews have considerable power within British society. Indeed, the intensity and longevity of the campaign targeting Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism’ in part reflect that influence:

Jews are incomparably organized as they have created a plethora of interlocking, overlapping, and mutually reinforcing communal and defense organizations that operate in both the domestic and international arenas. In many countries, not least the US and the UK, Jews occupy strategic positions in the entertainment industry, the arts, publishing, journals of opinion, the academy, the legal profession, and government. “Jews are represented in Britain in numbers that are many times their proportion of the population,” British-Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer notes, “in both Houses of Parliament, on the Sunday Times Rich List, in media, academia, professions, and just about every walk of public life.”

As Finkelstein says, ‘it cannot be right to deny (or suppress) critical socioeconomic facts’ of this kind. Noting them has nothing to do with ugly, racist fantasies about Jews controlling the world. He adds:

Jeremy Corbyn is the democratically elected head of the Labour Party. His ascendancy vastly expanded and galvanized the party’s ranks. Corbyn has devoted a lifetime to fighting racism; like eponymous labor organizer Joe Hill, where workers strike and organize, it’s there you’ll find Jeremy Corbyn. By British and even global leadership standards, he cuts a saintly figure. On the opposite side, mostly unelected Jewish bodies have dragged Corbyn’s name through the mud, slandering and defaming him. They have refused to meet with Corbyn, even as he has repeatedly extended olive branches and offered substantive compromises. Instead they issue take-it-or-leave-it ultimatums.

Finkelstein summarises accurately:

The transparent motive behind this cynical campaign is to demonize Corbyn, not because he’s a “fucking anti-Semite,” [the words of former Labour minister Margaret Hodge] but because he’s a principled champion of Palestinian rights’, although ‘a broad array of powerful entrenched social forces, acting on not-so-hidden agendas of their own’ are all seeking to destroy Corbyn.

Indeed, no rational observer can see this as anything other than an extension of the relentless establishment attack on Corbyn, the mild socialist threatening to let democracy loose from its box.

The objective of the antisemitism moral panic is obvious, writes Lindsey German of Stop the War:

removing Corbyn from the Labour leadership and his replacement with someone much more amenable to the needs of British capital, whether in the arena of foreign policy or in terms of domestic policies.

David Hearst, a former Middle East editor at the Guardian, concurs:

The Labour leader’s opponents don’t care about anti-Semitism. They’ll just do anything to remove Corbyn.

Hearst argues that Corbyn’s opponents are using:

the tactics of fascists – smearing, libelling, intimidating.

Unable to put up a candidate capable of defeating him by democratic means, at the ballot box, unable to attack him on his polices for which there is majority support in the country, Corbyn’s detractors have methodically and consistently set about the task of character assassination.

We asked Noam Chomsky for his view on these issues. He replied:

The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.1

The Lobby

While much of the media focuses on alleged Russian attempts to undermine Western democracy, Asa Winstanley, an investigative journalist with Electronic Intifada, recently reported evidence that Israel is running a campaign to undermine Corbyn. Human rights activists have now lodged a freedom of information request under Israeli law, seeking to release documents about the campaign. Last year, Al Jazeera broadcast a four-part investigation titled ‘The Lobby’ into the Israel lobby’s activities in the UK. It revealed that Israeli embassy spy Shai Masot was working with front organizations in Labour to smear critics of Israel as ‘antisemitic’. Masot worked closely with two important pro-Israel groups in Labour, the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel. The latter includes 80 Labour MPs. He has since returned to Israel.

In ‘The Lobby USA’, a follow-up to ‘The Lobby’, Al Jazeera also investigated the activities of the Israeli lobby in the US where it has been instrumental in smearing and silencing pro-Palestinian voices. However, the film was suppressed after strong Israeli pressure on Qatar, the state owners of Al Jazeera, and has never been shown. Electronic Intifada has now obtained leaked excerpts of the film. As Winstanley notes:

The film has been censored even though it addresses matters of considerable public interest, including covert efforts on behalf of a foreign state to spy on, harass or prevent Americans from engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment.

The corporate media are playing a major role in this insidious campaign to stifle democratic choice. It is no surprise that Corbyn and his advisers are calling for big changes to the ‘free press’. In his recent Alternative Mactaggart Lecture on the state of the media, Corbyn noted that:

We must break the stranglehold of elite power and billionaire domination over large parts of our media. Just three companies control 71% of national newspaper circulation and 5 companies control 81% of local newspaper circulation.

He added:

For all the worry about new forms of fake news, most people think our newspapers churn out fake news day in, day out. It’s hardly a surprise in the last 4 years one political earthquake after another has been missed by most of our media.

In summary:

We need to set journalists and citizens free to hold power to account, by breaking the grip of tech giants and billionaires on our media.

Conclusion: Very, Very Serious Problems

Finkelstein accepts that Jews are subject to racial prejudice, but questions whether this ‘ranks a “very, very serious problem” in the UK’, as claimed. He places the prejudice in context:

Yes, Jews must endure the reputation of being stingy, pushy, and clannish—but Muslims are profiled as terrorists and misogynists, Blacks are despised as chronically lazy and genetically stupid, and Roma/Sinti are loathed as dirty beggars and thieves.

It really is remarkable that Corbyn’s speeches and off-the-cuff comments are being scoured far into the past in search of signs of racism when a far more lethal form of prejudice is clearly informing current US-UK foreign policy devastating entire countries. It is a prejudice that views the lives of brown-skinned people in Afghanistan Iraq, Iran, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere as far less important than the lives of white, European and US people.

In his book, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, wrote that during ‘phase V’ of the Oil-For-Food programme, from November 1998 to May 1999, each Iraqi citizen received a food allocation worth $49, or 27 cents per day. Von Sponeck commented that ‘the UN was more humane with its dogs than with the Iraqi people’: $160 was allocated for food for each UN dog over the same period.2

As a result, 500,000 Iraqi children lost their lives. The price was deemed to be ‘worth it’ by Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. But what is really telling is just how little impact this mass death had on Western politics and journalism. The same is true of the one million Iraqis who died as a result of the 2003 invasion. It is true of the Afghan civilians forced to eat grass to survive in the wake of 9/11, when US threats to bomb Afghanistan, and then the invasion itself, shut down aid convoys. It is true of the horrendous impact of sanctions on Iran, renewed and worsened under Trump. It is true of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society along with regular massacres, the destruction of Libyan society, the destruction of Syrian society, and so on…

The fact that none of this matters, that it puts not the slightest dent in the political-media enthusiasm for war, that it is not even considered relevant in a national discussion on racism, is itself the result of a deeply toxic racism. It is a form of cultural arrogance and contempt for human lives quite obviously deemed far less important, far less valuable.

The mostly fraudulent, politically expedient nature of the endless expressions of concern about antisemitism in the Labour party is indicated by the striking lack of interest in asking exactly what can be done about this kind of prejudice. It seems clear that stifling free speech, expelling party members and castigating the guilty does little to address the real causes of hatred and bias in the human heart and deluded mind.

Deeper answers lie, firstly, in understanding that racist prejudice is ultimately a function of individual and collective egotism – the desire to raise oneself above others, to perceive oneself as ‘special‘. An antidote to this illusion lies in recognising that happiness and suffering are equal – ‘my’ happiness simply cannot be deemed more important than ‘your’ happiness. Likewise, the welfare of ‘this’ group of people versus the welfare of ‘that’ group of people. The self-evident logic of this assertion can help equalise our perception of others – ‘their’ happiness is not worth less than ‘ours’, no matter how different from us they may appear to be.

We can also reflect on evidence indicating that treating others with generosity, kindness and compassion is extremely positive for our own welfare. This is not mere wishful thinking, modern science is catching up on the ancient assertion that caring for others is the basis and cause of genuine happiness. It turns out that happiness truly is not found in cynical selfishness, in viewing women, Jews, blacks, LGBT people, Muslims and so on as ‘lesser’ people. To view others this way is to burden ourselves with a closed, shrunken, miserable heart.

No-one should take any of this on trust, which is why a meaningful response to prejudice involves verifying the truth of these observations through introspection and meditation. It quickly becomes clear, for example, that thoughts of hostility and contempt for others are absolutely poisonous to our sense of well-being.

  1. Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 9, 2018.
  2. Hans von Sponeck, A Different Kind of War, Bergahn Books, 2006, p. 38.

Empire Journalism: Venezuela, the US and John McCain

The US political commentator Michael Parenti once observed that:

Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for “objectivity”. Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.

Once you understand the truth of that remark, seeing the daily biases and distortions of the corporate media becomes obvious. Thus, there is plenty of space on the BBC News website, and plenty of time on the BBC’s airwaves, to discuss the Venezuela migrant crisis, hyper-inflation and food shortages. Rob Young, a BBC News business correspondent, wrote:

Venezuela, now in its fourth year of recession, has joined a sad list of other countries whose economies imploded as hyperinflation tore through them.

Young quoted a senior official of the International Monetary Fund:

The situation in Venezuela is similar to that in Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s.

A BBC News clip headlined, ‘Begging for food in Venezuela’, emphasised:

Food has become so scarce in Venezuela after the economy collapsed that people are getting desperate.

Likewise, there has been ample heart-wrenching coverage of Venezuelans fleeing to other countries. But you will struggle to find any substantive analysis of the severe US sanctions and long-standing threats to bring about a US-friendly government in Caracas, including an attempted coup in 2002 to remove Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s then president.

On August 19, BBC South America correspondent Katy Watson reported for BBC News at Ten:

President Nicolas Maduro is doing little to stop his country’s economic freefall. Last week, he announced plans to devalue the country’s currency; an attempt to rein in inflation that the International Monetary Fund says could hit one million per cent by the end of the year.

But there was next to no context. BBC viewers were led to believe that the blame for the crisis in Venezuela lay squarely at Maduro’s door.

By contrast, consider the analysis of Gabriel Hetland, an expert academic on Latin America. He stated that the Venezuelan government’s actions – and inactions – have made the crisis ‘far worse’. But crucially:

The government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment. The opposition has openly and repeatedly pushed for regime change by any means necessary.

On August 4, there was even an attempt to assassinate President Maduro, with responsibility claimed by a clandestine opposition group made up of members of the Venezuelan military.

Hetland continued:

The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.

The Morning Star’s Tim Young pointed out that:

Sanctions now form a key part of what is a strategic plan by the US to ruin the Venezuelan economy.

These US sanctions have even impacted Venezuela’s health programme, with the country’s vaccination schemes disrupted, dialysis supplies blocked and cancer drugs refused. Young added:

It is clear that the US sanctions — illegal under international law — are part of an overall strategy to bring about what the US calls “regime change.”

Its aim is to undermine and topple the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro and secure control of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves and other natural resources and wealth.

In a news report in the Independent last year, Andrew Buncombe quoted remarks by Mike Pompeo, then head of the CIA, suggesting that:

The agency is working to change the elected government of Venezuela and is collaborating with two countries [Mexico and Colombia] in the region to do so.

As Buncombe observed:

The US has a long and bloody history of meddling in Latin America’s affairs.

That is an accurate and truthful headline you are very unlikely to see on BBC News.

To realise how incomplete and distorted is BBC News coverage, you only have to listen to the superb independent journalist Abby Martin, who has risked her life to report what the corporate media is not telling you about Venezuela. It is little wonder that, as she discusses, her important news programme, ‘Empire Files‘, is currently off-air as a result of US sanctions against left-leaning TeleSUR, the Venezuela-based television network.

A report by media analyst Gregory Shupak for US-based media watchdog FAIR, notes the repeated usage of the word ‘regime’ to describe Venezuela by the US corporate media. As Shupak observes, a ‘regime’ is, by definition, a government that opposes the US empire. He goes on:

Interestingly, the US itself meets many of the criteria for being a “regime”: It can be seen as an oligarchy rather than a democracy, imprisons people at a higher rate than any other country, has grotesque levels of inequality and bombs another country every 12 minutes. Yet there’s no widespread tendency for the corporate media to describe the US state as a “regime.”

In short, if you rely on the corporate media, not least the BBC, for what’s going on in Venezuela, you will get the US-friendly version of events, downplaying or simply ignoring the crippling effects of US sanctions and threats.

On Venezuela, as with so many other issues, BBC News regularly violates its own stated ‘Editorial Values‘:

Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right; when necessary, we will weigh relevant facts and information to get at the truth.

The notion that BBC News journalists perform a balancing act, sifting through ‘facts and information’ to present ‘the truth’ to the public is simply pure fiction, as the ample evidence presented in our forthcoming book, ‘Propaganda Blitz‘, makes clear.

‘A Human Landmark; an American Hero’

Consider coverage of the recent death of US politician John McCain. McCain was the Republican nominee in the 2008 US presidential election which he lost to Barack Obama. In 1967, during the Vietnam War, he was shot down while on a bombing mission over Hanoi and was seriously injured. Captured by the North Vietnamese, he was tortured during his incarceration, before being released in 1973. In later years, the media would call him a ‘war hero’ and depict him as a political ‘maverick’ in not always supporting Republican Party policy on certain issues.

Theresa May declared:

John McCain was a great statesman, who embodied the idea of service over self. It was an honour to call him a friend of the UK.

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence editor and chief foreign affairs columnist, echoed the mantra that McCain was a ‘war hero’.

In similar vein, ‘neutral’ and ‘impartial’ Nick Bryant, the BBC’s New York correspondent, intoned loftily on BBC News at Ten on August 27:

Washington without John McCain is a lesser place. He was a human landmark; an American hero whose broken body personified the Land of the Brave.

Senior reporters from Channel 4 News and ITV News added their own eulogies to warmonger McCain, dubbed ‘McNasty’ by people who had observed his ‘inexplicable angry outbursts’. C4 News political correspondent Michael Crick said via Twitter:

I’ll always be grateful to John McCain. When I was #C4News Washington Correspondent in the late ’80s, he was one of the few senators happy to do interviews with us, and always very friendly & accommodating.

Robert Moore, ITV News Washington Correspondent responded:

Agreed. And that continued almost until the end – for the foreign press, McCain was the single most accessible political figure in Washington. He always had time for an interview, and a joke – including teasing me for my choice of ties.

Other Twitter users put things in stark perspective:

My thoughts are entirely with his victims and their families.

And:

How hard did you grill him about the decisions he made that killed innocent civilians in hundreds of thousands?

It would be hard to find an exchange on Twitter that better exemplifies the divide between sycophantic journalists fawning before power, and members of the public refusing to whitewash a politician’s ugly record.

Patrick Martin, writing for the World Socialist Website, makes a vital point:

The overriding feature of McCain’s career […] was his reflexive hawkishness on foreign policy. He supported war after war, intervention after intervention, always promoting the use of force as the primary feature of American foreign policy, and always advocating the maximum allocation of resources to fuel the Pentagon.

Peace activist Medea Benjamin told Amy Goodman in a Democracy Now! interview:

We had constantly been lobbying John McCain to not support all these wars. Amy, I think it’s so horrible to be calling somebody a war hero because he participated in the bombing of Vietnam. I just spent the last weekend with Veterans for Peace, people who are atoning for their sins in Vietnam by trying to stop new wars. John McCain hasn’t done that. With his life, what he did was support wars from not only Iraq, but also Libya.

Benjamin founded Code Pink: Women for Peace, a grassroots peace and justice movement that McCain once disparaged as “low-life scum“.

She continued:

He called John Kerry delusional for trying to make a nuclear deal with Iran, and threw his lot in with the MEK, the extremist group in Iran. He also was a good friend of Mohammad bin Salman and the Saudis. There was a gala for the Saudis in May when the crown prince was visiting, and they had a special award for John McCain. He supported the Saudi bombing in Yemen that has been so catastrophic. And I think we have to think that those who have participated in war are really heroes if they spend the rest of their lives trying to stop war, not like John McCain, who spent the rest of his life supporting war.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, made clear his empathy for McCain for having suffered through brain cancer. But he castigated the corporate media phenomenon of ‘obit omit—obituaries that are flagrantly in conflict with the real historical record.’

He told Goodman:

We really have to fault the mass media of the United States, not just for the last few days, but the last decades, pretending that somehow, by implication, almost that John McCain was doing the people of North Vietnam a favor as he flew over them and dropped bombs. You would think, in the hagiography that we’ve been getting about his role in a squadron flying over North Vietnam, that he was dropping, you know, flowers or marshmallows or something. He was shot down during his 23rd mission dropping bombs on massive numbers of human beings, in a totally illegal and immoral war.

As Branko Marcetic noted in an accurate assessment of McCain’s political legacy:

John McCain’s greatest achievement was convincing the world through charming banter and occasional opposition to his party’s agenda that he was anything other than a reactionary, bloodthirsty war hawk.

In a recent article, Joe Emersberger, an insightful writer on foreign affairs, notes that corporate media coverage of both Venezuela and John McCain illustrates two main features:

  1. The uniformity of empire-friendly reporting across the corporate media.
  2. The complicity of major human rights groups in this empire-friendly ‘journalism’.

As an example:

Amnesty International has refused to oppose US economic sanctions on Venezuela, and has also refused to denounce flagrant efforts by US officials to incite a military coup.

Emersberger also points to a statement on John McCain’s death from Human Rights Watch:

Senator McCain was for decades a compassionate voice for US foreign and national security policy.

For anyone able to think critically and speak openly, such statements are risible. Brutal imperialism will continue for as long as empire-friendly journalism and tame public opposition exist.

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.