All posts by Media Lens

Stockholm Syndrome: Julian Assange And The Limits Of Guardian Dissent

Nothing happened on September 2 in central London. Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, did not initiate a protest outside the Home Office. He did not sing and play the Floyd classic ‘Wish You Were Here’, or say:

Julian Assange, we are with you. Free Julian Assange!

The renowned journalist and film-maker John Pilger did not say:

The behaviour of the British government towards Julian Assange is a disgrace – a profanity on the very notion of human rights.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the persecution of Julian Assange is the way dictatorships treat a political prisoner.

None of this happened for any major UK or US newspaper, which made no mention of these events at all. Readers of Prensa Latina, Havana, were more fortunate with two articles before and after the event, as were readers of Asian News International in New Delhi. Coverage was also provided by Ireland’s Irish Examiner (circulation 25,419) in Cork, which published a Press Association piece that was available to the innumerable other outlets that all chose to ignore it.

Four months after he was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange is still locked up in solitary confinement for 21 hours a day or more. He is still being denied the basic tools to prepare his case against a demand for extradition to the United States where he faces incarceration and torture. He is not allowed to call his US lawyers, is not allowed access to vital documents, or even a computer. He is confined to a single cell in the hospital wing, where he is isolated from other people. Pilger commented at the protest:

There is one reason for this. Julian and WikiLeaks have performed an historic public service by giving millions of people facts on why and how their governments deceive them, secretly and often illegally: why they invade countries, why they spy on us.

Julian is singled out for special treatment for one reason only: he is a truth-teller. His case is meant to send a warning to every journalist and every publisher, the kind of warning that has no place in a democracy.

On the Sydney Criminal Lawyers website, journalist Paul Gregoire discussed Assange’s declining health with his father, John Shipton, who said:

His health is not good. He’s lost about 15 kilos in weight now – five since I last saw him. And he’s in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, in the hospital ward of the gaol.

Gregoire responded:

‘As you’ve just explained, Julian is being held in quite extreme conditions. He’s isolated from other inmates. And as well, his visits are restricted and so are his communications with his legal representation. Yet, he’s only being held for breach of bail, which is a rather minor charge.’

‘Yes, very minor.’

‘How are the UK authorities justifying the restrictions around his imprisonment seeing he’s being incarcerated on such a minor offence?’

‘I don’t know if they feel the necessity to justify these decisions. Their decisions are arbitrary.’

‘So, they’re giving no explanation as to his treatment.’

‘No.’

It does seem extraordinary, in fact, medieval, for such brutal treatment to be meted out to someone for merely breaching bail, with almost zero ‘mainstream’ political or media protest. This is only one reason, of course, why the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, penned an article titled, ‘Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange’. Melzer commented:

What may look like mere mudslinging in public debate, quickly becomes “mobbing” when used against the defenseless, and even “persecution” once the State is involved. Now just add purposefulness and severe suffering, and what you get is full-fledged psychological torture.

Investigative journalist Peter Oborne courageously challenged conventional wisdom on Assange this month in a British Journalism Review piece titled, ‘He is a hero, not a villain’. Oborne described how, in July, the Mail on Sunday had published a front-page story revealing the contents of diplomatic telegrams – ‘DipTels’ – sent to London by the British ambassador to the US. The memos described President Trump’s administration as ‘inept’ and Trump himself as ‘uniquely dysfunctional’.

All hell broke loose. The May government announced an official leak inquiry. The Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation. The intelligence services got involved.

The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu warned the press not to publish any further documents as this could “constitute a criminal offence”. The Mail on Sunday paid no attention. It published further leaks and other papers came to its support. So did politicians. Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were among those who criticised Basu’s comments.

Hunt, who was then foreign secretary, said: “I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest…

Meanwhile, that leaker-in-chief Julian Assange continued to languish in Belmarsh prison, where he is serving 50 weeks for skipping bail…

Julian Assange is a controversial figure, to be sure. Many of those who have dealt with him have found him difficult. But I find myself wondering what exactly the difference is between his alleged crime of publishing leaked US diplomatic cables and the Mail on Sunday’s offence of publishing leaked Foreign Office cables.

Why is Assange treated by the bulk of the British media as a pariah? And the Mail on Sunday as a doughty defender of press freedom? After all, Julian Assange is responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together.

Oborne commented:

This looks to me like a monstrous case of double standards, even by the ocean-going standards of Britain’s media/political class.

Focusing on Other Issues

Assange was offered rare ‘mainstream’ support on September 12 when Guardian columnist George Monbiot tweeted:

Never forget: #JulianAssange is still in Belmarsh prison, facing the prospect of extradition and life imprisonment in the US, for the “crime” of releasing information that governments have withheld from us. This is not justice.

Tweeter jaraparilla was quick to spot what happened next:

George Monbiot just posted this tweet supporting Julian Assange then deleted it within minutes (before I could respond).

We asked Monbiot what had happened. He replied:

I realised that the US extradition issue was tangled up with the Swedish one, and that I don’t yet know enough about Assange’s legal situation, exactly what he is awaiting and why. I will read up and return to the issue.

In response, we recommended Melzer’s superb work in challenging the establishment smear campaign. Monbiot replied:

Thank you. Has he written a paper on the subject? I find it much easier to absorb information in writing.

We answered:

Amazed you need to ask, have you really not been following his interviews and written pieces? Mind you, according to ProQuest, @NilsMelzer has been mentioned twice in the Guardian this year – so maybe it’s not so strange. See here, for example

Monbiot tweeted: No, I’ve been focusing on other issues.

We commented again:

True enough. According to the ProQuest newspaper database, you’ve never mentioned Assange in your Guardian column. Is that right?

Monbiot confirmed: Yes, that is correct.

It was curious that Monbiot felt the need to ‘read up and return to the issue’. After all, as jaraparilla noted, Monbiot has tweeted about Assange and WikiLeaks dozens of times. Many of these comments make for grim reading. For example:

Moral line on #Assange is crystal clear: we shld support qu-ning on rape charges & oppose any extrad attempt by US. #wikileaks

In his latest piece on Assange, Oborne discussed this egregious error:

His critics attach special weight to rape charges laid against Assange in Sweden. But it’s important to remember there have never been any “charges” in Sweden.

This is a myth reported literally hundreds of times. There has only ever been a “preliminary investigation” in Sweden looking into allegations of rape.

In 2011, Monbiot tweeted:

To me Assange looks unaccountable, paranoid, controlling and prone to blame others for his mistakes. #wikileaks

As we now know, Assange’s ‘paranoia’ was actually astute awareness that ‘they’ really were out to get him.

And: ‘Why does Assange still have so much uncritical support? Seems to me he’s acting like a tinpot dictator.’

And: ‘#JulianAssange takes Kremlin’s dollar, reversing all he claimed to stand for: bit.ly/wT4PoO Love #wikileaks, not Assange’

To his credit, Monbiot subsequently tweeted the deleted tweet defending Assange a second time.

In April 2019, Monbiot won huge applause for using harsh language and calling for the overthrow of capitalism. He insisted that, to save the planet, we need to forget ‘pathetic, micro-consumerist bollocks’:

We have to overthrow this system which is eating the planet with perpetual growth…. We can’t do it by just pissing around at the margins of the problem; we’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.

And yet, as Oborne noted, Assange is ‘responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together’, ‘each and every one in the public interest’, ‘which any self-respecting reporter would sell his or her grandmother to obtain’. One could hardly think of a more powerful example of someone not ‘pissing around at the margins of the problem’.

Monbiot is hardly alone in ‘focusing on other issues’, year after year, while Assange rots. Fellow Guardian great white leftist hope, Owen Jones, last mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in 2014. In fact, this was his only ever mention in the paper, a single comment in passing focused on then Respect MP George Galloway:

his past praise for dictators and appalling comments about rape following allegations against Julian Assange have left him largely isolated.

Like Monbiot, Paul Mason – a former BBC and Channel 4 broadcaster who has somehow reinvented himself as a war-supporting, NATO-loving, Trident-renewing ‘man of the people’ (with 618,000 followers on Twitter) – has never mentioned Assange in the Guardian.

It seems likely that Guardian columnists have felt under increasing pressure to back off from supporting Assange over the last five years. As Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported this month:

The Guardian has lost many of its top investigative reporters who had covered national security issues… The few journalists who were replaced were succeeded by less experienced reporters with apparently less commitment to exposing the security state. The current defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, started at The Guardian as head of media and technology and has no history of covering national security.

‘It seems they’ve got rid of everyone who seemed to cover the security services and military in an adversarial way,” one current Guardian journalist told us.

Kennard and Curtis concluded:

The Guardian had gone in six short years from being the natural outlet to place stories exposing wrongdoing by the security state to a platform trusted by the security state to amplify its information operations. A once relatively independent media platform has been largely neutralised by UK security services fearful of being exposed further.

Venezuela, Gaza and Yemen

This pattern of sparse, or non-existent commentary extends to other issues. In 2018, Monbiot tweeted of the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro:

Just because Maduro claims to be on the left does not mean we should support him. There are far better ways of breaking the power of the old elites. #Venezuela

Monbiot thus simply wrote off the democratically elected President of Venezuela who had won entirely credible elections after the death of Hugo Chavez. Because Monbiot is respected by many readers as an honest, principled progressive, this will have looked to many like the final nail in the coffin of Maduro’s credibility. Many doubtless assumed that Monbiot knows and cares a great deal about Venezuela, that he has strongly supported the Bolivarian revolution. And in 2015, Monbiot did write this in the Guardian:

Between 1989 and 1991 I worked with movements representing landless rural workers in Brazil. As they sought to reclaim their land, thousands were arrested; many were tortured; some were killed…

In Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, similar movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience.

Many readers will have hailed these comments as evidence that Monbiot is an outspoken leftist. After all, in 2003 he had written in the Guardian:

While younger activists are eager to absorb the experience of people like Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Lula, Victor Chavez, Michael Albert and Arundhati Roy, all of whom are speaking in Porto Alegre [the World Social Forum], our movement is, as yet, more eager than wise, fired by passions we have yet to master. (Our emphasis)

But according to the ProQuest media database, the single sentence from 2015 contains Monbiot’s only mention of Venezuela in his Guardian column in the last ten years. Monbiot has mentioned Hugo Chavez’s name exactly twice, in passing, in two articles. He has mentioned Maduro – who is facing relentless internal and external state-corporate attempts at regime change, not least by means of US sanctions – once, in passing, in July 2019. Monbiot has said not a word to challenge the military, economic and propaganda campaign to overthrow Maduro.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones has never mentioned the Venezuelan President in his Guardian column. Paul Mason’s only mention of Maduro in the Guardian damned Maduro’s use of the ‘repertoire of autocratic rule’ in his supposed ‘crackdown’, being ‘clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy’.

Ironically, corporate dissidents like Monbiot, Jones and Mason benefit enormously from the fact that they are published by tyrannical, monopolistic, unaccountable, power-friendly media that filter ‘all the news fit to print’. How so?

It is precisely because these systems of power function as such forensic, long-armed Thought Police that even tiny crumbs of compromised dissent – a single sentence on ‘landless rural workers’ here, a four-letter word on the need for revolution there – elicit pitiful shrieks of delight and admiration from corporately incarcerated consumers who need to believe that ‘mainstream’ media are not that bad, not that destructive. In other words, public awareness is heavily skewed by a version of ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

Consider Gaza as a further example. Again, we can find this dissenting comment from Monbiot in the Guardian in 2006:

I agree that Hizbullah fired the first shots. But out of the blue? Israel’s earlier occupation of southern Lebanon; its continued occupation of the Golan Heights; its occupation and partial settlement of the West Bank and gradual clearance of Jerusalem; its shelling of civilians, power plants, bridges and pipelines in Gaza; its beating and shooting of children; its imprisonment or assassination of Palestinian political leaders; its bulldozing of homes; its humiliating and often lethal checkpoints: all these are, in Bush’s mind, either fictional or carry no political consequences.

Again, leftists will have lapped up this rare supportive comment in a major UK newspaper. A search for further comments finds this sentence from Monbiot in November 2007:

In February 2001, according to the BBC, it [Israel] used chemical weapons in Gaza: 180 people were admitted to hospital with severe convulsions.

And a sentence from September 2013, when Monbiot wrote in passing of how Israel ‘refuses to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention’ having ‘used white phosphorus as a weapon in Gaza’. A further sentence appeared in September 2014:

In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals.

Monbiot wrote again one month later:

Israeli military commanders described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza this summer as “mowing the lawn”.

But, remarkably, these are the only substantive comments Monbiot has made about one of the great crimes and tragedies of our time. The last quote above, his most recent, was published nearly five years ago, in October 2014.

While other progressives like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Finkelstein, Jonathan Cook and others have written whole books, made whole films, and written reams of articles about the catastrophe being inflicted on the people of Gaza, Monbiot has said virtually nothing.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones’ sole, substantive article devoted to Israel’s assault on Gaza came in July 2014. Even this was a philosophical piece on the ‘moral corruption that comes with any occupation’, with few details about the suffering in Gaza. Stockholm syndrome ensured that the title alone, ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, persuaded many readers that here was a stellar example of a principled journalist who really cared about Gaza, who was shouting the truth from the rooftops. Jones’ last mention of Gaza in the Guardian was also five years ago, a mention in passing in August 2014.

Paul Mason’s last substantive mention of Gaza was, again, five years ago, in November 2014, an emotive reference to a harrowing report he made from Gaza while working for Channel 4 News, with little detail on conditions. Mason referenced the same Channel 4 coverage in August 2014.

Or consider Yemen – how much have Monbiot, Jones and Mason written about the blood-drenched, UK-backed Saudi Arabian war that began in 2015? Monbiot wrote in June 2017 of then Prime Minister Theresa May:

She won’t confront Saudi Arabia over terrorism or Yemen or anything else.

Ironic words, given that, according to ProQuest, this is Monbiot’s only meaningful comment on the Yemen war (in April 2019, he noted in passing that climate change ‘has contributed to civil war’ in Yemen). In the Morning Star, Ian Sinclair reported that the editor of the Interventions Watch website had conducted a search of Monbiot’s Twitter timeline in December 2017:

He found Monbiot had mentioned “Syria” in 91 tweets and “Yemen” in just three tweets.

To his credit, Owen Jones has written several substantial pieces focused on the war in Yemen here, here and here. In June 2017, Paul Mason wrote one substantial paragraph on the conflict:

Saudi Arabia is meanwhile prosecuting a war on Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, using more than £3bn worth of British kit sold to it since the bombing campaign began. In return, it has lavished gifts on Theresa May’s ministers: Philip Hammond got a watch worth £1,950 when he visited in 2015. In turn, Tory advisers are picking up lucrative consultancy work with the Saudi government.

Again, we can celebrate an example of superficial dissent, or reflect on the fact that this is Mason’s only comment on the Yemen war in the Guardian.

It is important to remember that the most popular and revered British dissidents – including radical comedians like Russell Brand, Frankie Boyle and Eddie Izzard – were made famous by corporate media. The difference between a ‘cult’ following and national fame is often the difference between popular and ‘mainstream’ support. People willing to compromise from the start, to jump through the required corporate hoops to achieve fame, are (often unwittingly) stooges of a system that must allow glimpses of dissent, a semblance of free and open discussion.

The system needs an occasional honest paragraph on Gaza from a Monbiot, a comment on Yemen from a Mason, if it is to retain credibility. Nobody is fooled by total silence, by a complete lie – a half-lie is far more potent. We are complicit in this charade when we make dissident mountains out of molehills, loaves out of corporate crumbs, and keep buying the product.

The Campaign To Stop Corbyn: Smears, Racism And Censorship

The greatest fear of those holding the most power and wealth is that they will lose their exalted position in the world. They will resist any changes to the grossly unequal and unjust class structure that causes grievous damage to so many people; and to the planet itself. Even the threat of real change must be crushed. This, in a nutshell, underpins the astonishing and relentless campaign to stop Jeremy Corbyn, a moderate leftist, from ever becoming Prime Minister.

On July 10, BBC broadcast an episode of Panorama that purported to be an impartial investigation into the loaded question, ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic? It quickly became clear that the programme makers were not interested in a serious appraisal of the evidence and that the question was merely rhetorical. The thrust of the programme was that Labour is anti-semitic. The Labour Party response was scathing:

The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.

An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title.

The programme was presented by BBC journalist John Ware who had previously made clear his antagonism towards Corbyn’s politics. As journalist Jonathan Cook wrote:

That Panorama made no attempt at even-handedness or fairness in its programme on Labour should have come as no surprise. The man in charge of the investigation was John Ware, a former Sun journalist. He cannot be considered dispassionate either about Corbyn or the prospects of Labour defeating the Conservative Party at a general election, which may be just around the corner.

Cook continued:

Two years ago, Ware wrote a lengthy article for a right-wing magazine warning of the danger of Corbyn reaching power. He was a politician, wrote Ware, “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.

Shortly after Corbyn’s leadership election victory in 2015, Ware headed a Panorama documentary that sought to malign the new leader. Ware is also a strident supporter of Israel and of its state ideology, Zionism. In a 2005 edition of Panorama he suggested that Muslims in Britain who spoke out about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians were “extremists”.

In an article in the Jewish Chronicle last year Ware concluded that anti-Zionism had “morphed into antisemitism – itself a Corbyn legacy”.

The Panorama programme was immediately followed by BBC News at Ten which gave it extensive coverage, pumping up the propaganda value of the fake ‘investigation’. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg intoned gravely:

Many party members have left, and if Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks, what might they lose next?

Consider her choice of words: ‘Many party members have left’ and ‘Labour can’t get a grip of racism in its own ranks’. The public is supposed to swallow the BBC’s implication of endemic Labour anti-semitism as impartial, objective reporting.

Kuenssberg continued:

This is a problem that has dogged the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, not for a few weeks, not just for a few months, but for several years now.

Many commentators, including Media Lens, have long argued that the issue of anti-semitism has been exploited to inflict as much damage on Corbyn as possible. But that rational perspective is systematically excluded from BBC News ‘journalism’. Instead, as ever, the BBC political editor continued to hammer home the requisite propaganda bullet points:

Corbyn has been unable, it seems, to crack down on it [anti-semitism] in the way he has promised to do, again and again.

In the BBC version of ‘neutral’ news reporting, there is no hint that Corbyn’s opponents – not least the corporate media, including the BBC – wish to destroy him and what he stands for. But then, from the very beginning, the BBC has been on the side of the establishment and the government of the day. As BBC founder John Reith confided in his diary during the 1926 General Strike:

They know they can trust us not to be really impartial.1

The experienced journalist Peter Oborne said via Twitter:

I proposed to the BBC a documentary on Tory Islamophobia three years ago. Zero interest.

It is possible that in over-reaching themselves, and presenting such a skewed perspective, Panorama and the BBC had inadvertently highlighted the manufactured nature of the ‘anti-semitism crisis’. As Asa Winstanley observed:

All the program proved was just how dishonest the British establishment and the Israel lobby have been in manufacturing this “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” for the past four years.

In a piece for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah gave crucial background context, observing that the Israel lobby is working hard to split the left:

Influential Israel lobby groups are offering “rules” for how Jewish communal organizations can divide the left and break up emerging intersectional coalitions.

They also advocate for “delegitimizing” Jews deemed too supportive of Palestinian rights.

Israel and its lobby see the strengthening solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups, especially Black people in the United States, as a major threat and they are determined to fight back.

Indeed, last year, Al Jazeera’s leaked undercover documentary The Lobby–USA revealed how the Israeli government and its lobby worked to disrupt the Black Lives Matter movement in retaliation for Black solidarity with Palestine.’

A central strategy of this pro-Israel campaign is to repeatedly state a false equivalence between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Abunimah explained:

Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, is racist because it grants superior rights to Jews enshrined in dozens of Israeli laws and holds that Palestinians expelled and exiled from their homeland should not be allowed to return to it solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.

Anti-Zionism, therefore, is not prejudice against Jews as Israel and its lobby groups claim.

Anti-Zionism, based in universal human rights principles, is anti-racism.

A new report by Israel’s Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs warned ominously that ‘”Corbynization” is spreading through segments of the political left’ and that ‘UK-based anti-Israel groups have been inspiring liberal and progressive elite circles worldwide.’

This, says Abunimah, ‘underlines why Israel and its lobby view discrediting and removing Corbyn as a paramount priority.’

An ‘Unconstitutional Animas’ Against A Corbyn Government

Two weeks before the Panorama programme, The Times published a leak revealing that Corbyn is alleged by senior UK civil servants to be ‘too frail’ to become Prime Minister. He was not up to the job, ‘physically or mentally’. One anonymous figure at the Civil Service reportedly said:

When does someone say [he] is too ill to carry on as leader of the Labour Party, let alone prime minister? There must be senior people in the party who know that he is not functioning on all cylinders.

Corbyn promptly rebutted the ‘scurrilous’ story, dismissing it as ‘a farrago of nonsense’ and insisting he was a ‘very fit, very healthy, very active person’. Corbyn’s call for an independent investigation into the Civil Service leak to the press was predictably rejected by the government.

David Miller, Professor of Political Sociology at Bristol University, and a researcher in propaganda, noted that the Civil Service clearly has:

an unconstitutional animus against a potential Corbyn government and has been briefing against it one way or another through various agencies for some time now.

As an example, Miller pointed to the Integrity Initiative, set up by the government-funded Institute for Statecraft whose stated mission is to:

counter Russian disinformation and malign influence by harnessing existing expertise and establishing a network of experts, opinion formers and policy makers to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.

In an article for the Morning Star, Labour MP Chris Williamson, pointed out that this supposed charitable body had ‘strayed into smearing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’. Its official Twitter account had promoted tweets and articles attacking Corbyn, the Labour Party and their officials. One tweet quoted a newspaper article calling Corbyn a ‘useful idiot’. The article then continued:

His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.

Williamson warned:

The chilling manipulations of the Institute for Statecraft are straight out of the cold war playbook.

Through a series of parliamentary questions, Williamson discovered that the Foreign Office has given more than £2.2 million to the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative. As David Miller says, ‘the use of taxpayers’ money to interfere in domestic politics [is] an affront to democracy’. A report by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – an independent network of academics that includes Miller – found that Facebook and Nato had provided funding too.

Establishment opposition to Corbyn also comes from UK military forces. In 2015, the Sunday Times published comments by a senior serving British Army general that Corbyn would face a mutiny as Prime Minister if he ever tried to cancel the Trident nuclear weapons system, withdraw from Nato or reduce the armed forces:

The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.

‘Failing The Test Of Leadership’ = Failing To Protect Power

The fear of a ‘maverick’ ending up as leader of the country extends to the ‘liberal’ end of the permissible ‘spectrum’ of viewpoints. In our previous media alert, we highlighted the fakery behind accusations of anti-semitism levelled at Labour MP Chris Williamson, mentioned above. On July 8, a letter signed by more than one hundred prominent members of the Jewish community, including Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, was published by the Guardian. The letter stated:

Chris Williamson did not say that the party had been “too apologetic about antisemitism”, as has been widely misreported. He correctly stated that the Labour party has done more than any other party to combat the scourge of antisemitism and that, therefore, its stance should be less apologetic. Such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine not only the Labour party’s leadership but also all pro-Palestinian members.

It continued:

The mass media have ignored the huge support for Chris both within and beyond the Labour party. Support that includes many Jews. The party needs people like him, with the energy and determination to fight for social justice. As anti-racist Jews, we regard Chris as our ally: he stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It should also be noted that he has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors.

However, the letter was swiftly taken down following a complaint later the same day by the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD). The placeholder Guardian page initially said the letter had been removed, ‘pending investigation’. By the following day, the letter had been permanently deleted with this text given as the explanation:

A letter was removed from this page on 9 July 2019 due to errors in the list of signatories provided. We were contacted by an organisation which had not agreed to sign the letter; the organisers of the letter also acknowledge that there were other inaccuracies in the list of signatories.

The ‘explanation’ lacked detail, would have nonplussed many readers, and notably made no mention of the complaint from BoD. In a piece for The Canary, John McEvoy said that the complaint from BoD had:

rightly highlighted that one of the signatories – “Michael Morgan” – had made past racist and abhorrent remarks.

One of the letter’s co-authors, who wished to remain anonymous, told McEvoy that they regretted a lack of oversight over the signatories:

We were clear that the letter was supposed to be signed by only Jewish people. It was made public a couple of days ago, and received 292 signatures shortly after.

We tried to confirm which of the signatories were Jewish by contacting them. If we received no response, we took them off the list.

Michael Morgan replied and told us he was not Jewish, so we took him off the list. His name ended up back on it after transferring the document through different file formats, mistakenly using older files.

The inclusion of Michael Morgan was an accident and an oversight. His views do not reflect ours.

But, while there were issues with a few of the signatories, it was clear that the contents of the letter were entirely justified and appropriate. As the co-author of the letter told The Canary:

I think the letter itself is important, and also whether the Board of Deputies think the likes of Chomsky etc. are the “right kind of Jews” is neither here nor there.

Of course these Jews are not prominent in the Board of Deputies’ circles, but this is the issue: The Board of Deputies seem to want to define what “prominent Jew” means. And a lot of people who are Jewish and, like me, on the left, find that difficult to accept. Why is our Jewish identity being erased, and why do they get to define who is a Jew?

That the Guardian refused to reinstate the letter is deplorable; a symptom of the paper’s appalling role in fuelling the fake anti-semitism ‘crisis’. As journalist John Pilger noted via Twitter:

The Guardian has yet to apologise for two major fabrications: that Julian #Assange conspired with Moscow to escape Britain; and that he met Trump crony Paul Manafort plus Russians. The paper’s descent quickens with this censorship.

Last month, journalist Matt Kennard revealed the Guardian‘s collusion with UK security services in media censorship. Deputy editor Paul Johnson had been personally thanked by the Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice (or D-Notice) committee for ‘re-establishing links’ with the paper in the wake of its publication of material from CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. Johnson was one of three Guardian staffers who took part in the subsequent destruction of computer hard drives containing Snowden files in the Guardian‘s basement, overseen by two security officials from GCHQ. He then joined the D-Notice committee in 2014. The committee, run by the Ministry of Defence, issues ‘advisory warnings’ that are essentially attempts to gag the media from publishing information that might harm state interests.

D-Notice meeting minutes reveal that Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance reported that the committee’s relationship with the Guardian has ‘continued to strengthen’ and that there were ‘regular dialogues’ with its journalists. Kennard suggested that the Guardian was rewarded for its acquiescence with security interests by being granted an unprecedented exclusive interview with a serving head of MI5 in 2016.

Yet another clear indication of the paper’s plummeting descent was the Guardian‘s publication of a full-page advertisement on July 17 from more than sixty Labour peers lambasting Corbyn:

You have failed to defend our party’s anti-racist values. You have therefore failed the test of leadership.

The party was ‘no longer a safe place for all members and supporters’, claimed the peers, ‘whatever their ethnicity or faith.’ The signatories, comprising around one-third of the party’s members in the House of Lords, included former Cabinet members Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain and John Reid from the discredited, blood-soaked years of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The advert was headed:

The Labour Party welcomes everyone* irrespective or race, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation (*except, it seems, Jews). This is your legacy, Mr Corbyn.

In publishing the advert, the Guardian was once again complicit in promoting a false, elite-friendly narrative about an institutionally anti-semitic Labour Party under Corbyn. The advert itself generated considerable media coverage, just as the peers no doubt intended, with around thirty articles in the press. ‘Jews feel unsafe in “toxic” Labour, say 67 of party’s own peers’, blasted the Daily Mail. The Evening Standard carried the headline: ‘Corbyn “must show his shame on anti-Semitism”: Labour ex-minister Lord Robertson joins peers’ attack on leader’. The Express said: ‘Labour civil WAR: Corbyn accused of “failing leadership” by peers over anti-Semitism’. The overall message was clear: Labour is anti-semitic under Corbyn, and he is not fit to become Prime Minister.

Shredding any semblance of ‘impartiality’, Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, tweeted:

What has it come to in the Labour Party when the only way Labour peers feel they can communicate with their leader @jeremycorbyn is to pay to take out an advert in @guardian! No major party has ever been this dysfunctional

Jonathan Cook responded appropriately:

What has it come to in the Labour party when its most establishment figures decide to destroy their party from within by fuelling the corporate media smears against a leader twice elected by members! No major party has ever been this leftwing before. (Fixed that for you Pesto!)

Thinking along similar lines to Peston, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murty observed via Twitter:

The Labour Party is now unable to find anyone prepared to come on #c4news tonight to answer questions about antisemitism and the ad taken out by over 60 Labour Peers today telling Jeremy Corbyn he had failed to defend the party’s values.

As so often happens when a corporate journalist ventures forth into the world of social media, rebuttals flew in. Twitter user Jon Harding replied:

Members support Corbyn because he supports our values – community, equality, responsibility, solidarity and fairness

The media attack us everyday, calling us anti-Semitic. But Corbyn remains steadfast, and support for Corbyn is solid, because we can see through the smears

Another Twitter user replied to Guru-Murty:

Perhaps you should do a segment on how left wing Corbyn supporting Jews are being at best ignored, at worst, harassed, doxed & vilified by people who don’t agree with them, and how many are afraid to voice their opinions because of it!

As far as we could tell, the Channel 4 News man had nothing to say in response.

An article on the Skwawkbox website quoted Labour activists on Twitter saying that ‘the list of signatories reads like a “Who’s Who” of Blairite leftovers’. The article also noted that of the 64 Lords who signed the advert:

At least twenty-four are corporate lobbyists or on boards of hedge funds, banks, “global security consultancies” and, particularly, private health firms. Others have family links to similar enterprises.

In other words, these are the primary interests which are being protected in attacking Corbyn.

More Guardian Censorship

On the same day (July 17) that the Lords advert was published, a remarkable email from Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell was circulated on social media. Bell had sent it to a Guardian editor, possibly Katharine Viner herself. It is worth quoting in full:

Dear [Redacted]

After our bizarre telephone conversation yesterday, I feared you might not publish today’s strip, but still cannot understand why the attached should be more liable to legal challenge from Tom Watson than either of the previous two strips that you have already published. You said the ‘lawyers were concerned’, but what about? It’s not antisemitic nor is it libellous, even though it includes a caricature of Binyamin Netanyahu. If Watson chose to object it would make him look far sillier than he does in the cartoon.

I suspect that the real problem is that it contravenes some mysterious editorial line that has been drawn around the subject of antisemitism and the infernal subject of ‘antisemitic tropes’. In some ways this is even more troubling for me than specious charges of antisemitism. Does the Guardian no longer tolerate content that counters its editorial line?

Why in today’s paper has the Guardian published a highly partisan and personally insulting (to the leader of the Labour Party) advert on page 20 that uses the Labour Party logo, but is clearly not a Labour Party approved advert? I would have thought that there would be far more reason to expect a legal challenge on that than on my cartoon. Or is it that you don’t want to offend poor Tom but are quite happy to offend poor Jeremy?

Why on earth did the Guardian publish, then unpublish, a letter in support of Chris Williamson, signed by 100 people identifying themselves as Jewish, including Noam Chomsky? Were they the wrong kind of Jews? The paper’s contortions on this subject do not do it any credit. If there is a reasoned position on this contentious issue, then I would dearly like to see it laid out clearly so we can all see where we stand. Or are there some subjects that we just can’t touch?

Best wishes

Steve Bell

In his previous two strips on July 15 and July 16 of his long-running cartoon series, ‘If…’, Bell had depicted Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as the ‘Antisemite Finder General’, harking back to the Witchfinder General of the 17th century English Civil War. As Bell said in his email, these two earlier strips were obviously considered fit for publication. In the censored strip for July 17, deemed unacceptable by the Guardian, but then published exclusively by Socialist Worker, Watson’s horse sniffs out an ‘antisemitic trope’. Watson encounters Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu along with caricatures clearly meant as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

As James Wright observed in a Canary piece about the Guardian‘s censorship, Bell appeared to be ridiculing a fundamental contradiction of the pro-Israel establishment. It is anti-semitic to suppose that a Jewish person must be a supporter of Israel. And yet, Netanyahu regularly claims that Israel speaks for all Jewish people. Thus, for example:

On this day, on behalf of the Jewish people, I say to those who have sought and still seek to destroy us: You have failed and you will fail.

Moreover, Netanyahu’s embrace of far-right nationalist leaders around the world (not least Trump), actually makes Jews ‘more vulnerable to anti-Semitism and hate crimes in their own countries’, warned racism researcher Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg. And author Zeev Sternhell noted in a piece for Foreign Policy that Israel under Netanyahu:

sees itself as an integral part of this anti-liberal bloc led by nativist xenophobes who traffic in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Boris Johnson, of course, has a long record of sexist, homophobic and racist remarks. He has referred to black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and likened Muslim women to letterboxes. As for Trump, he told US Jews that Netanyahu is ‘your Prime Minister’, thus conflating Jews with Israelis. It is worth adding that Trump recently told four Congresswomen of colour – Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashia Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley – to ‘go back’ and ‘help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came’. This is racism. Three of the politicians were born in the United States. The fourth, Omar, moved to the US with her family when she was ten years old after fleeing war in Somalia. Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, the two contenders to become Tory leader and thus the next Prime Minister, both refused to call Trump’s remarks racist, in stark contrast to Jeremy Corbyn.

On the same day that the Guardian censored the Bell cartoon strip, it provided Labour MP Margaret Hodge with a platform to once again abuse Jeremy Corbyn as ‘a racist and an antisemite’. The Guardian‘s editorial bias could hardly be more glaring.

Our searches of the ProQuest media database showed that not a single UK newspaper reported the Guardian‘s censorship of Steve Bell. Nobody should be surprised. After all, silence about uncomfortable topics is one of the operating principles of the corporate media.

We asked John Pilger to comment on Bell’s email. He told us:

Steve Bell’s reasoned protest to a gatekeeper on the Guardian, a newspaper often given credibility by his brilliance, is a warning. I wanted to write that it was a warning to journalists — but there are few who are not now cowed into silence or collaborators. They are not journalists any more, but functionaries, even awarded prizes for holding the line. Steve Bell’s memo is a warning to the wider society. His wonderfully anarchic satire is needed more than ever in this corporate, conformist world with its ever present intimidation.

The Guardian advertisement he refers to in effect demands the outlawing of dissent; in the United States, the firing of political cartoonists who cross the line is now routine. The accusation of anti-Semitism thrown at principled opponents of the longest, most brutal military occupation in modern times and the racism of the Israeli state, now enshrined in Israeli law, ought to be beyond contempt. Yet the Guardian’s “contortions”, as Steve Bell calls them, effectively peddle the lie that criticism of Israel and its Zionist ideology is anti-Semitic.This is no different from the lies the Guardian has told about Julian Assange. So beware. Not only is the campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn well advanced, so, too, is the consignment of real journalism, and truth, to a permanent underground.2

The root cause of this campaign to destroy Corbyn is to block any hope of systemic change for the benefit of the general population. Such a prospect is deemed unacceptable to established power. For the sake of society, and the larger battle to prevent climate breakdown, we urgently need to take back power from those who have stolen it.

  1. ‘The Reith Diaries’, edited by Charles Stewart, Collins, 1975; entry for 11 May, 1926.
  2. Email to Media Lens, July 19, 2019.

Suspending Chris Williamson: The Fury And The Fakery

On June 26, the Labour Party lifted the suspension of pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson, triggering a maximum effort propaganda blitz designed to reverse the decision.

Williamson had been suspended on February 27, after footage emerged of him responding to claims of institutionalised anti-semitism in the Labour Party. This is what Williamson said:

The party that’s done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party. I’ve got to say I think our party’s response has been partly responsible for that because in my opinion… we’ve backed off far too much, we’ve given too much ground, we’ve been too apologetic.

He added:

We’ve done more to actually address the scourge of anti-semitism than any other political party, any other political party. And yet we are being traduced.

Anyone watching the film can see that Williamson was passionate about combating the ‘scourge of anti-semitism’, was emphasising his pride in the Labour Party’s historical commitment to that cause and was frustrated by the failure of the Labour leadership to adequately defend that commitment. The blogger Jewish Dissident captured the reality exactly:

Whether one agrees with Chris or not, it’s hard to think of a single comparable instance where an innocuous comment of this sort has led to such a risible media circus, or to such a sustained campaign of personal and political vilification.

The treatment of good old Boris, our next Prime Minister, makes for an interesting contrast. The man who is apparently destined to lead our country has a clear track record of actual, as opposed to bogus, racism and bigotry. He’s the man who has talked about “watermelon smiles” and “piccaninnies”, described women as “hot totty”, professed his inability to distinguish between burka-clad women and letter boxes, and derided gay men as “bumboys”.

Jewish Dissident noted further:

Every single one of Johnson’s vile, bigoted comments has been allowed to pass by the media and the Westminster establishment. Because, after all, it’s just “good old Boris” talking.

And this really is the point – occasional comments and opinion pieces may express revulsion, but propaganda blitzes are not launched at Johnson, with half of his own party and all the opposition party, and all corporate media, shrieking for his head.

Johnson commented on Williamson that it was ‘shameful that Labour have reinstated this key Corbyn ally back into their party after his appalling remarks. We must never allow these apologists for anti-Semitism anywhere near government’.

This warning appeared in an ITV website article that also contained damning criticism from Labour MP Margaret Hodge, Labour MP Stella Creasy, Amanda Bowman, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, and anti-racism campaign group Hope Not Hate, with three pictured tweets highlighting and repeating their accusations. These six sources were not balanced by a single comment of any kind defending Williamson. This unarguably constitutes a form of extreme propaganda, rather than balanced journalism.

ITV could have turned for a comment to Jewish Voice for Labour, which said it welcomed the lifting of Williamson’s suspension, and criticised the media focus on the MP’s opponents:

There is huge support for Chris within and outside the party and this had not been reflected in the media coverage.

As we have previously noted, a key feature of a propaganda blitz is that accusations are accompanied by expressions of incandescent moral outrage:

The rationale is clear enough: insanity aside, in ordinary life outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People generally do not get very angry in the presence of significant doubt. So, the message to the public is that there is no doubt.1

Thus, Labour MP Margaret Hodge, a key Corbyn opponent, said of the decision to lift Williamson’s suspension:

It is appalling, outrageous and unacceptable that he should be allowed back into the party. It’s a cynical move… and we will have Jew haters sitting as Labour MPs under Jeremy Corbyn.

Thus, also, columnist Rod Liddle, who wrote in the Sunday Times under this title:

Unless you’re anti‑semitic, walk away from Labour — it stinks from top to bottom

As we will show below, this is a completely fake claim. In true McCarthyite tradition, Liddle observed that Williamson, who is the democratically elected MP for Derby North, ‘looks, facially – to me at least – like a man called Reinhardt who has just been discovered hiding out in Argentina and might, if you shouted “Heil Hitler”, have great difficulty controlling the actions of his right arm’.

Liddle expressed his revulsion at ‘the fact that the Labour Party nowadays finds Jew-hating an agreeable and potentially vote-winning sideline and is riddled with it, from top to bottom’, concluding:

That Williamson is anti-semitic I have no doubt. But compared with Jeremy Corbyn he is an exemplar of anti-racist progressivism.

At the other end of the supposed media ‘spectrum’, in a piece titled, ‘Of all the hills to die on, why on earth has Labour chosen Chris Williamson?’, Guardian columnist Marina Hyde described Williamson as an ‘annoying prick in a black polo-neck’ who looks like a ‘boil-washed Terence Stamp’. Hyde lamented ‘Williamson’s long history of highly problematic statements’. Significantly, she did not cite from, or link to, any such long, ugly history. Apparently parroting Jon Lansman, Chair of Labour’s Momentum group, Hyde commented:

It’s notable that the returning Williamson didn’t even bother with a non-apology apology.

It’s unlikely that Hyde cared, or even knew, that Williamson had published a long, gracious message in February that began:

A personal message and sincere apology from me regarding my recent remarks on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

He added:

On a personal level, I have been an anti-racist all my life. As a former member of the Anti-Nazi League, I participated in direct action to confront foul anti-Semites in the streets… It pains me greatly, therefore, that anyone should believe that it is my intention to minimise the cancerous and pernicious nature of anti-Semitism.

These are not the words of a ‘Jew hater’. In addition to this apology, after he was briefly reinstated to the Labour Party, Williamson reaffirmed his commitment to fighting ‘racism in all its forms’, saying he would like to ‘work in tandem’ with the Board of Deputies of British Jews as ‘allies’.

Our July 4 ProQuest national newspaper search of articles appearing in 2019 found:

Chris Williamson’ and ‘anti-semitism’ = 608 hits

Chris Williamson’ and ‘anti-nazi’ = 5 hits

Examining the results more closely, it turns out that the fact that Williamson literally fought on the streets against anti-semites as part of the Anti-Nazi League has been mentioned twice in UK national newspapers this year.

More than 150 Labour MPs and peers – the infamously pro-war, Blairite section of the party – added to the propaganda blitz by protesting the decision to readmit Williamson in a statement led by the bitterly anti-Corbyn deputy leader Tom Watson.

Also in perfect accordance with our propaganda blitz theory, the propaganda coup de grace was supplied by leftists Owen Jones of the Guardian and Ash Sarkar of the ostensibly ‘alternative’ Novara Media. Williamson’s suspension was lifted on June 26. That day, Sarkar tweeted:

This outcome is indefensible.

On June 27, having presumably missed Williamson’s earlier apology, Jones wrote:

Chris Williamson could always show he’s learned why he’s caused distress and then acted on that: I’m yet to see evidence of it.

One day later, Williamson was suspended again. Jones recently claimed that Williamson ’causes relentless immense damage to the left’.

Asked if he would ‘stand with Chris Williamson’, leftist singer Billy Bragg responded this week:

Can’t do that Daniel. Labour needs to resolve the issue of anti-semitism within the party. Right now Williamson is part of the problem, not the solution.

We asked Bragg what specifically had led him to this conclusion; he did not reply.

Examining Williamson’s ‘Litany Of Unacceptable Behaviour’

Michael Segalov, who is Jewish and a contributing editor at Huck magazine, and who supported Williamson’s original suspension in February, wrote in the Guardian:

When I heard the reports in February about Labour MP Chris Williamson, and the offensive things he’d (once again) said, it was the final straw. The comments Williamson made to a meeting in Sheffield – that when it came to antisemitism, Labour had been “too apologetic” – made me despair. I looked back through each and every example of Williamson’s despicable behaviour: lending his support to a man who defends Holocaust deniers; sharing platforms with the likes of Ken Livingstone when MPs had been specifically asked not to; his support of controversial jazz musician Gilad Atzmon; his frankly disgraceful behaviour in the aftermath of the atrocious Pittsburgh shootings. It was a litany of unacceptable behaviour.

Let’s take a closer look at these apparently damning claims. The accusation that Williamson ‘lent his support to a man who defends Holocaust deniers’ refers to political writer and activist Miko Peled, who is the Jewish son of an Israeli general. Segalov linked to a Guardian article that quoted Peled:

This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.

As blogger Number 10 noted:

Peled didn’t actually defend Holocaust deniers, as much as defended the right to debate the issue, on free speech grounds (in the same way e.g. Noam Chomsky has).

In 1980, in a piece titled, ‘Some Elementary Comments on The Rights of Freedom of Expression,’ Chomsky commented that even when dealing with the views of a ‘rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi… this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since… it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense’. (Our emphasis)

This is a highly principled and very sane position, because denying the right of free expression to genuinely ‘horrendous ideas’ runs the risk of Machiavellians manipulating and extending the definition of ‘horrendous’ to shut down free speech for political gain – exactly what is happening in Britain now. In other words, it lays the foundation for escalating censorship, witch-hunting, and in fact fascism.

As Number 10 commented:

Once again, you can disagree strongly with that notion. But it isn’t *inherently* antisemitic in and of itself.

Indeed, Segalov linked to a Guardian article quoting Peled:

The Holocaust was a terrible crime that we must study and from which we must all learn. I reject the idea that Holocaust deniers, foolish as they may be, should be treated as criminals… If we are to do justice to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, Jewish and Roma and many, many others, then we must engage in robust debate and education about the causes of current, ongoing violence and injustice.

Segalov also mentioned Williamson sharing a platform with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who said:

When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

Was this an anti-semitic statement? Jewish political analyst Professor Norman Finkelstein commented:

Livingstone maybe wasn’t precise enough, and lacked nuance. But he does know something about that dark chapter in history… The Nazis considered many “resettlement” schemes – the Jews wouldn’t have physically survived most of them in the long run – before they embarked on an outright exterminatory process. Livingstone is more or less accurate about this – or, as accurate as might be expected from a politician speaking off the cuff.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook, who is based in Israel, said:

Livingstone’s mistake was both to express himself slackly in the heat of the moment and to refer to a history that was supposed to have been disappeared down the memory hole. But what he is saying is, in essence, true.

Segalov then mentioned Williamson’s ‘support of controversial jazz musician Gilad Atzmon’. But Williamson had already responded on Atzmon last December:

Earlier today I tweeted a petition about an Islington Council ban against the Blockheads performing with their chosen line-up. The council has blocked jazz musician Gilad Atzmon from playing with the group.

Since then I’ve learned that Atzmon, a former Israeli soldier, is not confined to the jazz world. I am told that in various blogs and in speeches he has adopted anti-Semitic language.

I wasn’t aware of this until after I tweeted the petition. As soon as I was informed, I deleted the tweet. I’ve always condemned all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, and strongly disassociate myself from Atzmon’s anti-Semitic views.

I therefore apologise for tweeting this petition and any distress or offence it may have caused.

Finally, Segalov mentioned Williamson’s ‘frankly disgraceful behaviour in the aftermath of the atrocious Pittsburgh shootings’. The ‘behaviour’ involved Williamson retweeting news that a Jewish organisation relentlessly smearing him and Corbyn as anti-semites had itself been accused of using an ‘anti-semitic trope’. Williamson commented:

Wow, well blow me down with a feather.

The tweet did not comment on the Pittsburgh massacre in any way – it was in reference to a different issue in a different country. British politicians regularly comment on – in fact, lie and dissemble about – countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria on the same days that terrible atrocities occur, which they actually caused by voting for illegal wars. Nobody even notices.

It could be that Williamson is secretly a vicious anti-semite, but this simply cannot be established on the basis of any of the claims currently made against him.

Finkelstein – ‘I Don’t Believe In Conspiracy Theories… But This Is A Conspiracy’

It is important to place the Williamson suspensions in context. This is described with rare honesty and courage by Norman Finkelstein, whose mother survived the Warsaw Ghetto, the Majdanek concentration camp and two slave labour camps. Finkelstein’s father was a survivor of both the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz concentration camp. In an interview with RT in May, Finkelstein commented:

Corbyn, he did not present a threat only to Israel and Israel’s supporters, he posed a threat to the whole British elite. Across the board, from the Guardian to the Daily Mail, they all joined in the new anti-semitism campaign. Now that’s unprecedented – the entire British elite, during this whole completely contrived, fabricated, absurd and obscene assault on this alleged Labour anti-semitism, of which there is exactly zero evidence, zero.

Indeed, an October 2016 report by the Commons home affairs committee found:

Despite significant press and public attention on the Labour Party, and a number of revelations regarding inappropriate social media content, there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of antisemitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.

A September 2017 report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found:

Levels of antisemitism among those on the left-wing of the political spectrum, including the far-left, are indistinguishable from those found in the general population… The most antisemitic group on the political spectrum consists of those who identify as very right-wing: the presence of antisemitic attitudes in this group is 2 to 4 times higher compared to the general population.

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

Jonathan Cook described in February how a new Labour Party report had ‘decisively undercut’ the claims of Corbyn’s critics: allegations of anti-semitism had been made ‘against 0.08 percent of the 540,000-strong Labour membership. Hardly “endemic” or “institutional”, it seems.’

Finkelstein continued:

Yeah, there’s some fringe members of Labour who, you know, play the anti-semitic [interrupted by interviewer]… I read the polls, I read the data – it hovers between six and eight per cent are hardened anti-semites in British society. It’s nothing! Yeah, so there are a few crazies, but there’s no “institutionalised” anti-semitism in the British Labour Party. There’s no threat of anti-semitism in British society. I’ve read all the data, I’ve studied it closely. It just doesn’t exist. It’s all being designed and manipulated… I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, as you know, but this is a conspiracy.

Asked if there was a danger that false accusations might have a ‘cry wolf’ effect in undermining the credibility of genuine claims of anti-semitism, Finkelstein replied:

Well, there’s a bigger problem than that – there’s the boy who cried wolf, but I think there’s a bigger problem than that. If Corbyn loses, a lot of people in the Labour Party are going to blame it on those Jews who fabricated this whole anti-semitism witch-hunt hysteria. And that will be a problem, which… you know what the bigger problem there is? It’s true! Jews were the spearhead of this campaign to stop Corbyn. And so, there’s going to be a lot of anger within the Labour Party – that’s not anti-semitism, that’s factually based.

When reminded by his interviewer that Jews were hardly alone in promoting these accusations, Finkelstein responded:

Yes, but they play the most visible role and they play the most aggressive role. The British elites could not have gotten away with calling Corbyn an anti-semite unless they had the support, the visible support, of all the leading Jewish organisations. You have to remember that during the summer [of 2018. See here], all three major British publications, for the first time in British Jewish history, they all took out a common editorial denouncing Corbyn as an anti-semite and saying that we’re now standing on the verge of another Holocaust. They are the enablers of this concerted conspiracy by the whole of British elite society to destroy Jeremy Corbyn.

The point was made on July 2 when a small UK newspaper, Jewish News, chose to highlight a comment made in an interview with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt published the previous day:

When I went to Auschwitz I rather complacently said to myself, “thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the UK” and now I find myself faced with the leader of the Labour Party who has opened the door to antisemitism in a way that is truly frightening.

Hunt’s words represent a level of moral depravity that almost defies belief. To use the Holocaust for political gain in faking the claim that Corbyn could open the door to a second Holocaust, is to do nothing less than exploit the deaths of the 6 million Jews who died under Nazi tyranny. It is truly astonishing that a Jewish newspaper would be willing to publish such a comment. Writer Michael Rosen, a Professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, commented:

A possible future prime minister has said something about Auschwitz which the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle has said on twitter is “offensive”. None of this is – apparently – news. What is it then?

Hunt’s comment generated massive, widespread outrage on social media. And yet, our July 4 ProQuest newspaper database search found a single mention in the entire UK press (in the Daily Mail) – the comment has simply been buried, presumably to avoid damaging the anti-semitism smear campaign targeting Corbyn.

In 2018, Noam Chomsky commented on this campaign:

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

The facts all fit with Finkelstein and Chomsky’s identification of a politically motivated smear campaign. Our July 4 ProQuest search of UK newspaper articles before and after Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership in May 2015 found these mentions:

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

‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015 = 13,080 hits

None of the 18 articles accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. In his first 32 years as an MP, it was just not a theme. And not, as we have discussed, because Corbyn was not known or smeared – he was subjected to vile personal abuse by the press, just not in relation to any supposed anti-semitism.

Conclusion – Grounds For Expulsion

As Finkelstein noted, it is absurd and obscene to suggest that Jews in Britain are facing a second Holocaust under Corbyn; it is a monstrous fabrication. But if expressing anti-semitism merits expulsion from the Labour Party when there is no threat to Jewish people in British society, how are we to respond to the acts of politicians who personally vote to authorise illegal British and US wars in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria? These acts are not merely examples of prejudice, they do not merely offend – they kill, maim and displace literally millions of people, bringing whole countries to their knees.

The ethical demerit of mere words suggesting that the Labour Party has been too apologetic in defending its record on racism cannot possibly compare to political actions that launched wars causing almost unimaginable levels of human suffering. The very suggestion that they can be compared, or that the words are worse, can itself be viewed as a form of mass murder denial, of a fascistic disregard for ‘our’ crimes destroying human life.

And here, finally, we can find credible grounds for suspending Williamson. He, after all, ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’

Notably, Williamson shamed himself by voting for the illegal war of aggression, the oil grab, that reduced Libya to a smoking ruin in 2011. But the same, of course, is true of almost all his Labour and Tory critics, who could all be suspended and expelled for the same reason.

  1. David Edwards and David Cromwell, Propaganda Blitz, Pluto Press, 2018, p. 6.
  2. Chomsky, email to Media Lens, 9 September 2018.

The Shaving Kit: Manufacturing The Julian Assange Witch-Hunt

Last week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed the US extradition request to hand over Julian Assange, who is charged with 18 counts of violating the US Espionage Act. Assange’s immediate fate now lies in the hands of the British justice system.

Javid ‘consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas’, including war on Afghanistan, Syria and the catastrophic 2011 assault on Libya. In other words, he is a key figure in precisely the US-UK Republican-Democratic-Conservative-Labour war machine exposed by WikiLeaks.

John Pilger described Assange’s extradition hearing last week to The Real News Network:

I don’t think these initial extradition hearings will be fair at all, no… He’s not allowed to defend himself. He’s not given access to a computer so that he can access the documents and files that he needs.

I think where it will change is if the lower court – the magistrate’s court that is dealing with it now and will deal with it over the next almost nine, ten months – if they decide to extradite Julian Assange, his lawyers will appeal. And it will go up to the High Court. And I think it’s there in the High Court where he may well – I say “may” – get justice. That’s a cautiously optimistic view. But I think he’s most likely to get it there. He certainly won’t get it the United States. There’s no indication of that.

As we noted in a media alert last week, the groundwork for the persecution of Assange has been laid by a demonising state-corporate propaganda campaign. Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who is also Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow, has turned the accepted ‘mainstream’ view of Assange completely on its head:

First of all, we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady “hacker”, “sex offender” and selfish “narcissist” has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.

By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school. (Our emphasis)

These are very significant, credible comments and, as we will discuss below, Melzer recently provided a stunning example on Twitter of how this ‘carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled’ image of Assange has been faked.

Melzer’s revelation concerns Assange’s long, dishevelled beard, which was a source of much ‘mainstream’ hilarity when Assange was arrested and dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy on April 11. First, let’s remind ourselves of some of the grim highlights of this media coverage. In the Daily Mail, Amanda Platell wrote:

How humiliating that as the alleged sexual predator Julian Assange emerged from Ecuador’s embassy, flourishing a wild beard, Australian scientists revealed a primordial link between “flamboyant accoutrements such as beards” and titchy testicles.

In the New Statesman, the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore celebrated:

O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented looking gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or “the met” as normal people call them.

In the Evening Standard, William Moore commented:

Julian Assange… looked like a sort of mad Lord of the Rings extra as he was hauled away from the Ecuadorian embassy last week.

Charlotte Edwardes wrote in the Evening Standard:

Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadorian embassy brought his straggly beard into the light. The Beard Liberation Front gets in touch to say he will not be considered for its annual shortlist of the best facial hair. “It is impossible to unequivocally state that his beard presents a positive public image,” it says.1

David Aaronovitch of The Times tweeted:

I see Tolstoy has just been arrested in central London.

Like so many journalists, Derek Momodu, the Daily Mirror‘s Associate Picture Editor, made a joke about a bearded character from the BBC comedy series ‘Only Fools And Horses’:

Unconfirmed reports that Wikileaks boss Julian Assange tried to pass as Uncle Albert to avoid arrest – but no-one was fooled.

The Daily Star devoted an entire article to the mockery:

Bearded Julian Assange compared to Uncle Albert as Twitter reacts to arrest

Pamela Anderson’s favourite fella has got a surprising new look.

Embedded in the piece was a Daily Star reader survey that attracted 234 votes:

Would you describe Julian Assange as…

A hero [36%]

A weirdo’ [64%]

Unsurprising results, given the context and the wider political-media campaign.

The Daily Express also devoted an article to comedy takes of this kind:

Hilarious Julian Assange memes have swept Twitter in the wake of the Wikileaks founder’s arrest including one he tried to pass himself off as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – here are the best ones.

In The Times, Ben Macintyre wrote a piece titled, ‘Julian Assange belongs with crackpots and despots’, observing that Assange had been ‘hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy, wearing the same beard and outraged expression as Saddam Hussein on removal from his foxhole’. The caption accompanying the photos said it all:

Julian Assange revelled in holding court at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Right, the Panamanian [dictator] General Manuel Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy in 1989

There are clear Stalinist and Big Brother echoes when one of the most important political dissidents of our time generates this headline (subsequently edited) in the Daily Mail:

A soaring ego. Vile personal habits. And after years in his squalid den, hardly a friend left: DOWNFALL OF A NARCISSIST

The title of a Guardian press review also headlined completely fake, Ecuadorian government claims that Assange had smeared the walls of the embassy with his own excrement as highlighted in The Sun:

“Whiffyleaks”: what the papers say about Julian Assange’s arrest

The assumption behind all these comments, of course, was that Assange’s beard was further confirmation that he was ‘a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob’, as ‘leftist’ media favourite Ash Sarkar of Novara Media tweeted. Or, as the Guardian‘s George Monbiot wrote in opposing Assange’s extradition:

Whether or not you like Assange’s politics (I don’t), or his character (ditto)…

As discussed, Nils Melzer argues that Assange has become ‘”unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion’, not because of who he is, but because of a state-sponsored propaganda campaign – the journalists listed above are either complicit or dupes. This media charade was exposed with great clarity by Melzer’s revelation on Twitter:

How public humiliation works: On 11 April, Julian Assange was mocked for his beard throughout the world. During my visit, he explained to us that his shaving kit had been deliberately taken away three months earlier.

It had simply never occurred to the great herd of journalists – which understood that Assange was someone to be smeared, mocked and abused – that his appearance might have something to do with Ecuador’s brutal treatment cutting off his communications, his visitors and even his medical care. Fidel Narvaez, former consul at the Ecuadorian embassy from the first day Assange arrived, on 19 June 2012, until 15 July 2018, said the Ecuadorian regime under president Lenin Moreno had tried to make life ‘unbearable’ for Assange.

As part of a Swedish project in support of Assange, a message containing an offer from Melzer to be interviewed was emailed to around 500 individuals, primarily Swedish journalists. Recipients were able to reply with a single click on an embedded link in the message. Not a single journalist did so. In an email copied to Media Lens, Melzer commented:

My impression is that, after my initial press release, most of the mainstream media have gone into something like a shock paralysis leaving them unable to process the enormous contradiction between their own misguided portraits of Assange and the terrifying truth of what has been going on in reality. The problem, of course, is that mainstream media bear a significant share of the responsibility for enabling this disgraceful witch-hunt and now have to muster up the strength to face their tragic failure to objectively inform and empower the people in this case.

One of my own nationalities being Swedish, I am quite familiar with what a certain obsession with political correctness can do to one’s capacity for critical thinking. But the fact that, of more than 500 solicited Swedish journalists, not a single one was interested in an in-depth interview with a Swiss-Swedish UN expert publicly accusing Sweden of judicial persecution and psychological torture, speaks to a level of denial and self-censorship that can hardly be reconciled with objective and informative reporting.2

It is indeed a dramatic example of denial and self-censorship. But, alas, there is no ‘shock paralysis’, for corporate media have been treating the best-informed, most courageous and most honest truth-tellers this way for years and decades.

When Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned in protest in September 1998, describing the UN sanctions regime he had set up and run as ‘genocidal’, his comments were mentioned in passing then forgotten. The same treatment was afforded his successor as UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponeck, who resigned in protest at the sanctions in February 2000. Since its publication in 2006, von Sponeck’s forensic, deeply rational and deeply damning account of his experiences, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, (Berghahn Books, 2006), has been mentioned once across the entire US-UK press, in a single paragraph of 139 words in an article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, and never reviewed.3

At a time of maximum global media coverage of Iraq, Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times. Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 8,827 articles mentioning Iraq in 2004; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times.

In 2002, Scott Ritter, former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 declared that Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998, signifying that the case for war was an audacious fraud.4  In the 12,366 articles mentioning Iraq in 2003, the Guardian and Observer mentioned Ritter a total of 17 times.

In February, we described how Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, had commented that US sanctions were illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law. Our ProQuest UK media database search for the last six months for corporate newspaper articles containing:

‘de Zayas’ and ‘Venezuela’ = 2 hits

One of these, bitterly critical, in The Times, was titled:

Radical Chic – The UN’s system of human rights reporting is a politicised travesty

There have been a couple of other mentions in the Independent online, but, once again, we find ourselves reaching for the same comment from Noam Chomsky that sums it up so well:

The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.5

  1. Edwardes, ‘Julian Assange’s removal’, Evening Standard, 12 April 2019.
  2. Melzer, email, 13 June 2019.
  3. Fisk, ‘Fear climate change, not our enemies’, The Independent, 20 Jan 2007.
  4. Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23.
  5. Chomsky, ‘Deterring Democracy’, Hill and Wang, 1992, p. 79.

Buried In Broad Daylight: The “Free Press” And The Leaked OPCW Report On Douma

A defining feature of the propaganda system is that facts supporting the agenda of Western power are pushed to the forefront of the ‘mainstream’ media, while inconvenient facts are buried. A prime example is the shameful media silence in response to a devastating document leaked from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), discussed in a recent media alert. The document, an engineering assessment of two chlorine cylinders found at two separate locations after an attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018, casts serious doubt on the official narrative that Syrian government forces had dropped them from helicopters. The claim that Assad had used chemical weapons ‘against his own civilians’ was used by the US, UK and France to ‘justify’ missile strikes on ‘chemical weapons facilities’ on April 14, 2018.

One of the cylinders was found on top of a four-storey building with its front end lodged in a hole in the roof. The other cylinder was found lying on a bed in the top-floor room of an apartment with a crater-like opening in the roof. Engineering analysis – based on measurements, photographs and computer modelling – were conducted on the two cylinders and the scenes where they were found. The aim was to ‘evaluate the possible means by which these two cylinders arrived at their respective locations as observed.’ The leaked report, signed by Ian Henderson, a senior OPCW engineer with many years’ experience, concluded:

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft. [Our emphasis.]

But this dissenting engineering analysis was excluded from the final OPCW Fact-Finding Mission report presented to the UN Security Council on March 1, 2019.

Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose main expertise is in ballistic missiles, gave an initial assessment of the leaked OPCW report on May 21, and agreed with its conclusion. He summarised:

Observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

In short:

Two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. [Our emphasis.]

On June 4, Postol released a more in-depth assessment which completely rejected the propaganda claim that the cylinders could only have been dropped from Syrian government helicopters. This strengthens the conclusion that the April 2018 Douma attacks were indeed staged, presumably by Syrian rebels attempting to provoke a Western military response against Assad (and perhaps even with Western connivance).

Postol noted the glaring discrepancies between the OPWC report that was submitted to the UN (minus the dissenting analysis of the leaked document) and the facts on the ground:

The calculations produced as proof for the conclusions bear no relationship to what was observed at the scene and both the observed data from the scene and the calculations bear no relationship to the reported findings.

Postol expanded:

An important characteristic of concrete is that it is brittle. By definition, such a material is not flexible but will develop cracks and fail catastrophically when subjected to stresses that are sufficiently large. Concrete can be substantially strengthened [as in this case] by embedding reinforcing steel rebar or other strong but flexible materials within it. The rebar performs the function of maintaining the strength of the material when it is flexed rather than failing catastrophically as is the case with the surrounding brittle material.

He added:

A very important additional phenomenon associated with the impact of an object can be the creation of a hole due to a process that is generally referred to as “tunneling.” Because the breach created by the penetrating object results in the crushing and pushing of brittle concrete as the object moves forward, the diameter of the hole produced by the impact of the object will be very close to that of the penetrating object. This means that a hole created by a 40 cm diameter chlorine cylinder should be close to 40 cm in diameter…

But this was not the case:

The diameter of the hole is nearly twice that of the cylinder and the steel rebar that was supposed to stop the cylinder from penetrating through the roof is instead completely shattered and bent away from the forward direction by more than 60°… This photograph shows that the crater was produced by an explosion on the roof which had nothing to do with the impact of a chlorine cylinder. These discrepancies simply mean that the cylinder was placed on the roof after the hole was produced by the explosion of a mortar shell or artillery rocket.

Postol provided much more detail, but this was his summary:

There is absolutely no doubt that the OPCW finding that the chlorine cylinder found at what it identifies as Location 2 did not produce the hole in the roof that allegedly led to the killing of more than 30 people that the OPCW claims were trapped and poisoned in the building. The OPCW’s own science-based technical analysis does not come close to matching what was observed at Location 2.

The only possible conclusion is that ‘chemical weapons attacks’ at the two sites where the cylinders were found must have been staged.

Postol praised the high-quality analysis presented in the leaked OPCW document. But he was damning about senior OPCW management who had disregarded the dissenting engineering assessment and instead presented a deeply biased and misleading final report to the UN:

The OPCW has been compromised in terms of the content they are providing. The deception of the OPCW is quite blatant. Perhaps they are not used to people who are knowledgeable on these issues scrutinizing their material.

On June 3, Labour MP Chris Williamson submitted a parliamentary question:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, with reference to investigations suggesting that reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government in Douma in April 2018 were staged and with reference to reports that OPCW expert advice was redacted from its final report, whether he has made a reassessment of the decision to bomb targets in Syria in 2018.

In an interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s Going Underground, Williamson rightly pointed to the insidious part played by the ‘mainstream’ media:

The hysterical mainstream media at the time a year ago who seemed to be clamouring for military airstrikes have been incredibly silent about this [leaked OPCW report]. I remember having a very rough interview on Channel 4 about the whole issue. And yet they seem to, as far as I’m aware, have failed to follow up now with this quite damning revelation which has been brought to light by a whistle-blower.

He added:

What is very regrettable today is the tradition that we used to take for granted, that investigative journalists – serious journalists like John Pilger – seem to be sadly lacking these days.

Williamson also cited Robert Fisk – ‘a very unusual animal these days’ – who reported from Douma last April, after interviewing civilians in the vicinity of the alleged chemical weapon attacks. A senior Syrian doctor, Dr Assim Rahaibani, told him that the ‘gas’ video that had so horrified the world showed patients who had been overcome, not by gas, but by oxygen starvation:

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.

BBC Syria producer Riam Dalati said earlier this year via Twitter that:

After almost six months of investigation, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma hospital scene was staged.

He subsequently set his Twitter status to ‘private’. Moreover, in a now deleted tweet, he stated two days after the Douma attack:

Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

As far as we know, BBC News has never given proper coverage to the serious doubts surrounding the alleged ‘chemical weapons’ attack on Douma, other than to ascribe such doubts to Syrian and Russian government claims of ‘fabrication’. As we saw with Iraq and Saddam’s ‘denials of WMD’, a powerful propaganda technique to dismiss facts, evidence and truth is to make them come out the mouths of Official Enemies.

The BBC Goes Quiet

That the OPCW may be so compromised as to present a misleading report to the UN Security Council that could be used as post-facto ‘justification’ for a Western military attack is, to say the least, an extremely grave matter. Indeed, it casts doubt on the whole integrity of an important international organisation. Ted Postol said in an interview with Sharmini Piries of The Real News Network that he believes the official OPCW report into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun on April 4, 2017 – almost exactly one year before the Douma attack – may also have been ‘severely compromised’.

As Tim Hayward, a member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), the group of independent scholars and researchers that originally published the leaked OPWC document, noted:

While Western politicians and news media echo tropes about obstructive Russia & outlaw Syria, States of Non-Aligned Movement and China share their concerns about politicisation and polarising of OPCW.

Hayward added:

Suppressed OPCW document undermines the claimed justification for Western missile strikes on Syria in April 2018, and it reveals an organisation in need of radical reform.

Regardless of the findings of the official and leaked OPCW reports, the leaders of the US, UK and France, including Prime Minister Theresa May, were guilty of launching an unprovoked military attack on another country in violation of the UN Charter; the ‘supreme international crime’, in the words of the post-WW2 Nuremberg judgment. These are issues that would, in a sane media system, be extensively reported and debated.

However, as we wrote over three weeks ago in our earlier media alert, other than the small-circulation, left-wing Morning Star, the damning leaked document has been mentioned in just two articles in the national press: one by Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday and one in the Independent by Robert Fisk. Remarkably, but unsurprisingly, this remains the case at the time of writing. Nor is there a single mention of it anywhere on the BBC News website. Hitchens has also submitted questions direct to the OPCW which appear to have been ignored by the body.

Our repeated challenges to senior BBC journalists, including Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s head of news, have met with a stony silence, with one exception. Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent, replied via Twitter on May 24:

Thanks for your message. I am in Geneva today, in Sarajevo and Riga last week, and heading to Gulf next week. It’s an important story. Will make sure programmes know about it. As you know, UK outlets focused on May & Brexit last few days. [Our emphasis.]

Let us set aside the implausible argument that ‘UK outlets focused on May & Brexit’ should preclude any coverage of a vital reappraisal of the West’s ‘justification’ of an attack on Syria; or the notion that senior editors at the BBC, with its vast monitoring resources, would have to be informed by Doucet of the leaked document. But, if we were to take Doucet’s words at face value, she would surely be happy to respond to our follow-up query, asking for an update. Seemingly not. She has now retreated behind the wider, blanketing BBC silence.

And yet, last week, evidence emerged that the BBC is well aware of the leaked document. In a live-streamed panel debate at the annual meeting of GLOBSEC, a global security thinktank, on June 6, the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner asked OPCW director-general Fernando Arias about the Independent report ‘by someone called Robert Fisk’. Was this an example of fake news? In his evasive reply, Arias stated that:

All the information given by any inspectors is considered but sometimes it is not fit to the conclusion. [Our emphasis.]

This remarkable admission that serious evidence and analysis were disregarded because it does ‘not fit the conclusion’ went unchallenged by the BBC’s Gardner and everyone else in the room. It echoed the infamous statement in the 2002 Downing Street memo on plans to invade Iraq that ‘the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’ The focus of Arias’s concern was to defend the OPCW and to identify the whistle-blower, stating that:

‘”actions had to be taken” following the leak…” I stand by the impartial and professional conclusions” of the full OPCW report.’

On June 12, Peter Hitchens, mentioned earlier for his excellent reporting on Syria, challenged Gardner on whether he had reported his exchange with the OPCW director-general. Later that day, Hitchens tweeted:

BBC this afternoon stated that @FrankRGardner has *not* reported on the exchange, indeed BBC as a whole, despite vast resources paid for by licence holders, has yet to report at all on this major development.

The only response to the leaked OPCW report by a Guardian journalist so far appears to have been this remarkable outburst from George Monbiot on Twitter:

The Assad apologists are out in force again, and baying for blood. It’s chilling to see how they latch onto one person’s contentious account of a single atrocity, while ignoring the vast weight of evidence for chemical weapons use and conventional massacres by the govt. #Syria

Monbiot added:

They seek to exonerate one of the bloodiest mass murderers on the planet, denying his crimes and whitewashing his record. In doing so, they share some of the blame for his ongoing mass killing of Syrian people.

As we, and many other people, pointed out, this was an inexplicably irrational response to an obviously important, indisputably authentic, highly credible, leaked document that was not at all ‘one person’s… account’. The leaked material simply has to be taken seriously and investigated, not dismissed out of hand. We are, after all, talking about possible war crimes under Trump, the famously dangerous, fascist US President every liberal journalist is supposed to be determined to excoriate at every possible turn. Why should we not, then, describe Monbiot as a ‘Trump apologist’?

Last year, during an exchange about Syria, Hitchens told Monbiot what we had already concluded about him:

This is important. I have until now regarded you as a fundamentally decent and honest person (and defended you against those who have argued otherwise). But your behaviour in this matter is causing me to reconsider this opinion. Please argue honestly.

The near-total ‘mainstream’ media blanking of the leaked OPCW document is a genuinely disturbing sign of growing corporate media conformity and totalitarian-style mendacity. In the age of social media – with netizens repeatedly challenging the likes of the BBC’s Lyse Doucet and the Guardian‘s George Monbiot – the stonewalling, and the denial of newsworthiness, is happening in plain sight. Corporate journalists know that it is important, they know that we know that it is important, they know that we are asking why they are ignoring it, and they are ignoring us anyway, with the whole act of censorship swathed in silence. As the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.

“Mirthless Laugh”: The Persecution And Torture Of Julian Assange

For anyone persuaded by the state-corporate campaign of sneers and smears depicting Julian Assange as a shit-smearing narcissist and rapist, the comments made by Nils Melzer, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, must be deeply shocking. The BBC headline:

Julian Assange subjected to psychological torture, UN expert says

Melzer is Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow. He also holds the Human Rights Chair at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Switzerland, where he has been teaching since 2009, including as the Swiss Chair of International Humanitarian Law (2011–2013). Melzer previously worked for 12 years with the International Committee of the Red Cross as Deputy Head of Delegation and Legal Adviser in various zones of conflict and violence. He commented:

I’ve worked in many areas of war in my life, in situations of violence, and I’ve talked to victims of persecution around the world and I’ve seen very serious atrocities.

But [what] I have never seen is that a single person has been deliberately isolated and, I would say, persecuted – not prosecuted, but persecuted – by several democratic states in a concerted effort to eventually break his will.

Melzer added that, because of his treatment, Assange’s health was at serious risk:

We could see that Assange showed all the symptoms that are typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture.

Assange, he said, needs access to a psychiatrist who is ‘not part of the prison service – someone he can fully trust’ – to avoid his health deteriorating further.

In an interview with The Canary, Melzer described exactly how and by whom Assange has been ‘persecuted’:

The evidence made available to me strongly suggests that the primary responsibility for the sustained and concerted abuse inflicted on Mr Assange falls on the governments of the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and, more recently, also Ecuador…

The consistent and repeated failure of all involved states to protect Mr Assange’s fundamental right to fair judicial proceedings and due process makes the hypothesis of mere coincidence extremely unrealistic and gives a strong impression of bias and arbitrary manipulation. This starts with the secretive grand jury indictment in the United States, continues with the abusive manner in which Swedish prosecutors disseminated, re-cycled and perpetuated their “preliminary investigation” into alleged sexual offences, exacerbates with the termination by Ecuador of Mr Assange’s asylum status and citizenship without any form of due process, and culminates in overt bias against Mr Assange being shown by British judges since his arrest.

The only realistic explanation for this sustained systemic failure of the judiciary is that the United States, and probably also the other involved states, are trying to make an example of Mr Assange before the eyes of the world, not as much as a punishment for whatever real or perceived harm he is alleged to have caused, but as a measure of deterrence for others who might be tempted to imitate Wikileaks and Mr Assange in the future. In these circumstances, Mr Assange has absolutely no chance to get a fair judicial proceeding in any of these jurisdictions.

With admirable candour, Melzer explained to Democracy Now! how he had himself been influenced by the smear campaign:

[I] had been affected by the prejudice that I had absorbed through… public… narratives spread in the media over the years. And only when I scratched the surface a little bit, I saw how little foundation there was to back this up and how much fabrication and manipulation there is in this case.

He made the same point on Twitter:

For the record: I never said I considered #JulianAssange “a bad actor” but that, initially, I had been affected by the same misguided smear campaign as everybody else, and only saw the real facts once I investigated in detail

This comment instantly recalled the ‘mainstream’ commentators who have seemed so certain in their damning view of Assange. We thought, for example, of Guardian commentator Suzanne Moore, who said of Assange on Twitter in 2012:

He really is the most massive turd.

Tragicomically, Moore then commented to a colleague:

I never met him. Did you?

We tweeted Melzer’s thoughtful tweet to Moore and two other leading lights of the Guardian’s smear campaign below this message:

If one tweet might give Guardianistas like @MarinaHyde @HadleyFreeman and @suzanne_moore pause for thought, perhaps it’s this one from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Marina Hyde responded:

What a privilege for us ladies to be lectured on our incorrect response to a rape accusation by the men who have famously only read one book (Manufacturing Consent, and they didn’t even understand aspects of that)

Hyde was bluffing about her supposed insight into our misreading of Manufacturing Consent. The late Edward Herman, the book’s lead author, told us repeatedly, ‘Media Lens is doing an outstanding job’, often emailed us in support and regularly sent donations. The book’s co-author, Noam Chomsky, has said: ‘Am really impressed with what you are doing’1  and commented on our latest book, Propaganda Blitz (Pluto Press, 2018): ‘A great book. I’ve been recommending it.’ In response to earlier dismissive remarks on Twitter in 2015, former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald commented to us, copying to Hyde:

Mocking you as conspiracists is how UK journalists demonstrate their in-group coolness to one another: adolescent herd behavior’2

Hyde was similarly bluffing in accusing us of lecturing (in effect, ‘mansplaining’) – we were simply highlighting credible, new expert testimony. And she was also bluffing in making an issue of our gender: obviously, Melzer’s comments stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of the gender of people recommending them. If Hyde imagines the opinion of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture is skewed by sexist bias, then she should feel free to supply the evidence.

Sometimes, of course, gender does matter, and it is why we selected just these three Guardian commentators for inclusion in our tweet. As anyone who has been following the smear campaign knows, female journalists have been used by the Guardian and other media to lead attacks on a male political dissident facing accusations of rape; their gender helping to empower and protect the smears. Hyde’s tweet provided an excellent example – male critics can be instantly dismissed as ‘lecturing’ ‘mansplainers’, ‘misogynists’ and ‘rape apologists’. As Chomsky has pointed out, there is very little one can do to defend against these personal attacks:

There’s no way to respond. Slinging mud always works.

‘Poisoned Junk Food’ – Smirks, Giggles and Laughter

In 2013, Hyde responded to Assange’s plight inside the Ecuadorian embassy with a question:

Who in all seriousness can continue to suppress the odd smirk at the thought of Assange, holed up with his sunbed and his computer and his radioactive self-regard…?

And:

Many natural allies will recall the various moments at which they first realised they would have to work incredibly hard not to giggle at the WikiLeaks founder.

Why would one of the most important, courageous and effective truth-tellers of our time merit this kind of vicious mockery? Hyde speculated that the Ecuadorian ambassador might have insisted that Assange be allowed to leave for medical treatment, because ‘she had the terminal ministrations of an NHS geriatric ward in mind’. In other words, perhaps the ambassador wanted him out and even dead. Bitter comments indeed, now that Assange really has been moved to a prison hospital. His defence lawyer, Per Samuelson, said recently that Assange’s state of health was such ‘that it was not possible to conduct a normal conversation with him’.

Samuelson’s comments have been supported by testimony, as well as shocking photos and video, from a fellow inmate inside Belmarsh, London’s highest security prison. The photos were taken of Assange before he fell ill and was moved to the prison’s hospital wing last month. Nevertheless, he looks thin and much older than his actual age:

The photos reveal a thin blue mattress within a scarce and very small cell.

The photos of Assange himself reveal considerable weight loss since I last visited him in the Ecuadorian embassy in March.

Over many years, the abuse has poured from Hyde’s keyboard:

Assange… the very name seems a sledgehammer hybrid of ass and angel.

And:

Assange seems quite insufferable, certainly in any sort of long term.

Hyde never tires of smirking, giggling and laughing at Assange’s horrendous situation:

If one subscribes to the view that only an ultimately insufferable narcissist could have had the balls to do what he did, then it was always going to come to this. But when so very few come out of a story well, from star to supporters, perhaps a mirthless laugh is the only option left.

In 2016, Hyde wrote:

For my money he looks more and more like just another guy failing to face up to a rape allegation.

Now that the US is openly seeking Assange’s extradition, having charged him with violating the Espionage Act and computer hacking, it is clear that Hyde was just plain wrong – Assange was not motivated to avoid the Swedish allegations, he was genuinely and rightly acting in fear of US extradition. Melzer commented that he believes Assange ‘has a very strong case, and a very reasonable fear, that if he gets extradited to the Unites States he has no chance to get a fair trial with the level of public and official prejudice that exists there for him’.

Also in 2016, Hyde referred to the ‘latest flare-up of Knightsbridge’s Assange condition’, as if Assange was a disease.

Her gender has not protected the actress Pamela Anderson, a high-profile supporter of Assange, from Hyde’s poison pen. As part of her effort to present Assange as a ridiculous, sleazy figure, Hyde has repeatedly highlighted Anderson’s background in TV. She wrote in February 2017:

The Baywatch star and the Wikileaks founder are being coy about their closeness, stoked by vegan snacks in the confines of the Ecuadorian embassy.

In June 2017, Hyde commented:

The former Baywatch star is in amorous mode online as she extols the virtues of her WikiLeaks hunk.

And again in May 2018:

The ballad of Pammy and Julian Assange – her poor, mournful sea lion – The WikiLeaks emperor has been wrongly accused of so many things, says the former Baywatch star. But can their relationship survive now that the Ecuadorian embassy has cut his internet?

We asked John Pilger for comment. He replied:

I have known Julian Assange since he first landed in the UK. My respect for him as a journalist and free thinker and human being has grown with every landmark of his remarkable achievements and personal struggle. The arrival of WikiLeaks – as publisher and protector of whistleblowers – has revolutionised journalism while shaming those self-endowed with a divine prerogative to guard the boundaries of public knowledge; they include the lazy, the echoes, the agents of power, the over-paid poseurs.

The authenticity and accuracy of WikiLeaks’ disclosures have no equal and achieve what real journalists should aspire to, but rarely do any more. They tell the public what governments and their rapacious vested interests conceal from us. This makes the witch-hunting of Julian beyond contempt. I remember one of his media smearers, speaking to an audience of students, mocking the very idea that Julian could end up in an American Guantanamo. Today, Julian is within the grasp of a vengeful and largely lawless US system, his life at risk. Watch now how the faux-journalists have fallen silent or are writing their tweets and editorials that betray a fear that they may be next for Trump’s wild west justice.

When I visited Julian in Belmarsh prison I was astonished by his courage and resilience but I worried about his vulnerability. He is ill; there is only so much the man can take. Shame on his craven assassins. Let civilised people give him the support he deserves and to which he has every right. What he and Chelsea Manning are enduring is just the beginning of a subversion not only of journalism but of dissent and democracy itself, if we allow it.3

The Canary asked Melzer about the media’s role in the persecution of Assange. He discussed the immense influence of the corporate media:

This enormous power comes with an equally enormous ethical responsibility. Many media outlets and individual journalists have shown a remarkable lack of critical independence and have contributed significantly to spreading abusive and deliberately distorted narratives about Mr Assange.

When the media find it more appropriate to spread humiliating jokes about Mr Assange’s cat, his skateboard and his faeces, than to challenge governments consistently refusing to hold their officials accountable for wars of aggression, corruption and serious international crimes, they demonstrate a deplorable lack of responsibility, decency and respect not only towards Mr Assange, but also towards their own readers, hearers and viewers, whom they are supposed to inform and empower. It is a bit like being served poisoned junk food at a restaurant – a betrayal of trust with potentially serious consequences.

First of all, we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady ‘hacker’, ‘sex offender’ and selfish ‘narcissist’ has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.

By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school.’ (Our emphasis)

According to the ProQuest media database, since Melzer reported on Assange’s condition on May 31, the Guardian has mentioned his name in one article.

As Melzer says, corporate media have an astonishing power to influence what we think. We are all vulnerable to the impact of numerous, apparently independent and impartial journalists all insisting that Assange is a vile narcissist, that Jeremy Corbyn is a dangerous anti-semite, that Nicolas Maduro is a brutal dictator, that Gaddafi is planning a vast massacre, that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction that pose a genuine threat to the West, that Iran is working on a ‘nuclear trigger’, and so on.

We are always invited to suspend disbelief – these claims could be accurate. But when a massively hyped state-corporate narrative is ‘too good to be true’ from the perspective of power, then we are all well-advised to suspect the consensus and look much deeper, exactly as Melzer did.

  1. Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 14, 2005.
  2. Greenwald, Twitter, 25 August 2015.
  3. Email to Media Lens, 10 June 2019.

Life Or Death: Corporate Media or Honest Media?

Relying on the corporate media, including BBC News, to provide a reliable account of the world is literally a matter of life or death, on many levels.

Imagine, for example, a Russian dissident living in the UK who had published copious evidence of Russian war crimes, and who had then sought political asylum in an embassy in London. Imagine if that dissident were then expelled from the embassy, under pressure from Russia, immediately imprisoned in a high-security prison here and faced with the prospect of extradition to Russia to face life imprisonment or the death sentence. There would be a massive uproar in the Western media. Western political leaders would issue strong statements of disapproval and demand the freedom of a brave dissident. The case of Julian Assange, co-founder of WikiLeaks, is much worse. He is being pursued relentlessly by a powerful country, the United States, of which he is not even a citizen.

US prosecutors are now reportedly helping themselves to Assange’s possessions, including medical records and two manuscripts. Baltasar Garzon, international legal co-ordinator for the defence of Assange and WikiLeaks, urged international bodies to intervene in what he called: “an unprecedented attack on the rights of the defence, freedom of expression and access to information.”

He added:

It is extremely worrying that Ecuador has proceeded with the search and seizure of property, documents, information and other material belonging to the defence of Julian Assange, which Ecuador arbitrarily confiscated, so that these can be handed over to the agent of political persecution against him, the United States.

The US is undoubtedly looking for evidence to build a bogus case against Assange to lock him away for life for alleged crimes against the world’s number one rogue state. As Noam Chomsky has long observed, the US behaves like the Mafia writ large. You go against their power at your peril.

The incentives for Ecuador, under a Washington-friendly government led by Lenín Moreno since 2017, to behave in this appalling manner are obvious. A report in The Canary spelled it out: “Ecuador is raking in new [trade] deals with the UK and US after handing over Julian Assange.”

In Sweden, surely under US pressure, prosecutors have now applied for a warrant for Assange’s arrest. Craig Murray provided the vital background to this latest disgraceful development, pointing to the: “incredible and open bias of the courts against Assange […] since day 1.”

The former British diplomat is clear about the crucial importance of the work of WikiLeaks and Assange:

Julian Assange revolutionised publishing by bringing the public direct access to massive amounts of raw material showing secrets the government wished to hide. By giving the public this direct access he cut out the filtering and mediating role of the journalistic and political classes.

Murray pointed out the contrast with the Panama Papers, detailing how the super-rich hide their money, covered by the Guardian and other ‘mainstream media’ outlets with great fanfare. However, contrary to media promises, such coverage:

only ever saw less than 2% of the raw material published and where major western companies and individuals were completely protected from revelation because of the use of MSM [“mainstream” media] intermediaries.

He continued:

Or compare Wikileaks to the Snowden files, the vast majority of which have now been buried and will never be revealed, after foolishly being entrusted to the Guardian and the Intercept. Assange cut out the intermediary role of the mediating journalist and, by allowing the people to see the truth about how they are governed, played a major role in undercutting public confidence in the political establishment that exploits them.

John Pilger, a staunch defender of Assange and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, as all journalists should be, said via Twitter:

The filthy war on Julian #Assange and Chelsea Manning, whose heresy is to have revealed the crimes of great power, intensifies. Craven Sweden plays to its theatre of darkness while Assange the prisoner is denied even his glasses.

Manning is yet again back in prison, following a brief spell of freedom. She has steadfastly refused to testify to a secret grand jury in Virginia that is attempting to entrap her into revealing incriminating evidence about her past communications with WikiLeaks. The reluctance of corporate journalists, and even human rights groups, to support Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks is symptomatic of a broken political system still masquerading as ‘democracy’.

Missing Headlines on Douma

The freedom of the Western media, then, is a cruel deception. In reality, the corporate media has paved the way for war after war: Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen; and possible future wars in Venezuela and Iran. On and on it goes. Last week, a leaked document from the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), directly contradicted the concocted ‘consensus’ that Syrian President Assad’s forces dropped canisters containing poison gas from helicopters over Douma on April 7, 2018, killing dozens of civilians. The claim was crucial to the justification given by Western governments for launching air strikes on Syria one week later, relayed dutifully by the Guardian in its headline: “Syria: US, UK and France launch strikes in response to chemical attack.”

The leaked report was published by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), a group of independent scholars and researchers, and signed by Ian Henderson, an engineering expert who, as independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone noted, has been listed in leadership positions on OPCW documents as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. The report concluded:

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.

WGSPM concluded in their analysis of the leaked engineering report that it is: “beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged chemical attack in Douma on 7 April 2018 was staged.”

Theodore Postol, professor of science, technology, and international security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave his initial assessment of the leaked report and concurred that the alleged chemical attack was staged:

The OPCW engineering assessment unambiguously describes evidence collected by the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) that indicates two analyzed chlorine cylinder attacks were staged in April 2018 in Douma. The holes in the reinforced concrete roofs that were supposedly produced by high-speed impacts (impact at speeds of perhaps 100 m/s or more, 250 mph) of industrial chlorine canisters dropped from helicopters were instead created by earlier explosions of either artillery rockets or mortar shells. In one event a chlorine canister that was damaged on another occasion was placed on the roof with its head inserted into an existing crater hole, and in the other case a damaged chlorine cylinder was placed on a bed supposedly after it penetrated the building roof and bounced from its original trajectory into a bed. In both cases the damage to the chlorine cylinders was incompatible with the damage to the surroundings that was allegedly caused by the cylinder impacts.

Shockingly: “35 deaths that were originally attributed to these staged chlorine events cannot be explained and it cannot be ruled out that these people were murdered as part of the staging effort.”

Postol emphasised: “the voices that come through the engineering report are those of highly knowledgeable and sophisticated experts.”

But the dissenting engineering analysis was ‘entirely unmentioned in the report that went to the UN Security Council’. Postol concluded:

This omission is very serious, as the findings of that report are critical to the process of determining attribution. There is absolutely no reason to justify the omission of the engineering report in the OPCW account to the UN Security Council as its policy implications are of extreme importance.

Caitlin Johnstone commented:

This should be a major news headline all around the world, but of course it is not. As of this writing the mass media have remained deathly silent about the document despite its enormous relevance to an international headline story last year which occupied many days of air time. It not only debunks a major news story that had military consequences, it casts doubt on a most esteemed international independent investigative body and undermines the fundamental assumptions behind many years of western reporting in the area.

The OPCW confirmed that the document is genuine. However, rather than address the serious questions about its omission in its official report to the UN, the OPCW merely said that they would now be ‘conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.’ They added that they would not be commenting further ‘at this time’.

Journalist Peter Hitchens asked:

What is going on at the OPCW? It is a valuable organisation, containing many fine people, with a noble purpose, but has it been placed under pressure, or even hijacked, by political forces which seek a justification for military intervention in Syria? Given that a decision between war or peace, affecting the whole world, could one day hang on its judgements, I think the whole world is entitled to an inquiry into what is happening behind its closed doors.

Our searches of the ProQuest newspaper database confirm that there has not been a single mention of this devastating document in any ‘mainstream’ US or UK national newspaper except in an opinion column by Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday. It is truly remarkable, but predictable, that corporate media journalists have ignored an expert assessment that casts serious doubt on the official narrative on Douma and, therefore, the West’s ‘justification’ for bombing Syria.

There is no mention on the BBC News website of the leaked OPCW report. This is consistent with the ‘public’ broadcaster’s central role in maintaining and supporting the case for UK state policies. As Caitlin Johnstone astutely observed, the BBC’s preferred mode when it comes to foreign policy is fact-free war propaganda. Even when the press reported fresh US claims of a ‘possible Assad chemical attack in Syria’ – likely a propaganda effort intended to deflect attention from the leak – journalists managed to avoid mentioning the newly published OPCW report.

A news article in the small-circulation Morning Star is the only other exception to the craven silence in the national press. The overwhelming media acquiescence for Western foreign policy is surely a performance that the old Soviet press of Pravda, Izvestia, et al. could only have dreamt of.

Human Extinction

But the greatest calamity resulting from the myth of a free and fair media is the inexorable rush towards climate breakdown. In 1982, Exxon scientists predicted that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would reach 415 parts per million (ppm) by around this year; which is exactly what has happened. In pre-industrial times, the concentration was much lower; around 280 ppm. The last time it was this high was 2.5 to 5 million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, well before modern humans evolved. Global sea level was 25m higher than now and global temperatures were 2-3 degrees Celsius higher.

As Kyla Mandel noted in an article for ThinkProgress:

Despite this knowledge, the company chose not to change or adapt its business model. Instead, it chose to invest heavily in disinformation campaigns that promoted climate science denial, failing to disclose its knowledge that the majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must remain untapped in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

Over ten years ago, in January 2009, New Scientist reported that: “Billions could go hungry from global warming by 2100.”

As we have documented in media alerts and books since then, there has been warning after warning from reputable scientists, and things are worse now than they were in 2009. Governments have not merely ‘done nothing’; they have promoted and perpetuated corporate policies that are destroying the planet’s ecosystems and unleashing climate instability.

The World Health Organisation states that climate change is already leading to 150,000 deaths annually around the world. Researchers fear that the number may well double by 2030, even if serious emissions reductions begin today. Relevant factors include malnutrition, heat stress and increased incidence of diseases such as malaria. Death rates will likely worsen even further because of population displacement, reductions in labour productivity from farmers trying to work in hotter conditions, and disruptions to health services because of destructive weather and climate. Climate change could also force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, increasing their vulnerability to ill health and disease.

The corporate disinformation campaign to block or slow action to tackle climate breakdown has therefore already led to huge numbers of people dying and suffering from illness. It will only get worse, potentially leading to a mass extinction of species, including humans.

When will senior BBC News editors and journalists, funded by the public licence fee, make the climate emergency central to their reporting? How long before economics and business correspondents notice the utter absurdity of ignoring climate breakdown in their reports, day after day? Last December, we asked BBC News business editor Simon Jack when he would address the climate crisis. He had never responded to us before. He replied this time: “Very soon.”

Over four months later, he published a piece on his blog titled, ‘UK’s biggest money manager warns on climate catastrophe’.

It began:

The world is facing a climate catastrophe and businesses around the world must address it urgently or face the ultimate sanction for a public company, shareholders who refuse to back them any more.

That is not a message from an environmental action group but from the largest money manager in the UK, Legal & General Investment Management, which manages £1 trillion worth of UK pension fund investments.

Its climate warning was the top of a list of concerns about the way companies are run.

A serious message indeed; surely there could be nothing more pressing. ‘Climate catastrophe’; ‘top of a list of concerns’, ‘ultimate sanction’. Would this mark a sea change in the business editor’s reporting? Seemingly not. Simon Jack’s reporting since then has been business as usual.

Our previous media alert highlighted the valiant campaigning and protests by Extinction Rebellion, and at least some degree of serious media coverage has been generated recently. But peaceful protests need to proliferate, intensify and seriously disrupt government policies and industry practices that are continuing to pump up dangerous global levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Bill McKibben and Elizabeth Kolbert, two well-respected writers on climate, believe that although ‘the political tide could be turning on climate change’, they are both deeply concerned that it is too little, too late.

McKibben, whose book The End of Nature was published thirty years ago, told journalist David Remnick in a New Yorker interview:

The argument about climate change was over by the early nineteen-nineties, when scientists had reached a very robust consensus. We’d won the argument. We were just losing the fight, because the fight was not about data and reason and evidence. It was about the thing that fights are always about: money and power.

Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction about the human-driven mass loss of species, warned in the same interview:

We have not yet experienced the full impact of the greenhouse gases we have already put up there. And once we do [in] a decade or so, there’s a sort of a long tail to that, we will have put up that much more. So we’re always chasing this problem […] Once we decide, “Oh, we really don’t like this climate,” you don’t get the old climate back for […] many, many, many generations. So we are fighting a very very, very uphill battle. […] maybe we can avoid the worst possible future. But I don’t think at this point we can avoid a lot, a lot, a lot of damage.

The outlook is so pessimistic that the best McKibben can hope for is that global warming is slowed down ‘to the point where it doesn’t make civilizations impossible.’ But it is ‘an open question’ as to whether even that is attainable.

McKibben added:

There are scientists who tell you we’re already past that point. The consensus, at least for the moment, is that we’ve got a narrow and closing window, but that if we move with everything we have, then, perhaps, we’ll be able to squeeze a fair amount of our legacy through it.

This is terrifying, and it should drive media coverage of the problem with huge urgency and scope. The real prospect that all of humanity’s achievements – in art, science, music, literature, philosophy – might be wiped out of existence, should compel dramatic action.

Journalist Jonathan Cook, freed from the need to kowtow to state or corporate interests in his reporting, states our predicament clearly and honestly:

‘Climate collapse is so close at hand, the window to avert our fate so narrow, that only the insane, the deeply propagandised and those so alienated from the natural world that they have lost all sense of themselves and what matters can still ignore the reality. We are teetering over the precipice.’

Now is the time, says Cook, for ‘genuine populism’: a widespread, grassroots struggle to overturn ‘turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism’, including the corporate media, before it destroys us all.

The London Climate Protests: Raising The Alarm

The feeling is often there at night, of course, in the wee small hours. But it can arise at almost any time – looking at someone we care about, listening to birdsong on an unusually warm spring morning, shopping.

It is like being trapped on a sinking ship, with the captain and crew refusing to admit that anything is wrong. The passengers are mostly oblivious, planning their journeys and lives ahead. Everything seems ‘normal’, but we know that everything will soon be at the bottom of the sea. Everything seems ordinary, familiar, permanent, but will soon be gone. It feels as if our happiness, our every moment spent with the people and places we love, is irradiated by the fear of impending climate collapse.

Last month, the Extinction Rebellion protests in London (and globally) finally challenged some aspects of this waking nightmare – at last, a sense that human beings are not completely insane, that we are capable of responding with some rationality and dignity. In the end, 1,100 people allowed themselves to be arrested, with 70 charged, for all our sakes.

While many people thrill to the prospect of pouring milkshake over political opponents, Extinction Rebellion proved, conclusively, once and for all, that non-violent protest is the superpower of democratic change. And this was not just non-violent protest; it was non-hating, rooted in love of the planet, love of people, love of life. The mystic Lao-Tzu wrote:

‘Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

‘The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.’

The special forces in this compassionate revolution are the 83-year-old grandfather who spoke so eloquently atop a blocked train in Canary Wharf. They are the little children sitting quietly in the middle of Oxford Street, the mums with toddlers, and, of course, the extraordinary Greta Thunberg whose insight and intelligence have stunned many veteran climate activists. Where the adults have been cautioning for years that we should not be too ‘alarmist’, too ‘pessimistic’ for fear of upsetting a lily-livered public, Thunberg has said simply:

‘I want you to panic. I want you to act as if the house was on fire… To panic, unless you have to, is a terrible idea. But when your house is on fire and you want to keep your house from burning to the ground then that does require some level of panic.’

She is exactly right. In his recent BBC documentary, ‘Climate Change: The Facts’, 91-year-old David Attenborough missed 16-year-old Thunberg’s point. The first half of Attenborough’s film did an excellent job of drawing attention to the threats, but the second half was much too positive on the prospects for individual and collective action. It ended on a hopeful, reassuring note. It should have ended on a note of deep alarm and, yes, panic.

When governments seek to mobilise the public for action, they terrify us with tales of Huns bayonetting babies, of weapons of mass destruction ready to destroy us within 45 minutes. They do this because it works – people are willing to kill and be killed, if they think their own lives and those of the people they love are at stake.

We have always argued that climate scientists and activists should also emphasise the terrifying prospects – not in the dishonest, hyped way of state cynics, but honestly, sticking to the facts. When the science is punching great holes in the blind conceit of industrial ‘progress’ we should not pull our punches. Again, the Extinction Rebellion protests – the name makes the point – have powerfully vindicated this strategy. An opinion poll after the protests found:

‘Two-thirds of people in the UK recognise there is a climate emergency and 76% say that they would cast their vote differently to protect the planet.’

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the debate around environmentalism had been fundamentally altered:

‘Climate activists, young and old, have put the UK government under enormous pressure to officially recognise the climate emergency we are facing. There is a real feeling of hope in the air that after several decades of climate campaigning the message is beginning to sink in. What we need now is to translate that feeling into action.’

As a result of this pressure, the UK last week became the first parliament to declare a climate emergency – previously unthinkable. Leading climate scientist, Professor Michael Mann, tweeted of the declaration:

‘Yeah, there’s a lot going on in the current news cycle. But this is undoubtedly the most important development of all’

Light-years beyond his Conservative opponents on this issue, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn commented:

‘We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now.

‘This is no longer about a distant future we’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes of members of this house. Young people know this. They have the most to lose.’

By contrast, the voting record of Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, indicates that he ‘Generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.’ Prime Minister Theresa May has maintained a studied, shameful silence, clearly hoping the issue and the protests will go away. Action is clearly not on her agenda.

As if the climate crisis was not bad enough, a new UN report reveals that one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. The world is experiencing a rate of destruction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. Dr Kate Brauman, from the University of Minnesota, a lead author of the assessment, commented:

‘We have documented a really unprecedented decline in biodiversity and nature, this is completely different than anything we’ve seen in human history in terms of the rate of decline and the scale of the threat.’

The following day, only two UK newspapers, (Guardian and i) led with the UN report on species extinction, most preferring to focus on a royal birth. The BBC News website featured no less than six stories about the royal baby before the headline, ‘Humans “threaten 1m species with extinction”.’ This was a classic example of why Erich Fromm warned in his book ‘The Sane Society’, that it truly is possible for an entire society to be, in effect, insane.

Manufactured Dissent?

Without a sense of alarm, we will likely continue to be stifled by the huge campaign of corporate disinformation and outright lies designed to prevent profit-unfriendly actions. The key to the strategy to maintain public indifference was explained by Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations:

‘People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut “victory”. … Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.’1

Given the need for a very clear alarm to counter this propaganda, it is disturbing, but not surprising, that critics on the left have joined with the likes of Lesly to attack the messengers trying to raise the alarm (unsurprising because the left has an extremely poor record on climate change. See our Cogitation.)

In her article, ‘The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg – for Consent: The Political Economy of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex’ – which is intended to remind of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s classic work, Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media – independent investigative journalist and environmental activist Cory Morningstar headlines a key claim at the top of the piece and throughout the very long, almost impenetrable mixture of text and screenshots that follows:

‘In ACT I, I disclose that Greta Thunberg, the current child prodigy and face of the youth movement to combat climate change, serves as special youth advisor and trustee to the burgeoning mainstream tech start-up We Don’t Have Time.’

The claim is that Thunberg was involved in launching new business opportunities to capitalise on green concerns. Morningstar mentions the ‘We Don’t Have Time’ organisation involved in ‘tech start-up’ dozens of times in Act I of her piece alone. And yet, as Thunberg responded on Facebook in February:

‘I was briefly a youth advisor for the board of the non profit foundation “We don’t have time”. It turns out they used my name as part of another branch of their organisation that is a start up business. They have admitted clearly that they did so without the knowledge of me or my family [Our emphasis]. I no longer have any connection to “We don’t have time”. Nor does anyone in my family. They have deeply apologised for what has happened and I have accepted their apology.’

Thunberg did not, in fact, ‘serve as a trustee’ for the start-up business branch; her name was added without her knowledge or permission and she no longer has any links to the organisation. Three months after they were published on Facebook, Morningstar has still not added an addendum to her article responding and linking to Thunberg’s comments.

Morningstar wrote:

‘Greta Thunberg and [teenage climate activist] Jamie Margolin who both have lucrative futures in the branding of “sustainable” industries and products, if they wish to pursue this path in utilizing their present celebrity for personal gain (a hallmark of the “grassroots” NGO movement).’

Thunberg again:

‘I am not part of any organization. I sometimes support and cooperate with several NGOs that work with the climate and environment. But I am absolutely independent and I only represent myself. And I do what I do completely for free, I have not received any money or any promise of future payments in any form at all. And nor has anyone linked to me or my family done so.

‘And of course it will stay this way. I have not met one single climate activist who is fighting for the climate for money. That idea is completely absurd.

‘Furthermore I only travel with permission from my school and my parents pay for tickets and accommodations.’

Everything we have seen suggests that Thunberg is completely sincere and not at all minded to exploit her celebrity for money. Considering her age, the suggestion, in the absence of evidence, is ugly indeed.

Morningstar’s basic theme is that climate activists are being exploited by the same old cynical interests who will decide who and what will ‘save the planet’ in a way that makes them rich. And who will these people be?

‘we know full well the answer: the same Western white male saviours and the capitalist economic system they have implemented globally that has been the cause of our planetary ecological nightmare. This crisis continues unabated as they appoint themselves (yet again) as the saviours for all humanity – a recurring problem for centuries’.

On Twitter, ‘polirealm’ commented on Morningstar’s piece:

‘It looks at the establishment bodies, NGOs, their main characters, their connections, their main influences, networks, but it doesn’t look at the actual people on the ground at all, except as defenseless victims of social engineering.’

And:

‘The truth is, many of the activists are 100% aware of the goal of their usurpation, they’re aware that capitalism has nothing to lose and will take no prisoners in this fight, in fact, many are remarkably well informed.’

Indeed, the protests are being joined and supported by literally millions of intelligent, motivated, frightened people around the world, who will absolutely not be content with yet more corporate dissembling, profiteering and greenwash. Not only that, as evidence continues to mount of approaching disaster – and it will increase, dramatically – corporate executives, journalists and political executives will themselves increasingly reject these cynical machinations. ‘Polirealm’s’ concluding point:

‘So whoever believes the agenda and outcome of the climate movement are predetermined today simply has no idea what they’re talking about. The organizational structures are still quite chaotic, but there are many very motivated people with very good ideas, who’ve only just started.’

Morningstar is clearly sincere and well-intentioned, and her argument, of course, has some merit. We have been documenting for decades, in media alerts, articles and books, how corporate interests have been working all-out to co-opt Green concern. The problem with Morningstar’s focus is that it plays into the hands of corporate climate deniers and delayers whose strategy we have already described:

‘The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action.’

After thirty years of mortifying indifference and inaction, now is not the time to promote the belief that the crucial alarm that is at last being raised by Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion has been cynically ‘manufactured’. It is our job to ring the alarm and ensure that something is done. But first we must ring the alarm!

Even if corporate interests were crazed enough to think they could promote mass public dissent on this scale in the cause of profit, they would have no way of controlling the outcome. In the spring of 1968, with more than half a million troops in Vietnam, with military leaders asking for 200,000 more, President Johnson was advised by a Pentagon study group not to escalate the war, making this comment:

‘The growing disaffection accompanied, as it certainly will be, by increased defiance of the draft and growing unrest in the cities because of the belief that we are neglecting domestic problems, runs great risks of provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions.’2

If that was true of mere anti-war sentiment based on concern for human rights, how much more is it true of sentiment based on concern for literal human survival – the prospect that we, and every last person we love, may soon be dead?

The Propaganda Model – Going Extinct?

Herman and Chomsky’s ‘propaganda model’ describes how state-corporate priorities – power and profit – tend to shape media performance in a way that supports the status quo. During the Extinction Rebellion protests, there was a clear sense that fewer and fewer commentators could think of good reasons for opposing what was happening. Even ‘mainstream’ politicians lined up to give their support; even ‘centrist’ liberal journalists, reflexively opposed to all progressive politics, applauded. Guardian columnist George Monbiot went much further than he ever has before in scorning the media:

‘If you asked me: “which industry presents the greatest environmental threat, oil or media?”, I would say “the media”. Every day it misdirects us. Every day it tells us that issues of mind-numbing irrelevance are more important than the collapse of our life support systems.’

If we like, we can interpret all of this as a sign that the protests are viewed as harmless, or as evidence that they have been captured by corporate interests pulling the strings behind the scenes. But there is an alternative interpretation, which we favour.

When famously sober, conservative, anti-alarmist climate scientists are warning that human beings will become extinct unless drastic action is taken within the next decade, so that even prime-time BBC TV features the venerable David Attenborough warning that ‘the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon’, then we have entered unknown territory. As Attenborough said:

‘The world’s people have spoken, their message is clear – time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.’

Herman and Chomsky’s ‘propaganda model’ was not designed for this scenario. When individual corporate media editors, journalists, advertising and political executives realise that they and their families are genuinely facing death, it is not at all certain that they will continue to support the subordination of people and planet to profit to no purpose. At this point – the point where the mortally-threatened corporate lions lie down with the mortally-threatened activist lambs – the propaganda model may start to break down. Either way, it is our job to continue pressuring corporate media and, more importantly, replacing them with honest, non-corporate alternatives pushing for real change.

The protests must continue, must escalate, and governments must be made to adopt a kind of war-footing subordinating everything – especially profit – to the survival of our own and all other species.

  1. Lesly, ‘Coping with Opposition Groups’, Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p. 331.
  2. Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p. 401.

40,000 Dead Venezuelans Under US Sanctions: Corporate Media Turn A Blind Eye

A new report on April 25 by a respected think tank has estimated that US sanctions imposed on Venezuela in August 2017 have caused around 40,000 deaths. This atrocity has been almost entirely blanked by the British ‘mainstream’ media, including BBC News. Additional sanctions imposed in January 2019 are likely to lead to tens of thousands of further deaths.

The report was co-authored by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs for the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR was founded in 1999 ‘to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people’s lives.’ Its advisory board includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz.

Weisbrot is Co-Director of CEPR and his expertise encompasses economic growth, trade, international financial institutions, development and Latin America. Sachs is a world-renowned economist and senior UN advisor with considerable knowledge of policies related to sustainable development and combatting poverty. Their credentials are impressive and the title of their report is damning: ‘U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela Are Responsible for Tens of Thousands of Deaths’.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on Venezuela in August 2017. These prohibited the Venezuelan government from borrowing in US markets, thus preventing the country from restructuring its foreign debt. As the report made clear:

It is important to emphasize that nearly all of the foreign exchange that is needed to import medicine, food, medical equipment, spare parts and equipment needed for electricity generation, water systems, or transportation, is received by the Venezuelan economy through the government’s revenue from the export of oil. Thus, any sanctions that reduce export earnings, and therefore government revenue, thereby reduce the imports of these essential and, in many cases, life-saving goods.

The authors added:

The sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. They exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths. All of these impacts disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.

In January 2019, additional US sanctions cut Venezuela off from its largest oil market – the United States. Washington also intervened to pressure other countries, including India, not to buy Venezuelan oil that had been previously imported by the US. The consequences have been catastrophic. Amongst the report’s findings were:

• More than 40,000 deaths from 2017–18;
• Sanctions have reduced the availability of food and medicine, and increased disease and mortality;
• The August 2017 sanctions contributed to a sharp decline in oil production, causing great harm to the civilian population;
• If US sanctions implemented in January 2019 continue, they will almost certainly result in tens of thousands more avoidable deaths;
• This finding is based on an estimated 80,000 people with HIV who have not had antiretroviral treatment since 2017, 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 people with cancer, and 4 million with diabetes and hypertension (many of whom cannot obtain insulin or cardiovascular medicine);
• Since the January 2019 sanctions, oil production has fallen by 431,000 barrels per day or 36.4 per cent. This will greatly accelerate the humanitarian crisis. But the projected 67 per cent decline in oil production for the year, if the sanctions continue, would cause vastly more loss of human life.

Weisbrot spelled out the enormity of punitive US policy towards Venezuela:

The sanctions are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports. This is illegal under U.S. and international law, and treaties that the U.S. has signed. Congress should move to stop it.

Just as the corporate media blamed Saddam Hussein for the devastating impact of US-UK sanctions on Iraq which led to the deaths of over one million Iraqis between 1990 and 2003, ‘our free press’ are united in blaming Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for the country’s economic and humanitarian crisis. The new CEPR report refutes that propaganda framework. Sachs emphasised:

Venezuela’s economic crisis is routinely blamed all on Venezuela. But it is much more than that. American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change [our emphasis]. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.

The report highlights that:

The pain and suffering being inflicted upon the civilian population may not be collateral damage but actually part of the strategy to topple the government.

Indeed, Weisbrot and Sachs make the devastating point that sanctions:

would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory.

In a sane political and media world, this would be headline news.

Media Response?

So, what has been the media response to such a damning report by two authoritative experts? In fact, with a single exception, US and UK ‘mainstream’ newspapers have simply turned a blind eye. This lack of coverage is especially ironic in the case of the Guardian. As journalist John McEvoy, a regular contributor to The Canary, pointed out:

In an editorial [in 2008] the @guardian praised CEPR as a “a professional thorn in the side of orthodoxy” & claimed “in a world of Goliaths, CEPR makes a rather effective David”. Yet it has said nothing of CEPR’s recent study holding US sanctions responsible for 40,000 deaths in Venezuela.

We challenged BBC News via Twitter to cover the important new CEPR report implicating US policy in the deaths of over 40,000 Venezuelans:

What are the odds that @BBCNews will push this as their lead story, with major coverage on #BBCNewsTen from one of their big-name reporters? #Venezuela

There has been no BBC coverage, as far as we can see. Online, we found a brief mention in an article by the ‘mainstream’ press agency, Agence France-Presse: it was buried in the final three paragraphs of a 25-paragraph piece. Exceptions to the ‘norm’ of shameful, power-friendly silence were found in media outlets that we are supposed to ignore or disparage in the West: RT, Sputnik International, TeleSur English, Venezuela Analysis, amongst others.

Imagine if Russian policy had been responsible for a similar number of deaths in another country, with tens of thousands more lives at risk in the months to come. The headlines and in-depth coverage here would be incessant. The Russian ambassador in London would be given a stern dressing-down by the UK Foreign Secretary. There would be calls at Westminster from all parties to condemn Putin in the strongest possible terms. There would be global demands for the UN to intervene. The ideological discipline required to ignore such a major crime under Western policy is remarkable, but entirely standard in the corporate media system; as Noam Chomsky has long observed.

The independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone summed up:

To be clear, this unforgivable atrocity rests predominantly on the shoulders of the Trump administration. […] Imagine if Trump deployed a barrage of Tomahawk missiles onto the most impoverished parts of a densely populated city in Venezuela, then hearing anyone say “Well Maduro actually exploded those people, because he wouldn’t do what we told him to do.” […] Sanctions are a slower and more gruelling weapon of war than bombs and missiles, but they’re vastly superior when it comes to the matter of keeping the public asleep through depraved acts of mass slaughter.

As ever, the corporate media is doing its required job of keeping the public in a state of ignorance, or acquiescence, regarding the crimes of the West. ‘When truth is replaced by silence,’ the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said, ‘the silence is a lie.’ As John Pilger noted in 2004, following the invasion and occupation of Iraq:

He might have been referring to the silence over the devastating effects of the embargo. It is a silence that casts journalists as accessories, just as their silence contributed to an illegal and unprovoked invasion of a defenceless country.

Assange Arrest: “A Definite Creep, a Probable Rapist”

In December 2010, Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore commented on Julian Assange in the Mail on Sunday:

‘Indeed it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the complaints by two women he had sex with in Sweden in August… The sex appears to have been consensual, though his refusal to use condoms was not. His behaviour looks bad rather than illegal but who really knows? The Swedish prosecutors themselves say they believe these women’s stories but don’t believe these are crimes.’

‘Who really knows?’ The answer, of course, was and is that, in the absence of a trial, nobody except the people directly involved knows what really happened.

If Moore was somewhat reasonable in 2010, her stance had changed by June 2012, when Assange sought political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy – a time when, still, nobody really knew what had happened. She tweeted:

‘Seems like Assange’s supporters did not expect him to skip bail? Really? Who has this guy not let down?’

She added: ‘I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.’

As discussed in Part 1, the nub of this ‘mainstream’ scorn was the belief that Assange’s concerns about extradition were a cowardly excuse for fleeing possible sex crimes – fears of extradition were a nerdish, paranoid fantasy. Moore wrote in 2011:

‘The extradition hearing last week involved massive showboating on both sides. Assange supporters were gathered outside the courts dressed in orange Guantanamo Bay jumpsuits. Does anyone seriously believe this is what will happen to Assange?’

It is a bitter irony, then, that Assange is currently trapped in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, which has been described as ‘Britain’s Guantanamo Bay’.

The fact that Assange has now been arrested at the request of the US seeking his extradition over allegations that he conspired with Chelsea Manning, means that Assange’s claimed motive for seeking political asylum now appears very credible indeed – he was right about US intentions.

Assange can now be depicted as a cowardly fugitive from Swedish justice only by someone finding it outrageous that he should resist extradition by the Trump regime to spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse.

In other words, if corporate journalists are responding to the facts, rather than power-serving prejudice, recent events should have moderated their stance towards Assange. It is easy to check.

‘Everyone’s Least Favourite Squatter’

Suzanne Moore commented in the New Statesman after the arrest:

O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented looking gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or “the met” as normal people call them.

In other words, Assange remains the same wretched, risible figure he was before Moore came to know he had been arrested on charges relating to US extradition. She added bizarrely on Twitter:

‘Assange supporters. Cunt soup babbling about on press freedom.’

In an article for the Sunday Times on April 14, James Ball claimed that:

‘Julian Assange is the architect of his own downfall. Bullish and grandiose yet plagued by paranoia, the WikiLeaks boss is his own worst enemy.’

Ball briefly worked for WikiLeaks, with Assange as his boss, between late 2010 and early 2011. His departure from the organisation was acrimonious. As we mentioned in Part 1, the Guardian has a shameful record in its treatment of Assange. Ball was always happy to act as chief attack dog for the paper. A piece in January 2018 was titled, ‘The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride’. Below it were the words, ‘The WikiLeaks founder is unlikely to face prosecution in the US’; an assertion that has clearly not aged well. Ball even made the poisonous assertion that:

most of those who still support Assange are hard-right nationalists – with many seeing him as a supporter of the style of politics of both Trump and Vladimir Putin.

John Pilger described Ball as a ‘despicable journalist’; a ‘collaborator’ with those in power who have been attacking WikiLeaks and Assange. Ball has repeatedly stated that he opposes Assange’s extradition to the US. But for years he depicted him extremely unfavourably, and continues to disparage Assange as ‘a dangerous and duplicitous asshole’ after his arrest.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, ‘centrist’ Labour MP, Jess Phillips, commented:

‘Finally Julian Assange, everyone’s least favourite squatter, has been kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy and into custody on charges of skipping bail after accusations of sexual violence in Sweden.

‘I am sure we will all miss his speeches from the balcony of the embassy as if he were about to launch into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

‘Assange, once beloved for leaking the secrets of global governments, has essentially been reduced to a grumpy, stroppy teenager.

‘He never left his room, thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and had his internet taken away when he was naughty.’

Phillips offered one serious assertion:

‘His arrest ended a seven-year stint in the embassy, which he chose. He didn’t have to stay there…’

The obvious fact that the US superpower really was, all the time, out to get him, strongly suggests he did have to stay there and wasn’t motivated to avoid facing the far less threatening Swedish accusations.

In 2015, Phillips told the Guardian:

The difference between me and some of my colleagues – not all of them – is that I protect myself by shooting things out. So if I see something that I don’t like I will say it. I won’t sit in some little cabal and whisper about it … I will go up to Seumas Milne and say: “Why on earth are you friends with George Galloway? Your personal friendships are fine but if I see you are moving in any way to get Galloway nearer to this party, I’m going to go for you.” I’ll just say that to him.

Phillips has certainly gone for Assange.

Other ‘mainstream’ reaction was a close copy of comments made when Assange first entered the embassy in 2012 (see our media alert, ‘Incinerating Assange’). Despite reports of an alarming decline in his health after seven years trapped in the embassy, journalists mercilessly mocked Assange’s appearance. Ashley Cowburn, political correspondent for the Independent tweeted (and then deleted after we noted them) two pictures before and after Assange entered the embassy, commenting:

‘Political journalists pre and post-Brexit.’

David Aaronovitch of the The Times‘ 101st Chairborne ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ Division, tweeted with the same compassion that guides his relentless warmongering:

‘I see Tolstoy has just been arrested in central London.’

Jessica Elgot, political editor of the Guardian, joined the fun:

‘Apparently Julian Assange’s internet access has been cut off since March so he probably thinks we’ve left the EU’

Journalist Chris Cook, formerly of BBC’s Newsnight and the Financial Times, referenced an elderly, bearded character from the BBC sitcom, Only Fools and Horses:

‘Justice for Uncle Albert.’

ITV Political Editor, Robert Peston, formerly BBC Business Editor, retweeted an image of Christ with his hand raised in blessing paired with a photograph of Assange making a ‘victory sign’ from inside a prison van. Side-on, Assange’s gesture bore a vague resemblance, but Christ was assuredly not signalling ‘V’ for victory. Like so much ‘mainstream’ humour, the tweet was embarrassingly unfunny, strangely callous.

The Daily Express devoted a whole article to comedy takes of this kind:

‘HILARIOUS Julian Assange memes have swept Twitter in the wake of the Wikileaks founder’s arrest including one he tried to pass himself off as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – here are the best ones.’

As noted in Part 1, in the real world beyond the media crèche, a medical doctor who examined Assange in the embassy, commented:

‘Assange does not leave behind the physical and psychological sequelae of his confinement at the embassy. The harms follow him; they are irreparable.’

The Scotsman supplied more evidence that journalists perceive enemies targeted for destruction by the state as the same ‘Bad Guy’ regenerating over and over again, like Doctor Who. Dani Garavelli wrote of Assange’s arrest:

‘For me, however, the scene brought back memories of Saddam Hussein emerging from his spider hole in Operation Red Dawn…’

No doubt based on impeccable sources, Garavelli added:

‘His dishevelment had more to do with his questionable personal hygiene than his living conditions.’

The Daily Mail published a deeply totalitarian article titled:

‘Assange inside his fetid lair: Revealed, the full squalid horror that drove embassy staff to finally kick him out

‘EXCLUSIVE: Photos of Julian Assange’s “dirty protests” have been revealed’

The ‘Exclusive’ featured pictures of a single unwashed plate, several mugs in a sink and a squeaky-clean toilet.

The BBC’s Jon Sopel North America Correspondent tweeted:

‘#Ecuador president #LeninMoreno tells me #JulianAssange smeared the walls of the embassy with feces and that is why they revoked his asylum. The #WikiLeaks leader exhausted their tolerance, the president told me @BBCBreaking’

Among others, the claim has also been reported by CNN, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vox, ABC News, Reuters, the Associated Press, Daily Mail, Fox News, NBC News,the Independent, the Daily Beast, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. Reporter Charles Glass described the surveillance he witnessed in the embassy:

‘He [Assange] made coffee, glancing up at surveillance cameras in the tiny kitchen and every other room in the embassy that recorded his every movement.’

Alexander Rubinstein of Mint Press News concluded:

‘Assange was under total surveillance while in the embassy. They didn’t release the footage of him smearing his poop on the walls because it simply doesn’t exist. It’s a crock of shit.’

Ostensibly ‘alternative’ Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar – who has published numerous opinion pieces in the Guardian and Independent, and who is a favoured guest on flagship BBC shows like Daily Politics, Question Time, the Andrew Marr Show and Newsnighttweeted:

‘Just sayin’ it’s possible to think that Julian Assange is a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob *and* that his arrest has incredibly worrying implications for the treatment of those who blow the whistle on gross abuses of state power.’

Sarkar revealed the depth of her knowledge when she wrote:

‘His arrest today came *after* the investigations into rape and the Swedish arrest warrant were dropped.

‘That doesn’t mean he’s innocent of those charges.’

Anyone who knows anything about Assange knows that he has never been charged. But Sarkar’s damning comments on a leading truth-teller facing the wrath of the US state, play extremely well with the ‘mainstream’ gatekeepers selecting BBC guests and Guardian contributors. Sarkar deleted the tweet smearing Assange, not because she regretted her appalling comments, but because ‘ugly stuff defending sexual assault itself has been turning up in my work inbox’ from ‘men’.

On April 11, we tweeted:

‘”Whatever you think of [Assange]…” means, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of *them*. I’m not rejecting the respectable, mainstream narrative.”‘

Synchronistically, one day later, Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian under the title:

‘Whatever you think of Julian Assange, his extradition to the US must be opposed’

The Guardian‘s George Monbiot tweeted:

‘Whether or not you like Assange’s politics (I don’t), or his character (ditto)…’

At the risk of being annoying, we responded:

‘George, how much time have you spent with Assange and his unpleasant character?’

We received no reply.

Before the arrest, Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson commented on WikiLeaks’ complaints about police spying on Assange inside the embassy:

‘WikiLeaks – it all adds up to WikiLeaks whining about their privacy being invaded. Can’t quite see how this deserves airtime on @Channel4News Am I wrong?’

One day later, when Thomson found himself reporting Assange’s arrest, we asked: ‘Was he “whining”, Alex?’

Thomson replied:

‘Yes – clearly’

In fact, Assange was making a political protest, calling on the UK to resist Trump’s attempt at extradition that might see him spending the rest of his life in jail.

A select few journalists managed to retain their dignity in the face of this callous corporate herdthink. To his credit, Andrew Buncombe of the Independent tweeted:

‘There’s been an oddly mocking tone to much of the reporting about Assange, whose organisation has revealed more US state crimes than most journalists. Arrest sets an appalling precedent.’

Odd is the word. Buncombe’s tweet brought to mind a comment made by the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Cody Fidler-Simpson CBE, about ‘mainstream’ journalism:

‘There’s something slightly wrong with most of us, don’t you feel? We’re damaged goods, usually with slightly rumpled private lives and unconventional backgrounds. Outsiders, looking in at others from outside.’ (‘Travels with Auntie’, Lynn Barber interviewing John Simpson, Observer, 24 February 2002)

The Guardian‘s Ewen MacAskill commented:‏

‘US did not waste any time putting in extradition request for Assange. Terrible precedent if journalist/publisher ends up in US jail for Iraq war logs and state department cables.’

Remarkably, some supposedly independent, neutral corporate media openly identified with the state. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal:

‘Julian Assange has done much harm to American interests over the last decade, and on Thursday the WikiLeaks founder moved a large step closer to accountability in a U.S. court.’

Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times:

‘Assange’s publishing of confidential data gravely harmed our interests. In the US he is seen as a terrorist. But a tranche of protesters still believe he is a guardian of truth — and that any wickedness in the world always emanates from the West.’

As Glenn Greenwald commented:

‘If you’re cheering Assange’s arrest based on a US extradition request, your allies in your celebration are the most extremist elements of the Trump administration, whose primary and explicit goal is to criminalize reporting on classified docs & punish WL for exposing war crimes.’

To add weight to the media campaign, more than 70 MPs and peers wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, urging them to focus attention on the Swedish investigations that Assange would face should the case be resumed at the alleged victim’s request. The letter was ‘coordinated’ by ‘centrist’, anti-Corbyn Labour MP Stella Creasy who, appropriately enough, ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’ Jonathan Cook commented astutely:

‘The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

‘First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first.

‘It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes.

‘But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative.’

As we have documented, Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to a similarly relentless, cross-‘spectrum’ political and media campaign attacking him for leading Labour towards electoral disaster, for being a serious threat to UK national security, for conspiring with Putin, and above all, of course, for being a menacing anti-semite.

And yet the facts speak for themselves: Corbyn has been a tremendous electoral success; the idea that Trump, let alone Corbyn, ‘colluded’ with Putin has proved laughable; and the idea that Corbyn and Labour have an anti-semite ‘crisis’ simply defies the known facts of racist prejudice in the leading political parties and wider society.

If the smears are fake, what is driving them? A clue is provided in a tweet by The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald:

‘The only 2 times I can remember establishment liberals like @HillaryClinton… uniting with and cheering Trump Admin is when (a) he bombed Syria and (b) they indicted Assange… That says a lot about their values.’

It does indeed. Beyond the relentless fake news, these same ‘values’ are driving the attempts to destroy both Corbyn and Assange.