Category Archives: The Guardian

Dump the Guardian

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

‘Thus far and no further.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented via Twitter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dore concluded of the Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

She asked:

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

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

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

Dore said of MSNBC management:

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

He continued:

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

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

Complicit In Western Imperialism And Rampant Capitalism

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

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

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

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

Cobain continued:

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

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

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

As Jonathan Cook said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian is:

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

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

The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian

This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries’.

— WikiLeaks, Twitter, November 27, 2018

Those at The Guardian certainly felt they were onto something.  It would be a scoop that would have consequences on a range of fronts featuring President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Julian Assange and the eponymous Russian connection with the 2016 US elections.

If they could tie the ribbon of Manafort over the Assage package, one linked to the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails in the summer of 2016, they could strike journalistic gold.  At one stroke, they could achieve a trifecta: an exposé on WikiLeaks, Russian involvement, and the tie-in with the Trump campaign.

The virally charged story, when run towards the leg end of November, claimed that Manafort had visited Assange in the embassy “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.”  Speculation happily followed in an account untroubled by heavy documentation.

It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed.  But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It was a strikingly shoddy effort.  An “internal document” supposedly garnered from the Ecuadorean intelligence agency named a certain “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a guest while also noting the presence of “Russians”.  No document or individual names were supplied.

The enterprise was supposedly to come with an added satisfaction: getting one over the prickly Assange, a person with whom the paper has yet a frosty association with since things went pear shaped after Cablegate in 2010. Luke Harding, the lead behind this latest packaging effort, has received his fair share of pasting in the past, with Assange accusing him of “minimal additional research” and mere reiteration in the shabby cobbling The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014). “The Guardian,” Assange observed in reviewing the work, “is a curiously inward-looking beast.”  Harding, for his part, is whistling the promotional tune of his unmistakably titled book Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House.  The feud persists with much fuel.

Unfortunately for those coup seekers attempting a framed symmetry, the bomb has yet to detonate, an inert creature finding its ways into placid waters. WikiLeaks was, understandably, the first out of the stables with an irate tweet.  “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation.  @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”

Manafort himself denied ever meeting Assange.

I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him.  I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly.  I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.

WikiLeaks has also pointed to a certain busy bee fabricator as a possible source for Harding et al, an Ecuadorean journalist by the name of Fernando Villavicencio.  Villavicencio cut his milk teeth digging into the record of Moreno’s predecessor and somewhat Assange friendly, Rafael Correa.

Glenn Greenwald, himself having had a stint – and a fruitful one covering the Snowden revelations on the National Security Agency – had also been relentless on the inconsistencies. If Manafort did visit Assange, why the vagueness and absence of evidence? London, he points out, “is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities.”  The Ecuadorean embassy is, in turn, “one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.” Yet no photographic or video evidence has been found linking Manafort to Assange.

The grey-haired establishment types are also wondering about the lack of fizz and bubble.  Paul Farhi at The Washington Post furnishes an example:

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

Another distorting aspect to this squalid matter is the Manafort-Ecuadorean link, which does little to help Harding’s account.  A debt ridden Manafort, according to the New York Times, ventured his way to Ecuador in mid-May last year to proffer his services to the newly elected president, Lenín Moreno.  Moreno could not have been flattered: this was a man’s swansong and rescue bid, desperate to ingratiate himself with governments as varied as Iraqi Kurdistan and Puerto Rico.

In two meetings (the number might be more) between Manafort and his Ecuadorean interlocutor, various issues were canvassed.  Eyes remained on China but there was also interest in finding some workable solution to debt relief from the United States.  Then came that issue of a certain Australian, and now also Ecuadorean national, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, London.

Moreno has been courting several options, none of which seem to have grown wings.  A possibility of getting a diplomatic post for Assange in Russia did not take off. (British authorities still threatened the prospect of arrest.)  The issue of removing the thorniest dissident publisher in modern memory remains furiously alive.

As ever, accounts of the Moreno-Manafort tête-à-tête vary.  A spokesman for Manafort, one Jason Maloni, suggests a different account.  Manafort was not the instigator, but merely the recipient, of a query from Moreno about “his desire to remove Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy.”  Manafort listened impassively, “but made no promises as this was ancillary to the purpose of the meeting.”  Russia, he sought to clarify, did not crop up.

Fraud might run through Manafort’s blood (convictions on eight counts of bank-and tax-fraud is fairly convincing proof of that), but the case assembled against Assange seems very much one of enthusiastic botch-up masquerading as a stitch-up.  So far, the paper has battened down the hatches, and Harding has referred any queries through The Guardian’s spokesman, Brendan O’Grady.  Zeal can be punishing.  O’Grady will have to earn his keep.

Manufacturing Truth

If you’re one of the millions of human beings who, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, still believe there is such a thing as “the truth,” you might not want to read this essay. Seriously, it can be extremely upsetting when you discover that there is no “truth” … or rather, that what we’re all conditioned to regard as “truth” from the time we are children is just the product of a technology of power, and not an empirical state of being. Humans, upon first encountering this fact, have been known to freak completely out and start jabbering about the “Word of God,” or “the immutable laws of quantum physics,” and run around burning other people at the stake or locking them up and injecting them with Thorazine. I don’t want to be responsible for anything like that, so consider this your trigger warning.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at how “truth” is manufactured. It’s actually not that complicated. See, the “truth” is … well, it’s a story, essentially. It’s whatever story we are telling ourselves at any given point in history (“we” being the majority of people, those conforming to the rules of whatever system wields enough power to dictate the story it wants everyone to be telling themselves). Everyone understands this intuitively, but the majority of people pretend they don’t in order to be able to get by in the system, which punishes anyone who does not conform to its rules, or who contradicts its story. So, basically, to manufacture the truth, all you really need is (a) a story, and (b) enough power to coerce a majority of people in your society to pretend to believe it.

I’ll return to this point a little later. First, let’s look at a concrete example of our system manufacturing “truth.” I’m going to use The Guardian‘s most recent blatantly fabricated article (“Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy“) as an example, but I could just as well have chosen any of a host of other fabricated stories disseminated by “respectable” outlets over the course of the last two years. The “Russian Propaganda Peddlers” story. The “Russia Might Have Poisoned Hillary Clinton” story. The “Russians Hacked the Vermont Power Grid” story. The “Golden Showers Russian Pee-Tape” story. The “Novichok Assassins” story. The “Bana Alabed Speaks Out” story. The “Trump’s Secret Russian Server” story. The “Labour Anti-Semitism Crisis” story. The “Russians Orchestrated Brexit” story. The “Russia is Going to Hack the Midterms” story. The “Twitter Bots” story. And the list goes on.

I’m not going to debunk the Guardian article here. It has been debunked by better debunkers than I (e.g., Jonathan Cook, Craig Murray, Glenn Greenwald, Moon of Alabama, and many others). The short version is, The Guardian‘s Luke Harding, a shameless hack who will affix his name to any propaganda an intelligence agency feeds him, alleged that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, secretly met with Julian Assange (and unnamed “Russians”) on numerous occasions from 2013 to 2016, presumably to conspire to collude to brainwash Americans into not voting for Clinton. Harding’s earth-shaking allegations, which The Guardian prominently featured and flogged, were based on … well, absolutely nothing, except the usual anonymous “intelligence sources.” After actual journalists pointed this out, The Guardian quietly revised the piece (employing the subjunctive mood rather liberally), buried it in the back pages of its website, and otherwise pretended like they had never published it.

By that time, of course, its purpose had been served. The story had been picked up and disseminated by other “respectable,” “authoritative” outlets, and it was making the rounds on social media. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution, in an attempt to counter the above-mentioned debunkers (and dispel the doubts of anyone else still capable of any kind of critical thinking), Politico posted this ass-covering piece speculating that, if it somehow turned out The Guardian‘s story was just propaganda designed to tarnish Assange and Trump … well, probably, it had been planted by the Russians to make Luke Harding look like a moron. This ass-covering piece of speculative fiction, which was written by a former CIA agent, was immediately disseminated by liberals and “leftists” who are eagerly looking forward to the arrest, rendition, and public crucifixion of Assange.

At this point, I imagine you’re probably wondering what this has to do with manufacturing “truth.” Because, clearly, this Guardian story was a lie … a lie The Guardian got caught telling. I wish the “truth” thing was as simple as that (i.e., exposing and debunking the ruling classes’ lies). Unfortunately, it isn’t. Here is why.

Much as most people would like there to be one (and behave and speak as if there were one), there is no Transcendental Arbiter of Truth. The truth is what whoever has the power to say it is says it is. If we do not agree that that “truth” is the truth, there is no higher court to appeal to. We can argue until we are blue in the face. It will not make the slightest difference. No evidence we produce will make the slightest difference. The truth will remain whatever those with the power to say it is say it is.

Nor are there many truths (i.e., your truth and my truth). There is only one truth … the official truth. The truth according to those in power. This is the whole purpose of the concept of truth. It is the reason the concept of “truth” was invented (i.e., to render any other “truths” lies). It is how those in power control reality and impose their ideology on the masses (or their employees, or their students, or their children). Yes, I know, we very badly want there to be some “objective truth” (i.e., what actually happened, when whatever happened, JFK, 9-11, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Schrödinger’s dead cat, the Big Bang, or whatever). There isn’t. The truth is just a story … a story that is never our story.

The truth is a story that power gets to tell, and that the powerless do not get to tell, unless they tell the story of those in power, which is always someone else’s story. The powerless are either servants of power or they are heretics. There is no third alternative. They either parrot the truth of the ruling classes or they utter heresies of one type or another. Naturally, the powerless do not regard themselves as heretics. They do not regard their “truth” as heresy. They regard their “truth” as the truth, which is heresy. The truth of the powerless is always heresy.

For example, while it may be personally comforting for some of us to tell ourselves that we know the truth about certain subjects (e.g., Russiagate, 9-11, et cetera), and to share our knowledge with others who agree with us, and even to expose the lies of the corporate media on Twitter, Facebook, and our blogs, or in some leftist webzine (or “fearless adversarial” outlet bankrolled by a beneficent oligarch), the ruling classes do not give a shit, because ours is merely the raving of heretics, and does not warrant a serious response.

Or … all right, they give a bit of a shit, enough to try to cover their asses when a journalist of the stature of Glenn Greenwald (who won a Pulitzer and is frequently on television) very carefully and very respectfully almost directly accuses them of lying. But they give enough of a shit to do this because Greenwald has the power to hurt them, not because of any regard for the truth. This is also why Greenwald has to be so careful and respectful when directly confronting The Guardian, or any other corporate media outlet, and state that their blatantly fabricated stories could, theoretically, turn out to be true. He can’t afford to cross the line and end up getting branded a heretic and consigned to Outer Mainstream Darkness, like Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh, Jonathan Cook, John Pilger, Assange, and other such heretics.

Look, I’m not trying to argue that it isn’t important to expose the fabrications of the corporate media and the ruling classes. It is terribly important. It is mostly what I do (albeit usually in a more satirical fashion). At the same time, it is important to realize that “the truth” is not going to “rouse the masses from their slumber” and inspire them to throw off their chains. People are not going to suddenly “wake up,” “see the truth” and start “the revolution.” People already know the truth … the official truth, which is the only truth there is. Those who are conforming to it are doing so, not because they are deceived, but because it is safer and more rewarding to do so.

And this is why The Guardian will not be punished for publishing a blatantly fabricated story. Nor will Luke Harding be penalized for writing it. Luke Harding will be rewarded for writing it, as he has been handsomely rewarded throughout his career for loyally serving the ruling classes. Greenwald, on the other hand, is on thin ice. It will be instructive to see how far he pushes his confrontation with The Guardian regarding this story.

As for Julian Assange, I’m afraid he is done for. The ruling classes really have no choice but to go ahead and do him at this point. He hasn’t left them any other option. Much as they are loathe to create another martyr, they can’t have heretics of Assange’s notoriety running around punching holes in their “truth” and brazenly defying their authority. That kind of stuff unsettles the normals, and it sets a bad example for the rest of us heretics.

Fisk Puts to Test the Free-Press Myth in Douma

Here’s how a free press, one owned by a handful of corporations, uses its freedom. It simply tells you what it is good for its business interests, or more generally for the political and business environment it operates in. It’s not interested in truth or airing all sides, or even necessarily basic facts.

The only restraint preventing the corporate media from outright lying to promote its material interests is the fear of being found out, of readers starting to suspect that they are not being told the whole truth.

If that sounds like conspiratorial nonsense to you, consider this single example (there are lots more if you trawl through my past blog posts). Let’s take the matter of veteran Middle East reporter Robert Fisk arriving in Douma this week, the first western correspondent to get there. Fisk is like some relic from a bygone era, when journalists really sought to arrive at the truth, often at great personal danger, not simply win followers on Twitter.

Until his arrival, all the information we were receiving about Douma in the west originated not with on-the-ground reporters, but with jihadist groups or those living under their Islamist reign of terror. That was true of the Youtube videos, the accounts from western reporters based far off in other countries, the human rights organisations, the World Health Organisation, and so on. The fog of war in this case was truly impenetrable.

So Fisk’s arrival was a significant event. He was clearly aware of the journalistic burden on his shoulders. Those still in Douma, after the jihadists fled, we can assume, are mostly supporters of the Syrian government. Even if they are not, they may be fearful of retaliation from the Syrian army if they speak out against it.

So Fisk, a very experienced reporter who has won many awards, was careful in the way he handled the story. Unlike many reporters, he is prepared to add context to his reports, such as the manner or tone of the person he talked to – clues to help him and us decode what they might really be thinking or meaning, rather than just what they are saying.

But the content of what he reported was incendiary. Just a few days after the US, UK and France had bombed Syria, in violation of all principles of international law, on the grounds that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Douma, Fisk interviewed a doctor at the clinic where the victims were treated. The doctor said no chemical attack occurred. The video footage from last week was genuine, the doctor added, but it showed civilians who had inhaled dust after a Syrian bombing attack, not gas.

Fisk’s account is clearly honest about what he was told. And the doctor’s account clearly is plausible – it could fit what the video shows. So, whether right or wrong, it is a vital piece of the jigsaw as we, ordinary citizens, decide whether our governments were justified – before United Nations inspectors had even arrived – in acts of aggression against another sovereign nation, and whether, in the case of the UK, Theresa May was entitled to act without reference to parliament. These are matters Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party, has been trying to raise in the face of a solid media consensus in favour of bombing.

Given this context, the UK media ought to have been putting Fisk’s report at the centre of their Syria coverage yesterday and today, especially the liberal Guardian, the paper that Labour party members have relied on for decades. So how did the Guardian fare?

The Guardian now has an enormous output of articles, not least its Comment is Free section. So it would be foolhardy of me to say with absolute conviction that the Guardian made no reference anywhere in its pages to Fisk. But if it did so, it was extremely well concealed. A Google search of “Fisk”, “Guardian” and “Douma” throws up nothing. I can locate nothing in searching the Syria news articles and the op-eds published in the physical newspaper either.

So the Guardian appears to have intentionally blocked its readers from learning about the Fisk report, even though it is highly relevant to an informed debate about western actions in Syria, actions that are themselves part of a political debate being led by Corbyn. Denying this information to its readers means the Guardian is actually helping to weaken Corbyn in his battle to hold May to account.

But it does not end there. The Guardian does briefly reference Fisk, it just does so without naming him. At the same time, the Guardian seeks to discredit his reporting using the very same, highly compromised sources that have been relied on till now from Douma. In short, the Guardian appears to be carrying out a damage limitation operation, refusing to report transparently Fisk’s revelations in an attempt to shore up the existing narrative rather than test it against the new narrative offered by Fisk.

Buried away in two lines in an article by Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, we get this in today’s Guardian:

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

So Fisk, Britain’s most famous and respected Middle East correspondent (can you name another one?), is not only not identified but dismissed generically as one of a group of reporters “favoured by Moscow”.

A second report, headlined “Syrian medics ‘subjected to extreme intimidation’ after Douma attack”, by Martin Chulov and Kareem Shahin, far away in Beirut and Istanbul respectively, confidently denigrates Fisk’s account, again without identifying him or mentioning that he was there. Again, it merely alludes to the content of Fisk’s account and only in so far as it is necessary to undermine it.

Instead, it gives top billing to unchallenged claims by Dr Ghanem Tayara, a Birmingham-based doctor now in Turkey who is the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, which favours the overthrow of the Syrian goverment.

After many paragraphs of Dr Tayara’s allegations against Bashar Assad’s government, Fisk’s account is given this cursory and hostile treatment near the end of the article:

Medics and survivors who have remained in Douma, and others who have fled for northern Syria, ridiculed competing claims that the attack either did not take place, or did not use gas. …

Some doctors have appeared on Syrian television to deny that anything took place in Douma. A doctor who spoke to the Guardian said: “Our colleagues who appeared on television were coerced, because some hadn’t served in the military or completed their degree, and for other reasons, some had family in Damascus. They decided to stay in exchange for being reconciled with the regime. But the regime used them.”

Another medic who treated victims said: “Anyone who has knowledge of what happened cannot testify. What was being said is that the medical centres would be destroyed on top of those working in it.”

These countervailing voices are important. They are another piece of the jigsaw, as we try to work out what is really going in places like Douma. But publications like the Guardian are consistently presenting them as the only pieces their readers need to know about. That isn’t journalism.

There are good reasons to be suspicious of everything that comes out of the Syria war arena, where all sides are treating the outcome as a zero-sum battle. But western corporate media are clearly not fulfilling their self-declared role either as an impartial messenger of news, or as a watchdog on power. They have taken a side – that of the governments of the US, UK and France, their regional partners Saudi Arabia and Israel, and what are by now mostly proxy jihadi fighters in Syria.

The Guardian failed the most elementary test of honest journalism in its treatment of Fisk’s report. It may be an egregious example but after many years of the Syria war it is very far from being unique.

A Liberal Pillar Of The Establishment

As Noam Chomsky has often remarked: ‘liberal bias is extremely important in a sophisticated system of propaganda.’ One major news outlet that Chomsky had in mind was the New York Times, but the same applies in the UK. As a senior British intelligence official noted of the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan:

It is always helpful for governments who want to get the Guardian readers of the world on board to have a humanitarian logic.

This suggests that respected liberal media like the New York Times and Guardian are key battlegrounds in the relentless elite efforts to control public opinion.

On January 15, the Guardian was relaunched as a tabloid with a ‘new look’. Katharine Viner, the paper’s editor, proclaimed in all seriousness:

We have a special relationship with our readers. This relationship is not just about the news; it’s about a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to understand and illuminate our times. We feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility to our readers to honour the trust you place in us.

Those words – ‘shared sense of purpose and commitment’, ‘duty’, ‘responsibility’, ‘honour’, ‘trust’ – imply an openness to readers’ comments, even to criticism; an important point to which we return below.

Viner continued:

We have grounded our new editions in the qualities readers value most in Guardian journalism: clarity, in a world where facts should be sacred but are too often overlooked; imagination, in an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are.

The grand declaration to honour the yearning of its readers ‘for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are’ rings hollow. This, after all, is a paper that fought tooth-and-nail against Jeremy Corbyn. As Rob Newton pointed out via Twitter, linking to a lengthy series of screenshots featuring negative Guardian coverage:

The “left liberal” Guardian’s campaign against @JeremyCorbyn was as relentless as the right-wing Daily Mail & The Sun. Here’s the proof

Vacuous phrases continued to pour forth from the editor on the ‘new look’ paper:

Guardian journalism itself will remain what it has always been: thoughtful, progressive, fiercely independent and challenging; and also witty, stylish and fun.

‘Fiercely independent and challenging’? When the Guardian Media Group is owned by The Scott Trust Limited, a ‘profit-seeking enterprise’? (In other words, it is not a non-profit trust, with many readers still mistakenly holding a romantic vision of benign ownership.) When the paper is thus owned and run by an elite group of individuals with links to banking, insurance, advertising, multinational consumer goods, telecommunications, information technology, venture investment, corporate media, marketing services and other sectors of the establishment? When the paper remains dependent on advertising revenue from corporate interests, despite the boast that ‘we now receive more income from our readers than we do from advertisers’. When the paper has actually ditched journalists who have been ‘fiercely independent and challenging’?

However, it is certainly true that the Guardian ‘will remain what it has always been’: a liberal pillar of the establishment; a gatekeeper of ‘acceptable’ news and comment. ‘Thus far, and no further’, to use Chomsky’s phrase. But, as mentioned, the Guardian will not go even as far in the political spectrum as Corbyn: a traditional left Labour figure, rather than a radical socialist proclaiming ‘Revolution!’ or an anarchist itching to bring down global capitalism.

Meanwhile, readers can expect the ‘new look’ Guardian to continue its attacks on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, such as the recent smear piece by ex-Guardian journalist James Ball that began scurrilously:

According to Debrett’s, the arbiters of etiquette since 1769: “Visitors, like fish, stink in three days.” Given this, it’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like, more than five-and-a-half years after Julian Assange moved himself into the confines of the small flat in Knightsbridge, just across the road from Harrods.

Ball went on, dripping more poison:

Today, 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.

When we challenged Ball via Twitter for evidence of these foolish claims, he was unable to provide any. His facile response was:

The WikiLeaks twitter feed is a pretty good start tbh [to be honest]

That Katharine Viner’s Guardian would happily publish such crude propaganda in an ostensibly ‘serious’ column speaks volumes about the paper’s tumbling credibility as well as conformity to power.

No doubt, too, this liberal ‘newspaper’ will continue to boost Tony Blair, the war criminal whose hands are indelibly stained with the blood of over one million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. But, for the Guardian, he will forever be a flawed hero, someone they have worked hard to rehabilitate in recent years, constantly seeking out his views and pushing him as a respectable elder statesman whose voice the public still needs to hear.

The essence of the Guardian was summed up by satirical comedian reporter Jonathan Pie on the day of the relaunch:

‘New design. Same old virtue signalling, identity politics obsessed, champagne socialism (minus the socialism), barely concealed contempt for the working classes bullshit I presume though.

The Empty Rhetoric Of Seeking ‘Uncomfortable’ Views

One of the Guardian stalwarts helping to project an illusion of consistent challenge to authority is long-time columnist George Monbiot. We were once admirers of Monbiot, and we still respect his environmentalist writing, particularly on the imminent dangers of climate disruption…up to a point (for instance, he never properly addresses the key issue of the corporate media, including the role of his own paper).

But well over a decade ago, we first started challenging Monbiot on his serious blind spots and establishment-friendly ignorance when it came to foreign policy. In more recent years, we have even been smeared by him, in a pitiful manner akin to that of Oliver Kamm of Murdoch’s Times, an inveterate supporter of Western ‘interventions’, on whom Monbiot often seems to rely for his slurs.

A recent piece by Jonathan Cook, once a Middle East Guardian reporter, is a skillful skewering of Monbiot’s stance. Monbiot has repeatedly attacked those who dare question Washington-approved narratives on Syria, Rwanda and the Balkan Wars. Anyone who challenges Western government propaganda claims about Syria, for example, is condemned as an Assadist or conspiracy theorist. His targets have included Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger, university professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, and Media Lens.

On Twitter last month, Monbiot alleged that Hayward and Robinson ‘have disgraced themselves over Syria’. But when has Monbiot ever excoriated Guardian columnists Jonathan Freedland and Natalie Nougayrède, Nick Cohen of the Observer, David Aaronovitch of The Times and John Rentoul of the Independent, all of whom have ‘disgraced themselves’ over US-UK wars of aggression?

And why is Monbiot’s focus so skewed to ‘their’ war crimes rather than ‘our’ war crimes? The editor of the Interventions Watch blog searched Monbiot’s Twitter timeline in December 2017 and found he had mentioned ‘Syria’ in 91 tweets and ‘Yemen’ in just three tweets. With rare exceptions, virtually the entire UK political and media system has disgraced itself over Yemen – currently the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophe. This should be a key central concern for any honest dissident commentator today.

Cook writes of Monbiot:

Turning a blind eye to his behaviour, or worse excusing it, as too often happens, has only encouraged him to intensify his attacks on dissident writers, those who – whether right or wrong on any specific issue – are slowly helping us all to develop more critical perspectives on western foreign policy goals than has been possible ever before.

He adds that the many leftists:

who defend Monbiot, or turn a blind eye to his hypocrisy, largely do so because of his record on the environment. But in practice they are enabling not only his increasingly overt incitement against critical thinkers, but also undermining the very cause his supporters believe he champions.

Cook sums up:

All indications are that Monbiot lacks the experience, knowledge and skills to unravel the deceptions being perpetrated in the west’s proxy and not-so-proxy wars overseas. That is fair enough. What is not reasonable is that he should use his platforms to smear precisely those who can speak with a degree of authority and independence – and then conspire in denying them a platform to respond. That is the behaviour not only of a hypocrite, but of a bully too.

We will return later to that point of dissidents being denied a platform to reply. Meanwhile, Monbiot has not responded to Cook, as far as we are aware.

Ironically, of course, the Guardian sells itself as a fearless supporter of ‘open’ journalism, delivering ‘the independent journalism the world needs’. But, once again, there are always safe limits. Tim Hayward, mentioned above, is Professor of Environmental Political Theory at Edinburgh University. He recently recounted what happened after the Guardian published a long piece by Olivia Solon, a senior technology reporter for Guardian US in San Francisco. Solon argued that critical discussion of the White Helmets in Syria had been ‘propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government’.

After publishing this hit piece, the Guardian essentially shut down all discussion, refusing even to grant a right of reply to those who had been maligned, including independent journalists. Hayward described what happened after publication:

‘What the Guardian did next:
• quickly closed its comments section;
• did not allow a right of reply to those journalists singled out for denigration in the piece;
• did not allow publication of the considered response from a group of concerned academics;
• did not respond to the group’s subsequent letter, or a follow up email to it;
• prevaricated in response to telephone inquiries as to whether a decision against publishing either communication from the group had or had not been taken;
• failed to respond to a message to its Readers’ Editor from Vanessa Beeley, one of the journalists criticised in the article.’

George Monbiot played his part too, says Hayward:

tweeting smears against critics and suggesting they read up about “the Russian-backed disinformation campaign against Syria’s heroic rescue workers”.

This was disreputable behaviour from a ‘progressive’ journalist who claims that:

I believe that a healthy media organisation, like a healthy university, should admit a diversity of opinion.

The Guardian journalist added that newspapers, including his own, ‘should also seek opposing views and publish them too, however uncomfortable this might be.’ Monbiot’s own behaviour exposes these words as empty rhetoric.

Guardian Looks Beyond Corbyn To The Next ‘Centrist’ Candidate

Meanwhile, the Guardian is looking beyond the time when Corbyn is Labour leader. A recent article by Ian Sinclair in the Morning Star argues that the Guardian is putting its weight behind Emily Thornberry, Corbyn’s shadow foreign secretary. A Guardian interview with her was, unusually, advertised well over a week in advance of publication. It was a major feature in which she was described as ‘a key architect of Labour’s comeback, and widely tipped to be the party’s next leader’. But there was very little in the piece about the policies she espouses, not least foreign policy issues.

One such issue is the Middle East, which was wholly absent from the Guardian interview. Last November, Sinclair observes, Thornberry proclaimed that Israel ‘stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy’. And, in a December speech to Labour Friends of Israel, she described former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres as ‘a hero of the left, of the state of Israel and of the cause of peace.’

Sinclair points out:

In contrast, in 2005, US dissident Noam Chomsky called Peres “an iconic mass murderer,” presumably for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that led to the creation of Israel and for being head of government when Israel shelled a United Nations compound in Lebanon in 1996, killing over 100 civilians.

Thornberry’s comments on Israel, says Sinclair, ‘are a cause for concern for those who want to see an anti-imperialist, humane attitude towards international affairs’. He continues:

Thornberry is the perfect candidate for Guardian “centrist” types who would like to neuter Corbynism — someone who can gain the backing of significant numbers of Corbyn supporters while at the same time diluting the movement’s relative radicalism by returning the Labour Party to safer, Establishment-friendly ground.

The indications are that the ‘new look’ Guardian will be happy to promote a potential Labour leader who soft-pedals Israel’s crimes. This is part of a bigger picture of the paper offering little more than token criticism of elite Western power. We should not be surprised. No amount of redesign can gloss over the structural issues that ensure the Guardian remains very firmly a liberal pillar of the establishment and essentially a guardian of the power-friendly status quo.

Trump, “Fake News” and the War on Dissidents

The state-corporate media must be in trouble if a BBC veteran like Nick Robinson is getting dirty in the trenches, taking up arms against the “guerilla war” he claims people like me are waging. In a new commentary piece for the Guardian, he argues that media critics – from the right and the left – are taking to social media in an organised campaign to discredit what Robinson calls the “mainstream media”. Predictably, his article strikes the self-satisfied tone of those who claim to be right because they have come under attack from both sides.

Let me delay briefly to point out that critics of the BBC, including myself, are not suggesting – as Robinson claims – either of the following: “that we reporters and presenters are at best craven, obeying some diktat from our bosses or the government, or at worst nakedly biased.”

Robinson, like his colleagues in the corporate media, seems either averse to, or incapable of, understanding that serious criticism of the corporate media is based on the Propaganda Model, set out in great detail in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent by Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky.

According to that model, structural constraints – what Herman and Chomsky call “filters” – ensure journalists conform ideologically to their role in a media system that is incapable of questioning the foundations of the capitalist system of which the media is an integral part.

Put at its simplest, journalists like Robinson succeed in the state-corporate media because they are supremely good at promoting the official line. They rise through the ranks while journalists who are too critical fall by the wayside, weeded out in the long selection procedures journalists undergo before they reach the top.

In other words, journalists aren’t “cravenly taking orders from bosses”. Journalists like Robinson are selected for their highly partisan assumptions, because they proudly believe in and promote orthodoxy – in this case, the legitimacy of the neoliberal system. They manufacture consent for the present economic, political and social conditions, not because they are told to do so but because they fervently believe those conditions are for the benefit of all. If they did otherwise, as Chomsky once famously pointed out to Robinson’s colleague Andrew Marr, they would not be sitting where they are – in the interviewer’s chair.

Anyone who threatens the legitimacy of this system is treated as a menace, whether it be a progressive like Jeremy Corbyn or a too-nakedly brutal neoliberal capitalist like Donald Trump.

And this brings us to the second point. Robinson suggests that the new social media “guerrilas” plotting against the “mainstream media” are somehow indistinguishable from each other in their methods. Those on the right, the Trumpists, are no different from those on the left. In fact, he goes further and argues that progressive-left critics of the BBC are actually learning from Trump’s attacks on the media.

Campaigners on left and right have been looking at and learning from the method behind what some regard as the madness of Donald Trump’s attacks on the “failing” press as purveyors of “fake news”. Italy’s leftwing populist Beppe Grillo has described the Italian media as “the opium of the people – they hide the truth to reassure you, while you slowly die”. In Germany the rightwing Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) has revived the Nazi insult “lugenpresse”, meaning “lying press”.

But this is to invert reality. It is an example of the very “fake news” Robinson claims to be worried about. Trump isn’t teaching us about “fake news”. He’s exploiting popular disllusionment with the corporate media – the understanding that it has a corporate agenda that benefits a tiny elite – for his own political ends.

It is not that Trump rejects that corporate agenda, as progressives do; it’s that he is reckless in regard to the image carefully crafted for it by its guardians, the traditional political and media elite. He is not interested in advancing the broader interests of the corporate system, of maintaining its legitimacy; instead, he wants to advance his own personal interests within that system. He is a prime example of the self-destructiveness at the heart of neoliberal capitalism.

What Trump and his followers have done is appropriate the linguistic veneer of media criticism, without its intellectual substance, to justify their hyper-selfish agenda. By “fake news”, Trump means those who disagree with him and his political programme. That is not what the progressive left means. Their goal is to identify when and how the news is misrepresented by the corporate media, and whose interests are being served.

Worse for the progressive left, Trump has given ammunition to the enforcers of orthodoxy, like Robinson. The Trumpists’ often-empty claims of “fake news” serve to obscure or discredit the reality that the corporate media daily promotes fake news to further its agenda, whether it’s in Iraq or Venezuela, or whether it’s articles about a comic-book super-villian Putin taking over the US, or another moral panic about supposed rampant anti-semitism in the Labour party.

In reality, Trump’s scatter-shot claims of fake news are being exploited to shore up the corporate system. There is already a backlash, one being used to justify ever tighter controls over the internet and access to websites offering real critical news. Robinson’s claims that the left and right are the peddlers of the same “fakery” in attacking the media is part of that campaign to ensure normal service is resumed as soon as possible.

As the saying goes, the corporate media would have had to invent Donald Trump if he didn’t already exist. He has become the perfect foil to allow the system to relegitimise itself.

Useful Idiots Who Undermine Dissent on Syria

There has been much disingenuous criticism of those, like me, who question why the western corporate media have studiously ignored the latest investigation by renowned journalist Seymour Hersh on Syria. Hersh had to publish his piece in a German newspaper, Welt am Sonntag, after the entire US and UK media rejected his article. There has still been no mention of his investigation more than a week later.

Those who support, either explicitly or implicitly, the meddling in Syria’s affairs by hostile foreign powers are, of course, delighted that Hersh’s revelations are being kept out of the spotlight. They don’t want every side heard, only their side. And those of us who expect all the evidence to be aired, so we aren’t corralled into yet another disastrous “intervention” in the Middle East, are being mischievously denounced as Assad loyalists.

A good example of this kind of wilful misrepresentation is by Brian Whitaker, the Guardian’s former Middle East editor. In a recent blog post, he has accused me and Media Lens, among others, of being “loyal supporters of Hersh” – and by insinuation, of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad – of being “sarin denialists”, and of demonstrating blatant hypocrisy in approving Hersh’s use of anonymous sources when we oppose reliance on such sources by other journalists.

Before I address these criticisms, let’s briefly recap on what Hersh’s investigation found.

His sources in the US intelligence establishment have countered an official narrative – spread by western governments and the corporate media – that assumes Assad was behind a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4. Hersh’s account suggests that Syria used a conventional bomb to hit a jihadist meeting in the town, triggering secondary explosions in a storage depot containing pesticides, fertilisers and chlorine-based decontaminants. A toxic cloud was created that caused symptoms similar to sarin for those nearby.

Trump was so convinced that Assad had used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun that he violated international law and fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase as punishment, even though, according to Hersh, his own intelligence community disputed that this is what had happened. Given that Vladimir Putin is closely allied with Assad, the move had the potential to drag Russia into a dangerous confrontation with the US.

So let me address Whitaker’s allegations.

1. Neither I nor Media Lens are “loyal supporters” of Hersh – or Assad. Whitaker is projecting. He has chosen a side in Syria – that of what he simplistically terms the “rebels”, now dominated by Al-Qaeda affiliates and ISIS, backed by an unholy alliance of Saudi Arabia, the US, Europe, Israel and Turkey. But not everyone who opposes the Islamic extremists, or Whitaker’s group of western interventionists, has therefore chosen Assad’s side.

One can choose the side of international law and respect for the sovereignty of nation-states, and object to states fomenting proxy wars to destabilise and destroy other regimes.

More than that, one can choose to maintain a critical distance and, based on experience, remain extremely wary of official and self-serving narratives promoted by the world’s most powerful states. Some of us think there are lessons to be learnt from the lies we were told about WMD in Iraq, or a supposedly imminent massacre by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in Benghazi.

These examples of deception should be remembered when we try to assess how probable is the story that Assad wanted to invite yet more destructive interference in his country from foreign powers by gassing his own people – and to no obvious strategic or military advantage. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me three times, I should just admit I am a gullible fool.

I and Media Lens (if I may presume to speak on their behalf as a longtime follower) are not arguing that Hersh’s account must be right. Just that it deserves attention, and that it should be part of the media/public discourse. What concerns us is the inadmissibility of relevant information to the public realm, and concerted efforts to stifle debate. Manufactured groupthink, it has been repeatedly shown, works to the benefit of the powerful, those promoting the destructive interests of a now-global military-industrial complex.

Whitaker and the interventionists want only the official narrative allowed, the one that serves their murky political agenda; we want countervailing voices heard too. That doesn’t make us anyone’s loyalists. It makes us loyal only to the search for transparency and truth.

2. Whitaker suggests that I and Media Lens have ascribed the failure by the corporate media to report on Hersh’s investigation to a “conspiracy”. He argues instead that Hersh has been ignored because “editors found [his recent Syria] articles flaky”.

Neither I nor Media Lens, of course, are claiming the corporate media’s decision is a conspiracy. Like most mainstream journalists, Whitaker shows how ignorant he is of the most famous critique of his own profession: Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman’s Propaganda Model. That posits not a conspiracy of journalists but structural factors that make a corporate-owned media, one dependent on corporate advertising, incapable of allowing any meaningful pluralism of the kind that might threaten its own core interests. That is no more to state a conspiracy than it would be to argue that corporations are driven by profit. It is simply to recognise the nature of the beast.

Aside from that, Whitaker treats Hersh as though he is a one-off, a lone, non-credible voice with a hidden pro-Assad agenda, using anonymous sources in the US intelligence world, presumably with the same hidden agenda. Those like me who want Hersh’s account visible are dismissed as “sarin denialists”, partisans so blinded by our secret love of Assad that we refuse to admit the evidence staring us in the face.

But Whitaker is mischaracterising the evidence. The doubts raised by Hersh’s investigation have been shared by former senior intelligence and security officials, such as Lawrence Wilkerson, Philip Giraldi and Ray McGovern, as well as journalists with extensive contacts in the intelligence field, such Robert Parry and Gareth Porter.

Concerns with the official narrative have also been raised by undoubted experts on ballistic and chemical weapons issues, such as Ted Postol and Scott Ritter. They doubt a sarin attack by Assad’s forces took place, based on technical matters they are well-placed to judge.

Remember it was Ritter, a weapons inspector in Iraq, who warned that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs as the US and UK were making precisely the opposite, mendacious case for war. Ritter’s voice was excluded from the corporate media in 2002-03, precisely when it might have pulled the rug from under those in the political and media establishments cheering on the disastrous US-UK invasion of Iraq.

Whitaker and the interventionists argue, apparently with a straight face, that this time the corporate media are silencing Hersh only because of a supposed “flakiness” in his journalism. So how do they explain the fact that in 2002-03 the same media silenced experts like Ritter and Hans Blix, former head of the UN agency monitoring Iraq’s weapons programme, while aggressively promoting entirely flaky individuals like the supposed Iraqi “opposition leader” Ahmed Chalabi? If the media considered Ritter and Blix, but not Chalabi, as flaky in the run-up to the illegal Iraq invasion, maybe it’s time for Whitaker and editors like him to reassess the meaning of “flaky”.

3. Finally, what of the claim that it is hypocritical to allow Hersh his anonymous sources when we disapprove of them in other cases?

First, the issue of using anonymous sources does not need to be judged according to our own standards, but rather those of the corporate media. Mainstream editors have repeatedly proved they have absolutely no problem using anonymous sources when they support the official narrative, one that promotes war. Liberal papers like the New York Times are filled most days with stories from unnamed officials, telling us what we are supposed to believe. The fake “revelations” of Saddam’s WMD were largely sourced from anonymous officials over many months. Whitaker himself worked as an editor at the Guardian when it was running similarly unverifiable stories from anonymous sources.

So our complaints about Hersh’s treatment are based, in part, on the glaring hypocrisy of journalists like Whitaker. Why are anonymous sources fine when they confirm the narrative of the security state, but problematic – “flaky” – when they challenge it? Whitaker doesn’t have a problem with Hersh using anonymous sources, any more than does the Guardian, New York Times, New Yorker, or London Review of Books. They have a problem with Hersh using anonymous sources when those sources say things that are not supposed to be said.

And second, there is a world of difference between using anonymous sources to reveal things the powerful do not want stated, and using anonymous sources to say exactly what the security state wants to be said but does not want to be held accountable for.

Whistleblowers and those who challenge the powerful often need protection in the form of anonymity from the likely retaliation of state actors. Anonymity is never ideal, but sometimes it is necessary. And when necessary, as in the case of whistleblowers, safeguards should be put in place. They appear to have been in the case of the Hersh investigation. Fact-checkers like Scott Ritter were used to ensure the story was technically plausible, and Welt editors say they were given the identities of Hersh’s sources. The intelligence officials who spoke to Hersh may be unknown to the reader, but they are apparently known to the editors overseeing the story’s publication.

Contrast that to the anonymous government, military and intelligence officials who regularly brief journalists anonymously, often to spread what turns out to be misinformation. There is no reason why any official needs to be unnamed when they are acting as spokesperson for their government. The only protection such anonymity offers is protection from accountability.

Finally, it is worth noting that Syria has become a hugely divisive issue on the left, as Libya did before it. It has made the left all but powerless to advance any kind of critique of western imperialism and its current round of violent interference in the Middle East.

The spirit that spurred the global marches in 2003 against the attack on Iraq has dissipated. The left’s confusion allowed Libya to be torn to shreds on the pretext of a non-existent threat to Benghazi. And now Syria is being wrecked by proxy wars in which the west is a central, if largely veiled, actor.

None of this is accidental. The US has long had a plan to destabilise and break apart the Middle East – sometimes referred to by officials as “remaking” it –  to better control the region’s resources. And hand in glove with this plan are efforts to destabilise and break apart those who should be dissenting from the latest bouts of western imperialism.

Monbiot Still Can’t Admit Media’s Core Problem

After more than two decades at the Guardian, George Monbiot has finally written a column in which he concedes that the entire British media has a problem, including its supposedly left-liberal elements like the Guardian. After years of cheerleading for his employer, that is a momentous, though not entirely surprising, turn-around. It would, after all, be hard for a serious commentator to overlook the media’s wretched failings over the past two years in maligning Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and failing to grasp until the very last minute how powerfully his message resonated with much of the public.

Monbiot observes:

They [the media] missed the moment because they were constitutionally destined to do so. The issue that caused this disaster is the one that eventually fells all forms of power: the media has created a hall of mirrors, in which like-minded people reflect and reproduce each other’s opinions. …

The media as a whole has succumbed to a new treason of the intellectuals, first absorbing dominant ideologies, then persuading each other that these are the only views worth holding. If we are to reclaim some relevance in these times of flux and crisis, we urgently need to broaden the pool of contributors and perspectives.

However belated, that is a welcome admission. And it doubtless took some courage to write it in the pages of the Guardian. That is very much in Monbiot’s favour.

But equally, it is important to note what Monbiot does not admit – and consider why even now he cannot make the necessary concession.

His column argues that the Guardian and other liberal media failed to recognise “the most dynamic political force this nation has seen for decades” because of organisational flaws. Their staff – all middle-class graduates – are unrepresentative of the wider population, and the journalists operate in herds, inevitably making them susceptible to groupthink. In short, he argues, journalists reflect their class interests and their reporting becomes an echo chamber.

But this is to mistake the symptom for the cause. The way the media is organised is far from accidental. Over the past century, the corporate media became gradually “professionalised” – making it a career choice for the middle-class – for good reason.

The media’s professionalisation took place because of a wider crisis of legitimacy among the ruling elite. The reality of wealthy press barons buying a newspaper and then dictating its content was never going to chime well with claims that Britain enjoyed a vigorous and free media.

So in line with wider social trends, the press barons reinvented themselves as professional businesses. What was essentially a rich man’s vanity project – and one that preserved his business interests – became a faceless, bureaucratised media corporation. And to complete the deception, the baron’s well-paid hacks were recast as media professionals who needed proper qualifications for the job. The propaganda they produced was more persuasive as a result.

The Guardian may not have a Rupert Murdoch pulling the strings from behind a curtain, but it is as much a media corporation as the Mail or the Sun. Like supermarkets, media outlets brand themselves to win market share. The Guardian is Waitrose to the Daily Mail’s Tesco.

The Guardian is a media corporation not least because it is as dependent on advertising as its rivals. That makes it not only deeply embedded in a neoliberal capitalist system, but dependent on it for survival.

It is not accidental that the Guardian’s journalists are almost all Oxbridge graduates, that they are almost all white and middle or upper class, and that the great majority come from London and the home counties. They were selected that way precisely so they would not reflect other class interests – interests that might challenge the very ideological assumptions the Guardian depends on and upholds.

None of this is original thinking on my part, even if I personally observed the truth of this analysis during many years working at the Guardian. Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman lay out the problem of a corporate media in their book Manufacturing Consent. Their Propaganda Model explains the structural constraints – what they call “filters” – that ensure journalists conform ideologically to their role in a media system that is incapable of questioning the foundations of the capitalist system of which it is an integral part.

Monbiot knows about the Propaganda Model. As far I know, he has never addressed it, or even alluded to it, in any of his Guardian columns. Nor have other Guardian journalists, even though it is widely known among a section of the paper’s readers. The Guardian’s award-winning reporter Nick Davies wrote a book, Flat Earth News, on the failures of the media, but did not reference Chomsky or the Propaganda Model in the book’s nearly 400 pages. Not surprisingly, he also discounted the influence of advertising on the media’s reporting and editorial positions.

This blindness even by a “radical” like Monbiot to structural problems in the media is not accidental either. Realistically, the furthest he can go is where he went today in his column: suggesting organisational flaws in the corporate media, ones that can be fixed, rather than structural ones that cannot without rethinking entirely how the media functions. Monbiot will not – and cannot – use the pages of the Guardian to argue that his employer is structurally incapable of providing diverse and representative coverage.

Nor can he admit that his own paper polices its pages to limit what can be said on the left, to demarcate whole areas of reasonable thought as off-limits. To do so would be to end his Guardian career and consign him to the outer reaches of social media.

Sadly, Monbiot has enthusiastically adopted his role as policeman of the left’s discourse. Like some modern Witchfinder General, he has used his platform at the Guardian to attack those who criticise the corporate media – and implicitly his credentials to be the ultimate guardian of left wing thought.

Top of his hit-list have been Chomsky and Herman, followed by truly radical journalists like John Pilger, and the website Media Lens, which promotes the Propaganda Model. He has largely avoided attacking them over their media criticism, grounds on which he would be likely to lose the intellectual argument. Instead he has hurled irresponsible and unsubstantiated accusations against them of being genocide “deniers” and “belittlers” for their efforts to open up debates on the left the Guardian has resolutely sought to suppress.

It is good that Monbiot’s eyes are finally opening to the failings of liberal media like the Guardian. Now he needs to look beyond the surface. If he does so, he could become part of the solution, rather than remaining at the heart of the problem.

Time to Confront the Media’s Anti-Corbyn Bias

Those journalists who should have been behind Corbyn from the start – who could have been among his few allies as he battled the corporate media for nearly two years as Labour leader – are now starting to eat humble pie. Polls suggest that Corbyn may be gradually turning the election around, to the point where the latest poll, published in the Times, indicates that Britain could be heading for a hung parliament.

No one is surprised that the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Times have been relentless in their hatchet jobs on Corbyn. But it has been disconcerting for the left that the Guardian and BBC never gave him a chance either. He was in their gun-sights from day one.

Owen Jones, a Labour stalwart and Guardian columnist, should have been Corbyn’s number one ally in the press. And yet he used the invaluable space in his columns not to challenge the media misrepresentations, but to reinforce them. He engaged in endless and morose navel-gazing, contemplating a Labour rout.

In an Evening Standard interview in February, he imparted the following wisdom: “Things change but only if people will it to be.” But then almost immediately ignored his own advice, saying that if another Labour leadership election were held: “I’d find it hard to vote for Corbyn.”

In early May, Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian’s most senior columnist, wrote a commentary entitled: “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown.” In fact, though he did not mention it, he had been making that very same argument for the previous two years.

But as Corbyn has begun chipping away at Theresa May’s lead – and equally significantly, forced the media to widen the public debate into political territory it has avoided for nearly four decades – Freedland finally admitted this week, very reluctantly, that he and others may have misjudged the Labour leader.

Freedland’s reassessment, however painfully made, was still an evasion. He and Jones continue to avoid facing up to the central problem of British politics – and must do, because they are at its very heart.

The lesson of Corbyn’s much-improved polling, according to Freedland, is this:

If May is returned with a Commons presence far below the expectations of even a month ago, it will suggest that one more bit of conventional wisdom needs to be retired along with all the rest. It will prove that campaigns matter.

But that is not the real lesson. The turnaround in Labour’s fortunes is not chiefly about the party getting its act together, staying on-message and communicating better with the media. Rather, it is that the formal requirements of an election campaign – equal coverage, reporting the speeches of candidates, leaders’ debates – have made it much harder for the media, especially the broadcasters, to entirely obscure Corbyn’s winning qualities. His honesty, warmth and humanity eclipse May’s stiff, evasive and charmless demeanour.

It was precisely those qualities in Corbyn that proved so attractive to voters in the Labour leadership elections. He inspires a rare passion for politics when he is heard. That is why he is the only politician filling stadiums. That is why the Labour party now has hundreds of thousands of members, making it the largest party in Europe. That is why young people have been registering for the election in record numbers.

The demographic breakdown of support for Corbyn and May is largely generational. Corbyn enjoys a huge lead among young people, while May can rely on overwhelming backing from those aged over-65.

It may be comforting to imagine this is simply the natural order of things. Radicalism is the preserve of those starting out in life, while old age encourages caution and conservatism. This may be one factor in explaining the generational divide, but it clearly will not suffice. In much of the post-Thatcher era, the young have proved to be even more conservative than their parents.

The reason for the Corbyn-May split has to be found elsewhere.

The fact is that the young are least likely to trust the traditional, corporate media, and most likely to seek out information from alternative sources and social media, which have been fairer to Corbyn. Youtube clips of Corbyn’s speeches, for example, are one way to bypass the corporate media.

Conversely, elderly voters are mostly still relying on the BBC, Sky and the Daily Mail for the bulk of their information about politics. The over-65s have little sense of who Corbyn is apart from what they are told by a media deeply wedded to the current neoliberal order he is threatening to disrupt.

But neither Freedland nor Jones has been prepared to admit that all of the corporate media – not just their trusted scapegoat of the “rightwing press” – have been to blame for preventing Corbyn getting a fair hearing. It is an admission they cannot make because it would expose their own complicity in a media system designed to advance the interests of corporate power over people power, oligarchy over democracy.

A desire to avoid facing this simple truth has led to some quite preposterously contorted reasoning by Freedland. In a commentary before his recent reappraisal of Corbyn, he dismissed suggestions that the media had played any significant role in the Labour leader’s troubles. Freedland cited two focus groups he had witnessed. It is worth quoting the section at length to understand quite how ridiculous his logic is.

With no steer from the moderator, who remained studiedly neutral, they described Jeremy Corbyn as a “dope”, “living in the past”, “a joke”, as “looking as if he knows less about it than I do”. One woman admired Corbyn’s sincerity; one man thought his intentions were good. But she reckoned he lacked “the qualities to be our leader”; and he believed Corbyn was simply too “soft”. …

Corbyn’s defenders will blame the media, but what was striking about these groups was that few of the participants ever bought a paper and they seldom watched a TV bulletin. Corbynites may try to blame disloyal MPs, but, whatever its impact elsewhere, none of that Westminster stuff had impinged on either of these two groups, who couldn’t name a single politician besides May, Corbyn and Boris Johnson. They had formed their own, perhaps instinctive, view.

Blaming others won’t do.

How do people form an “instinctive view” on political matters, if they never read a paper, never watch TV and never attend a political rally? Through the ethers?

The answer should be obvious. They can do so only through conversations with, or impressions gained from, family, friends, acquaintances and work colleagues who do watch TV and read papers. Given that it is impossible for most voters to see Corbyn in the flesh, most are either getting their information and opinions directly mediated for them by the media, or receiving the mediated information second-hand, from people they know who have been influenced by the media.

Freedland’s assumption that it is possible for voters to form a view instinctively that Corbyn is a “dope” – the view of him that has been uniformly cultivated by the media – is laughable. It is evidence of a profound unwillingness to confront the power of the media, and his own irresponsible complicity in wielding that power.

Corbyn is a “dope” not because that’s the way he’s seen by voters. He is a “dope” because that is the way he has been characterised for two years by all of the media, including the Guardian. The fact that a growing number of voters are starting to question whether Corbyn is quite the dope they assumed is because he has finally had a chance to talk to voters directly, even if in the leaders’ debate Jeremy Paxman did his best to prevent Corbyn from forming a complete sentence.

If we had a fair, pluralistic media driven primarily by the desire to serve the public’s interests rather than those of corporations, who can doubt that Corbyn would be winning hands-down in the polls?

A Response To George Monbiot’s “Disavowal”

Guardian columnist George Monbiot has responded to our recent media alert on the alleged gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria, on April 4:

‘Here’s a response to the latest attempt by @medialens to dismiss the mounting evidence on the authorship of the #KhanSheikhoun attack’

This is a very serious misrepresentation of what we have argued in two media alerts. We made our position crystal-clear in the latest alert:

We have no idea who was responsible for the mass killings in Idlib on April 4; we are not weapons experts. But it seems obvious to us that arguments and evidence offered by credible sources like Postol should at least be aired by the mass media.

To interpret this as an attempt to ‘dismiss the mounting evidence on the authorship of the #KhanSheikhoun attack’ is to exactly reverse the truth, which is frankly outrageous from a high-profile Guardian journalist. We are precisely calling for journalists to not dismiss evidence on the authorship of the alleged attack. This is why we quoted investigative reporter Robert Parry:

The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for “our side” and reject anything coming from the “other side,” which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.

We have most certainly not urged anyone to ‘dismiss’ the White House version of events. We have asked journalists to consider that version as well as evidence offered by credible critics like former UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, and by investigative journalists like Parry. We are clearly arguing in favour of inclusion of evidence, not exclusion. Monbiot has simply reversed the truth. In an expanded version of his tweeted response titled, ‘Disavowal’, he writes:

There’s an element on the left that seems determined to produce a mirror image of the Washington Consensus. Just as the billionaire press and Western governments downplay and deny the crimes of their allies, so this element downplays and denies the crimes of the West’s official enemies.

We have no interest in downplaying or denying any crimes. We hold no candle whatever for Assad or Putin, as we held no candle for Milosevic, Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. We are simply urging journalists to consider both ‘Washington Consensus’ arguments and serious counter-arguments offered by credible sources. Monbiot writes:

The pattern is always the same. They ignore a mountain of compelling evidence and latch onto one or a few contrarians who tell them what they want to hear (a similar pattern to the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and to climate change denial). The lastest [sic] example is an “alert” published by an organisation called Media Lens, in response to a tweet of mine.

Our latest alert was not ‘in response’ to Monbiot’s tweet; it was in response to Professor Postol’s analysis challenging a White House report on the alleged attacks in Idlib. We simply used Monbiot’s tweet as a typical example indicating what we described as the ‘corporate media zeitgeist’.

Is it reasonable to describe Postol, one of the world’s ‘leading weapons experts’, according to the New York Times, as a ‘contrarian’? Is Hans Blix, who led the weapons inspections team in Iraq in 2002-2003, a ‘contrarian’? How about former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who was 100% vindicated by the failure to find WMD in Iraq? Can Noam Chomsky also be dismissed as merely a ‘contrarian’ following a ‘pattern’ which is ‘always the same’? Chomsky commented recently:

Well, there are some interesting questions there — you can understand why Assad would have been pretty crazy [to provoke a US intervention] because they’re winning the war. The worst thing for him is to bring the United States in. So why would he turn to a chemical weapons attack? You can imagine that a dictator with just local interests might do it, maybe if he thought he had a green light. But why would the Russians allow it? It doesn’t make any sense. And in fact, there are some questions about what happened, but there are some pretty credible people — not conspiracy types — people with solid intelligence credentials that say it didn’t happen.

Lawrence Wilkerson said that the US intelligence picked up a plane and followed that it probably hit an Al-Qaeda warehouse which had some sort of chemical weapon stored in it and they spread. I don’t know. But it certainly calls for at least an investigation. And those are not insignificant people [challenging the official narrative].

We are saying no more or less than this – it calls for at least an investigation.

Chomsky pointed to comments made by Wilkerson, former chief of staff to General Colin Powell, in a recent interview on the Real News Network:

I personally think the provocation was a Tonkin Gulf incident….. Most of my sources are telling me, including members of the team that monitors global chemical weapons –including people in Syria, including people in the US Intelligence Community–that what most likely happened …was that they hit a warehouse that they had intended to hit…and this warehouse was alleged to have to [sic] ISIS supplies in it, and… some of those supplies were precursors for chemicals….. conventional bombs hit the warehouse, and due to a strong wind, and the explosive power of the bombs, they dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.’

There is also the collective judgment of 20 former members of the US Intelligence Community, the Steering Group of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:

Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died…..This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important –what they appear to believe happened.

Monbiot’s ‘one or a few contrarians’ include all of the above, plus journalists John Pilger, Jonathan Cook, Peter Hitchens, Gareth Porter, Philip Giraldi, and others. They also include Piers Robinson, Professor of Politics, Society and Political Journalism at the University of Sheffield, who responded to our request for a comment:

Monbiot supports the official narrative that the Assad regime is responsible for the April 4 event when it is alleged that Assad’s forces launched a chemical weapon attack on civilians. He is presenting this as factually correct even though some credible commentators have raised questions regarding these claims and whilst there remains a lack of compelling evidence. In a recent posting Monbiot quotes recent French intelligence service claims regarding Assad’s guilt in this matter.

The problem here is that there are substantial grounds for remaining cautious of official claims. It is no secret that Western governments and key allies of theirs (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) have been seeking the overthrow of Assad for many years now. Indeed, the recently published Chilcot Inquiry, in section 3.1, revealed discussions between Blair and Bush which indicate that Syria was considered a potential target straight after 9/11. Given these objectives it is entirely plausible that Western intelligence services might be manipulating information so as to generate the impression that the Assad regime is responsible. Indeed, this kind of propaganda was well documented in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq when weak intelligence was used by US and British politicians to justify their certainty that Iraq possessed WMD. These are all very good reasons for journalists and commentators to ask challenging questions rather than to dismiss out of hand any such attempts in the way Monbiot does. (Email to Media Lens, May 3, 2017)

Tim Hayward, Professor of Environmental Political Theory at Edinburgh University, has also responded to Monbiot’s piece here:

There are serious unsettled questions about every aspect of the incident, not only the anomalies concerning time of incident, identity of victims, causes of death, role of White Helmets, and about whose interests it served, but also concerning the forensic evidence itself.

And here:

In a tweeted response, he repeated his opinion that people like me, who question it, are denying a mountain of evidence.

So to state a point that should not need stating: to question is not to deny – although nor is it to affirm. It is to seek knowledge and understanding. Being less impressed than George by the quantity of data presented as evidence, I have only ever commented on its quality.

Hayward adds that in Monbiot’s latest post: ‘he has entrenched more deeply his defence of the NATO narrative’.

Monbiot says ‘the pattern is always the same’. In fact, there is indeed a pattern of ‘mainstream’ media insisting on the need for war in response to unproven claims that are often later debunked. We gave several examples in our first alert on the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib. It is absurd for Monbiot to wearily dismiss our ‘pattern’, when our scepticism over claims made on Iraq and Libya – and numerous other issues, over many years – has so obviously been justified. Again, our problem is with the refusal of ‘mainstream’ media to report or discuss the opinions of credible experts challenging government claims. Back to Monbiot:

As it happens, just as Media Lens published its article, the French intelligence agency released a new report, which adds substantially to the growing – and, you would hope, un-ignorable – weight of evidence strongly suggesting that the Assad government was responsible:

Doubtless the French government will now be added to the list of conspirators.

We have not argued for any kind of conspiracy – perhaps the US, UK and French governments all agree because they have seen the same evidence and are correct in their apportioning of blame. We don’t know; we are not weapons experts. Our point is that if journalists like Monbiot are serious about establishing the truth, they will test the French government and other claims against the arguments and evidence offered by dissidents. They will consider the different claims, and come to some kind of informed conclusion. What is not acceptable is that journalists should simply accept as Truth arguments made by Western governments openly seeking regime change in Syria and that have a spectacular track record of lying about claims supposedly justifying war.

Monbiot continues:

For the record, I oppose Western military intervention in Syria. I believe it is likely only to make a dreadful situation worse. I believe that the best foreign governments can do at the moment is to provide humanitarian relief, seek to broker negotiated settlements and accept refugees from the horrors inflicted by all sides in that nation.

I have no agenda here other than to ensure that the reality suffered by the people of Khan Sheikhoun is not denied. The survivors of the chemical weapons attack are among the key witnesses to the fact that the weapons were delivered by air – it is their testimony as well as that of investigators that is being dismissed by people who would prefer to deny that the Assad government could have been responsible.

Again, we are not arguing for any evidence or testimony to be ‘dismissed’. We are arguing for counter-arguments to be admitted and considered by a press that is supposed to be objective, neutral and fair. Monbiot adds:

When people allow geopolitical considerations to displace both a reasoned assessment of the evidence and a principled humanitarianism, they mirror the doctrines of people such as Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. The victims become an abstraction, a political tool whose purpose is to serve an agenda. That this agenda stands in opposition to the objectives of people like Kissinger and Blair does not justify the exercise.

This is really outrageous. We are not mirroring, but exactly opposing, the positions adopted by the likes of Kissinger and Blair. They, of course, were strongly against fair consideration of all the available evidence. Blair, for example, did everything he could to manufacture a case for war on Iraq by manipulating and hyping evidence, and by keeping evidence exposing his fake case for war from public view. In responding to Monbiot, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook is able to understand the point that somehow eludes Monbiot:

We need more debate about the evidence, not less of it. Postol, Blix and Ritter may be wrong. But they should have a fair hearing and their arguments should be fully aired in the mainstream – especially, in supposedly liberal media outlets like the Guardian. Anyone who wants to understand what happened in Idlib must also want a vigorous and open debate that most members of the public will have access to.’ (Our emphasis)

And, in fact, Postol was wrong in his April 27 misreading of the French intelligence report on the Idlib incident. He quickly issued a correction and has subsequently poured scorn on the French claims.

Monbiot concludes:

The implications should be obvious. If we deny crimes against humanity, or deny the evidence pointing to the authorship of these crimes, we deny the humanity of the victims. Aren’t we supposed to be better than this? If we do not support the principle of universalism – human rights and justice for everyone, regardless of their identity or the identity of those who oppress them – what are we for?

We agree but for reasons Monbiot would probably not understand. When we admit only the view of Western governments and agencies supporting their position, and ignore the evidence of courageous whistleblowers and dissidents, we are risking the lives of people in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. When those of us promoting inclusion of evidence are smeared as ‘deniers’, then we are in a sorry state indeed. Asking awkward questions is not a Thought Crime.

A few years ago, Monbiot had what he believed was a brilliant, revelatory insight: that the left is marred by a ‘malign intellectual subculture’, comprised of Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger and others, including us, that is as blinkered and intellectually dishonest as the ‘libertarian right’. The left also sees only what it wants to see. Monbiot was able to grasp this because, as he says:

I’ve long prided myself on being able to handle more reality than most…

The perfect irony is that, to cling to this view of the ‘malign’ subculture, Monbiot has had to turn his own blinkered eye to the many times the left’s sceptical response to state-corporate claims justifying war has been vindicated. Saddam Hussein did not ‘expel’ weapons inspectors prior to bombing in December 1998, as claimed. He did not deliberately attempt to worsen the effects of sanctions by obstructing UN food supplies. He was not involved in the September 11 attacks and did not have links to al-Qaeda. He did not attempt to hide WMD that he did not have. Gaddafi did not fuel mass rape with Viagra, he did not use African mercenaries, and there is no evidence that he was planning a massacre in Benghazi. The ‘pattern’ of the left questioning these claims is something to celebrate, not disavow.