Category Archives: UK Lies

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

The Next US President Will Save Europe From Russia’s Secret Plot

On the eve of his visit to Austria, President Vladimir Putin told the press: Russia has not the least intention of sowing dissent within the European Union. On the contrary, it is in Moscow’s interests that the EU, its biggest trading partner, remain as unified and thriving as possible.

Europeans have long been quite obsessed with the idea that Russia is bent on dividing and weakening Europe.  In the most prominent English-language media this is practically presumed to be as obviously true as their claims that Russia killed the blogger Arkady Babchenko, attempted to murder the spy Sergei Skripal, and shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

As usual, after the Malaysian government admitted that the evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 was inconclusive, the anti-Russian propaganda campaigns were reduced to slim pickings. It was precisely for this reason that the more cutting-edge Western media were so happy to latch onto the murder of the blogger in Kiev. It was precisely for this reason that the very ones who had so desperately hyped that whole episode were so indignant when they realized that they had fallen victim to a bit of ruthless Ukrainian creative license.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 8, 2017

But let’s get back to Russia’s secret plots against Europe. Interestingly, when you trace back the source of most of the warnings about the Russian plots to divide Europe, they seem to emanate from Great Britain. In other words, they are coming from a government that has decided to pull out of the EU but is now trying to direct its foreign policy.

Allegations of Russian plans to fragment Europe have been heard from both the head of Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency as well as from spokesmen from the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR). Judging by its name, one might be forgiven for assuming that was supposed to be a pan-European organization. But actually that’s just what’s written on the shingle they hang outside their door, because, in fact, this “think tank” is headquartered and funded in London.

It turns out that the most prominently schismatic states in Europe also hold wildly anti-Russian stances. Neither Great Britain, nor, shall we say, Poland could be suspected of a dearth of official Russophobia. Both of them, each in their own way, are trying to ruin the lives of those countries that form the core of the EU.  Both have closed their doors to refugees and both are bravely waging war against an “influx” of natural gas that theoretically has nothing to do with them. Poland, which gets 17 billion euros a year from the EU budget, has the audacity to be demanding reparations from Germany. Britain, which slammed its doors shut in order to avoid chipping in to fund the EU, is valiantly battling Brussels in order to hold on to its economic perks in Europe.

And in this context, the EU’s biggest common ally — the US — is becoming an increasingly big problem. Washington has unleashed an economic war, not only against Russia and Iran, but also against the countries of Europe. But in the propaganda being rolled out for the European audience, the picture of the world looks like this:

The European Union’s main enemies are Russia and China. It’s true that they do want to trade with Europe and are offering enticements to encourage this, but one mustn’t believe them. Because it is a known fact that they are conducting a hybrid war — invisibly and unprovably — against Europe. Russia is such a wily combatant that one can’t ever prove anything — but you have to believe that it’s true. The European Union’s biggest friend is still the US. And yes, it’s true that they are currently trying to run their friends out of town in order to make a quick buck. But it’s solely President Trump who is to blame for that. Just be patient: soon the next president will come and fix everything right up. And it’s also true that no one can say when that next president will be in office, or what his name will be, or what he will do. And, of course, everyone remembers the Obama administration’s ceaseless attempts to foist an entirely colonial “transatlantic partnership” on Europe. But once Trump’s gone everything will be different — you just have to believe.

And this “you just have to believe” has recently become the main leitmotif of all the anti-Russian propaganda. Since the preferred narrative about the spy, the blogger, and airliner haven’t panned out, the proof of Russia’s malice is increasingly being repackaged as a kind of spiritual evidence. As the Guardian put it so aptly — “We do not need Russia to poison people in a British city to recognise the expanding threat to common values posed by Vladimir Putin’s hostile, corrupt regime.”

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – AUGUST 16: A statue holding the symbol of the Euro, the European common currency, stands in front of the European Parliament building on August 16 and 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)

But then how can one explain that in reality, the opposite is true, that Russia actually needs a unified, rich and strong European Union? This isn’t rocket science, people — you don’t need to invoke “values” and chant the mantra of “you just have to believe.”

Russia needs a rich EU, because a rich trading partner has more purchasing power, which gives Russia a positive trade balance with the EU.

Russia needs a unified EU, because a unified Europe that manages its own security issues from a centralized headquarters will present far fewer problems for Moscow than a string of feckless “friends of the US” along Russia’s western borders.

Russia needs a sovereign EU, because the anti-Russian trade sanctions serve no economic purpose for the EU whatsoever — and once Europe establishes sovereignty we will quite likely see those sanctions lifted.

And it is no coincidence that Austria was the first foreign country that Vladimir Putin visited after his inauguration.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his office in Vienna, Austria June 5, 2018. Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

That country is European, rich, and neutral (therefore not a member of NATO) and has been a staunch advocate for the rollback of Europe’s anti-Russian policy.

In other words, in Austria you can see a potential model for the kind of independent European Union that Russia would like to deal with in the twenty-first century.

And this is why the ones who are now so fervently preaching about “shared values” and “Western unity” when faced with the treachery of those natural-gas pipelines and that Eurasian trade route are actually demanding that Europe do itself a disservice by remaining deferential.

The Syrian Observatory: Funded By The Foreign Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text beneath read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Los Angeles Times reported:

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

Last February, the BBC reported:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Cold War Mentality Alive and Well in Australia

Writing in The Australian newspaper under the headline “Red Threats to Render White Paper just about Passé” (18 May 2018) ANU emeritus professor Paul Dibb offers a commentary that exemplifies much of what is wrong with Australian strategic thinking. The problem is all the more acute because Dibb is regularly quoted in the mainstream media and his views are considered influential. In this latest article he calls for a re-evaluation of the premises underlying the Foreign Policy White Paper released only six months ago.

That White Paper was certainly flawed, although not in the manner that Dibb suggests in underestimating what Dibb calls “an aggrieved and newly assertive Russia, as well as an aggressive rising power in China.”

The White Paper failed to grasp the realities of a newly emerging multipolar world, and in particular failed to perceive how Australia might best respond in a manner consistent with both its national security and economic interests.

That challenge is not assisted by Dibb’s contribution, which is full of faulty assumptions, factual errors, and grievous misinterpretations, not only of post-World War II history, but the current inevitable realignment away from the singularly dangerous exercise of hegemonic power by the United States.

Dibb quotes United States Secretary of Defence James Mattis with evident approval, saying “China and Russia wanted to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian models.”  China is alleged to be seeking “regional hegemony and the displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”

The “evidence” Dibb cites for these assertions are China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea; Russia’s territorial expansionism in Crimea and Ukraine; Putin’s aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons; and Moscow’s State sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflecting Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of State borders. He even cites the “reports” of Beijing seeking to develop a military base in Vanuatu.  That the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister of Vanuatu and also the Chinese government have denied the latter report is of little consequence to Professor Dibb.

There is much more in Professor Dibb’s commentary in this vein, but those examples illustrate not only the fact free environment that strategic advisors such as Dibb operate in, but also are reflective of “strategic thinking” in the Australian defence, foreign policy and defence establishments.

In the cited example of China’s buildup of its military capabilities in the South China Sea there are several components of this allegation that put it in a different context from the viewpoint usually advanced in the Australian media. The so-called Nine Dash Line within which China has made unspecified claims was, in fact, the first formulated in 1946 by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek. That government’s successors now rule Taiwan, and the Taiwanese government makes the same South China Sea claims as does the PRC.

Taiwan similarly rejected the findings of the UNCLOS Tribunal they ruled on a complaint by the Philippines1, a con complaint incidentally that was arguing exclusively by American and British lawyers.

It is correct that the PRC has fortified some of the eight artificial “islands” it has constructed in the South China Sea, but so has Vietnam, about which Dibb is silent. Taiwan has also fortified Taiping Island in the Spratly Group, more than 1000 km to its south.

Dibb makes no attempt to analyse why China should be taking steps to increase its military presence in the South China Sea. Those reasons would include China’s defensive reaction to being encircled by 400 US military bases; the US declaring that China is a major threat to the US, as it did and last year’s National Defence Strategy document; and the carrying out of provocative military exercises by the US in the South China Sea.

Australia, along with the United States, carries out a regular joint military exercise (Operation Talisman Sabre) which practices blocking the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Straits through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports currently pass.

Dibb claims also that Russia engaged in “territorial expansionism” in Crimea and Ukraine. Crimea is an example of consistent misrepresentation in the Australian media. It was for centuries part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Khrushchev unilaterally “gifted” Crimea to Ukraine without consulting anyone, least of all the Crimean people.

Following the US organized and financed coup against the elected government of Ukraine in 2014, the Crimean people, who are predominately Russian speaking and culturally aligned with Russia, held a referendum. More than 90% of Crimeans voted in that referendum, and more than 90% of them voted for reunification with Russia. Crimea’s request to Russia for reintegration into the Russian Federation was in due course voted on in the Russian Parliament.

People’s right to self-determination is enshrined in the UN Charter, and was recognised by the West, for example, in supporting the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Quite apart from illustrating the extraordinary demonization of Russia, the treatment of the Crimea question is a classic illustration of western hypocrisy.

There is zero evidence of any Russian territorial expansionism in Ukraine. There is obviously profound concern about Ukraine’s treatment of its Russian speaking eastern region of Donbass. An attempted resolution of the Donbass problem brokered by Germany, resulting in the Minsk Accord of 2015, has been repeatedly violated. According to the OSCE, more than 80% of the violations of the Minsk II Accord have been by the Ukrainian government. This is a government where neo-Nazi elements have undue influence, a fact of obvious legitimate concern to the Russian government given the history of 26 million Russian deaths at the hands of the Nazis during World War II.

Dibb also refers to Putin’s “aggressive attitude in defending Syria and its use of chemical weapons.”  This is simply bizarre. It was Russia who negotiated Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons and the OPCW has verified that the disarmament of chemical weapons by Syria is complete.

The alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government have been comprehensively debunked by independent experts.2

Dibb does not mention it, but Russia is in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate sovereign government of Syria. Thanks to Russia’s intervention in 2015 the US-Israeli-Saudi Arabia backed terrorists are on the verge of being completely defeated.

Russia is acting entirely within international law in their support of the Syrian government, unlike the United States and its ally Australia who have no legal justification for being in Syria at all. It is an illustration of the United States’ imperial agenda that they have set up military bases in Syria where they are neither invited nor wanted.

Dibb is completely unable to recognise that the greatest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism in the world is the United States. Since 1945 it has been almost continuously engaged in warfare against self defined “threats” and “enemies;” has bombed, invaded, or overthrown the governments of more than 70 nations; and killed more than 30 million people in the process.3

In many of these activities, for example, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, it has been actively supported by Australia, whose “joined at the hip” alliance with the United States is arguably Australia’s most dangerous and counter-productive foreign policy.

Dibb further claims “Moscow’s state-sponsored assassination attempts in Britain reflects Putin’s contempt for the sanctity of state borders.”  This is presumably a reference to the recent Skripal case, although with Dibb’s casual and sweeping defamatory denunciations one cannot be sure.

If it is the Skripal case to which he refers, then not only have the United Kingdom claims been both ludicrous and overblown in their multiple variations, there is absolutely zero evidence of Russian involvement and considerable evidence of motivations by other actors.

Since the admission to hospital and now with the discharge of both of the Skripals the British government has refused to permit consular access by Russian officials. This is a direct violation of, inter alia, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a separate treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom. The British are also in violation of the International Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance (23 September 2005). The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also held that for persons to be held incommunicado for 15 days or more constitutes a violation of human rights law. In Dibb’s world these factors never rate a mention.

As for Mr Putin’s alleged contempt for the sanctity of state borders, he might like to compare the respective records of Russia since 2000 (when Putin first came to power) and his US counterparts over the same period.  There is simply no contest.

What Dibb and similar commentators in Australia fail to recognise is that the American dominated unipolar world order of the past 70 years is rapidly being transformed into a multipolar world.4

Australia’s adherence to the Pax Americana view, however, is potentially greatly to Australia’s detriment, economically and politically. If the new Cold War policies being pursued by the Trump administration deteriorate to a hot war, which is far from unrealistic, the devastation wrought upon Australia will be, to borrow Trump’s phrase, fire and fury like in the world has never seen.

  1. Shannon Tiezzi, Taiwan: South China Sea Ruling ‘Completely Unacceptable‘, The Diplomat, 13 July 2016.
  2. Dr. Theodore Postol, “Assessment of White House Intelligence Report About Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria“, Global Research, November 18, 2017.
  3. William Blum, Americas Deadliest Export: Democracy, Zed Books, 2013.
  4. Alfred W. McCoy, In the Shadows of the American Century, Haymarket Books, 2017.

“A Suffocating Groupthink”: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

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

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.1

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen’s assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on ‘mainstream’ media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

I’ve never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda […] What we’re seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power?

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current ‘mainstream’ reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called ‘failure’ of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in ‘Manufacturing Consent’, published thirty years ago:

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.2 Our emphasis.

1. Israelis Deliberately Killing Palestinians, Including Children

A recent media alert highlighted the mass killing and wounding of Palestinians in Gaza, including children, by Israeli armed forces in what the media often describe as ‘clashes’. Before the latest major massacre on May 14 (see below), Israeli forces had already killed over 50 Palestinian protesters and injured over 5000, including 1700 by live fire, during Great March of Return protests that began on March 30. UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk condemned Israel’s actions as violations of international law.

On April 21, an Israeli general confirmed in a radio interview that even children have been shot deliberately under clear and specific orders. United Nations peace process envoy Nickolay Mladenov declared the targeting of children ‘outrageous.’

In a sane world, such an appalling Israeli policy would be major headline news. Our searches revealed not a single ‘mainstream’ report about it in the days following the Israeli general’s comments. We asked senior BBC News editors and journalists to point us to the BBC News headlines and follow-up coverage on this revelation. BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet was the only one to respond. And that was after we observed that she had previously reported in 2013 that Syrian children had been ‘targeted by snipers’. What about Palestinian children targeted by Israeli forces? She replied:

Thank you for message. Am involved in another story now but will forward to colleagues working in the region now.

Predictably, there was no follow-up on BBC News, as far as we could see. We need only imagine the global outrage if Palestinian snipers were found to be deliberately targeting Israeli children to gauge the current level of media silence.

Even more mass killings of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers have occurred since. On May 14, on the day that the US controversially opened its new embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers killed and wounded huge numbers of Palestinians. By the evening, the UN noted that 55 had been killed, including six children. 2,771 people were reported injured, including 1,359 by live ammunition, with 130 people in a critical condition. By the following day, the death toll had risen to 61, including an eight-month-old baby who died from tear gas inhalation.

All day long, BBC News disgraced itself with headline after headline on the top page of its website masking the truth. Despite weeks of public outrage at previous biased reporting of Gaza protests, BBC News was still using the Israeli-approved word ‘clashes’ to describe the deliberate mass killing of Palestinians.

Compare with the Guardian website which, for once, did not mince its words about Israel’s crimes: ‘Israeli troops kill dozens of Palestinians’. Would that really have been too difficult for someone at BBC News to type out? Clearly so, and no surprise given that the BBC routinely trembles in fear before the pro-Israel lobby. Why else would BBC News choose ‘Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy’ as a headline, masking the fact that Israeli troops had massacred civilians? To be fair to the BBC, the Guardian print edition of May 15 was equally as bad, featuring the headline, ‘Israel: Trump’s new embassy opens – and dozens are killed’.

By the end of the day, the top headline on the BBC News website was: ‘Israel defends Gaza action as 55 killed’. As ever, the Israeli perspective is given prominence, even as it commits abhorrent crimes against civilians. The massacre of unarmed civilians was merely an ‘action’, and the identity of the people murdered by the Israeli army was obscured – perhaps a mix of Israelis and Palestinians had been killed? In fact, there were no Israeli casualties.

On the flagship BBC News at Ten, graphics and headlines proclaimed, ‘Gaza Clashes’, an abomination used by the BBC instead of ‘Gaza Massacre’. The heart-breaking reality behind the lie of ‘clashes’ could be seen in the anguish of a Palestinian father crying in farewell to his little boy:

Oh people, my son

The following day (May 15), the BBC’s truth-mangling headline read:

Gaza braced for further violent protests

A more honest headline would have been:

Gaza civilians braced for a further Israeli massacre

A glimmer of hope for sanity was seen when, following public outrage, The New York Times changed its headline on an article from ‘Palestinians died in protest’ to ‘Israeli soldiers killed dozens of Palestinians’. As Twitter user @FalafelDad observed:

media accountability is NECESSARY and can be achieved.

2. Fact-Checking Trump’s Iran Deal Speech

When Donald Trump announced last week that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, analysis by Now This News website revealed in a short video that, in his speech:

Trump averaged one false claim every 83 seconds.

For example, Trump claimed:

The deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and – over time – reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

As the video pointed out:

False. The deal forced Iran to give up all weapons-grade uranium and barred it from producing more.

Trump continued:

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity.

And in the real world?

Wrong. The deal gave inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear sites and suspicious facilities.

And so on.

In contrast, BBC News at Ten essentially took Trump’s speech at face value. Our challenge to senior BBC editors and correspondents to actually fact-check Trump’s assertions was met with the usual silence.

In an online piece, Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent, did go so far as to say:

The inconvenient truth for Donald Trump is that, as far as it goes, the nuclear deal was working.

Despite this, Mr Trump presented it in stark and frankly erroneous terms – for leaving out things that it was never supposed to cover in the first place.

But two lines couched in rather vague and non-specific terms is scant compensation for flagship BBC News television reporting that is little more than stenography. Senior editors and journalists seem to believe that their job is to tell the public what ‘our’ leaders say, and not to scrutinise claims made. This is galling; all the more so when dangerous rhetoric, making war more likely, goes unchallenged. But then, as John Pilger once wrote, corporate journalists are:

the essential foot soldiers in any network devoted to power and propaganda.

3. Douma And The Salisbury Attack

There is so much that could be said on Douma following our recent two-part media alert. Note, for instance, the corporate media’s response to a press conference at the headquarters of the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW in the Hague on April 26. A number of Syrians, including children, gave their version of events in Douma, casting serious doubt on the official Western narrative of a chemical weapons attack that provided the pretext for missile attacks by the US, the UK and France on April 14. ‘Mainstream’ media dutifully headlined the scathing dismissal by Western powers of the Russia-organised press conference as ‘nothing more than a crude propaganda exercise‘ and an ‘obscene masquerade.’

Meanwhile, the corporate media blanked the assessment of Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector vindicated in his detailed appraisal that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of ‘WMD’ before the 2003 war. Last month, interviewer Dennis Bernstein of Flashpoints Radio asked Ritter:

Isn’t it also the case that there were problems with the allegations concerning Syria using chemical weapons in 2013 and then again in 2015? I believe The New York Times had to retract their 2013 story.

Ritter replied:

They put out a story about thousands of people dying, claiming that it was definitely done by the Syrian government. It turned out later that the number of deaths was far lower and that the weapons systems used were probably in the possession of the rebels. It was a case of the rebels staging a chemical attack in order to get the world to intervene on their behalf.

He continued:

A similar scenario unfolded last year when the Syrian government dropped two or three bombs on a village and suddenly there were reports that there was sarin nerve agent and chlorine gas wafting through the village, killing scores of people. Videotapes were taken of dead and dying and suffering people which prompted Trump to intervene. Inspectors never went to the site. Instead they relied upon evidence collected by the rebels.

Ritter expanded on this vital point:

As a weapons inspector, I can tell you that chain of custody of any samples that are to be used in the investigation is an absolute. You have to be at the site when it is collected, it has to be certified to be in your possession until the laboratory. Any break in the chain of custody makes that evidence useless for a legitimate investigation. So we have evidence collected by the rebels. They videotaped themselves carrying out the inspection, wearing training suits that would not have protected them at all from chemical weapons! Like almost everything having to do with these rebels, this was a staged event, an act of theater.

Ritter then turned to the US/UK/France missile attack on Syria on April 14:

We bombed three targets, a research facility in Damascus and two bunker facilities in western Syria. It was claimed that all three targets were involved with a Syrian chemical weapons program. But the Syria weapons program was verified to be disarmed. So what chemical weapons program are we talking about? Then US officials said that one of these sites stored sarin nerve agent and chemical production equipment. That is a very specific statement. Now, if Syria was verified to be disarmed last year, with all this material eliminated, what are they talking about? What evidence do they have that any of this material exists? They just make it up. [Emphasis in original]’

Serious questions also remain regarding the official story on the Skripal poison attack in Salisbury; not least, why the rebranded D-Notice committee has issued not just one, but two notices in an attempt to shut down aspects of media coverage.

As ever, the views of ‘experts’ and witnesses whose testimony accords with the Western narrative are given heavy coverage in the corporate media; while those whose testimony runs counter to that narrative tend to be either dismissed or simply ignored. As Noam Chomsky once observed:

Under what’s sometimes been called “brainwashing under freedom,” the critics, or at least, the “responsible critics” make a major contribution to the cause by bounding the debate within certain acceptable limits – that’s why they’re tolerated, and in fact even honored.3

4. Today’s McCarthyism

As noted earlier, the ‘intense campaign of propaganda’ described by John Pilger is severely distorting what passes for journalism. A constant target of this distortion is Russia, in a grotesque echo of Cold War propaganda. From Moscow, the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg plays the required role, recently commenting on the inauguration ceremony following Russian president Putin’s re-election:

The symbolism and the message couldn’t be clearer. Putin, the modern tsar. Loved by his people.

Putin and Russia are forever portrayed as flexing their military muscles and representing a threat to the West, not least by BBC News. It is notable that a similar snooty, doom-mongering tone is absent when UK state occasions, or military exercises, are reported.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News responded to us on Twitter:

You will find Putin has a little more power than the Queen by the way. Just a tad…

We replied:

UK churnalism endlessly drools over “our” dear leaders. Remember the Blair adulation? And Obama? But that’s okay, because they’re “good guys”, not like Putin.

Thomson followed up with:

I don’t see much drooling. And neither Blair nor Obama routinely liquidate opposition/journalists as happens under Putin’s Kremlin, unarguably.

Our response:

Because you don’t want to see it. But you can see Putin’s crimes. Can you also see that Blair and Obama destroyed entire countries [Iraq, Libya], also unarguably? Can you see that the state-corporate system they served is ferociously violent, exploitative and criminal?

Thomson did not answer, other than to request to be ‘untagged’ from an exchange he had initiated, following a further critical response from another tweeter.

Meanwhile, the increasingly neocon Guardian plastered on its front page, not just one, but three, pieces of anti-Russia propaganda:

Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance
‘Deny, distract and blame’: how Russia fights propaganda war
Clickbait and Skripal jokes: Russia’s RT thrives online

The Guardian, once regarded by many on the left as the vanguard of power-challenging journalism, was clearly pushing the ‘red scare’ agenda hard, in line with UK government priorities.

The big ‘Revealed’ piece was written by Patrick Wintour, the paper’s diplomatic editor. The main message, which could have come straight from a government press release, was this:

The UK will use a series of international summits this year to call for a comprehensive strategy to combat Russian disinformation and urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow, following the Kremlin’s aggressive campaign of denials over the use of chemical weapons in the UK and Syria.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook was rightly critical in a blog piece:

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

Cook continued:

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.

The author of the second piece on ‘how Russia fights propaganda war’ was, ironically, Luke Harding, the paper’s former Moscow-based correspondent who regularly churned out pro-West propaganda in that role. Former UK diplomat Craig Murray describes Harding as ‘MI6’s most important media conduit (after [BBC security correspondent] Frank Gardner)’. The pinpoint demolition of Harding by Aaron Maté of The Real News Network last year is a must-watch.

A later Guardian piece by Amanda Meade, Guardian Australia’s media correspondent, actually contained this line:

RT is a powerful PR arm of the Russian government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

When did the Guardian ever write the following line?

The BBC is a powerful PR arm of the British government which is used as a weapon in the global information war.

As Caitlin Johnstone rightly notes, any discussion of ‘Russian disinformation’ is invalid if it sweeps under the carpet previous massive Western propaganda campaigns; not least that leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Those questioning the official Western narratives on Russia and Syria have been subjected to an appalling McCarthyite campaign of vilification and intimidation; in large part initiated by The Times and followed up by others, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot and Huffington Post. This has led to the late rearrangement of a planned conference in Leeds, titled ‘Media on Trial,’ after the city council pulled the plug on allowing Leeds City Museum to be used as the venue. A report on the event’s cancellation, written by Chris York, a senior editor at HuffPost UK, smeared the speakers, including Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson, as ‘pro-Assad’. Indeed, York has been relentless in attacking the academics as ‘pro-Assad’.

As for George Monbiot, the Guardian’s long-time resident ‘dissident’, his subservience to the official narrative on Russia and Syria was starkly exposed by journalist Peter Hitchens in recent exchanges on Twitter. Hitchens had previously published a detailed piece on his blog titled, ‘Who Gassed Whom in Syria? We don’t Know. Please Don’t be Rushed into War.’

The Twitter exchange is lengthy and not archived in a single thread, as far as we are aware. But as an indicator of Monbiot’s inability to respond to Hitchens, consider this discussion on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW):

Monbiot:

The OPCW/JIM report on Khan Shaykhun [in 2017] presented a mountain of evidence for a chemical weapons attack by the Assad government

Hitchens:

1. The report is based on a study that breaks the OPCW’s own stated 2013 rule: No assessment without visiting the site. But the OPCW never visited the site. It is full of anonymous judgements of likelihood, phrases such as “appeared to be” and “highly likely”

Followed up by:

2. Sorry to put it like this George (but not very) but any proper journalist knows that “appears to be;” and “highly likely” are phrases used by people who would have loved to say “is”, but haven’t the facts which would allow them to do so.

And:

3. I’d also say that in a long career I have learned to be sceptical of opinions convenient to the person presenting them, originating from unnamed and unidentified sources, and of people with firm views about events they did not themselves witness.

After Monbiot had ‘liked’ a tweet smearing Hitchens as ‘a chemical weapons denier/Assad-Putin stooge’, together with Monbiot’s clear inability to properly respond to reasonable questions from Hitchens about supposed incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, Hitchens concluded:

I have been dismayed and disappointed by the behaviour of @GeorgeMonbiot on this issue, where he has preferred smear to rational, fact-based debate. What has happened to radicalism in the west, when prominent left-wingers behave like this?

Indeed. Although, when it comes to UK foreign policy, far from being a ‘left-winger’, Monbiot has consistently aligned himself with dubious neocon and ‘interventionist’ voices for some considerable time.

Concluding Remarks

It may have taken several years, but Guardian columnist Owen Jones has come to realise something vital about the ‘mainstream’ media which, to his credit, he has been willing to share:

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

As Ian Sinclair pointed out in the Morning Star:

the indignant responses [from corporate journalists] — perfectly illustrating Jones’s argument — came thick and fast.

The response from Deborah Haynes, Times defence editor, was typical when she proudly declared:

No-one tells me what to think

US writer and media critic Michael Parenti had the perfect response for this recurring facile boast from corporate journalists:

You say what you like because they like what you say.

In other words, journalists are filtered for ‘reliability’; only those who say, write and even think the right things are able to reach senior positions in journalism. The consequences for genuine truth-telling journalism are horrendous, as the above examples show.

  1. Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20.
  2. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1.
  3. Quoted, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, New York, 2002, p. 13.

Our Two Biggest Headaches

We normal people have two incredibly difficult and very serious problems to overcome. One is a basically mendacious and corrupt system of government, which routinely lies to us when, for example, it tells us it has no money for our essential services such as a well-funded NHS or free universities (like we used to have here in the UK), but has no trouble at all finding money to fund illegal wars and foreign terrorist groups, or finding hundreds of millions to bail out bankrupt zombie banks. Or when it slanders Russia or attacks Syria, for example, without any verifiable evidence or legitimate reason for doing so. A growing number of people are slowly beginning to understand this problem.

The second major problem we have is much less well-understood, but closely related to the first. It’s the fact that the main sources we use for the information that forms our opinions are not only not fit for purpose, they’re often downright deceitful and untrustworthy. These sources, comprising most national newspapers, radio, and TV stations, are totally unreliable because even when they do occasionally produce a good piece of work we just don’t know how much of it we can trust or believe. The evidence for this is vast. All that’s needed is simply to think carefully about almost any “news” item they produce.

Take one easy example: the front page of the 5th May edition of The Times newspaper, reckoned by many to be wholly trustworthy, stated “MPs call for inquest as Corbyn fails election test”. So at first glance it not only appears that the Labour Party suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent local elections, but also that this defeat is so important it deserves to be the leading story on the front page of this august truth-teller. Yet a quick glance on page 6 of the same paper shows that last week’s elections increased the number of Labour councillors by 59 — more than any other party. The Tories lost 31 councillors, but somehow it’s Labour that failed the “election test”.

This blatant misinformation-spreading is not unusual. It can be found dozens of times on any day of the week via our national newspapers or radio and TV stations. Over the years it has misled people into producing the disastrous Brexit result (following decades of xenophobic ranting by the country’s two most widely-read newspapers), supporting illegal foreign wars, and meek acceptance of the ruinous austerity policies of forty years of capitalist rule. Our system of government is in terrible shape, but it’s the complicit mainstream media that keep it propped up.

2018: When Orwell’s 1984 Stopped Being Fiction

This is the moment when a newspaper claiming to uphold that most essential function in a liberal democracy – acting as a watchdog on power – formally abandons the task. This is the moment when it positively embraces the role of serving as a mouthpiece for the government. The tell is in one small word in a headline on today’s Guardian’s front page: “Revealed”.

When I trained as a journalist, we reserved a “Revealed” or an “Exposed” for those special occasions when we were able to bring to the reader information those in power did not want known. These were the rare moments when as journalists we could hold our heads high and claim to be monitoring the centres of power, to be fulfilling our sacred duty as the fourth estate.

But today’s Guardian’s “exclusive” story “Revealed: UK’s push to strengthen anti-Russia alliance” is doing none of this. Nothing the powerful would want hidden from us is being “revealed”. No one had to seek out classified documents or speak to a whistleblower to bring us this “revelation”. Everyone in this story – the journalist Patrick Wintour, an anonymous “Whitehall official”, and the named politicians and think-tank wonks – is safely in the same self-congratulatory club, promoting a barely veiled government policy: to renew the Cold War against Russia.


It is no accident that the government chose the Guardian as the place to publish this “exclusive” press release. That single word “Revealed” in the headline serves two functions that reverse the very rationale for liberal, watchdog-style journalism.

First, it is designed to disorientate the reader in Orwellian – or maybe Lewis Carroll – fashion, inverting the world of reality. The reader is primed for a disclosure, a secret, and then is spoonfed familiar government propaganda: that the tentacles of a Russian octopus are everywhere, that the Reds are again under our beds – or at least, poisoning our door handles.

British diplomats plan to use four major summits this year – the G7, the G20, Nato and the European Union – to try to deepen the alliance against Russia hastily built by the Foreign Office after the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March.

This – and thousands of similar examples we are exposed to every day in the discourse of our politicians and media – is the way our defences are gradually lowered, our critical thinking weakened, in ways that assist those in power to launch their assault on democratic norms. Through such journalistic fraud, liberal media like the Guardian and BBC – because they claim to be watchdogs on power, to defend the interests of the ruled, not the rulers – serve a vital role in preparing the ground for the coming changes that will restrict dissent, tighten controls on social media, impose harsher laws.

The threat is set out repeatedly in the Guardian’s framing of the story: there is a self-evident need for “a more comprehensive approach to Russian disinformation”; Moscow is determined “systematically to divide western electorates and sow doubt”; “the west finds itself arguing with Russia not just about ideology, or interests, but Moscow’s simple denial, or questioning, of what the western governments perceive as unchallengeable facts.”

Tom Tugendhat, son a High Court judge, a former army officer who was honoured with an MBE by the Queen in his thirties, and was appointed chair of the Commons’ important foreign affairs select committee after two years in parliament, sets out the thinking of the British establishment – and hints at the likely solutions. He tells the Guardian:

Putin is waging an information war designed to turn our strongest asset – freedom of speech – against us. Russia is trying to fix us through deception.

Second, there is a remedy for the disorientation created by that small word “Revealed”. It subtly forces the reader to submit to the inversion.

For the reasons set out above, a rational response to this front-page story is to doubt that Wintour, his editors, and the Guardian newspaper itself are quite as liberal as they claim to be, that they take seriously the task of holding power to account. It is to abandon the consoling assumption that we, the 99 per cent, have our own army – those journalists in the bastions of liberal media like the Guardian and the BBC – there to protect us. It is to realise that we are utterly alone against the might of the corporate world. That is a truly disturbing, terrifying even, conclusion.

But that sense of abandonment and dread can be overcome. The world can be set to rights again – and it requires only one small leap of faith. If Russian president Vladimir Putin truly is an evil mastermind, if Russia is an octopus with tentacles reaching out to every corner of the globe, if there are Russian agents hiding in the ethers ready to deceive you every time you open your laptop, and Russian cells preparing to fix your elections so that the Muscovian candidate (Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn?) wins, then the use of that “Revealed” is not only justified but obligatory. The Guardian isn’t spouting British and US government propaganda, it is holding to account the supremely powerful and malevolent Russian state.

Once you have stepped through this looking glass, once you have accepted that you are living in Oceania and in desperate need of protection from Eurasia, or is it Eastasia?, then the Guardian is acting as a vital watchdog – because the enemy is within. Our foe is not those who rule us, those who have all the wealth, those who store their assets offshore so they don’t have to pay taxes, those who ignore devastating climate breakdown because reforms would be bad for business. No, the real enemy are the sceptics, the social media “warriors”, the political activists, even the leader of the British Labour party. They may sound and look harmless, but they are not who or what they seem. There are evil forces standing behind them.

In this inverse world, the coming draconian changes are not a loss but a gain. You are not losing the rights you enjoy now, or rights you might need in the future when things get even more repressive. The restrictions are pre-emptive, there to protect you before Putin and his bots have not only taken over cyberspace but have entered your living space. Like the aggressive wars of “humanitarian intervention” the west is waging across the oil-rich areas of the Middle East, the cruelty is actually kindness. Those who object, those who demur, do so only because they are in the financial or ideological grip of the mastermind Putin.

This is the moment when war becomes peace, freedom becomes slavery, ignorance becomes strength.

The West Closes its Ears to Douma Testimony

The response from the US, UK and France to a briefing on Thursday at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague was perverse, to say the least. Russia had brought 17 witnesses from Douma who stated that there had been no chemical weapons attack there earlier this month – the pretext for an illegal air strike on Syria by the three western states.

The witnesses, a mix of victims and the doctors who treated them, told accounts that confirmed a report provided last week from Douma by British reporter Robert Fisk – a report, it should be noted, that has been almost entirely blanked by the western media. According to the testimony provided at the OPCW, the victims shown in a video from the site of the alleged attack were actually suffering from the effects of inhaling dust after a bombing raid, not gas.

The first strange thing to note is that the US, UK and France boycotted the meeting, denouncing Russia for producing the witnesses and calling the event an “obscene masquerade” and “theatre”. It suggests that this trio, behaving like the proverbial three monkeys, think the testimony will disappear if they simply ignore it. They have no interest in hearing from witnesses unless they confirm the western narrative used to justify the air strikes on Syria.

Testimony from witnesses is surely a crucial part of determining what actually happened. The US, UK and France are surely obligated to listen to the witnesses first, and then seek to discredit the testimony afterwards if they think it implausible or coerced. The evidence cannot be tested and rebutted if it is not even considered.

The second is that the media are echoing this misplaced scorn for evidence. They too seem to have prejudged whether the witnesses are credible before listening to what they have to say (similar to their treatment of Fisk). Tellingly, the Guardian described these witnesses as “supposed witnesses”, not a formulation that suggests any degree of impartiality in its coverage.

Notice that when the Guardian refers to witnesses who support the UK-UK-French line, often those living under the rule of violent jihadist groups, the paper does not designate them “supposed witnesses” or assume their testimony is coerced. Why for the Guardian are some witnesses only professing to be witnesses, while others really are witnesses. The answer appears to depend on whether the testimony accords with the official western narrative. There is a word for that, and it is not “journalism”.

The third and biggest problem, however, is that neither the trio of western states nor the western media are actually contesting the claim that these “supposed witnesses” were present in Douma, and that some of them were shown in the video. Rather, the line taken by the Guardian and others is that: “The veracity [of] the statements by the Russian-selected witnesses at The Hague will be challenged, since their ability to speak truthfully is limited.”

So the question is not whether they were there, but whether they are being coerced into telling a story that undermines the official western narrative, as well as the dubious rationale for attacking Syria.

But that leaves us with another difficulty. No one, for example, appears to be doubting that Hassan Diab, a boy who testified at the hearing, is also the boy shown in the video who was supposedly gassed with a nerve agent three weeks ago. How then do we explain that he is now looking a picture of health? It is not as though the US, UK and French governments and the western media have had no time to investigate his case. He and his father have been saying for at least a week on Russian TV that there was no chemical attack.

Instead, we are getting yet more revisions to a story that was originally presented as so cut-and-dried that it justified an act of military aggression by the US, UK and France against Syria, without authorisation from the UN Security Council – in short, a war crime of the highest order.

It is worth noting the BBC’s brief account. It has suggested that Diab was there, and that he is the boy shown in the video, but that he was not a victim of a gas attack. It implies that there were two kinds of victims shown in the video taken in Douma: those who were victims of a chemical attack, and those next to them who were victims of dust inhalation.

That requires a great deal of back-peddling on the original narrative.

It is conceivable, I suppose, that there was a chemical attack on that neighbourhood of Douma, in which people like Diab assumed they had been gassed when, in fact, that they had not been, and that others close by were actually gassed. It is also conceivable that the effects of dust inhalation and gassing were so similar that the White Helmets staff mistakenly filmed the “wrong victims”, highlighting those like Diab who had not been gassed. And it is also conceivable, I guess, that Diab and his family now feel the need to lie under Russian pressure about there not being a gas attack, even though their account would, according to this revised narrative, actually accord with their experience of what happened.

But even if each of these scenarios is conceivable on its own, how plausible are they when taken together. Those of us who have preferred to avoid a rush to judgment until there was actual evidence of a chemical weapons attack have been invariably dismissed as “conspiracy theorists”. But who is really proposing the more fanciful conspiracy here: those wanting evidence, or those creating an elaborate series of revisions to maintain the credibility of their original story?

If there is one thing certain in all of this, it is that the video produced as cast-iron evidence of a chemical weapons attack has turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Douma: “It Just Doesn’t Ring True”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then suddenly you get this…

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

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

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

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

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

Only ‘looking’ for actual evidence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta’

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

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

Robert Fisk – Hypoxia, Not Gas

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

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

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

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

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

Fisk is no stranger to controversy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists,

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

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

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

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

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

We replied:

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

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

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

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

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

Strong piece from @mehdirhasan

George Monbiot:

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

Oliver Kamm of The Times:

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

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

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

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

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

In his piece for The Intercept, Hasan commented:

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

And yet, in 2013, he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Read Part One here

Douma: Deception In Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oborne added:

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

Tisdall was having none of it:

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

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

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

HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

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

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

Monbiot replied:

Then he’s a fool.

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

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

Monbiot tweeted back:

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

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

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

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

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

Why Are These Academics Allowed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hitchens questioned Guardian certainty on Douma:

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political analyst Ben Norton noted on Twitter:

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

Norton added:

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

And:

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

And:

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

And:

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

And:

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

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

• Part 2 will be published soon!