Category Archives: UK media

Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth.  Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

Maybe the real scandal lies with us, the electorate, still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago… For allowing this shameless man to keep riding high, some of the shame is on us.

Freedland is far from alone in peddling this line. Kuenssberg, in her BBC piece, offers a variant:

An insider told me: “He frequently leaves people with the belief that he has told them one thing, but he has given himself room for manoeuvre,” believing that, “the fewer cast iron positions you hold the better, because you can always change political direction.”

The verbal flourishes and rhetorical tricks are part of the reason why he has prospered. “A lot of his magic has been those off-the-cuff comments, that’s why a lot of the public like him,” says an ally.

In other words, we see what we want to see. Johnson is the vessel into which we pour our hopes and dreams, while he has the tough challenge of making our melange of hopes and dreams a tangible, workable reality.

Liberal journalists have been on this “blame the voters” path for a while. When it was Corbyn and his “dangerous” socialism being pitted against the Tories’ crony capitalism, the Guardian enthusiastically joined the smear campaign against Labour. That included evidence-free claims of an “institutional antisemitism” crisis under Corbyn’s leadership.

And yet despite the media’s best endeavours, Corbyn appalled journalists like Freedland at the 2017 general election by winning Labour’s biggest rise in vote share since 1945. Corbyn denied the Conservatives a majority and was a few thousand votes from winning outright – something Starmer can only dream of at the moment, despite Johnson’s exposure as an inveterate liar and conman. And Corbyn achieved this while the Labour party machine, and the entire corporate media, were vehemently against him.

Dangerous populism

It was in the wake of Corbyn’s unexpected success at the polls in 2017 that the Guardian unleashed its “New Populism” series, seeking to warn of a supposedly dangerous new political phenomenon that lumped the then-Labour leader in with right wing populists such as Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. They were all part of a new wave of authoritarian, cult-like leaders who barely concealed their sinister, racist agendas, gulled supporters with promises divorced from reality, and most likely had secret ties to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In short, the Guardian’s thesis was that “the people” kept voting for these leaders because they were stupid and easily duped by a smooth-tongued charlatan.

This narrative was aggressively promoted by the Guardian, even though Corbyn had nothing in common with the right wing authoritarians with whom he was forced to share star billing. He had spent his long political career on the backbenches, cultivating a self-effacing politics of communal solidarity and “standing up for the little guy” rather than pursuing power. And far from being a nationalist or nativist, Corbyn had dedicated decades to internationalism and fighting racism – though admittedly, in challenging the anti-Palestinian racism of Israel and its Zionist supporters he had left himself prey to disingenuous claims of antisemitism.

But after several years of emotional and ideological investment in “the people are dumb” approach, the Guardian seems in no hurry to drop it – until, or unless, the people can be persuaded to vote for an eminently safe, status-quo candidate like Starmer. The paper’s target has simply switched from Corbyn to the more plausible figure of Boris Johnson.

The Guardian dares not contemplate any alternative explanation for why voters continue to prefer the narcissist, corrupt, lying Johnson over Labour’s “Clean Up Westminster” Keir Starmer. But its reluctance to consider other explanations does not mean they cannot be found.

A corrupt system

The problem is not that most voters have failed to understand that Johnson is corrupt, though given the corrupt nature of the British corporate media – the Guardian very much included – they are hardly well positioned to appreciate the extent of Johnson’s corruption.

It is not even that they know that he is corrupt but do not care.

Rather, the real problem is that significant sections of the electorate have rightly come to the realisation that the wider political system within which Johnson operates is corrupt too. So corrupt, in fact, that it may be impossible to fix. Johnson is simply more open, and honest, about how he exploits the corrupt system.

Over the past two decades, there have been several way-stations exposing the extent of the corruption of the UK’s political system, whichever party was in power.

Labour under Tony Blair overrode popular dissent, expressed in the largest marches ever seen in the UK, and lied his way to a war on Iraq in 2003 that led to the killing and ethnic cleansing of millions of Iraqis. UK soldiers were dragged into a war that, it quickly became clear, was really about securing western control over the Middle East’s oil. And the invasion and occupation of Iraq spawned a new nihilistic Islamic cult that rampaged across the region and whose embers have yet to be snuffed out.

Five years later, Gordon Brown oversaw the near-implosion of the British economy after Labour had spent more than a decade intensifying the financial deregulation begun under Margaret Thatcher. That process had turned the financial sector into the true power behind No 10. Both Brown and his Tory successor, David Cameron, not only refused to hold to account any of the white-collar criminals responsible for the collapse of the financial system, but instead rewarded them with massive bailouts. Ordinary people, meanwhile, were forced to tighten their belts through years of austerity to pay off the debts.

And in the background throughout this period, a global and local environmental catastrophe has been gradually unfolding that the political system has shown no capacity to address because it has been captured by corporations who benefit most from continuing the environmental degradation. The system has instead dissembled on the threats we face to justify inaction.

No price to pay

The truly astonishing thing is that those who lied us into the Iraq war, destabilising the Middle East and provoking an exodus from the region that has fuelled a surge in xenophobic politics across Europe; those who broke the financial system through their greed and incompetence and lied their way out of the consequences, forcing the rest of us to foot the bill; and those who lied about the ecological catastrophes unfolding over the past half century so that they could go on lining their own pockets; none of them paid any price at all for their mendacity, for their deceptions, for their corruption. Not only that, but they have grown richer, more powerful, more respected because of the lies.

One only needs to look at the fate of that unapologetic pair of war criminals, Tony Blair and George W Bush. The former has amassed wealth like a black hole sucks in light, and preposterously is still regularly called on by the media to pontificate on ethical issues in British politics. And the latter has been rehabilitated as a once-wayward, now beloved, irreverent uncle to the nation, one whose humanity has supposedly been underscored simply by making sure he was filmed “sneaking” a sweet to his presidential successor’s wife.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, a remedy to Britain’s self-evidently flawed political system was thrown up – in the form of Corbyn. He was a throwback, the very antithesis of the modern politicians who had brought us to the brink of ruin on multiple fronts. He was not venal, nor a narcissist. His concern was improving the lives of ordinary people, not the bank balances of corporate donors. He was against colonial-style wars to grab other countries’ resources. The things that made him a laughing stock with the political elite – his cheap clothes, his simple life, his allotment – made him appealing to large sections of the electorate.

For many, Corbyn was the last gasp for a system they had given up on. He might prove their growing cynicism about politics wrong. His success might demonstrate that the system could be fixed, and that all was not lost.

Except that is not how it played out. The entire political and media class – even the military – turned on Corbyn. They played the man, not the ball – and when it came to the man, any and all character assassination was justified. He had been a Soviet agent. He was a threat to Britain’s security. His IQ was too low to be prime minister. He was a secret antisemite.

Lying, cheating and stealing

In the United States, then-Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer warned Donald Trump back in 2017 that the US intelligence services would “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you” should the president try to go up against them. Maybe Trump hoped that his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would offer some protection. Pompeo, a former head of the CIA, understood the dishonest ways of the intelligence services only too well. He explained his agency’s modus operandi to a group of students in Texas in an unusually frank manner in late 2019: “I was the CIA director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. That’s, it was like, we had entire training courses!”

With the campaign to destroy Corbyn, many saw how the British system was just as skilled and experienced as the US one in its capacity to lie, cheat and steal. Corbyn’s treatment offered an undeniable confirmation of what they already suspected.

Over the past two decades, in an era when social media has emerged as an alternative information universe challenging that of the traditional corporate media, all these episodes – Iraq, the financial crash, ecological catastrophe, Corbyn’s political assassination – have had deeply damaging political ramifications. Because once people sensed that the system was corrupt, they became cynical. And once they were cynical, once they believed the system was rigged whoever won, they began voting cynically too.

This should be the main context for understanding Johnson’s continuing success and his invulnerability to criticism. In a rigged system, voters prefer an honestly dishonest politician – one who revels in the cynicism of the system and is open about exploiting it – over one who pretends he is playing fair, one who feigns a belief in the system’s ultimate decency, one who lies by claiming he can pursue the common good.

If the system is rigged, who is really more mendacious: Johnson, who plays dirty in a dirty system, or Starmer, who pretends he can clean up the Westminster cesspit when all he will really do is push the ordure out of view.

Johnson is transparently looking out for his mates and donors. Starmer is looking out for a rotten system, one that he intends to makeover so its corruption is less visible, less open to scrutiny.

Liberals are mystified by this reading of politics. They, after all, are emotionally invested in a supposedly meritocratic system from which they personally benefited for so long. They would rather believe the lie that a good political system is being corrupted by rotten politicians and a stupid electorate than the reality that a corrupt political system is being exploited by those best placed to navigate its corrupt ways.

The post Boris Johnson’s lies don’t harm him because the political system is more corrupt than he is first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say

A group of Labour activists fighting through the courts to discover why they and others were investigated or expelled from the UK’s Labour Party for antisemitism say they have flushed out proof of bad faith from their accusers.

The group, who call themselves Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J), say the new disclosure confirms their claim that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

As a result, the number of cases of antisemitism in Labour was inflated, falsely feeding the public impression that the political party under Corbyn had attracted Jew haters, say the Labour activists.

The suggestion that groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement “weaponised” antisemitism against Corbyn is currently seen as grounds by Labour to suspend or expel members.

But according to LA4J, evidence revealed in their legal case has now vindicated that claim.

The activists note that Jewish groups that waged a campaign of attacks on Corbyn over an antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 are now “deafeningly silent” on discovering that Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has been secretly using exactly the same code.

When it was first published, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations erupted in outrage, alleging that the 16-point code was proof of “institutional antisemitism” in the Labour party – and even that Corbyn posed a threat to Jewish life in Britain.

But the admission by Starmer’s officials that they are using the same code of conduct to investigate members has gone entirely unremarked three years later.

That is despite a submission to the courts from Labour’s own lawyers that the code had been kept secret because its publication might prove “politically incendiary”.

LA4J points out that back in 2018 the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups insisted that Corbyn replace the code with an alternative, controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

According to the activists, the current silence of these Jewish groups, after Starmer’s officials have conceded that they are using Corbyn’s code rather than the IHRA definition, further indicates bad faith.

Despite public statements to the contrary, the organisations knew that the IHRA definition was unworkable for Labour’s disciplinary procedures back in 2018, LA4J say.

“If Labour believes that the code issued by Corbyn was ‘incendiary’, the question is where is the bushfire now, when Starmer’s team admit they are using the very same code,” Chris Wallis, a spokesman for LA4J, told Middle East Eye.

“One of the things this case suggests is that groups like the Board of Deputies hoped to weaponise antisemitism as a way to attack Corbyn.”

Disciplinary process ‘back to front’

The group’s legal action is due to reach the High Court in June. It will be the first wide-ranging legal examination of Labour’s disciplinary procedures relating to antisemitism. In October 2019, the High Court ruled that the suspension of then-Labour MP Chris Williamson for “bringing the party into disrepute” over antisemitism allegations was illegal, though the judge did not overturn a second suspension that ousted him from the party.

Eight party members, including three Jews, are pursuing the case after they were investigated for alleged antisemitism. LA4J estimates that at least 30 Jewish members of the party have been accused of antisemitism, some repeatedly.

Late last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s equalities watchdog, issued a report critical of Labour’s handling of antisemitism cases, especially over what it termed “political interference” by Corbyn’s office, which it said had resulted in “a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process”.

However, the EHRC found that in practice such interference chiefly harmed the interests of those accused of antisemitism rather than their accusers. Corbyn’s officials often tried to speed up investigations in the hope of ending the barrage of criticism from Jewish organisations.

LA4J argue that hundreds of members have been drummed out of the party in a process that has lacked the transparency and fairness demanded by the EHRC. The procedure, they say, has failed to provide those under investigation with an opportunity to challenge the allegations.

Most members receive a “notice of investigation” that typically cites social media posts as evidence of antisemitism. In some cases, members have been accused of sharing articles from prominent websites, such as Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, known to be harshly critical of Israel for its repeated violations of Palestinian rights.

No explanation is made in the notice of why party officials believe the posts to be antisemitic. Instead, it is required of those under investigation to demonstrate why their posts should not be considered antisemitic.

The notices also demand that members under investigation not publicise their case or the information that is being used against them. It is unclear whether they are even allowed to seek legal advice. Instead, they are encouraged to get help from a GP or the Samaritans to aid their “wellbeing”.

Wallis, a former BBC radio drama producer who has been under investigation since last year, is one of the eight members taking the party to court.

“The disciplinary process has been entirely back to front,” he said. “We were never told about the secret code being used to judge our cases and it was never explained how what we did was antisemitic. The assumption was that we were guilty unless we could prove otherwise, and we were expected to incriminate ourselves.”

‘Sickness’ in Labour

At a preliminary hearing in February, the Labour Party argued that the courts had no place adjudicating on its handling of antisemitism cases. However, the judge approved the High Court hearing for June and awarded costs against Labour.

In what appears to be an attempt to avoid a second adverse ruling, Labour officials made the disciplinary process more transparent last month by divulging how it assessed antisemitism cases.

Starmer’s officials published on the party’s website the same antisemitism code of conduct that had been drafted during Corbyn’s time as leader. They did so despite a submission from one of Labour’s senior lawyers during February’s court hearing that such an admission could prove “politically incendiary”.

That was because a wide range of Jewish leadership groups rounded on Corbyn and Labour over the code when it was first published in July 2018.

Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, set up to protect Jewish communities from antisemitic attacks, lambasted Corbyn in an article in the Guardian headlined “Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”.

A blog on the Trust’s website added that the code “brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles”.

The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, both claiming to represent Britain’s Jewish community, stated that the adoption by Corbyn’s officials of the code would “further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement”.

The Jewish Labour Movement, a Labour party affiliate connected to the Israeli Labor party, argued that the code was “a get out of jail free card” for antisemites, and claimed it breached equalities legislation.

Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s chief rabbi, called the code “a watershed moment” for Labour and warned that it sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.

Dozens of rabbis backed him, accusing the Labour leadership of having “chosen to ignore the Jewish community”.

And the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel lobby group, argued that “the code seems to be designed to give free rein to certain forms of antisemitic discourse”.

‘It was about who was in charge’

But despite the outpouring of concern back in 2018, note LA4J, Jewish organisations have remained silent since Labour revealed that the same antisemitism code of conduct introduced under Corbyn is being used by Starmer’s officials in disciplinary cases.

“This was never about what was going on inside Labour, as was claimed,” said Wallis. “It was about who was in charge. The aim was to remove Corbyn at all costs.”

Labour’s stated goal in drafting the code in 2018 was to assist with ironing out problems in the IHRA definition, which was being aggressively lobbied for by leading Jewish groups.

In particular, Corbyn’s code provided additional context to help judge aspects of the IHRA’s 11 potential examples of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel.

The code warns that the IHRA text “is not a legal definition, and on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic”.

The Labour antisemitism code also emphasises a need for “respectful debate” between party members when talking about contentious political matters around Israel and warns that the party “will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”.

The concern among Corbyn’s team was that the definition would shift the focus of antisemitism away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel, and expose activists supportive of Palestinian rights to investigation.

The imprecision of the IHRA definition, and its politicisation of antisemitism, had already been widely criticised, including by a former Court of Appeal judge and the British parliament’s home affairs select committee.

Kenneth Stern, the chief architect of the IHRA definition, had also weighed in to note that it was unsuitable for use in disciplinary procedures and was being “weaponised” by elements of the Jewish community to stifle criticism of Israel.

Jewish organisations, on the other hand, argued that Corbyn was using the Labour code to avoid adopting the IHRA definition in full with all its examples, and implied that his motivation was to make Labour hostile to British Jews.

Facing the backlash, and concerted criticism in the media, Corbyn’s officials appeared to discard the code and instead adopted the IHRA definition in full a few weeks later, in September 2018.

Definition ‘not fit for purpose’

It is unclear whether Corbyn’s officials ever used the 2018 code to adjudicate in disciplinary cases. But LA4J say its adoption by Starmer’s officials – and their efforts to hide the fact that they were using the code – confirm that the IHRA’s definition was indeed unworkable.

Jenny Manson, a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up in 2017 to show support for Corbyn among Jewish party members and is now supporting LA4J, said that the weaknesses of the IHRA definition must have been clear to organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement and Board of Deputies.

“Their current silence shows that they must have known the IHRA definition wasn’t fit for purpose as it was,” she said. “The additional code of conduct was needed. They opposed it in 2018, it seems clear, only because they were looking to damage Jeremy [Corbyn].”

Although LA4J argue that the code is fairer than the IHRA definition, they also say it has been widely misused against members as officials have sought to placate Jewish groups accusing Labour of being institutionally antisemitic.

Diana Neslen, an 82-year-old Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for antisemitism and sanctioned by the party, said: “Even a quick look at [the code] suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused. Indeed, we should never have been investigated in the first place.”

LA4J hopes that, with the code no longer secret, Labour members will have a better chance to challenge current and future investigations conducted against them by party officials.

Neslen warned, however, that existing injustices needed to be addressed too: “What are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?”

She and LA4J have called for those suspended or expelled to have their cases reopened and the evidence reassessed in a transparent manner.

The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council were all approached by Middle East Eye for comment. None had responded by the time of publication.

According to LA4J, their court case highlights how little evidence there was for the claim that antisemitism within the Labour party had been an especial problem under Corbyn’s leadership.

Levels of antisemitism in Labour appear to be lower than in the wider British public, within which about five percent of people could “justifiably be described as antisemites”, according to research published by the Community Security Trust in 2017.

Corbyn’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, issued figures in April 2019 that showed disciplinary action had been taken against just 0.08 percent of Labour’s 540,000 members, even after the strict application of the antisemitism code and “political interference” by Corbyn’s officials in speeding up disciplinary proceedings.

During the latest legal proceedings, Labour has revealed equivalent figures for Starmer, relating to the period between May last year and last month. Although details about the investigations are not precise, in the worst-case scenario an even smaller percentage of Labour members were found to be antisemitic.

These figures, the LA4J argue, suggest that Labour has not had an “antisemitism problem” under either Corbyn or Starmer.

That impression is shared by most Labour members. According to a YouGov poll commissioned last month by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, a significant majority – 70 percent – believe that Labour does not have a serious problem with antisemitism.

Most appear to agree with Corbyn’s reaction to the Equalities Commission report that the claims against Labour were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. That statement led to Starmer expelling Corbyn from the Labour parliamentary party.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Labour disclosure “shows antisemitism was weaponised against Corbyn”, activists say first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The news media offers wall-to-wall propaganda every day: we only notice when a royal dies

A few lessons to be learned from the wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death in the British media:

1. There is absolutely no commercial reason for the media to be dedicating so much time and space to the Prince’s death. ITV, which needs eyeballs on its programmes to generate income from advertising, saw a 60 per cent drop in viewing figures after it decided to broadcast endless forelock-tugging. Audiences presumably deserted to Netflix and Youtube, where the mood of mourning was not being enforced. Many viewers, particularly younger ones, have no interest in the fact that a very old man just died, even if he did have lots of titles.

Like ITV, the BBC simply ignored the wishes of its audiences, commandeering all of its many channels to manufacture and enforce the national mood of grief. That even went so far as placing banners on the CBBC channel for children encouraging them to forgo their cartoons and switch to the other channels paying endless, contrived tributes to Philip. The resulting outpouring of anger was so great, the BBC was forced to open a dedicated complaints form on its website, and then hurriedly had to remove it when the establishment threw a wobbly about viewers being given a chance to object to the BBC’s coverage.

2. The BBC is reported to have heavily invested in coverage of Philip’s death for fear that otherwise they would face a barrage of criticism from right wing newspapers for showing a lack of patriotism and revealing a supposed “leftwing bias”. That was allegedly what happened when the BBC failed to sufficiently grovel to the royal family over the Queen Mother’s death in 2002. But if that is so, doesn’t it simply underscore quite how vulnerable the supposedly “neutral” state broadcaster is to pressure from the right wing billionaire owners of the establishment media?

If Rupert Murdoch and company can force the BBC into alienating and antagonising its own viewers with endless homilies to a royal little loved by large sections of the population, how else is the BBC’s coverage being skewed for fear of the potential backlash from corporate media tycoons? Is the fear of such repercussions also responsible for the BBC’s complicity in the recent, evidence-free smearing of a socialist Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, or the BBC’s consistent failures in reporting honestly on countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Venezuela – all of them in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Latin America that the United States and the west demand control over?

If the BBC makes its editorial decisions based on what right wing and far-right newspaper tycoons think is good both for the country and the world, then how is the BBC not equally right wing?

3. The BBC is also reportedly afraid that, if it is not seen to be deferential enough to the royal family, it risks being punished by the Conservative party, which regards the institution of the monarchy as sacrosanct. The BBC’s licence fee and wider funding might be in jeopardy as a result. But that is no less troubling than that the BBC is kowtowing to billionaire media magnates.

Because if the ruling Conservative party can wield a sufficiently big stick to dictate to the BBC how and to what extent it covers Philip’s death, why can the government not also bully the BBC into giving it an easy ride on its failures to deal with Covid and its cronyism in awarding Covid-related contracts?

Similarly, if the BBC is so craven, why can the ruling party not also intimidate it into ignoring the biggest assault currently facing journalism: Washington’s relentless efforts to imprison for life Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after he exposed US war crimes?

And what would there be to stop Tory leader Boris Johnson from arm-twisting the BBC into ignoring the rampant racism documented in his own party and pressuring the state broadcaster instead into presenting the Labour party as riddled with antisemitism, even though figures show that Labour has less of a problem with racism than wider British society and the Tories?

And there is the rub. Because the BBC has been doing exactly this, serving as little more than a propaganda channel for the right.

The same fear of the ruling Conservative party might explain why the BBC keeps filling its top posts, and its most influential editorial jobs, with stalwarts of the right. Most egregiously that includes the BBC’s new chairman, Richard Sharp, who is not only one of the Tory party’s biggest donors but helped to fund a firm accused of “human warehousing” – stuffing benefit recipients into “rabbit hutch” flats – to profit from a Conservative government scheme.

It would also explain the appointment of James Harding, a Murdoch loyalist and former Times editor who vowed that he and his newspaper were unabashedly “pro-Israel”, as head of the BBC news in 2013. It would explain too why Sarah Sands, editor of the unapologetically right wing Evening Standard, was seen as suitable to serve as editor of the Radio 4’s morning news programme, Today.

4. The truth is that all of these factors have played a part. Corporate media is not just there to make quick profits. Sometimes, it is seen by its billionaire owners as a loss-leader. It is there to generate a favourable political and social climate to help corporations accrete ever greater power and profits.

Manufacturing the pretence of patriotic solidarity in a time of supposed national loss or calamity; cultivating a reverence for tradition; promoting unquestioning respect for socially constructed authority figures; reinforcing social hierarchies that normalise grossly offensive wealth disparities is exactly what establishment media is there to do.

The corporate media, from the Daily Mail to the BBC and Guardian, is there to make the patently insane – mourning an entitled man most of us knew little about and what little we did know made us care even less for him – seem not only natural but obligatory. To refuse to submit to compulsory grieving, to state that Philip’s death from old age is less important than the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the UK who lost their lives early from the pandemic, is not rudeness, or heartlessness, or a lack of patriotism. It is to cling on to our humanity, to prize our ability to think and feel for ourselves, and to refuse to be swept up in a carnival of hollow emotion.

And most important of all, it is to sense – however briefly – that the wall-to-wall propaganda we are being subjected to on the death of a royal may look exceptional but is, in fact, entirely routine. It is simply that in normal times the propaganda is better masked, wrapped in the illusion of choice and variety.

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Starmer isn’t “too cautious”: he is ruthlessly tearing Labour apart

The completion of Keir Starmer’s first year as Labour leader might have passed without note, had it not been the occasion for senior party figures to express mounting concern at Labour’s dismal performance in opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

At a time when Labour ought to be landing regular punches on the ruling party over its gross incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, and cronyism in its awarding of multimillion-pound coronavirus-related contracts, Starmer has preferred to avoid confrontation. Critics have accused him of being “too cautious” and showing a “lack of direction”.

Dissatisfaction with Starmer among Labour voters has quadrupled over the past 10 months, from 10 percent last May to 39 percent in March. His approach does not even appear to be winning over the wider public: a recent poll on who would make a better prime minister gave incumbent Johnson a 12 percentage-point lead.

Increasingly anxious senior Labour MPs called late last month for a “big figure” to help Starmer set aside his supposed political diffidence and offer voters a clearer idea of “what Keir is for”.

That followed a move in February by Starmer’s team to reach out to Peter Mandelson, who helped Tony Blair rebrand the party as “New Labour” in the 1990s and move it sharply away from any association with
socialism.

‘Cynically’ evasive

But there is a twofold problem with this assessment of Starmer’s first year.

It assumes Labour’s dire polling is evidence that voters might warm to Starmer if they knew more about what he stands for. That conclusion seems unwarranted. A Labour internal review leaked in February showed that the British public viewed Starmer’s party as “deliberate and cynical” in its evasiveness on policy matters.

In other words, British voters’ aversion to Starmer is not that he is “too cautious” or lacklustre. Rather, they suspect that Starmer and his team are politically not being honest. Either he is covering up the fact that Labour under his leadership is an ideological empty vessel, or his party has clear policies but conceals them because it believes they would be unpopular.

In response, and indeed underscoring the increasingly cynical approach from Starmer’s camp, the review proposed reinventing Labour as a patriotic, Tory-lite party, emphasising “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

However, the deeper flaw in this assessment of Starmer’s first 12 months is that it assumes his caution in taking on the Tory government is evidence of some natural restraint or reticence on his part. This was the view promoted by a recent commentator in the Guardian, who observed: “‘Starmerism’ has not defined itself in any sense beyond sitting on the fence.”

But Starmer has proved to be remarkably unrestrained and intemperate when he chooses to be. If he is reticent, it appears to be only when it serves his larger political purposes.

All-out war

If there is one consistent thread in his first year, it has been a determined purging from the party of any trace of the leftwing politics of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as a concerted effort to drive out many tens of thousands of new members who joined because of Corbynism.

The paradox is that when Starmer stood in the leadership election last spring, he promised to unify a party deeply divided between a largely leftwing membership committed to Corbyn’s programme, on the one hand, and a largely rightwing parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy, on the other.

As an internal review leaked last April revealed, party officials were determined to destroy Corbyn even while he was leader, using highly undemocratic means.

Even if Starmer had chosen to be cautious or diffident, there looked to be no realistic way to square that circle. But far from sitting on the fence, he has been busy waging an all-out war on one side only: those sympathetic to Corbyn. And that campaign has involved smashing apart the party’s already fragile democratic procedures.

The prelude was the sacking last June of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary – and the most visible ally of Corbyn in Starmer’s shadow cabinet – on the flimsiest of pretexts. She had retweeted an article in the Independent newspaper that included a brief mention of Israel’s involvement in training western police forces in brutal restraint techniques.

Real target

A few months later, Starmer got his chance to go after his real target, when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published its highly flawed report into the claims of an antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

This provided the grounds Starmer needed to take the unprecedented step of excluding Corbyn from the parliamentary party he had been leader of only months earlier. It was a remarkably provocative and incautious move that infuriated large sections of the membership, some of whom abandoned the party as a result.

Having dispatched Corbyn and issued a stark ultimatum to any MP who might still harbour sympathies for the former leader, Starmer turned his attention to the party membership. David Evans, his new general secretary and a retread from the Blair years, issued directives banning constituency parties from protesting Corbyn’s exclusion or advocating for Corbynism.

Corbyn was overnight turned into a political “unperson”, in an echo of the authoritarian purges of the Soviet-era Communist party. No mention was to be made of him or his policies, on pain of suspension from the party.

Even this did not suffice. To help bolster the hostile environment towards left wing members, Starmer made Labour hostage to special interest groups that had openly waged war – from inside and outside the party – against his predecessor.

During the leadership campaign, Starmer signed on to a “10 Pledges” document from the deeply conservative and pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews. The board was one of the cheerleaders for the evidence-free antisemitism allegations that had beset Labour during Corbyn’s time as leader – even though all metrics suggested the party had less of an antisemitism problem than the Conservatives, and less of a problem under Corbyn than previous leaders.

Alienating the left

The Pledges required Starmer to effectively hand over control to the Board of Deputies and another pro-Israel group, the Jewish Labour Movement, on what kind of criticisms Labour members were allowed to make of Israel.

Opposition to a century of British-sponsored oppression of the Palestinian people had long been a rallying point for the UK’s left, as opposition to the treatment of black South Africans under the apartheid regime once was. Israel’s centrality to continuing western colonialism in the Middle East and its key role in a global military-industrial complex made it a natural target for leftwing activism.

But according to the Pledges – in a barely concealed effort to hound, alienate and silence the party’s left – it was for pro-Israel lobby groups to decide who should be be declared an antisemite, while “fringe” Jewish groups, or those supportive of Corbyn and critical of Israel, should be ignored.

Starmer readily agreed both to adopt the board’s conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and to disregard prominent Jews within his own party opposed to pro-Israel lobbying. His office was soon picking off prominent Jewish supporters of Corbyn, including leaders of Jewish Voice for Labour.

One of the most troubling cases was Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who was suspended shortly after she appeared in a moving video in which she explained how antisemitism had been weaponised by the pro-Israel lobby against left wing Jews like herself.

She noted the pain caused when Jews were smeared as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi pointed out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people”.

In suspending her, Starmer’s Labour effectively endorsed that type of ugly demonisation campaign.

Israeli spy recruited

But the war on the Labour left did not end there. In his first days as leader, Starmer was reluctantly forced to set up an inquiry into the leaked internal report that had exposed the party bureaucracy as profoundly hostile to Corbyn personally, and more generally to his socialist policies. Senior staff had even been shown trying to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.

But once the Forde Inquiry had been appointed, Starmer worked strenuously to kick it into the long grass, even bringing back into the party Emilie Oldknow, a central figure in the Corbyn-era bureaucracy who had been cast in a damning light by the leaked report’s revelations.

A separate chance to lay bare what had happened inside Labour head office during Corbyn’s term was similarly spurned by Starmer. He decided not to  defend a defamation case against Labour brought by John Ware, a BBC reporter, and seven former staff in Labour’s disciplinary unit. They had worked together on a Panorama special on the antisemitism claims against Corbyn that did much to damage him in the public eye.

These former officials had sued the party, arguing that Labour’s response to the BBC programme suggested they had acted in bad faith and sought to undermine Corbyn.

In fact, a similar conclusion had been reached in the damning internal leaked report on the behaviour of head office staff. It quoted extensively from emails and WhatsApp chats that showed a deep-seated antipathy to Corbyn in the party bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, Starmer’s office abandoned its legal defence last July, apologising “unreservedly” to the former staff members and paying “substantial damages”. Labour did so despite “clear advice” from lawyers, a former senior official said, that it would have won in court.

When Martin Forde, chair of the Forde inquiry, announced in February that his report had been delayed “indefinitely”, it seemed that the truth about the efforts of Labour staff to undermine Corbyn as leader were being permanently buried.

The final straw for many on the party’s left, however, was the revelation in January that Starmer had recruited to his team a former Israeli military spy, Assaf Kaplan, to monitor the use of social media by members.

Much of the supposed “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn had depended on the Israel lobby’s efforts to scour through old social media posts of left wing members, looking for criticism of Israel and then presenting it as evidence of antisemitism. As leader, Corbyn was pushed by these same lobby groups to adopt a new, highly controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It shifted attention away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

A former Israeli spy trained in the dark arts of surveilling Palestinians would be overseeing the monitoring of party members’ online activity.

Tory party of old

Far from sitting on the fence, as his critics claim, Starmer has been ruthless in purging socialism from the Labour party – under cover of claims that he is rooting out an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly inherited from Corbyn.

In a speech last month, Mandelson – the former Blair strategist who Starmer’s team has been consulting – called on the Labour leader to show “courage and determination” in tackling the supposedly “corrupt far left”. He suggested “large numbers” of members would still need to be expunged from the party in the supposed fight against antisemitism.

Starmer is investing huge energy and political capital in ridding the party of its leftwing members, while exhibiting little appetite for taking on Johnson’s right wing government.

These are not necessarily separate projects. There is a discernible theme here. Starmer is recrafting Labour not as a real opposition to the Conservative party’s increasingly extreme, crony capitalism, but as a responsible, more moderate alternative to it. He is offering voters a Labour party that feels more like the Tory party of old, which prioritised tradition, patriotism and family values.

None of this should surprise. Despite his campaign claims, Starmer’s history – predating his rapid rise through the Labour party – never suggested he was likely to clash with the establishment. After all, few public servants have been knighted by the Queen at the relatively tender age of 51 for their radicalism.

In safe hands

While head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer rejected indicting the police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, and his department effectively cleared MI5 and MI6 officers of torture related to the “War on Terror”.

His team not only sought to fast-track the extradition to Sweden of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who exposed western war crimes, but it also put strong pressure on its Swedish counterpart not to waver in pursuing Assange. One lawyer told the Swedes in 2012: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”

Starmer’s actions since becoming Labour leader are very much in line with his earlier career. He wants to prove he is a safe pair of hands to the British establishment, in hopes that he can avert the kind of relentless vilification Corbyn endured. Then, Starmer can bide his time until the British public tires of Johnson.

Starmer seems to believe that playing softball with the right wing government and hardball with the left in his own party will prove a winning formula. So far, voters beg to differ.

• First published in Middle East Eye

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Propaganda By Omission: Libya, Syria, Venezuela And The UK

We live in a war-like society; one that supports, and is in league with, the world’s number one terrorist threat: the United States of America. Corporate media propaganda plays a key role in keeping things that way.

Ten years ago this month, the US, UK and France attacked oil-rich Libya under the fictitious cover of ‘humanitarian intervention’. The bombing was ‘justified’ by Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy by the supposed imminent massacre of civilians in Benghazi by forces under Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. As we have documented previously, the propaganda claims were fraudulent.

Libya, previously a wealthy state with free health care and education, was essentially destroyed. An estimated 600,000 Libyans were killed. Many more were displaced from their homes. In the barbarous conditions of the failed state, black people have been ethnically ‘cleansed’, lynched and auctioned off as slaves, illicit arms transfers and terrorism have become rife, and many Libyans have attempted to flee to better lives across the Mediterranean, thousands of them drowning en route.

As Jeremy Kuzmarov, managing editor of CovertAction Magazine and author of four books on US foreign policy, pointed out recently, the powerful Western perpetrators of this human calamity have never been brought to justice. He added:

In hindsight, it is clear that the U.S. was completing a 40-year regime change operation targeting Colonel Qaddafi for which media disinformation was pivotal.

It is important today as such to revisit the 2011 war so that U.S. citizens can learn from the history and not be duped again into supporting an intervention of this kind.

The Stunning Silences Over Syria And Venezuela

But, when it came to Syria several years later, media disinformation was once again pivotal in unleashing Western firepower. As we have described in numerous media alerts, the corporate media declared with instant unanimity and certainty that Syria’s President Bashar Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma on 7 April, 2018. One week later, the US, UK and France attacked Syria in response to the unproven allegations. Since then, there has been a mounting deluge of evidence that the UN’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has perpetrated a massive cover-up to preserve the Western narrative that Assad gassed civilians in Douma.

Earlier this month, five former OPCW officials joined a group of prominent signatories to urge the UN chemical weapons watchdog to address the controversy. Aaron Maté, an independent journalist with The Grayzone website, has been following developments closely since the beginning (see his in-depth article, ‘Did Trump Bomb Syria on False Grounds?’).

He noted that:

Leaks from inside the OPCW show that key scientific findings that cast doubt on claims of Syrian government guilt were censored, and that the original investigators were removed from the probe. Since the cover-up became public, the OPCW has shunned accountability and publicly attacked the two whistleblowers who challenged it from inside.

In an interview, Maté pointed out the remarkable silence from the corporate media:

The western media, across the spectrum, has buried this story – which is pretty incredible. You have extraordinary allegations of a cover-up, you have whistleblowers; and not only…do you have allegations, you have documents – a trove of documents released by WikiLeaks.

We have observed a similar shameful silence in the UK, including BBC News; even after initial interest in the ‘important story’ had been expressed by Lyse Doucet, the BBC’s chief international correspondent.

But Western violence against other nations, and the ‘justifications’ trotted out to defend ‘our’ crimes, or simply ignoring them, has become normalised in ‘mainstream’ journalism.

Consider the case of Venezuela, harbouring one of the largest oil reserves on the planet, and which, as a left-leaning democracy, has long been targeted by the US for regime change. This was seen very clearly when the late Hugo Chávez was the Venezuelan president – temporarily deposed in a failed US-supported coup in 2002, and who was often wrongly described by corporate media as a ‘dictator’ – and continues today under Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro.

As John McEvoy observed in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, a recent UN rebuke of crippling US and European sanctions on Venezuela has been met with ‘stunning silence’.

McEvoy wrote:

The report laid bare how a years-long campaign of economic warfare has asphyxiated Venezuela’s economy, crushing the government’s ability to provide basic services both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to Alena Douhan, the UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, the Venezuelan government’s revenue was reported to have shrunk enormously, ‘with the country currently living on 1% of its pre-sanctions income,’ impeding ‘the ability of Venezuela to respond to the Covid-19 emergency.’

Douhan urged US and European governments:

to unfreeze assets of the Venezuela Central Bank to purchase medicine, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment.

The US-led campaign to overthrow the Venezuelan government, Douhan added, ‘violates the principle of sovereign equality of states and constitutes an intervention in domestic affairs of Venezuela that also affects its regional relations’.

Almost exactly two years ago, we noted in a media alert that the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, a respected think-tank, had published a study showing that US sanctions imposed on Venezuela in August 2017 had since caused around 40,000 deaths. With the exception of a single piece in the Independent, there was zero coverage in the national UK press, and no BBC News coverage at all, as far as we could ascertain.

McEvoy wrote:

By omitting the devastating impact of sanctions, corporate media attribute sole responsibility for economic and humanitarian conditions to the Venezuelan government, thereby using the misery provoked by sanctions to validate the infliction of even more misery.

He continued:

Loath to abandon belief in the fundamentally benign nature of Western foreign policy, corporate scribes have typically presented the devastating effects of sanctions as a mere accusation of Nicolás Maduro.

This is a pattern of deception seen over and over again. For example, in 2002-2003, the ‘mainstream’ media repeatedly attributed claims that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein. Doing so buried the evidence-backed testimony of senior UN weapons inspectors concluding that Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of 90-95 per cent of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998.1

McEvoy noted that the Guardian’s reporting of Venezuela sticks to the Washington script:

Often, they fail to mention sanctions at all. In June 2019, for instance, the Guardian’s Tom Phillips reported that “more than 4 million Venezuelans have now fled economic and humanitarian chaos,” citing would-be coup leader Juan Guaidó’s claim that the country’s economic collapse “was caused by the corruption of this regime,” without making any reference to Washington’s campaign of economic warfare.

Keeping with tradition, Douhan’s damning report has been met with stunning silence by establishment media outlets. Neither the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post nor BBC reported on Douhan’s findings.

Imagine if Russia had been responsible for imposing sanctions on another country, violating that country’s sovereignty, with tens of thousands dead and many more lives at risk in the months to come. Imagine, moreover, that Russia had been condemned in a hard-hitting UN report for engaging in economic warfare, described as ‘a violation of international law’ that was causing a serious ‘growth of malnourishment in the past 6 years with more than 2.5 million people being severely food insecure.’ Imagine that such a report pointed to the ‘devastating effect of unilateral sanctions on the broad scope of human rights, especially the right to food, right to health, right to life, right to education and right to development.’ The headlines and in-depth coverage in the West would be incessant. The Russian ambassador in London would be given a stern dressing-down by the UK Foreign Secretary. MPs would address Parliament, condemning Putin in the strongest possible terms. There would be global demands for the UN to intervene.

The ideological discipline required to ignore such crimes under Western policy is remarkable, but it is standard in the corporate media system. Propaganda by omission, routinely carried out by BBC News and the rest of the ‘mainstream’ news media, is a crucial tool enabling Washington and London to pursue their aims; whether that be ‘regime change’, exploitation of oil and other natural resources, and geopolitical domination.

‘Grand Wizards’ And Client Journalism

Occasionally, the strict enforcement of ideological purity imposed on corporate journalists is laid bare when they step out of line by the merest millimeter. Thus, for example, BBC television presenter Naga Munchetty had to issue an apology on Twitter for ‘liking’ tweets that mocked Tory government minister Robert Jenrick for appearing on a BBC Breakfast interview with a Union Jack prominently displayed behind him.

She tweeted:

I “liked” tweets today that were offensive in nature about the use of the British flag as a backdrop in a government interview this morning. I have since removed these “likes”. This do [sic] not represent the views of me or the BBC. I apologise for any offence taken. Naga

This read like a statement that had been dictated from lofty levels within the BBC hierarchy. When you are a high-profile BBC figure, you are obliged to tweet out an apology for daring to question the trappings of ‘patriotism’. But when have BBC journalists ever apologised for catastrophically platforming government propaganda on Iraq, Libya, Syria, the NHS, ‘austerity’, militarism, the royal family? The list is endless.

On Twitter, tweets from the broadcaster RT are flagged with the warning, ‘Russia state-affiliated media.’ Rather than apologise for broadcasting Western propaganda, it is far more likely that a senior client journalist working for the UK state-affiliated media known as ‘BBC News’ will send out whitewashing tweets to minimise or deflect any challenges to the government. Take BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, a prime example of this key propaganda function. On the National Day of Reflection on 23 March, the anniversary of the start of the first UK Covid-19 lockdown, Boris Johnson had boasted during a private meeting of Tory MPs:

The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.

There was a huge outcry on social media. Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor who has been outspoken in her criticism of the government during the pandemic, tweeted in response to Johnson’s crassly insensitive and smug comment:

But he’s wrong.

‘Human nature is bigger & better & bursting with more grace & decency than he’ll ever know.

Wise and compassionate words.

By contrast, Kuenssberg went into full damage-limitation mode, tweeting:

More on PM’s “greed” comments – one of those present says Johnson was having a crack at Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, who was gobbling a cheese + pickle sandwich while he was talking about the vaccine, “it was hardly Gordon Gekko”, “it was banter” directed at the Chief, it’s said

It is a fair point: probably not even Gordon Gekko would have joked about the virtue of capitalism and greed on a day when his very clear responsibility for the deaths of 149,000 people was at the forefront of many people’s minds.

Newspaper cartoonist Dave Brown depicted brilliantly what the day of reflection should have meant: Johnson reflected in the mirror as the Grim Reaper carrying a scythe with the number 149,000 engraved on it.

Kam Sandhu, head of advocacy at the independent think tank Autonomy, reminded her Twitter followers that, in 2019, Kuenssberg had brushed off the revelation that Brexiteer MPs visiting Chequers, the prime minister’s 16th century manor house, had called themselves  “the Grand Wizards“. The BBC political editor had tweeted:

just catching up on timeline, for avoidance of doubt, couple of insiders told me using the nickname informally, no intended connection to anything else

Presumably the use of an infamous Ku Klux Klan term of white supremacy was to be considered mere ‘banter’. There are countless other examples of Kuenssberg deflecting criticism of Tories, while echoing and amplifying their propaganda. You may recall that she acted to defend the government when it belatedly went into the first lockdown one year ago. She misled the public, as Richard Horton, editor of the prestigious medical journal The Lancet noted last March:

Laura Kuenssberg says (BBC) that, “The science has changed.” This is not true. The science has been the same since January. What has changed is that govt advisors have at last understood what really took place in China and what is now taking place in Italy. It was there to see.

Her insidious role in endlessly propping up the government narrative on any given topic is a ‘courtesy’ conspicuous by its absence when it came to the ‘impartial’ BBC political editor’s reporting of Jeremy Corbyn and, in particular, the manufactured crisis of supposedly institutional antisemitism in the Labour party.

On 26 November 2019, just prior to the general election on 12 December, Kuenssberg tweeted about Tory-supporting chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ suggestion that Corbyn should be ‘considered unfit for office’, 23 times in 24 hours. This at a time when journalistic impartiality was obviously never more essential.

Kuenssberg is not an exception within BBC News, although given her very high-profile position, it is not always as blatant with other BBC journalists. Take BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale, for instance: another serial offender. An item that he presented on BBC News at Ten on 16 March added to the ever-rising steaming pile of ‘impartial’ journalism scaremongering about Official Enemies that must be countered by the peace-loving West.

In line with a new UK government report on ‘defence’, Landale depicted China and Russia as threats that required this country to ‘show Britain can project force overseas’. As part of the strategy, the new £6.1 billion aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will hold joint operations with allies in the Indo-Pacific later this year. ‘But will it be enough?’, intoned Landale, ‘impartially’ cheerleading the UK’s ‘projection of force’ across the globe.

Continuing his virtually government spokesperson role, Landale added:

And the cap on Britain’s stockpile of nuclear warheads will be lifted because of what the report says is “the evolving security environment”.

The likely increase in the UK’s nuclear weapons was just slipped out, almost as an after-thought. There was no mention that nuclear weapons are now prohibited under international law after the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was ratified earlier this year. The Treaty includes:

A comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapon activities. These include undertakings not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

In July 2017, over 120 countries voted to adopt the Treaty. In October 2020, the 50th country ratified the Treaty which meant it became international law on 22 January, 2021. Where were the BBC News headlines?

As Double Down News observed:

Boris Johnson set to expand Nuclear Warheads by 40%

No money for Nurses but money for Armageddon.

But all this must have slipped Landale’s mind. Or perhaps there was no time to include information deemed unimportant by him or his editors. There was, however, ample room for a major item on that evening’s BBC News at Ten titled, “Duke leaves hospital“. This covered Prince Philip’s return to Buckingham Palace after one month in hospital for heart treatment. And why was this a major ‘news’ headline on the BBC? Because BBC News is staunchly royalist, fervently establishment and an upholder of the unjust UK class system.

All of this just goes to show that BBC News really is the world’s most refined state propaganda service. As BBC founder John Reith confided in his diary during the 1926 General Strike:

They [the government] know they can trust us not to be really impartial.2

The same holds true today.

In this era of Permanent War, potential nuclear Armageddon and climate breakdown, the enormous cost to victims of UK and Western state-corporate policy around the world is incalculable.

  1. Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23.
  2. The Reith Diaries, edited by Charles Stewart, Collins, 1975; entry for 11 May, 1926.
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The Impossible Peter Oborne

On the face of it, Peter Oborne is impossible.

It’s not possible to be educated at Sherborne independent school, at Cambridge University, to work as political editor of the Spectator, as chief political commentator of The Daily Telegraph, as a journalist at the Evening Standard, as a commentator at the Express, to make nearly 30 documentaries for Channel 4, BBC World and BBC Radio 4, to appear endlessly on high-profile radio and TV programmes, to be made Society of Editors Press Awards Columnist of the Year twice, and still speak out honestly on systemic corporate media corruption.

US author and ethical logician Upton Sinclair explained why it just doesn’t happen:

‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’1

Oborne is different. In February 2015, he resigned as chief political commentator at the Telegraph, warning:

‘If major newspapers allow corporations to influence their content for fear of losing advertising revenue, democracy itself is in peril.’

More to the point:

‘The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers.’

In 2019, Oborne was interviewed on BBC Radio 2 by the BBC’s media editor and (now) Today programme presenter, Amol Rajan, formerly editor of the Independent. In the interview, Oborne named and shamed ‘client journalists’ cosying up to power, before tearing up all the unwritten ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ on ‘mainstream’ interviewing and inclusion by savaging Rajan himself:

‘You, yourself, when you were Independent editor, notoriously sucked up to power. You are a client journalist yourself… you were a crony journalist yourself. It’s time this system was exploded… Your record was and is shameful. Where to start?’.

Rajan responded like a Club Secretary ruling on a breach of Club etiquette:

‘It’s unbecoming of you, Peter, it’s unbecoming.’

Or consider this comment from Oborne on the arch-propagandist Daniel Finkelstein, former executive editor of The Times (also known as Baron Finkelstein of Pinner in the London Borough of Harrow, OBE):

‘As any newspaperman will recognise, Daniel Finkelstein has never in truth been a journalist at all. At the Times he was an ebullient and cheerful manifestation of what all of us can now recognise as a disastrous collaboration between Britain’s most powerful media empire and a morally bankrupt political class.’

In his searingly honest new book, The Assault on Truth, Oborne directs his fire at a very specific, crucial target:

‘I have never encountered a senior British politician who lies and fabricates so regularly, so shamelessly and so systematically as Boris Johnson. Or gets away with his deceit with such ease.’2

Oborne is well qualified to comment, having been hired by Johnson as his political editor at the Spectator in 2001. Oborne adds:

‘It has become all but impossible for an honest politician to survive, let alone flourish, in Boris Johnson’s government.’ (p. 6)

With every example fortified by meticulous footnotes and references, Oborne nails Johnson’s lies again and again:

‘Johnson went on the Andrew Marr show to claim the Labour leader had “said he would disband MI5”. Marr did not demur, but to be sure I looked at the Labour manifesto. It contained no mention of MI5 but did pledge to “ensure closer counter terrorism co-ordination between the police and the security services, combining neighbourhood expertise with international intelligence”.’ (p. 22)

And:

‘Boris Johnson said that Corbyn “would whack corporation tax up to the highest in Europe”. Not true. Labour had said it would raise the main rate of corporation tax to 26 per cent. This would not be anything like the highest in Europe. At the time of Johnson’s claim, the rate of corporation tax in France was 31 per cent, and in Belgium the rate was 29 per cent.’ (p. 23)

Oborne highlights this particularly cynical example of lie-based electioneering from Johnson:

‘During a ten-minute speech, viewers learn that he is building forty new hospitals. It sounds a hugely impressive election pledge.

‘Actually it’s a lie which the prime minister has already repeated often during the campaign, and would go on to repeat on many more occasions. At best the government has only allocated money for six hospitals.’ (pp. 15-16)

The devil is in the footnoted details at the bottom of the page:

‘Under Tory plans, six hospitals were allocated funding for rebuilding programmes between 2020 and 2025. Up to thirty-eight other hospitals would receive money to develop plans for upgrades between 2025 and 2030, but not to undertake any building work.’ (p. 16)

Oborne’s conclusion:

‘There is irrefutable evidence that Conservative Party lies and distortions in the 2019 election were cynical, systematic and prepared in advance. Johnson’s Conservatives deliberately set out to lie and to cheat their way to victory. The strategy triumphed.’ (p. 37)

So how on earth did Johnson get away with it?

‘Britain’s mainstream reporters and editors collectively turned a blind eye to the lies, misrepresentations and falsehoods promoted by Johnson and his ministers.’ (p. 7)

But this was only part of the problem:

‘Many senior journalists went a step further. They actively collaborated with Downing Street in order to distribute false information helpful to Johnson’s cause.’ (p. 121)

This democracy-killing media bias was pushed yet further by the relentless media campaign smearing Corbyn:

‘the mainstream press paid almost no attention to Johnson’s habitual lying, in sharp contrast to their treatment of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who was subject to constant attack’. (p. 119)

The difference being that Corbyn didn’t lie – he was attacked for everything and anything he said, or did, or didn’t do.

The particular problem, as Oborne observes, is that ‘Johnson’s government was a media class government.’ (p. 115) Johnson and Michael Gove are both journalists massively supported by former colleagues and allies:

‘The truth was that press barons were determined to install the troika of Johnson, Gove and [Johnson’s adviser] Cummings in Downing Street.’ (p. 117)

Michael Gove, after all, was the protégé of Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun, The Times and Fox News:

‘When Murdoch’s News International group was on its knees following revelations of criminal phone hacking, Gove came eloquently to the defence of press freedom at the Leveson inquiry. Murdoch did not forget: Gove and his wife Sarah Vine were invited to his wedding to the former model Jerry Hall.

‘Murdoch also supported Johnson, but his principal sponsors were the Barclay brothers, shadowy owners of the Daily Telegraph, house journal for the Conservative Party. “Many congratulations to Boris Johnson who has of course just been appointed Prime Minister,” enthused the paper when he entered 10 Downing Street. “Boris is the first Telegraph journalist since Sir Winston Churchill to lead the country.”

‘Associated Newspapers, owners of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail, which employed Sarah Vine, also backed Johnson. Together these three groups accounted for more than 30 per cent of British newspaper readers. All their titles backed Johnson. The same applied to the Evening Standard, which serves London, an area of predominantly Labour and Remain voters. Under the ownership of Evgeny Lebedev it became an unlikely ally of the Tories, backing Johnson for both Conservative leader and prime minister.’ (pp. 117-118)

This is seriously damning and courageous stuff (there have been no reviews of The Assault on Truth in the Murdoch Press, Associated Newspapers or the Telegraph group – see below), but Oborne goes much further:

‘A great deal of political journalism has become the putrid public face of a corrupt government. There is only one good reason to be a journalist: to tell the truth. We should not go into our trade to become passive mouthpieces of politicians and instruments of their power. Too much of the media and political class have merged. The unnatural amalgamation has converted truth into falsehood, while lies have become truth.’ (p. 7)

Chomsky’s ‘Basic Principle’

Oborne’s book is a wonderful test for Noam Chomsky’s ‘basic principle’ determining ‘mainstream’ inclusion:

‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’3

An idea of the extent to which The Assault on Truth would be allowed to exist could already be gleaned from the reaction to an article written by Oborne in October 2019 on ‘the way Boris Johnson was debauching Downing Street by using the power of his office to spread propaganda and fake news’. (p. 130) Oborne submitted the piece for his weekly Saturday column for the Daily Mail:

‘I received a call from the editor, who indicated, with his customary exquisite good manners, that he would prefer I wrote about another subject’. (p. 131)

Oborne then offered the piece to The Spectator, ‘but the editor explained his refusal to publish on the reasonable grounds that the newspaper’s political team had cultivated excellent insider sources and publishing my piece would invite charges of hypocrisy’. (p. 131)

Channel Four’s Dispatches showed strong interest before also withdrawing. Oborne finally resorted to publishing his article on the website openDemocracy. He wrote:

‘Papers and media organisations yearn for privileged access and favourable treatment. And they are prepared to pay a price to get it.

‘This price involves becoming a subsidiary part of the government machine. It means turning their readers and viewers into dupes.

‘This client journalism allows Downing Street to frame the story as it wants. Some allow themselves to be used as tools to smear the government’s opponents. They say goodbye to the truth.’

The dramatic response:

‘This article marked the end of my thirty-year-long career as a writer and broadcaster in the mainstream British press and media. I had been a regular presenter on Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster for more than two decades. It ceased to use me, without explanation. I parted company on reasonably friendly terms with the Daily Mail after our disagreement.’ (p. 132)

These are huge losses for a professional journalist:

‘The mainstream British press and media is to all intents and purposes barred to me. I continue to write for the website Middle East Eye, for openDemocracy and from time to time for the British Journalism Review.’ (p. 133)

Oborne’s comments inevitably recall the fate that befell US journalist Gary Webb, an investigative reporter for nineteen years, focusing on government and private sector corruption, winning more than thirty awards for his journalism. In 1990, Webb was one of six reporters at the San Jose Mercury News to win a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on California’s 1989 earthquake. Webb described his experience of mainstream journalism:

‘In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn’t get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It encouraged enterprise. It rewarded muckraking.’4

But Webb was in for a terrible surprise:

‘And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.’

In 1996, Webb had written a series of stories on how a US-backed terrorist army, the Nicaraguan Contras, had financed their activities by selling crack cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles. Webb documented direct contact between drug traffickers bringing drugs into Los Angeles and Nicaraguan CIA agents who were administering the Contras. Moreover, he revealed that the US government knew about these activities and did little or nothing to stop them. The country’s three biggest newspapers, The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, turned on Webb, declaring the story ‘flawed’ and not worth pursuing. Webb commented:

‘Never before had the three biggest papers devoted such energy to kicking the hell out of a story by another newspaper.’ (p. 306)

Webb’s career had been cynically and brutally terminated.

The Reviews

To recap, The Assault on Truth makes two key claims: 1) Boris Johnson regularly, systematically and shamefully lies and fabricates, and 2) ‘A great deal of political journalism has become the putrid public face of a corrupt government.’ (p. 7) One of the book’s nine chapters, ‘The failure of the British press’, is entirely devoted to this second issue.

How have these claims, in particular the media analysis, been received?

In the Observer, Tim Adams’ 817-word review devoted around two-thirds of its analysis to the case against Oborne’s supposed hypocrisy and U-turns, and 100 words to the case against the British press.

This is already curious. As discussed, Oborne is a highly respected, very high-profile journalist. It is essentially unknown for someone of his stature to turn so forcefully on political lying, particularly systemic press lying. Why would a journalist commenting in the liberal Observer deem it important to devote so much space to Oborne’s alleged U-turns, and just two or three sentences to damning media criticism that is as rare as hens’ teeth? Shouldn’t the liberal press be celebrating such an unusual exposure of press lying? Adams wrote:

‘There have been some spectacular U-turns from political observers in the past five years – Piers Morgan’s desperate and tragically belated efforts to distance himself from Donald Trump, for example – but no reverse-ferret has been quite so vehemently trumpeted as that of Peter Oborne. Back in 2016, in his Daily Mail column, Oborne was proclaiming a new dawn of Conservatism, with Labour in collapse and David Cameron a busted flush. A “glittering prospect of 12 uninterrupted years as prime minister” awaited the winner of any leadership campaign, he suggested, and Boris Johnson’s years as mayor gave him “huge credibility” for the role.’

Adams portrayed Oborne as an enthusiastic dupe of Johnson:

‘Up until about spring 2019, it seems, Oborne continued to be cheerfully taken in by this music hall act.’

Anyone who reads Oborne knows that he is very generous in giving credit where credit’s due, even when he strongly disagrees on deeper issues of policy and political philosophy. For example, despite self-identifying as a Tory, he has repeatedly and strongly praised Labour’s foreign policy and ethical stance under Jeremy Corbyn.

In fact, the claim that Oborne was ‘duped’ by Johnson is nonsense. To take only two examples, in September 2018, Oborne described Johnson’s foreign policy as ‘morally abhorrent’ and his officials ‘shoddy’. In November 2017, Oborne noted of the catastrophe in Yemen that Johnson ‘scarcely lifted a finger on this calamity’ and did ‘virtually nothing of any significance to help’.

Adams similarly claimed Oborne ‘celebrated’ Trump’s election triumph in the Mail with a piece headlined: ‘At last! He may be a bigot, racist and misogynist but Donald Trump’s revolution could finally bring back family values’.

As Adams is well aware, commentators do not choose the headlines (Oborne did not choose this one). In the piece supposedly celebrating Trump, Oborne wrote:

‘The majority of commentators have issued angry cries of condemnation in response to Donald Trump’s surprise victory.

‘That is understandable. For he is beyond doubt a bigot, a racist and a misogynist.’

He added:

‘As a tax-avoiding billionaire, he will never be a genuine champion of the poor. He has no serious programme for government. He will fail.’

Trump was, Oborne wrote, an ‘odious man’.

Adams’ few words on the press simply ignored the most damning claims. In answer to the question, ‘What led the British people to put a liar into Downing Street?’, Adams commented:

‘A large part of the answer to that question Oborne lays at the door of “mainstream newspaper reporters and editors” who “collectively turned a blind eye to the lies, misrepresentations and falsehoods promoted by Johnson and his ministers” in order for him to bluster his way to power.’

As we have seen, Oborne’s whole point is that ‘mainstream’ media did not just turn a blind eye; they functioned as fully-supportive parts of Johnson’s lie machine.

The ‘blind eye’ comment cited by Adams is from page 7 of the book. He then quoted Oborne from page 137. In between, he wrote:

‘Certain political correspondents are identified as having given Johnson an easy ride – Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC and Robert Peston of ITV among them.’

But Kuenssberg and Peston are not mentioned at all. Did Adams actually read the book?

The Independent (online) devoted 491 words to Oborne’s book. In his review, Martin Chilton spent 431 words on Johnson and 60 words in two sentences on Oborne’s media analysis:

‘Part of the problem is that Johnson’s “claims” are simply not held up to inspection by most of the popular press.’5

Again, as with Adams, this conveniently ignored Oborne’s most damning assertion – that the press contribution to the lying was highly active, not passive. Chilton continued:

‘Oborne, who formerly worked for the Daily Mail and The Telegraph, says his new book will “make me enemies”, especially for statements such as “a great deal of political journalism has become the putrid face of a corrupt government”.’

Chilton was clearly keen to keep his head down, gesturing vaguely in the direction of harsh truths that Oborne spelled out with great clarity.

In the Guardian, William Davies’ review totalled 1,261 words. Of these, 109 words discuss Oborne’s media analysis:

‘It’s not just the contemporary Conservative party that appals Oborne, but developments in his own profession. Newspapers, their owners and their staff have colluded with politicians to smear and fabricate without fear. Oborne’s efforts to expose these practices have not been without personal cost. Finding no mainstream media outlet that was willing to publish him on the topic of journalistic malpractice around Johnson, he took his evidence to openDemocracy, who published his article “British journalists have become part of Johnson’s fake news machine” in October 2019. Sombrely he reports that, since the piece appeared, “the mainstream British press and media is to all intents and purposes barred to me”.’

This was something, but Davies preferred to focus on Oborne’s personal plight, rather than highlighting particular examples of journalistic corruption, or delving deeper into the significance of the chapter Oborne devotes to the issue – one of the most important chapters ever written on the UK press.

Thus, national UK newspaper reviews of Oborne’s important and damning claims about the UK press received some 269 words in coverage in the middle of a grand total of three UK national newspaper reviews. We asked Oborne for his reaction on how his book has been received:

‘I haven’t been able to find any review of my book anywhere in the Murdoch press, Associated Newspapers or Telegraph group. They reviewed my earlier books. However this book (which has also been ignored by mainstream broadcasters) demonstrates that the British print and broadcast media have been complicit in Johnson’s serial dishonesty. It’s not just that they turn a blind eye to Johnson’s habitual and systematic dishonesty. I show in the book that the British media class collaborate with Downing Street in pumping out Johnson’s smears, deceptions and falsehoods. They have been an essential part of his machinery of deception. So maybe that’s why they have ignored the book.’ 6

Conclusion

In reality, of course, Peter Oborne is not impossible. The corporate media is not monolithic, not run by conspiracy. Honourable, rational human beings can make it past the corporate political and media gatekeepers. And when they do, they’re dealt with.

Jeremy Corbyn got through and was unethically cleansed by a spectacularly dishonest, cross-spectrum smear campaign that rendered him unelectable. Comedian Russell Brand got through, appeared in a powerful BBC interview on Newsnight watched by 12 million people, and was unethically cleansed by Guardian liberals smearing him as a ‘Jesus clown’, ‘misogynist’ and ‘religious narcissist’. Brand was so badly beaten up he retired from political commentary and became a self-help guru.

Oborne also got through. His meticulous book – superbly written by a high-profile journalist with impeccable credibility and experience – has simply been ignored by the vast majority of newspapers and magazines that have been, as Oborne says, ‘an essential part’ of Johnson’s ‘machinery of deception’. The rest have blown past his media criticism in a couple of anodyne sentences. Blink and a casual reader would have missed even these mostly oblique, soft-pedalled references.

Oborne received this treatment despite major omissions that made his message far more palatable than it might otherwise have been. Remarkably, for example, his book contains no criticism at all of the BBC or ITV. As discussed, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s infamously biased reporting in favour of Johnson and against Corbyn is not even mentioned.

More importantly, while Oborne does expose active media lying, he perceives it as a ‘failure’ of the British press. By contrast, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s ‘propaganda model of media control’ – the model on which our own analysis is based – views this media bias as a success – the corporate media arm of the larger, profit-maximising state-corporate system is simply doing what it has evolved and been designed to do! Oborne does not venture into an analysis of the fundamental nature of corporate capitalist media that would locate him even more firmly among the ‘wild men [and women] on the wings’, casting him even further adrift from the ‘putrid’, stagnant ‘mainstream’.

Nevertheless, this was a vanishingly rare opportunity for the public to witness a media insider making a complete nonsense of the myth promoted by the BBC’s leading client journalist Andrew Marr; namely, that journalism is ‘a crusading craft’ run by ‘disputatious, stroppy, difficult people’ relentlessly challenging power.

This is the deception on which all other deceptions depend. It is too precious to be seriously challenged, and journalists know it.

  1. Sinclair, ‘I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked,’ Oakland Tribune, 11 December 1934.
  2. Peter Oborne, The Assault on Truth – Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism, Simon & Schuster, 2021, p. 18.
  3. Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, 1992, p. 79.
  4. Webb, in Kristina Borjesson, ed., Into The Buzzsaw – Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press,’ Prometheus, 2002, pp. 296-7.
  5. Martin Chilton, ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, The Independent, 31 January 2021.
  6. Peter Oborne, email to Media Lens, 15 March 2021.
The post The Impossible Peter Oborne first appeared on Dissident Voice.

20 Years Of Media Lens: A Selection Of Remarkable Replies From Journalists

The Insiders

In a 2002 interview with the Observer, the BBC’s John Cody Fidler-Simpson CBE of Kabul, to give him his full name and title, was asked to define the ‘essential qualities’ of a journalist. Simpson responded with typical left-field quirkiness:

There’s something slightly wrong with most of us, don’t you feel? We’re damaged goods, usually with slightly rumpled private lives and unconventional backgrounds.

This certainly rings true. In our experience, the average male journalist is pretty much as Bogart described Captain Renault in ‘Casablanca’:

Oh, he’s just like any other man, only more so.

Take the BBC’s Andrew Marr. In his book My Trade, Marr asked himself why he had become editor of the Independent in 1996:

‘So, why had I done it? There were, looking back, two crucial factors in my mind. The first was vanity. The second was greed. To be a national newspaper editor is a grand thing. Even at the poor-mouse Independent, though I didn’t have a chauffeur, I was driven to and from work in a limousine, barking orders down my mobile phone… In the office, I was the commander…’1

Driven by vanity and greed, self-identifying as ‘celebrities’, elite journalists have egos like any other man or woman, only more so.

As we will see, this ego inflation has serious consequences for their willingness to tolerate even polite criticism, much less to admit error, much less to improve their journalism.

Before the rise of social media, rumpled propaganda ne’er-do-wells like Simpson and Marr had been spoiled by decades of near-impenetrable corporate protection. Swatting away token complaints on newspaper letters pages, journalists were used to being applauded, feted, admired. It was all they knew. Like anyone who has been spoiled rotten, they became arrogant, conceited brats.

When we started Media Lens in 2001, we had no particular expectations. We imagined – naively, as it turned out – that if we wrote clearly and politely, using rational arguments based on credible facts and sources, journalists might be willing to engage with us in ways that readers would find intriguing and eye-opening.

While this occasionally did happen in the first few years, we were more often astonished by the petulant, abusive nature of the responses. Like an oversized, tantruming toddler, Roger Alton, then editor of the Observer (and subsequently Independent editor), screeched at one polite emailer:

Have you just been told to write in by those cunts at medialens? Don’t you have a mind of your own?2

It’s probably not wild speculation to suggest that Alton was the ‘senior journalist’ who anonymously described us to a BBC reporter as ‘poisonous cunts’.3

When we politely asked Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson to explain the basis for a cartoon he had drawn on the Syrian conflict, toys flew to all corners of the room:

[Media Lens] has succeeded in riling me. Well done. If I’m proved worng [sic] I’ll apologise. Meanwhile, fuck off & annoy someone else… No time for this anymore. Sorry. I stand convicted as a cunt. End of …4

Journalists with more self-restraint have worked hard to smile through gritted teeth, dismissing our arguments with surreal ‘humour’. In 2005, we challenged John Rentoul, chief political correspondent at the Independent on Sunday, and currently a visiting professor at King’s College, London, about his dismissal of the first Lancet study into Iraq mortality following the 2003 invasion. His sage reply:

Oh no. You have found me out. I am in fact a neocon agent in the pay of the third morpork of the teleogens of Tharg.5

The BBC’s John Sweeney stuck out his tongue from the same playground:

David Edwards and David Cromwell of MediaLens – a fancy name for two moonlighting clerks from the White Fish Authority or some such aquatic quango [in fact, one of us, DC, was then a scientist at the National Oceanography Centre] – berate me for fiddling with the facts about the effect of Saddam’s chemical weapons on the Iraqis.

On 7 June, 2004, presenter Jon Snow observed in that day’s Snowmail news digest from Channel 4 News:

Ronnie Reagan lies in state. Particular pangs for me I must admit, having been ITN’s Washington correspondent in the creamier moments of Ronnie’s reign. The great eulogies seem to evade the moments of madness.

We wrote to Snow:

Hi Jon

Yes, and beyond “the moments of madness”, the eulogies also seem to evade the years of searing, barely believable torture and mass murder in places like Nicaragua, East Timor, and El Salvador. We’ll be watching at 7:00, but we won’t hold our breath…

Best wishes

DE and DC

Blood clearly up, Snow’s index fingers raged across his keyboard in response:

you cynics! If you’d been around at the time you’d have seen me exposing his outrages in central america..you may think i’m a sell ouyt [sic] these days but i can assure u, I have been there..

In the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning election performance in June 2017, Snow introduced Channel 4 News with the fitting words:

Good evening. I know nothing. We, the media, the pundits, the experts, know nothing.

Just one month later, Snow made an extraordinary, 180-degree volte face:

I think this is the golden age for journalism. First of all, it’s sorted the wheat from the chaff. The people who sat around at the back of the office and pumped out the occasional obituary have fallen by the wayside. But if you’re up for it, in what used to be the conventional media, you’ve a fantastic future.

Like almost every other high-profile corporate journalist, Snow’s endless self-contradictions and queasy, career-protective contortions remind us of Groucho Marx’s comment:

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.

The great flaw in John Simpson’s analysis was his additional comment on the ‘essential qualities’ of journalists. They were, he said: ‘Outsiders, looking in at others from outside’.

In fact, journalists are the ultimate corporate insiders looking out at a world to be manipulated and pacified from the heart of Elite Media Club. Journalism, particularly broadcast journalism, is far too important to people with power for it to be any other way.

In what follows – partly for fun, but also to highlight the dearth of serious discussion on the ‘mainstream media’ in the ‘mainstream media’ – we have collected some remarkable replies from journalists. Where possible, we have linked back to the original discussions so that you, dear reader, can make of them what you will.

Andrew Marr Promises Not To ‘Bother With “Media Lens”’ Ever Again

In 1999, Andrew Marr, a former editor of the Independent who was by then an Observer columnist, had spoken out in support of Tony Blair’s crazed call for a ground invasion in the former Yugoslavia. In the Observer under the title, “Do we give war a chance?“, Marr had proclaimed:

I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we’re so steeped in blood we should go further.

The following week, Marr’s Observer column was titled, ‘War is hell – but not being ready to go to war is undignified and embarrassing’. He referred to the ‘war-hardened people of Serbia’ and called them ‘beasts’, explaining that the Serbs, ‘far more callous, seemingly readier to die, are like an alien race.’

We cited the above battle cry in a media alert on 3 October, 2001. Marr, who had since become the BBC’s political editor, wrote an email to us in response:

I’m afraid I think it is just pernicious and anti-journalistic. I note that you advertise an organisation called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting so I guess at least you have a sense of humour. But I don’t think I will bother with “Media Lens” next time, if you don’t mind.

We replied to Marr, rebutting his crass jibe of ‘pernicious and anti-journalistic’, and defending our analysis of his articles. But, true to his word, Marr has ignored us ever since. We have not forgotten about the BBC man, however. His BBC career may well be defined by the clip of him outside 10 Downing Street reporting for BBC News at Ten on 9 April, 2003. He had been asked by presenter Huw Edwards to describe the significance of the fall of Baghdad to the invading US forces.

Frankly, the main mood [in Downing Street] is of unbridled relief. I’ve been watching ministers wander around with smiles like split watermelons.

Marr’s happy smile mirrored those of the government ministers he had observed. He continued:

I don’t think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he’s somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.

This was a remarkable demonstration of the propaganda function of corporate journalists, not least the role of the political editor of BBC News. Marr had risen to those heady heights because he had demonstrated for years that he could be trusted as a safe pair of hands.

Ironically, in 1996, while he was still at the Independent, Marr had interviewed Noam Chomsky for the BBC2 series ‘The Big Idea’. Marr had been dismissive of the propaganda model and simply could not understand that journalists were not the crusading, adversarial truthtellers standing up to power that he believed them to be. ‘How can you know that I’m self-censoring?’, asked an incredulous Marr. Chomsky replied:

‘I’m not saying you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you say. But what I’m saying is if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’

Exactly.

Clones R Us

In 2002, we examined the BBC series ‘The Century of the Self’ which focused on the public relations guru Edward Bernays who had famously coined the term, ‘engineering of consent’. Bernays’ ideas, building on Freud’s theories about human psychology, were deployed by the rapidly growing corporate advertising industry in the 20th century to boost profits. The series was written and produced by the BBC’s Adam Curtis, and attracted considerable attention and acclaim.

We admired aspects of the series, including its clever use of visuals and somewhat sardonic voice-over, but we pointed out that much crucial information was missing from Curtis’s analysis. This was especially noticeable when it came to serious omissions regarding the destructive role of big business and how the ‘threat of Communism’ was used to ‘justify’ US foreign policy to undermine democracy and independent nationalism in Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Haiti, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere around the world.

As described in a follow-up media alert, we summarised our observations in a polite email to Curtis and then, not hearing from him, followed up with a gentle nudge. We received this peeved reply from Curtis the same day:

I don’t know whether it occurred to you that I might have been away – instead of stamping your little feet and trying to whip up an attack of the clones. I’ve just read your piece – thanks and I’ll reply to it on Thursday if that’s ok? I’ve got to be filming before then.

The dismissal of public criticism as coming from unthinking ‘clones’ was ironic, given the subject matter of his documentary. To be fair to Curtis, he did indeed reply soon after and we wrote about the subsequent exchange in another follow-up media alert.

‘Evidence-Based Journalism’

Over a number of years, we repeatedly challenged the BBC on its deeply skewed, US-UK-driven propaganda coverage of Iraq. In 2004-2005, we drew particular attention to the BBC’s soft-pedalling of the brutal US assaults on Fallujah, Iraq (for example, here and here).

Back in the days when senior BBC News editors and correspondents engaged directly, sometimes at length, with Media Lens, we received this reply from Helen Boaden, then head of BBC News:

We are committed to evidence-based journalism. We have not been able to establish that the US used banned chemical weapons and committed other atrocities against civilians in Falluja last November [2004]. Inquiries on the ground at the time and subsequently indicate that their use is unlikely to have occurred.

In fact, atrocities had taken place and banned chemical weapons – specifically, white phosphorus – had been used. But the BBC consistently ignored or downplayed credible testimony from multiple sources. BBC correspondent Paul Wood, who had been embedded with US forces in Fallujah, and who had failed to report the enormity of their crimes, excused himself and the BBC with these words:

We didn’t at the time, last November, report the use of banned weapons or a massacre because we didn’t see this taking place – and since then, we haven’t seen credible evidence that this is was [sic] what happened.

Wood had earlier dismissed reports of the use of banned weapons in Fallujah on the grounds, Boaden told us, that no ‘reference [was] made to them at the confidential pre-assault military briefings he attended.’ When we pressed Boaden, citing further independent reports of atrocities committed against civilians, she abruptly ended the correspondence:

I do not believe that further dialogue on this matter will serve a useful purpose.

As we have seen in the intervening years, the attitude of BBC News to our challenges is now essentially:

I do not believe that any dialogue on this matter will serve a useful purpose.

BBC ‘Impartiality’ = Accepting And Broadcasting Western Leaders’ Claims

As many readers will recall, BBC propaganda leading up to the invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent US-led occupation, was unceasing. For example, on 22 December, 2005, Paul Wood told millions of BBC News at Ten viewers:

The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.

When we asked Helen Boaden if she realised this version of US-UK intent compromised the BBC’s claimed commitment to impartial reporting, she replied:

Paul Wood’s analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.

But Wood was not merely describing Bush and Blair’s version of events. That would have involved him saying: ‘The coalition claims that it came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.’ Instead, he was stating his own opinion on why the coalition ‘came to Iraq’.

When we emailed Boaden again in January 2006, she replied:

To deal first with your suggestion that it is factually incorrect to say that an aim of the British and American coalition was to bring democracy and human rights, this was indeed one of the stated aims before and at the start of the Iraq war – and I attach a number of quotes at the bottom of this reply.

Remarkably, Boaden had attached no less than 2,700 words of propaganda quotes from George Bush and Tony Blair, amounting to around six single-spaced A4 pages, in a facile attempt to ‘prove’ her point.

If we are to take Boaden’s comments at face value, she was arguing that Bush and Blair must have been motivated to bring democracy to Iraq because they had said so in speeches! ‘Impartial’ BBC reporting means that we should take our leaders’ claims on trust.

‘No Need For A Mea Culpa. We Did Our Job Well’

In 2004, we presented an overview of how several of the corporate news media had covered the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the war itself; namely, served as propaganda outlets for Western power. In contrast to the limited mea culpa of the New York Times, all the UK news media we approached rejected the notion that they had done anything seriously wrong or performed poorly in terms of their stated public commitment to fair and accurate journalism. Perhaps the most breezily deluded response came from David Mannion, then Head of Independent Television News:

The evidence suggests we have no need for a mea culpa. We did our job well.

In an important sense, of course, Mannion was correct. Given that the primary function of the corporate media is to channel and amplify propaganda from sources of power – especially Washington and London – they did indeed do ‘our job well’.

Robots R Us

In response to our media alert, “The Media Ignore Credible Poll Revealing 1.2 Million Violent Deaths In Iraq, published on 18 September, 2007, BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler sent the following response to one of several Media Lens readers who had contacted him politely:

Sorry but this medialens inspired stuff is very sophomoric. The last time I remember a robotic response from people like this was watching film of the nuremberg rallies. I always wondered why people marched to another’s beat without any obvious thought from themselves. Perhaps you know the answer, or perhaps you merely intend to keep marching.

Please don’t write to me again in someone else’s words. It is so embarrasing [sic] for you. Please learn to think for yourself.

Gavin

Esler’s ‘robotic’ respondents were, in fact, members of the public who cared enough about the devastating impact of corporate media bias to spend time writing to journalists. The polite and thoughtful email that elicited this response was sent by an MA student at Durham University. You can read his email here.

‘Dear Serviles’

In 2002, we challenged the Observers Nick Cohen about his misleading comments on UN sanctions against Iraq, and his persistent cheerleading for a US-led invasion that would take place the following year. Cohen had absolved the West of all responsibility for the horrendous death toll in Iraq under UN sanctions. As we noted, these sanctions were responsible for the deaths of around half a million children under the age of five, as documented by Unicef. Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, former UN Humanitarian Coordinators in Baghdad, had both resigned, one after the other, in protest at the ‘genocidal’ impact of UN sanctions. These mass-death sanctions had been maintained with great remorselessness by Washington and London, supported by a propaganda barrage that was faithfully relayed by corporate news media. But Cohen attributed all the blame for the death toll on Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, slavishly sticking to the official narrative. Cohen emailed us back in high dudgeon, addressing us as ‘Dear Serviles’, concluding with what he no doubt considered a hilarious and crushing rejoinder, ‘Viva Joe Stalin’.

‘All The Bloody Children’

When one Media Lens reader, an 83 year-old WW2 veteran, offered a polite and considered rebuttal to the propaganda distortion carried in the Observer on UN sanctions against Iraq, editor Roger Alton emailed back in exasperation:

This is just not true … it’s saddam who’s killing all the bloody children, not sanctions. Sorry

To paraphrase Chomsky, ask yourself: would a journalist who thought any differently ascend to the throne of Observer or Independent editor?

‘A Curious Willy-Waving Exercise’

Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor of the Observer, objected so much to our critical appraisal of his review of a book by Noam Chomsky in 2006 that he devoted a column to attacking Media Lens:

It is a closed and distorting little world that selects and twists its facts to suit its arguments, a curious willy-waving exercise… Think a train spotters’ club run by Uncle Joe Stalin.

In resurrecting Stalin, Beaumont may have been inspired by his Observer colleague’s previous ‘witticism’ (see Nick Cohen above). It is left to the imagination of the reader why a supposedly serious journalist, at a supposedly serious newspaper, should feel the need to depict an exchange of views as ‘willy-waving’.

‘Most Prejudiced And Blinkered’

In 2006, the BBC’s John Simpson took exception to our challenge that BBC News could be rationally considered ‘impartial’:

It takes an enormous act of will to believe that [BBC News protects established power] nowadays, and only the most prejudiced and blinkered person could possibly manage to do it — but you’re prepared to make the necessary effort.

Our examples in the email exchange with Simpson focused on the BBC’s pro-Bush/Blair coverage of Iraq which had consistently minimised or ignored solid evidence of US-UK war crimes, as we saw earlier. Simpson, along with his BBC colleagues, had seemingly made ‘the necessary effort’ not to dwell on those war crimes.

In our reply to Simpson, we noted that his comment was an exact reversal of the truth: ‘only the most prejudiced and blinkered person’ could possibly manage to believe that the BBC does not act as a mouthpiece for powerful interests.

‘The John Motson Approach To Analysing News’

In 2011, we attempted to debate BBC News coverage of the Middle East with Paul Danahar, then the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief, based in Jerusalem (he is currently the BBC’s North America Bureau Chief).

We started by asking Danahar to address the careful studies by Greg Philo and Mike Berry, of the renowned Glasgow University Media Group, and published in their book, More Bad News From Israel ((Pluto Press, 2011.))   Philo and Berry’s careful work demonstrated that BBC News strongly favours the Israeli perspective over the Palestinian perspective.

Recall that between December 2008 – January 2009, Israeli forces mounted a massive campaign of violence against Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem estimated that 1,391 Palestinians were killed, including 344 children. In addition to the large numbers of dead and wounded, there was considerable damage to Palestinian medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes. The BBC later refused to broadcast a charity appeal on behalf of the people of Gaza, an almost unprecedented act in BBC history. In a live BBC interview, Tony Benn famously defied the ban.

In our exchange with Danahar, we gave a summary of Philo and Berry’s detailed statistical findings for BBC News coverage of Operation Cast Lead. Quoting Philo and Berry, we noted that the BBC perpetuated ‘a one-sided view of the causes of the conflict by highlighting the issue of the rockets without reporting the Hamas [peace] offer’ and by burying rational views on the purpose of the attack: namely, the Israeli desire to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinian people.

Apparently in all seriousness, Danahar responded to us:

I wasn’t around during Cast Lead I was in China. So my main observation would be a personal one and that is that I’m not a big fan of the John Motson approach to analysing news.

We, of course, recognised the name of the legendary BBC football commentator, but we asked Danahar to clarify exactly what he meant by ‘the John Motson approach to analysing news’. He replied:

Personally, I don’t think adding up the number of sentences about coverage is much more useful, when comparing two news organisations [BBC and ITV], than trying to work out who has won a football match by counting how many times one team kicked the ball compared to the other.

In fact, Philo and Berry’s comparison was about the relative weight afforded to the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, not the relative performances of the BBC and ITV. We asked Tim Llewellyn, who had spent ten years as a BBC Middle East correspondent, if he had a response to Danahar’s comment:

I like the John Motson reply. Given that counting lines is EXACTLY (to the milli-second) how the BBC reckons up “balance” in election reporting in the UK, they must believe themselves in the Motson approach as an act of Reithian Faith. But your point is the right one, that line-counting is not what counts so much as BBC news content, which as [Philo and Berry’s book, More Bad News From Israel] finds scientifically and we journalists who observe both the BBC and the Middle East have known for the past ten years or so, reflects to a massive degree the Israeli perspective and fails to report properly the Palestinian plight, the Palestinians’ view of the real causes of the tragedy and how they are forced to react to it, the context of the whole struggle and real cause and effect.6

Danahar then became ever more evasive in our exchange, presumably believing that flippancy was the best approach when presented with factual analysis:

I think it’s a little harsh to suggest that “Bad news from Israel” is an essential read. It’s placed 251,456 on the best seller list at Amazon a full 61,238 places behind “How to defend yourself against Alien Abduction” though the latter is more reasonably priced so maybe that helped its sales.

As so often happens, what had begun as a sincere discussion on the part of Media Lens, at least, had now become farcical. Danahar revealed that he had little intention of addressing the serious issues put to him. The conversation ended with increasingly odd burblings from the senior Jerusalem-based BBC journalist (the full emails are archived here in our forum).

‘Do you guys not have bosses?’

In March 2013, Mehdi Hasan, then Huffington Post UK’s political director, published a fascinating, if bizarre, response on Twitter after we had pointed out the compromises even the ‘best’ journalists and commentators have to make to retain a platform in the ‘mainstream’ media. He tweeted in seeming confusion:

Sorry, in which world is it acceptable for employees to publicly attack or critique their employers? Do you guys not have bosses?

We replied:

No, we don’t have bosses, owners, oligarchs, advertisers, or wealthy philanthropist donors. We’re independent. How about you?

Hasan apparently could not grasp that Media Lens is not beholden to corporate paymasters in an ad-dependent, corporate-owned media in which profit is the bottom line. We were, of course, pointing out that in ‘the real world’ where Hasan worked, ‘free press’ journalists are not free to criticise current or potential employers.

Hasan has since deleted his tweet.

Owen Jones

Owen Jones, perhaps along with George Monbiot, the last remaining and sadly withering leftist fig-leaf at the Guardian, once declared us as bad as the corporate media:

You are as guilty of dishonesty by omission as the mainstream media you supposedly critique.

Why did he attack us in this way? We had pointed out that Jones had conformed to the Western propaganda narrative on Libya in welcoming the Nato-driven removal of Gaddafi. In particular, we had highlighted these words from Jones in 2011 as the US-led destruction of Libya, with UK participation, loomed:

I hope it’s game over for Gaddafi. A savage dictator once tragically embraced by some on left + lately Western governments and oil companies.

Our point was that corporate media leftists like Jones had joined the ‘mainstream’ chorus welcoming regime change in Libya, while claiming to oppose regime change by the Western political leaders that were leading the chorus. It was an absurd and illogical, not to mention immoral, position to take.

Jones has since blocked us on Twitter.

Nick Robinson’s History Book

On 18 June, 2014, we emailed Nick Robinson, then BBC political editor, with whom we had previously corresponded:

Hello Nick,

Did you really say this on BBC News at Ten last night:

‘”The history of the rift between the US and Iran goes all the way back to the Islamic Revolution 35 years ago”?

It sounds like your history book only goes back to 1979. How else can we explain your omission of the 1953 Iranian coup, orchestrated by the US – with British help?

Best wishes

David Cromwell

On 23 June, we received an email on his behalf – presumably from his over-worked personal assistant – thanking us for our email and telling us:

I’ve passed your comments onto Nick. I hope you understand as he receives an overwhelming amount of correspondence he is unable to respond to all letters individually.

We were somewhat miffed not to hear from Nick personally, especially as he had seemed so grateful when we had provided him with the source of a quote by Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, for Robinson’s 2013 book, Live From Downing Street. Ironically, the quote, taken from Lord Reith’s diary and written during the 1926 General Strike, was:

They [the government] know they can trust us not to be really impartial.

That remains an accurate description of BBC News performance to this day.

Concluding Remarks

Twenty years on from founding Media Lens, by using rational, sober, politely-worded challenges, we have managed to alienate a whole slew of prominent editors and journalists, including a few supposedly on ‘the left’. They rarely respond to our critical analyses published on our website – and often republished elsewhere – or to our widely-shared challenges on social media. Many have even blocked us on Twitter. These include Huw Edwards, Jeremy Bowen, Alan Rusbridger, Jon Snow, George Monbiot, Owen Jones, Frank Gardner, Julian Borger and Stephen Pollard. As a long-term experiment, it has been eye-opening for us and, we hope, for our readers.

Rather than seeing this dismissive treatment by corporate journalists as in any way dispiriting, we should regard it as evidence of the power of cogently-argued public challenges to the ‘mainstream’. Moreover, readers would be surprised by just how many high-profile journalists actually support us in private. They thank us for opening their eyes and inspiring them, for keeping them honest, sending us strong praise and encouragement to continue. It says so much about the state of our ‘press freedom’ that these journalists are afraid to support us openly.

  1. Marr, My Trade:  A Short History of British Journalism, Macmillan, 2004, pp. 190-191.
  2. Email forwarded to us, 1 June, 2006.
  3. Posted by then BBC journalist David Fuller, Media Lens messageboard, 15 May 2006.
  4. Rowson, Twitter, 28 May 2012; see his tweets here and here.
  5. Email, 15 September, 2005.
  6. Email to Media Lens, 20 May, 2011.
The post 20 Years Of Media Lens: A Selection Of Remarkable Replies From Journalists first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home

The revelation this week that the British Labour Party recently appointed a former Israeli military spy to work in its headquarters, reporting to the office of leader Keir Starmer, is truly extraordinary in many different regards.

It is hard to believe the Labour leadership did not know who Assaf Kaplan was or appreciate the likely backlash to placing someone with his background in charge of the party’s social media work. That may explain the continuing reluctance from the Labour leadership to comment.

In his online CV, Kaplan had drawn attention to his years spent in the notorious Israeli military intelligence unit 8200, which has a long and ugly record of surveilling Palestinians.

One of the unit’s main tasks, highlighted by a group of whistleblowers in 2014 and widely publicised in the British media, is to gain damaging information to blackmail individual Palestinians. They are then threatened into collaborating with Israel’s military authorities against fellow Palestinians.

Unit 8200 is the lynchpin of Israel’s success in maintaining its 54-year occupation, by engineering a policy of divide-and-rule among Palestinians and foiling any efforts they make to liberate themselves from Israeli oppression.

Tone deaf

If Labour officials did not know the significance of Unit 8200, or how the invitation of a former Israeli “military intelligence officer” into Labour headquarters would look to swaths of party members, that in itself is an indictment.

A near-civil war has been raging for some time in Labour over the suspension and expulsion of party members whose social media accounts have been scoured for anti-Israel sentiment by pro-Israel groups. To now put a former Israeli officer trained by a cyberwarfare unit in charge of monitoring social media for Labour is, on the best interpretation, completely tone deaf.

It simply highlights how indifferent Labour under Starmer is to the sensitivities of many of its members – and, of course, Palestinians – in stark contrast to the party’s strenuous and divisive efforts to placate each and every demand from the pro-Israel lobby.

Meddling in politics

If Kaplan’s work in Unit 8200 did not raise a red flag, other details lurking in his social media accounts should have rung alarm bells. Not only was he once an operative for Israel’s military spying machine, but he was also an online “friend” of the disgraced Shai Masot, a far more prominent Israeli spy.

Four years ago, an undercover investigation by Al Jazeera exposed Masot, who worked at the time in the Israeli embassy in London, interfering at the highest levels of British politics. Masot was filmed in clandestine talks with Conservative Party staff about how to “take down” a British foreign minister, Alan Duncan, who was seen by Israel as too sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

More damagingly for Starmer, Masot was also exposed working closely with pro-Israel activists inside the Labour Party to bring down his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. That included efforts by Masot to set up “youth movements” intended to operate as a front for the Israeli government.

Transcripts from sections of undercover filming not aired by Al Jazeera reportedly show the then director of the Jewish Labour Movement, Ella Rose, who had previously worked at the Israeli embassy, speaking of the JLM’s close relations with Masot.

The goal of these Israeli-organised groups was to undermine Corbyn from within, because of his public role in the Palestinian solidarity movement and his trenchant criticisms of Israel.

Dirty tricks

After the four-part investigation was aired, Israel had to carry out a damage-limitation operation, quickly returning Masot to Israel and portraying him – unconvincingly – as a rogue operator.

In fact, Masot’s work was entirely in line with the remit of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry to use dirty tricks to sabotage prominent individuals and movements abroad that criticise Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

A few months before Masot’s exposure, the Israeli media had reported a feud at the embassy in London. The Israeli foreign ministry had complained that the strategic affairs ministry was carrying out potentially illegal activities in the UK and jeopardising the diplomatic mission.

So why, before he took up his new UK post, was Kaplan moving in the same social or professional circles in Israel as the disgraced Masot? In a sign of just how embarrassing this information is for the Labour Party, Kaplan appears to have hurriedly erased his military intelligence past after it was exposed by the Electronic Intifada website.

The decision to appoint Kaplan is all the more remarkable given that Starmer has been extolling his efforts to move past the legacy of his predecessor, Corbyn. For five years, Labour was mired in endless controversy around Israel, Zionism and Jews.

Corbyn had to endure relentless, evidence-free claims from pro-Israel lobby groups, echoed by the mainstream media, that Labour had become institutionally antisemitic on his watch. These smears were chiefly designed to stop Corbyn from winning power.

Rope to hang Corbyn

Starmer’s own campaign to win the leadership included a pledge that he was a Zionist supporter of Israel “without qualification” and a commitment to those same lobby groups that they would get to oversee, and even dictate, Labour policy on Israel-related matters.

It emerged after his election that Starmer had accepted – and concealed – a large, £50,000 ($68,000) donation to his campaign from Trevor Chinn, a member of a leading Israel lobby group, Bicom. The organisation was founded by Poju Zabludowicz, whose Israeli father made his wealth from the arms trade.

In the past, Chinn has donated to several Labour MPs who worked to undermine Corbyn: Joan Ryan, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel; Tom Watson, who served as Corbyn’s highly antagonistic deputy; and Owen Smith, who led an early challenge to unseat Corbyn as leader.

Starmer’s campaign to distance the party from Corbyn reached its climax in October, when the UK government’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission issued a report after its investigation into Labour antisemitism claims. The report quietly exonerated Labour of any charge of institutional antisemitism, but the watchdog’s inconsistent findings offered Starmer and the UK media just enough rope to hang Corbyn.

Starmer incensed much of the membership by taking the unprecedented step, in the wake of the report, of stripping Corbyn of his place in the parliamentary Labour Party, forcing him to sit as an independent.

Deliberate provocation

It is hard not to view Kaplan’s appointment as either an astounding and entirely unnecessary self-inflicted wound, or as a deliberate provocation. Most of Starmer’s critics will regard it squarely as the latter.

It fits too neatly with Starmer’s behaviour since he was elected leader last April. Since then, he has been working overtime to cosy up to pro-Israel lobby groups that were not only deeply opposed to Corbyn, but actively worked to oust him.

In addition to expelling Corbyn as a Labour MP, Starmer has purged the party of members critical of Israel, including Jewish members, and silenced by diktat all support for Corbyn in constituency parties.

Why, after what amounts to a mini-reign of terror within Labour to get matters related to Israel off the party’s radar – and out of media headlines – would Starmer now plunge Labour into a new potential row about Israel?

Gagging orders

The answer is that the recruitment of a former Israeli spy into the inner sanctums of Labour headquarters will ultimately prove a minor and temporary controversy for him.

It will antagonise only the swath of members who supported Corbyn, for whom he has shown utter contempt and who have been battered into silence by what are effectively gagging orders from his new general secretary, David Evans.

It will not likely cause controversy with the Jewish Labour Movement, which was reportedly revived by political allies of Israel as a weapon against Corbyn” in 2015. Rather, they will be further enthused by Starmer.

It will raise barely a flicker of interest from most Labour MPs, who were desperate for Corbyn to be gone, and many of whom belong to another pro-Israel lobby, Labour Friends of Israel.

And it will be largely ignored by the British mainstream media, which has been giving the establishment-friendly Starmer a far easier ride than they ever gave Corbyn.

Ugly Labour politics

If anyone doubts this, just recall the hasty hushing up by the media of, and indifference of most Labour MPs towards, Al Jazeera’s expose four years ago.

After brief indignation over Masot’s efforts to oust Duncan, the documentary series was quickly forgotten by the media. It was certainly not brought back into the spotlight in relation to the campaign of antisemitism smears against Corbyn, despite its very obvious and pressing relevance.

The Masot affair, as well as this new one, reveal something very ugly about Labour – and British – politics.

Corbyn was widely criticised, mostly over activities that predated his becoming leader, for bringing the issue of Israel onto Labour’s agenda. His opponents argued that his foreign policy concerns overshadowed Labour’s more important domestic agenda. Could he not just forget about Israel?

Anti-Palestinian stance

But the decision of Starmer’s Labour to now invite a former Israeli spy into party headquarters – after a previous one, Masot, failed to gain a foothold – shows that the problem was never about getting Israel out of Labour politics. It was about getting the issue of Palestinian suffering, one of the most enduring legacies of British imperialism, out of Labour politics.

The antisemitism controversy was never really about supposed anti-Jewish racism from Corbyn’s supporters. It was about fighting anti-Zionists in the Labour Party, and in so doing, making support for the Palestinian cause harder to express – which has indeed been the result.

The current party leadership wants any discussion of the Palestinian issue, and Britain’s continuing colonial role, cleansed from the party.

Skewed values

In Kaplan’s job description, under a category titled “values/behaviours”, it says that applicants must show a “commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion” and “to the Labour Party’s goals, values, policies and codes of conduct”.

What Starmer has made clear is that Labour’s values give no weight at all to the injustices still being suffered by Palestinians because of Britain’s historic meddling in the Middle East.

Labour has also demonstrated that it has no commitment to “equality, diversity and inclusion” when it comes to Palestinian and Jewish members critical of Israel. Indifferent to the optics, Starmer’s Labour sacked its only senior Palestinian party official this month, reportedly over his support for Corbyn.

Imagine the outcry if Labour had sacked its only senior Jewish official. Rather, Labour’s vision of “equality, diversity and inclusion” springs from the same ideological worldview as its sister party in Israel – an Israeli Labor party that decades ago established a single political framework governing the lives of Israelis and Palestinians that B’Tselem, Israel’s leading human rights group, described this week as “apartheid”.

In the racist context of British politics, including Labour politics, there is no cost to screwing over Palestinians time and again. This is why Starmer will happily ride out the short-lived controversy – one restricted to ordinary party members – over appointing a former Israeli spy to his party headquarters.

Lucrative laboratory

For Palestinians, this decision cannot but be deeply offensive. For many years, scholars have been noting how Israel has turned the occupied Palestinian territories into a giant and lucrative laboratory in which it battle-tests weapons and military equipment for export.

But equally importantly for Israel, it turns ordinary Palestinians into guinea pigs for experiments in how to surveil, control, divide and exploit them. Unit 8200, in which Kaplan worked for many years, is at the heart of that infrastructure of terror that keeps Palestinians afraid and oppressed.

Israeli academics, such as Jeff Halper, have pointed out that Israel parlays this expertise into political and diplomatic power. Other states are queueing up to mine the lessons learned by Israel from surveilling Palestinians so that they can use similar techniques on their own populations back home. The need for these military and intelligence skills – learned from oppressing Palestinians – is reflected in Israel’s wide diplomatic backing by other states.

Starmer’s Labour Party is showing it is no different. It will profit directly from the skills of one of the graduates of Unit 8200, benefiting from the lessons Kaplan learned in a military organisation that spies on and extorts Palestinians.

That should not sit well with anyone in a party that claims to be left-wing, anti-racist and progressive, and to care about social justice. And yet, there are unlikely to be any meaningful repercussions for either Kaplan or Starmer from this ugly alliance.

The post Former Israeli army spy recruited by Labour should feel right at home first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The “humanitarian” left still ignores the lessons of Iraq, Libya and Syria to cheer on more war

The instinct among parts of the left to cheer lead the right’s war crimes, so long as they are dressed up as liberal “humanitarianism”, is alive and kicking, as Owen Jones reveals in a column today on the plight of the Uighurs at China’s hands.

The “humanitarian war” instinct persists even after two decades of the horror shows that followed the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and UK; the western-sponsored butchering of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi that unleashed a new regional trade in slaves and arms; and the west’s covert backing of Islamic jihadists who proceeded to tear Syria apart.

In fact, those weren’t really separate horror shows: they were instalments of one long horror show.

The vacuum left in Iraq by the west – the execution of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his armed forces – sucked in Islamic extremists from every corner of the Middle East. The US and UK occupations of Iraq served both as fuel to rationalise new, more nihilistic Islamic doctrines that culminated in the emergence of Islamic State, and as a training ground for jihadists to develop better methods of militarised resistance.

That process accelerated in post-Gaddafi Libya, where Islamic extremists were handed an even more lawless country than post-invasion Iraq in which to recruit followers and train them, and trade arms. All of that know-how and weaponry ended up flooding into Syria where the same Islamic extremists hoped to establish the seat of their new caliphate.

Many millions of Arabs across the region were either slaughtered or forced to flee their homes, becoming permanent refugees, because of the supposedly “humanitarian” impulse unleashed by George W Bush and Tony Blair.

No lesson learnt

One might imagine that by this stage liberal humanitarianism was entirely discredited, at least on the left. But you would be wrong. There are still those who have learnt no lessons at all – like the Guardian’s Owen Jones. In his column today he picks up and runs with the latest pretext for global warmongering by the right: the Uighurs, a Muslim minority that has long been oppressed by China.

After acknowledging the bad faith arguments and general unreliability of the right, Jones sallies forth to argue – as if Iraq, Libya and Syria never happened – that the left must not avoid good causes just because bad people support them. We must not, he writes:

sacrifice oppressed Muslims on the altar of geopolitics: and indeed, it is possible to walk and to chew gum; to oppose western militarism and to stand with victims of state violence. It would be perverse to cede a defence of China’s Muslims – however disingenuous – to reactionaries and warmongers.

But this is to entirely miss the point of the anti-war and anti-imperialist politics that are the bedrock of any progressive left wing movement.

Jones does at least note, even if very cursorily, the bad-faith reasoning of the right when it accuses the left of being all too ready to protest outside a US or Israeli embassy but not a Chinese or Russian one:

Citizens [in the west] have at least some potential leverage over their own governments: whether it be to stop participation in foreign action, or encourage them to confront human rights abusing allies.

But he then ignores this important observation about power and responsibility and repurposes it as a stick to beat the left with:

But that doesn’t mean abandoning a commitment to defending the oppressed, whoever their oppressor might be. To speak out against Islamophobia in western societies but to remain silent about the Uighurs is to declare that the security of Muslims only matters in some countries. We need genuine universalists.

That is not only a facile argument, it’s a deeply dangerous one. There are two important additional reasons why the left needs to avoid cheerleading the right’s favoured warmongering causes, based on both its anti-imperialist and anti-war priorities.

Virtue-signalling

Jones misunderstands the goal of the left’s anti-imperialist politics. It is not, as the right so often claims, about left wing “virtue-signalling”. It is the very opposite of that. It is about carefully selecting our political priorities – priorities necessarily antithetical to the dominant narratives promoted by the west’s warmongering political and media establishments. Our primary goal is to undermine imperialist causes that have led to such great violence and suffering around the world.

Jones forgets that the purpose of the anti-war left is not to back the west’s warmongering establishment for picking a ‘humanitarian’ cause for its wars. It is to discredit the establishment, expose its warmongering and stop its wars.

The best measure – practical and ethical – for the western left to use to determine which causes to expend its limited resources and energies on are those that can help others to wake up to the continuing destructive behaviours of the west’s political establishment, even when that warmongering establishment presents itself in two guises: whether the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States, or the Conservatives and the (non-Corbyn) Labour party in the UK.

We on the left cannot influence China or Russia. But we can try to influence debates in our own societies that discredit the western elite headquartered in the US – the world’s sole military superpower.

Our job is not just to weigh the scales of injustice – in any case, the thumb of the west’s power-elite is far heavier than any of its rivals. It is to highlight the bad faith nature of western foreign policy, and underscore to the wider public that the real aim of the west’s foreign policy elite is either to attack or to intimidate those who refuse to submit to its power or hand over their resources.

Do no harm

That is what modern imperialism looks like. To ignore the bad faith of a Pompeo, a Blair, an Obama, a Bush or a Trump simply because they briefly adopt a good cause for ignoble reasons is to betray anti-imperialist politics. To use a medical analogy, it is to fixate on one symptom of global injustice while refusing to diagnose the actual disease so that it can be treated.

Requiring, as Jones does, that we prioritise the Uighurs – especially when they are the momentary pet project of the west’s warmongering, anti-China right – does not advance our anti-imperialist goals, it actively harms them. Because the left offers its own credibility, its own stamp of approval, to the right’s warmongering.

When the left is weak – when, unlike the right, it has no corporate media to dominate the airwaves with its political concerns and priorities, when it has almost no politicians articulating its worldview – it cannot control how its support for humanitarian causes is presented to the general public. Instead it always finds itself coopted into the drumbeat for war.

That is a lesson Jones should have learnt personally – in fact, a lesson he promised he had learnt – after his cooption by the corporate Guardian to damage the political fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn, the only anti-war, anti-imperialist politician Britain has ever had who was in sight of power.

Anti-imperialist politics is not about good intentions; it’s about beneficial outcomes. To employ another medical analogy, our credo must to be to do no harm – or, if that is not possible, at least to minimise harm.

The ‘defence’ industry

Which is why the flaw in Jones’ argument runs deeper still.

The anti-war left is not just against acts of wars, though of course it is against those too. It is against the global war economy: the weapons manufacturers that fund our politicians; the arms trade lobbies that now sit in our governments; our leaders, of the right and so-called left, who divide the world into a Manichean struggle between the good guys and bad guys to justify their warmongering and weapons purchases; the arms traders that profit from human violence and suffering; the stock-piling of nuclear weapons that threaten our future as a species.

The anti-war left is against the globe’s dominant, western war economy, one that deceives us into believing it is really a “defence industry”. That “defence industry” needs villains, like China and Russia, that it must extravagantly arm itself against. And that means fixating on the crimes of China and Russia, while largely ignoring our own crimes, so that those “defence industries” can prosper.

Yes, Russia and China have armies too. But no one in the west can credibly believe Moscow or Beijing are going to disarm when the far superior military might of the west – of NATO – flexes its muscles daily in their faces, when it surrounds them with military bases that encroach ever nearer their territory, when it points its missiles menacingly in their direction.

Rhetoric of war

Jones and George Monbiot, the other token leftist at the Guardian with no understanding of how global politics works, can always be relied on to cheerlead the western establishment’s humanitarian claims – and demand that we do too. That is also doubtless the reason they are allowed their solitary slots in the liberal corporate media.

When called out, the pair argue that, even though they loudly trumpet their detestation of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad, that does not implicate them in the wars that are subsequently waged against Iraq or Syria.

This is obviously infantile logic, which assumes that the left can echo the rhetoric of the west’s warmongering power-elite without taking any responsibility for the wars that result from that warmongering.

But Jones’ logic is even more grossly flawed than that. It pretends that the left can echo the rhetoric of the warmongers and not take responsibility for the war industries that constantly thrive and expand, whether or not actual wars are being waged at any one time.

The western foreign policy elite is concerned about the Uighurs not because it wishes to save them from Chinese persecution or even because it necessarily intends to use them as a pretext to attack China. Rather, its professed concerns serve to underpin claims that are essential to the success of its war industries: that the west is the global good guy; that China is a potential nemesis, the Joker to our Batman; and that the west therefore needs an even bigger arsenal, paid by us as taxpayers, to protect itself.

The Uighurs’ cause is being instrumentalised by the west’s foreign policy establishment to further enhance its power and make the world even less safe for us all, the Uighurs included. Whatever Jones claims, there should be no obligation on the left to give succour to the west’s war industries.

Vilifying “official enemies” while safely ensconced inside the “defence” umbrella of the global superpower and hegemony is a crime against peace, against justice, against survival. Jones is free to flaunt his humanitarian credentials, but so are we to reject political demands dictated to us by the west’s war machine.

The anti-war left has its own struggles, its own priorities. It does not need to be gaslit by Mike Pompeo or Tony Blair – or, for that matter, by Owen Jones.

The post The “humanitarian” left still ignores the lessons of Iraq, Libya and Syria to cheer on more war first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction

Back in 2017, before WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange was silenced by Twitter, he used the platform to highlight an immutable truth:

‘The overwhelming majority of information is classified to protect political security not national security.’

Power hates being exposed. It hates having its inner machinations, its selfish priorities and ugly operations opened up to public scrutiny.

The omission of inconvenient facts, and the silencing of inadmissible viewpoints, are core features of the so-called ‘mainstream’ news media. Thus, it should be obvious by now why we always put ‘mainstream’ in quotation marks. Because, as increasing numbers of the public surely now recognise, the major news media are not impartial, or fair, or balanced. Nor do they truly represent and reflect the concerns and priorities of the vast majority of the population. Instead, the major newspapers and broadcasters represent, defend and project the interests of powerful state and corporate elites. The state-corporate media will not, and cannot, undertake consistent and reliable public scrutiny of these elites. That would make no sense since the mass media is the propaganda operation of state-corporate power.

Since we began Media Lens twenty years ago in 2001, we have amassed over 5,000 pages of media alerts detailing numerous examples of dangerous, power-friendly omissions, distortions and imbalances in UK state-corporate media. Rather than go for easy and obvious targets like the Sun, Express and Mail, we have focused on those media outlets the public is supposed to regard as the most fair, balanced, probing and challenging of governments and Big Business. ‘Thus far and no further’, as Noam Chomsky has described the most open or most liberal end of the narrow spectrum of establishment media.

BBC News deserves particular scrutiny, not least because it regularly declares itself  ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’. That is not much of an accolade given that public trust in the media is crumbling; particularly in a country which has some of the worst ‘news’ media anywhere on the planet. The UK has an overwhelmingly right-wing and establishment press dominated by rich owners, and edited by compliant editors with the required ideologically-aligned views. As for the Guardian, which has always been a ‘liberal’ gatekeeper on behalf of power, investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported in 2019 that the paper has been:

‘successfully targeted by security agencies to neutralise its adversarial reporting of the “security state”, according to newly released documents and evidence from former and current Guardian journalists.’

Moreover, other than a recent belated and mealy-mouthed defence, for many years the Guardian essentially abandoned and abused Julian Assange, along with the rest of the ‘mainstream’ media, after exploiting him and WikiLeaks.

Couple all that with the fact that BBC News regularly follows the skewed, power-serving agenda set by UK press coverage, and it is no surprise that overall British public trust in the media is so low. As we noted last year, the extensive annual Eurobarometer survey across 33 countries revealed that the UK public’s trust in the press is rock bottom. Indeed, 2020 was the ninth year out of the past ten that the UK had come last.

BBC Silence Over Israel As An Apartheid State

One of the most egregious recent omissions by BBC News was last week’s groundbreaking report by leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem naming Israel as ‘an apartheid state’ and ‘a regime of Jewish supremacy’:

‘In the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the Israeli regime implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.’

Apartheid in the Palestinian Territories has long been recognised. For example, in 2004, a prominent South African professor of international law, John Dugard, then UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote that there is ‘an apartheid regime’ in the territories ‘worse than the one that existed in South Africa.’

Noam Chomsky concurred:

‘In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by “apartheid” you mean South African-style apartheid.

‘What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce…

‘The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.’

All this was damning enough. But the publication of the new B’Tselem report was the first time that Israeli human rights and legal experts had publicly stated that apartheid exists not just in the Occupied Territories, but throughout the whole region that Israel claims for itself.

As the Israel-based British journalist Jonathan Cook observed:

‘By calling Israel an apartheid state and a “regime of Jewish supremacy”, B’Tselem has given the lie to the Israel lobby’s claim – bolstered by a new definition promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance – that it is antisemitic to suggest Israel is a “racist endeavour”.

‘B’Tselem, a veteran Israeli Jewish organisation with deep expertise in human rights and international law, has now explicitly declared that Israel is a racist state. Israel’s apologists will now face the much harder task of showing that B’Tselem is antisemitic, along with the Palestinian solidarity activists who cite its work.’

As far as we are aware, there was no mention of the report on any of the flagship BBC News at 6 or 10 television programmes. Nor was there anything to be found on the BBC News website. Presumably, the BBC deemed it unworthy of the public’s attention. We challenged BBC foreign editor Andrew Roy, BBC world affairs editor John Simpson, BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and BBC digital news editor Stuart Millar for a response. Not one of them replied. It is perhaps significant that Millar moved to the BBC from the Guardian where, as deputy editor of Guardian US, he had scoffed at Julian Assange:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

This is the archetypal sneering ‘mainstream’ journalist’s view of anyone who seriously exposes the truth and challenges power.

As for B’Tselem’s landmark report detailing the reality of the Israeli state as an apartheid regime, it is possible that there were sporadic brief mentions in some outlying parts of the BBC. Longtime readers will recall that the BBC infamously buried revelations by Scott Ritter, a former chief UN weapons inspector, that Iraq had been fundamentally disarmed of any weapons of mass destruction, at 3am on the BBC World Service.

In response to the B’Tselem report, John Pilger pointed out via Twitter:

‘Israel is top of the league for vaccinating its own people [against coronavirus]. The accolades say Israel is the “example”. False. Israel is denying the vaccine to Palestinians whose land and lives it controls. WHO has pleaded with Israel: to no avail. Apartheid in action.’

Glossing Over Brutal Imperialism

Here in the UK, the Tory government’s criminally incompetent response to the coronavirus pandemic has led to an appalling death toll – now the highest death rate of any country in the world – while ministers robotically repeat the mantra of ‘following the science’, with one U-turn after another. Meanwhile, many people are suffering tremendous hardship, losing their jobs or struggling to earn a living, or even unable to feed their children adequately.

As Phil Miller, a staff writer for the excellent investigative journalism website Declassified UK, noted:

‘The UK now has over 100,000 covid deaths. That’s a result of government failure on a grand scale. The lack of calls for Johnson and ministers to resign is extraordinary’

It is extraordinary. But, tragically, it is a natural consequence of how the state-corporate media represents and defends elite power, of which it is a key component. Any real dissent is smeared, swept to the margins or simply blanked. With the power of corporate media manifest in the demolition of Jeremy Corbyn’s prospects of becoming Prime Minister in 2019, it is entirely predictable that there is now no substantive political opposition to a destructive, elite-serving Tory government.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s lame Blairite successor, is a stalwart establishment figure who, at best, would only ever paper over a few cracks in the edifice of neoliberal economics. This is the corporate- and finance-driven system that is crushing the vast majority of the world’s population, destroying the natural environment and species at an alarming rate, and driving us all towards the precipice of climate breakdown. As we have noted before, and as we will see again below, no world leader anywhere is doing anything remotely sufficient to address this disaster.

Starmer has actually called for the Labour party to emulate incoming US President Joe Biden’s ‘broad coalition’ to ‘see progressive values triumph over the forces of division and despair’. The stone-cold reality that Biden, set to be inaugurated today (20 January), represents huge financial interests and corporate power, and has an appalling record in supporting US imperialism and wars, appears to have escaped Starmer’s attention. But then, Starmer is also seemingly oblivious to the UK’s own imperial past and blood-soaked complicity in war crimes. How else could a Labour leader write:

‘We are at our best when the world knows we have the courage of our convictions and a clear moral purpose.’

Wiping away the blood of countless US/UK atrocities across the globe, he continued:

‘For the United States of America and for Britain, this is the time to return to the world stage. This is the time for us to lead.’

To gloss over Britain’s brutal past and present – to ignore the grievous crimes committed against Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, to name a few – is an insult to the UK’s many victims. For a supposed ‘progressive’ to do so is surely absurd. It can only result from being blind to the propaganda system so cogently explained by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ (Vintage, 1988). In this system, we are immersed in a brainwashing environment of mass media in which even the more ‘reputable’ news outlets such as Associated Press regurgitate doctrinal statements such as:

‘For decades, the U.S. has been an advocate for democracy abroad, using diplomatic pressure and even direct military intervention in the name of spreading the principles of a pluralistic system with a free and fair vote for political leaders. These tactics have generated both allies and enemies, and this year’s presidential vote perhaps more than any other is testing the strength of the values it promotes around the world.’

A safe pair of hands like Sir Keir would never recognise, far less, criticise such assertions for the dangerous, ideological and ahistorical nonsense that they are. Instead, Starmer is locked into an elite-friendly mindset apparent whenever he proclaims his establishment credentials, as here via Twitter:

‘This is also an important moment for the world. It is a chance to reassert America’s place as a force for good on the world stage. A nation that will work with Britain and other allies to defeat this pandemic and fight climate change.’

The reply from Media Lens reader Ryan Moon was apt:

‘When, specifically, has the US (& UK) been a “force for good in the world”? Supporting Suharto & Pinochet maybe? In Yemen & Libya? In the Chagos Islands? Nicaragua might have a few choice words about that description, too. Grow a spine.’

Biologist and science writer Richard Dawkins, like so many other prominent members of the liberal commentariat, once again revealed his deep ignorance of history and world affairs:

‘With few exceptions like Putin & Farage, the entire world welcomes President Biden and Vice-President Harris. After four years of lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values, America has taken a major step towards making America great again.’

Historian Mark Curtis, co-founder of Declassified UK, responded:

‘The thing is, @RichardDawkins, while you’re right to welcome the demise of the contemptible Trump, as I do, the “lies, venal hypocrisy and vicious hostility to decency and humane values” are just routine features of every US presidency, especially in foreign policy.’

Meanwhile, it was no surprise to see a senior Guardian journalist unleashing purple prose in praise of Biden. David Smith, the Guardian’s Washington DC bureau chief, declared that ‘with empathy and humility, Biden sets out to make America sane again’. The ideological rhetoric continued to gush out across Guardian column inches:

‘After the mental and moral exhaustion of the past four years, Biden made America sane again in 15 minutes. It was an exorcism of sorts, from American carnage to American renewal.’

Readers with long memories will recall similar Guardian effusions of liberal ordure when Barack Obama was elected in 2008 to ‘rebrand America’ and serve as the eloquent ‘cool’ figurehead of US corporate and imperial might. That is the Guardian worldview in a nutshell.

The harsh truth is that the corporate media, including BBC News and the Guardian, has a stranglehold on any prospect for changing society. The transfer of US power from Trump to Biden provided the briefest permissible glimpse of mild scepticism being broadcast from corporate newsrooms. This was most notable with Trump vociferously contesting the US presidential elections results, claiming election fraud on a grand scale. The repeated buzz phrase from journalists reporting Trump’s claims was ‘without offering evidence’. Thus, BBC news presenter Mishal Husain told the nation’s television audience on 8 November last year:

‘President Trump has been out on the golf course and made further claims of election fraud without offering evidence.’

The point was emphasised in a news piece by BBC North America correspondent Nick Bryant:

‘the president took to the golf course this morning continuing to make unsubstantiated claims that the election was rigged.’

This narrative was repeated across the ‘mainstream’ media.

But those important caveats – ‘without further evidence’ and ‘unsubstantiated claims’ – are routinely missing when propaganda declarations are, or were, made by the US/UK about Iraq’s mythical ‘WMD’; or when the public is told that the West’s ‘security’ and military forces need to counter the ‘threat’ from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or whoever the latest ‘enemy’ happens to be;  or that ‘we’ need to keep Saudi Arabia as an ‘ally’; that Israel only ever ‘retaliates’ in the face of Palestinian ‘provocation’, that the US is a neutral ‘peace broker’ in the Middle East; or that the US/UK defend freedom and human rights around the world. On and on flow the propaganda assertions, without serious challenge from a compliant media. Suddenly, when it really matters, the media’s supposed enthusiasm for ‘fact checking’ dries up.

Julian Assange And Guardian Hypocrisy

We have seen the ugly truth in the brutal, inhumane treatment of Julian Assange, arguably the most important Western dissident, journalist and publisher in recent years, by western ‘democracies’, the major news media, and a cruel system of court ‘justice’ operating in London. During a recent online conversation, acclaimed film director Ken Loach nailed the despicable role of the Guardian, in particular, in persecuting and undermining Assange:

‘It’s one of those cases that clarifies the role of the media […] there’s a collusion of silence. There doesn’t need to be an active conspiracy; they all understand the steps of the dance. “We’re going to keep quiet about this”. The Guardian did publish some [WikiLeaks] material, but then turned on Julian. And typical with the liberal press, there’s a degree of hypocrisy. They want to have a foot in both camps. They want to be both seen as part of the responsible establishment; they also want to speak truth to power. But they’re compromised on both fronts. And their attacks on Julian Assange were critical in undermining his presence as a journalist, and being seen as a journalist. And the scurrilous attacks on him, for year after year; [and their] failure to really campaign against the torture for ten years.’

He added:

‘There could not be a clearer case of shoot the messenger, and let the scoundrel go free. I mean, here you have people – Bush, Blair, propagandists like Alastair Campbell – wheeled out on the BBC, like Newsnight. They have season tickets to the current affairs programmes that tell us what to think. They are responsible for – what – up to a million deaths, four, five, million people made homeless, destruction of Iraq; the most atrocious war crimes, in an illegal war – an illegal war, so every activity is illegal on account of that, war crimes – they should be indicted. The man who told us about those crimes is condemned to rot, at the very least, and is in danger of never seeing the light of day again, or of being executed, and we know some politicians in the States have called for precisely that. There could not be a more outrageous, a more egregious example of the messenger being crucified and the scoundrels, the villains, the criminals getting away with this.’

As musician Brian Eno said during the discussion:

‘Julian is a threat [to power] because he exposes an illusion that we are generally being told to support. And that illusion is that we live in a democracy. So, the fundamental concept of democracy is that people make decisions about their future, and about the state they live in. And the fundamental assumption of democracy is that people have the information on which to make those decisions. So, clearly, for democracy to work we have to have good information, otherwise we’ll make bad decisions.’

‘The Gravity Of The Situation Requires Fundamental Changes To Global Capitalism’

The most compelling evidence that there is no functioning democracy in capitalist societies is all around us: global environmental collapse and climate breakdown.

A new scientific report this month warns that the planet is facing a ‘ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals’ that threaten human survival. The study, published in ‘Frontiers in Conservation Science’ by a group of 17 experts, observes that:

‘The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.’

Somewhat couched in academic language, the urgency and starkness of the warning are nevertheless clear:

‘The gravity of the situation requires fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women.’

They added:

‘the mainstream [sic] is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization.’

Meanwhile, the climate crisis has been worsening, with 2020 declared by scientists as the joint hottest year ever recorded, despite the pandemic lockdowns. There were record Arctic wildfires and Atlantic tropical storms.

The European Commission’s Matthias Petschke said:

‘The extraordinary climate events of 2020 […] show us that we have no time to lose. We must come together as a global community, to ensure a just transition to a net zero future. It will be difficult, but the cost of inaction is too great…’

In the wake of the US presidential election last November, the BBC’s John Simpson had tweeted:

‘According to the New York Times, exit polls showed that 84% of people who voted for Trump thought that global warming wasn’t an important issue.’

But, of course, if political leaders everywhere believed that climate breakdown is an important issue – the overriding issue facing humanity – they would be tackling it with the urgency that it requires now.

As climate campaigner Greta Thunberg pointed out last week:

‘In 2010 our leaders signed “ambitious goals to protect wildlife and ecosystems”. By 2021 they’d failed on every single one. Each day they choose not to act. Instead they sign more “ambitious” non-binding future goals while passing policy locking in destructive business as usual.’

This was her acerbic summary of political discussions at the One Planet Summit in Paris on 11 January:

LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris:

Bla bla nature

Bla bla important

Bla bla ambitious

Bla bla green investments

Bla bla great opportunity

Bla bla green growth

Bla bla net zero

Bla bla step up our game

Bla bla hope

Bla bla bla…*

*locking in decades of further destruction

We have arrived at this terminal stage of capitalism because we are being held in a death-grip by a system of economics and exploitation that is coated with a veneer of ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’, ‘progress’ and other convenient ideological myths. The corporate media has sold the public those myths, perpetuating and deepening the various interlocking crises that threaten to wipe out homo sapiens, along with countless other species.

We can still escape the worst if we face up to reality. As Gail Bradbrook and Jem Bendell, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion and founder of Deep Adaptation respectively, explain:

‘Our power comes from acting without escape from our pain.’

They continue:

‘Paying attention fully to what is around us and in front of us, even though it hurts, is to be fully alive. […] Once we accept that anxiety and grief will be constant companions in this struggle, we can stay fully present to what is happening and respond accordingly. It means we do not grasp desperately at the latest idea of what might fix the climate and ecological emergency. Instead, we can help each other stay fully present to the difficult mess, so that we can try to reduce harm, save what we can and plant some seeds for what might come next.’

A good start would be to reject the corporate media.

The post “A Ghastly Future”? Israeli Apartheid, Biden, Starmer, Assange And Mass Extinction first appeared on Dissident Voice.