Category Archives: UK media

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

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

— WikiLeaks, Twitter, November 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manafort himself denied ever meeting Assange.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guardian ups its Vilification of Julian Assange

It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian’s long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Reporter Luke Harding’s latest article, claiming that Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador’s embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.

Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly – and very quietly – rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, “sources”.

The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump’s supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

The Guardian’s latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party’s servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.

Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton’s challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.

To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian’s new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to “Russians” joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.

Manafort has denied the Guardian’s claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.

‘Responsible for Trump’

The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher – and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times – but the head of an organisation engaged in espionage for a foreign power.

The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organisation, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.

The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador’s right wing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.

It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.

For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange’s supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.

Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily – and unlawfully – detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.

Now Assange and his supporters have been proved right once again. An administrative error this month revealed that the US justice department had secretly filed criminal charges against Assange.

Heavy surveillance

The problem for the Guardian, which should have been obvious to its editors from the outset, is that any visits by Manafort would be easily verifiable without relying on unnamed “sources”.

Glenn Greenwald is far from alone in noting that London is possibly the most surveilled city in the world, with CCTV cameras everywhere. The environs of the Ecuadorian embassy are monitored especially heavily, with continuous filming by the UK and Ecuadorian authorities and most likely by the US and other actors with an interest in Assange’s fate.

The idea that Manafort or “Russians” could have wandered into the embassy to meet Assange even once without their trail, entry and meeting being intimately scrutinised and recorded is simply preposterous.

According to Greenwald:

If Paul Manafort … visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

Former British ambassador Craig Murray also points out the extensive security checks insisted on by the embassy to which any visitor to Assange must submit. Any visits by Manafort would have been logged.

In fact, the Guardian obtained the embassy’s logs in May, and has never made any mention of either Manafort or “Russians” being identified in them. It did not refer to the logs in its latest story.

Murray:

The problem with this latest fabrication is that [Ecuador’s President] Moreno had already released the visitor logs to the Mueller inquiry. Neither Manafort nor these “Russians” are in the visitor logs … What possible motive would the Ecuadorean government have for facilitating secret unrecorded visits by Paul Manafort? Furthermore it is impossible that the intelligence agency – who were in charge of the security – would not know the identity of these alleged “Russians”.

No fact-checking

It is worth noting it should be vitally important for a serious publication like the Guardian to ensure its claims are unassailably true – both because Assange’s personal fate rests on their veracity, and because, even more importantly, a fundamental right, the freedom of the press, is at stake.

Given this, one would have expected the Guardian’s editors to have insisted on the most stringent checks imaginable before going to press with Harding’s story. At a very minimum, they should have sought out a response from Assange and Manafort before publication. Neither precaution was taken.

I worked for the Guardian for a number of years, and know well the layers of checks that any highly sensitive story has to go through before publication. In that lengthy process, a variety of commissioning editors, lawyers, backbench editors and the editor herself, Kath Viner, would normally insist on cuts to anything that could not be rigorously defended and corroborated.

And yet this piece seems to have been casually waved through, given a green light even though its profound shortcomings were evident to a range of well-placed analysts and journalists from the outset.

That at the very least hints that the Guardian thought they had “insurance” on this story. And the only people who could have promised that kind of insurance are the security and intelligence services – presumably of Britain, the United States and / or Ecuador.

It appears the Guardian has simply taken this story, provided by spooks, at face value. Even if it later turns out that Manafort did visit Assange, the Guardian clearly had no compelling evidence for its claims when it published them. That is profoundly irresponsible journalism – fake news – that should be of the gravest concern to readers.

A pattern, not an aberration

Despite all this, even analysts critical of the Guardian’s behaviour have shown a glaring failure to understand that its latest coverage represents not an aberration by the paper but decisively fits with a pattern.

Glenn Greenwald, who once had an influential column in the Guardian until an apparent, though unacknowledged, falling out with his employer over the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote a series of baffling observations about the Guardian’s latest story.

First, he suggested it was simply evidence of the Guardian’s long-standing (and well-documented) hostility towards Assange.

The Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him.

It was also apparently evidence of the paper’s clickbait tendencies:

They [Guardian editors] knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false.

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Deeper malaise

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist left wing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for left wing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s right wing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where left wing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

Heroes of the neoliberal order

Equally, the Guardian has made clear who its true heroes are. Certainly not Corbyn or Assange, who threaten to disrupt the entrenched neoliberal order that is hurtling us towards climate breakdown and economic collapse.

Its pages, however, are readily available to the latest effort to prop up the status quo from Tony Blair, the man who led Britain, on false pretences, into the largest crime against humanity in living memory – the attack on Iraq.

That “humanitarian intervention” cost the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and created a vacuum that destabilised much of the Middle East, sucked in Islamic jihadists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, and contributed to the migrant crisis in Europe that has fuelled the resurgence of the far-right. None of that is discussed in the Guardian or considered grounds for disqualifying Blair as an arbiter of what is good for Britain and the world’s future.

The Guardian also has an especial soft spot for blogger Elliot Higgins, who, aided by the Guardian, has shot to unlikely prominence as a self-styled “weapons expert”. Like Luke Harding, Higgins invariably seems ready to echo whatever the British and American security services need verifying “independently”.

Higgins and his well-staffed website Bellingcat have taken on for themselves the role of arbiters of truth on many foreign affairs issues, taking a prominent role in advocating for narratives that promote US and NATO hegemony while demonising Russia, especially in highly contested arenas such as Syria.

That clear partisanship should be no surprise, given that Higgins now enjoys an “academic” position at, and funding from, the Atlantic Council, a high-level, Washington-based think-tank founded to drum up support for NATO and justify its imperialist agenda.

Improbably, the Guardian has adopted Higgins as the poster-boy for a supposed citizen journalism it has sought to undermine as “fake news” whenever it occurs on social media without the endorsement of state-backed organisations.

The truth is that the Guardian has not erred in this latest story attacking Assange, or in its much longer-running campaign to vilify him. With this story, it has done what it regularly does when supposedly vital western foreign policy interests are at stake – it simply regurgitates an elite-serving, western narrative.

Its job is to shore up a consensus on the left for attacks on leading threats to the existing, neoliberal order: whether they are a platform like Wikileaks promoting whistle-blowing against a corrupt western elite; or a politician like Jeremy Corbyn seeking to break apart the status quo on the rapacious financial industries or Israel-Palestine; or a radical leader like Hugo Chavez who threatened to overturn a damaging and exploitative US dominance of “America’s backyard”; or social media dissidents who have started to chip away at the elite-friendly narratives of corporate media, including the Guardian.

The Guardian did not make a mistake in vilifying Assange without a shred of evidence. It did what it is designed to do.

UPDATE: Excellent background from investigative journalist Gareth Porter, published shortly before Harding’s story, explains why the Guardian’s hit-piece is so important for those who want Assange out of the embassy and behind bars. Read Porter’s article here.

The Filter Bubble: Owen Jones And Con Coughlin

There is something dreamlike about the system of mass communication sometimes described as ‘mainstream media’. The self-described ‘rogue journalist’ and ‘guerrilla poet’ Caitlin Johnstone tweeted it well:

The Iraq invasion feels kind of like if your dad had stood up at the dinner table, cut off your sister’s head in front of everyone, gone right back to eating and never suffered any consequences, and everyone just kind of forgot about it and carried on life like it never happened.

In a dream, the common sense rules and rationality of everyday life are, of course, suspended – we float to the top of the stairs, a cat smiles, a person is beheaded at the dinner table and the vegetables are served.

In similar vein, Iraq was destroyed in a nakedly illegal oil grab, more than one million human beings were killed, and the ‘mainstream’ continued to treat the criminals responsible as respectable statespeople, and to take seriously their subsequent calls for ‘humanitarian intervention’ in oil-rich Libya. With Libya reduced to ruins, the same journalists dreamed on, treating the same criminals with the same respect as they sought yet one more regime change in Syria.

This nightmare version of ‘news’ is maintained by a corporate ‘filter bubble‘ that blocks facts, ideas and sources that challenge state-corporate control of politics, economics and culture. It is maintained by a mixture of ruthless high-level control and middle- and lower-level compromise, conformity and self-serving blindness.

It stands to reason that anyone seeking employment within this bubble will have to accept an unwritten agreement not to challenge the integrity of the bubble by which they are granted wealth and fame. Any ingrate deciding to renege is attacked, reviled and cast out; treated almost as sub-human, not entirely real. Politicians like George Galloway challenging the bubble can be beaten up in broad daylight and it is of no concern. Idealistic hippies like Russell Brand preaching love can be torn to shreds and silenced by the press pack – it doesn’t matter. Whistleblowing activists like Julian Assange can be trapped, threatened with life imprisonment and death, and it is a laughing matter. Whole countries can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The climate can be destroyed – it doesn’t matter. The filter bubble has its own dream logic, follows its own cosmic laws as if the real world was none of its concern.

It is fine for one corporate bubble-head to criticise another bubble-head’s take on current affairs – boisterous, jovial, intra-bubble gossip is welcome. Anything that challenges the integrity of the bubble is forbidden, hated; tolerated in tiny doses, perhaps, to keep up appearances. It is just understood.

So what happens when a high-profile political commentator breaks the rules and thrusts a pin of Truth at the filter bubble? What happens when a fellow journalist is exposed in a way that has negative implications for all newspapers, all media outlets? How will the rest of journalism respond?

Owen Jones on Con Coughlin

On October 11, Guardian columnist Owen Jones broke the usual rules in an attack on the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, Con Coughlin, who, Jones noted, had attended a party at the Saudi embassy in London:

Hi @concoughlin. You left tonight’s Saudi Embassy bash at the @NHM_London safe and well. That’s more than can be said for your fellow journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who allegedly was chopped into pieces in Turkey’s Saudi Consulate. Any pangs of conscience?’

The following day, Jones tweeted a thread exposing Coughlin that included these comments:

A thread. The Telegraph’s Defence Editor churns out Saudi propaganda after going to a Saudi party.

He is married to Katherine Bergen who worked for Meade Hall & Associates, paid lobbyists for Bahrain’s dictatorship, which was propped up by a 2011 Saudi invasion.

Katherine Bergen is a former journalist who wrote pro-Bahrain propaganda for publications ranging from The Daily Mail to Standpoint Magazine.

Con Coughlin himself has a history of churning out pro-Bahrain propaganda. In a now deleted Telegraph blog headlined “Why is Britain harbouring Bahrain’s dissidents?” (referred to in the book Oil States in the New Middle East) he fawns over Bahrain’s ruling dictator.

Con Coughlin’s output on Saudi Arabia is ludicrously Pravda-esque fawning. Scan through the articles he’s written here: it is beyond belief. Seriously, have a sickbag ready.

Here is a fawning interview Coughlin conducted with Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in March, who he describes as a “human dynamo”. He concludes: “With this young royal at the helm, Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds.”

All Coughlin does is churn out Saudi propaganda and Saudi talking points. Check this out when Saudi Arabia and its allies clashed with Qatar. Is this news reporting, or a de facto press release Saudi Arabia might as well have written?

Having described Coughlin’s role in promoting Saudi propaganda, Jones turned to other areas:

A 2000 article reveals Coughlin was fed material by MI6 for years, which he then turned into Telegraph news articles. One false story fed to him by MI6 about Saif Gaddafi led to the Sunday Telegraph apologising for libel ( …)

Stories published by Con Coughlin include a front page splash: ‘TERRORIST BEHIND SEPTEMBER 11 STRIKE WAS TRAINED BY SADDAM’. It was based on a forged letter which had been fed to him.’

Con Coughlin went on NBC to tell viewers that the (forged) letter was “really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam”. This false claim was invaluable: it justified one of the Bush administration’s false pretexts for the invasion of Iraq.

As his “story” fell apart, Coughlin said: there’s “no way of verifying it. It’s our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens.” Errrrr.

A book by Pulizter-winning journalist Ron Suskind claims the Bush administration forged the evidence.

Jones unsubtly hinted at Coughlin’s true role:

According to Suskind, Coughlin was “a journalist whom the Bush administration thinks very highly of” and was “a favourite of neoconservatives in the U.S. government.” Suskind says Coughlin got the letter from the former CIA and MI6 agent, former Iraqi exile Ayad Allawi.

Remember the discredited 45 minute claim? Conveniently after the invasion of Iraq Coughlin went to Iraq and found a source who claimed it was “200 per cent accurate.” I’m sure that the scandal-hit British intelligence services were delighted.

In our media alert of November 4, 2004, we noted that, having worked hard to pave the propaganda way to war on Iraq, Coughlin later worked hard to justify this terrible crime. In June 2003, under the title, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ he wrote in the Telegraph:

Another day and another mass grave is unearthed in Iraq.

He added:

So many of these harrowing sites have been uncovered in the two months since Saddam’s overthrow that even the experts are starting to lose count of just how many atrocities were committed by the Iraqi dictator’s henchmen… If this were Kosovo, the Government would be under fire for not having acted sooner to prevent the genocide.

His conclusion:

Having just returned from three weeks in post-liberation Iraq, I find it almost perverse that anyone should question the wisdom of removing Saddam from power.1

Commenting on Coughlin’s ‘reliance on unnamed intelligence sources in several far-fetched articles about Iran,’ the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII) identified key features in reports filed by the Daily Telegraph’s then foreign editor:

Sources were unnamed or untraceable, often senior Western intelligence officials or senior Foreign Office officials.

Articles were published at sensitive and delicate times where there had been relatively positive diplomatic moves towards Iran.

Articles contained exclusive revelations about Iran combined with eye-catchingly controversial headlines.2

Jones emphasised the significance of his tweets:

Read through this thread, and bear this mind. Con Coughlin was Foreign Editor, and is now Defence Editor of one of Britain’s main broadsheet newspapers. He is treated as a respected journalist. What does this tell us about the British media?

As The Canary website noted, ‘After the revelations Con Coughlin had so little credibility left, he deleted his Twitter account.’

On October 17, Jones tweeted:

Con Coughlin has just had another load of shameless Saudi propaganda published by the @Telegraph, it is utterly remarkable

We responded:

Even more remarkable from ProQuest UK newspaper database, last 30 days:

“Your search for (Owen Jones) AND (Con Coughlin) found 0 results.”

Silence across the media “spectrum”.

In other words, no UK journalist anywhere had picked up on Jones’ damning comments on Coughlin. They had been ignored. In possibly Jones’ first ever positive response to us, he replied confidently, indicating that a Guardian article was on the way:

about to change this.

We retweeted this, taking Jones at his word. One week later, on October 24, he published an article in the Guardian titled, ‘Britain has sold its soul to the House of Saud. Shame on us’. So how much of Jones’ criticism of Coughlin had survived the attentions of the Guardian editors? The answer is contained in this single paragraph:

Con Coughlin, the Telegraph’s defence correspondent, attended the National History Museum bash [hosted by the Saudi embassy], posting the next day an article accompanied by the tweet: “Was Jamal Khashoggi a liberal or a Muslim Brotherhood lackey who reviled the west?” He has written fawning interviews with Bin Salman, describing him as a “human dynamo” under whose rule “Saudi Arabia’s future prospects clearly know no bounds”.

Attending the Saudi bash was the least of the sins exposed by Jones, and the ‘fawning interviews’ are rather less damning than Coughlin acting as a conduit for MI6 propaganda. We wrote to Jones:

Owen, we absolutely loved your thread exposing Con Coughlin. But what happened to the promised Guardian article on this? I’m asking because you told us you were writing something on Oct 17. The piece then came out a week later on Oct 24 with almost all the meat missing. Did you run into internal opposition at the Guardian?3

We received no reply. Jones, of course, is not about to reveal what happened to his article. Perhaps the Guardian editors simply published what he submitted. One thing is clear: somehow, at some point, the filter bubble worked its magic and prevented a damning expose of a senior UK journalist reaching the Guardian’s readers.

In a tweet, Jones asked of the Coughlin case: ‘What does this tell us about the British media?’ Without the filter bubble, journalists would surely be asking exactly that question of ‘defence’ and ‘diplomatic’ journalism more generally.

The problem was indicated by one of the great Freudian slips of our time, supplied by a Fox News anchor on March 24, 1999, as Nato was preparing to wage war on Yugoslavia:

Let’s bring in our Pentagon spokesman – excuse me, our Pentagon correspondent.

In 2002, Michael Evans, The Times’ defence correspondent, reported:

Saddam Hussein has ordered hundred of his officials to conceal weapons of mass destruction components in their homes to evade the prying eyes of the United Nations inspectors.

This was fake news – Iraq’s WMD had been dismantled and destroyed by December 1998. In a guest media alert, ‘Hacks And Spooks’, Professor Richard Keeble, then Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, described Evans’ comments as an example of ‘disinformation… spread by dodgy intelligence sources via gullible journalists’.

On the April 12, 2005 edition of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, diplomatic editor Mark Urban discussed the significance of a lessening of Iraqi attacks on US forces since January:

It is indeed the first real evidence that President Bush’s grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work.4

The claim that Bush aimed to create a democracy in the Middle East clashed impossibly with his actual grand design of controlling Iraq’s oil.

In 2011, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Julian Borger, anticipated a new report on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with a piece titled ‘Iran “on threshold of nuclear weapon”‘. The accompanying photograph depicted a giant mushroom cloud from a nuclear weapons test. In fact, Iran had no nuclear weapons, nor even a nuclear weapons programme.

Why are defence editors, defence correspondents, diplomatic editors and the like so often biased in favour of the Western defence and diplomatic establishment they are covering? And why are they allowed to demonstrate this bias without anyone so much as commenting?

The filter bubble ensures that these questions can never be asked, much less answered.

  1. Con Coughlin, ‘So what if Saddam’s deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,’ The Sunday Telegraph, June 1, 2003.
  2. Campaign Iran, ‘Press Watchdog slammed by “Dont Attack Iran” Campaigners,’ May 1, 2007.
  3. Direct message, Twitter, November 8, 2018.
  4. Urban, Newsnight, BBC2, April 12, 2005.

Bolsonaro is a Monster Engineered By Our Media

With Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil’s presidential election at the weekend, the doom-mongers among western elites are out in force once again. His success, like Donald Trump’s, has confirmed a long-held prejudice: that the people cannot be trusted; that, when empowered, they behave like a mob driven by primitive urges; that the unwashed masses now threaten to bring down the carefully constructed walls of civilisation.

The guardians of the status quo refused to learn the lesson of Trump’s election, and so it will be with Bolsonaro. Rather than engaging the intellectual faculties they claim as their exclusive preserve, western “analysts” and “experts” are again averting their gaze from anything that might help them understand what has driven our supposed democracies into the dark places inhabited by the new demagogues. Instead, as ever, the blame is being laid squarely at the door of social media.

Social media and fake news are apparently the reasons Bolsonaro won at the ballot box. Without the gatekeepers in place to limit access to the “free press” – itself the plaything of billionaires and global corporations, with brands and a bottom line to protect – the rabble has supposedly been freed to give expression to their innate bigotry.

Here is Simon Jenkins, a veteran British gatekeeper – a former editor of the Times of London who now writes a column in the Guardian – pontificating on Bolsonaro:

The lesson for champions of open democracy is glaring. Its values cannot be taken for granted. When debate is no longer through regulated media, courts and institutions, politics will default to the mob. Social media – once hailed as an agent of global concord – has become the purveyor of falsity, anger and hatred. Its algorithms polarise opinion. Its pseudo-information drives argument to the extremes.

This is now the default consensus of the corporate media, whether in its right wing incarnations or of the variety posing on the liberal-left end of the spectrum like the Guardian. The people are stupid, and we need to be protected from their base instincts. Social media, it is claimed, has unleashed humanity’s id.

Selling plutocracy

There is a kind of truth in Jenkins’ argument, even if it is not the one he intended. Social media did indeed liberate ordinary people. For the first time in modern history, they were not simply the recipients of official, sanctioned information. They were not only spoken down to by their betters, they could answer back – and not always as deferentially as the media class expected.

Clinging to their old privileges, Jenkins and his ilk are rightly unnerved. They have much to lose.

But that also means they are far from dispassionate observers of the current political scene. They are deeply invested in the status quo, in the existing power structures that have kept them well-paid courtiers of the corporations that dominate the planet.

Bolsonaro, like Trump, is not a disruption of the current neoliberal order; he is an intensification or escalation of its worst impulses. He is its logical conclusion.

The plutocrats who run our societies need figureheads, behind whom they can conceal their unaccountable power. Until now they preferred the slickest salespeople, ones who could sell wars as humanitarian intervention rather than profit-driven exercises in death and destruction; the unsustainable plunder of natural resources as economic growth; the massive accumulation of wealth, stashed in offshore tax havens, as the fair outcome of a free market; the bailouts funded by ordinary taxpayers to stem economic crises they had engineered as necessary austerity; and so on.

A smooth-tongued Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton were the favoured salespeople, especially in an age when the elites had persuaded us of a self-serving argument: that ghetto-like identities based on colour or gender mattered far more than class. It was divide-and-rule dressed up as empowerment. The polarisation now bewailed by Jenkins was in truth stoked and rationalised by the very corporate media he so faithfully serves.

Fear of the domino effect

Despite their professed concern, the plutocrats and their media spokespeople much prefer a far-right populist like Trump or Bolsonaro to a populist leader of the genuine left. They prefer the social divisions fueled by neo-fascists like Bolsonaro, divisions that protect their wealth and privilege, over the unifying message of a socialist who wants to curtail class privilege, the real basis of the elite’s power.

The true left – whether in Brazil, Venezuela, Britain or the US – does not control the police or military, the financial sector, the oil industries, the arms manufacturers, or the corporate media. It was these very industries and institutions that smoothed the path to power for Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and Trump in the US.

Former socialist leaders like Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela were bound to fail not so much because of their flaws as individuals but because powerful interests rejected their right to rule. These socialists never had control over the key levers of power, the key resources. Their efforts were sabotaged – from within and without – from the moment of their election.

Local elites in Latin America are tied umbilically to US elites, who in turn are determined to make sure any socialist experiment in their backyard fails – as a way to prevent a much-feared domino effect, one that might seed socialism closer to home.

The media, the financial elites, the armed forces were never servants of the socialist governments that have been struggling to reform Latin America. The corporate world has no interest either in building proper housing in place of slums or in dragging the masses out of the kind of poverty that fuels the drug gangs that Bolsonaro claims he will crush through more violence.

Bolsonaro will not face any of the institutional obstacles Lula da Silva or Chavez needed to overcome. No one in power will stand in his way as he institutes his “reforms”. No one will stop him creaming off Brazil’s wealth for his corporate friends. As in Pinochet’s Chile, Bolsonaro can rest assured that his kind of neo-fascism will live in easy harmony with neoliberalism.

Immune system

If you want to understand the depth of the self-deception of Jenkins and other media gatekeepers, contrast Bolsonaro’s political ascent to that of Jeremy Corbyn, the modest social democratic leader of Britain’s Labour party. Those like Jenkins who lament the role of social media – they mean you, the public – in promoting leaders like Bolsonaro are also the media chorus who have been wounding Corbyn day after day, blow by blow, for three years – since he accidentally slipped past safeguards intended by party bureacrats to keep someone like him from power.

The supposedly liberal Guardian has been leading that assault. Like the right wing media, it has shown its absolute determination to stop Corbyn at all costs, using any pretext.

Within days of Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, the Times newspaper – the voice of the British establishment – published an article quoting a general, whom it refused to name, warning that the British army’s commanders had agreed they would sabotage a Corbyn government. The general strongly hinted that there would be a military coup first.

We are not supposed to reach the point where such threats – tearing away the façade of western democracy – ever need to be implemented. Our pretend democracies were created with immune systems whose defences are marshalled to eliminate a threat like Corbyn much earlier.

Once he moved closer to power, however, the right wing corporate media was forced to deploy the standard tropes used against a left leader: that he was incompetent, unpatriotic, even treasonous.

But just as the human body has different immune cells to increase its chances of success, the corporate media has faux-liberal-left agents like the Guardian to complement the right’s defences. The Guardian sought to wound Corbyn through identity politics, the modern left’s Achille’s heel. An endless stream of confected crises about anti-semitism were intended to erode the hard-earned credit Corbyn had accumulated over decades for his anti-racism work.

Slash-and-burn politics

Why is Corbyn so dangerous? Because he supports the right of workers to a dignified life, because he refuses to accept the might of the corporations, because he implies that a different way of organising our societies is possible. It is a modest, even timid programme he articulates, but even so it is far too radical either for the plutocratic class that rules over us or for the corporate media that serves as its propaganda arm.

The truth ignored by Jenkins and these corporate stenographers is that if you keep sabotaging the programmes of a Chavez, a Lula da Silva, a Corbyn or a Bernie Sanders, then you get a Bolsonaro, a Trump, an Orban.

It is not that the masses are a menace to democracy. It is rather that a growing proportion of voters understand that a global corporate elite has rigged the system to accrue for itself ever greater riches. It is not social media that is polarising our societies. It is rather that the determination of the elites to pillage the planet until it has no more assets to strip has fueled resentment and destroyed hope. It is not fake news that is unleashing the baser instincts of the lower orders. Rather, it is the frustration of those who feel that change is impossible, that no one in power is listening or cares.

Social media has empowered ordinary people. It has shown them that they cannot trust their leaders, that power trumps justice, that the elite’s enrichment requires their poverty. They have concluded that, if the rich can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the planet, our only refuge, they can engage in slash-and-burn politics against the global elite.

Are they choosing wisely in electing a Trump or Bolsonaro? No. But the liberal guardians of the status quo are in no position to judge them. For decades, all parts of the corporate media have helped to undermine a genuine left that could have offered real solutions, that could have taken on and beaten the right, that could have offered a moral compass to a confused, desperate and disillusioned public.

Jenkins wants to lecture the masses about their depraved choices while he and his paper steer them away from any politician who cares about their welfare, who fights for a fairer society, who prioritises mending what is broken.

The western elites will decry Bolsonaro in the forlorn and cynical hope of shoring up their credentials as guardians of the existing, supposedly moral order. But they engineered him. Bolsonaro is their monster.

Britain demands a second referendum

Last Saturday at least half a million people marched through London demanding a second referendum on Brexit. I don’t blame most of the people who voted for Brexit, and therefore created this mess. For the most part they did not know what they were doing. Most had been lied to or deceived by ignorant or treacherous MPs, and horrendously misled by the mainstream media.

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but it’s wholly dependent on people receiving good information. Although very little good information was available prior to the referendum itself this was not the main problem. The main problem was the decades of xenophobic anti-EU bile churned out by the gutter press beforehand. This was proved by the fact that one of the main claims of the Leave campaign was to “take back” control of Britain from the EU. If people’s minds had not already been horribly poisoned against the EU, why should “taking back” control from it have been a major issue? Not that it was ever a truthful cause, because we the people have never had much control of our government anyway.

Smearing the EU, which so many politicians and the gutter press have amused themselves doing for so long, is an effective distraction. It tries to blame Europe for the considerable failings and treachery of our own government, and the mainstream media. It wasn’t Europe’s fault that Britain involved itself in the illegal wars that caused the mass migrations from the Middle East and Africa which helped to fuel the Brexit xenophobia; and Europe had nothing to do with shutting down our A&E wards, stealing billions of pounds from pensioners, scrapping free university education, establishing sinister secret courts, or wasting trillions of pounds on bankrupt banks – for example. Our government, to whom Brexiteers want to “give back control”, did all these things and much, much more all by themselves.

The EU is not perfect. It could and should be much improved. But the simple fact is that it’s in Britain’s best interests to remain part of the EU. Our physical and economic security is much greater if we remain part of Europe.

Although I can’t prove it, I have long believed that the USA has been trying to break up Europe for some years now. By the turn of the new millennium the EU had become a major economic player, and the US perceived it as a significant challenge to its global economic hegemony. Iraq, for example, won UN approval in October 2000 to sell its oil in Euros, rather than US dollars – which is not something the US would take lightly – and we all know what happened to Iraq very soon afterwards. It was therefore highly likely that the US would try to remove the EU as an economic competitor. What better way than to cause it to break up and fragment? Perhaps it’s only coincidence, but Nigel Farage, the most significant face behind Brexit, appears to have much closer ties to the US than to Britain, and seems strangely close to Donald Trump.

We desperately need another referendum on leaving the EU – one that requires at least half of British voters to support any decision to leave, not just a simple majority of however many votes are cast.

 

Russian “Collusion” is a Red Herring While a Fourth Reich Rises

As the 2018 U.S. midterm elections approach, there is still no evidence of ‘collusion’ between the campaign of President Donald J. Trump and the Russian government after nearly two years of inquiry. Thus far in the Department of Justice’s investigation led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, only a trail of corruption involving Trump associates has been discovered. None of their wrongdoings connect to the Russian nationals also indicted in the probe, including the illicit lobbying by former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine which actually went against Russia’s interests on behalf of the EU. One can anticipate that more misdeeds by his cronies will be uncovered given that corruption in Washington grows on trees, some of which may even implicate Trump himself. However, if there were anything incriminating at the level of high treason, the likelihood that it wouldn’t have been unearthed already after such an exhaustive inquest relying on splitting hairs for indictments is slim.

The Kremlin has also fulfilled the need of a scapegoat across the Atlantic for the UK’s Brexit referendum. Mueller has examined emails from the shadowy British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, but seemingly only to scrutinize whether they contain evidence of intrigue between Trump and Russia. The UK-based voter profiling company, chaired by former Trump campaign and Breitbart CEO Stephen K. Bannon and owned by the mysterious right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, provided services for both the Trump and Brexit campaigns using the collected data of more than 80 million Facebook users for ‘electoral engineering.’ After the scandal broke, the firm was suspended by Facebook and then reported to have shut its doors. It quickly came to light that the company had merely re-branded itself under the handle Emerdata Ltd., now under the management of Mercer’s daughters Rebekah and Jennifer. It is even operating out of the same headquarters in London and although it is still under federal investigation, no criminal charges appear imminent against its previous incarnation. Cambridge Analytica denies breaking any laws but it is widely believed to have done so by electoral watchdog groups. Have there been no legal proceedings because the DOJ is prioritizing finding connections between Trump and Moscow?

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie made several admissions about its activities. One significant disclosure was that its database building of social media users was assisted by employees of Palantir Technologies, the nebulous software company owned by another pro-Trump billionaire, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel. A GOP mega-donor and Silicon Valley venture capitalist with close ties to Robert Mercer, Thiel was rewarded with a spot on the executive committee of Trump’s transition team after his surprising victory. The Palantir moniker eerily derives from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings after a crystal ball used by a wizard to see into far off places and the past. Palintir employees aided the firm in constructing ‘psychographs’ of voters based on their preferences, behavior, and internet activity in order to target them with advertising. Why on earth is Russia the center of the investigation and not the multiple private intelligence and data mining firms hired to stage-manage the election?

One possibility is because Palintir’s expertise has previously been employed for data scraping services by a range of powerful clients, including predictive-policing software for law enforcement and even the National Security Agency for developing its XKEYSCORE internet surveillance database. If election manipulation by the Trump campaign was facilitated by a company previously contracted by the Pentagon to weaponize data using social media as a global spy tool, it is easy to conclude why Russia would be a preferred suspect in the investigation. Only the naive could believe the Mueller inquiry represents anything other than the interests of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. After all, it is their unsubstantiated word alone that has been the entire source for the claims of Russia’s alleged interference. If the investigation findings were to implicate Palintir which is funded by the CIA’s venture capital fund In-Q-Tel, we are really expected to believe a career spook like Mueller would be impartial?

Palintir also has an outpost in Tel Aviv, Israel. One of Trump’s most controversial foreign policy moves has been the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal accord and it just so happens that the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency used Palintir’s Mosaic software to ensure Tehran was in compliance. If the President of the United States is openly supported by the billionaire supplying the technology to verify Iran is in accordance with the agreement and has campaigned vowing to sabotage it, how in the world is this ethical and not a conflict of interest? Shortly before the U.S. withdrawal, Trump even met with Thiel just hours after speaking with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about Iran. Cambridge Analytica is also tied to Israel through private intelligence firm Wikistrat Inc. which offered the Trump campaign social media election manipulation services in a partnership. It is clear that any loose associations between the Kremlin and Trump have been overplayed in order to soft pedal the overwhelming influence by Israel. Meanwhile, Putin cannot even appear to rig the vote in his own country, as following Russia’s recent unpopular pension reforms his political party suffered losses in regional elections.

Christopher Wylie indeed testified that it was a Russian data scientist who authored the survey app which gathered the information used by Cambridge Analytica from millions of Facebook profiles. The psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, provided the data to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). Evidently, his research for the app through the University of St. Petersburg was funded using Russian government grants but Kogan, who is actually a Moldovan-born U.S. citizen, has done academic studies subsidized by the U.S., UK, Chinese and Canadian governments as well. The dots that have been connected to Russian intelligence possessing access to Kogan’s data are pure speculation, as are the claims that Kogan is a spy, a highly unlikely possibility considering he is still currently employed by the University of Cambridge. What is more certain is Cambridge Analytica’s nefarious use of private information to target voters for the Trump and Leave EU campaigns, but the Mueller team remains fixated on Moscow.

What are the consequences of this smokescreen? Steve Bannon has been free to move on from his ouster in the Trump administration to offer his prowess to far rightists around the world with the formation of a organization dubbed “The Movement.” Based in Belgium and co-founded with the country’s populist demagogue Mischaël Modrikamen, its stated aim is to prop up ultra nationalism across the EU before next year’s European Parliament elections. The shady organization is intended to be a right-wing equivalent of the Open Society Foundation by bolstering far right political movements from behind the scenes. Bannon’s modus operandi is in giving a businesslike and accessible polish to right-wing populism while placing greater emphasis on anti-immigration, the refugee crisis and Islamophobia. The Movement is consulting parties such as:

  • Fidesz, party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
  • The Italian League, party of Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini
  • Alternative for Germany/Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
  • Sweden Democrats, third place in last month’s general election
  • Dutch Party for Freedom, led by Geert Wilders and is the second largest party in the Netherlands House of Representatives
  • Freedom Party of Austria
  • Swiss People’s Party
  • UK Independence Party (Ukip); Bannon is close colleagues with leader Nigel Farage
  • National Front/National Rally (France) led by Marine Le Pen
  • Belgium People’s Party
  • VOX (Spain)

Prior to the Great Recession, far right political organizations had remained on the periphery for decades following the Second World War until the 2008 financial crash reintroduced the economic circumstances that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Suddenly, the far right began to flourish in countries hit hardest by the Eurozone’s debts. This development was simultaneous with the emergence of the Tea Party in the U.S. resurrecting the Gadsden banner. Golden Dawn made notable gains in the Greek parliament but their brand still resembled the anti-Semitic nationalists of Eastern Europe, a hard sell in the rest of the continent. When a further destabilized Middle East facilitated by Western interventionism led to a flux of migrants seeking refugee status in the EU, an opportunity arose for transformation of nationalism in Western and Southern Europe to an ‘accessible’ Islamophobic variety.

The distinguishing characteristic of this new wave of fascism is not just jettisoning of anti-Semitism, but strong support of the state of Israel. For instance, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) which is now the largest opposition party in the Bundestag is bankrolled by the pro-Israel Gatestone Institute and closely aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (now known as National Rally) is historically anti-Semitic but has gradually shifted its agenda toward attacking Islam in recent decades as well. Steve Bannon himself even boasted he is an avowed “Judeo-Christian Zionist.” On the surface this disturbing alliance between Holocaust-denying figures like Viktor Orban and Israel may seem unlikely, it also makes perfect sense considering both Zionists and the extreme right hold the historical view that Jews are fundamentally non-native to Europe and they have a common civilizational ‘enemy’ in Islam.

Bannon isn’t limiting his enterprise to the Northern Hemisphere either and has already exported it to the global south. It was recently reported that the former White House Chief Strategist is advising the campaign of the runoff winner for Brazil’s presidency, Jair Bolsanaro, who has been described as a “Brazilian Trump” and “Tropical Hitler” for his disparaging statements about women, gays, blacks and the country’s indigenous minority. Bolsanaro has also expressed nostalgia for the military dictatorship that lasted more than two decades in Brazil after a 1964 U.S.-backed coup. Bolsanaro has been such a paralyzing figure in Brazilian politics, he was hospitalized after a knife stabbing at a campaign event last month. Historically, fascism and South America are no strangers — following WWII, it was Argentina under Juan Perón which provided secret safe harbor to Nazi war criminals such as Adolf Eichmann and Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele.

With no end or likely impeachment in sight, it is clear that the media and public have been diverted toward a ruse contrived by the U.S. intelligence community. The entire premise of the Russia investigation ostensibly presumes its own conclusion, searching for the missing pieces to a preconstructed narrative rather than determining what actually transpired. It has all the hallmarks of a counterintelligence PSY-OP, designed to commandeer public disapproval of Trump into serving the State Department’s objective of undermining Russia and sabotaging even the most modest efforts to be diplomatic with Moscow. The media and establishment can hardly contain their contempt for the working class in the theft of their agency, as if none of their grievances which the extreme right has capitalized on could be legitimate. Still, if it were to be determined that the election was compromised by the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Palintir instead of the Kremlin, it would remain a distraction from underlying causes.

The global economic downturn is what has nurtured the far right, but its rebirth in Europe truly originates with the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1989, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously hypothesized in The End of History and the Last Man that Karl Marx had been proven wrong that communism would replace capitalism with the advent of liberal democracy. Fukuyama wrote:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

If socialism failed, almost thirty years later it appears that so too are capitalism and liberal democracy. We were told the fall of communism was the ‘end of history’, and there were no longer any further steps in humanity’s evolutionary process. Once a celebrated figure, what Fukuyama wrote then can only be interpreted today as a colossally failed prediction by an intellectual charlatan. Both a resurgence of socialism as well as a potential descent into fascist barbarism are back on the table in our present historical moment.

Last month, the media was enthralled by the collective laughter of the international community at Trump’s embarrassing speech to the United Nations General Assembly that seemed to all but confirm the dismantling of U.S. hegemony. While Trump made clear his ultra-nationalist departure from his predecessors in denouncing “the ideology of globalism”, per usual the presstitutes overlooked one of the address’s most significant moments when he stated:

Virtually everywhere socialism or communism has been tried, it has produced suffering, corruption, and decay. Socialism’s thirst for power leads to expansion, incursion, and oppression. All nations of the world should resist socialism.

That Trump devoted a portion of his tirade to denounce socialism is remarkable and a virtual admittance that the ruling classes are trembling that it is no longer a dirty word in the Western lexicon. On the one hand, because capitalism is in a crisis large sections of the working class are desperately turning to a far-right appealing to their popular anger at the elite and prejudices against migrants. Capitalism has historically kept the far right on life support in reserve for absorbing revolt in its periods of crisis to be misdirected into jingoism and scapegoating, an opposition much easier to control. If the far right today is ascendant, so too is socialism which must seize upon the class struggle that has once again returned to the forefront determining political life. If liberal democracy speaks of the ‘end of history’, fascism represents the end of humanism in its hostility to culture and civilization, no matter how new and improved its image. History is indeed repeating itself. As the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano once said in what could have been a rebuttal to Fukuyama’s thesis —“History never really says goodbye. It says, ‘see you later.’”

After 70 Years of Abuse, a Definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism

What is the matter with the Palestine solidarity movement? Since 1948 (and before that, even) the Palestinians have been viciously abused and dispossessed while the perpetrators and their supporters have continually played the anti-Semitism card.

Bemused spectators have been bored witless by the long and ludicrous propaganda campaign to vilify Jeremy Corbyn, bully the Labour Party into accepting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as a cornerstone in their code of conduct and stifle discussion of Israel’s crimes against  the Palestinian people. The expected riposte never came.

Anti-Palestinian Racism

Now Jewish Voice For Labour, of all people, have struck back with a useful looking definition of Anti-Palestinian Racism which they decribe as “hatred towards or prejudice against Palestinians as Palestinians”. In a document faintly mocking the pronouncements on anti-Semitism they suggest that manifestations of anti-Palestinian racism might include the denial of Palestinian rights to a state of Palestine as recognised by over 130 member countries of the United Nations and blaming Palestinians for their own plight under brutal military occupation and lock-down. Here’s how they put it:

Contemporary examples of anti-Palestinian racism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  1. Denying the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and nationhood, or actively conspiring to prevent the exercise of this right.
  2. Denial that Israel is in breach of international law in its continued occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  3. Denial that Israel is an apartheid state according to the definition of the International Convention on Apartheid.
  4. Denial of the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and of their right, and the right of their descendants, to return to their homeland.
  5. Denial that Palestinians have lived in what is now the land of Israel for hundreds of years and have their own distinctive national identity and culture.
  6. Denial that the laws and policies which discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel (such as the recently passed Nation State Law) are inherently racist.
  7. Denial that there is widespread discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories in matters of employment, housing, justice, education, water supply, etc, etc.
  8. Tolerating the killing or harming of Palestinians by violent settlers in the name of an extremist view of religion.
  9. Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Palestinians such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth of a Palestinian conspiracy to wipe Israel off the map.
  10. Justifying the collective punishment of Palestinians (prohibited under the Geneva Convention) in response to the acts of individuals or groups.
  11. Accusing the Palestinians as a people, of encouraging the Holocaust.

I am not sure how Palestinians, as genuine Semites living there for thousands of years, will react to No.5 which claims their homeland is “now the land of Israel”. Despite being illegally occupied by an apartheid entity most of whose members have no ancestral links to the ancient “land of Israel” it is still Palestine.

For decades activists have been telling the Israel lobby to look in the mirror and address their own racial hatred towards the Palestinians. You must truly hate people to deny them their freedom and even their right to return to their homes and livelihoods. Why has it taken so long for such a simple and obvious weapon to be produced? Doesn’t it make you wonder about the true agenda of those in charge of Palestine solidarity? And why has it taken a group of Jews (bless ’em) to do it?

The question now is how best to deliver this somewhat delayed riposte. It might have been best delivered while the iron was hot, at the height of the anti-Semitism witch-hunt and media onslaught. Many activists wanted Corbyn to turn on his tormentors and tell them to mend their own vile attitude towards Palestinian Arabs before daring to smear others with accusations of  anti-Semitism.

On the other hand it will benefit from careful honing, cool planning and the massing of pro-Palestinian support to make the hit really count.

For reasons we know only too well our politicians won’t adopt it as eagerly as they embraced the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism. But it is at least a starting point in the fight-back especially if deployed by a coalition of genuine pro-Palestine groups and the BDS movement as the centrepiece of their new, combined campaign strategy.

Lies, damned lies….

Meanwhile I hope all those who allowed themselves to be suckered by the Israel lobby will hang their heads in shame when they read this report by the Media Reform Coalition: Labour, Antisemitism and the News – A disinformation paradigm.

The Executive summary says that an analysis of over 250 articles and news segments from the largest UK news providers (online and television) showed:

  • 29 examples of false statements or claims, several of them made by anchors or correspondents themselves, six of them surfacing on BBC television news programmes, and eight on TheGuardian.com
  • A further 66 clear instances of misleading or distorted coverage including misquotations, reliance on single source accounts, omission of essential facts or right of reply, and repeated assumptions made by broadcasters without evidence or qualification. In total, a quarter of the sample contained at least one documented inaccuracy or distortion.
  • Overwhelming source imbalance, especially on television news where voices critical of Labours code of conduct were regularly given an unchallenged and exclusive platform, outnumbering those defending Labour by nearly 4 to 1.

In all, there were 95 clear-cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. On TV two thirds of the news segments contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

The report points to “a persistent subversion of conventional news values”. Furthermore, coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct during the summer of 2018 often omitted critical discussion of the ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism promoted by the IHRA and wrongly described it as universally adopted. “We established through background case research that although the IHRA is an international body with representatives from 31 countries, only six  of those countries have, to date, formally adopted the definition themselves.

  • In spite of a call for local authorities to adopt the definition by the UKs central government in early 2017, less than a third of councils have responded and several of those have chosen not to include any of the controversial examples contained within the working definition.
  • Several high-profile bodies have rejected or distanced themselves from the working definition, including the EUs Fundamental Rights Agency (a successor to the body that drafted the original wording on which the definition is based) and academic institutions including the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Mainstream academic and legal opinion has been overwhelmingly critical of the IHRA definition, including formal opinions produced by three senior UK barristers and one former appeals court judge. Virtually none of this essential context found its way into news reports of the controversy. Instead, the Labour Party was routinely portrayed by both sources and correspondents as beyond the pale of conventional thinking on the IHRA definition.

Which all goes to show that Britain’s mainstream media has a hill to climb to get back its self-respect.

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

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

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

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

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

In their study, Schlosberg and Laker identified:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Times added:

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

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

How on earth has it come to this?

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

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

He added:

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

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

But, note Schlosberg and Laker:

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

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

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

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

Response to the Media Reform Coalition Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chomsky and his co-signatories add:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We responded:

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

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

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

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

We answered:

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

Her follow-up:

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

And our reply:

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

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

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

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

Schlosberg pointed out:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real anti-Semites please stand up

Amongst the highly prolific author HG Wells’ many publications is a less well-known book titled A Short History of the World. Given the potential immensity of such a subject, the fact that Wells produced a book of very modest length (my copy is a mere 350 pages or so) no doubt would encourage some to dismiss it as trite and superficial. Obviously it’s superficial, but it might be reasonable to say the same of something twenty or fifty times longer – depending on how well it’s written. But Wells’ book is truly remarkable for its economy of language, with hardly a single unnecessary word used; and it’s also remarkable for its scholarship.

Wells studied biology before he became a writer, and carved a meagre existence for himself as a teacher for almost ten years. Perhaps the early discipline of scientific method, together with the need to communicate new ideas to young minds, influenced much of his later writing style, because what he created with Short History is an amazingly compact and very readable collection of short essays covering a multitude of historical events from the creation of the Earth, through discussions on all the main religions, to the Russian Revolution – which took place a mere five years before he published his book.

Few of the sixty-seven chapters exceed four pages in length, yet each chapter is packed with such a wealth of information that it’s difficult not to be impressed with the depth of Wells’ scholarship, because to write as informatively and concisely as he does in each chapter implies a huge depth of knowledge. Like a few other great thinkers, Wells was an autodidact and acquired most of his knowledge by charting his own course, free of the constraints that hinder many of those restricted to lives of formal education.

Of particular interest in these times where the expression “anti-Semitism” is seldom out of the mainstream fake-news for any length of time, are a couple of chapters Wells devotes to the early history of the Middle East. It’s necessary to repeat the important point that Wells wrote this book in the early 1920s. Israel did not exist at that time, yet the word that Wells seems to use most often when referring to the natives of the massive area stretching roughly from where Iran is today to Tunisia in the West, Egypt in the South, and Turkey in the North, is “Semite”:

We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phoenicians.1

Now he clearly did not believe that these people were all Jewish, for he refers specifically to them as:

[A] little Semitic people, the Hebrews, in the hills behind the Phoenician and Philistine coasts.2

And then he devotes a whole chapter to “The Early History of the Jews”, whose importance to the history of mankind Wells clearly understands and appreciates, as the chapter opens:

And now we tell of the Hebrews, a Semitic people, not so important in their own time as in their influence upon the later history of the world.3

(He couldn’t begin to know how prophetic those words would become.)

Note that Wells points out that the Hebrews were “a” Semitic people, not “the” Semitic people, and remember once again that he was writing before Israel had been invented. The importance that Wells rightly assigns to the Hebrews:

is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history… which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This literature appears in history in the fourth or fifth century BC.3

Sometime around 600BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been the Hebrew capital for at least 400 years, and

The remnant of the people was carried off captive to Babylon [where] they remained until Cyrus took Babylon (538BC). He then collected them together and sent them back to resettle and rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.3

Wells notes that the period of time that the Hebrews spent in Babylon was highly significant, because:

It civilized them and consolidated them. They returned aware of their own literature, an acutely self-conscious and political people.4

And very interestingly,

[Hebrew] accounts of the Creation of the World, of Adam and Eve and of the Flood, with which the Bible begins [and which vast numbers of westerners still believe to this day] run closely parallel with similar Babylonian legends; they seem to have been part of the common beliefs of all the Semitic peoples. So too the stories of Moses and of Samson have Sumerian and Babylonian parallels.4

So it appears that the original Semitic people were very different to what most of the world thinks today:

In the seventh century BC it would have seemed as though the whole civilised world was to be dominated by Semitic rulers. They ruled the great Assyrian empire and they had conquered Egypt; Assyria, Babylon, Syria were all Semitic, speaking languages that were mutually intelligible. The trade of the world was in Semitic hands. Tyre, Sidon, the great mother cities of the Phoenician coast, had thrown out colonies that grew at least to even greater proportion in Spain, Sicily and Africa. Carthage, founded before 800 BC, had risen to a population of more than 1 million.5

Now Wells did not invent the word “Semite”, nor did he invent this interpretation of their history. He simply related what would have been common understanding of history at the time. And this understanding survived for quite a long a time afterwards. Because in my edition of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (an interesting use of the word “shorter”, as my two-volume copy is nearly 4,000 pages long), the word “Semite” is defined as:

A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21 – 31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.6

And my edition of this dictionary was published in 1993, over seventy years after Wells wrote his book. So in relatively recent times, the definition of the word “Semite” has been almost totally transformed from what was in common usage for many, many years to a new definition, widely promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which is now being used to refer only to Jewish people generally, and Zionists in particular. All of the other hundreds of millions of other people living in Semitic lands, as they’ve done for thousands of years, are simply removed from the new definition.

Now that publication date of 1993 is quite interesting, because it is a date after the First Gulf War, which took place in 1991. This war, which doesn’t deserve to be dignified with the word “war”, as it was more like a mass slaughter of defenceless people, was not only a massive abomination, it was also a massively illegal abomination, for it not only ignored numerous international laws, it also ignored the constitution of the very country that was mostly responsible for the abominations – the United States of America.

Ramsey Clark who, as a former attorney general of the US, knows a little bit about the law. His superb book The Fire This Time: US Crimes in the Gulf relates much of the detail of the monstrous crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies – and provides a comprehensive account of some of the various laws which were contemptuously ignored.

Clark describes just how one-sided this so-called war was:

Before 1991 was over, more than 250,000 Iraqis and thousands of other nationals were dead as a result of the attack. Most were civilian men, women, children, and infants.

US war casualties, including those who died from U.S. “friendly fire,” totalled 148, we are told. Out of an acknowledged 109,876 air sorties, total U.S. aircraft losses were 38, less than the accident rate during war games without live ammunition…

Iraq had no capacity to either attack or defend… The U.S. did not lose a single B52 in combat, as these planes dropped 27,500 tons of bombs. No Iraqi projectile penetrated a single Abrams tank, while the U.S. claimed to destroy 4,300 Iraqi tanks and 1,856 armored vehicles…7

U.S. forces buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive, wounded, dying, and dead. Miles of trenches with Iraqi troops in them were bulldozed over with sand. The United States refused to count, locate, identify or honor the dead. General [Colin] Powell said of the death count that it was “not a number I am terribly interested in.”8

General William G. Pagonis, stating proudly that this was the first war in modern time where every screwdriver and every nail was accounted for, simultaneously defended General Schwarzkopf’s policy against counting enemy dead. The generals knew but never mentioned that the Geneva Convention of 1949 required them not merely to count enemy dead, but to identify and honor them as well.9

Now there’s nothing unusual in the United States ignoring international law whenever it feels so inclined. After all, it’s knowingly been committing war crimes since Korea, and even one of its own Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, freely admitted in the 1970s that:

The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.10

But the relevance to this particular discussion is around the question of anti-Semitism. Now I think I’ve established that for many, many years, and up until at least 1993, it was commonly understood that Semites were people with ethnic roots stretching from Iraq to North Africa.

However, in 2001 it was decided at the very highest levels of US government to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.

The catastrophic destruction that had already been wreaked on Iraq – one of the earliest Semitic lands – ten years earlier was not enough. Nowhere near enough Semitic people had suffered enough. Tens of millions of other Semitic people would have to be killed, injured and made homeless. And true enough we have indeed seen the destruction of what was left of Iraq, then Libya. Syria has been made to suffer terribly, and were it not for the intervention of Russia would likely have gone the same way as Iraq and Libya. All Semitic countries.

For much of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office as leader of Britain’s Labour Party, he has been persistently accused of anti-Semitism. He has been accused of “not doing enough” to purge the party of anti-Semitism, and he has been accused of being an anti-Semite himself, most notably by the senior and highly respected Labour MP Margaret Hodge who allegedly called him a fucking anti-Semite. Yet hard evidence to justify the accusations are very difficult to find – which is quite extraordinary if it’s such a serious problem in the Labour Party generally, and with Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Much media comment was recently made about a remark Corbyn is said to have made – six years ago – about a wall mural depicting a group of bankers and which was, apparently anti-Semitic. This is about the best Jeremy Corbyn’s accusers can do in terms of providing hard evidence of his supposed anti-Semitism. The fact that Corbyn has spent much of his political career fighting for justice for cruelly oppressed Palestinians – a Semitic people – is not only ignored, it’s now considered further evidence of his anti-Semitism, thanks to IHRA’s new definition of the expression.

So the question is what is real anti-Semitism? Is it really a refusal to condemn a wall painting? Is that really the best Corbyn’s enemies can come up with? And even if it is, how does it compare when measured against the illegal murder of millions of Semitic people across the Middle East and North Africa, the destruction of countless thousands of Semitic homes, and forcing millions of semites to become refugees in alien and unwelcoming countries?

  1. A Short History of the World, HG Wells, p. 74.
  2. Ibid, p. 79.
  3. Ibid, p. 92.
  4. Ibid, p. 93.
  5. Ibid, p. 98.
  6. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, p. 2772.
  7. The Fire This Time, Ramsey Clark, p. 206/7.
  8. Ibid, p. 178.
  9. Ibid, p. 208.
  10. The Wikileaks Files, Verso, 2015 edition, p. 66.

The Neoliberal Order is dying: Time to Wake Up

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are, of course, deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

Language is on the side of those, like politicians and corporate journalists, who conceal structure, who deal in narratives of the small-power of individuals rather than of the big-power of structure and ideology. In what passes for news, the media offer a large stage for powerful individuals to fight elections, pass legislation, take over businesses, start wars, and a small stage for these same individuals to get their come-uppance, caught committing crimes, lying, having affairs, getting drunk, and more generally embarrassing themselves.

These minor narratives conceal the fact that such individuals are groomed before they ever gain access to power. Business leaders, senior politicians and agenda-setting journalists reach their positions after proving themselves over and over again – not consciously but through their unthinking compliance to the power-structure of our societies. They are selected through their performances in exams at school and university, through training programmes and indentures. They rise to the top because they are the most talented examples of those who are blind or submissive to power, those who can think most cleverly without thinking critically. Those who reliably deploy their skills where they are directed to do so.

Their large and small dramas constitute what we call public life, whether politics, world affairs or entertainment. To suggest that there are deeper processes at work, that the largest of these dramas is not really large enough for us to gain insight into how power operates, is to instantly be dismissed as paranoid, a fantasist, and – most damningly of all – a conspiracy theorist.

These terms also serve the deception. They are intended to stop all thought about real power. They are scare words used to prevent us, in a metaphor used in my previous post, from stepping back from the screen. They are there to force us to stand so close we see only the pixels, not the bigger picture.

Media makeover

The story of Britain’s Labour party is a case in point, and was illustrated even before Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Back in the 1990s Tony Blair reinvented the party as New Labour, jettisoning ideas of socialism and class war, and inventing instead a “Third Way”.

The idea that gained him access to power – personified in the media narrative of the time as his meeting with Rupert Murdoch on the mogul’s Hayman Island – was that New Labour would triangulate, find a middle way between the 1% and the 99%. The fact that the meeting took place with Murdoch rather than anyone else signalled something significant: that the power-structure needed a media makeover. It needed to be dressed in new garb.

In reality, Blair made Labour useful to power by re-styling the turbo-charged neoliberalism Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party of the rich had unleashed. He made it look compatible with social democracy. Blair put a gentler, kinder mask on neoliberalism’s aggressive pursuit of planet-destroying power – much as Barack Obama would do in the United States a decade later, after the horrors of the Iraq invasion. Neither Blair nor Obama changed the substance of our economic and political systems, but they did make them look deceptively attractive by tinkering with social policy.

Were the neoliberal order laid bare – were the emperor to allow himself to be stripped of his clothes – no one apart from a small psychopathic elite would vote for neoliberalism’s maintenance. So power is forced to repeatedly reinvent itself. It is like the shape-shifting Mystique of the X-Men films, constantly altering its appearance to lull us into a false sense of security. Power’s goal is to keep looking like it has become something new, something innovative. Because the power-structure does not want change, it has to find front-men and women who can personify a transformation that is, in truth, entirely hollow.

Power can perform this stunt, as Blair did, by repackaging the same product – neoliberalism – in prettier ideological wrapping. Or it can, as has happened in the US of late, try a baser approach by adding a dash of identity politics. A black presidential candidate (Obama) can offer hope, and a woman candidate (Hillary Clinton) can cast herself as mother-saviour.

With this model in place, elections become an illusory contest between more transparent and more opaque iterations of neoliberal power. In failing the 99%, Obama so woefully voided this strategy that large sections of voters turned their back on his intended successor, the new makeover candidate Hillary Clinton. They saw through the role-playing. They preferred, even if only reluctantly, the honest vulgarity of naked power represented by Trump over the pretensions of Clinton’s fakely compassionate politics.

Unstable politics

Despite its best efforts, neoliberalism is increasingly discredited in the eyes of large sections of the electorate in the US and UK. Its attempts at concealment have grown jaded, its strategy exhausted. It has reached the end-game, and that is why politics now looks so unstable. “Insurgency” candidates in different guises are prospering.

Neoliberal power is distinctive because it seeks absolute power, and can achieve that end only through global domination. Globalisation, the world as a plaything for a tiny elite to asset-strip, is both its means and its end. Insurgents are therefore those who seek to reverse the trend towards globalisation – or at least claim to. There are insurgents on both the left and right.

If neoliberalism has to choose, it typically prefers an insurgent on the right to the left. A Trump figure can usefully serve power too, because he dons the clothes of an insurgent while doing little to actually change the structure.

Nonetheless, Trump is a potential problem for the neoliberal order for two reasons.

First, unlike an Obama or a Clinton, he too clearly illuminates what is really at stake for power – wealth maximisation at any cost – and thereby risks unmasking the deception. And, second, he is a retrograde step for the globalising power-structure.

Neoliberalism has dragged capitalism out its nineteenth-century dependency on nation-states into a twenty-first ideology that demands a global reach. Trump and other nativist leaders seek a return to a supposed golden era of state-based capitalism, one that prefers to send our children up chimneys if it prevents children from far-off lands arriving on our shores to do the same.

The neoliberal order prefers a Trump to a Bernie Sanders because the nativist insurgents are so much easier to tame. A Trump can be allowed to strut on his Twitter stage while the global power-structure constrains and undermines any promised moves that might threaten it. Trump the candidate was indifferent to Israel and wanted the US out of Syria. Trump the president has become Israel’s biggest cheerleader and has launched US missiles at Syria.

Faustian pacts

The current power-structure is much more frightened of a left insurgency of the kind represented by Corbyn in the UK. He and his supporters are trying to reverse the accommodations with power made by Blair. And that is why he finds himself relentlessly assaulted from every direction – from his political opponents; from his supposed political allies, including most his own parliamentary party; and most especially from the state-corporate media, including its bogus left-liberal elements like the Guardian and the BBC.

The past three years of attacks on Corbyn are how power manifests itself, shows its hand, when it is losing. It is a strategy of last resort. A Blair or an Obama arrive in power having already made so many compromises behind the scenes that their original policies are largely toothless. They have made Faustian pacts as a condition for being granted access to power. This is variously described as pragmatism, moderation, realism. More accurately, it should be characterised as betrayal.

It does not stop when they reach high office. Obama made a series of early errors, thinking he would have room to manoeuvre in the Middle East. He made a speech in Cairo about a “New Beginning” for the region. A short time later he would help to snuff out the Egyptian Arab Spring that erupted close by, in Tahrir Square. Egypt’s military, long subsidised by Washington, were allowed to take back power.

Obama won the 2009 Nobel peace prize, before he had time to do anything, for his international diplomacy. And yet he stepped up the war on terror, oversaw the rapid expansion of a policy of extrajudicial assassinations by drone, and presided over the extension of the Iraq regime-change operation to Libya and Syria.

And he threatened penalties for Israel over its illegal settlements policy – a five-decade war crime that has gone completely unpunished by the international community. But in practice his inaction allowed Israel to entrench its settlements to the point where annexation of parts of the West Bank is now imminent.

Tame or destroy

Neoliberalism is now so entrenched, so rapacious that even a moderate socialist like Corbyn is seen as a major threat. And unlike a Blair, Obama or Trump, Corbyn is much harder to tame because he has a grassroots movement behind him and to which he is ultimately accountable.

In the US, the neoliberal wing of the Democratic party prevented the left-insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, from contesting the presidency by rigging the system to keep him off the ballot paper. In the UK, Corbyn got past those structural defences by accident. He scraped into the leadership race as the token “loony-left” candidate, indulged by the Labour party bureaucracy as a way to demonstrate that the election was inclusive and fair. He was never expected to win.

Once he was installed as leader, the power-structure had two choices: to tame him like Blair, or destroy him before he stood a chance of reaching high office. For those with short memories, it is worth recalling how those alternatives were weighed in Corbyn’s first months.

On the one hand, he was derided across the media for being shabbily dressed, for being unpatriotic, for threatening national security, for being sexist. This was the campaign to tame him. On the other, the Murdoch-owned Times newspaper, the house journal of the neoliberal elite, gave a platform to an anonymous army general to warn that the British military would never allow Corbyn to reach office. There would be an army-led coup before he ever got near 10 Downing Street.

In a sign of how ineffectual these power-structures now are, none of this made much difference to Corbyn’s fortunes with the public. A truly insurgent candidate cannot be damaged by attacks from the power-elite. That’s why he is where he is, after all.

So those wedded to the power-structure among his own MPs tried to wage a second leadership contest to unseat him. As a wave of new members signed up to bolster his ranks of supporters, and thereby turned the party into the largest in Europe, Labour party bureaucrats stripped as many as possible of their right to vote in the hope Corbyn could be made to lose. They failed again. He won with an even bigger majority.

Redefining words

It was in this context that the neoliberal order has had to play its most high-stakes card of all. It has accused Corbyn, a lifelong anti-racism activist, of being an anti-semite for supporting the Palestinian cause, for preferring Palestinian rights over brutal Israeli occupation. To make this charge plausible, words have had to be redefined: “anti-semitism” no longer means simply a hatred of Jews, but includes criticism of Israel; “Zionist” no longer refers to a political movement that prioritises the rights of Jews over the native Palestinian population, but supposedly stands as sinister code for all Jews. Corbyn’s own party has been forced under relentless pressure to adopt these malicious reformulations of meaning.

How anti-semitism is being weaponised, not to protect Jews but to protect the neoliberal order, was made starkly clear this week when Corbyn criticised the financial elite that brought the west to the brink of economic ruin a decade ago, and will soon do so again unless stringent new regulations are introduced. Useful idiots like Stephen Pollard, editor of the right wing Jewish Chronicle, saw a chance to revive the anti-semitism canard once again, accusing Corbyn of secretly meaning “Jews” when he actually spoke of bankers. It is a logic intended to make the neoliberal elite untouchable, cloaking them in a security blanket relying on the anti-semitism taboo.

Almost the entire Westminister political class and the entire corporate media class, including the most prominent journalists in the left-liberal media, have reached the same preposterous conclusion about Corbyn. Whatever the evidence in front of their and our eyes, he is now roundly declared an anti-semite. Up is now down, and day is night.

High-stakes strategy

This strategy is high stakes and dangerous for two reasons.

First, it risks creating the very problem it claims to be defending against. By crying wolf continuously about Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism without any tangible evidence for it, and by making an unfounded charge of anti-semitism the yardstick for judging Corbyn’s competence for office rather than any of his stated policies, the real anti-semite’s argument begins to sound more plausible.

In what could become self-fulfilling prophecy, the anti-semitic right’s long-standing ideas about Jewish cabals controlling the media and pulling levers behind the scenes could start to resonate with an increasingly disillusioned and frustrated public. The weaponising of anti-semitism by the neoliberal order to protect its power risks turning Jews into collateral damage. It makes them another small or bigger drama in the increasingly desperate attempt to create a narrative that deflects attention from the real power-structure.

And second, the effort to stitch together a narrative of Corbyn’s anti-semitism out of non-existent cloth is likely to encourage more and more people to take a step back from the screen so that those unintelligible pixels can more easily be discerned as a smoking gun. The very preposterousness of the allegations, and the fact that they are taken so seriously by a political and media class selected for their submissiveness to the neoliberal order, accelerates the process by which these opinion-formers discredit themselves. Their authority wanes by the day, and as a result their usefulness to the power-structure rapidly diminishes.

This is where we are now: in the final stages of a busted system that is clinging on to credibility by its fingernails. Sooner or later, its grip will be lost and it will plunge into the abyss. We will wonder how we ever fell for any of its deceptions.

In the meantime, we must get on with the urgent task of liberating our minds, of undoing the toxic mental and emotional training we were subjected to, of critiquing and deriding those whose job is to enforce the corrupt orthodoxy, and of replotting a course towards a future that saves the human species from impending extinction.