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A Remarkable Silence: Media Blackout After Key Witness Against Assange Admits Lying

As we have pointed out since Media Lens began in 2001, a fundamental feature of corporate media is propaganda by omission. Over the past week, a stunning example has highlighted this core property once again.

A major witness in the US case against Julian Assange has just admitted fabricat­ing key accusati­ons in the indictment against the Wikileaks founder. These dramatic revelations emerged in an extensive article published on 26 June in Stundin, an Icelandic newspaper. The paper interviewed the witness, Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, a former WikiLeaks volunteer, who admitted that he had made false allegations against Assange after being recruited by US authorities. Thordarson, who has several convictions for sexual abuse of minors and financial fraud, began working with the US Department of Justice and the FBI after receiving a promise of immunity from prosecution. He even admitted to continuing his crime spree while working with the US authorities.

Last summer, US officials had presented an updated version of their indictment against Assange to Magistrate Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser at the Old Bailey in London. Key to this update was the assertion that Assange had instructed Thordarson to commit computer intrusions or hacking in Iceland.

As the Stundin article reported:

‘The aim of this addition to the indictment was apparently to shore up and support the conspiracy charge against Assange in relation to his interactions with Chelsea Manning. Those occurred around the same time he resided in Iceland and the authors of the indictment felt they could strengthen their case by alleging he was involved in illegal activity there as well. This activity was said to include attempts to hack into the computers of members of [the Icelandic] parliament and record their conversations.

‘In fact, Thordarson now admits to Stundin that Assange never asked him to hack or access phone recordings of MPs.’

Judge Baraitser’s ruling on 4 January, 2021 was against extradition to the US. But she did so purely on humanitarian grounds concerning Assange’s health, suicide risk and the extreme conditions he would face in confinement in US prisons.

The Stundin article continued:

‘With regards to the actual accusations made in the indictment Baraitser sided with the arguments of the American legal team, including citing the specific samples from Iceland which are now seriously called into question.

‘Other misleading elements can be found in the indictment, and later reflected in the Magistrate’s judgement, based on Thordarson’s now admitted lies.’

The Stundin article further details Thordarson’s lies and deceptions, including mispresenting himself as an official representative of WikiLeaks while a volunteer in 2010-2011, even impersonating Assange, and embezzling more than $50,000 from the organisation.

By August 2011, Thordarson was being pursued by WikiLeaks staff trying to locate the missing funds. In fact, Thordarson had arranged for the money to be sent to his private bank account by forging an email in Assange’s name. That month, Thordarson sought a way out by contacting the US Embassy in Iceland, offering to be an informant in the case against Assange.

Stundin noted:

‘within 48 hrs a private jet landed in Reykjavik with around eight [US] agents who quickly set up meetings with Thordarson and with people from the Icelandic State Prosecutors office and the State Police Commissioner.’

But it turned out that the US officers did not have permission from the Icelandic government to operate in the country and Ögmundur Jónasson, then Iceland’s minister of interior, ordered them to leave. Meanwhile, the FBI were allegedly complicit in DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks on the websites of several Iceland government institutions. The FBI had then approached Icelandic authorities, promising to assist them in preventing any future such attacks. In reality, the approach was a ruse to fool Iceland into cooperation in an attempt to entrap Assange.

Jónasson said that the Americans:

‘were trying to use things here [in Iceland] and use people in our country to spin a web, a cobweb that would catch Julian Assange.’

The US officials left Iceland, flying to Denmark, but taking with them their new informant and ‘star witness’, Thordarson.

Stundin reported:

The meeting in Denmark was the first of a few where the FBI enthusiastically embraced the idea of co-operation with Thordarson. He says they wanted to know everything about WikiLeaks, including physical security of staff. They took material he had gathered, including data he had stolen from WikiLeaks employees and even planned to send him to England with a wire. Thordarson claimed in interviews he had refused that particular request. It was probably because he was not welcomed anymore as he knew WikiLeaks people had found out, or were about to firmly establish, that he had embezzled funds from the organization.’

However:

‘After months of collaboration the FBI seem to have lost interest. At about the same time charges were piling up against Thordarson with the Icelandic authorities for massive fraud, forgeries and theft on the one hand and for sexual violations against underage boys he had tricked or forced into sexual acts on the other.

‘After long investigations Thordarson was sentenced in 2013 and 2014 and received relatively lenient sentences as the judge took into account that he changed his plea at court and pleaded guilty to all counts.’

The article continued:

‘Incarceration did not seem to have an intended effect of stopping Thordarson from continuing his life of crime. It actually took off and expanded in extent and scope in 2019 when the Trump-era DoJ [Department of Justice] decided to revisit him, giving him a formal status as witness in the prosecution against Julian Assange and granting him immunity in return from any prosecution.’

A ‘Sociopath’ Who ‘Lied To Get Immunity’

Under President Obama, the US Department of Justice had decided against indicting Assange, despite devoting huge resources to building a case against him. The stumbling block was ‘The New York Times Problem’: the difficulty in distinguishing between WikiLeaks publications and NYT publications of the same material. In other words, prosecuting WikiLeaks would pose grave First Amendment risks for even ‘respectable’ media such as the NYT.

But this changed after Trump took office. Stundin explained:

‘President Donald Trump’s appointed Attorney general William Barr did not share these concerns, and neither did his Trump-appointed deputy Kellen S. Dwyer. Barr, who faced severe criticism for politicizing the DoJ on behalf of the president, got the ball rolling on the Assange case once again. Their argument was that if they could prove he was a criminal rather than a journalist the charges would stick, and that was where Thordarson’s testimony would be key.

‘In May 2019 Thordarson was offered an immunity deal, signed by Dwyer, that granted him immunity from prosecution based on any information on wrong doing they had on him. The deal, seen in writing by Stundin, also guarantees that the DoJ would not share any such information to other prosecutorial or law enforcement agencies. That would include Icelandic ones, meaning that the Americans will not share information on crimes he might have committed threatening Icelandic security interests – and the Americans apparently had plenty of those but had over the years failed to share them with their Icelandic counterparts.’

Thordarson’s offer of an immunity deal came the month following Assange’s forced removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, most likely with US connivance, and subsequent incarceration in the high-security Belmarsh prison.

It is not clear from the Stundin article why Thordarson has now decided to come clean. But the Stundin journalists noted that a psychiatric assessment that had been submitted to an Icelandic court before he was sentenced diagnosed him as a sociopath:

‘incapable of remorse but still criminally culpable for his actions. He was assessed to be able to understand the basic difference between right and wrong. He just did not seem to care.’

In a new blog piece discussing these revelations, Craig Murray, who had reported from the Old Bailey during the Assange extradition hearing, referred back to the final day of proceedings. Magistrate Baraitser had refused to accept an affidavit from Assange’s solicitor Gareth Peirce addressing the updated indictment on the grounds it was out of time:

‘The affidavit explained that the defence had been unable to respond to the new accusations in the United States government’s second superseding indictment, because these wholly new matters had been sprung on them just six weeks before the hearing resumed on 8 September 2020.

‘The defence had not only to gather evidence from Iceland, but had virtually no access to Assange to take his evidence and instructions, as he was effectively in solitary confinement in Belmarsh. The defence had requested an adjournment to give them time to address the new accusations, but this adjournment had been refused by Baraitser.

‘She now refused to accept Gareth Peirce’s affidavit setting out these facts.’

Even before the Stundin article was published five days ago, Thordarson’s testimony should have already been recognised as suspect, to say the least. As WikiLeaks noted last year:

‘The “Star Witness” of the new superseding indictment is a diagnosed sociopath/ convicted conman/ child abuser/ FBI informant who was found guilty in Iceland of impersonating #Assange

The recent Stundin revelations that the updated US indictment against Assange rests on now-admitted lies means that the FBI case is demonstrably a travesty.

US policy analyst Gareth Porter noted:

‘It’s now clearer than ever before that the U.S. indictment of #Assange is based on fraud. A key accuser admits he lied to the help set up Assange. How much evidence does the Justice Department need stop this criminal abuse of power?’

As the famous US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted:

‘This is the end of the case against Julian Assange.’

Or, as journalist Glenn Greenwald followed up, more realistically:

‘It should be.’

Jennifer Robinson, a human rights attorney who has been advising Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010, told Democracy Now:

‘The factual basis for this case has completely fallen apart.’

Robinson pointed out:

‘the evidence from Thordarson that was given to the United States and formed the basis of the second, superseding indictment, including allegations of hacking, has now been, on his own admission, demonstrated to have been fabricated [our emphasis]. Not only did he misrepresent his access to Julian Assange and to WikiLeaks and his association with Julian Assange, he has now admitted that he made up and falsely misrepresented to the United States that there was any association with WikiLeaks and any association with hacking.

‘So, this is just the latest revelation to demonstrate why the U.S. case should be dropped.’

Robinson expanded:

‘it’s significant that the initial indictment for Julian Assange related only to the publications back in 2010, 2011, the Chelsea Manning publications. It was a second, superseding indictment, introduced by the Trump administration, which was based upon Thordarson’s evidence [our emphasis]. Now, any lawyer and even any layperson would be looking at evidence from a convicted felon, who had been convicted of forgery, fraud and sexual abuse allegations associated with minors. That is a problematic source. Now we have him admitting that he lied to the FBI about that evidence. This raises serious concerns about the integrity of this investigation and the integrity of this criminal prosecution, and serious questions ought to be being asked within the Department of Justice about this prosecution and the fact that it is continuing at all.’

The headline of the article accompanying Robinson’s interview put it succinctly:

‘U.S. Case Against Julian Assange Falls Apart, as Key Witness Says He Lied to Get Immunity’

Tumbleweed In The ‘MSM’

But all of this is seemingly of no interest to the ‘mainstream’ media. We have not found a single report by any ‘serious’ UK broadcaster or newspaper. Journalist Matt Kennard, head of investigations at Declassified UK, observed fully two days after the story broke:

‘I don’t think one US or UK newspaper has reported this. The free press is incredible.’

Several days on, the ‘mainstream’ media silence is truly remarkable. As we remarked via Twitter:

‘The discipline, or blindness, to ignore awkward facts is a reliable feature of corporate “journalism”’

Of course, it is possible that we have missed something, somewhere in the ‘MSM’; perhaps a brief item at 3am on the BBC World Service. But in a sane world, Stundin’s revelations about a key Assange witness – that Thordarson lied in exchange for immunity from prosecution – would have been headline news everywhere, with extensive media coverage on BBC News at Six and Ten, ITV News, Channel 4 News, front-page stories in the Times, Telegraph, the Guardian and more. The silence is quite extraordinary; and disturbing. Caitlin Johnstone described it as a ‘weird, creepy media blackout’:

‘not one major western media outlet outside of Iceland has reported on this massive and entirely legitimate news story. A search brings up coverage by Icelandic media, by Russian media, and by smaller western outlets like Democracy NowWorld Socialist WebsiteConsortium NewsZero Hedge and some others, but as of this writing this story has been completely ignored by all major outlets who are ostensibly responsible for informing the public in the western world.’

Johnstone continued:

‘It’s not that those outlets have been ignoring Assange altogether these last few days either. Reuters recently published an interview with Assange’s fiance Stella Moris. Evening Standard has a recent article out on Assange’s plans to marry Moris in Belmarsh, as does Deutsche Welle. It’s just this one story in particular that they’ve been blacking out completely.’

She offered an explanation for the silence across the media:

‘they’re all generally following the lead of just a handful of top-tier publications like The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. If just those few outlets decide to ignore a major news story that’s inconvenient for the powerful (either by persuasion, infiltration or by their own initiative), then no one else will either. As far as the media-consuming public is concerned, it’s like the major news story never happened at all.’

More fundamentally:

‘Western mass media outlets are propaganda. They are owned and controlled by wealthy people in coordination with the secretive government agencies tasked with preserving the world order upon which the media-owning plutocrats have built their kingdoms, and their purpose is to manipulate the way the mainstream public thinks, acts and votes into alignment with the agendas of the ruling class.

‘You see this propaganda in the way things are reported, but you also see it in the way things are not reported. Entire news stories can be completely redacted from mainstream attention if they are sufficiently inconvenient for the mechanisms of empire, or only allowed in via platforms like Tucker Carlson Tonight and thereby tainted and spun as ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories.’

Our polite challenges to Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Six and Ten, and Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian, went unanswered, despite multiple retweets and follow-up queries by other Twitter users. Of course, this is the standard non-response of even the ‘best’ state-corporate media to uncomfortable questions.

As we have often observed, the establishment media relentlessly warn of the insidious nature of ‘fake news’: a claim that does have a seed of validity. But it is the state-corporate media themselves who are the primary purveyors of fake news. As Tim Coles, author of ‘Real Fake News’, commented:

‘Whenever people in power tell you that fake news is undermining democracy, they really mean that alternative sources of information are challenging their grip on power.’

In fact, the most dangerous component of ‘MSM’ fake news is arguably propaganda by omission. In ostensible ‘democracies’, the public cannot make informed decisions, and take appropriate action, when the crimes of ruling elites are kept hidden by a complicit media.

The post A Remarkable Silence: Media Blackout After Key Witness Against Assange Admits Lying first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 2)


11. The BBC On The Saintly Motives For Waging War On Iraq And Libya

In focusing on the grim future in April, US vice president, Kamala Harris, surely revealed far more than she intended about the grim past:

‘For years and generations, wars have been fought over oil. In a short matter of time, they will be fought over water.’

A remarkable statement. Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of it in any UK corporate newspaper.

Four months before the invasion of Iraq, the minutes of a meeting at the Foreign Office on 6 November 2002 began thus:

‘Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there.’1

Iraq, said BP’s Richard Paniguian, was ‘vitally important – more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time’. (p. 24)

In an earlier meeting with oil company executives on 31 October 2002, Minister of Trade Baroness Symons said:

‘…it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq… if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis’. (p. 24)

Difficult, unless the invasion supported so conspicuously by Britain resulted in a calamity that consumed the lives of one million Iraqis. That would presumably make it easy to justify British companies ‘losing out’.

In the event, as noted in Part 1, Rumaila oilfield, currently operated by BP, is the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world. It produces about 1.5 million barrels a day, 40 per cent of Iraq’s output. US oil giant ExxonMobil operates Iraq’s West Qurna I oilfield.

In 2005, oil bosses must have chuckled when the BBC’s Paul Wood read from the Downing Street/White House script on the News at Ten:

‘The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.’ (22 December 2005)

Similarly ‘naive’ conceits informed John Humphrys’ question on the BBC when he asked of NATO’s catastrophic 2011 war on Libya:

‘What apart from a sort of moral glow… have we got out of it?’2

It may well be that obviously crucial questions like ‘Who got Libya’s oil?’ and ‘Who got Iraq’s oil?’ have never been asked by any US or UK journalist. Certainly, we have never seen a serious discussion. Occasional glimpses of the truth are available, though. In 2018, Bloomberg reported:

‘In another sign the sector is stabilizing, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc have agreed to annual deals to buy Libyan crude.’

Also in 2018, Frank Baker, UK Ambassador to Libya, penned an article titled: ‘Libya: UK leads the way as Libya re-opens for business’. Baker commented of a Libyan British Business Council [LBBC] event:

‘The LBBC event – themed, “Building Bridges Together” – brought together over 60 representatives of the UK oil and gas industry to meet more than 120 of their Libyan business counterparts. I am delighted to hear some of the leading British oil companies are gradually resuming their work in Libya to support the NOC’s [the Libyan National Oil Company] goal of increasing oil production to 2 million barrels a day by 2020… In 2017, trade between the UK and Libya more than doubled (up 138%).’

In April 2019, the Telegraph reported a hyena-like tussle between two of the NATO states responsible for overthrowing Gaddafi:

‘Italy and France are at daggers drawn, pitted on opposite sides in an escalating battle for control of Libya and the oilfields of the upper Sahara.’

At stake: the African continent’s largest oil reserves, worth billions of dollars a year. Not quite the picture painted by our completely free and impartial media trapped in their corporate worldview. In 2011, Simon Tisdall, for example, commented in the Guardian viewspaper:

‘The risky western intervention had worked. And Libya was liberated at last.’

12. Helen Boaden’s ‘Proof’ Of US-UK Benevolence

When the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, was asked if she thought Paul Wood’s benevolent version of US-UK intent in Iraq perhaps compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, her answer was deeply embarrassing:

‘Paul Wood’s analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.’ 3

So, they claimed benevolent intent, therefore it was fine for a BBC reporter to assert the claim as fact (rather than as claimed fact) on national TV! Digging deeper, not in a good way, Boaden actually sent us six pages of quotes from Bush and Blair as ‘proof’.

Presumably realising she had made a complete fool of herself, Boaden dodged further embarrassment by changing her email address and never communicating with us again.

13. Emma Brockes’ ‘Scurrilous’ Comments on Chomsky on Srebrenica

On 31 October 2005, the Guardian published an interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes, titled ‘The greatest intellectual?’

The article was ostensibly in response to the fact that Chomsky had just been voted the world’s top public intellectual by Prospect magazine. The headline introduction to the article was:

‘Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?

‘A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.’

Remarkably, this answer attributed to Chomsky was actually in response to a different question posed during the interview. In a letter to the editor published in the Guardian on November 2, Chomsky explained:

‘I did express my regret: namely, that I did not support Diana Johnstone’s right to publish strongly enough when her book was withdrawn by the publisher after dishonest press attacks, which I reviewed in an open letter that any reporter could have easily discovered. The remainder of Brockes’ report continues in the same vein. Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear.

‘As for her personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes quite clear she does not understand. Noam Chomsky.’ (‘Falling out over Srebrenica,’ The Guardian, 2 November 2005)

The discussion in Brockes’ article made a nonsense of the headline:

‘Does he [Chomsky] regret signing it [a letter in support of Johnstone‘s work]?

‘“No,” he says indignantly. “It is outstanding. My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough. It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work.”’

As far as we can tell, this scandal had no impact whatever on Brockes’ career. Some 16 years later, she remains a high-profile Guardian commentator.

14. Mark Urban On US-UK Invaders Turning ‘The Tide Of Violence’

On the 14 May 2007 edition of Newsnight, the BBC’s Mark Urban reported from Iraq that the US troop ‘surge’ was an attempt to ‘turn the tide of violence’ in Baghdad. This was a fascinating, weasel-worded work of propaganda art.

Urban did not mean that the US was attempting to turn the tide of violence in America’s favour against its enemies. He meant that the imperial power that had blasted its way into the country and smashed any attempts at resistance with great brutality was trying to end violence per se and bring peace. As if the illegal invasion and occupation were not themselves structurally violent, maintained by fear and violence. Urban was rehearsing the media myth that the Americans were fighting for ‘security‘, ’stability’ and ‘peace’, rather than for control and oil (prohibited as a crazed conspiracy theory, then and now).

Urban made his opinion clear, referring to ‘Baghdad’s sectarian nightmare’ and to the ‘American struggle to stop its [Baghdad’s] descent into mayhem’. Imagine arguing, after the fall of France in June 1940, as Nazi forces battled the French resistance, that there was a German struggle to prevent a ‘descent into mayhem’. Quite obviously, the US invasion was itself the ultimate ‘descent into mayhem’!

15. The BBC’s Jon Sopel – The ‘Mistaken’ Bombing

On the night of 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130 gunship repeatedly attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Forty-two people were killed and dozens wounded. The US gunship had conducted five strafing runs over the course of more than an hour despite MSF pleas to Afghan, US and Nato officials to call off the attack.

As we reported, MSF were unequivocal in their condemnation of the American raid. The hospital was ‘intentionally targeted’ in ‘a premeditated massacre’; it was a ‘war crime’.

On BBC News at Ten on 15 October 2015, BBC North America correspondent Jon Sopel told viewers over footage of the ravaged Kunduz hospital that it had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’. BBC News were thereby adopting the Pentagon perspective presented by General John Campbell, the US senior commander in Afghanistan, when he claimed that:

‘A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility’.

Our repeated challenges on Twitter to Sopel and his BBC News editor Paul Royall were ignored. However, one of our readers emailed Sopel and did extract this extraordinary response from him on 17 October 2015:

‘At this stage whether the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz was deliberate or accidental is the subject of an investigation – and I know there are doubts about the independence of the inquiry – but what it most certainly WAS was [sic] mistaken. Given the outrage the bombing has provoked, the humiliating apology it has forced the US into, the PR disaster it has undoubtedly been, how can anyone describe it as anything other than mistaken? If I had used the word accidentally you might have had a point.’ (our emphasis)

Like Andrew Marr’s attempted whitewash (see point 10, in Part 1), this was actually bollocks. Everyone hearing Sopel saying that the hospital had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’, would have understood that he meant the Americans had not intended to bomb the hospital, rather than that the bombing of the hospital was a really bad idea.

16. Channel 4’s Jonathan Rugman On ‘Strongman’ Chavez

On Channel 4 News, a film by Jonathan Rugman showed footage of Hugo Chávez with Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Qadaffi. The film repeatedly depicted Chávez as a dictatorial menace, referring to his ‘personality cult’ and to factories run as ‘Soviet-style collectives’. Rugman asked:

‘Is Chávez on the way to becoming a dictator?’

If so, what species of monster might we be contemplating?

‘He’s no Saddam, but what’s happening here does feel eerily familiar. A strongman buoyed up by oil defying the United States, using oil wealth to rearm and consolidate his own power. Setting off alarm bells in Washington where securing energy is a key foreign policy goal. A petro-state heading for a showdown with its northern neighbour.’

In reality, the Venezuelan ‘strongman’ and his programme of change had been ratified by the Venezuelan electorate in no less than eight elections and referenda. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted that, notwithstanding the fact that recent polls had indicated Chávez’s domestic approval rating was above 70 per cent, ‘almost all [US] commentaries about Venezuela represent the views of a small minority of the country, led by a traditional economic elite that has repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government in clearly anti-democratic ways’.

Similarly, in Britain, the Independent smeared ‘the Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Chávez’ (Rupert Cornwell, ‘The 5-minute briefing: South America’s struggle towards democracy,’ 4  and The Financial Times wrote of how ‘the populist militaristic strongman has irked Washington with his anti-US rhetoric’. (Andy Webb-Vidal, ‘US softens its stance on Venezuela in belief Chávez will hang on to power,’ 5

John Pilger sent a letter to Channel 4 News complaining of Rugman’s report:

‘This was a piece seemingly written by the US State Department, although Channel 4’s Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, appeared on screen. It was one of the worst, most distorted pieces of journalism I have ever seen, qualifying as crude propaganda. I have been in Venezuela lately and almost nothing in Rugman’s rant coincides with reality. Factories are like “Soviet collectives”; a dictatorship is on the rise; Chávez is like Hitler (Rumsfeld); and the media is under government attack.

‘The inversion of the truth throughout this travesty is demonstrated in the “coverage” of a cowed media. Venezuela is a country in which 95 per cent of the press and TV and radio are owned by the far-right, who mount unrelenting daily attacks on the government unhindered. The Latin American Murdoch, Cisneros, unfettered, controls much of it. Indeed, it is probably the most concentrated, reactionary media on earth – but that was not worthy of a single word from Rugman.’ 6

17. The Guardian – ‘Free From Commercial And Political Influence’?

When Trump triumphed in the US election in November 2016, Lee Glendinning, the editor of Guardian US, hit the panic button and pleaded to readers:

‘Never has the world needed independent journalism more. […] Now is the time to support journalism that is both fearless and free.’

Glendinning held up a sublime vision:

‘Because the Guardian is not beholden to profit-seeking shareholders or a billionaire owner, we can pursue stories without fear of where they might take us, free from commercial and political influence.’

As we have shown in thousands of examples over 20 years, this is fringepuddle fancy.

Just last week, blithely ignoring the US devastation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the long list of tyrants armed and protected by the US, a Guardian leader observed:

‘Mr Biden is looking for allies in his mission to ensure that the world remains conducive to a liberal, democratic way of life.’

Ignoring the awesome chaos inflicted on the world by US wars, by US pedal-to-the-metal capitalism, and by crazed US resistance to meaningful action on climate change, the Guardian continued:

‘The world does not govern itself, and leading powers cannot abdicate their role in shaping international institutions – and mobilising others to defend them. If the world’s democracies were to turn away, then either others would step in or the world risks a descent into chaos as it did in the 1930s.’

This is pretty standard for the profit-maximising company that calls itself the Guardian Media Group (GMG). Four days before the illegal invasion of Iraq, a leader in the Observer commented:

‘Mr Blair’s doughty battle to keep pressure focused on Saddam Hussein and to ensure that any action taken has the widest support possible is the correct stance. He is risking his premiership on his vision of an international order that is just and legitimate… Even his critics should acknowledge the remarkable leadership he is exhibiting.’7

At the end of the Guardian’s latest empire-friendly propaganda, the paper added:

‘… we have a small favour to ask. Through these turbulent and challenging times, millions rely on the Guardian for independent journalism that stands for truth and integrity…

‘Support the Guardian from as little as £1 – it only takes a minute.’

There is not a trace of truth or integrity, nor of independent journalism, in the claim that Biden is seeking ‘to ensure that the world remains conducive to a liberal, democratic way of life’. Nobody should be paying, much less donating, for this empire-friendly, ‘White Man’s Burden’ obfuscation.

18. Ignoring Oborne

On March 18, journalist Peter Oborne commented on his essential book, ‘The Assault On Truth’, exposing Boris Johnson’s mendacity aided and abetted by the corporate media:

‘Six weeks on from publication day and still no review of Assault on Truth from Murdoch Press, Associated Newspapers or Telegraph Group. So a big thank you to Media Lens!

Three months later, Oborne tells us: ‘Still nothing from Murdoch, Associated, Telegraph.’ (Oborne, direct message, Twitter, 9 June 2021)

We include this example because, increasingly, it is a fate shared by books containing dangerous truth. Such books are mostly accepted in the first place by small, radical publishers (as a high-profile media insider, Oborne is an exception). These publishers find it almost impossible to find space in the few large bookshop chains. Even if they make it, the books are not reviewed by corporate media. As the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

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

19. Another Goat On A Trampoline

Despite appearances, corporate journalism doesn’t and can’t do depth. They can talk Brexit, but not the real motivations of the people who founded the European Union in the first place. They can talk electoral interference, but not the implications for their own, billionaire-owned role in reporting elections. When you’re defending an exploitative system founded on illusions, you’d do well to keep it superficial, to skate across the surface and hope people don’t notice the absence of substance in what you’re saying.

No surprise, then, that the corporate media’s understanding of spiritual issues extends as far as the idea that religion is about believing in, or rejecting, the idea of a Cosmic Father Figure (CFF) – a rather obvious human projection – which should be tolerated up to the point it becomes dangerous.

In fact, obsession with a CFF is a red herring, a corruption of what Erich Fromm called ‘power religion’. ‘Humanistic religion’ is not concerned with the CFF at all. Rather, it is concerned with the discovery that human awareness cluttered with thought is inherently miserable, while human awareness uncluttered with thought is limitlessly blissful and unconditionally loving.

What we in the West call ‘meditation’ is not meditation at all; it is a relaxed redirecting of attention away from thinking (from following chains of thought) to sense perceptions and feelings. This attentional shift causes thought to subside, which allows the innate bliss and love of awareness to be felt as the obscuring clouds of thought dissipate. This inner bliss is like a subtle music; thinking is like a roaring jet engine. Countless millions of meditators have experienced this phenomenon over many millennia.

For corporate journalism, this experience, certainly the most important discovery in human history, does not exist. Indicatively, in the Guardian, political reporter Simon Hoggart wrote:

‘all religion is bonkers and irrational. If it wasn’t bonkers and irrational, everyone in the world would believe it, and it would be called common sense’.8

The comment was itself bonkers and irrational on many levels.

In arguing for his thesis that ‘most people, deep down, are pretty decent’, historian and author Rutger Bregman writes in his book, Humankind:

‘To be honest, I gave meditating a shot, but it hasn’t been a huge success so far. For some reason there’s always another email, another tweet or another video of a goat on a trampoline demanding immediate attention.’9

It certainly was honest. It tells us that, like most other intellectuals, Bregman is so addicted to thinking that he is unable to experiment with the one tried-and-tested method for clearing the head of thoughts and revealing the inherently blissful, loving nature of human being.

20. The ‘Mystery’ Of BBC Silence on the Corporate Dismantling of the NHS

On 20 March, 2012, MPs passed the Health and Social Care Bill (commonly called ‘the NHS bill’) into law. Fundamentally, the new Act removed the formal commitment of the Secretary of State for Health to provide healthcare for every man, woman and child in England (so far, at least, it does not apply elsewhere in the UK). In effect, this removed the founding principle of the NHS, set up in 1948. It meant that one of the finest health services anywhere, created by the British people in the wake of WW2, had just been primed to be carved open for exploitation by private interests.

Virtually every major professional medical body had fought against it, and there were numerous public protests. But the opposition was given scant media coverage. In 2012, science writer Marcus Chown highlighted a shocking email that he received from a BBC employee. The email read:

‘The BBC under/non-reporting of the opposition to the bill is even more of a mystery after I’ve read over the BBC news briefs myself (I don’t work in news, but anyone can see the news briefs). There are pages and pages of text on the opposition to the bill. Someone, or some people have clearly gone to a great deal of effort enumerating the objections, documents that have existed for over a month, and there is a long and comprehensive (and regularly updated list) outlining the latest views of all the professional bodies.  All the fact checking and detail anyone needs to run a detailed story on the opposition to the bill is there, and there are no official restrictions on reporting it, but somehow it still isn’t happening. I can’t make sense of it.’10

We emailed Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, on 17 April 2012. He had previously written to us to say he was investigating ‘BBC impartiality’ on related issues. We reminded him of this and asked:

‘Presumably, then, you will examine the evidence that the BBC failed to report impartially on the Health and Social Care Bill?

‘There are many serious and reputable sources that you could ask, not least the 27 professional medical bodies in this country who opposed the Bill, such as the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses.

‘You could also approach Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University. She has challenged the BBC about its supposed “extensive coverage” of the NHS bill. She describes “a remarkable disconnect between what was being reported on BBC News outlets and what was concerning many members of the public”.

‘Or Liz Panton, a speech and language therapist who has worked for the NHS for over 30 years, who says:

‘“The BBC seems completely out of touch with the general mood of public opinion and widespread fear and anxiety about the changes to our way of life as a result of the NHS Bill.”

‘And what about apparent conflicts of interest at the BBC? Will you investigate the evidence?

‘For example:

‘“BBC chief Lord Patten of Barnes, Bridgepoint and the Conflicts of Interest”

‘“Why did the BBC ignore the NHS Bill?”

‘When you have a moment, could you possibly give us your response, please? Many thanks.’

As so often, we received the familiar BBC response of no-response.

Part 1 is available here.

  1. Quoted Greg Muttitt, Fuel On The Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, Vintage, 2012, e-book version, p. 24.
  2. BBC Radio 4 Today, 21 October 2011.
  3. Email, 5 January 2006.
  4. The Independent, 22 April 2005.
  5. Financial Times, 6 August 2004.
  6. Email to Channel 4 News, copied to Media Lens, 27 March 2006.
  7. Leader, ‘Diplomacy is still the best weapon – UN unity can still be achieved’, The Observer, 16 March 2003.
  8. Hoggart, ‘Bad karma from Vlad the Impaler,’ Guardian, 2 February 1999.
  9. Bregman, ‘Humankind – A Hopeful History’, Bloomsbury, 2019, p. 2 and p. 388.
  10. Email to Marcus Chown, Twitter, 23 March 2012.
The post “That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 2) first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 1)

After 20 years of Media Lens, it seems only natural that we should look back in gratitude at the support we’ve received. In response to one of our early pieces, a kindly columnist at the Observer commented:

‘Dear David,

‘Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your piece, which strikes me as spot on.

‘Yrs,

‘Nick Cohen’

A Guardian columnist responded with even more effusive praise:

‘This article is brilliant and fascinating David, as ever.’ (George Monbiot)

Alas, our ethical integrity declined precipitously after we subjected our interlocutors to criticism, with Cohen addressing us as ‘Dear Serviles’, signing off with ‘Viva Joe Stalin’ (Cohen, email, 15 March 2002). Monbiot went on to write an article titled, ‘Media Cleanse’. He described our organisation as ‘an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers’ – Guardianspeak for ‘critics who embarrass apologists for Western foreign policy’. Both Cohen and Monbiot have long since blocked us on Twitter.

More seriously, beyond the corporate fringepuddle, we were initially astonished by the level of public support we received. A reader commented early on:

‘Dear MediaLens, I feel like crying with the gratitude I feel to you people for the immense amount of work that must go into writing incredibly detailed, researched synopses like that we have just received from you on Iraq.’

Last month, a reader emailed:

‘My sister and I have followed your work for many years and really I don’t have the words to describe the value of the service you provide to a global community.’

We once asked Harold Pinter what he thought of the media claim that ‘people are completely indifferent to everything that’s going on and couldn’t care less’. In his inimitable style, Pinter replied:

‘That is actually bollocks.’

We sometimes feel genuinely embarrassed by the praise we receive because it has always seemed to us that we are involved in a kind of turkey shoot.

The fact is that, like other corporate employees, on pain of career cancellation, media workers simply cannot expose truths that discomfit their owners, parent companies, editors, advertisers, colleagues, and allied powerful interests. It is child’s play to demonstrate that this is the case.

Even as we were editing this alert, Jack Slater, an ostensibly impartial, objective senior BBC broadcast journalist covering Joe Biden’s first visit to the UK as president, tweeted:

‘Always special to film POTUS [President of the United States].’

Nobody noticed. If Slater tweeted, ‘Always special to film Assad’, or, ‘Always special to film Putin’, he would be guilty of ‘bias’ contravening the BBC charter and out of a job. Likewise, if he tweeted, ‘Always uncomfortable to film the head of US imperial power.’

Because journalists are also not free to discuss what it is they are not free to discuss, we often have the last word (Slater, of course, ignored our tweet, above). This also makes us look great!

The point is that we don’t have direct bosses – owners, managers, editors, parent companies. And we also don’t have indirect bosses – advertisers, wealthy philanthropists, supportive charitable foundations, organisational allegiances, and so on. This is the one advantage of being a tinpot outfit run on a shoestring.

The Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu once said: ‘Easy is right.’ Media criticism is easy if you’re willing to burn your media bridges at both ends. We have found that it often produces a lovely light.

Below, we discuss 20 corporate media horrors from the last 20 years that have remained stuck in our minds and craws, and that are ‘actually bollocks’.

1. The 30mm M230 Chain-Driven Autocannon ‘Stitching The Fabric Of A Nation Together’

It couldn’t have been more perfect. On 17 November 2010, BBC News at Ten presenter George Alagiah spoke from the British base, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan:

‘I’ve been here a week now and it’s been long enough to see some of the small but real steps of progress. But it’s also clear how much further there is to go. And it’s not just about women’s rights or more clinics and schools. It’s about stitching the fabric of a nation together.’

Future historians will write learned dissertations on how gender rights in our time have been commandeered and weaponised by a fathomless cultural arrogance (the polite term) in the service of imperial violence.

For these fine words were spoken in front of an Apache attack helicopter. The gunship’s 30mm, M230 chain-driven autocannon, fresh from ‘stitching the fabric of a nation together’, was clearly visible. This was the same weapon type seen blowing apart a dozen or more Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in the 2007 WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video. And this is the same aircraft type in which (then) Prince Harry had flown as co-pilot and gunner. Now an ardent anti-racism campaigner, when asked if he had killed people as part of the illegal, racist war on brown-skinned Afghans, Harry answered:

‘Yeah, so, lots of people have… If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.’

Talk of a majority white alliance ‘taking out’ brown-skinned people from ‘the game’ (‘The Great Game’?) would perhaps fail Harry’s own refurbished standards of political correctness now.

2. The Independent on Sunday – ‘Travel Neroists’

Like everyone else, the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporation calling itself the Independent on Sunday now claims to hold a bright candle for the radical climate action required to address the devastation wrought by… (wait for it!)… the billionaire-owned, profit-maximising, ad-dependent corporate system.

In 2016, environment editor Geoffrey Lean lavished praise on himself and his employer:

‘this has been a newspaper that has long been black and white and green all over, winning many awards’.

As Noam Chomsky said:

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

In 2007 – fully 20 years after scientists had blown a loud whistle on the looming threat of climate collapse – the February 4 cover story of the Independent on Sunday’s Review supplement was almost beyond belief. The words on the cover:

‘Time is running out… Ski resorts are melting… Paradise islands are vanishing… So what are you waiting for?’

Did they mean: what are we waiting for before taking radical action? No, this, after all, was a corporate newspaper and business is business:

‘30 places you need to visit while you still can – A 64-page Travel Special…’

From the depths of depraved corporate cynicism, Marcus Fairs wrote:

‘I am changing my travel plans this year. Alarmed by global warming, shocked by the imminent mass extinction of species and distraught at the environmental damage wreaked by mass tourism, I have decided to act before it is too late. Yes, carbon-neutral travel can wait. I’m off to see polar bears, tigers and low-lying Pacific atolls while they’re still there… In the spirit of Nero – the Roman emperor who sang to the beauty of the flames while Rome burned to the ground – we are determined to enjoy the final days of our beautiful Earth. We are aware that mass tourism damages the very things we are going to see, but this only increases our urgency. We are aware that we will soon have to act more sustainably, which gives us all the more reason to be irresponsible while we still can.

‘Not for us the angsty despair of the eco-worriers, nor the stay-home moralising of the greenhouse gasbags. For we are the travel Neroists, and we have spotted a window of opportunity.’ 2

Fourteen years later, everything has changed, of course. Well, profit-maximising corporate media now at least pretend they care. In April, Greta Thunberg accurately summed up the reality of these heroic businesses that are ‘black and white and green all over’:

‘The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today. And since it doesn’t really exist… the general level of awareness is so absurdly low…’

For the corporate system, radical change means finding radical new deceptions to allow them to continue maximising profits at any cost.

3. Simon Kelner – Corbyn’s ‘Threatening’ Pronunciation

By the time Jeremy Corbyn stood for the leadership of the Labour Party in May 2015, he had been a Labour MP for 32 years. As a leading anti-war voice, he had received plenty of attention and abuse from corporate politics and media.

We searched the ProQuest media database for national UK newspaper articles containing mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ before 1 May 2015. The search found 18 articles, none of which accused Corbyn of anti-semitism. Then, in November 2019, the month before the last general election, we searched for mentions of ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ after 1 May 2015. We got 15,857 hits. The figure currently stands at 21,919.

This represents a truly awesome, in fact, unprecedented, propaganda assault on a democratic politician. In fact, it closely resembles the campaigns used to demonise leaders of Official Enemy states like Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela, conducted by many of the same journalists in the same media organisations. That’s a gentle way of saying the anti-Corbyn propaganda blitz was a serious attack on democracy, a kind of fascism.

As one would expect during a McCarthyite-style frenzy of this kind, in finding a herd to follow many corporate media workers lost their minds.

A small but telling example was provided in the i newspaper by former Independent editor Simon Kelner, who focused on the way Corbyn had ‘mispronounced’ the name of the sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein. Kelner noted of Corbyn’s contribution to a TV debate: ‘He called him “Ep–Schtine.”’

In attacking Corbyn, along with other journalists like ITV political editor Robert Peston, Kelner did not merely dispense with the usual affectation of journalistic objectivity, he emphasised his subjectivity:

‘My reaction was a visceral one: it’s not something I can explain easily, or even rationally, but a Jewish person does know when there is something that sounds wrong, or perjorative [sic], or even threatening. It was as if he was saying: “Are you aware this man is Jewish?”’

The idea, then, was that Corbyn – who had been subjected to relentless, highly damaging attacks of this kind for several years, and who had done everything he could to distance himself from anti-semitism, taking a very tough line on the suspension of allies like Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson from the Labour Party – was emphasising Epstein’s Jewishness in a deliberate – or, worse – unconscious effort to smear Jews.

Of course, only a crazed racist would be unable to resist such a patently self-destructive impulse on national TV. And yet, as discussed, Corbyn managed to prevent journalists and politicians from observing his right arm shooting skywards for 32 years. In November 2019, the outgoing Speaker of the House of Commons, former Conservative MP, John Bercow, who is Jewish, said in an interview:

‘I myself have never experienced anti-semitism from a member of the Labour Party, point one. And point two, though there is a big issue and it has to be addressed, I do not myself believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-semitic.

‘I’ve known him for the 22 years I’ve been in Parliament. Even, actually, when I was a right-winger we got on pretty well… I’ve never detected so much as a whiff of anti-semitism [from him].’

Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of Bercow’s comments in any UK national newspaper. Kelner’s comments belong with the most crazed and paranoid effusions of US McCarthyism, where beds were widely believed to be the preferred hiding place for ‘reds’.

4. The BBC’s Missing History Of Iran

The BBC has a long, inglorious history of shortening its historical attention span to suit powerful interests. A key establishment embarrassment was the US-UK’s coup to overthrow the democratically elected Musaddiq government of Iran in 1953.

It truly is embarrassing that the CIA supplied the weapons and money, that the BBC helped green-light the coup, and above all the fact that the goal was oil.

In 1952, the British ambassador commented that ‘Persian [Iranian] public opinion is unanimous in rejecting the [British] offer’ of a deal on oil. But Britain did ‘not consider that a deal on acceptable terms can ever be made with’ Musaddiq. 3

Colonel Wheeler, an adviser at the British embassy, explained that ‘combined Anglo-American action could, of course, have removed [Musaddiq] at any time during the past six months… Given a united Anglo-American front, a change of government could almost certainly be effected without difficulty or disturbance’. (p. 91)

This neatly captures the traditional US-UK ‘respect’ for democracy and human rights (see point 17 in Part 2).

In a memorandum in August 1952 discussing this ‘change of government’, Sam Falle, a UK embassy official in Iran, suggested that:

‘We should leave the name-suggesting to the Americans… It should not be difficult to bring the American’s candidate… to power.’ (p. 92)

The British preference was ‘for a non-communist coup d’etat preferably in the name of the Shah. This would mean an authoritarian regime,’ the embassy in Teheran noted ominously. (p. 91)

According to then CIA agent Richard Cottam, ‘…that mob that came into north Teheran and was decisive in the overthrow was a mercenary mob. It had no ideology. That mob was paid for by American dollars and the amount of money that was used has to have been very large’. (p. 93)

A US general later testified that ‘the guns they had in their hands, the trucks they rode in, the armoured cars that they drove through the streets, and the radio communications that permitted their control, were all furnished through the [US] military defence assistance program’. (p. 93)

Of this period of history, a recent BBC report observed merely:

‘The UK owes the money for failing to deliver tanks Iran bought in the 1970s.’

Between 1971 and 1976, the UK sold the Shah 1,500 state-of-the-art Chieftain main battle tanks and 250 repair vehicles costing £650 million. Thatcher praised the Shah as ‘one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled’. She added:

‘No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.’

Curiously, the BBC made no mention of the fact that the tanks had been sent to prop up a dictator installed by the US-UK alliance to steal Iranian oil.

Amnesty International reported of Iran under the Shah that it had the ‘highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture’ which was ‘beyond belief’. It was a society in which ‘the entire population was subjected to a constant, all-pervasive terror’.4

None of this exists for BBC media workers.

US Iran specialist Eric Hoogland commented of the Shah:

‘The more dictatorial his regime became, the closer the US-Iran relationship became.’

5. Iranian ‘Showdown’ – The Guardian’s Front-Page Farce

In 2007, a front-page Guardian piece by Simon Tisdall claimed that Iran had secret plans to do nothing less than wage war on, and defeat, American forces in Iraq by August of that year.

Iran, it seemed, was ‘forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal’.

The claim was based almost entirely on unsupported assertions made by anonymous US officials. Indeed 22 of the 23 paragraphs in the story relayed official US claims: over 95 per cent of the story. The compilation below indicates the levels of balance and objectivity:

‘US officials say’; ‘a senior US official in Baghdad warned’; ‘The official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘US officials now say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’ ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] added’; ‘the official said’; ‘the official said’; ‘he [the official] indicated’; ‘he [the official] cited’; ‘a senior administration official in Washington said’; ‘The administration official also claimed; ‘he [the administration official] said’; ‘US officials say’; ‘the senior official in Baghdad said’; ‘he [the senior official in Baghdad] said’; ‘the senior administration official said’; ‘he [the senior administration official] said’; ‘the official claimed’; ‘he [the official] said’; ‘Gen Petraeus’s report to the White House and Congress’; ‘a former Bush administration official said’; ‘A senior adviser to Gen Petraeus reported’; ‘the adviser admitted’.

No less than 26 references to official pronouncements formed the basis for a Guardian story presented with no scrutiny, no balance, no counter-evidence – nothing. Remove the verbiage described above and a Guardian front page news report becomes a straight Pentagon press release.

6. The Observer’s Missing War On Syria

The Iraq war catastrophe was a genuine wake-up call for Western governments and media. Something had to change. In retrospect, the answer was obvious: if wars destroying whole countries for oil and other resources were damaging the credibility of Western ‘democracies’, why not just pretend that the West isn’t involved? Thus, Western responsibility for the destruction of Libya barely exists for Western media. Thus, also, this Observer editorial on Syrian president Assad:

‘Many other factors have kept his regime in power. One is the refusal of the western powers to forcibly intervene… Fearful of another disaster like Iraq, MPs rejected UK military intervention. Days later, Barack Obama and the US Congress followed suit. The then Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said the Commons had spoken “for the people of Britain”. Perhaps.’ (Our emphasis)

In reality, the West, directly and via regional allies, has played a massive role in the violence. The New York Times reported that the US had been embroiled in a dirty war in Syria that constituted ‘one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A’, running to ‘more than $1 billion over the life of the program’. The aim was to support a vast ‘rebel’ army created and armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to overthrow the Syrian government.

In 2013, it was reported that the US had supplied no less than 15,000 high-tech, anti-tank missiles to ‘rebels’ via Saudi Arabia.

In 2014, Joe Biden said of Syria that US allies ‘poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens… thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad. Except that the people who were being supplied were… Al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis’.

7. Warmonger David Aaronovitch’s Regretful Musings On The Inherent Tragedy of Life

Responding to the latest ‘conflict’ (some have gone so far as to call it ‘a war’) between souped-up Palestinian fireworks and US-supplied, state-of-the-art, high-tech ordnance, Times columnist and chateau general commanding the corporate media’s 101st Chairborne Division, David Aaronovitch, sighed wistfully on May 12, 2021:

‘It’s not the Hamas leadership or the Netanyahus who are dying. It’s the people who always die.’

If that sounded empathetic and balanced, it was, in fact, a perfect illustration of a point made by Herman and Chomsky 33 years ago on how ‘worthy’ victims – people Western journalists care about – and ‘unworthy victims’ are treated. In their book, Manufacturing Consent, they wrote of one paired example:

‘While the coverage of the worthy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.’5

It could hardly be more noticeable that when Israel blitzes Gaza every few years, Aaronovitch’s Twitter account does not erupt – he has little to say, finding other things to tweet about. There’s no outrage, no demands for action and ‘intervention’. The same is true of many of the corporate fringepuddle’s habitual warmongers.

By contrast, in Aaronovitch’s support for NATO’s war on Serbia, allegedly in defence of the people of Kosovo, ‘expressions of outrage and demands for justice’ were to the fore. He famously wrote:

‘Is this cause, the cause of the Kosovar Albanians, a cause that is worth suffering for? … Would I fight, or (more realistically) would I countenance the possibility that members of my family might die?’

His answer: ‘I think so.’

But, hold on, ‘It’s the people who always die’, right?

In supporting war on Iraq in January 2003, Aaronovitch wrote of Saddam Hussein:

‘I want him out, for the sake of the region (and therefore, eventually, for our sakes), but most particularly for the sake of the Iraqi people who cannot lift this yoke on their own.’ 6

But isn’t it the people who always die, not the leaders? (Actually, of course, Official Enemies generally do die – they are lynched, buggered with knives, shot in the head, hanged, found dead in jail, buried alive in jail, and so on) So why not let the UN weapons inspectors continue to find nothing?

You can see our book, Propaganda Blitz, (pp. 129-131), for further details of how Aaronovitch generally dispenses with wistful philosophising in supporting wars against Official Enemies.

8. ‘Advertisements For Myself’ – Mehdi Hasan Hawking Left Criticism Of The Left

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman, The Intercept and al-Jazeera, is a prime example of a self-identified ‘leftist’ who fiercely attacks left positions on key issues. For example, Hasan wrote in the New Statesman in 2011:

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

In fact, the ‘threat’ of a massacre in Benghazi was an Iraqi WMD-style propaganda fiction.

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

In fact, dissidents who had no ‘soft spot’ for Assad at all, were raising rational questions about more claims that resembled the Iraqi WMD deception.

And again, Hasan commented:

‘I’m no expert on Venezuela but I’m pretty sure you can think Maduro is a horrible/bad/authoritarian president *and* also think it’s bad for the US to back coups or regime change there.’

As media analyst Adam Johnson tweeted:

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

How to explain Hasan’s comments? No need to speculate. Hasan explained his approach in a letter to Paul Dacre, the editor of the l:Daily Mail:

‘Dear Mr Dacre,

‘My name is Mehdi Hasan and I’m the New Statesman’s senior political editor. My good friend Peter Oborne suggested I drop you a line as I’m very keen to write for the Daily Mail.’

Hasan continued:

‘Although I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues, I have always admired the paper’s passion, rigour, boldness and, of course, news values.

‘For the record, I am not a Labour tribalist and am often ultra-critical of the left – especially on social and moral issues, where my fellow leftists and liberals have lost touch with their own traditions and with the great British public…’

A key section of the letter read:

‘I could therefore write pieces for the Mail critical of Labour and the left, from “inside” Labour and the left (as the senior political editor at the New Statesman).’

This, again, should be noted by aspiring career journalists – nothing is more welcome in the corporate fringepuddle than an ostensible leftist attacking the left.

9. The BBC’s Bridget Kendall – Limiting The Spectrum

Noam Chomsky is a James Randi-style master at exposing the sleights of hand and (forked) tongue of the propaganda prestidigitators:

‘The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.’

Cue Bridget Kendall, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, who declared on BBC News at Six in 2006:

‘There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’7

As Chomsky says, this gives the sense of a free-thinking debate. But an honest, fact-based selection of choices would look rather different:

There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that disastrously miscalculated the impact on the civilian population, or was it an illegal war of aggression for Iraqi oil that relegated calculations on the likely human consequences for the war- and sanctions-wrecked country to the point of invisibility?

Media discussion is forbidden, but the stark fact is that Rumaila oilfield – the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world – is currently operated by Britain’s BP. West Qurna I oilfield is operated by the US oil giant ExxonMobil. Does the Iraq war look like any kind of ‘disastrous miscalculation’ to BP and ExxonMobil?8

10. ‘It Was Rubbish’ – Andrew Marr, National Treasure

BBC interviewer and national treasure Andrew Marr once claimed:

‘When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.’9

This is impossible, of course – Organs of Opinion cannot be surgically removed. But consciences can be.

Recall, the state-corporate media system is a demeritocracy – journalists are rewarded for doing a bad job in a good way for powerful interests. Marr is a striking example of that phenomenon. He pretty much guaranteed himself a job for life when he delivered this propaganda speech as ‘analysis’ and ‘news’ outside Downing Street as Baghdad ‘fell’ to US tanks on 9 April 2003:

‘Frankly, the main mood [in Downing Street] is of unbridled relief. I’ve been watching ministers wander around with smiles like split watermelons.’ 10

Marr continued:

‘Well, I think this does one thing – it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of… well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren’t going to thank him – because they’re only human – for being right when they’ve been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics…

‘He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.’11

This was an outrageous declaration that Blair had been completely vindicated. In reality, nothing that US tanks did in Baghdad changed the fact that this was an outright war of aggression for oil, an example of ‘the supreme war crime’.

Later, we asked Marr for his thoughts on his speech vindicating Blair. He, of course, ignored us. However, he did respond to someone else who asked. Marr said of his April 9 speech:

‘…it was rubbish but it came after weeks when I’d been predicting Baghdad bloodbath – the Iraqi army gave up’.

Ah, so Marr had all along been a fiery contrarian, predicting disaster in Baghdad! He had been too critical of the government, hence his surprised over-reaction! Having watched almost everything Marr said in the months leading up to the war, we can confidently assert: ‘That is actually bollocks.’

  1. Chomsky, ‘Year 501’, Verso, 1993, p. 20.
  2. Marcus Fairs, ‘Travel special: Roman holidays,’ Independent on Sunday, 4 February 2007, our emphasis.
  3. Quoted, Mark Curtis, ‘The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p. 89.
  4. Martin Ennals, Secretary General of Amnesty International, cited in an Amnesty publication, Matchbox, Autumn 1976.
  5. Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon, 1988, p. 39.
  6. Aaronovitch, ‘Why the Left must tackle the crimes of Saddam: With or without a second UN resolution, I will not oppose action against Iraq,’ Observer, 2 February 2003.
  7. BBC1, 20 March 2006.
  8. For details, see Greg Muttitt, ‘Fuel On The Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq’, Vintage, 2012.
  9. Marr, Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2001.
  10. BBC News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
  11. Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, 9 April 2003.
The post “That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 1) first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Two Centuries Of ‘The Imperialist, Warmongering, Hate-Filled Guardian’

In contrast to Media Lens modestly marking a mere two decades in July, the Guardian has been deluging itself with praise on reaching two centuries this year. Not that we would expect otherwise. As editor Katherine Viner proclaimed in a long, celebratory essay:

‘The Guardian is not the only newspaper to declare that it has a higher purpose than transmitting the day’s events in order to make a profit. But it might be unique in having held on to that sense of purpose for two centuries.’

From her editor’s throne, Viner portrayed the paper as a kind of collective enterprise rooted in a socially-aware commune:

‘journalists must be part of the social fabric of the world they report on. The Guardian is a community of journalists and readers, all of us equal citizens of that community.’

It is difficult to square such pious words with the reality that Guardian moderators prowl the online comments on the Guardian website, ready to instantly delete critical remarks posted by the public. As one Guardian reader noted recently on Twitter:

‘My comment comparing the detention of the journalist in Belarus with what is being done to Craig Murray and Julian Assange in the UK has been deleted by the mods at The Guardian within seconds.’

For Viner, awkward readers like this are simply ostracised and no longer deemed part of the ‘Guardian’s community’. They are not allowed to besmirch her shining vision that the Guardian is:

‘a newspaper built on facts and guided by its values, a newspaper with a moral as well as a material existence.’

Throughout her essay, the rhetoric flooded out:

‘Our mission is based on a moral conviction: that people long to understand the world they are in, and to create a better one. To use our clarity and imagination to build hope.’

Yet more purple prose gushed forth:

‘we have roots, we have principles, we have philosophy, we have values.’

It takes a certain blinkered mindset, honed through faithful service to the Guardian bubble and ideological navel-gazing, to believe this guff. In almost 6,000 words, there was no hint of critical self-reflection by Viner. There was certainly no mention of Julian Assange, the courageous WikiLeaks co-founder and publisher of copious evidence of US war crimes whom the Guardian exploited, discarded and smeared.

Guardian Smearing Of Chomsky And Assange

Assange and WikiLeaks did, however, make it into a 64-page supplement, ‘We were there: The 200 moments that made the Guardian’, included with the print version of the newspaper on Saturday, 8 May. The piece was written by Ian Katz, a former Guardian deputy editor who left to become editor of BBC Newsnight in 2013, and is now Director of Programmes at Channel 4. This is pretty much the full set of prized media destinations in the career of a successful liberal journalist. The fact that his career was not derailed by an infamous media episode in 2005, during his Guardian years, speaks volumes.

Katz was then the Guardian editor responsible for the G2 section of the paper which published a notorious interview by Emma Brockes smearing Noam Chomsky. Addressing the Balkan Wars in the former Yugoslavia and, in particular, the Srebrenica massacre, Brockes had written of Chomsky’s view as: ‘witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.’ As we discussed at the time, this was a deceitful distortion of the truth: Chomsky has never denied that a massacre took place in Srebrenica. In an open letter, Chomsky himself described the Guardian piece as ‘a scurrilous piece of journalism’. The paper was flooded with readers’ complaints, the readers’ editor investigated the case, an apology of sorts was issued, and the interview subsequently taken down. No Guardian editor or journalist has made reference to this disgraceful and deeply embarrassing episode in any of their valedictory retrospective accounts.

In Katz’s piece on WikiLeaks (only available in print, and not online), he repeated an outrageous quote attributed to Julian Assange by David Leigh, the former Guardian investigations editor. In 2010, Guardian staff and Assange were working together in a Guardian ‘bunker’ on hundreds of thousands of US military records and US embassy cables. Katz gave the official Guardian version of events:

‘Our biggest disagreement blew up over the question of whether confidential sources identified in the documents deserved protection. All the traditional journalists involved in the project took it as read that we would redact the names of any informants who could be put at risk by our publishing the documents. Assange saw it differently. “They’re informants,’ he told Leigh. “So if they get killed they’ve got it coming to them.”’

This account, to put it politely, is disputed. In fact, Assange has stated that the quote is ‘completely fabricated’. John Goetz, a journalist from Der Spiegel, was present at the dinner in a London restaurant where Leigh claimed Assange made the remark. Goetz has affirmed that Assange made no such remark. Moreover, Mark Davis, a multi-award winning Australian journalist who was present in the ‘bunker’ with Assange throughout the preparation of the Afghan War Logs, has exposed the shameful role of the Guardian in its dealings with Assange, accusing them of ‘slanders’ and  ‘lies’ (further details and quotes are here).

As the progressive website Consortium News reported:

‘Most shocking in these revelations is Mark Davis’s account of how the Guardian journalists neglected and appeared to care little about redacting the documents. They had a “graveyard humour” about people being harmed and no one, he stated emphatically, expressed concern about civilian casualties except Julian Assange…Assange had subsequently requested that the release of the Afghan War Logs be delayed for the purpose of redaction, but the Guardian not only insisted on the agreed date, they abandoned him to redact 10,000 documents alone.’

Katz included none of this in his account. And Viner’s silence on Assange is telling. As is her seeming refusal ever to discuss, far less apologise for, the fake front-page ‘news’ story the paper published in November 2018 claiming that Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, supposedly held secret talks with Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It was another fabricated story about the WikiLeaks publisher. And all part of a smear-based propaganda campaign that led to him being forcibly removed from the Embassy and locked away in the high-security Belmarsh prison, at risk of being extradited to the US to face life imprisonment. Recall that Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, has declared unequivocally that Assange is a victim of torture. Melzer has demanded, along with many other lawyers, human rights organisations and members of the public, that Assange be freed.

Guardian Distortion ‘Beggars Belief’

Likewise, an essay in the New York Review by Alan Rusbridger, Viner’s predecessor in the editor’s chair, was long on Guardian mythology and short on critical self-analysis. Towards the end, a few tokenistic references were made to chapters that had pulled their punches in a new book about the Guardian’s history, ‘Capitalism’s Conscience’, edited by media academic Des Freedman and put under the microscope in a recent media alert. In fact, as we suspected would happen, Rusbridger leaned on the book to boost the paper’s supposed bona fides:

‘Capitalism’s Conscience does acknowledge remarkably positive and progressive aspects of The Guardian’s more recent history, including in-depth coverage of the developing world, a better-than-some track record on diversity, a commitment to investigative reporting, and a balanced approach to Brexit.’

But Rusbridger avoided any observations by the book’s more hard-hitting contributors. For example, Alan MacLeod had noted of the paper’s coverage of Latin America:

‘far from embracing the “Pink Tide” [the grassroots progressive movements across Latin America], the Guardian has, for the most part, chosen to side with Western governments and reject it, often displaying a shocking lack of understanding of the continent. Indeed, the distortion with which it presents Latin America is so startling it often beggars belief.’

MacLeod added that the Guardian’s ‘tone and outlook [are] often so conservative that it is indistinguishable from the Daily Telegraph in its reporting of the continent.’

He directly implicated the current editor:

‘Katharine Viner describes the newspaper’s mission as “holding the powerful to account” and “upholding liberal values”. Yet when it comes to Latin America, it has attacked progressive movements attempting to further those values, while often failing to hold the region’s right-wing rulers to the same standard. It has been necessary to do this, lest British readers are inspired, like Corbyn was, to try the same thing at home.’

Moreover, in their chapter on ‘The Guardian and Surveillance’, Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis note what happened after the paper revealed secret US government documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Security services and the Ministry of Defence were so concerned by the revelations that, on 20 July 2013, GCHQ officials entered the Guardian’s offices at King’s Cross in London. At the request of the government and security services, Guardian deputy editor Paul Johnson and two colleagues spent three hours destroying the laptops containing the Snowden documents.

Afterwards, the Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee, known as the D-Notice Committee, increasingly placed pressure on the Guardian to refrain from publishing information that would ‘jeopardise both national security and possibly UK personnel’. A combined charm and threat offensive to make the Guardian play ball ultimately paid off when Paul Johnson accepted an invitation to sit on the D-Notice Committee. He attended his first meeting in May 2014 and remained on the committee until October 2018. As Kennard and Curtis observed:

‘The Guardian’s deputy editor went directly from the corporation’s basement with an angle-grinder to sitting on the D-Notice Committee alongside the security service officials who had tried to stop his paper publishing the Snowden material.’

The authors give some credit to Rusbridger who ‘withstood intense pressure not to publish some of Snowden’s revelations’, but note that things changed when Viner was appointed editor in March 2015. Critical coverage of UK intelligence services thereafter dropped dramatically. Moreover, soft-pedalling ‘exclusives’ appeared with senior intelligence and counter-terrorism chiefs highlighting the supposed ‘threat’ of foreign states, notably Russia.

Kennard and Curtis wrote:

‘While some articles critical of the security services still appear in the paper, its “scoops” have increasingly focused on issues more acceptable to them. In the years since the Snowden affair, the Guardian does not appear to have published any articles based on intelligence or security services sources that were not so to speak “officially sanctioned”.’

In a recent piece with the apt title, ‘Like billionaire-controlled media, The Guardian misinforms its readers on the UK’s role in world’, Curtis pointed out that:

‘while it sometimes exposes how the British establishment works, it acts largely in support of it – and that in recent years it has largely shredded the capacity it once had to do more independent, investigative reporting.

‘The paper’s political positioning, on the right wing of Labour and mainstream of the US Democratic Party, always suggested it would act to stave off more fundamental change when the time came. With Corbyn, this was clearly borne out.’

Behind The Façade Of Guardian ‘Liberalism’

Long-time readers of Media Lens will be well aware that we have written several books and hundreds of media alerts exposing the Guardian’s propaganda role in shoring up the status quo. But nothing of this mountain of evidence, nor the examples cited earlier in this alert, disturbed the haughty, self-satisfied triumphalism of Viner and Rusbridger.

Also notably lacking from the Guardian’s numerous retrospectives, including a fashion piece on ‘200 years of newsroom style: what journalists wear to work’, was the consistent Guardian protection of establishment power for two centuries. This uncomfortable truth was superbly exposed in an historical overview, titled ‘50,000 editions of the imperialist, warmongering, hate-filled Guardian newspaper’, first published by author Murray McDonald in 2007 when the paper celebrated its 50,000th issue.

A crucial component of the haloed Guardian mythology, featuring prominently in both Rusbridger’s and Viner’s accounts, is its founding in Manchester in 1821 by John Taylor as a supposed radical paper championing the victims of the Peterloo Massacre. In 1819, eighteen people died when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

McDonald wrote:

‘What the Guardian forgot to say was that Taylor launched his paper to undermine the working class leaders of the reform movement; or that Taylor refused to use either word “Peterloo” or “Massacre”, thinking them too inflammatory.’

The paper has never been a reliable supporter of popular opposition to establishment power. In fact, worse than that, the Guardian:

‘has been deeply hostile to the working class, especially when they have taken matters into their own hands.’

As just one early example:

‘When Women Suffragettes fought for the vote, Guardian editor C.P. Scott denounced them as fanatics, just as the Manchester Guardian opposed giving the working classes the vote before.’

Historically, the Guardian actually derided movements against British imperialism and colonialism:

‘Over the years, much of the newspaper’s venom has been reserved for opposition movements. The Guardian had a particular contempt for anti-imperialist movement[s], pouring scorn on Third World nationalists like [Patrice] Lumumba [of Congo] and [Gamal] Nasser [of Egypt], advocating military intervention across the globe.’

McDonald added:

‘And when Abraham Lincoln fought a Civil War against slavery, the Manchester Guardian rallied to defend the southern Slave-Owners.’

In more modern times, the Guardian – apart from mild criticism here and there towards the end of Tony Blair’s time in Downing Street – has been a stalwart cheerleader for the former Prime Minister. This bizarre nostalgic longing for the New Labour era continues to this day, even though Blair’s hands are steeped in the blood of over one million dead people in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Arguments for ‘humanitarian intervention’ were honed by the Guardian in its reporting of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, as McDonald noted, ‘demonising the enemy, talking up the humanitarian crisis, and pushing for military action’.

Viner and Rusbridger airbrush all of this from their glowing ideological narratives of the paper. But reading closely between the lines is instructive and hints at the grim truth. Consider Rusbridger’s curiously-worded claim that ‘the paper can disappoint the left and anger the right.’ He gave this example:

‘The most recent disappointment for those on the left was the paper’s failure—as they saw it—to wholeheartedly embrace Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.’

This is truly outrageous spin. In fact, the Guardian played a key role in the propaganda blitz that scuppered Corbyn’s chances of becoming Prime Minister and making any move towards a more equal society that the Guardian supposedly champions.

Keyvan Minoukadeh of the website fivefilters.org diligently monitored the relentless Guardian attacks on Corbyn over the two-year period from 2015-2017.  He observed that there was a slight let-up towards the end of this period, perhaps because Guardian editors were worried that they had alienated too many readers. But then:

‘After a short pause, the paper continued and intensified its attacks, this time spreading spurious and damaging claims of anti-semitism.’

In short, the paper failed to ‘wholeheartedly embrace Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership’ in much the same way that a kestrel fails to wholeheartedly embrace a mouse when swooping down for its prey.

The late Tony Benn had it right:

‘The Guardian represents a whole batch of journalists…who, broadly speaking, like the status quo…are very critical of the left…They just are the Establishment. It is a society that suits them well.’

As we saw above, Viner’s florid account of her beloved paper overflowed with worthy words about principles, values, roots, morals, and a ‘mission based on a moral conviction’ to ‘create a better’ society and ‘to build hope’. These claims are cruel deceptions because the reality is far different. In truth, the Guardian has long played a liberal gatekeeper role, corralling and deflecting the threat of real public opposition to elite power.

A newspaper predicated on ‘liberal values’ has a crucial role to play in the propaganda system. As Noam Chomsky has long observed, such a paper delimits the ‘acceptable’ limits of news reporting and commentary: ‘Thus far, and no further’. To be truly effective, the ‘mainstream’ media must appear to be relatively free and open. For this reason, added Chomsky:

‘liberal bias is extremely important in a sophisticated system of propaganda.’

The Guardian epitomises this vital function.

Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian reporter who is now an independent, reader-supported journalist, put it this way:

‘The role of corporate media is to serve as a figurative sheep-dog, herding journalists each day into an ideological pen – the publication they write for. There are minor differences of opinion and emphasis between conservative publications and liberal ones, but they all ultimately serve the same corporate, business-friendly, colonial, war-mongering agenda.’

Just consider one salient fact. Absent from the Guardian – and the entire ‘mainstream’ media – is any sustained, substantive reporting about the economic system that is driving climate breakdown and mass extinction of species. A recent video titled, ‘Why Capitalism Can’t Handle Climate Change’, from Second Thought, an educational YouTube channel presenting analysis of current events from a Leftist perspective, encapsulates the most pressing crisis today:

‘If we want to ensure a liveable future for the human race, we must move past capitalism. Capitalism is incapable of solving the problems it creates. It is entirely beholden to the profit motive, and no amount of flowery language, greenwashing or reform will ever change that.

Sweep aside the paper’s lofty rhetoric, and it is clear that the Guardian has long been a component of power that is currently driving humanity towards extinction.

The post Two Centuries Of ‘The Imperialist, Warmongering, Hate-Filled Guardian’ first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“The Savage Punishment Of Gaza”: Israel’s Latest Assault On Palestine’s Open Prison

Recent media coverage of Israel and Palestine, not least by BBC News, has been full of the usual deceptive propaganda tropes: Israel is ‘responding’ or ‘reacting’ to Palestinian ‘provocation’ and ‘escalation’; Palestinian rockets ‘killed’ Israelis, but Palestinians ‘have died’ from unnamed causes; Israel has ‘armed forces’ and ‘security forces’, but Hamas has ‘militants’. And, as ever, Palestinians were killed in far greater numbers than Israelis. At least 248 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bombardment in Gaza, including 66 children. Palestinian rocket fire killed 12 in Israel, including one child.

Imagine if the BBC reported:

Palestinian security forces responded after Israeli militants enforcing the apartheid occupation attacked and injured Palestinian worshippers.

BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen referred night after night on BBC News at Ten to ‘a war between Israel and Hamas’, a version of events pushed hard by Israel. As John Pilger said in a recent interview, ‘Bowen knows that’s wrong’. This is no war. In fact, the world has witnessed a massive attack by one of the world’s most powerful, lethal militaries, armed and supported to the hilt by the US (which sends $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel each year) and western allies, imposing a brutal occupation and deliberately subjecting the Palestinian civilian population to death, violence, terror and appalling hardship.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned early on that heavy Israeli bombing was pushing Gaza to the edge of catastrophe:

‘The Israeli bombing is incredibly heavy and stronger than previous bombing campaigns. Relentless bombing has destroyed many homes and buildings all around us. It’s not safe to go outside, and no one is safe inside, people are trapped. Emergency health workers are taking incredible but necessary risks to move around.’

On 19 May, the 10th day of intense Israeli bombardment of Gaza, the BBC News website carried headlines:

‘Israel targets Hamas chiefs’

And:

‘Israel targets Gaza militants’

So, why was Israel killing so many noncombatants, including children? Why were residences being flattened? The United Nations estimated that Israel had demolished 94 buildings in Gaza, comprising 461 housing and commercial units. Why were hospitals and clinics suffering so much damage? And buildings where media organisations were based?

Why were there Israeli airstrikes in the area of the MSF clinic in Gaza City, killing at least 42 people including 10 children? An orphanage was also destroyed.

The massacre was ‘one of the most horrific crimes’ Israel has committed during its ongoing war against the people of Gaza, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor who added that:

‘the attack was not an isolated incident, but another example of Israel’s systematic policy that we have witnessed over the past six days.’

As Tamara Nasser observed in a piece on the Electronic Intifada website, Israel was unable to substantiate its claim that ‘Hamas military intelligence were using the building’ when pressed to do so by US public radio network NPR.

Nasser added:

‘Even if that Israeli claim were true, under the laws of war, Israel’s destruction of entire buildings would be wholly disproportionate.

‘Rather, Israel’s mass destruction of buildings and infrastructure appears to fit the pattern of the Dahiya Doctrine – named after its 2006 destruction of the southern suburb of Beirut.

‘The goal is to deliberately inflict such pain and suffering on the civilian population and society at large as to deter anyone from resisting against Israel’s occupation. This can be prosecuted as a war crime.’

It also serves as a useful definition of terrorism.

Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said via Twitter:

‘What the Israeli army asserts, namely that the alleged presence of Hamas in the buildings would make them legitimate military objectives is absolutely false from a legal point of view, since they also house civilians, such as the media.’

He added:

‘Even assuming that the Israeli fire was necessary (which is absolutely not proven), the total destruction of the buildings demonstrates that the principles of distinction and proportionality have been flagrantly violated.’

Indeed, RSF sent a letter to Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, urging an investigation of Israel’s targeting of the offices of 23 media organizations in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment.

‘False Equivalence Between Occupier And Occupied’

Gregory Shupak wrote in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, the US-based media watchdog, that corporate media coverage presented a ‘false equivalence between occupier and occupied’. He continued:

‘The fatal flaw in the “both sides” narrative is that only the Israeli side has ethnically cleansed and turned millions on the Palestinians’ side into refugees by preventing them from exercising their right to return to their homes. Israel is the only side subjecting anyone to apartheid and military occupation. It is only the Palestinian side—including those living inside of what is presently called Israel—that has been made to live as second-class citizens in their own land. That’s to say nothing of the lopsided scale of the death, injury and damage to infrastructure that Palestinians have experienced as compared to Israelis, both during the present offensive and in the longer term.’

When last week’s truce ‘between Israel and Hamas’ was imminent, Jeremy Bowen told BBC viewers:

‘Now, the essentials of that conflict are not going to change. Until they do, there will be more trouble in the future.’

But Israeli settler-colonialism, ethnic cleansing, lethal sanctions maintained by a brutal military occupation, apartheid, the killing and imprisonment of Palestinian children, Israel’s constant trampling of international law, and the daily humiliation of Palestinians constitute ‘trouble’ right now regardless of what happens ‘in the future’. These essential truths are regularly unmentioned or glossed over by Bowen, the BBC and the rest of a ‘mainstream’ media trying to ‘normalise the unthinkable’, by presenting violent occupation as a ‘clash’ between two sides competing for legitimacy.

As Abby Martin noted in a video powerfully rebutting the Israeli claim that Hamas uses ‘human shields’ in Gaza:

‘Israel has intentionally made Gaza unliveable. The only way Gaza is able to exert pressure on Israel is by firing rockets. If they peacefully protest their conditions, they’re massacred just the same. If they do nothing, Israel continues to blockade them, erode their living conditions while ethnically cleansing the rest of their land.’

This perspective – the Palestinian perspective – is almost entirely absent from news coverage. Moreover, WikiLeaks has revealed that when Israel’s forces invaded Gaza in 2009’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’, they  – Israel – did actually use Gazans as human shields. A classified US cable reported that Israeli soldiers:

‘testified to instances where Gazans were used as human shields, incendiary phosphorous shells were fired over civilian population areas, and other examples of excessive firepower that caused unnecessary fatalities and destruction of property.’

During the latest phase of Israeli aggression, Israel’s Minister of Defence Benny Gantz warned:

‘No person, neighbourhood or area in Gaza is immune [from airstrikes]’

This is a grotesque justification for war crimes. Where was the headlined outrage in response from ‘mainstream’ media that regularly cite defence of human rights as justification for war on countries like Iraq, Syria and Libya?

Hamas: A ‘Convenient Monster’

Hamas is regularly presented by corporate media as some kind of monster, a terrorist organisation with a declared intention of destroying Israel. This is a ‘convenient’ misrepresentation, as explained cogently in a recent interview with Frank Barat by Imad Alsoos, a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute, who is an expert on Hamas.

Likewise, in an interview with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s ‘Going Underground’, John Pilger commented:

‘There’s been a whole attempt to make Hamas the centre of the reporting. And that’s nonsense. As if Hamas is a peculiar demon. In fact, Hamas and its military wing are part of a resistance; a resistance that was provoked by the Israelis. The real demon in this is Israel. But it’s not simply Israel. I mean, this is as much a British and American war against Palestine, as it is an Israeli one.’

Pilger added that this is a war:

‘against the people of Palestine who are doing one thing – and that is exercising their moral and legal right to resist a brutal occupation.’

It is rarely mentioned in the ‘mainstream’ media that Hamas is, as Pilger pointed out, the legitimately elected government of Gaza. Moreover, Hamas has repeatedly declared its readiness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the Jewish state within its pre-1967 borders. But Israel has always rejected the offer, just as it rejected the Arab League peace plan of 2002; and just as it has always rejected the international consensus for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. Why? Because the threat of such ‘peace offensives’ would involve unacceptable concessions and compromises. Israeli writer Amos Elon has written of the ‘panic and unease among our political leadership’ caused by Arab peace proposals.1

The Palestinians are seen as an obstacle by Israel’s leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

‘Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.’

And, as Chomsky noted:

‘The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the “Araboushim” – a term that belongs with “nigger” or “kike” – must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.”2

In 2018, when Palestinians were being shot dead by Israeli soldiers in peaceful weekly ‘Great March of Return’ protests near Gaza’s border, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy observed that:

‘the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes’.

Given all of the above context, it is criminal that, day after day, BBC News presented a false balance between a powerful Israeli state-occupier and a brutalised, ethnically cleansed, apartheid-suffering Palestinian people. This systematic misrepresentation of reality amounts to complicity in Israel’s vast PR campaign to ‘justify’ its war crimes, brutality and repression of Palestinian people.

As well as Bowen’s wilfully distorted reporting for BBC News, and the biased coverage by corporate media generally, Pilger pointed to the lack of dissent in the UK Parliament in the face of atrocities being committed once again by Israel. He focused particular attention on:

‘Starmer’s Labour party which allowed pro-Israel groups to direct the policies of the Labour party, that, in effect, support this attack. When you have the Shadow Foreign Secretary saying that to criticise Israeli atrocities is antisemitic, then we’re in Lewis Carroll world, really.’

Concluding Remarks

Chomsky once wrote of an elderly Palestinian man demonstrating in Gaza with a placard that read:

‘You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.’

This simple but devastating message, said Chomsky, is ‘the proper context’ for ‘the savage punishment of Gaza.’

It is a context that is almost entirely missing from corporate media coverage of Israel and Palestine, not least by BBC News.

  1. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, Pluto Press, London, 1999, p. 75.
  2. Chomsky, op. cit., p. 489.
The post “The Savage Punishment Of Gaza”: Israel’s Latest Assault On Palestine’s Open Prison first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Shocking Omissions: Capitalism’s Conscience: 200 Years of The Guardian

Long before ‘the propaganda model’ flew off Edward Herman’s keyboard and into Manufacturing Consent, the book he co-authored with Noam Chomsky, Leo Tolstoy had captured the essence of non-conspiratorial conformity:

One man does not assert the truth which he knows, because he feels himself bound to the people with whom he is engaged; another, because the truth might deprive him of the profitable position by which he maintains his family; a third, because he desires to attain reputation and authority, and then use them in the service of mankind; a fourth, because he does not wish to destroy old sacred traditions; a fifth, because he has no desire to offend people; a sixth, because the expression of the truth would arouse persecution, and disturb the excellent social activity to which he has devoted himself.’1

There is nothing special about journalists in this regard – we are all aware, on some level, that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed truth-teller faces various kinds of crucifixion. It is tempting to affect blindness, to protect our ‘reputation and authority’, that we might use them, of course, ‘in the service of mankind’.

Academics are no different. In 2008, Terry Eagleton, formerly Professor of English Literature at Manchester University, wrote:

‘By and large, academic institutions have shifted from being the accusers of corporate capitalism to being its accomplices. They are intellectual Tescos, churning out a commodity known as graduates rather than greengroceries.’2

In 20 years of working on Media Lens, not much has left us disillusioned – we had no great illusions about journalism to begin with! – but we have often been dismayed by the response of the ‘intellectual Tescos’.

In particular, it has been a thing of wonder for us to see how academics who support us privately, and even in public, treat our work in published articles and books. Typically, our 20 years of detailed media analysis simply cease to exist. After openly supporting us for years, one academic – someone we considered a firm ally – wrote a book on our central theme, propaganda. Our work did receive a handful of mentions, all of them relegated to the footnotes. A different academic told us frankly that he had been advised to drop all mentions of Chomsky from his published articles and books – they would not be well-received.

We would be open to the possibility that our work just doesn’t pass muster, but for the fact that academics have a track record, strong as twelve acres of garlic, of filtering out dissident facts and voices. In fact, it’s the world’s worst-kept secret that they do it to ‘play the game’, to stay ‘respectable’, to remain part of ‘mainstream’ debate.

The Guardian – ‘More Than A Business’?

Which brings us to a new collection of essays, ‘Capitalism’s Conscience – 200 Years of the Guardian’, edited by Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, published tomorrow.

Freedman notes that Guardian editor, Kath Viner, promised that her newspaper would ‘challenge the economic assumptions of the last three decades’, ‘challenge the powerful’ and ‘use clarity and imagination to build hope’. His new book, says Freedman, ‘seeks to examine these claims’. 3

The collection of essays, mostly contributed by media academics, is published by Pluto Press, which has published all three Media Lens books; most recently, Propaganda Blitz, in 2018 (we have published several solo books with other publishers). Several good reasons for not criticising a book published by one’s own publisher can be found in Tolstoy’s list, but the academic filtering of truth is a key issue that cries out for honest discussion.

Despite our three books, 20 years of work focused heavily on the Guardian, and despite being mentioned and quoted (once) in the book, we were not told about Capitalism’s Conscience and were not invited to contribute.

The Guardian’s role is so appalling, so horrific that one is immediately surprised to see that the book contains contributions from some very ‘mainstream’ former and current Guardian journalists, given that it purports to tell the unvarnished truth about the paper.

Chapter 3 was written by Gary Younge, formerly the Guardian’s editor-at-large and still a high-profile contributor. Chapter 4 was written by Victoria Brittain, who worked at the Guardian for more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and then Associate Foreign Editor. Younge and Brittain are the first two names under Freedman’s promoting the book’s contents on the front cover, which carries an approving comment from Guardian columnist and former Chief Foreign Correspondent, Jonathan Steele.

Freedman himself has a profile page on the Guardian’s website, last contributing in 2018. So does the author of Chapter 12, Tom Mills, who last wrote for the Guardian in January. We remember Mills from the distant past when he was a frequent poster on the Media Lens message board.

If this sounds a bit Guardian-friendly, last week, Freedman tweeted the programme for Goldsmith University’s related, April 23-24 media conference, ‘Liberalism Inc: 200 Years of the Guardian’. Highlights include a keynote speech by former Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, titled:

‘More than a Business: 200 years of a newspaper which put purpose before profit’

On the same day, former Guardian comment editor, Becky Gardiner, will chair a discussion on ‘The Guardian and Feminism’.

Particularly given the editor, contributors and publisher, the title of the book is troubling indeed: Capitalism’s Conscience – 200 Years of the Guardian.

Certainly we have no problem with the claim that the Guardian has been around for 200 years! At the very least, however, the title should read: Capitalism’s “Conscience”?: 200 Years of the Guardian.

Has the looming collapse of the climate, the annihilation of species, the endless and merciless resource wars and mass-murdering sanctions devastating whole countries, not by now persuaded all of us that capitalism does not, indeed cannot, have a conscience? After Assange, Corbyn, Iraq, Libya and Syria, does anyone believe the corporate Guardian even pretends to act as a ‘conscience’ for anything? Canadian law professor Joel Bakan explains the bottom-line for all corporate executives:

The law forbids any motivation for their actions, whether to assist workers, improve the environment, or help consumers save money. They can do these things with their own money, as private citizens. As corporate officials, however, stewards of other people’s money, they have no legal authority to pursue such goals as ends in themselves – only as means to serve the corporations own interests, which generally means to maximise the wealth of its shareholders.

Corporate social responsibility is thus illegal – at least when its genuine. 4

If genuine social responsibility is illegal, it makes perfect sense that conscience is a threat to be stifled at every turn. In the 1930s, political analyst Rudolf Rocker wrote:

It is certainly dangerous for a state when its citizens have a conscience; what it needs is men without conscience… men in whom the feeling of personal responsibility has been replaced by the automatic impulse to act in the interests of the state.5

This is actually a key propaganda function of the Guardian. Even the suggestion that capitalism might have a conscience is a dangerous distortion of the truth, as is the suggestion that the Guardian might be involved in protecting an ethical dimension of capitalism.

In his introduction, Freedman writes:

The Guardian is not a left-wing newspaper. It publishes left-wing columnists, is read by people on the left and has a reputation for identifying with left-wing positions. But it is not a title of the left; it is not affiliated to nor was it borne out of left-wing movements.  (p. viii)

One can debate the precise meaning of ‘left-wing’, but compare Freedman’s assertion that the Guardian ‘publishes left-wing columnists’ with John Pilger’s response (included, in full, later in this alert):

The spaces allotted to independent journalists (myself included) have vanished. The dissent that was tolerated, even celebrated when I arrived in Fleet Street in the 1960s, has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism sheds the last illusions of democracy.

This is a seismic shift…

It is indeed a seismic shift that many of us have witnessed in our lifetimes – forget radically left-wing journalists, even independent journalists have been disappeared from the Guardian and other media. Consider, after all, that superb, self-identifying Tory journalist, Peter Oborne, has recently described how ‘The mainstream British press and media is to all intents and purposes barred to me.’

Freedman continues:

It has never been a consistent ally of socialist or anti-imperialist voices and has failed to perform for the left what titles like the Mail and the Telegraph have done for their constituencies on the right.  (p. viii)

Never been ‘a consistent ally’? In light of the Guardian’s relentless and ongoing support for politically undead war criminal Tony Blair, its lethal propagandising for wars of aggression in Iraq, Libya and Syria, its lead role in undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for power, its betrayal and demonisation of Assange, and so on… it is much more reasonable to view the Guardian as a bitter enemy of even mild left positions that has not only not performed ‘for the left’, but has most enthusiastically performed for established power.

The suggestion that the paper has ‘never been a consistent ally of socialist or anti-imperialist voices’ is a classic fudge aiming to appease the left without overly alienating the Guardian. In fact, it reminds us strongly of the kind of apologetics that regularly appear in the Guardian – the US, we are sometimes told, has not been a ‘consistent ally’ of democracy around the world, and so on.

Freedman continues of the Guardian:

Instead it is the home of a vigorous liberalism that consistently outrages voices to its right and, equally regularly, disappoints its critics on the left. (p. viii)

There is nothing ‘vigorous’ about the fake, marketised version of ‘liberalism’ peddled by the Guardian. In a 2011 interview, Julian Assange spoke from bitter personal experience:

There is a point I want to make about perceived moral institutions, such as the Guardian and New York Times. The Guardian has good people in it. It also has a coterie of people at the top who have other interests. … What drives a paper like the Guardian or New York Times is not their inner moral values. It is simply that they have a market. In the UK, there is a market called “educated liberals”. Educated liberals want to buy a newspaper like the Guardian and therefore an institution arises to fulfil that market. … What is in the newspaper is not a reflection of the values of the people in that institution, it is a reflection of the market demand.’

Consider Freedman’s version of the truth with the Guardian’s treatment of Assange himself, of Corbyn, of ‘Jesus clown’ Russell Brand, of George Galloway, of Hugo Chavez, of Chomsky, of us, of all dissidents. Rocker nailed a truth that has not changed in 100 years:

The state welcomes only those forms of cultural activity which help it to maintain its power. It persecutes with implacable hatred any activity which oversteps the limits set by it and calls its existence into question. It is, therefore, as senseless as it is mendacious to speak of a “state culture”; for it is precisely the state which lives in constant warfare with all higher forms of intellectual culture and always tries to avoid the creative will of culture… (p. 85)

In reality, of course, the Guardian’s ruthless, market-driven propaganda ‘consistently outrages’ voices to the left exactly as it outrages voices to the right. By now, only someone living in a Guardian-inspired fantasy world finds that the Guardian ‘disappoints’ when it attacks dissent and supports even the most cynically brutal wars of aggression.

Whitewashing The Wars Of Aggression

Guardian output online and in print is vast, as is the range of issues covered. But an easy way to test for Guardian bias is to examine its performance on the US-UK’s wars of aggression. This is why we have always focused so much on the Guardian’s performance on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Over the last twenty years, we have shown over and over again how the Guardian, while supposedly opposing the war on Iraq, in fact, hit readers with a propaganda blitz that sought to scare up war fever based on completely absurd, self-evidently fabricated US-UK claims on the supposed existence and threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Balance was not permitted – the Guardian simultaneously blanked as non-existent the crucial, highly credible testimony of UN weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter, who insisted his team had left Iraq ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of ‘90-95%’ of its WMD by December 1998, leaving only ‘harmless sludge’.6  In their 12,366 articles mentioning Iraq in 2003, the Guardian and Observer mentioned Ritter a total of 17 times. The Guardian simply ignored testimony, literally available from all good bookshops, with the power to make a complete nonsense of its own and all other media discussions of the case for war.

Even more shocking, one might think, even after the great catastrophe in Iraq, the Guardian relentlessly propagandised for war by the same US-UK alliance on Libya and Syria in 2011 and thereafter. A typical example was supplied by senior Guardian columnist, later Comment Editor, Jonathan Freedland, who wrote an article on Libya entitled:

Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.

A Guardian leader quietly celebrated the results:

But it can now reasonably be said that in narrow military terms it worked, and that politically there was some retrospective justification for its advocates as the crowds poured into the streets of Tripoli to welcome the rebel convoys earlier this week.

A flood of similar and worse pro-‘intervention’ propaganda has issued forth from the Guardian on Syria. There has been relentless, laser-like focus on the crimes, real and imagined, of Assad and Putin. The West, we are to believe, has sinned only by its reluctance to be involved at all! An audacious reversal of the truth. Above all, lifting a page from the playbook of the great Iraq WMD scam, the focus has been on highly questionable claims of chemical weapons attacks.

Clearly anticipating and agitating for war in April 2013, a Guardian editorial observed:

Yet this week has also been marked by further claims that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has been doing precisely the thing that Mr Bush said so confidently, but so wrongly, was at imminent risk of being done by Saddam Hussein 10 years ago.

The editorial continued:

… UN member states and security council members also have less basis today for sitting on their hands than they did over Iraq. The UN has been ineffective over Syria, because Russia and China veto UN action. Partly as a consequence, at least 70,000 people have died while the world looks on and wrings its hands. It is not clear in moral terms why those thousands of deaths are not treated as a red line while chemical weapons use is.

How has ‘Capitalism’s Conscience’ covered the Guardian’s complicity in these wars?

The answer, which is available to anyone in the age of the word-searchable e-book, is that Libya and Syria are both mentioned once, in passing. The West’s attacks on Libya and Syria, much less the Guardian’s role in them, are not mentioned at all. The Saudi-UK war on Yemen is also unmentioned.

As for Iraq, the greatest foreign policy and mass media disaster of our time gets five mentions in passing in the book’s 270 pages. Reference to the Guardian’s propaganda role in the conflict is limited to one mention of unnamed Guardian ‘columnists… who had championed the Iraq War in 2003 and even insisted that there were weapons of mass destruction’ – a total of 19 words. (p. 50)

In other words, the Guardian’s very real responsibility for promoting catastrophic crimes that have left millions of human beings dead, injured and displaced, has been completely blanked by a collection of dissident writers published by our supposedly most radical publisher reviewing the Guardian’s performance over the last 200 years. This is outrageous.

The book does find space to note that the paper ‘has led the way in innovative design and formats, was the first British title to set up a reader’s editor, established editions in the US and Australia and now champions a membership model with some one million people who have either signed up to the scheme or made a one-off contribution’ (p. x), and so on.

Freedman concludes his introduction:

The Guardian is read by many people on the left but, as with liberal democracy more generally, it does not serve them consistently or adequately in the pursuit of radical social change. This book is an expression not simply of disappointment but of the conviction that we need a very different sort of media if we are to pursue a very different sort of society. (p. xiv)

If change begins anywhere, it begins with a rejection of the assertion that the Guardian ‘does not serve’ the left or liberal democracy ‘consistently or adequately in the pursuit of radical social change’. In reality, it consistently attacks the left.

In his chapter on Corbyn and anti-semitism, Justin Schlosberg is strongly critical of the Guardian but observes:

Perhaps above all, Corbyn’s political ascendance coincided with that of Donald Trump in the US and other hard right leaders from Modi in India to Bolsonaro in Brazil. Against this backdrop – and especially in the context of Brexit – it is easy to understand how Corbyn’s Labour and those sources defending it came to be perceived by journalists as the left front of populism – tending towards the extreme and intrinsically less credible than their “moderate” political counterparts.’ (p. 200)

Guardian hostility to Corbyn was about fear of mild socialism challenging the state-corporate status quo, not fear of populism. Schlosberg concluded:

Ironically, in defence of its liberal values against the rise of populism, the Guardian appeared to disregard or undermine what has always been the very cornerstone of its liberalism: the sanctity of facts.’ (p. 201)

The idea that ‘the sanctity of facts’ ‘has always been the very cornerstone of its liberalism’ will be welcome reading to the Guardian editors, but mystifying to anyone who reads the paper with a critical mind.

In Chapter 3, Gary Younge claims on Corbyn:

A range of studies have since shown that… the Guardian contained both more diverse opinions and more supportive opinions and coverage than virtually any other mainstream outlet. (p. 52)

That isn’t saying much. Remarkably, in support of his claim, Younge cites two studies: one from November 2015, just two months after Corbyn had been elected; the other from July 2016, ten months after Corbyn had been elected. Younge presumably missed the September 2018 study cited by the late anthropologist and political commentator David Graeber when he tweeted in December 2019:

as for the Guardian, we will never forget that during the “Labour #antisemitism controversy”, they beat even the Daily Mail to include the largest percentage of false statements, pretty much every one, mysteriously, an accidental error to Labour’s disadvantage.

Quite an achievement! The book does contain two excellent chapters by Alan MacLeod on the Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, and by Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis on the paper’s coverage of the UK security state. Both are discussed further below.

John Pilger Responds

We asked former Guardian columnist John Pilger for his thoughts on Capitalism’s Conscience. He responded:

Liberal journalism, such as the Guardian’s, was always a loose extension of establishment power. But something has changed since the rise of Blairism. The spaces allotted to independent journalists (myself included) have vanished. The dissent that was tolerated, even celebrated when I arrived in Fleet Street in the 1960s, has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism sheds the last illusions of democracy.

This is a seismic shift, with the Guardian and the BBC –  far more influential than those on the accredited right — policing the new “groupthink”, as Robert Parry called it, ensuring its politics and hypocrisies, its omissions and fabrications while pursuing the enemies of the new national security state.

Journalism students need to study this urgently if they are to understand that the true source of the contrivance known as “fake news” is not merely social media, but a liberal “mainstream” self-anointed with a false respectability that claims to challenge corrupt and warmongering power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it.

This is the Guardian today. Rid of those journalists it cannot control, the porous borders they once crossed long closed, the Guardian more than ever represents the world view of its hero, Blair, the “mystical” lost leader the paper promoted with evangelical fervour and has since done its best to rehabilitate, a man responsible for human carnage beyond the imagination.

To its credit, Des Freedman’s anthology includes a scattering of sharp honesty, especially the chapters by Alan McLeod, Mark Curtis and Matt Kennard. But the omissions are shocking: notably the Guardian’s “nuanced” (a favourite weasel word) support for the dismemberment of nations: from Yugoslavia to Syria, and for its immoral backing of the current MI6/CIA propaganda war against nuclear-armed powers Russia and China.

An example of this is a recent stream of US-sourced “human rights” propaganda from Taiwan, much of it publicly discredited, that beckons war with China. This has yet to match the output of the Guardian’s chief Russiaphobe, Luke Harding, who ensures that all evil leads to Vladimir Putin.

We are given scant idea how the people of these hellish places live and think, for they are the modern “other”. That the Chinese, according to Harvard, Pew and numerous other studies, are the most contented human beings on earth is irrelevant, or to quote Harold Pinter, “it didn’t matter, it was of no interest”.

It was Harding and two others who claimed in the Guardian that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had held secret talks with Julian Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy. Discredited by the former Ecuadorean consul Fidel Narvaez as ‘fake’ (and by those like myself who were subjected to the security screening at the embassy), the story was typical of the decade-long smear campaign against Assange.

The campaign was one of the lowest points in British journalism. While collecting the kudos, circulation, profit and book and Hollywood deals for Assange’s work, the Guardian played a pivotal role. Although Mark Curtis touches on the latter years, young journalists need to know the whole disgraceful saga and its significance in crushing those who challenge power from outside the liberal fence and refuse to join the “club”.

The principal Guardian ringmaster was Alan Rusbridger, who was editor in chief for 20 years. (Rusbridger also oversaw the Observer, the Guardian’s sister paper, which during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 ran a rabid pro-war campaign that included fabrications about WMD for which its reporter, David Rose, later personally apologised – unlike his editors).

Rusbridger has lately re-invented himself as a media moralist. “Only those with the highest professional and ethical standards,” he wrote in 2019, “will rise above the oceans of mediocrity and malignity and survive.”  While Rusbridger rises above the oceans to promote his new book on the ethics of “proper news”, Julian Assange, the truth telling journalist betrayed by the Guardian, remains in solitary confinement in Belmarsh prison.

Much of Freedman’s anthology is the work of media academics, whose takeover of the training of journalists is relatively recent – well, it’s within my own career. Some have done fine work, including Freedman himself. But the question begs: how have they and their colleagues changed the media for the better when so much of it has become an echo chamber of rapacious, mendacious power?  The craft of journalism deserves better. 7

Jonathan Cook Responds

We also asked former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook to comment on the book:

With a few notable exceptions, the critical horizons of many of the contributors seem sadly limited for a book supposedly critically appraising the Guardian. Most rightly argue that the left should not trust the paper to advance its causes, and that throughout its long history the paper has hewn closely to variations of free-market liberalism. But the book makes little effort to explain why that is the case, even in its section supposedly dealing directly with this issue: on what the book refers to as “political economy”. Only one contributor refers to the corporate nature of the media, when dealing with press regulation, and even then there is the implication that the Guardian stands outside that system.

The chapter on political economy charts the Guardian’s efforts to remain profitable and competitive against billionaire-owned rivals but fails to make clear the impact that necessarily has on the paper’s ideological positions. There is no real effort to examine how the Guardian, like other corporate media, dare not regularly upset advertisers, given its economic dependency on their money. The book lacks a discussion of the inevitable conflict between the Guardian’s commercial needs and its professed commitment to the environment.

Nor does the book draw any meaningful conclusions from the fact that in the digital age the Guardian has chosen to chase after larger and wealthier liberal US audiences than can be found in the UK. It would seem relevant in considering the Guardian’s ever-greater focus on cultural issues and fashionable identity politics as an alternative to class politics and labour issues.

Similarly, the book offers no platform for whistleblowers who could have given a harsher insight into how the paper is run, or the obstacles placed in the way of reporters trying to break with the Guardian’s ideological framing of issues or its top-down editorial approach. Gary Younge provides some clues but his focus is narrow, he enjoyed an unusually independent position within the editorial team, and his continuing relationship with the paper means he is unlikely to speak as freely as he might otherwise.

Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis name some of the national security writers pushed out of the paper in recent years. Were any approached by the book’s editor to explain their experiences?

In my own specialist field, Ghada Karmi offers a fine perspective on the general failures in reporting fairly on Israel-Palestine, the role of the lobby and the tendency to prioritise Jewish and Israeli voices over Palestinian ones. But her assumption appears to be that the Guardian’s failure to offer Palestinians a proper hearing reflects a mix of the following: historical ignorance of the Palestinian case and a romanticised view of Israel; the greater weight and centrality of the Israel lobby than the Palestinian lobby in UK society; and fears of being accused of antisemitism.

What this account of the Guardian’s failure misses is Israel’s crucial place in advancing western foreign policy goals in the Middle East. The paper’s siding with the west’s major geopolitical interests in the Middle East is not a one-off, after all, as Alan MacLeod’s chapter on the Guardian’s even more woeful coverage of Latin American makes clear. There is a pattern of failure here that needs unpacking. Had it been done, it would have been much easier to explain the Guardian’s leading role in the corporate media’s campaign to put Israel – couched in terms of a supposed Labour antisemitism crisis – at the heart of assessing Jeremy Corbyn’s suitability for being prime minister.

Again, it would have helped this section to have included a whistleblower, an insider familiar with the limitations of the Guardian’s Israel-Palestine coverage. I and others – including Nafeez Ahmed, Antony Loewenstein and, more recently, Nathan Robinson – have all been at the sharp end of the Guardian’s strict policing of its Israel-Palestine coverage. Nowhere are our experiences given a voice in a book claiming to deal with the Guardian critically. 7

Conclusion

The rarely discussed truth is that academia plays a crucial role in reinforcing ‘mainstream’ journalism’s filtering of truth, ensuring that discussion extends, as Chomsky says, ‘this far and no further’. Media academics consistently exclude the most critical media activists in much the same way as corporate journalists.

It is obvious to us, for example, that John Pilger and Jonathan Cook have long been the UK’s most powerful and qualified critics of the Guardian. Who can doubt that their inclusion would have massively strengthened Capitalism’s Conscience and increased sales? Their exclusion invites a simple question: what other priorities were being served?

Did the editor and some of the contributors pull their punches, wittingly or otherwise, in order to seem less ‘extreme’, more ‘reasonable’? Were they hoping not to burn bridges, so that publication in the Guardian might remain an option? Perhaps even that the book might be reviewed favourably by the paper itself? There is a pressing need for truly critical and honest appraisals of the Guardian’s record as a guardian of power. This book, barring a couple of welcome exceptions, is not it.

  1. ‘Tolstoy. “What Then Must We Do?’, Green Classics, 1991, p. 118.
  2. Eagleton, ‘Death of the intellectual,’ Red Pepper, October 2008.
  3. Capitalism’s Conscience – 200 Years of the Guardian’, Des Freedman, ed., Pluto Press, 2021, p. x.
  4. Bakan, The Corporation, Constable, 2004, p. 37.
  5. Rudolf Rocker, ‘Culture and Nationalism’, Michael E. Coughlan, 1978, p. 197.
  6. Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, ‘War On Iraq’, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23 and p. 29. 
  7. Email to Media Lens, 9 March 2021.
The post Shocking Omissions: Capitalism’s Conscience: 200 Years of The Guardian first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stunning Silences Over Syria And Venezuela

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

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

He noted that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McEvoy wrote:

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

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

Douhan urged US and European governments:

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

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

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

McEvoy wrote:

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

He continued:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Grand Wizards’ And Client Journalism

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

She tweeted:

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

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

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

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

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

But he’s wrong.

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

Wise and compassionate words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continuing his virtually government spokesperson role, Landale added:

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

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

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

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

As Double Down News observed:

Boris Johnson set to expand Nuclear Warheads by 40%

No money for Nurses but money for Armageddon.

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

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

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

The same holds true today.

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

  1. Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23.
  2. The Reith Diaries, edited by Charles Stewart, Collins, 1975; entry for 11 May, 1926.
The post Propaganda By Omission: Libya, Syria, Venezuela And The UK first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Impossible Peter Oborne

On the face of it, Peter Oborne is impossible.

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

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

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

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

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

More to the point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oborne’s conclusion:

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

So how on earth did Johnson get away with it?

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

But this was only part of the problem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chomsky’s ‘Basic Principle’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dramatic response:

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

These are huge losses for a professional journalist:

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

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

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

But Webb was in for a terrible surprise:

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

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

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

Webb’s career had been cynically and brutally terminated.

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

Adams portrayed Oborne as an enthusiastic dupe of Johnson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Insiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We wrote to Snow:

Hi Jon

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

Best wishes

DE and DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly.

Clones R Us

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

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

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

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

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

‘Evidence-Based Journalism’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robots R Us

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

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

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

Gavin

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

‘Dear Serviles’

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

‘All The Bloody Children’

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

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

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

‘A Curious Willy-Waving Exercise’

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

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

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

‘Most Prejudiced And Blinkered’

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

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

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

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

‘The John Motson Approach To Analysing News’

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

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

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

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

Apparently in all seriousness, Danahar responded to us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do you guys not have bosses?’

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

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

We replied:

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

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

Hasan has since deleted his tweet.

Owen Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Jones has since blocked us on Twitter.

Nick Robinson’s History Book

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

Hello Nick,

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

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

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

Best wishes

David Cromwell

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding Remarks

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

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

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

“Our Indifference To Ourselves”: Beyond The “Virtue” Of Self-Sacrifice (Part 2)

As we saw in Part 1, in 1914 and again in 1939, millions of men and women welcomed war. Arnold Ridley and his pals did make this choice, but in reality the choice had been made for them by decades and centuries of the relentless ‘patriotic’ propaganda described by Tolstoy, which most people were powerless to resist.

The enthusiasm for war seems immensely significant. It tells us that, facing the ultimate test of self-interestedness – whether they were willing to risk being shot, burned, blasted and horribly mutilated in the ‘national interest’ – many millions of people put that self-interest aside and marched off to kill and be killed.

This fact alone should encourage us to question the extent to which our capacity to be self-interested – to work for our own benefit over the imposed demands of others – is undermined more generally. Erich Fromm described the reality:

Our moral problem is man’s indifference to himself. It lies in the fact that we have lost the sense of the significance and uniqueness of the individual, that we have made ourselves into instruments for purposes outside ourselves, that we experience and treat ourselves as commodities.1

In her remarkable book, ‘For Your Own Good – Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence’, psychologist Alice Miller traced the roots of Nazi militarism in wildly popular pedagogical theories that flourished in 18th, 19th and early 20th century Germany.

Did Nazi stormtroopers arise out of an orgy of self-centred self-indulgence? In fact, they were nurtured by what Miller called a ‘poisonous pedagogy’ that crushed the will of the child, destroying the child’s ability to follow his or her own feelings and self-interest.2

Miller quoted J. Sulzer from his highly popular book published in Germany in 1748, An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children. Sulzer commented on infant behaviour:

They see something they want but cannot have; they become angry, cry, and flail about. Or they are given something that does not please them; they fling it aside and begin to cry. These are dangerous faults that hinder their entire education and encourage undesirable qualities in children… The moment these flaws appear in a child, it is high time to resist this evil so that it does not become ingrained through habit and the children do not become thoroughly depraved.

Therefore, I advise all those whose concern is the education of children to make it their main occupation to drive out willfulness and wickedness and to persist until they have reached their goal.

The chief target for attack, wrote J.G. Kruger in Some Thoughts on the Education of Children (1752) was defiance:

Such disobedience amounts to a declaration of war against you. Your son is trying to usurp your authority, and you are justified in answering force with force in order to insure his respect, without which you will be unable to train him. The blows you administer should not be merely playful ones but should convince him that you are his master. Therefore, you must not desist until he does what he previously refused out of wickedness to do.

In Handbook for Fathers and Mothers of Families and Nations (1773), J. B. Basedow recommended additional beatings in response to the inevitable, ‘annoying’ tears:

If after the chastisement the pain lasts for a time, it is unnatural to forbid weeping and groaning at once. But if the chastised use these annoying sounds as a means of revenge, then the first step is to distract them by assigning little tasks or activities. If this does not help, it is permissible to forbid the weeping and to punish them if it persists, until it finally ceases after the new chastisement.

The conscious aim was to destroy the will of the child and replace it with the will of parents and teachers. Sulzer wrote:

…willfulness must be the main target of all our toils until it is completely abolished… The first and foremost matter to be attended to is implanting in children a love of order; this is the first step we require in the way of virtue.

Sulzer noted that it was vital to break children at an age when they would be unable to remember what had been done to them:

One of the advantages of these early years is that then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years, children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences.’ (Miller, my emphasis.)

Miller commented:

If primary emphasis is placed upon raising children so that they are not aware of what is being done to them or what is being taken from them, of what they are losing in the process, of who they otherwise would have been and who they actually are, and if this is begun early enough, then as adults, regardless of their intelligence, they will later look upon the will of another person as if it were their own. How can they know that their own will was broken since they were never allowed to express it?  (Miller, my emphasis.)

In 1858, D.G.M. Schreber explained how this cultivated in the child ‘the art of self-denial’: ‘the salutary and indispensable process of learning to subordinate and control his will’.

Do we imagine these efforts to break the will of children, to teach them ‘the art of self-denial’, were limited to pre-Nazi Germany? In a comment that will be familiar to many of us in our time, Miller quoted a German schoolteacher (1796) explaining how he promoted obedience:

I reward the one who is the most amenable, the most obedient, the most diligent in his lessons by preferring him over the other; I call on him the most, I permit him to read his composition before the class, I let him do the necessary writing on the blackboard. This way I awaken the children’s zeal so that each wishes to excel, to be preferred. When one of them then upon occasion does something that deserves punishment, I reduce his status in the class, I don’t call on him, I don’t let him read aloud, I act as though he were not there. This distresses the children so much that those who are punished weep copious tears.

Miller commented:

I have selected the foregoing passages in order to characterize an attitude that reveals itself more or less openly, not only in Fascism but in other ideologies as well. The scorn and abuse directed at the helpless child as well as the suppression of vitality, creativity, and feeling in the child and in oneself permeate so many areas of our life that we hardly notice it anymore.’ (Miller, my emphasis.)

Yes, in many areas of our life! The evidence is all around us and deeply rooted in our cultural traditions. For example, German pedagogues loved to quote the Bible:

He who loves his son chastises him often with the rod, that he may be his joy when he grows up’, and, ‘Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief.

The Prime Coercive Instrument For Cultural Modification

Are we pursuing freely-chosen self-interest when forced to wear uniforms and trained for conformity and ambition at school? Is it our choice to be manipulated to feel exalted when we do better at exams than our friends and humiliated when we do worse? Is it self-indulgence that has us spending our precious youth memorising dead facts and figures for regurgitation, supposedly establishing our level of ‘brightness’? Is there any essential difference between the way we are manipulated to become cogs in the educational machine, the corporate machine and the war machine?

Sobering perspective is supplied by cultural anthropologist John Bodley’s description of the methods employed by Western colonisers to undermine traditional cultures:

In many countries schooling has been the prime coercive instrument of cultural modification and has proven to be a highly effective means of destroying self-esteem, fostering new needs, creating dissatisfactions, and generally disrupting traditional cultures. As representatives of the prestige and power of the dominant culture, teachers deliberately assume positions of authority over students, overshadowing parents and traditional tribal leaders…3

Training us for ambition is about far more than just boredom and stress. Every moment in the classroom, the child’s natural prioritisation of the present moment is, in effect, outlawed. No choice is allowed – the childish love of play must be sacrificed to the educational Higher Cause. We quickly learn that we will suffer serious, escalating consequences if we follow our instincts. This powerfully undermines our ability to be sensitive to, and to follow, our feelings, our true self-interest. Time and again, we are taught to reject our natural inclinations – to reject what we find most fascinating and enjoyable for the sake of what we find utterly boring. We learn that we cannot safely be in the moment, that the price of respecting our feelings is too high – we must prioritise the future and the opinions of authority.

Our capacity to feel and respect our feelings is subject to relentless attack. If we don’t know what we feel, we don’t know what we want. And if we don’t know what we want, state-corporate interests are free to decide for us.

As the leftist poster says, ‘If you liked school, you’ll LOVE work.’ Education dovetails perfectly as we replace black or grey school uniforms with black or grey work suits, pack ourselves into trains, buses and cars to perform as cogs in corporate machines, allowed an hour off for lunch and four or five weeks ‘annual leave’ (extra ‘leave’, possibly paid, or not, if we suffer a ‘blighty one’). All of this we hate, but we have already been trained to do what we hate, to perform relentlessly boring tasks at school, to override our internal opposition, which we cannot properly feel.

We are also not following our self-interest when we sit in front of the TV to watch corporate entertainment filtered of all but the most banal, advertiser-friendly content. As media analysts Michael Jacobson and Laurie Ann Mazur noted, our freedom extends to watching ‘TV programmes that flow seamlessly into commercials, avoiding controversy, lulling us into submission, like an electronic tranquillizer.’ 4  The last thing advertisers want is for us to be so interested in the programme we’re watching that we’re lost in thought during the ad break.

It is not you or I who decides that happiness lies in high status work facilitating high status consumption, any more than we decide it is ‘glorious’ to die in battle. Again, Bodley reflects our own contemporary experience:

One of the most significant obstacles blocking native economic “progress” was the ability of the natives to find satisfactions at relatively low and stable consumption levels… Outsiders quickly realised that if tribal peoples could somehow be made to reject the material satisfactions provided by their own cultures and if they could be successfully urged to desire more and more industrial goods, they would become far more willing participants in the cash economy.5

As late as 1963, applied anthropologist Ward Goodenough described Western strategies to undermine the contentment found in traditional cultures:

The problem that faces development agents is to find ways of stimulating in others a desire for change in such a way that the desire is theirs independent of further prompting from outside. Restated, the problem is one of creating in another a sufficient dissatisfaction with his present condition of self so that he wants to change it. This calls for some kind of experience that leads him to reappraise his self-image and re-evaluate his self-esteem.6

This is the same process of manufacturing discontent by which you and I are targeted. US psychologist Tim Kasser commented:

Existing scientific research on the value of materialism yields clear and consistent findings. People who are highly focused on materialistic values have lower personal well-being and psychological health than those who believe that materialistic pursuits are relatively unimportant. These relationships have been documented in samples of people ranging from the wealthy to the poor, from teenagers to the elderly, and from Australians to South Koreans.7

Where, then, is the freedom that allows us to be considered self-interested, self-centred, self-indulgent? It doesn’t exist. The call for us to sacrifice ourselves thrusts a red-hot poker into a wound of imposed self-neglect that has made us such well-schooled, career-climbing, war-fighting, self-destructive pawns of state policy, corporate profit and, yes, revolutionary fervour.

Our problem is not that we are too indulgent, too selfish. Our problem is that we are not self-centred enough; that we are manipulated, seduced, punished, conformed away from exploring, feeling and respecting our actual self-interest. We are made to seek happiness in very specific ways by systems of power that need us to be unhappy, discontented, and even to die in wars, in ways that benefit them.

This has been disastrous, not simply because our real self-interest has been hijacked, but because our whole society has become oblivious to a buried treasure of human experience found at the end of an authentic exploration of self-interest. It is a truth that has been understood by cultures around the word for millennia, but is almost completely unknown to our primitive Western corporate monoculture.

The Man With No Skin

What happens when we are genuinely self-interested, self-centred? What happens when we don’t subordinate self-awareness to external pressures?

Consider the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, unique among 18th century Enlightenment philosophes in that he retained extreme sensitivity and respect for his feelings. Rousseau radically bucked the trend promoting ‘man’s indifference to himself’.

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who knew Rousseau well, described him as ‘one of the most singular of all human beings… his extreme sensibility of temper is his torment’; ‘he is like a man who were stripped not only of his clothes but of his skin’.8

Rousseau felt every pleasure, every pain, every delight and despair, deeply. It was this acuity of awareness that helped him uncover a hidden secret of the human condition.

Remarkably, Rousseau’s final work, Reveries of The Solitary Walker, written in the two years before his death in 1778, contains a basic guide to what amounts to ‘zazen’ meditation (‘zazen’ sounds esoteric but literally means ‘just sitting, doing nothing’). As clearly as any Eastern mystic, Rousseau began by describing the inevitable failure of ordinary happiness:

Thus our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment; I doubt whether any of us knows the meaning of lasting happiness. Even in our keenest pleasures there is scarcely a single moment of which the heart could truthfully say: “Would that this moment could last for ever!” And how can we give the name of happiness to a fleeting state which leaves our hearts still empty and anxious, either regretting something that is past or desiring something that is yet to come?9

Readers might like to conduct this thought experiment for themselves! Looking back, it is clear that even our happiest moments are tainted by fear of change, failure and loss.

Attainment of some object of desire gives momentary pleasure, then, but our minds remain ‘empty and anxious’ – we quickly latch onto some other person, experience or object ‘yet to come’, and desire reaches out into this new, alluring distance. The distance is alluring because it provides us with a blank or half-empty canvas on which we can project our idealised fantasies. Desire is endless, insatiable, because the mind quickly tires of reality, but not of fantasy, our inexhaustible dream fuel.

Two and a half centuries before ‘mindfulness’ became the rage, Rousseau wrote:

Foresight! Foresight which is ever bidding us look forward into the future, a future which in many cases we shall never reach. Here is the real source of all our troubles! How mad it is for so short-lived a creature as man to look forward into a future which he rarely attains, while he neglects the present which is his!… We no longer live where we are, but where we are not!10

If we reject self-abnegation, self-sacrifice, and investigate how we actually feel, we arrive at the key understanding that it is impossible to satisfy a mind that ‘neglects the present’, that values only what it does not have. Corporate culture being, of course, the ultimate manifestation and exploitation of this phenomenon.

Ironically, we are so readily seduced by calls to sacrifice ourselves precisely because the mind is ever ready to sacrifice the devalued present – all the ‘uninteresting’ stuff that we have here and now – for some fantasy-hyped future. We spend our lives aspiring to the next moment, sure to be a ‘glorious adventure’, even if that means fighting and dying on some distant battlefield.

Along with mystics like Buddha, Bodhidharma, Chuang Tzu, Ikkyu, Jesus, Kabir, Krishna, Lao-tse, Mansoor, Meera, Nanak, Patanjali, Tolle and Yoka, the ultra-sensitive Rousseau came to understand that all attempts to find happiness in external pleasures and ‘success’ fail. The end-point of self-aware self-indulgence, he found, is a great turning point – a turning within. But what on earth might we find there?

As we all know, our standard search for external happiness generates a torrent of mental activity: we must forever plan, scheme, worry and strive to shorten the distance between ourselves and our ever-retreating, ever-changing goals. Having attained one desire, another instantly pops up on the horizon and mental activity surges again.

But when, time after time, this exhausting campaign fails, when the futility of the effort becomes undeniable because we can see that every attainment ‘leaves our hearts still empty and anxious’, mental activity can start to subside. This may happen naturally as the search for external happiness is met with disillusionment and disaster, or it can be consciously encouraged through meditation, by paying careful attention to our thoughts and feelings. We cannot think and feel at the same time – repeatedly focusing on emotions in our chest, for example, interrupts and slows compulsive thinking.

As mental chatter subsides, gaps start to appear between thoughts. In even the briefest moments when this happens, in tiny silences between thought, something completely unexpected occurs – deep delight arises from nowhere for no apparent reason. This is not just happiness; it is ecstasy, a bliss saturated with love for everyone and everything. Even a sliver of this ‘light’ is devastating, but the potential exists to experience an inner supernova. Kabir said:

As if thousands of suns have arisen in me… I cannot count them, the light is so dazzling.

Rousseau discovered this phenomenon simply by paying close attention to his suffering and happiness:

But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. Such is the state which I often experienced in my solitary reveries on the Island of Saint-Pierre…11

As Osho commented, this experience is the revolutionary moment in the life of a human being:

Now you are nothing but misery. Those who are cunning, they go on deceiving themselves that they are not miserable, or they go on hoping that something will change, something will happen, and they will achieve at the end of life – but you are miserable.

You can create faces, deceptions, false faces; you can go on smiling continuously, but deep down you know you are in misery. That is natural. Confined in thoughts you will be in misery. Unconfined, beyond thoughts – alert, conscious, aware, but unclouded by thoughts – you will be joy, you will be bliss.12

This is why Jesus made the extraordinary comment that has mystified non-meditators for millennia: ‘Resist not evil’. It is not that turning the other cheek, or giving someone your cloak as well as your shirt, is best practice for managing bullies and petty criminals.

The point, as Jesus also said, is that ‘The kingdom of heaven lies within’ – the experience described above. If a choice is possible, it is better to go the extra mile to avoid conflict so that we can remain centred in this inner love and bliss. When we resist external ‘evil’, we inevitably generate great storms of thought in ourselves and others, which obstruct love and bliss in them and us. The remarkable truth is that, for all its practical usefulness, thought is subtly dehumanising, and torrential thought is deeply dehumanising.

The best measure of the extent to which our society is truly civilised is the number of loving feelings in our hearts, not the number of loving, just, egalitarian thoughts in our heads. Thought is hot air. Disconnected from feeling, it means almost nothing.

‘Ehi-Passiko’ – ‘Come And See!’

The central claim is not a fantasy, not an invention; it is a simple but almost completely hidden truth: confined in thoughts we will be in misery; unconfined, beyond thoughts, we will be in ‘complete and perfect happiness’.

This, not collapsing on the sofa with junk food, is the end-point of self-aware self-centredness: a limitless source of loving kindness that naturally overflows to others in what we say and do.

It is a truth that can be known only through feeling, through the heart, when we are free to experience and respect our emotions, unhindered by calls to sacrifice ‘trivial’, ‘indulgent’ personal concerns to ‘duty’, ‘service’, the ‘national interest’, the ‘Fatherland’, the ‘Revolution’.

Of course, thinking is needed; of course, working for the benefit of others, and even subordinating our welfare for others, can be a beautiful thing; but the most beautiful thing of all is when we subordinate everything to a profound investigation into what does and does not make us miserable and blissful.

Without this investigation, we may end up doing more harm than good. As Norman Mailer said:

I think that the only way socialism can work is if there is a religious core. A belief that there is some larger sense of things.

Otherwise, Mailer argued, ‘you just get the play of egos’. 13

Alas, trying ‘to make the world a better place’ is a prime way of winning attention, applause, respect, even fame outside the corporate ‘mainstream’. If the rich and famous feel ‘special’, what to say of ‘altruists’, so heroic that they subordinate their personal concerns, risk their very lives, for the welfare of others?

If our motivation is attention, applause, we may look like a counter-force to ego-driven, state-corporate capitalism, but, in fact, we may be a version of the same madness, almost a kind of niche marketing. Like corporate executives, we will compete furiously with the rival activists we are supposed to be supporting, tear them down at the first opportunity for utterly trivial reasons (rational disagreement on key issues is another matter entirely). Above all, we will be highly vulnerable to the seductions of a ‘mainstream’ that has the power to bestow far more respectability, fame and fortune.

Rooted in our heads rather than our hearts, we will be miserable and spreading that misery around us. Regardless of what virtue we claim as our motive, our first priority will be, not other people, but the expansion of our egoic empire. We will contribute to the building of a ‘righteous’ but ugly world where barely a drop of genuine love and happiness is found.

To those so keen for us to sacrifice ourselves for a Higher Cause we can answer that there is no Higher Cause than the pursuit of self-aware self-interest because this is the only way to become a genuinely blissful, genuinely loving human being. And only when we become genuinely blissful and loving are we able to resist the calls to sacrifice ourselves on some distant educational, corporate, or actual battlefield.

The insatiable, tragicomic craving of the Trumpian ego – to have more, to be more, to spend more, to consume more, to be applauded more – can never be transcended on the level of the mind. Only when we experience genuine happiness, a loving bliss with no taint of suffering, do the baubles and toys of ego start to lose their appeal.

As Buddha said, there is no need to take his or anyone else’s word for it: ‘Ehi-passiko’, ‘Come and see!’ Try it for yourself – all is not as it seems.

  1. Fromm, Man For Himself, Ark, 1986, p. 248, original emphasis.
  2. Miller, For Your Own Good – Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2002, e-book version.
  3. John Bodley, Victims of Progress, Mayfield Publishing, 1982, p. 113, my emphasis.
  4. Jacobson and Mazur, Marketing Madness, Westview Press, 1995, pp. 43-44.
  5. Bodley, op.cit, p. 131.
  6. Bodley, pp. 111-112, my emphasis.
  7. Kasser, The High Price Of Materialism, MIT Press, 2002, p. 22.
  8. John Hope Mason, The Indispensable Rousseau, Quartet Books, 1979, p. 5.
  9. Rousseau, Reveries of The Solitary Walker, Penguin Classics, 1979, p. 88.
  10. Hope Mason, op.cit, pp. 188-9.
  11. Rousseau, op.cit, p. 88, my emphasis.
  12. Osho, The Book Of Secrets, e-book version.
  13. Norman Mailer, at a talk in Shaftesbury Avenue, the Guardian, 23 September 1997.
The post “Our Indifference To Ourselves”: Beyond The “Virtue” Of Self-Sacrifice (Part 2) first appeared on Dissident Voice.