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to/from Buncombe re Iraq

 
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joe emersberger



Joined: 24 Jan 2004
Posts: 513
Location: Windsor, Onatrio, Canada

Post Post subject: to/from Buncombe re Iraq Reply with quote

Mr. Buncombe:

In a response to Medialens that asked you why you did not mention Halliday or Von Sponeck in an article about the oil-for-foos programme you said that you didn't have enough time or space.

I commend you for at least resonding to these formidable critics, but the kindest thing I can say about your response is that it is an insult to anyone's intelligence.

"Dennis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, two formers heads of the program, resigned in protest several years ago saying the West was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.They said the funds made available for Iraqis were completely inadequate and that billions of dollars of orders for desperately needed supplies were blocked by the US."

There you go: 55 words that took me lesss than a minute to write.

Regards,

Joe Emersberger




mr emersberger,

thanks for your letter and your demonstration of concise and quick writing.
i shall take your point on board and - as i have said to others - endeavour
to try give the history of the OFF programme some more coverage in future
articles.

on a broader point, i wonder, however, whether the sentence you have
proposed would have satisfied the media lens editors, who you consider
formidable critics but whom i increasingly consider to be less interested
in open and honest discussion than simply scoring easy points. i wonder why
none of the 25 or so stories i have written over the last month - a number
of which i am told were posted on the media lens message board and
commended - were not treated to a media alert, for instance. is that
because these articles - on topics ranging from fbi whistleblowers, false
claims by bush and his senior cabinet, far-right colleges in the US - would
have shown their base premise - that the corporate-owned media is
"incapable of, or unwilling to, tell the truth" - to be an incomplete view?

just yesterday in the new statesman the media lens editors wrote - from the
safety of their desks in the UK - about the mainstream media's "failure"
over fallujah. nowhere in the piece did it mention a number of articles -
including one by my colleague patrick cockburn who came under heavy fire as
he tried to get into fallujah - which interviewed civilian survivors and
doctors who spoke of the huge number of civilians being killed. why not?
was it perhaps, because this would not suit their polemic?

i am little doubtful, therefore, whether the single sentence you're
suggesting would have achieved very much. even so, so i'm sorry you think
that my response was an insult to your intelligence. it was an honest
answer.

please get back to me if i can be of further help.

best,

andrew buncombe


Mr. Buncombe:

Thanks for replying.

You write "i wonder, however, whether the sentence you have
proposed would have satisfied the media lens editors, who you consider
formidable critics but whom i increasingly consider to be less interested
in open and honest discussion than simply scoring easy points."

I doubt it would have satisfied Medialens. It wouldn't have satisfied me, but it would have been infinitely better than no mention at all. You are right that Medialens is scoring easy points by showing that even the best media outlets (Independent, Guradian, NewStatesman) fail to draw appropriate attention to the crimes for which we are responsible. That is why we don't read the exchanges between Medialens and the media where they should appear - in the pages the Independent, Guardian, Observer, etc...Instead they appear on the Medialens website. Doesn't that tell you who is "not interested in open and honest discussion"?

You say that the articles you have published over the last month "on topics ranging from fbi whistleblowers, false claims by bush and his senior cabinet" have revealed that the "base premise" of Medialens is "an incomplete view". You say the premise is that the corporate owned media is "incapable of, or unwilling to, tell the truth".
Medialens has stated that the mainstream press is unable and unwilling to tell the truth about the "the real causes and extent of many of the problems facing us". The real cause being the "inevitably corrupting effects of free market forces operating on and through media corporations seeking profit in a society dominated by corporate power." I read the Independent regularly and I don't think I've seen an article this month by anyone that addressed that. It isn't that the media can't tell the truth about anything. Articles about whistleblowers are not without value. They would have been much more valuable BEFORE the war, but they don't get to the heart of the matter.
You say "just yesterday in the new statesman the media lens editors wrote - from the safety of their desks in the UK - about the mainstream media's "failure"
over fallujah. nowhere in the piece did it mention a number of articles -
including one by my colleague patrick cockburn who came under heavy fire as
he tried to get into fallujah - which interviewed civilian survivors and
doctors who spoke of the huge number of civilians being killed. why not?
was it perhaps, because this would not suit their polemic?"

The point Medialens made in their alerts about Falluga is the one Chomsky and Herman made in Manufacturing Constent about worthy and unworthy victims. It does not suit our ruling class for the victims of US brutality to be covered with the same sympathy and detail as would the victims of official enemies - the people who died in Madrid recently, the victims of 9-11, or the victims of Saddam Hussein (after 1991). That does not mean that nothing true or of value is ever reported. How many left wing readers does Robert Fisk bring the Independent? The exception doesn't disprove the rule.

Incidentally I think your challenge to Medialens was quite fair: "given the restrictions imposed on the media by their corporate ownership, what is the alternative for a truly independent media organization, not dependent on advertising, that is sufficiently funded to allow in-depth, daily coverage of the news and to meet the considerable costs of sending people to places such as iraq?"

I understand Medialens is about to publish an answer, but I can't resist answering myself.

The media, and the economy within which it functions, must be placed under democratic control. Few people would suggest that during elections one-person-one-vote should be replaced with one-dollar-one-vote (or pound in the UK); yet the way capitalism allocates resources is based on such a principle. Few people would say that we should abolish democracy and replace it with dictatorship; yet the vast majority of us submit to dictatorial rule in the workplace. Michael Albert published a very well received book recently "Parecon: Life After Capitalism" that describes how the democratic process could be extended to the economy. Steven Shalom has posted some work on Znet describing how the Polity may be reformed. Ideas are out there. Do you think the Independent will be debating Albert or Shalom about them anytime soon?

Regards,
Joe Emersberger
-----------------
Forwarded Message:


Subj: Re: Scandal over sanctions
Date: 4/24/04 12:39:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time

From: A.Buncombe@independent.co.uk
Sender: A.Buncombe@independent.co.uk
To: Jemersberger@aol.com
Sun Apr 25, 2004 3:26 am
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joe emersberger



Joined: 24 Jan 2004
Posts: 513
Location: Windsor, Onatrio, Canada

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

hello again joe,

i am forwarding you the copy of an email i sent to medialens last summer,
which essentially lays out my view of the corporate media and its
limitaitions and - i think - addresses some of the point you raise. once
again, pls feel free to get back to me if this does not answer yr
questions.

best,

andrew buncombe


Dear Davids,

Thank-you for the reply to my recent letter regarding your alert 'Biting
the Hand that Feeds'. From the flurry of emails I have received from your
readers it's clear that the ability of the mainstream media to think for
itself and avoid institutional bias is an issue that interests and concerns
a lot of people. I am writing to you now largely as a result of that
interest and while I have tried to respond individually to those people who
emailed me, I apologise to those who did not get a direct reply.

It strikes me that your view of the mainstream media and your conviction of
the 'inevitably distorting effects of market forces' with which they are
inextricably linked, relies on a rather crude Marxist analysis. Your belief
- drawn, as you say, heavily from Chomsky and Herman's 'propaganda model' -
that journalists working for the mainstream media are 'ideological
fanatics' who are only there because they hold the 'correct views' and are
incapable of thinking outside the narrow confines of the system in which
they operate, overstates the capability of capital and its attendant
philosophy to reproduce itself.

It's a rather depressing world view - reminiscent of Althusser, who few
people now take seriously - and ultimately it's not that helpful because it
doesn't allow any analytical wiggle room to differentiate between various
elements of the mainstream media.

Are we really all just 'placemen' of the system, fulfilling a role of which
we are unaware, but nevertheless will inevitably act out? In your view, for
instance, someone working for the Guardian or the Observer would seem to be
ultimately no different to someone working for the Daily Mail or Fox News
Channel. The work they do achieves the same result: the reproduction of an
existing ideological consensus that disingenuously uses dissent, celebrates
dissent even, as a way of masking its own crushing power. So 'true'
criticism never gets a look in and 'real' alternative viewpoints are never
heard.

Let me again say that I don't think the situation in regard to bias, story
selection or story promotion within the British and US media is even close
to ideal. We could both cite endless examples of stories that have been
spun, hyped, ignored, got wrong, spiked or even fabricated to suit the
editorial whims of a particular organisation. There is no such thing as a
mainstream news organisation - and probably not any of your beloved
'alternative news sites' - that is entirely 'independent'.

That should be the starting point of our conversation. I realise that The
Independent, for instance, is unlikely to biting my hand off with
breathless anticipation if I wanted to write a highly critical article
about its owner, Tony O'Reilly.

But does that mean that everything else the paper prints cannot be trusted
or cannot be believed? Does it mean that the paper is unwilling to upset
advertisers or government officials or sources, or any of the others
constraining influences cited by Chomsky? I simply don't think it does. I
think that what it means is that if you want to read a story criticising
Tony O'Reilly, you should read the Guardian or a paper other than The
Independent. That's just common sense. No-one pretends that a solitary
media outlet should be someone's sole source of news: that's what a
pluralist press is so important and that's why it is correct that the FCC
plans to allow media groups to expand their ownership in the US, is finally
being challenged by parts of Congress.

Many of your readers, for instance, mentioned a number of 'alternative news
sites' - where 'I would get the real news'. Znet - which one of you write
for - was among those mentioned. And what do I find when I get to these web
sites? What I don't find, by and large, is any original reporting, or
information or content gathering. By and large I find a series of links to
stories published in the mainstream press, including very often, The
Independent.

I presume these links are included because people find them interesting,
insightful and perhaps even reliable. Perhaps they are there because they
support the views and opinions of the person who has set up the news site.
(But that wouldn't be very independent, would it? Would those same
mainstream sources be quoted if they published an article that did not
support that world view?)

My own take on it, is that the system in which we operate is less
hermetically sealed than you would have us believe. I believe there is real
variety within the mainstream press - why for instance, do your alternative
sites never carry links to stories published by the Daily Mail or broadcast
by Fox? How does the propaganda model account for this discrepancy?

How too, does your model account for the current scrutiny that has been
taking place over the fabricated 'evidence' used by the British and
American governments as they made their case for war? According to your
model, we would be reading nothing of this in the press, and the only thing
we would hear about is the government's line that 'Regime change was worth
it regardless of whether we find WMD'. Why is the 'servile' media choosing
to dedicate so much time and energy on this issue? ( I fear you might tell
me, that this simply helps achieve the image of a free press. I dismiss
that, entirely.)

I find it sad that you think journalists working in the mainstream are only
there because they think the 'right' thoughts and say the 'right' things.
It is certainly true there are constraints imposed by the very nature of
working for a mainstream newspaper - deadlines, the length of an article,
the format of news - but that doesn't mean people don't think for
themselves.

A small but hopefully telling example: last week, while in Washington, Tony
Blair's people were talking up the chances of getting concessions for the
British prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Some reports you will have read
talked of 'high hopes' within Downing Street, etc. My assignment from the
news desk of The Independent were for '600 words'. That was it - no
discussion about what 'angle' might be required. Now, anyone who has been
following the story of the Guantanamo Bay prisoners knows that the British
government couldn't care less about the nine Brits down in Cuba. The piece
I wrote was very sceptical in tone and questioned whether this was any more
than PR stunt by Blair. Now, who was pulling my strings then? Why was I
given the freedom to write what I felt was the actual situation when there
was clearly a viable alternative 'angle' for me to choose?

It seems that, unlike many on the right, you don't grasp the way in which
ideas compete and fight for circulation within the forum of the media. Here
in the US, the right has the Fox News Channel. The view of MediaLens seems
to be that the only option for those on the left is to leave the system and
give it up all together because it's a lost cause.

Against that hermetic vision of a world where 'authentic' dissent is
impossible, I would counterpose a vision of the media as contested, open,
terrain. This terrain is not flat. Think of Yeovil's famous old sloping
football pitch. I accept that in the media, unorthodox, alternative views
are playing uphill all the time as they attempt to achieve a place in
public discourse. Of course power is real. Of course ownership counts. Of
course an existing consensus limits the possibilities of what is usually
said by the mainstream. But the limits are flexible, moving and negotiated.
That is how history happens and societies change and can be changed.

'We are faced with a kind of Pascal's wager: assume the worst and it will
surely arrive: commit oneself to the struggle for freedom and justice, and
it's cause may be advanced.' [Noam Chomsky. Deterring Democracy]

Few of us may manage to make truly serious advances. But to stop trying -
as you would have us do - is the worst of all outcomes.

Best regards,

Andrew Buncombe
The Independent
(Washington DC)

___________________________________________________________

Andrew:

I remember your reply to Medialens: again from their website, not from the Independent where this debate cannot be read.

Just a few points. You say "The view of MediaLens seems
to be that the only option for those on the left is to leave the system and
give it up all together because it's a lost cause."

Obviously not or they wouldn't write to you or encourage others to do so. Medialens encourages people to seek out alternative sources of news and analysis and then use it pressure the media to do a better job, not to passivley consume what the mainstream press serves up to us.

You write "Of course power is real. Of course ownership counts. Of
course an existing consensus limits the possibilities of what is usually
said by the mainstream. But the limits are flexible, moving and negotiated.
That is how history happens and societies change and can be changed."

I see the limts as being much more restrictive than you do. I think the work Medialens has done, for example, showing the way the Independent has failed to expose the US/UK role in murdering hundreds of thousands of Iraqis is quite devastating. The fact that their critiques and debates with members of your newspaper are nowhere to be found in the Independent illustrates that the limits imposed by ownership, avertisers, etc.. are much more restrictive than you accept.

Medialens is attempting to move those limits.

You write "Many of your readers, for instance, mentioned a number of 'alternative newssites' - where 'I would get the real news'. Znet - which one of you write
for - was among those mentioned. And what do I find when I get to these web
sites? What I don't find, by and large, is any original reporting, or
information or content gathering. By and large I find a series of links to
stories published in the mainstream press, including very often, The
Independent."

What you find in Znet is a lot of information the mainstream press has often reported but then failed emphasize adequately or incorporate into its analysis. For example the findings of Scott Ritter regarding Iraqi WMD or the statements of Hans Von Sponeck and Dennis Halliday.regarding US/UK responsibility for the impact of the sanctions on Iraq. Dissent writers do not ignore the maintream press. They often use information that mainstream outlets publish but cannot or will not emphasize. They also dig into public records and other research that the mainstream press does not publish when the findings reveal too much about our ruling classes.
Mon Apr 26, 2004 5:05 am
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joe emersberger



Joined: 24 Jan 2004
Posts: 513
Location: Windsor, Onatrio, Canada

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

hello again joe,

i am glad you read my letter from last summer so that i don't have to
reierate my view that the corporate-owned media or, indeed, any media, is
only going to provide a limited view of what is going on in the world. i am
happy to accept that you and i have a different view of how
hermetically-sealed the limits imposed by corporate-ownership have to be.

i do feel, however, that for all the positive work medialens does, it does
not accurately reflect the amount of insightful, penetrative reporting that
is done by those of us working in the corporate-owned media. my earlier
point to bears repeating - of all the articles i wrote in the last month -
just one is mentioned in the media alert. and this was a hurriedly-written
400 wrd piece that i quickly filed before rushing to take a friend to the
airport. it was hardly reflective of the bulk of what i have written. [the
other piece i spent most of the morning that day was about an image of bush
produced by the American Leftist website using the faces of dead US
soldiers]

i agree with you about the bias shown towards various 'victims'. i think
there is a huge amount of racism and assumed cultural superiority involved
[thou. think of guantanamo bay, think of the difference in the way in which
jose padilla, born in puerton rican-born and black, and john walker lindh,
white and born in california- both of them so-called American taliban -
have been treated both by the state and the media.

i have pasted at the bottom a story I wrote this time last year when i was
in Iraq - i actaully wrote this on the very first day i got into the
country (when i sneaked across the border posing as a haliburton employee:
journalists who were not "embedded" were actively kept out by the british,
US and kuwaiti forces).

i spent quite a lot of time in iraq in hospitals, speaking with doctors and
victims of the US/UK invasion and writing about them. this is a somewhat
longwinded way of saying that i do not believe we always get it right, very
often we don't. but i think that those who wish to criticise and comment
ought to reflect the balance a litte more accurately rather than be so
quick to condemn.

once again, best wishes.

andy buncombe






Andrew Buncombe: The priority here is clear: Oil comes before people

28 March 2003

Larry Flak looked as if he had been born to put out burning oil fires,
which was just as well because 30 yards behind him smoke and flames were
erupting into the sky from a roaring wellhead. He estimated the temperature
of the fire to be 1,700F.

"This one's not that hot, actually, because it's not burning cleanly," he
said with a long Texan drawl. "The one you passed back there oil and gas
burning together I'd say that's around 3,000F. That's enough to vaporise
steel."

Mr Flak, 48, who has been fighting oil fires from Nigeria to the Falkland
Islands for 30 years, is part of a team whose job is to tackle the fires
and plug the wells, seven of which are burning in southern Iraq after being
set ablaze by retreating Iraqi soldiers.

The team's motto, said the team leader, Brian Krause, was: "They light 'em,
we fight 'em." But it is not just about putting out fires. The work that Mr
Flak and his colleagues, from the Houston-based company Boots and Coots,
were doing yesterday in the Rumaila oilfields close to the Kuwaiti border
reveals much about the priorities of America and Britain as they seek to
oust Saddam Hussein. Oil, it seems, and not people, comes first.

Iraq has the world's
second-largest reserves of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia. The country
has a minimum of 112 billion barrels and with sufficient investment it
could be producing six million barrels a day within five years. While this
American-led war may not have been driven by oil, it is oil that will pay
for Iraq's reconstruction, and Washington and London are taking no chances
with the security of this precious commodity. These oilfields were one of
the very first parts of southern Iraq secured by Allied troops after they
marched across the border from Kuwait.

Furthermore, Washington had clearly been planning for this months ago. Mr
Flak, dressed in red overalls and a white hard-hat, said his company had
been in negotiations with the American government since September over
coming to Iraq to douse fires.

Setting a wellhead alight was a simple enough trick to achieve, he
explained. The oil from the Zubair formation, 9,000ft below the surface,
was light crude easy to ignite, especially if the wellhead was packed
with explosives. "It would probably light if you threw a match at it," he
said.

But putting the fires out is not so easy. The flames have to be doused
using water and the wellhead then plugged and fitted with a valve. The
team's equipment stood at hand
new, shiny mechanised machinery, forklifts and big water tanks that could
have held thousands of gallons.

Today they are due to get the vital water from the Kuwaitis, said Mr
Krause. "They have been very good."

Had they been able to hear them, the people of the nearby town of Safwan
would have been delighted by Mr Krause's words. They have not had running
water for a week. For while Rumaila contains riches beyond belief, Safwan
10 miles away across a desert littered with burnt-out vehicles and dead
dogs simply contains angry, poor Iraqis whose water and power supply was
destroyed when the Allied forces advanced. They have been living on
handouts and rainwater ever since.

Yesterday afternoon, on the outskirts of town, two women were scooping up
dirty water from a puddle and pouring it into a bucket fashioned from a
cooking oil tin. They did so as naturally as one might toss items into a
shopping trolley at the supermarket.

In the middle of the town, on a junction close to the mosque, a crowd
gathered not entirely aggressive but angry and frustrated and in the mood
for answers. A quietly spoken man, the English teacher from the school,
translated for some of the others when they learnt they had a British
visitor.

"They want to know why nothing bad is ever said about America and Britain,"
he said, his voice a hush. "Why do the soldiers treat us roughly at the
check-points? Why did they shoot two young boys this morning they were 12
or 13 years old. Why is it only bad things said about Iraqis?"

Another man, who gave his name as Saad, was equally direct. "Saddam Hussein
was good," he declared without being asked. "Last week there was food,
water, electricity. Now there is nothing. I am not happy. America and
Britain why this? Last week was good. We could sleep at night, but
not now."

What could one tell the Iraqis gathered at a street corner, children
persistently asking for water or something to eat? That most people in
Britain were opposed to the war, that millions had marched through London
to send that message, that all that oil in the desert belonged to them and
that the nice Mr Blair and Mr Bush were "protecting it for the Iraqi
people"? "People are angry," said the teacher. "People are scared." It was
a point he did not need to make.

On the way out of town a seemingly endless convoy of American and British
troops roared passed in their armoured vehicles, weapons drawn. The people
of Safwan eyed them as they passed. The children waved and called out for
water.
Tue Apr 27, 2004 2:25 am
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