Media Lens - 2013 News analysis and media criticism Wed, 24 Oct 2018 00:29:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb An Awkward Silence - Burying The Hersh Revelations Of Obama’s Syrian Deceit

By David Cromwell

'All governments lie', the US journalist I.F. Stone once noted, with Iraq the most blatant example in modern times. But Syria is another recent criminal example of Stone's dictum.

An article in the current edition of London Review of Books by Seymour Hersh makes a strong case that US President Obama misled the world over the infamous chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 this year. Hersh is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who exposed the My Lai atrocity committed by American troops in Vietnam and the subsequent cover-up. He also helped bring to public attention the systematic brutality of US soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

After the nerve gas attack at Ghouta, Obama had unequivocally pinned the blame on Syrian President Assad, a propaganda claim that was fervently disseminated around the world by a compliant corporate news media. Following Obama's earlier warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a 'red line', he then declared on US television on September 10, 2013:

'Assad's government gassed to death over a thousand people ...We know the Assad regime was responsible ... And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.'

There was global public opposition to any attack on Syria. But war was only averted when the Americans agreed to a Russian proposal at the UN to dismantle Syria's capability for making chemical weapons.

Based on interviews with US intelligence and military insiders, Hersh now charges that Obama deceived the world in making a cynical case for war. The US president 'did not tell the whole story', says the journalist:

'In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country's civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack.'

Obama did not reveal that American intelligence agencies knew that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had the capability to manufacture considerable quantities of sarin. When the attack on Ghouta took place, 'al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.' Indeed, the 'cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.'

Hersh notes that when he interviewed intelligence and military personnel:

'I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration's assurances of Assad's responsibility a "ruse".'

Hersh continues:

'A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.'

The former official said that this 'distortion' of the facts by the Obama administration 'reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam.'

Hersh adds:

'The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: "The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, 'How can we help this guy' – Obama – 'when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?' "'

Hersh does not actually use the word 'lie' or 'deceive' in his article. But, given the above account, he might as well have done.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Hersh notes that:

'there are an awful lot of people in the government who just were really very, very upset with the way the information about the gas attack took place.'

He makes clear that he is not making any claims for who conducted the sarin attack at Ghouta; he does not know who did it. 'But there's no question my government does not' know either. The essence of the revelations, Hersh emphasises, is that Obama 'was willing to go to war, wanted to throw missiles at Syria, without really having a case and knowing he didn't have much of a case.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Tue, 17 Dec 2013 10:12:12 +0000
The Media's Hypocritical Oath - Mandela And Economic Apartheid

By David Edwards


What does it mean when a notoriously profit-driven, warmongering, climate-killing media system mourns, with one impassioned voice, the death of a principled freedom fighter like Nelson Mandela?

Does it mean that the corporate system has a heart, that it cares? Or does it mean that Mandela's politics, and the mythology surrounding them, are somehow serviceable to power?

Consider, first, that this is what is supposed to be true of professional journalism:

'Gavin Hewitt, John Simpson, Andrew Marr and the rest are employed to be studiously neutral, expressing little emotion and certainly no opinion; millions of people would say that news is the conveying of fact, and nothing more.' (Andrew Marr, My Trade - A Short History of British Journalism, Macmillan, 2004, p.279)

Thus, Andrew Marr, then BBC political editor, offering professional journalism's version of the medical maxim, 'First, do no harm'. First, do no bias.

The reality is indicated by Peter Oborne's comment in the Telegraph:

'There are very few human beings who can be compared to Jesus Christ. Nelson Mandela is one... It is hard to envisage a wiser ruler.'

Responding to 850 viewers who had complained that the BBC 'had devoted too much airtime' to Mandela's death, James Harding, the BBC's director of news, also expressed little emotion and certainly no opinion when he declared Mandela 'the most significant statesman of the last 100 years, a man who defined freedom, justice, reconciliation, forgiveness'.

In other words, the corporate media had once again abandoned its famed Hypocritical Oath in affirming a trans-spectrum consensus. As ever, a proposition is advanced as indisputably true, the evidence so overwhelming that journalists simply have to ditch 'balance' to declare the obvious.

The motive is always said to be some pressing moral cause: national solidarity and security at home, opposition to tyranny and genocide abroad. In these moments, the state-corporate system persuades the public of its fundamental humanity, rationality and compassion. But in fact this 'compassion' is always driven by realpolitik and groupthink.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Fri, 13 Dec 2013 08:42:15 +0000
Endless Stalemate: How Fossil Fuel Interests Are Killing Climate Action

By David Cromwell

The devastation wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has led to heart-wrenching scenes of human suffering, with the death toll now put at over 5,000 and likely to rise still further. Yeb Sano, the head of the Philippines climate delegation, gave a moving speech at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, linking the typhoon to global warming, and then went on a hunger strike which would last, he said, 'until we stop this madness'.

Sadly, the madness looks set to continue if we recognise that the corporate media is an integral part of the problem: pulverising us with corporate advertising to encourage increased levels of consumption and planetary resource depletion, while averting our gaze from the root cause of the climate problem; namely, corporate-led global capitalism.

News reports and editorials were ultra-cautious not to link Typhoon Haiyan directly to climate change; either not mentioning climate change at all, or providing the worn-out disclaimer that individual weather events cannot be attributed to global warming. But as Kevin Trenberth, senior climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said last year:

'The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.' 

Climate scientist Peter Gleick noted that data in the form of 'unusually high sea levels and warm temperatures' supported the claim that climate change had influenced Typhoon Haiyan. 

Peter Hart, a media analyst with Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, emphasised the point that mattered:

'There is no way that one massive hurricane will be stamped "Created by Climate Change," while another would be considered a "normal" hurricane.

'These catastrophes are occurring, and will continue to occur, in a climate that has been undeniably altered. Waiting for the "real" climate change-caused storms to hit before talking about climate change is illogical and irresponsible.'

Sadly, the corporate world, with the corporate media a vital supporting pillar propping up the system, has long shown that it is irresponsible.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Tue, 26 Nov 2013 11:44:54 +0000
Electrified Thought Fences - Narcissism: Real And Imagined

By David Edwards


One of the great tasks of the state-corporate commentariat is to install electrified thought fences between the public and rare voices attempting to challenge the status quo.

Dissidents are attacked from ostensibly noble positions opposing fascism, genocide, sexism and selfishness. The smears are empowered by the fact that they target an opponent's reputation with ugly-looking labels that nobody really understands.

For example, no-one in fact knows at what point (if any) honest disagreement morphs into the Thought Crime 'genocide denial'. But if enough pundits shriek with sufficient conviction and disgust that they know, many will believe them.

The mix of feigned outrage and genuine confusion deters neutrals from challenging the smear for fear of appearing foolish, or of being tarred with the same brush. They may instead step back from supporting, or even mentioning, the work of someone that 'everyone knows' is a 'genocide denier', a 'sexist', or a 'narcissist'.

Last month, Joan Smith of the Independent wrote of Russell Brand:

'I don't think you would have to be a passionate feminist to conclude that this guy is (a) a sexist idiot and (b) a narcissist whose ideas about politics are likely to be only slightly more coherent than those of a 13-year-old boy.'

Smith's comment was provoked by Brand's opening sentence in a long article for the New Statesman:

'When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me.'

Numerous commentators denounced this as an unacceptable, sexist remark. But does anyone believe that Brand was seriously claiming he had chosen to edit a national political magazine - incorporating his own impassioned, 5,000-word, political/spiritual essay - in response to a sexual urge? Brand, a comedian, was clearly mocking the all too human tendency to be at least in part guided by 'lower' urges as we pursue 'higher' ideals (classic comedic fare). He was surely also firing a shot at his own ego, at the idea that he was setting himself up as some pompous political leader.

As even Smith observed, 'the "beautiful woman" who asked him is, I assume, the paper's associate editor and current Brand love interest (for want of a better phrase), Jemima Khan'.

Describing Khan as merely the 'current Brand love interest' is itself dismissive and patronising. Perhaps Brand is the 'current Khan love interest'. Or perhaps she is Brand's soul-mate and they are desperately in love. In which case, Brand's comment could be viewed as a loving gesture in her direction, rather than an example of crazed sexual Pavlovianism. One can imagine that if a Clinton or an Obama had delivered a comparable reference to Hillary or Michelle, the press corps would have smiled at this 'human touch' and shifted admiringly in their seats.

Again, most people are unsure exactly what Brand has said, meant and done in his life, just as they are unsure where reasonable references to sexuality end and sexism begins. They are also unsure when comments and actions justify someone being permanently branded (indeed) as thoroughgoing 'sexists'. But Smith seems to know. Many will have deferred to her fierce certainty, particularly given that she describes herself as a feminist, a label which suggests a depth of understanding on these issues which she may or may not in fact possess.

In the New Statesman, Laurie Penny (formerly of the Independent) also took Brand to task for being 'clearly a casual and occasionally vicious sexist'. This sexism, 'It's everywhere' on the left, Penny claimed: 'It's Julian Assange and George Galloway...'

In fact the evidence justifying such damning criticism of Brand, Assange and Galloway is pitifully thin and even fabricated. Consider, after all, that Penny commented:

'Brand is hardly the only leftist man to boast a track record of objectification, of harassment and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs.'

The serious claim that Brand boasts a 'track record' of sexual 'harassment' came with an embedded link to an August 3, 2012 blog on a website called 'Jezebel – Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing,' which reported that Brand had refused to begin filming a musical, 'What About Dick?', 'until he convinced a wardrobe assistant to flash him [her breasts]. He actually delayed production for two hours, haranguing her the entire time'.

The blog continued: 'co-star and comic Billy Connolly took him [Brand] aside for a stern talking-to. So, yup, Hollywood is full of professionals and no breasts are safe. Good Lord, imagine what Brand might have requested from a PA?'

Jezebel's source for the story, to which it linked, was Murdoch's Sun newspaper. Easy to understand why the author of the 'Penny Red' blog chose not to link to the Sun as some kind of credible source.

Worse still, in December 2012, the Independent published this comment by Connolly:

'"That [widely reported] story," says Connolly evenly, "is a total invention. A complete fabrication. It's total bollocks. It never happened. Russell was very well-behaved, and I found him very interesting."'

We wrote to Penny, asking whose account of the story was accurate. She replied on November 6:

'I understand that Connolly refuted the claims - amended the copy 4 days ago to reflect that.'

But '4 days ago' was close to one year after the refutation had been published by the Independent! We pointed out that the claims had not been amended in the version posted on ZNet (where we read them). Penny answered:

'Znet isn't my responsibility - I wasn't consulted before they published.'

A curiously passive reaction from someone who portrays herself as a tub-thumping 'activist'. Penny commented in her New Statesman/ZNet piece:

'The left, because we like to fight from the moral high ground, is particularly bad at confronting its own bullshit.'

Suzanne Moore wrote in the Guardian of Brand:

'He may indeed be a sexist. Or, as he put it earlier this week in these pages, in his most imitable style, may "suffer from the ol' sexism".'

Brand, it seems, is also guilty of unbearable 'braggadocio'.

Moore has previously described Julian Assange as 'the most massive turd'.

In the Sunday Times, Katie Glass described Brand as 'an exhibitionistic narcissist obsessed with celebrity'. (Katie Glass, 'The ultimate Marmite Brand,' Sunday Times, September 22, 2013)

Arguably, one could search long and hard before finding a 'mainstream' politician of whom this could not be said. But of course no corporate journalist would ever dare heft such a ferocious smear in the direction of an Obama, Cameron or Blair.

Glass continued:

'If you did not find his drugtaking, philandering or humour off-putting, you should try him now he has reinvented himself as a yogaaddicted, transcendentalmeditating vegan hippie, and a modern prophet with a Jesus complex.

'We suspect his arrogant bravado, his over-the-top narcissism, even his sex addiction are signs that he is deeply fragile.'

While accusations of 'sexism' are used to smear high-profile dissidents, feigned concern for women's rights is also deployed as a weapon in the propaganda arsenal promoting 'humanitarian intervention'. This played a crucial role in the 2001 demonisation of the Taliban as targets for Western attack.

In 2007, we conducted a Lexis media database search for the terms 'Taliban' and 'women's rights'. Since 1995, there had been 56 mentions in the Guardian. Of these, 36 had appeared since the September 11, 2001 attacks. There was the same number of mentions (nine) in the last three and a half months of 2001 as in the previous three years combined. 90 per cent of the mentions in 2001 occurred after September 11. We found a similar pattern of reporting on gay rights in Afghanistan.

In 2011, concocted tales of Viagra-fuelled mass rape were also used to target the Libyan government for 'intervention' and destruction amid widespread concern about the security of women's rights under Gaddafi. Notice, we are not here for one moment challenging the merits of feminism, but the abuse of feminism by state-corporate propagandists.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Wed, 20 Nov 2013 12:33:43 +0000
Launchpad For A Revolution? Russell Brand, The BBC And Elite Power

By David Cromwell

When someone with interesting things to say is granted a high-profile media platform, it is wise to listen to what is being said and ask why they have been given such a platform. Comedian and actor Russell Brand's 10-minute interview by Jeremy Paxman on BBC's Newsnight last week was given considerable advance publicity and generated enormous reaction on social media and in the press, just as those media gatekeepers who selected Brand to appear would have wished.

The interview was hung on the hook of Brand's guest-editing of a special edition of New Statesman, the 'leftwing' weekly magazine owned by the multimillionaire Mike Danson. In a rambling 4500-word essay mixing political comment, spiritual insight, humour and trademark flowery wordplay, Brand called for a 'total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.'

'Apathy', he said, 'is a rational reaction to a system that no longer represents, hears or addresses the vast majority of people'. He rightly noted that the public is, however, 'far from impotent', adding:

'I take great courage from the groaning effort required to keep us down, the institutions that have to be fastidiously kept in place to maintain this duplicitous order.'

These were all good points. But one of these institutions, unmentioned even once in his long essay, is the BBC.

Last Wednesday, from the safe confines of the Newsnight studio, Jeremy Paxman introduced his Russell Brand interview in archetypal world-weary mode like some kind of venerable patrician inviting a precocious, innocent upstart to join an exalted circle, just for a few moments. Paxman began by characterising Brand's New Statesman essay as a 'combination of distaste for mainstream politics and overweening vanity'. A Newsnight professional then flicked a switch and the prepared interview ran, filmed in an anonymous luxury hotel room. Paxman's line of attack was that Brand couldn't 'even be arsed to vote'. It continued like this:

Jeremy Paxman: 'Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?'

Russell Brand: 'Well I don't get my authority from this pre-existing paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity. "Alternate" means alternative political systems.'

JP: [Sceptical look] 'They being?'

RB: 'Well, I've not invented it yet, Jeremy. I had to do a magazine last week. I had a lot on my plate. But here's the thing it shouldn't do. Shouldn't destroy the planet. Shouldn't create massive economic disparity. Shouldn't ignore the needs of the people. The burden of proof is on the people with the power, not people doing a magazine.'

JP: 'How do you imagine that people get power?'

RB: 'Well, I imagine there are hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations.'

JP: 'They get power by being voted in. You can't even be arsed to vote!'

RB: 'That's quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that change is within the...'

JP: 'In a democracy that's how it works.'

Of course, Paxman's establishment-friendly remarks may be attributed to playing devil's advocate. But it seems clear that Paxman really does believe we live in a functioning democracy. Certainly, the BBC man has an embarrassing faith in the good intentions of our leaders. In 2009 he commented of the Iraq war:

'As far as I personally was concerned, there came a point with the presentation of the so-called evidence, with the moment when Colin Powell sat down at the UN General Assembly and unveiled what he said was cast-iron evidence of things like mobile, biological weapon facilities and the like...

'When I saw all of that, I thought, well, "We know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he's seen the evidence; I haven't."

'Now that evidence turned out to be absolutely meaningless, but we only discover that after the event. So, you know, I'm perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked. Yes, clearly we were.'

It is indeed ironic, then, that the gullible Paxman should cast himself as a hard-bitten realist challenging a well-intentioned but naïve fantasist.

As we've noted before, the notion that we live in a proper democracy is a dangerous illusion maintained by a state-corporate media to which Paxman himself is a prominent contributor. Brand confronted Paxman directly about the limited choice of policies and politicians offered to the public:

'Aren't you bored? Aren't you more bored than anyone? You've been talking year after year, listening to their lies, their nonsense – then it's that one getting in, then it's that one getting in. But the problem continues. Why are we going to continue to contribute to this façade?'

But that was about as far as Brand went. He had nothing to say about the insidious role of the BBC in maintaining support for the crushing economic and political system that is, as Brand stated, destroying the planet, creating massive economic disparity and ignoring the needs of the people. By agreeing to enter the lion's den of a BBC interview, edited and packaged as a high-profile 10-minute segment on Newsnight, knowing that he would likely boost viewing figures amongst a target younger audience without drawing attention to these parameters, far less criticising them, Brand let a major component of state-corporate power off the hook. He effectively contributed to the illusion that the BBC is a level platform for reasoned, vigorous and wide-ranging debate on the most serious issues affecting people and planet.

This matters because, as we have noted before, the most effective propaganda systems provide opportunities for some dissent while the overwhelming pattern of media coverage strongly supports state-corporate aims. And the BBC, regarded by many people as the epitome of all that is good about Britain, is arguably the most powerful media institution in this equation. After all, the BBC is still the news source for the majority of the public, and thus the establishment-friendly window through which the population views domestic and world affairs. An opinion poll published in May 2013 showed that 58% of the British public regards the BBC as the most trustworthy news source, far higher than its closest rivals: ITV (14%), Sky News (6%), Channel 4 News (2%) and the Guardian (2%).

The irony is that Brand referred in the interview to the safety 'valves' that allow steam to be let off, keeping an unjust system in place. But he was only referring to recycling and driving 'greener' cars like the Prius which 'stop us reaching the point where you think it's enough now'. So when is it 'enough now' to draw attention to the destructive role played by powerful elite news media, most especially the BBC? 

More than once, Brand backed off from putting Paxman and the BBC in the spotlight:

RB: 'The planet is being destroyed. We are creating an underclass. We are exploiting poor people all over the world. And the genuine legitimate problems of the people are not being addressed by our political class.'

JP: 'All of these things may be true...'

RB: [Interjecting] 'They are true.'

JP: '... but you took – I wouldn't argue with you about many of them.'

RB: 'Well how come I feel so cross with you. It can't just be because of that beard. It's gorgeous!'

The trivial diversion to the topic of Paxman's beard meant that Brand's question, 'Well how come I feel so cross with you?' was left hanging in mid-air. This is the point where Brand could, and should, have gone on the offensive about Paxman's privileged position as a supposed fearless interrogator of power, the BBC man's connection with the British-American Project once described as a 'Trojan horse for US foreign policy', and then extending to a critique of the BBC itself. There is no shortage of examples of BBC propaganda that could have been raised.

None of that happened.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:20:17 +0000
Journalist Or Activist? Smearing Glenn Greenwald

By David Edwards


Modern thought control is dependent on subliminal communication. Messages influencing key perceptions are delivered unseen, unnoticed, with minimal public awareness of what is happening or why.

For example, journalists tell us that Hugo Chavez was 'divisive', that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are 'narcissistic', that George Galloway is 'controversial'. But beneath their literal meaning, these adjectives communicate a hidden message: that these individuals are acceptable targets for negative media judgement; they are fair game.

By contrast, Barack Obama is never described as 'controversial' or 'divisive'. David Cameron is not a 'rightist prime minister'. Why? Because the rules of professional journalism are said to ensure that journalists serve democracy by remaining objective and impartial. Reporters are merely to describe, not to judge, the words and actions of leading politicians.

Crucially, this deference is afforded only to political actors deemed 'mainstream', 'respectable'. By implication, individuals subject to media judgement are presented as outsiders, beyond the democratic pale.

In The Times on October 10, David Aaronovitch compared Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger with Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald:

'Rusbridger may be a "proper" journalist (and he certainly is), someone like Greenwald is first and foremost an activist. He wants above all to change the world, not just to report it. So while we might trust Rusbridger, what reason do we have for trusting Greenwald with top secret GCHQ information? Or his Brazilian boyfriend who could have been going anywhere and given the stuff on his computer to anybody.'

Aaronovitch thus painted a large, lurid label on Greenwald's back: 'activist'. He is to be seen as a pseudo-journalist, an amateur, a loose cannon. Rusbridger is a 'proper' journalist, Greenwald is not.

The repeated references to Greenwald's 'Brazilian boyfriend', who 'could have been going anywhere', were also intended to depict Greenwald as a shambolic, non-serious figure in journalism. So, too, the attempts to associate Greenwald with the US politician Ron Paul, whose politics 'are way out there' (see Greenwald's response below). For good measure, Aaronovitch described Edward Snowden as a 'fugitive', as though referring to an escaped convict rather than a principled and courageous whistle-blower.

The myth that 'proper' journalism seeks merely to report, not to change, the world is debunked by the mythologist himself.

In 1999, as Nato bombs blitzed Serbia, Aaronovitch wrote in the Independent:

'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.' (Aaronovitch, 'My country needs me,' The Independent, April 6, 1999)

The willingness to fight and die as part of a foreign military campaign is the ultimate form of 'activism'. We are not aware that Greenwald has ever threatened to invade a foreign country.

In February 2003, Aaronovitch declared 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.' (Aaronovitch, 'Why the Left must tackle the crimes of Saddam: With or without a second UN resolution, I will not oppose action against Iraq,' The Observer, February 2, 2003)

Were these not the words of someone who aspires 'above all to change the world, not just to report it'?

The title of Aaronovitch's Times piece smearing Greenwald was also purest activism:

'Beware: a dangerous new generation of leakers; The threat to security services from tech-savvy young anti-government "libertarians" looks to be serious'

Greenwald commented to us on the article:

'The position he attributed to me about Ron Paul is an outright fabrication, accomplished through an obvious manipulation of quotation marks.

'The Times allowed him to tell readers that I said "Paul was... 'the only major presidential candidate' to say the right things on the questions that really mattered." Not only did I not say that, but I said the opposite.

'I wrote that Paul was better than Obama/Dems on some key issues, but that Obama/Dems were better than Paul on other key issues for progressives. For that reason, I wrote, "it's perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else."

'He accomplished his fabrication by quoting a small snippet of what I wrote (that Paul was "'the only major presidential candidate'" saying the right things on some issues), and then fabricated something I did not say ("on the questions that really mattered") and lopped it onto the actual quote. That fabrication was all in service of making it appear that I said something that I not only did not say, but explicitly repudiated, including in the first dozen or so paragraphs of the piece he referenced.

'That's to say nothing of the hilarious, inane irony of having someone who publicly cheered for the worst political crime of this generation - the attack on Iraq - trying to deny other people "journalist" status on the ground that they seek to "change the world" rather than simply report.

'Also, did he step out of 1958? What kind of drooling troglodyte still uses the trivializing term "boyfriend" to refer to gay men in an 8-year spousal relationship?

'But all you need to know about this paper's journalistic standards is that it prints rank, idiotic, false speculation such as this: "Presumably [Miranda] was taking [the documents], via intermediaries, from Snowden in Moscow to Greenwald in Rio". If you're beginning a sentence with "presumably" and then following it with a profoundly serious accusation that lacks any evidence, you may be many things. "Journalist" is most definitely not among them.' (Glenn Greenwald to Media Lens, October 11, 2013)

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Tue, 22 Oct 2013 11:14:28 +0000
Where Journalism Collides With State ‘Security’: BBC News, MI5 And The Mantra Of ‘Keeping People Safe’

By David Cromwell

In our May 13 media alert we highlighted how the state, and a compliant media, relentlessly raise fears of the 'shadows and threats' that supposedly assail us. We make no apology for again citing the American writer H. L. Mencken:

'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'

In that alert, we pointed to an edition of BBC Newsnight that was devoted to UK 'defence' spending and policy. The BBC's Gavin Esler introduced and presented the programme from the perspective of government; namely, that:

'National security is the first duty of government. We will remain a first-rate military power.'

Reflecting, and indeed boosting, state priorities is the default mode of BBC News. Last Tuesday, the flagship News at Ten on BBC1 demonstrated this perfectly when celebrity news presenter Fiona Bruce, who also has The Queen's Palaces and The Antiques Roadshow on her CV,  began with the ominous words:

'A warning from MI5: Britain's security is threatened on more fronts, in more ways than ever before.'

Bruce continued:

'recent leaks about the extent of Britain's global surveillance is damaging efforts to stop attacks on the UK. Despite MI5's warnings, some critics say the public has a right to know if it's being spied on.' 

Bruce then introduced BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera who was standing besuited outside MI5 headquarters, ready to repeat the secret service's key messages in a simulacrum of journalistic authority. He began on the approved note:

'Yes, the job of people here at MI5 is to keep the country safe from national security threats, particularly terrorist attacks.'

As ever, the professed upholding of BBC 'impartiality' translates in practice to providing the propaganda version of reality. After all, as Mencken observed, a major state function is to convince the public that the government is protecting it from threats. It would not be responsible BBC journalism to recognise that government policies put British people at risk by, for instance, launching illegal wars of aggression likely to lead to blowback – a genuine risk well understood by the state and, indeed, with the kind of horrific consequences seen in the London 7/7 bombings in 2005. As John Pilger noted recently:

'British governments are repeatedly warned, not least by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, that foreign adventures beckon retaliation at home.' 

Corera then went on to convey the propaganda message from Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, the UK's domestic counterintelligence and security agency. Parker had given a Whitehall speech to a 'closed audience' on how the '[security] threats had changed and how the organisation was trying to cope with them.' While neither Edward Snowden nor WikiLeaks were mentioned by name, they were implicitly the target of Parker's criticisms that revelations about surveillance were 'potentially a gift to terrorists allowing it to make it easier for them to strike at Britain.' No responsible journalist would let this pass without challenge.

Corera continued his BBC report along the state-approved line:

'This year has made clear in just how many places threats can suddenly appear, with attacks in January on oil workers in Algeria; with concern that jihadists in Syria are gaining recruits and territory; warnings over the summer of Al-Qaeda threats to attack embassies in Yemen; and, most recently, with the killings at the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi.'

Corera then quoted Parker directly:

'Our task is getting harder. The threats are more diverse and diffuse. And we face increasing challenges caused by the speed of technological change.'

Sir David Omand, a former director of GCHQ, was presented in support of Parker's spin:

'If you want the state to have the capability to keep us safe from terrorists and serious criminals, then you have to give the state the capability to find their communications. You then have to make sure that it's being properly used.'

By now deep into the sinkhole of state assertions, some semblance of BBC balance had to be presented to the audience. This was provided by a brief and anodyne quote from Shami Chakrabarti CBE, director of civil liberties group Liberty:

'I would prefer for these debates to be conducted in the political space, and to be the subject of democratic mandate, rather than live in a country where the spooks come out occasionally to campaign for more powers and then go back into their closets, saying: "You mustn't look at us too closely."'

That uncontentious remark was apparently as far in the direction of dangerous truth as the BBC was willing to go.

Corera concluded his lengthy piece of power-friendly stenography:

'the strength of [Parker's] views will not prevent critics questioning whether the powers the state wants are necessary and proportionate to the threats we face.'

Ironically, the BBC was not willing to grant those critics the opportunity to seriously challenge MI5 propaganda. Nor did the BBC give any attention to the fundamental issue that it benefits the state and the military-security industry to keep us constantly fearful of hyped 'threats'. But Corera's short closing comment helped to provide the necessary illusion that BBC balance and scrutiny had been duly served to the public.

In an eye-opening Newsnight interview the previous week, Glenn Greenwald had pointedly reminded the BBC's Kirsty Wark about the proper role of journalism, namely:

'to serve as a check on those in power [...] about shining light on what those people who are in power are doing that they try and hide from the public.'


'I would hope that we've learned the lesson after the Iraq war that government claims are not tantamount to the truth.'

Wark put to Greenwald the government, and MI5, claim that leaks about the NSA surveillance programme have aided terrorists. Greenwald categorically rejected this:

'The only thing we've informed people of is that the spying system is aimed at them [i.e. the public].'

Greenwald continued:

'The way that human beings reason, and journalists make decisions, is that you weigh all the competing evidence as rationally as you can. And we know that the evidence that we are disclosing to the world is not about spying on terrorists that they don't already know about, but spying on innocent human beings. And I would like to find a journalist or a human being who says, "I would rather remain ignorant about what my government is doing in a democracy." That is not how a healthy democracy functions.'

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Mon, 14 Oct 2013 06:39:00 +0000
Structural Inclinations - The Leaning Tower of Propaganda: Chemical Weapons Attacks In Ghouta, Syria

By David Edwards


A UN report this month found that, 'Torture and brutality are rife in Libyan prisons two years after the overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi.' Around 8,000 prisoners are currently being held without trial in government jails on suspicion of having fought for Gaddafi.

But then, in the aftermath of Nato's 'humanitarian intervention', torture, bombings and assassinations are now par for the course in Libya, as described here by the excellent Interventions Watch.

In similar vein, late last month, thirteen bombs were detonated on a single day in Baghdad killing at least 47 people. More than 5,000 people have been killed so far this year, according to the UN.

Despite all of this - after years of unmissable, terrible carnage in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya - the Pew Research Journalism Project finds that 'the No. 1 message' on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, and Al Jazeera, was 'that the U.S. should get involved in the conflict' in Syria.

It seems that no level of suffering and chaos are sufficient to impede the structural 'mainstream' inclination to support state violence.

No surprise, then, that much of UK journalism had decided that the current Official Enemy was responsible for the August 21 attacks in Damascus long before the UN published the evidence in its report on 'the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area' on September 16.

Just one day after the attacks, a Guardian leader claimed there was not 'much doubt' who was to blame, as it simultaneously assailed its readers with commentary on the West's 'responsibility to protect'. An Independent front page headline one week later read like a sigh of relief: 'Syria: air attacks loom as West finally acts' (Independent, August 26, 2013).

This was a close copy of the media response to the May 2012 massacre in Houla, which was also instantly and personally blamed on Syrian president Assad.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Wed, 09 Oct 2013 07:00:10 +0000
Tilting At Easy Targets: Climate Change And The ‘Highly Ideological’ Liberal Mindset

By David Cromwell

When a senior UN climate official warns that the world is 'heading for a heart attack' (The Times, September 23, 2013), there is clearly no time to lose in taking the radical action necessary to avert disaster. But we also have to understand why it is that no matter how many scientific warnings and 'wake up calls' are issued, we are still headed for climate chaos.

The standard liberal view is that climate sceptics have a heavy burden of responsibility for boosting climate confusion and derailing any rational attempts to constrain business as usual. If only the media would stop giving them so much attention, a healthy public debate could take place, followed by real action to combat rapid climate change. Thus, in the Observer last Sunday, economist Will Hutton warned that:

'Sceptics will rubbish a new report on climate change, dismissing calls for governmental action. Don't be swayed.'

The forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will:

'be met by a barrage of criticism from the new "sceptical" environmental movement – almost entirely on the political right.'

'Don't be bamboozled', he continued, 'as Britain's centre-right media move to join with the sceptics to rubbish a careful body of scientific work that has been arrived at by exhaustive cross-examination.'

Hutton rightly called for 'collective action' to 'minimise the risk' of the 'terrifying' effects of climate change, and he criticised the 'highly ideological rightwing mind [which] does not think in this way.' For those clinging to that 'faith system', climate change is 'necessarily a gigantic scam, backdoor socialism' and the IPCC itself is 'the product of Marxists and deluded socialists.' Clearly, such a mindset is not based on reality.

Hutton then turned to the BBC in his list of targets:

'BBC attempts to broadcast [the IPCC's] findings in as impartial way as possible will be portrayed as yet more evidence of BBC bias, even though the BBC will pack its coverage with lots of sceptical voices, notwithstanding their marginalisation by world science, to try to cover its back. By the week's end, the risk is you will be less certain than you are now, tempted to join the apparent new consensus that there is no need for an urgent response. The sceptics will have done their job and national – let alone international – action will be more remote.'

No doubt Hutton's piece came across to many as a powerful, valiant plea for enlightened rationalism. And he made several good points, as indicated. But, in reality, it was yet another example of the hobbled analysis on climate change routinely offered up by the Guardian-Observer flagship of liberal journalism.

Consider Hutton's remark in his article about 'the astonishing political economy of Britain's media.' As Hutton naively sees it, 'the duty of newspapers [is] to impart information as objectively and truthfully as possible, keeping comment rigorously separate.' This noble aim, based on the false notion of a 'firewall' between news and comment has, he claims, 'been progressively dropped', making it sound like a discarded fashion accessory. In Hutton's seriously restricted perspective, the 'duty of newspapers' is supposedly independent of the extreme concentration of profit-seeking media ownership, heavy subsidies in the form of advertising revenue, and a lapdog reliance on the endless musings and mutterings of government and business leaders (see here). But for Hutton these fundamental features of the corporate media pass without mention. Instead, he steers clear of any structural analysis of 'the astonishing political economy of Britain's media' and instead goes for the usual easy targets:

'Right-of-centre newspapers are now edited ruthlessly to make their readers think what their editors and proprietors want – on immigration, welfare, Europe, tax, political affiliation or whatever. Climate change has joined the list.'

And so Hutton has nothing to say about his own paper which, like the rest of the corporate press, is dependent on advertising revenue for around 60 per cent of its income. Nor does he have anything to say about how embedded his employers are in a corporate-financial-establishment network with links to banking, industry, fossil fuels and big business. As ever, even the best 'liberal journalism' routinely ignores what we have called the 'Eight Corporate Media Unmentionables'. Here are just three of them:

The inherently biocidal, indeed psychopathic, logic of corporate capitalism, structurally locked into generating maximised revenues in minimum time at minimum corporate cost.

The proven track record of big business in promoting catastrophic consumption regardless of the consequences for human and environmental health.

The lethal role of the corporate media in promoting the planet-devouring aims of private power.

All of these factors are essentially excluded from the media agenda, thus extinguishing any hopes for a fully rational discussion of climate chaos and how to avoid it.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Fri, 27 Sep 2013 06:35:01 +0000
‘Damning Evidence’ Becomes ‘No Clear Evidence’: Much-Delayed Report On Congenital Birth Defects In Iraq

By David Cromwell

In a 2010 alert, 'Beyond Hiroshima – The Non-Reporting Of Fallujah's Cancer Catastrophe', we noted the almost non-existent media response to the publication of a new study that had found high rates of infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city. The dramatic increases in these rates exceeded even those found in survivors of the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The Independent's Patrick Cockburn was a lone exception in reporting these awful findings. 

As many readers will recall, Fallujah was subjected to US military attacks in March 2004 and an even larger assault in November 2004 which also involved UK forces. Our media alerts at the time highlighted the abysmal lack of media coverage of Western war crimes in Fallujah, including the use of chemical weapons and depleted uranium. Media Lens paid particular attention to the appalling performance of BBC News ('Doubt Cast on BBC Claims Regarding Fallujah', 'BBC Silent On Fallujah', 'BBC Still Ignoring Evidence Of War Crimes').

And it is not just Fallujah that has suffered appallingly. Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health and author of the book Pollution and Reproductive Damage, notes that increasing numbers of birth defects have also been seen in Mosul, Najaf, Basra, Hawijah, Nineveh and Baghdad. In some provinces, adds Dr Savabieasfahani, the rate of cancers is also increasing. She says:

'Sterility, repeated miscarriages, stillbirths and severe birth defects - some never described in any medical books - are weighing heavily on Iraqi families.'

In Basra, attacked and occupied by UK troops, childhood leukaemia rates more than doubled between 1993 and 2007, the year that UK troops withdrew from the city.

Dr Savabieasfahani describes 'an epidemic of birth defects in Iraq' and says that what is 'most urgently needed' is:

'comprehensive large-scale environmental testing of the cities where cancer and birth defects are rising. Food, water, air, and soil must be tested to isolate sources of public exposure to war contaminants. This is a necessity to discover the source, extent, and types of contaminants in the area followed by appropriate remediation projects to prevent further public exposure to toxic war contaminants.'

In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO), after being pressured by public health experts for a decade, belatedly instigated a study in conjunction with the Iraqi Ministry of Health (MOH) to investigate 'prevalence and factors associated with congenital birth defects' in Iraq. But although the study is extensive in scale, with 10,800 Iraq households selected as the sample size, Dr Savabieasfahani describes the scope of the research as 'severely handicapped'. Why? Because of the controversial decision not to investigate the possible causes of birth defects and cancer; in particular, depleted uranium (DU), white phosphorus and other dangerous residues of the war, notably lead and mercury.

DU is a by-product of the process of enriching uranium. Because of its very high density, it is often used in weapons designed to penetrate buildings and armoured tanks. Dr Keith Baverstock, a former health and radiation adviser to WHO, says that:

'There is absolutely no doubt that DU is toxic if it becomes systemic and gets into the bloodstream.'

The decision by WHO and MOH not to consider uranium in their study 'is an important omission', says Dr Baverstock, and he 'believes that WHO has miserably failed to assess risks posed by DU... There is no doubt in my mind that the upper management of WHO failed to fulfil their obligations to examine the public health implications of DU.'

In 2004, Dr Baverstock was the lead author of a WHO report linking the US and UK use of depleted uranium in Iraq with long-term health risks. But the report was declared 'secret' and never published. Dr Baverstock said that the report was 'deliberately suppressed', pointing the finger of suspicion at the powerful pro-nuclear UN body, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2013 Thu, 19 Sep 2013 06:01:58 +0000