Media Lens - Current Alert News analysis and media criticism http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015.html Sun, 30 Aug 2015 13:41:28 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb ‘Bullying’ – BBC Political Editor’s Bizarre Term For The Public Resisting The Establishment http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/799-bullying-bbc-political-editor-s-bizarre-term-for-the-public-resisting-the-establishment.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/799-bullying-bbc-political-editor-s-bizarre-term-for-the-public-resisting-the-establishment.html

The BBC's Nick Robinson has made a career out of telling the public what leading politicians say and do; sometimes even what they 'think'. This stenography plays a key role in 'the mainstream media', given that a vital part of statecraft is to keep the public suitably cowed and fearful of threats from which governments must protect us. The 'free press' requires compliant journalists willing to disseminate elite-friendly messages about global 'peace', 'security' and 'prosperity', uphold Western ideology that 'we are the good guys', and not question power deeply, if at all.

But when a senior journalist complains of 'intimidation and bullying' by the public, making comparison's to 'Vladimir Putin's Russia', the mind really boggles at the distortion of reality. Those were claims made by Robinson, the BBC's outgoing political editor, using an appearance at the Edinburgh international book festival to settle a few scores.

As we noted on the eve of last year's referendum on Scottish independence, Robinson was guilty of media manipulation in reporting remarks made by Alex Salmond, then Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party. During a press conference, Robinson had asked Salmond a two-part question about supposedly solid claims made by company bosses and bankers - 'men who are responsible for billions of pounds of profits' - that independence would damage the Scottish economy. Not only did the full version of the encounter demonstrate that Salmond responded comprehensively, but he turned the tables on Robinson by calling into question the BBC's role as an 'impartial' public broadcaster. The self-serving report that was broadcast that night by Robinson on BBC News at Ten did not accurately reflect the encounter. Instead, the political editor summed it all up misleadingly as:

'He didn't answer, but he did attack the reporting.'

But the public was able to compare Robinson's highly selective editing of Salmond's press conference with what had actually taken place. The episode sparked huge discussion across social media. It even led to public protests outside the BBC headquarters in Glasgow. Some called for Robinson to resign.The protests involved thousands of pro-independence campaigners, although Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond's then deputy and now leader of the SNP, distanced her party from the demonstration outside the BBC when she 'emphasised it was not organised by the official Yes Scotland campaign'. The Glasgow protest was but one episode in a bigger picture of considerable public dissent against BBC News; indeed, against corporate news bias generally.

The outcome of the September 2014 referendum, following frantic propaganda campaigns to block Scottish independence by the main political parties, big business and corporate media - akin to what we are seeing today with the establishment targetting Jeremy Corbyn - was 55 per cent 'No' and 45 per cent 'Yes'.

Now Robinson, promoting his latest book 'Election Diary', has spoken out about what happened when his reporting was exposed for what it was:

'Alex Salmond was using me to change the subject. Alex Salmond was using me as a symbol. A symbol of the wicked, metropolitan, Westminster classes sent from England, sent from London, in order to tell the Scots what they ought to do.

'As it happens I fell for it. I shouldn't have had the row with him which I did, and I chose a particular phrase ["He didn't answer, but he did attack the reporting."] we might explore badly in terms of my reporting and that is genuinely a sense of regret.'

So Robinson's distorted reporting, caught and exposed in public, led merely to 'a sense of regret' which 'we might explore badly'.

He then launched a bizarre attack on the public:

'But as a serious thought I don't think my offence was sufficient to justify 4,000 people marching on the BBC's headquarters, so that young men and women who are new to journalism have, like they do in Putin's Russia, to fight their way through crowds of protesters, frightened as to how they do their jobs.'

The hyperbole continued:

'We should not live with journalists who are intimidated, or bullied, or fearful in any way.'

And yet, in June, Robinson had played down the alleged bullying as ineffectual:

'In reality I never felt under threat at all'.

Given that the protest was triggered by Robinson's propaganda, one wonders to what extent the 'young men and women who are new to journalism' at the BBC were 'intimidated, or bullied, or fearful', or whether this was more tragicomic bias from Robinson. Needless to say, Robinson was silent about how the corporate media routinely acts as an echo chamber for government propaganda, scaremongering the public about foreign 'enemies' and security 'threats'.

A couple of days later, Salmond responded to Robinson. He told the Dundee-based Courier newspaper:

'The BBC's coverage of the Scottish referendum was a disgrace.

'It can be shown to be so, as was Nick's own reporting of which he should be both embarrassed and ashamed.'

Salmond continued:

'To compare, as Nick did last week, 4000 Scots peacefully protesting outside BBC Scotland as something akin to Putin's Russia is as ludicrous as it is insulting.

'It is also heavily ironic given that the most commonly used comparison with the BBC London treatment of the Scottish referendum story was with Pravda, the propaganda news agency in the old Soviet Union.'

The Guardian then gave ample space to Robinson to respond to Salmond with an ill-posed defence of the BBC's slanted coverage of the independence debate. This was amplified by a news piece by Jane Martinson, head of media at the Guardian, about the 'row' between the two.

'The BBC', declaimed Robinson, 'must resist Alex Salmond's attempt to control its coverage'. In fact, Salmond had rightly pointed out that the BBC's broadcasting had been biased and 'a disgrace'; a view held by many people in Scotland and beyond. Robinson's pompous response was that, all too often, politicians 'simply do not understand why the nation's broadcaster doesn't see the world exactly as they do.' Case dismissed.

The BBC political editor then fell back on the old canard that complaints from both sides implied that reporting had been balanced:

'There were many complaints about our coverage of the Scottish referendum – although interestingly just as many came from the No side as the Yes.'

Deploying this fallacious argument means that the strong evidence of bias against 'Yes' need not be examined (see, for example, this book and short film by Professor John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland). In its place, Robinson paints a heroic picture of himself and the BBC rejecting demands from 'politicians' to 'control' news reporting. Robinson declared his unshakeable confidence in:

'the BBC's high journalistic standards, which are recognised around the world'.

This is precisely the attitude one would expect from someone who is rewarded handsomely for thinking the right thoughts about their employer.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Tue, 25 Aug 2015 01:32:21 +0000
Whitewash - The Guardian Readers’ Editor Responds On Jeremy Corbyn http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/798-the-guardian-readers-editor-responds-on-jeremy-corbyn.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/798-the-guardian-readers-editor-responds-on-jeremy-corbyn.html

In our previous media alert, we described 'the panic-driven hysterical hate-fest campaign' being waged against Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn right across the corporate media 'spectrum'.

This week, Guardian readers' editor Chris Elliott responded to readers' complaints:

'I read or viewed 43 pieces of journalism published between 21 and 30 July... Seventeen of the 43 pieces struck me as neutral... there were 10 pieces that could broadly be described as either being comment pieces in favour of Corbyn or news stories reporting positively about him.'

Elliot would only concede that 'in the early days of Corbyn's charge, the readers rightly got a sniff that on occasions we weren't taking him seriously enough. That has changed...'.

We wrote to Elliott:

'Hi Chris

'Hope you're well. Thanks for your piece: "Analysing the balance of our Jeremy Corbyn coverage."...

'Could you let us know, please, which 17 pieces struck you as neutral, and which 10 pieces were in favour of Corbyn, or reporting positively about him?' (Email, August 4, 2015)

Elliott replied:

'Dear Mr Edwards,

'I am sorry but I have set out all that I had time and resource to do. I cannot help you further.

'Best wishes

'Chris Elliott' (Email, August 4, 2015)

We were, of course, grateful for the response.

In his article, Elliott rightly warned that, 'This is not a scientific piece of research – we don't have the resources.'

In reality, evaluating Guardian bias on Corbyn does not require scientific method, just simple common sense.

Consider, for example, an article written by arch-Blairite Peter Hain, who is up to his neck in responsibility for Iraq sanctions, invasion and occupation. Hain's piece was titled:

'Jeremy Corbyn's policies may be popular – but they don't add up to a platform'

The article jumped out at us because it contained rare criticism of two other candidates for the Labour leadership:

'The two most credible candidates - Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper - have been underwhelming: cautious and austerity-lite.'

This does indeed qualify as mild criticism. But compare it with Hain's comments on Corbyn:

'Those inside the Westminster bubble have been transfixed, indeed bewildered, by Jeremy Corbyn's soaring campaign for Labour leader. The more he is denounced, the better he seems to do.

'Have Labour members gone mad, party luminaries wonder? Has the Militant Tendency's 1980s entryism been somehow reincarnated from its current impotence, headlines ask?'

Hain continued:

'Nobody – least of all him [Corbyn], ironically – imagines he could be prime minister, or even that as opposition leader he could survive the high noon bearpit of Prime Minister's Questions, or deliver an effective instant response to a George Osborne budget speech.'

And:

'But the reason I won't vote for Corbyn is that, underneath his appealing slogans and rousing values, there is no programmatic substance... His economic policy amounts to an unelectable platform of "tax and spend" – an anguished cry of protest, not a serious alternative for a Labour government... He demonstrates little understanding of the immensely arduous challenge of electing, let alone running, a social democratic or democratic socialist government...'.

If this isn't clear enough, a simple observation should make it clearer: there is more damning personal and political criticism in this single piece on Corbyn than we found in several hundred Guardian articles on Burnham, Cooper and Kendall over the last month combined.

By contrast, the following comment from a Guardian news report indicates the level of criticism that has only rarely been directed at these three candidates:

'A senior Labour politician... attributed Corbyn's success so far to the failure of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall to grip the imagination.'

We also managed to find this from Rafael Behr in the Guardian:

'Kendall has misjudged the balance between delivering hard truths to the party and charmlessly rubbing it up the wrong way, which in turn raises doubts about the tuning of her political antennae.'

A Guardian leader commented:

'Mr Burnham's campaign, with its heavy emphasis on emotional reconnection with the party's core electorate, is steeped in nostalgia.'

Again, minor, low-level criticism; nothing that could be considered a personal and political demolition in the style of Hain.

Comedian Frankie Boyle wrote a piece criticising 'passive' Labour. He referred obliquely to 'leadership candidacy androids' who lack 'personality and charm' in a party that is to the right of John Major. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall were not mentioned by name; their role as New Labour Blairites supporting the Iraq crime and other horrors was not discussed. Seumas Milne, the Guardian's resident leftist fig-leaf, also referred to the 'New Labour machine politician' alternative to Corbyn, supplying rare, substantial criticism of the other candidates for moving 'sharply to the right'.

The fiercest personal criticism came from John Harris:

'As Corbyn rises, Andy Burnham is suddenly styling himself as the faux-radical saviour of a party "scared of its own shadow".'

And yet his campaign began 'with a speech at the City offices of a corporation associated with huge tax avoidance...'.

Yvette Cooper exhibits 'that awful modern Labour tendency to boil even the great causes of the age down to borderline inanity and talk to people as if they are stupid'.

Not that Harris is a Corbyn fan: 'I am less interested in him than what his candidacy, in tandem with Labour's new voting system, has let loose.'

Vanishingly rare exceptions aside, the other three leaders have been criticised for being charmless, overly nostalgic, dull, hypocritical, inane, and so on. Clearly, none of this compares to the many articles passionately warning readers against the 'madness', the 'catastrophe', of voting for Corbyn when 'Nobody – least of all him, ironically – imagines he could be prime minister.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Thu, 06 Aug 2015 08:07:00 +0000
Fantasy Politics - 'Corbyn's Morons' And The 'Sensible Approach' http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/797-corbyn.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/797-corbyn.html

In May, voters grasped Spanish political orthodoxy and shook it like a rag doll:

'The anti-austerity party Podemos claimed its biggest victory in Barcelona, where activist Ada Colau seized control of the city hall. Podemos and Ciudadanos... made advances across the country that will give them a chance to shape policy for the first time.'

Podemos also backed the campaign of Manuela Carmena, a 71-year-old labour-rights lawyer, who ended 24 years of rule by Spain's hard-right Popular party in the capital, Madrid. These were major triumphs in the face of fierce and united corporate media opposition. Jose Juan Toharia, president of polling firm Metroscopia, said:

'Tomorrow's Spain doesn't feel identified with the establishment parties.'

A Guardian leader commented:

'Together, the two traditional parties have seen their support shrink from two-thirds of the poll in 2011, to just over half. Podemos and Ciudadanos have filled the void. The two-party system that had dominated Spain since the end of dictatorship in 1978 is crumbling.'

MP Jeremy Corbyn, reportedly 'far ahead of his rivals in the Labour leadership election', has explicitly called for Labour to learn from Greece's Syriza, Spain's Podemos and the Scottish National Party by campaigning against 'austerity'. Corbyn said:

'I have been in Greece, I have been in Spain. It's very interesting that social democratic parties that accept the austerity agenda and end up implementing it end up losing a lot of members and a lot of support. I think we have a chance to do something different here.'

This echoes a comment made by Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias in an interview with Tariq Ali. Iglesias suggested that Podemos and Syriza offered potent examples that had already been followed in Scotland:

'We saw this in the UK. The Scottish National Party [SNP] really beat the Labour Party by criticising austerity and criticising cuts, which are related to the failure of the "third way" policies of Tony Blair and Anthony Giddens.'

One might think that, in discussing the popularity of Corbyn's leadership bid, a rational media would give serious attention to the visions, strategies and success of Podemos, Syriza and the SNP. For example, we can imagine in-depth interviews with Iglesias and Colau on Corbyn's prospects. We can imagine discussions of how a weakening of the two-party grip on Spanish politics might be repeated outside Scotland in the UK, where similarly moribund political conditions apply. As former ambassador, Craig Murray, has observed:

'[I]f the range of possible political programmes were placed on a linear scale from 1 to 100, the Labour and Conservative parties offer you the choice between 81 and 84.'

And yet, we have not seen a single substantive discussion of these issues in any UK national newspaper. The Lexis media database records 1,974 articles mentioning Corbyn over the last month. Of these, just 29 mentioned Podemos. Our search of articles mentioning both 'Corbyn' and 'Pablo Iglesias' yielded zero results, as did our searches for 'Corbyn' and 'Ada Colau', and 'Corbyn' and 'Manuela Carmena'. Lexis found 133 Guardian articles mentioning Corbyn over the last month, with three of these containing mentions in passing of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon. The Independent had 47 hits for Corbyn, with one article mentioning Sturgeon.

These would appear to be natural sources and comparisons, particularly given Corbyn's explicit references to them. Instead, we found complete indifference combined with a ruthless and relentless campaign to trash Corbyn across the so-called media 'spectrum'.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 29 Jul 2015 08:18:18 +0000
Daesh, The Revolutionary Neoliberal Party and the British Falsehood Corporation http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/796-daesh-the-revolutionary-neoliberal-party-and-the-british-falsehood-corporation.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/796-daesh-the-revolutionary-neoliberal-party-and-the-british-falsehood-corporation.html

 

'It's A Distortion That The BBC Wants To Be Fair'

Lord Hall, the director general of the BBC, is to be questioned by MPs over his refusal to refer to Islamic State using the term 'Daesh' (an Arabic abbreviation that means 'one who crushes something underfoot' and 'one who sows discord') because it is pejorative and therefore biased. Controversial British prime minister David Cameron had sent a request to the BBC supported in a letter signed by 120 MPs from across the spectrum – Labour, Tory and SNP. Independent journalist Jonathan Cook comments:

'So let us agree that Cameron can insist on the BBC calling Islamic State "Daesh" when he also insists on the broadcaster referring to the Conservatives as the "Revolutionary Neoliberal Party" [RNP].'

Julian Lewis, RNP chairman of the defence select committee, said he would also be writing to the BBC:

'The BBC ought to hang its head in shame – they would never dream of taking this attitude if we were talking about the fascists or the Nazis... We are engaged in a counter propaganda war of ideas – and the British used to be rather good at this during the Cold War.'

Chris Grayling, a member of the RNP British Cabinet and leader of the Commons, apparently detected no self-contradiction when he said the BBC should openly take the side of the UK in international conflicts:

'During the Second World War, the BBC was a beacon of fact, it was not expected to be impartial between Britain and Germany.'

Of course, the idea that political parties should pressure media to produce biased information was one of the horrors Britain was said to be fighting from 1939-1945. Also, the notion that the BBC should be guided by emergency measures adopted in a time of total war against a Nazi state genuinely threatening conquest indicates the curious mindset of some on the right. In reality, as Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian:

'The BBC is full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with almost identical views about politics, business and the world. Executives have stuffed their pockets with public money.'

Milne added:

'There is no point in romanticising a BBC golden age. The corporation was always an establishment institution, deeply embedded in the security state and subject to direct government control in an emergency.'

Indeed, the BBC was founded in 1922 and immediately used as a propaganda weapon for the Baldwin government during the General Strike, when it became known by workers as the 'British Falsehood Corporation' (BFC). Perhaps the BBC should rebrand itself. Actor Ken Stott commented in the Radio Times:

'The establishment is a dirty, dangerous beast and the BBC is a mouthpiece for that.' (Radio Times, December 3, 2014)

This helps explain a tweet sent recently by the BBC's high-profile diplomatic editor, Mark Urban:

'Anti-Americanism alive & well as shown by "who is biggest threat to world peace?" Survey via @INTLSpectator'

For the embedded BFC, viewing America, very reasonably, as a lethal threat is to be guilty of something called 'Anti-Americanism.'

But for some, too much is not enough. In the Telegraph, Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, commented on the BBC chief's limp resistance to imposed thought control:

'He appears to believe that impartial reporting means equidistance between a terror group which butchers its victims and the rest of humanity.

'But equidistance is not the same as impartiality.'

Run that past us again:

'Impartiality means accuracy and reliability in news gathering – which ought indeed to be the BBC's governing ethos. It does not mean refusing ever to make any judgments between two sides in a conflict.'

How so?

'Because in the real, impartial world, there is no equidistance between Daesh and its victims.'

Whatever 'equidistance is not the same as impartiality' means – arguably, it means nothing – presumably the 'logic' can be applied elsewhere. After all, in 'the real, impartial world,' there is also no 'equidistance' between Nato and its victims. So perhaps we should demand that the BBC describe Nato as 'The Western Corporate Mercenary Army', or 'The Western State-Corporate Militant Mob', because impartiality is one thing and equidistance quite another. As everyone knows.

Inevitably, the response of David Jordan, the BBC's director of editorial policy and standards, to these state-corporate attacks was less than heroic:

'Suggesting that the BBC wants to be fair to the so called "Islamic State" distorts the truth...'

It was 'a distortion', then, to suggest that the BBC aims to be 'fair'. Jordan continued:

'Our aim, as always, is to report accurately and report the facts – nothing else.'

Facts are sacred; it's not the BBC's job to make judgements. Except:

'The BBC has at its cornerstone a commitment to democracy and its pillars. The BBC is no friend of authoritarian repression anywhere in the world and our history shows it.'

The 'democracy and its pillars' being, of course, 'us'. As for 'authoritarian repression' – well, that's 'them', as labelled by the government for a BBC intent on reporting 'the facts – nothing else'.

Appropriately enough, Sir Christopher Bland, who chaired the BBC between 1996 and 2001, argued this week that the BBC 'is worryingly close to becoming an arm of the Government'. Bland said of Cameron's government:

'Rather subtly and unattractively it draws the BBC closer to becoming [sic] an arm of government which is always something that the BBC and government have resisted.'

This recalls former director general Greg Dyke's quickly-buried assertion that BBC bosses and political journalists are determined to protect Britain's elite-favouring status quo because they 'are part of one Westminster conspiracy. They don't want anything to change. It's not in their interests.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 08 Jul 2015 11:23:58 +0000
‘Address Your Remarks To Downing Street’ –The Sunday Times Editor Deepens His Snowden Debacle http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/795-address-your-remarks-to-downing-street.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/795-address-your-remarks-to-downing-street.html

George Orwell once wrote:

'I really don't know which is more stinking, the Sunday Times or The Observer. I go from one to the other like an invalid turning from side to side in bed and getting no comfort which ever way he turns.' (George Orwell, quoted, Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, p. 233, Penguin Books, 1992)

The competition remains fierce, but the Sunday Times edged marginally ahead with a recent front-page exclusive that stank to truly celestial heights. As we noted in our previous alert, the Sunday Times dramatically claimed that Russia and China had 'cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden'. The 'exclusive story' contained precisely no evidence for its anonymous claims, no challenges to the assertions made and no journalistic balance. In a CNN interview the same day, lead reporter Tom Harper trashed his own credibility, and that of his paper, when he blurted:

'We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government.'

One of our readers, William Douglas, emailed a powerful criticism of Harper's claims direct to Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens, asking him to explain why anyone should take the article seriously. Douglas sent a blog piece by Craig Murray, the former British diplomat, who had offered five reasons for thinking the MI6 story was 'a lie'. Ivens' reply was astonishing:

'I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.'

There was no attempt to respond to the challenge, or to answer Murray's serious objections; just a preposterous and insulting suggestion to contact the British government. Clearly Ivens is unaware of legendary journalist I.F. Stone's comment:

'Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.'

Ivens' response is the reality of media contempt for their supposedly valued readers, or 'partners' as the Guardian affects to call the people it deceives. The Sunday Times states heroically:

'The Sunday Times takes complaints about editorial content seriously. We aim to resolve your complaint efficiently, promptly and effectively by direct contact with you.'

Failing that, write to the government!

One might have thought that editors and journalists elsewhere would have leapt on Ivens' contemptuous response to a serious correspondent, condemning Ivens for dragging their supposedly noble 'profession' into further disrepute. But, according to our searches of the Lexis newspaper database, the email went totally unreported.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 24 Jun 2015 11:04:47 +0000
‘We Just Publish The Position Of The British Government’ – Edward Snowden, The Sunday Times And The Death Of Journalism http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/794-we-just-publish-the-position-of-the-british-government-edward-snowden-the-sunday-times-and-the-death-of-journalism.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/794-we-just-publish-the-position-of-the-british-government-edward-snowden-the-sunday-times-and-the-death-of-journalism.html

In the wake of the greatest crime of the twenty-first century, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, you might have thought that the days of passing off unattributed government and intelligence pronouncements as 'journalism' would be over. Apparently not. On June 14, the Sunday Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, published what has already become a classic of the genre (behind a paywall; full text here).

The prominent front-page story was titled: 'British spies betrayed to Russians and Chinese; Missions aborted to prevent spies being killed'. It sounded like an exciting plot for a James Bond film. And the first line was suitably dramatic:

'Russia and China have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.' (our emphasis)

What followed was a series of assertions from faceless sources, backed by zero evidence and outright falsehoods.

Western intelligence agencies – famously trustworthy and free of any hidden agenda - said they had 'been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin'. Anyone seeking 'protection' from one of the world's 'Bad Guys' is, of course, immediately deemed suspect.

'Senior government sources' claimed that 'China had also cracked the encrypted documents', endangering British and American spies. One senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having 'blood on his hands', although Downing Street said there was 'no evidence of anyone being harmed'. The journalists appeared unperturbed by the discrepancy and ploughed on.

More anonymous sources popped up: 'David Cameron's aides confirmed', 'A senior Downing Street source said', 'said a senior Home Office source', 'a British intelligence source said', 'A US intelligence source said'. The only named source in the whole piece was Sir David Omand, the former director of GCHQ, the secretive agency that conducts mass surveillance for the British intelligence services.

Taking as undisputed fact that Russia and China had access to Snowden's material, Omand said that this:

'was a "huge strategic setback" that was "harming" to Britain, America and their Nato allies.'

No other views were reported by the Sunday Times. This was stenography, not journalism.

The article appeared under the bylines of Tom Harper (the paper's home affairs correspondent), Richard Kerbaj (security correspondent) and Tim Shipman (political editor). But it was clearly prepared with major input from intelligence and government sources with their own particular agendas. All of this was, no doubt, given the all-clear by the paper's editor, Martin Ivens.

BBC News echoed the Sunday Times article, with an online piece containing 'analysis' by BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera. This supposed expert commentary was based on 'my understanding from conversations over an extended period' and performed his usual function of providing a conduit for the government view. Some mild scepticism – 'a pinch of salt' - did filter through to later versions of the BBC article as it was updated. But it was shunted to the bottom of the piece, with no mention in the introduction.

In summary, the Sunday Times article contained no evidence for its anonymous claims, no challenges to the assertions made, and no journalistic balance. It was almost inevitable, then, that it would quickly fall apart under scrutiny.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 17 Jun 2015 07:21:31 +0000
Testing The Limits - Paul Krugman Of The New York Times and Gary Younge of the Guardian http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/793-testing-the-limits-paul-krugman-of-the-new-york-times-and-gary-younge-of-the-guardian.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/793-testing-the-limits-paul-krugman-of-the-new-york-times-and-gary-younge-of-the-guardian.html

 

Paul Krugman and Gary Younge are two of the most honest commentators currently writing in two of the best American and British newspapers. The extent of their truth-telling tells us much about the current state of free speech.

Paul Krugman is Professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a columnist for The New York Times. He is regularly cited as a courageous, honest commentator challenging power. In 2008, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Gary Younge is an award-winning progressive journalist, one of the Guardian's highly-respected counterparts to Krugman.

 

'A Frank Discussion'

If we take a step back from being awed by the prestige of a world-famous newspaper publishing a Nobel laureate, we can see that a recent comment piece by Krugman on Iraq is so filtered, so compromised, that he barely achieves the rational level of a schoolchild. If this sounds insulting and preposterous, readers can judge for themselves if it is a reasonable description from what follows.

In his May 18 piece, 'Errors And Lies', Krugman wrote that the prospect of George W. Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, running for president, meant 'we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.'

This sounded wonderful – Krugman was apparently about to deliver just such a 'frank discussion'. He rightly recognised the reticence of a 'political and media elite' keen to 'move on', having agreed 'that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake'. But as Krugman noted, this is 'a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it's false. The Iraq war wasn't an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.'

Krugman described the war as a 'lie', then, rather than a 'mistake'. In his concluding sentence, he even courageously asserted that it had been a 'crime'. He also wrote:

'The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.'

This is all very vague. In fact, the 'ever-shifting arguments' were not the problem; the problem was the evidence. People in a position to know – for example, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter - did not believe Saddam Hussein possessed chemical weapons that were anything more than 'useless sludge'. Krugman's sop to the propagandists was outrageous, suggesting informed sincerity where in fact there was just cynical fabrication. There was simply no case whatever for believing that Iraqi WMD, known to have been destroyed, were any kind of threat to the US.

Krugman posed a question that is obviously key for any 'frank discussion':

'Why did they want a war? That's a harder question to answer.'

It is certainly a harder question to answer honestly:

'Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it's hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.'

Here Krugman was trying really hard to focus on any obscure corner of the living room to avoid noticing the elephant. In his book, 'Fuel on the Fire', based on declassified British Foreign Office files, Greg Muttitt explains:

'The most important strategic interest lay in expanding global energy supplies, through foreign investment, in some of the world's largest oil reserves – in particular Iraq. This meshed neatly with the secondary aim of securing contracts for their companies.'

Ironically, having himself failed to write frankly about this key issue, Krugman then speculated on the causes behind the political and media silence:

'Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn't say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.'

Again, this was a deeply irrational analysis from Krugman. Politicians and journalists were foolish, duped, intimidated, fearful of losing their careers, of course. But this hardly explains a pattern of political and corporate media subservience to corporate power over decades, with the same mendacity on virtually every issue impacting power and profit.

A rational analysis would at least glance at the structure and corporate funding of political parties; at the profit-orientation, elite ownership and advertiser-dependence of the corporate media. Why focus on poor 'judgement' and a 'climate of fear' when political and economic structures endlessly producing the same pattern of media 'failure' are staring us in the face? Why was rational analysis of this kind suddenly impossible for someone as astute as Krugman? Had he suddenly become a fool? Of course not, he was exactly repeating the self-censoring behaviour he lamented in other journalists - honest analysis of the corporate media is taboo in the corporate press.

Krugman also seriously misled his readers when he wrote:

'On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn't get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.'

In fact, corporate media are the corporate arm of the propaganda system they are supposed to be monitoring. Far from having 'a hard time coping with policy dishonesty', they have a hard time coping with the occasional journalists who attempt to expose the dishonesty. Immensely powerful economic and political forces select, shape, mould, reward and punish editors, journalists and whole organisations to ensure that they do not deliver the kind of 'frank discussion' Krugman promised but failed to supply.

Apart from the motives for war and the structural conditions behind media performance, there was one other crucial consideration missed by Krugman. What reasonable analysis would discuss a spectacular contemporary example of political mass deception without placing it in some kind of historical context? Was the great Iraq deception a one-off? Was it an outlier event? Was it a standard example, a carbon copy of similar events over years and decades? Have we seen similar events since 2003? Are they happening now? Again, one of US journalism's finest – at the extreme left of the 'mainstream' spectrum – had nothing at all to say about these key questions.

And in fact, as we and others have documented, the Iraq deception was not at all an outlier. It was a standard example of corporate political-media deception that just happened to go so catastrophically wrong that the reality could not be entirely ignored - although the propaganda system was far more effective in burying the truth than we might imagine. According to a 2013 ComRes poll, 44% of UK respondents estimated that fewer than 5,000 Iraqis had died since 2003. 59% thought fewer than 10,000 had died. Just 2% put the toll in excess of one million – the likely real toll.

Krugman did not even mention that Iraqis had died, let alone discuss the almost unimaginable scale of the bloodbath. He concluded:

'But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it.'

Crucially, Krugman was unable to recognise that history had already repeated itself, not least in the repetition of his own self-censoring analysis. The West's overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 was based on exactly the same kind of lies and media complicity, the same enthusiasm for war waged by Western powers who somehow, miraculously, were said to retain moral credibility as humanitarian agents.

In fact, this was an even more extreme example of propaganda deception than Iraq, precisely because it happened in the aftermath of that earlier deception. And, unlike Iraq, the media have not yet summoned the courage to expose even a portion of the US-UK governments' lies, or the media's complicity in them. All of this falls beyond Krugman's idea of a 'frank discussion'.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:23:49 +0000
Unfree Elections – The Corporate Media, UK General Election And Predictable Outcomes http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/792-unfree-elections-the-corporate-media-uk-general-election-and-predictable-outcomes.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/792-unfree-elections-the-corporate-media-uk-general-election-and-predictable-outcomes.html

The famous physicist Albert Einstein was fond of Gedankenexperimenten – thought experiments – which tested his understanding of physics problems and stimulated solutions to them. For example, when he was a teenager, Einstein asked himself, 'What would the world look like if I rode on a beam of light?' Pursuing this question, he eventually came up with the Special Theory of Relativity and the most famous equation in science, E=mc2.

Imagine, then, this thought experiment. Consider how a general election might turn out if the media spectrum ran the whole gamut from the right - the BBC, Guardian and Independent, for example - to the hard right (the Mail, Sun, Express and so on). Some readers might object that the BBC, Guardian and the Independent are not right-wing at all, but centre or even left-liberal. But, as we have shown in numerous books and media alerts, these media organisations are embedded in powerful networks of big business, finance and establishment elites. Naturally, these are the one per cent - or even narrower - interests that corporate media largely serve and support. Such media do not even deserve to be called 'centre', if the term is to retain any meaning.

In this case, of course, a thought experiment is not required because reality carried out the experiment for us, with the results being all too obvious last Friday. The Tories were returned to Westminster with a 12-seat majority. Notably, they only had 37% support from a turnout of 66%. That means only 24% of the eligible electorate actually voted for a Tory government. Such is the undemocratic nature of the electoral system in the UK. The establishment wins every time.

As Neil Clark observes in an article for RT, there is a long history of British press scaremongering to prevent any threat to corporate and financial interests come election time. As usual, the Murdoch press led the way, with the Sun warning on April 30:

'A week today, Britain could be plunged into the abyss. A fragile left-wing Labour minority, led by Ed Miliband and his union paymasters and supported by the wreckers of the Scottish National Party, could take power... You can stop this. But only by voting Tory.'

The ludicrous warning about 'left-wing' Labour - a pro-business, pro-austerity party that has cut its roots from working people - was repeated across much of the press. Even the ostensible 'liberal' Independent, owned by the Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, came out in support of the Tories.

After weeks of debate about the likelihood of a hung Parliament and permutations of possible coalitions, opinion pollsters and professional pundits expressed surprise at the relatively comfortable Tory win. But for investigative reporter Nafeez Ahmed, the outcome was predictable. In a piece titled 'How Big Money and Big Brother won the British Elections', published the day after the election, Ahmed noted:

'The ultimate determinant of which party won the elections was the money behind their political campaigns.'

The Tory party was the biggest recipient of donations, 'the bulk of which came from financiers associated with banks, the hedge fund industry, and big business.'

In summary:

'the most important precondition for victory in Britain's broken democracy is the party's subservience to corporate power.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Tue, 12 May 2015 08:36:22 +0000
Hillary Clinton - Of Glass Ceilings And Shattered Countries http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/791-hillary-clinton-of-glass-ceilings-and-shattered-countries.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/791-hillary-clinton-of-glass-ceilings-and-shattered-countries.html

We live in a time when compassionate rhetoric is used as a weapon of state-corporate control. The rhetoric focuses on ethical concerns such as racial, gender and same-sex equality, but is disconnected from any kind of coherent ethical worldview. Corporate commentators are thereby freed to laud these moral principles, even as they ignore high crimes of state-corporate power.

Thus, it was deemed 'historic', even 'epoch-making', by our corporate culture that Barack Obama was elected the first black president of the United States. And it certainly was a triumph for racial equality. But the moral significance was hailed by a media commentariat that proceeded to gaze with blank indifference at the ethical trailblazer's bombing of seven countries, his deep involvement in four ongoing, full-scale wars, his devastation of Libya, and his abject failure to address the apocalyptic threat of climate change.

Alongside these horrors, Obama's involvement in the Honduran coup, his diplomatic and military support for Egypt's blood-soaked military junta, and his $90bn in arms sales sent (in the last four years) to a Saudi Arabian tyranny wreaking havoc in Syria and Yemen, are mere footnotes.

None of this matters: for our corporate media, Obama remains, above all, the inspirational first black president.

Similarly, in evaluating Obama's possible successor, the Guardian's editorial 'view on Hillary Clinton' focuses on the problem that she is 'hammering the glass ceiling (again)' of gender inequality:

'with four years as her nation's chief diplomat on the world stage under her belt, Mrs Clinton's personal gravitas is even harder to quibble with than it might have been in 2008'.

So, for the Guardian editors, Clinton has more 'personal gravitas' now - she actually has more dignity, should be taken more seriously. A remarkable response, as we will see. The Guardian continues:

'On foreign policy, her spell as secretary of state leaves her with a somewhat clearer record - she is associated with a rather more interventionist approach than Mr Obama. Her admirers would describe her as a happy mix of the smart and the muscular; doubters will recall her vote for the ruinous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and prefer the Obama-esque oath to first do no harm.'

The cognitive dissonance could hardly be more glaring: Obama's colour and Clinton's gender are key ethical concerns, and yet Obama's responsibility for mass killing is not only not a concern, it is not even recognised. Instead, he continues to be presented as a benevolent non-interventionist who has consistently chosen to 'do no harm'.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Thu, 16 Apr 2015 07:51:24 +0000
When Free Speech Becomes Dead Silence – The Israel Lobby And A Cowed Academia http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/790-when-free-speech-becomes-dead-silence-the-israel-lobby-and-a-cowed-academia.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/790-when-free-speech-becomes-dead-silence-the-israel-lobby-and-a-cowed-academia.html

The sudden cancellation of an academic conference on Israel, as well as the lack of outcry from 'mainstream' media, demonstrates once again the skewed limits to 'free speech' in 'advanced' Western democracies. 'Je suis Charlie' already feels like ancient history. It certainly does not apply when it comes to scrutiny of the state of Israel.

The conference, titled 'International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism', was to be held at the University of Southampton from 15-17 April 2015. Planned speakers included Richard Falk, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, Gabi Piterberg, a historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, Israeli academic Ilan Pappé and Palestinian historian Nur Musalha.

The meeting was billed as the 'first of its kind and constitutes a ground-breaking historical event on the road towards justice and enduring peace in historic Palestine.' The approach would be scholarly with 'multidisciplinary debate reflecting diverse perspectives, and thus genuine disagreements'. Rather than being a coven of political extremists and violent hotheads, this was to be a serious gathering of respected and authoritative academics with in-depth knowledge of Israel and Palestine.

But intense pressure from the Israel lobby about the airing of 'anti-Semitic views' has torpedoed the University of Southampton's earlier stated commitment to uphold 'freedom of speech within the law'. In a classic piece of bureaucratic hand-wringing, the university issued a corporate-style statement on 1 April that leaned heavily on the pretext of 'health and safety' to kill off the conference. This happened a mere two weeks before the conference, planned months earlier in consultation with the university, was due to begin.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews was among those Zionist groups that had been urging the university to cancel the event. Its president, Vivian Wineman, said:

'It is formulated in extremist terms, has attracted toxic speakers and is likely to result in an increase in anti-Semitism and tension on campus.'

The Telegraph reported that 'at least two major patrons of the university were considering withdrawing their financial support. One is a charitable foundation, the other a wealthy family.'

There was also fierce criticism from several politicians at Westminster. Mark Hoban, the Conservative MP for Fareham, described the conference as a 'provocative, hard-line, one-sided forum that would question and delegitimize the existence of a democratic state.' Caroline Nokes, MP for Romsey and Southampton North, said the university risked bringing itself into disrepute by hosting what she described as 'an apparently one-sided event'.

A senior government minister even got involved. Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities, derided the conference as a 'one-sided diatribe'. He went further:

'There is a careful line between legitimate academic debate on international law and the actions of governments, and the far-left's bashing of Israel which often descends into naked anti-Semitism.'

This was outrageous high-level political interference in free speech. When the university confirmed that it was cancelling the conference, the decision was predictably welcomed by the Israeli embassy in London:

'This was a clear instance of an extremist political campaign masquerading as an academic exercise, and it is only right to recognise that respecting free speech does not mean tolerating intolerance.'

Michael Gove, the Government Chief Whip and former Secretary of State for Education, could barely contain his glee:

'It was not a conference, it was an anti-Israel hate-fest.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 08 Apr 2015 06:17:31 +0000
Love For Libya: 2011-2015 http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/789-love-for-libya-2011-2015.html http://medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2015/789-love-for-libya-2011-2015.html

 

Islamic State's horrific mass beheading of 21 Coptic Christians last month forced a reluctant UK media system to return to Libya, scene of saturation news coverage in 2011.

Then, the media lens hovered obsessively over every Libyan government crime – indeed, over every alleged and even predicted crime - in an effort to justify a Nato 'intervention' that was supported by most media and 557 British MPs, with just 13 opposed.

'We have to do something', we were told. The results are summed up by the single fact that 'about 1.8 million Libyans - nearly a third of the country's population - have fled to Tunisia'. Civilians have been 'driven away by random shelling and shooting, as well as shortages of cash, electricity and fuel', with conditions 'only worsening', the New York Times reports.

Today, as many as 1,700 armed gangs are fighting over a country in which at least five governments have tried and failed to restore basic order. Djiby Diop, a 20-year-old from Senegal who spent three months amidst the chaos, explains:

'Everyone in Libya is armed now. Every guy of my age has a gun. If you don't work for them, they shoot you. If you don't give them all your money, they shoot you. Or they shoot you just for fun. Or they will throw you in prison and you have to pay 400 dinars (£200) to get released.'

Or in the words of Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration:

'It's complete anarchy in Libya and it has become very, very dangerous for migrants.'

One consequence is that thousands of Libyan refugees are risking their lives in rough winter seas as they try to reach Italy. The bad weather and small vessels mean the journey, frequently forced at gunpoint, is 'like a death sentence'.

According to the New York Times, the fighting has damaged Libya's oil exports so severely that 'there is now a risk that the country's currency and economy will soon collapse'. Musbah Alkari, manager of the reserves department at the Central Bank of Libya, warns:

'A currency collapse is less than two years away.'

The atrocity by Islamic State terrorists took place in Sirte, a city of 100,000 people that was reduced to a smoking ruin by Nato's terror flyers in 2011. The BBC reported in 2012 that it was 'hard to find a building undamaged by bullets or shells'. Or indeed bombs.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2015 Wed, 18 Mar 2015 07:55:03 +0000