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Category: Alerts 2004


Mainstream Reviews of Books by Andrew Marr, Jon Snow and John Pilger

Respective Positions On The Media And Power (Continued)

John Pilger – An Epic Silence

Readers of our Media Alerts will be well aware of John Pilger's view of the media and establishment power more generally. He reserves a special place in his articles for the deceptions of the 'liberal' press. In October 2003, he wrote in the New Statesman:

"'The New Special Relationship' was the next good news, with Blair and Clinton looking into each other's eyes in the garden at No 10 Downing Street. Here was the torch being passed, said the front page of the Independent, 'from a becalmed and aimless American presidency to the coltish omnipotence of Blairdom'. This was the reverential tone that launched Blair into his imperial violence." (Pilger, 'The Fall And Rise Of Liberal England', New Statesman, October 13, 2003)

He added:

"By the time Robin Cook launched his infamous mission statement, putting human rights at the 'heart' of foreign policy and promising to review arms sales on 'ethical' grounds, not a sceptical voice was to be heard coming from liberalism's powerhouses. On the contrary, the Guardian counselled Blair not to be too 'soft centred'."

Pilger describes how "An epic shame and silence covers much of liberal England."

Compare Pilger's views on media performance with those of Snow and Marr:

"One of the most effective functions of 'communicators' is to minimise the culpability of this [establishment] power in war and terrorism, the enforced impoverishment of large numbers of people and the theft of resources and the repression of human rights. This is achieved by omission on a grand scale, by the repetition of received truths and the obfuscation of causes." (Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p.489)

In his latest book, Tell Me No Lies – Investigative Journalism And Its Triumphs (Jonathan Cape, October 2004), Pilger writes: "Never has free journalism been as vulnerable to subversion on a grand, often unrecognisable scale." Quoting Ignacio Ramonet, he calls for nothing less than a mass revolt against the mainstream:

"'We have to create a new estate, a fifth estate, that will let us pit a civic force against this new coalition of [media] rulers." (Quoted, p.xxix)

Tell Me No Lies is an anthology of articles, broadcasts and book extracts, all prefaced by Pilger, by the likes of Robert Fisk, Mark Curtis, Greg Palast, Paul Foot, Edward Said, Seymour Hersh, Felicity Arbuthnot and Pilger himself. The book contains powerful criticism of the media, and of the Western assaults on Afghanistan and Iraq, and of US-UK foreign policy generally.

The Reviews – Level Of Coverage

Pilger's book has been reviewed just twice in national newspapers, in the Guardian and Independent. Lexis Nexis records a total of 5 mentions over the last six months (including one letter of complaint sent by Pilger to the Guardian regarding its review). Remarkably, the latest book by one of the most important and honest British-based dissidents currently writing has been granted 1,523 words of reviews.

By contrast, Jon Snow's book, Shooting History – A Personal Journey, has been reviewed by the Guardian, the Independent, the Observer, the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday, the Times and the Financial Times. Lexis Nexis records 48 mentions over the last six months – ten times as many as Pilger's book.

Andrew Marr's book, My Trade: A Short History Of British Journalism, has been reviewed by the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, the Times, the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph (Christmas list Top 20 non-fiction), the Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Evening Standard ("the pick of the year"). Lexis Nexis records 38 mentions over the last six months.

The Reviews – Quality And Tone Of Coverage

Jon Snow – National Treasure

The Snow reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, even adulatory. It is also noticeable that senior journalists have been commissioned to write them. In the Observer, former Guardian editor Peter Preston wrote that Snow is "a remarkable operator. He's much more than a newsreader. He understands what's happening and thus what he's reading; he has clearly been part of the editing process; he provides intellectual underpinning on demand. Is that Alastair Campbell storming unbidden and unheralded into the studio? Snow will handle him...

"Snow is a classic liberal, never afraid to let us see where he's coming from. We know what he stands for and relate to it, but we also know that he's a professional who doesn't let his prejudices get in the way... If we're to trust him as a guide, we need to trust him as a man. So he lays himself modestly (as well as perceptively and entertainingly) on the line - and he earns that trust." (October 31, 2004, The Observer, 'The anchorman's anchorman,' Peter Preston)

The Guardian selected Roger Mosey, the BBC's prestigious director of television news, to review Snow's book and also a book by the BBC's Michael Buerk:

"So Buerk wins on purity while Snow is ahead on provocation. They are both in the dock for occasional long-windedness... But there are terrific snapshots, too, from extraordinary times; and as accounts of how television fame is earned it would be hard to begrudge either man their achievements - or their fun." (October 30, 2004, The Guardian, 'The Buerk vs Snow show,' Roger Mosey)

An air of positivity, acceptance and personal warmth are constant themes. As noted in Part 1, the Independent asked Denis MacShane, Minister for Europe and Labour MP for Rotherham, to review Snow:

"Snow is the closest we have to a modern-day George Orwell... [He] has managed to combine a moral commitment to criticising the powerful with a scrupulous care not to bend the facts. Schoolteachers who want to give pupils a vivid, accurate, honest guide to the key world events from 1975 should recommend this book..."

Also in Part 1 of this alert, we reviewed Snow's banal 'analysis' of the media, noting how he focuses on the laziness of hacks and on media boredom in the face of real issues.

MacShane continued:

"The rainbow ties, the stiff collars, the undimmed boyish enthusiasm for great stories and important causes, the trouser bottoms stuffed in socks as he gets ready to ride home to his beloved partner and children, have turned Snow into a national treasure, whose pastoral interventions have more impact than those of most bishops."

Snow has produced "three decades of brilliant reporting", is "a spokesman for the truth", and so on. (October 29, 2004, The Independent, 'A spokesman for the truth,' Denis MacShane)

Katy Guest took a similar line, also in the Independent:

"With his cuddly iconoclasm and warm intelligence, Jon Snow is in danger of becoming a national treasure." (The Independent, October 14, 2004, 'Cheltenham literature festival: "My editors tell me to tone it down,' Katy Guest)

Philip Jacobson wrote in the Daily Mail: "[Snow] stands for substance over style: hugely energetic, endlessly curious, properly sceptical and as courageous as the occasion demands... hard experience helped to shape the compassion for the poor and powerless that informs Snow's most distinguished work for Channel 4 News." (October 22, 2004, The Daily Mail, 'Honest Jon tells the bald truth,' Philip Jacobson)

Andrew Marr – Brilliant, Of Course

As with Snow, very senior journalists have been chosen to review Marr's book. And as with Snow, the reviews have been warm, accepting, with the focus very much on Marr as a likeable individual. The editor of the Observer, Roger Alton, wrote:

"Apart from its infuriating lack of an index, it's one of the best books about journalism I've read... Anyone who's ever worked in journalism, or even thought about it, will get huge pleasure from My Trade... It's a treasure trove of a book, written with gusto and a huge love of journalism and its practitioners... He's brilliant, of course, on politics... Marr is moving, tender and truthful about journalism's aristocracy... And don't be put off when I say it's highly scholarly, too - as you'd expect from a man with such formidable erudition." (September 26, 2004, The Observer Review Pages, 'Tales from a rough trade,' Roger Alton)

John Lloyd wrote in the Financial Times:

"It is as fluent and bright as he is, full of tremendous vignettes about the trade of journalism, packed between observations that are acute, clever, even wise." (October 16, 2004, Financial Times, 'A lifetime of misplaced superiority,' John Lloyd)

The Daily Telegraph wrote that Marr "comes across in this book as he does in newsprint and on television - as lively and human, with little side and no crippling prejudices." (September 25, 2004, The Daily Telegraph, 'Striving to find the human note,' Nicholas Blincoe)

Charles Wilson wrote in the Independent: "as author of My Trade, Marr is very much the right man in the right job. It is part history, part guide, part textbook, rigorously researched and entertainingly written - I assume at a pace that should make him the envy of anyone who ever put pen to paper." (The Independent, September 24, 2004, 'Horror behind the headlines; my trade: a short history of British journalism by Andrew Marr,' Charles Wilson)

The Evening Standard:

"Witty, full of good stories, but with devastating analysis of how British journalism has dumbed down and worships the cult of celebrity." (Andrew Marr's My Trade, November 29, 2004)

Roy Greenslade wrote in the Guardian:

"I am delighted to say that Andrew Marr has broken the mould: he has chosen analysis rather than anecdote, weaving his own experiences into a fabric that manages to be both readable and thoughtful. It is also a book that, due to his TV 'fame', might well attract wider interest, and it certainly deserves to do so." (The Guardian, September 11, 2004, 'Mirror writing: A thoughtful, witty book about journalism?' Roy Greenslade)

There are criticisms but over and over again we find the same warmth, a sense of Marr being almost unreservedly embraced.

You would not guess from these reviews that Snow and Marr are high-profile members of a mainstream media system that proved catastrophically incapable of challenging even the most obvious government lies ahead of the murderous invasion of Iraq.

We have read all the reviews – the media's failure on Iraq was not mentioned once in any of them.

John Pilger – Fallen Hero

The more important of the two reviews devoted to Pilger's book was written by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. Greenslade was an extraordinary choice as reviewer given that the book contains material that is strongly critical of his own journalism.

Greenslade's review was generally positive, but compare and contrast what follows with the reviews above:

"John Pilger, who has chosen this first-rate selection of investigative articles from some of the world's best reporters, is a classic example of the marginalisation process. For years he has been subjected to persistent abuse, in Britain and his native Australia, aimed at undermining his work.

"He is undoubtedly a prickly character. As an editor once remarked, only a little unfairly, he is a hero until you know him." (The Guardian, October 30, 2004, 'Writers on the frontline,' Roy Greenslade)

We found nothing as personally damning as this in any of the reviews of Snow and Marr's work.

Greenslade also offers a grotesque parody of Pilger's journalism:

"Even if one disagrees with his political viewpoint, which tends to attribute all the globe's evils to the hegemonic power of the United States, the suffering he has highlighted and the corruption he has exposed demand not only compassion but a commitment to act. I am happy to praise him..."

To suggest that Pilger believes the United States is the root of "all the globe's evils" is absurd. In fact Pilger consistently draws attention to the destructive institutions and goals of established power across the globe. As the world's military and economic superpower, the United States naturally features highly in this analysis, but it is not at all identified as the ultimate source of all problems.

The second review was by Bill Hagerty in the Independent. Hagerty writes:

"Was a time when young students planning a career in print journalism wanted to be John Pilger - even the girls. Today, according to a number of regional and local newspaper editors, the collective ambition of many pouring from the plethora of university media courses are jobs on OK! or Hello! magazines."

He continues:

"Meanwhile, the role model of yesteryear has edited a collection of investigative journalism that will be devoured by the dribble of students who hold Pilger in awe. Others will doubtless give it no more than a cursory glance."

This is false - in fact Pilger is one of the most popular journalists currently writing. We know this from our own experience. When Pilger mentioned Media Lens in his New Statesman column in 2002, the number of subscriptions to our Media Alerts and hits to our website simply sky-rocketed. But Haggerty apparently did not intend to smear Pilger:

"I have never worked with anyone who came even close to matching the fire, outrage and descriptive power employed by Pilger when reporting from Vietnam, Cambodia and other hotspots for The Daily Mirror." (The Independent, November 15, 2004, Bill Hagerty, 'Hanging out with celebs has surpassed unearthing news')

Conclusion – Beyond The Media Bubble

At the start of this Media Alert we proposed that elite journalists create a fraudulent version of the world shaped by the needs of the powerful interests of which they are a part. We have seen how two influential mainstream journalists - Snow and Marr - have been hailed as brilliant journalists, even as national treasures, while Pilger's dissident journalism has been almost completely ignored.

What is so interesting is that this is indeed reasonable, if we accept the media's unspoken framework of reality. If we assume that Western power is fundamentally benevolent, that the US-UK governments only react to the crimes of others, sometimes destructively because of personal failings and mistakes, then Snow and Marr do an excellent job – they are witty, charming and combative.

By the same media logic, Pilger is a weird troublemaker carping on about nothing very much, inventing evil intent and crimes where none exist. He is best ignored, received with a sneer, or smeared.

But if, using our capacity for rational thought, we step outside the media bubble, we will see that state-corporate power is wreaking havoc around the world at an unimaginable cost in human and animal suffering. We will see that corporate domination has had a devastating impact on the honesty of our mass media, and so on the ability of the public to resist the subordination of people and planet to profit.

And given that this is the case, Marr and Snow, like the vast majority of mainstream journalists, must be judged to be failing disastrously in their roles. We need only look at the media's catastrophic performance in the run up to last year's attack on Iraq to see the results.

And again, from this different perspective, Pilger can be seen to be one of a tiny number of journalists with the integrity and intelligence to expose the exploiters and killers employed to put profits first. He is willing to subordinate his own interests to the needs of the victims of Western power who, beyond the bright lights of liberal 'progress', lie as tortured and crushed as they ever were. From this point of view, it is Pilger who should be embraced with personal warmth and admiration – it is +his+ work that should be granted ten times as many reviews as tittle-tattle by Snow and Marr.

It is clear from all of the above that leading journalists are highly rewarded for +not+ rationally describing or analysing the key facts and issues surrounding the modern media. Praise is earned for +not+ making sense of the world, for +not+ helping the public see through the lies and distortions by which they are constantly assailed.

In a world so full of suffering, so beset by confusion that is so ruthlessly exploited, this is a very great cruelty. It is also a prime example of how a fraudulent version of the world is created, one that is shaped by the needs of powerful interests.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Email: jon.snow@itn.co.uk

Email: andrew.marr@bbc.co.uk

Email: claire.armitstead@guardian.co.uk

Email: robert.mccrum@observer.co.uk

Email: b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Email: s.feay@independent.co.uk

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Mainstream Reviews of Books by Andrew Marr, Jon Snow and John Pilger

The Masters Of Self-Adulation

In this two-part Media Alert we will test a simple claim: that elite journalists promote a fraudulent version of the world shaped by the powerful interests of which they are a part.

Because entry to the club of high-profile journalism is conditional on acceptance of this fraud, the public is exposed to little else. As a result, society is enveloped by a bubble of media pseudo-reality that bears little relation to, and often reverses the truth of, the world around us. In essence, the ridiculous is rendered reasonable through repetition and the crowding out of sane alternatives.

Historically, an important part of this process has involved intellectuals and journalists congratulating each other on the important, courageous work they are doing. As Noam Chomsky has observed:

"Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word." (Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.20)

By contrast, rogue individuals who dare to challenge the fraud are met with silence, grudging acknowledgement, or "screeches and other monkey-like noises," American writer David Peterson notes.

As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that widespread media praise and applause indicate low-grade thought and high-grade servility to power. Mainstream journalists, indeed, would do well to reflect on Thoreau's words:

"The greater part of what my neighbours call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behaviour. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" (Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, Penguin, 1986, p.53)

By way of a case study, we will examine the mainstream response to books by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, the BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, and investigative journalist John Pilger, all published in September and October of this year.

Respective Positions On The Media And Power

To test the credibility of our claim, we first need to gain an approximate understanding of where Snow, Marr and Pilger stand with regard to the mainstream media and state-corporate power more generally.

Jon Snow – Lazy Hacks

On January 9, 2001, Media Lens interviewed Jon Snow on the media and US-UK foreign policy. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

David Edwards: "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and so on, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Are you aware of that argument, and what do you make of it...?"

Jon Snow: "I'm aware of the argument; I don't believe it's true."

DE: "You don't believe it's true."

JS: "No, no. I mean, I don't think that's the motivation. I think they just know that sex and those sort of things sell a lot better."

Snow rejected our attempts to discuss institutional analyses of the media, particularly those focusing on the impact of the corporate nature of the media in a society dominated by corporate power. He was keen, instead, to focus on the failings of individual journalists:

"I think, mainly, the biggest culprit in all this is the hack: journalists are lazy, they live in a goldfish bowl; they're not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff themselves. And it isn't because they've got the advertisers breathing down their necks – they couldn't give a shit about the advertisers – it's because it's easier to do other things, where they're spoon-fed."

Snow rejected related dissident arguments out of hand:

DE: "Have you heard of the British historian Mark Curtis?"

JS: "I don't know."

DE: "He argues that there's a pattern to post-1945 British and US interventions, basically defending profits and installing people like the Shah in Iran..."

JS: "Oh this is bollocks! Total bollocks!"

Despite dismissing the propaganda role of the corporate media, and the violent, profit-oriented character of Western foreign policy – two key assumptions of the modern left - Snow is keen to identify himself as a left-leaning liberal. He typically describes himself as "a pinko liberal hack", a "public school pinko liberal", "I'm still a pinko liberal". (Quoted, Decca Aitkenhead, 'That's Snow business,' The Daily Mail, October 10, 2004; John Lloyd, 'A lifetime of misplaced superiority,' Financial Times, October 16, 2004; Sally Vincent, 'Honest Jon,' the Guardian, October 2, 2004)

Snow likes to recall that Denis Thatcher once described him as "that pinko".

Snow is also regarded as a "pinko liberal" across the media spectrum. Decca Aitkenhead writes in the Daily Mail that Snow "has achieved a rare status on television – famous as a radical, yet held in universal affection". (Aitkenhead, op., cit)

The Financial Times declares that he is "the only news presenter on the British screen licensed to give a largely one-sided (pinko-liberal) take on current events". (October 16, 2004, Financial Times, 'A lifetime of misplaced superiority,' John Lloyd)

Denis MacShane even felt able to write in the Independent:

"Snow is the closest we have to a modern-day George Orwell... Snow has managed to combine a moral commitment to criticising the powerful with a scrupulous care not to bend the facts." (October 29, 2004, The Independent, 'A spokesman for the truth,' MacShane)

Even allowing for the fact that MacShane is a Labour MP, these are remarkable comments.

In fact, Jon Snow's "pinko liberalism" is an example of what Noam Chomsky calls "feigned dissent", whereby mainstream journalists and intellectuals - who appear, on some level, to oppose powerful interests - in fact support the fundamental doctrines of the propaganda system. Chomsky explains with great clarity:

"To achieve respectability, to be admitted to the debate, they must accept without question or inquiry the fundamental doctrine that the state is benevolent, governed by the loftiest intentions, adopting a defensive stance, not an actor in world affairs but only reacting to the crimes of others, sometimes unwisely because of personal failures, naiveté, the complexity of history or an inability to comprehend the evil nature of our enemies. If even the harshest critics tacitly adopt these premises, then the ordinary person may ask, who am I to disagree? The more intensely the debate rages between hawks and doves ["liberal-pinkos"] the more firmly and effectively the doctrines of the state religion are established." (Chomsky, The Chomsky Reader, Serpent's Tail, 1987, p.132)

In his new book, Shooting History (HarperCollins, October 2004), Snow does mention Western crimes. He clearly states, for example, that US corporations benefited from the US government's arming of murderous dictators exploiting the poor in Central America in the 1980s. But he makes no serious attempt to expose the political economy behind these atrocities, or to link them to current horrors, presumably regarding such attempts as "bollocks". Instead, in describing a visit to America, Snow makes a striking statement:

"As the plane touched down at Dulles airport in the Virginia wastes beyond Washington, my thoughts were of mistrust for what America had done, of the death squads that flourished under the protection of US-backed military forces, of the dictators like Pinochet whom the Cold War had rendered 'best friends'. I would expose it all!

"But within twenty-four hours of landing my mistrust began turning into an improbable and lifelong love affair with 'can-do' America." (p.212)

Later, Snow writes of NATO's attack on Serbia in 1999:

"With a million refugees already outside Kosovo and more coming, the pressure was on Blair, Clinton and the other Western leaders to move quickly.

"The point was emphasised when we reached the border the next morning. Straggling along the single-track railway line were unbroken lines of refugees stretching as far as the eye could see. It was like a scene out of Schindler's List." (p.353)

He continues:

"Young British squaddies beavered away in the hot sun [at the forward camp of NATO's force in Kosovo], stripped to the waist and displaying their crude tattoos. I have never more wanted a force to go to war. This time I had none of the misgivings that were to dog the Iraq adventure four years later. The sheer mass of humanity in peril had convinced me." (pp.353-354)

This is a standard, pro-war mainstream view that includes the usual reversal of cause and effect. In fact independent observers reported at the time that the flood of refugees from Kosovo began immediately +after+ NATO launched its 78-day attack. Prior to the bombing, and for the following two days, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported no data on refugees. On March 27, three days into the bombing, UNHCR reported that 4,000 had fled Kosovo to the neighbouring countries of Albania and Macedonia. By April 5, the New York Times reported "more than 350,000 have left Kosovo since March 24". The mass of humanity had been placed in peril precisely +by+ NATO actions.

Following the war, NATO sources reported that 2,000 people had been killed in Kosovo on all sides in the year prior to bombing – tales of a Serbian genocide prior to bombing, of hundreds of thousands dead, were as fraudulent as tales of Iraqi WMD.

Discussing the world's superpower, Snow comments, charitably, that Tony Blair, is of those who "try to hang onto a trailing bootstrap in the hope of dissuading America from pre-emptive unilateral action". (pp.377-378)

Readers will recall that it was Blair who had pushed for a ground war against Serbia in 1999.

Snow comments on the media:

"Who is seriously tackling the North's defoliation of the South? Who is seriously considering our emissions? Certainly not the SUV drivers on the Los Angeles freeway, or the Mercedes drivers on the autobahns and motorways of Europe. The North's media are providing a deft counterpoint to the terrorist endeavour by keeping our 'developed' populations in ignorance of the world beyond Pop Idol, ER and Eastenders...

"This is a time for nations and peoples to come together, a time to rekindle the United Nations dream and let it reflect more honestly a fairer new world order. But the national politicians don't want to talk about it, and the media is relieved - for it is the stuff of boredom." (pp.377-378)

Journalists, then, are too lazy and bored to discuss the real issues. This is, itself, too unreal to merit further discussion.

We believe that Snow is an honest and skilled professional journalist. We also believe the propaganda system strongly selects for "feigned dissent". As we will see, the rewards for declaring oneself radical without seriously embarrassing powerful interests are high. On the other hand, the costs of agreeing with the kind of arguments we raised with Snow in our interview are equally real and all but unavoidable.

Andrew Marr – Pernicious Anti-Journalism

We have had a number of direct exchanges with Andrew Marr, so we are well aware of his views of our media analysis. On October 7, 2001, Marr wrote in response to one of our Media Alerts:

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

In a BBC interview with Noam Chomsky in 1996, Marr said he had been brought up to believe "that journalism was a crusading craft, and that there were a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism, and I have to say, I think I know some of them."

He added:

"We [the UK] have a press which has, it seems to me a relatively wide range of views - there is a pretty schmaltzy Conservative majority but there are left-wing papers, and there is a pretty large offering of views running from the far right to the far left, for those who want them." (The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996,


In his recent book on the media, My Trade (Macmillan, September 2004), Marr does identify problems in media performance:

"But there is an idle, office-bound, marketing-directed copycat culture in modern news which is turning off readers and viewers. The biggest problems are not caused by lying or intrusion. They are caused by conformity and dullness... The best slogan for a more vigorous and useful news agenda today would be: get out more often." (p.116)

We recall Snow's comments that journalists "live in a goldfish bowl, they're not interested in breaking out and breaking this stuff themselves."

These are excellent examples of "feigned dissent". Appearing critical, they earn accolades for honesty and courage. But by focusing on incompetence and other personal failings, they avoid addressing systemic issues likely to generate conflict with the powers that be. In particular, they avoid addressing the elephant in the media living room – the compromised nature and goals of the corporate media system.

Marr does occasionally glimpse the elephant:

"But the biggest question is whether advertising limits and reshapes the news agenda. It does, of course. It's hard to make the sums add up when you are kicking the people who write the cheques." (p.112)

But the problem is not seriously explored, or considered in the context of the other powerful forces filtering media performance. Marr adds:

"Some people, including politicians on the radical right, and academics on the left, argue that the very idea of broadly impartial broadcast news is naïve and impossible. Surely the news reflects underlying values and they always serve somebody's interests - those of a liberal metropolitan elite, or of big business? Surely fairness is an over-optimistic Enlightenment myth? Maybe; but if so it is the myth most British people seem to prefer." (p.307)

Some might argue, then, that there is a giant corporate elephant in the media living room; others that it is a liberal metropolitan mouse! Maybe the elephant is imaginary - who knows?

This is a superb example of the wilful blindness that fuels the propaganda system. The corporate domination of mass media, politics and society +is+ real and obviously has devastating implications for free speech. And the myth of press freedom is +not+ one most British people "seem to prefer". In modern times, the public has not for one moment been given a choice because more honest alternatives are subject to a de facto ban by the corporate media system.

Marr paints a positive picture of media performance:

"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 says that news is the conveying of fact, and nothing more." (p.279)

This would be amusing, if the consequences of mainstream reporting were not so devastating in the real world. As Bush and Blair were trying to scare their way to war on Iraq in November 2002, John Simpson produced a BBC documentary called 'Saddam - A Warning From History' (BBC1, November 3, 2002). The title was an outrageous reference to an earlier BBC series, 'The Nazis - A Warning From History'.

During the bombing of Serbia, almost paraphrasing Snow's comments on Kosovo, Marr wrote in the Observer:

"I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we're so steeped in blood we should go further. If we really believe Milosevic is this bad, dangerous and destabilising figure we must ratchet this up much further. We should now be saying that we intend to put in ground troops." (Marr, 'Do we give war a chance?', The Observer, April 18, 1999)

And we recall, one more time, Marr's comments as US tanks blasted their way into Baghdad on illegal orders, on a mission to secure Iraqi oil and, according to the marines in the tanks, killing just about everything in their path:

"He [Blair] said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result." (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003)

Andrew Marr is also an honest and professional journalist – but this instant vindication of Blair's illegal, immoral and murderous policy had nothing to do with balanced journalism.

Part 2 will follow shortly...


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Email: jon.snow@itn.co.uk

Email: andrew.marr@bbc.co.uk

Email: claire.armitstead@guardian.co.uk

Email: robert.mccrum@observer.co.uk

Email: b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Email: s.feay@independent.co.uk

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Like the rest of the mainstream media, the BBC did next to nothing to expose the devastating effects of US-UK war and sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq from 1990 onwards. Ahead of last year's war, the BBC endlessly echoed and channelled UK government propaganda claims, almost never subjecting those claims to serious challenge.

Post-invasion and post-Hutton, the BBC has presented the occupation of Iraq as a flawed but well-intentioned act of 'liberation' and 'rebuilding'. Yesterday, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network reported of Fallujah:

"Approximately 70 percent of the houses and shops were destroyed in the city and those still standing are riddled with bullets." ('Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival', http://www.irinnews.org, November 30, 2004)

You would not know from BBC coverage that a vast war crime has taken place in Fallujah. If Saddam Hussein had demolished 70% of Kuwait in 1990, it would surely have been declared one of the great atrocities of the twentieth century.

Legitimising The Illegitimate

The US-UK "coalition" would soon "hand over power to the Iraqis" on June 30, Laura Trevelyan declared on BBC1 in May. (16:45 News, May 23, 2004) Thus "soon the occupation will end", Orla Guerin observed. (BBC1, 19:00 News, June 16, 2004)

The death of a British soldier in Basra was particularly tragic, Guerin noted on the day of the "handover" (June 28), because he was "the last soldier to die under the occupation". (BBC1, 13:00 News, June 28, 2004) On the same programme, Matt Frei declared Iraq "sovereign and free" on "an enormously significant day for Iraq". It was an "historic day", anchor Anna Ford agreed.

Guerin described how Iraqi troops participating in an official ceremony "have waited all their lives for freedom", and so "feel satisfaction that power will be back in Iraqi hands". (Guerin, BBC1, 18:00 News, June 28, 2004)

Back in the real world, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times:

"The formal occupation of Iraq came to an ignominious end yesterday... In reality, the occupation will continue under another name, most likely until a hostile Iraqi populace demands that we leave." (Krugman, 'Who lost Iraq?', New York Times, June 29, 2004)

Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent:

"Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking-glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington... Those of us who put quotation marks around 'liberation' in 2003 should now put quotation marks around 'sovereignty'." (Fisk, 'The handover: Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - or Alice in Wonderland?' The Independent, June 29, 2004)

In November, Anna Ford continued with the BBC's preferred version of events:

"Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he has given American and Iraqi forces the authority to clear Fallujah of terrorists." (Ford, BBC1, 13:00 News, November 8, 2004)

Caroline Hawley noted in July that the interim Iraqi government would need to ensure the security of the Iraqi people "if it's to keep their support". (Hawley, BBC1, 18:00 News, July 28, 2004)

We await credible evidence of this support for the US puppet regime.

Nicholas Witchell said in September:

"Dr. Allawi may say, 'we're winning', and there may be a time soon when that claim is more obviously justifiable. If that time arrives, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be delighted." (Witchell, BBC1, 22:00 News, September 23, 2004)

On October 20, Ben Brown said:

"The people of southern Iraq know they have their freedom." (Brown, BBC1, 22:00 News, October 20, 2004)

Imagine our reaction if a Russian journalist had said the same of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

On October 21, Caroline Hawley observed:

"It's hard to imagine that there can be free and fair elections across this country without a dramatic improvement in security." (Hawley, BBC1, 22:00 News, October 21, 2004)

With the United States having so far lost 1,100 troops killed in action in Iraq, with ten times that number wounded, at a cost of $200 billion, some find it hard to imagine that Bush and Rumsfeld would allow free and fair elections +regardless+ of the 'security' situation.

Dr. Wamidh Omar Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University, and an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein's government, is official spokesman for the Iraqi National Foundation Congress. Nadhmi says:

"We suggested to the occupation forces and Iraqi government four requirements for an Iraqi election: an international committee of oversight; an immediate ceasefire because we cannot have elections under bombardment and rockets; [the] withdrawal of American troops from the major cities one month before the election." (Quoted, Dahr Jamail, 'Iraqi Critics Speak Out on Occupation, Elections,' The New Standard, November 22, 2004)

Ignoring these suggestions, which Nadhmi describes as prerequisites for a free and democratic election, the interim government declared martial law. Nadhmi asks:

"How can we have a free election under martial law?... Martial law is one of the nails in the coffin of this regime. The last pretext for democracy here is now buried. Their declaration of martial law is a declaration of political bankruptcy."

From An Establishment Perspective

In a 2003 Panorama special, Matt Frei said:

"There's no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power." (Frei, BBC1, Panorama, April 13, 2003)

New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman allows us to decode the propaganda:

"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (Quoted, John Pilger, 'The New Rulers of the World', Verso, 2001, p.114)

US presidential candidate and congressman, Dennis Kucinich, wrote in March, 2003:

"Is President Bush's war in Iraq about oil? Of course it is. Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one: Oil is a major factor in the President's march to war, just as oil is a major factor in every aspect of US policy in the Persian Gulf." (Kucinich, 'Obviously Oil', AlterNet, March 11, 2003)

The BBC's John Humphrys said:

"So maybe it's not being too naive to think America really does want to use its position as the world's only superpower to spread freedom and democracy. The truth is, it's a question of where. Only last week James Woolsey - who once ran the CIA and has been appointed to run the new information ministry in Iraq - claimed America had been actively promoting democracy for most of the past century." (Humphrys, 'Bush turns a blind eye to the wars he doesn't want to fight', Sunday Times, April 13, 2003)

Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, takes a different view:


On the BBC's Newsnight programme, Gavin Esler noted that US crimes at Abu Ghraib prison had produced: "Images that shamed America's mission in Iraq." (Esler, Newsnight, August 24, 2004)

Much as crimes in Kabul "shamed" the Soviet Union's mission in Afghanistan in the 1980s, perhaps.

In March 2003, Newsnight's Kirsty Wark's observed that the declining humanitarian situation in Iraq threatened to "take the shine off" the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign. (Wark, Newsnight, March 21, 2003)

Much as the humanitarian situation threatened to "take the shine off" Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

In July 2004, Newsnight described how Iraqi insurgents were "blighting US attempts to bring peace and stability to Iraq". (Newsnight, July 5, 2004)

Resistance to an illegal superpower invasion by a quarter of a million troops is the real obstacle to peace, according to the BBC. Imagine the BBC declaring (not merely reporting) that the US-UK occupation was blighting international attempts to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

On October 1, Nicholas Witchell reported that a series of insurgent car bombs in Baghdad were "intended to undermine the future". (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, October 1, 2004)

As opposed to the +Americans'+ version of "the future".

On the BBC's Politics Show, Jeremy Vine suggested that the failure to discover any WMDs in Iraq would be "toe-curlingly embarrassing for the politicians". (Vine, The Politics Show, BBC1, May 4, 2003)

Imagine launching an illegal invasion, occupation and devastation of a defenceless Third World country, killing tens of thousands of civilians on a completely concocted pretext. What could be more "embarrassing"? Or indeed a more compelling case for a war crimes tribunal?

Earlier this year, Nicholas Witchell was happy to confuse the issue of the Daily Mirror's pictures of alleged abuse of Iraqis with the wider issue of British abuse:

"After the appalling +reality+ of what the Americans have been doing, the Mirror's pictures threatened to compromise the work of every British soldier." (Witchell, BBC1 22:00 News, May 14, 2004, original emphasis)

But British abuses +were+ real. For example, according to the Red Cross, married father of two, Baha Mousa, was among nine men seized at a hotel in Basra by British troops in September 2003:

"'Following their arrest, the nine men were made to kneel, face and hands against the ground, as if in a prayer position,' the report said. 'The soldiers stamped on the back of the neck of those raising their head.'" (Agencies, 'Red Cross report details alleged Iraq abuses', The Guardian, May 10, 2004)

Amnesty International launched "a scathing attack on the British military in Iraq", the Guardian reported. Amnesty produced evidence of eight cases in which Iraqi civilians, including a girl aged eight, were shot dead by British soldiers in southern Iraq.

Naming The Bad Guys

Discussing the war against the insurgency, Newsnight's Kirsty Wark asked a US military expert: "Can you choke off terrorism in Iraq?" (Newsnight, September 23, 2004)

James Robbins reported that the interim government was faced by: "Saddam loyalists joined by al Qaeda elements." (Robbins, BBC1, 13:00 News, June 28, 2004)

Most experts reject the claim that al Qaeda and other foreign fighters are at the heart of the insurgency. Toby Dodge, a British-based analyst, told the Al Jazeera website:


On November 16, the Los Angeles Times reported that US-UK forces are fighting "a homegrown uprising dominated by Iraqis, not foreign fighters." According to the paper:

"Of the more than 1,000 men between the ages of 15 and 55 who were captured in intense fighting in the center of the insurgency over the last week, just 15 are confirmed foreign fighters, Gen. George W. Casey, the top US ground commander in Iraq, said Monday."

by http://antiwar.com/solomon/?articleid=4008)

In October, the BBC's Paul Wood referred to the "so-called 'resistance fighters'". (Wood, BBC1, 13:00 News, October 22, 2004)

Ben Brown described Fallujah as "a haven for Sunni extremists". (Brown, BBC1, 18:30 News, October 27, 2004)

In September 2004, Witchell said:

"As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life - either as a result of mistakes by the Americans, or, far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents." (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, September 30, 2004)

A research study published in The Lancet in October made a conservative estimate of 98,000 civilian deaths since the invasion:


Blair's Passion

Tony Blair "passionately believes" that Saddam Hussein had to be confronted to avoid future regrets, the BBC's Laura Trevelyan insisted. (Trevelyan, BBC1, 13:00 News, January 14, 2003)

By contrast, former cabinet minister, Clare Short, insists that Tony Blair used "various ruses" and "a series of half-truths, exaggerations, reassurances that were not the case to get us into conflict by the spring". (Patrick Wintour, 'Short: I was briefed on Blair's secret war pact', The Guardian, June 18, 2003)

Paul O'Neill, former US Treasury secretary, explained how the Bush administration came to office determined to topple Saddam Hussein, using the September 11 attacks as a pretext: "It was all about finding a way to do it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.'" (O'Neill, quoted, Julian Borger, 'Bush decided to remove Saddam "on day one"', The Guardian, January 12, 2004)

O'Neill reports seeing one memorandum, long before September 11, 2001, preparing for war dating from the first days of the administration. Another, marked "secret" said, "Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq". O'Neill also saw a Pentagon document entitled "Foreign Suitors For Iraqi Oilfield Contracts", which discussed dividing Iraq's fuel reserves up between the world's oil companies. So much for Blair's passionate beliefs!

Matt Frei had this to say:

"If you remember, Paul O'Neill was sacked mainly because he was incompetent, and he was more infamous for his gaffes than his insights on economic theory. He once famously said that the collapse of the energy giant Enron was an example of the genius of capitalism, and perhaps more accurately that the tax code in America was 9,500 words of complete gibberish." (Frei, Newsnight, BBC2, January 12, 2004)

The 1991 Gulf War And The Effects Of Sanctions

A Guardian report cited by historian Mark Curtis found that the issue of oil featured in 4% of BBC1 reports and in 3% of BBC2 reports - a remarkable achievement, given the obvious central concern. The BBC told its reporters to be "circumspect" about pictures of death and injury. ('"Circumspect" BBC', The Guardian, January 15, 1991)

David Dimbleby asked on live BBC TV:

"Isn't it in fact true that America, by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we've seen, is the only potential world policeman?" (Quoted, John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p.45)

Only 7% of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped in the 1991 war employed 'smart' technology. The accuracy of these weapons was indicated by the performance of the much-vaunted Patriot missile system, declared 98% successful in intercepting and destroying Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 war. Professor Ted Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was asked by Congress to investigate the 98% claim. Much to his surprise, Postol found that the Patriot's success rate was rather less impressive than claimed:

"It became clear that it wasn't even close to intercepting +any+ targets, let alone some targets." (Postol, Great Military Blunders, Channel 4, March 2, 2000, original emphasis)

In a 2002 documentary, the BBC's John Simpson reported of the 1991 Gulf War:

"The big attack didn't bring the terrible loss of life that Saddam had feared." (Simpson, 'Saddam: A Warning from History', BBC1, November 3, 2002)

In late 1991, the Medical Educational Trust in London estimated that up to a quarter of a million men, women and children had died in the assault. On his return from Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war, UN diplomat Marrti Ahtisaari wrote:

"Nothing that we had seen or read had prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results..." (Quoted, Milan Rai, War On Iraq, Verso, 2002, p.135)

The BBC's Ben Brown said of the effects of UN sanctions:

"He [Saddam Hussein] claims UN sanctions have reduced many of his citizens to near starvation - pictures like these [of a malnourished baby and despairing mother] have been a powerful propaganda weapon for Saddam, which he'll now have to give up." (Brown, BBC News, June 20, 1996)

In the Observer of June 23, 2002, John Sweeney reviewed arguments made in his BBC documentary on the same day:

"The Iraqi dictator says his country's children are dying in their thousands because of the West's embargoes. John Sweeney, in a TV documentary to be shown tonight, says the figures are bogus." (Sweeney, 'How Saddam 'staged' fake baby funerals', The Observer, June 23, 2002)

In his Observer article, Sweeney wrote:

"In 1999 Unicef, in co-operation with the Iraqi government, made a retrospective projection of 500,000 excess child deaths in the 1990s. The projection is open to question. It was based on data from within a regime that tortures children with impunity. All but one of the researchers used by Unicef were employees of the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet."

We asked Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's 'oil for food' programme in Iraq, to respond. Von Sponeck described Sweeney's article as "exactly the kind of journalism that is Orwellian, double-speak. No doubt, the Iraq Government has manipulated data to suit its own purposes, everyone of the protagonists unfortunately does this. A journalist should not. UNICEF has used large numbers of international researchers and applied sophisticated methods to get these important figures.

"Yes, the Ministry of Health personnel cooperated with UNICEF but ultimately it was UNICEF and UNICEF alone which carried out the data analysis exactly because they did not want to politicise their work... This article is a very serious misrepresentation." (Email to Media Lens, June 24, 2002)

Former UN Assistant Secretary-General, Denis Halliday, who set up and ran the UN's 'oil for food' programme, has said:

"Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years - it's a deliberate ploy... That's why I've been using the word 'genocide', because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I'm afraid I have no other view at this late stage." (Interview with Media Lens, May 2000, www.Media Lens.org)


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. We urge you to peacefully protest the BBC on December 2.

In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Email: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk

Email: matt.frei@bbc.co.uk

Email: editor@medialens.org

Media Lens readers may also wish to consider contacting the BBC's programme complaints unit at:


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On 18 and 19 November, we sent out a two-part media alert about the recent BBC2 series, 'The Power of Nightmares' (for transcripts, go to: http://www.acutor.be/silt/index.php?id=572)

Adam Curtis, who wrote and directed the series, located key goals of modern US foreign policy in the beliefs of a group of myth-making neo-conservative "idealists".

According to Curtis, these neocons were motivated by a perceived need to counter the destructive impacts of "selfish individualism". They also promoted a vision of the United States spreading "the good of democracy around the world". Curtis took this propaganda at face value. His central claim was that "politicians are seen simply as managers of public life" but that, almost by accident, "they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority". Rather than "delivering dreams", Curtis said, "politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares."

However, Curtis overlooked the historical reality that the alleged focus on countering "selfish individualism", as well as the demonising of foreign 'threats', were not the exclusive preserve of a cabal of neocons. Nor was this a relatively recent phenomenon that took hold during the Reagan years. In fact, such propaganda was part of a sustained programme of social engineering carried out by US governments, both Democrat and Republican, and by powerful business associations, from the 19th century onwards.

Curtis had nothing to say about the key issue of business control of American society;  the words 'corporate', 'corporation' and 'business' were not mentioned in the series. Instead, the neocons were depicted as fanatical ideologues, with no mention of their roots in the business community or their furtherance of corporate interests.

The red herring of "You wanted me to make a different series"

Curtis responded to Media Lens twice on the same day (22 November). The first reply was as follows:

"I think it comes down to this. You believe that business and corporate interests shape the world and that ideas and political ideology are just froth on the surface that disguises the real, hidden forces underneath.

"The neoconservatives and the Islamists believe the complete opposite - that ideas can fundamentally change the world. In the neoconservatives own words: 'Ideas do have consequences.'

"I don't believe either of these positions. I think the reality is far more complex - that ideas do have widespread effects but not in the way those who developed them necessarily intended. They are taken up, used and distorted by many other forces including business and corporate interests."

"From my perspective, yours and Mr Chomsky's arguments are just as much a political ideology as that of the neoconservatives - although in many ways they are a more interesting and satisfying explanation of the forces shaping today's world than the neoconservatives narrow manicheanism.

"But the reality is that both the neoconservatives and the Islamists have become powerful and influential and I chose to make a series of films that explained the roots of their ideas and how they were taken up, simplified and distorted. This was the focus of the programmes, and I made them this way because very few people know anything about the history of these ideas and I thought it was important to tell that history from the point of view of those involved and to critically analyse the development of their ideas.

"You want me to have made a different series - about the underlying role of business. That would be a completely different programme - a perfectly good and very important subject - but different. You are doing the same as you have done in the past, you criticise me for not making the programme that I never intended to make in the first place.

"That said, I do take your argument seriously and I thank both you and all your correspondents for taking the time to write to me. The interplay between political ideology and other forces is a fascinating and complex subject and I am well aware that in three hours of film time I left out masses of important arguments and perspectives and it is very good to be reminded of what I have missed. I am sure I will return to this area again - and your criticism I am sure will help me shape future projects." (Email to Media Lens, 22 November, 2004)

We are grateful to Adam Curtis for his gracious response.

The essence of Curtis's objection to our critique is that "You want me to have made a different series". In fact, we critically appraised Curtis's +own+ thesis on its own terms and found it to be fundamentally ill-conceived. Curtis's stated focus - the ideas motivating both the neocons and "the Islamists" - cannot be understood without examining the reality of western state-corporate power on the one hand, and the response amongst Islamic peoples to the suffering wreaked upon them by that same power, on the other.

By ignoring the role of business, and its partnership with the state, Curtis removed the context that would allow a proper understanding of the political world today. For Curtis, such arguments "are just as much a political ideology as that of the neoconservatives". But the influence of corporate power is not a political theory - it is a central political fact of modern life. In seeking to understand the modern world, an analysis of the role of corporate power is not somehow optional - unless making sense is also deemed optional.

Curtis's arguments can only be taken seriously if we ignore the historical record, including formerly secret US internal documents, that clearly demonstrate the motives and intentions of policy makers, whether neocons were in power or not. Summing up this record, historian Mark Curtis notes that:

"The US' most fundamental role in the world is organising the global economy and key regions to benefit US business, a strategy that has further impoverished dozens of nations and which holds large regions of the world hostage to commercial interests." (Curtis, Web of Deceit, Vintage, London, 2003, p. 118)

This brutal imperialism, which Adam Curtis ignores, is one of the most powerful forces shaping world affairs today. Zbigniew Brzezinski, an adviser to several US presidents, explained American policy in stark terms:

"To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." (Quoted, John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, Verso, London, 2002, p. 113-114)

In dealing with the concerns of "the Islamists", Curtis ignores the fact that Osama bin Laden has clearly listed three political grievances as primary motives for the September 11, 2001 attacks: the oppression of Palestinians, the devastating effect of US-UK sanctions and war on Iraqi civilians, and the presence of US military bases in Saudi Arabia. These motives, it should go without saying, can never justify atrocities carried out against any target, western or otherwise. But for Curtis to ignore these political grievances, and to focus instead on hatred of western "selfish individualism", is seriously misleading.

Of fantasies, gravity and unexamined power

In a second reply later the same day, Curtis responded further. (A full-length version of Curtis's second response was actually published as a Guardian comment piece, 'Fear gives politicians a reason to be', 24 November, 2004)

"Of course politicians in the past have used fear and exaggerated threats, but this time I think it is different. In the past it was always in response to another political threat to their power - whether it was internal, from the organised working class, or from abroad. This time I think they have turned to fear not because of a real enemy outside but because they feel that their own sense of legitimacy and authority dwindling."

Curtis here concedes that a central plank in his original argument was inaccurate: manipulation of fear and terror is indeed a long-standing convention, not a recent development by extreme neocons. But he now makes the dubious claim that politicians have, for the first time, targeted an invented enemy to counter a loss of legitimacy and authority.

In reality, political leaders and state planners have +always+ feared popular demands for equity, justice and functioning democracy. They have always hyped external enemies to promote subordination and passivity. As Chomsky has noted: "Remember, any state, +any+ state, has a primary enemy: its own population." (Quoted, 'Understanding Power', edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, The New Press, 2002, p. 70)

We can be sure that Blair was deeply disturbed by the public rejection of his drive to war, when two million people marched on the streets of Britain in February 2003. But in the same way, the governments of the day were troubled by 'industrial unrest' in 1970s Britain, and during the civil disobedience, for example, of the 1920s, 1930s and 1960s.

Curtis goes on to argue that: "In the period roughly from the end of the first world war through to the economic crisis of the 70s politicians on both the right and the left believed that they could use the powers of the state to reshape and change society. This was a belief common to the National Socialists, Clement Atlee and the Keynsians, and LBJ. This belief flourished in the post-war years - and out of it came a wide cultural influence of politics because it offered a vision of a new type of world which everyone could work towards.

"The architects of this vision were the politicians and this gave them great authority because they not only managed society but they gave a meaning and purpose to peoples' lives. That idea of progressive politics collapsed in the crisis of the 1970s - and out of it came the modern pessimism that society is too complex an organism to be changed in a rational fashion. The alternative was allowing the hidden hand of the market to guide and shape society - and so politicians like Mrs Thatcher gave the power that previously had been held by the state away to the market."

In fact the modern state has been highly successful in reshaping society to suit the needs of corporate business and investors. Peter Townsend of Bristol University has written:

"Poverty is not something people impose on themselves for want of effort and community organisation. It is constructed by divisive and discriminatory laws, inflexible organisations, acquisitive ideologies of wealth, a deeply-rooted class system and policies which serve privilege in the short term and destroy society in the long term." (Townsend. Quoted, John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, pp.79-80)

Meanwhile, society has been saturated by state-corporate propaganda promoting the illusion that "progressive politics" have been seeking to provide "a meaning and purpose to peoples' lives". Thus, we are to believe that the state has been fundamentally benevolent, prioritising the common interests of the public, rather than the interests of a select few.

The reality behind the rhetoric has been the desperate plight of the marginalised and dispossessed sectors of society in both rich and poor nations, and the devastation and slaughter wreaked around the world by western power in southeast Asia, Indonesia, Brazil, Korea, Cuba, Haiti, the Philippines and so on.

It is condescending for Curtis to suggest that politicians "gave a meaning and purpose to peoples' lives." This is an elite, top-down view of society, and ignores visions, aspirations and initiatives originating at grassroots level.

But Curtis argues further that: "This has increasingly left the politicians with a loss of authority. Although politicians like Gordon Brown and Clinton do (or did) promise to make health and education work better, they are not promising to change the world - only to manage it in a more efficient way (Clinton - guided by Alan Greenspan gave away the last vestiges of political control over the economy much as Mrs Thatcher did). It would be impossible for Lyndon Johnson to make his famous 'Great Society' speech today - that idea that politicians can change the world would be laughed at.

"Of course there is massive social and economic progress but it is no longer perceived as having been produced by politicians. Politicians and politics don't give meaning and purpose to our lives any longer - and this has created a crisis of legitimacy for them. If all they offer is a better managerial style - then why should we vote for them? This is one of the reasons New Labour remains so dominant despite all crises - no-one believes the alternative will be any different - the conservatives don't have a vision to offer, merely the promise of sacking more civil servants."

There is no acknowledgement here of the immense benefits to society resulting from the concerted pressure of cooperative workers' movements and others on the lower rungs: improvements that were often won only at great cost to themselves, and not simply handed down by elites. Nor does Curtis recognise here the positive, alternative vision of an equitable and sustainable society that is being articulated by the diverse strands of the global justice movement - often termed pejoratively, by the mainstream, as the 'anti-globalisation' movement.

Curtis goes on to claim mistakenly, once again, that politicians have only recently discovered use of fear as a device for restoring power and legitimacy: "This is why I argued that politicians have found in fear a way of restoring their power and authority and recreating a sense of legitimacy. I do not in any way think it is a conspiracy - I think they have stumbled on it. Put simply, they have found a grand, dark force to protect people against - and they can use the power of the state to do this. It is a mirror image of the positive future they used to promise us - but now it is a frightening future they promise to protect us from."

Curtis here contradicts his previous acknowledgement that manipulation of fear is an old ploy, and returns to the discredited notion that this is a +recent+ development by politicians afraid of losing their legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Curtis writes: "I think that this is largely a fantasy (of course there is the threat of Islamist terrorism - but not in the organized, sinister network they portray) - it represents the last gasp of a liberal political elite to maintain their sense of specialness in society. The reality is that there are lots of new elites in business, science and the media who are creating the new progressive visions, and the age of politics as a system that gave meaning and vision to society may be dying. Or we may be living through an incredible era of prosperity and calm in which politics has gone into abeyance - and when a real crisis comes along politics will return in a new form we cannot possible imagine."

There is a desperate quality to Curtis's attempts at a rebuttal - the conclusion is particularly bizarre. The claim that "we may be living through an incredible era of prosperity and calm in which politics has gone into abeyance" is an elitist view that holds that politics is a game played by powerful politicians, and channelled by power-friendly corporate media. Politics, by this view, is certainly +not+ the activity and ideals of grassroots movements, which are currently flourishing like never before. Last year's massive worldwide protests against the attack on Iraq war were +not+ a sign that "politics has gone into abeyance".

Curtis writes abstractly of a hypothetical "real crisis" that may come along sometime in the future. The "real crisis" of global hegemony by the world's biggest rogue state is overlooked. So, too, is the "real crisis" of impending planetary catastrophe under human-induced climate change. These topics are clearly nowhere to be found on Curtis's ideological radar system.

Curtis concludes: "But - to return to television - these new systems of power and the elites behind them are the thing we in the media should be analysing and reporting on - not the old and decaying fantasies of a political elite. So, in a sense I agree with you - but the aim of my programmes is to show the fantasies of that political elite and it would be the job of another programme to examine where power is now being exercised." (Email to Media Lens, 22 November, 2004)

There is nothing new about "these new systems of power and the elites behind them". And there is certainly little prospect of the corporate media reporting and analysing systems of which it is an integral part. And so, Curtis ends where he started in his response to us: that "it would be the job of another programme to examine where power is now being exercised". Thus, his series leaves us in the dark about that crucial issue. It would be rather like producing a popular astronomy programme on the structure of the universe and neglecting to mention the role of gravity.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the powerful forces that shape world affairs are leading us into a fully-fledged nightmare, of which we already see terrible flashes in Fallujah, Palestine and elsewhere. And while the BBC continues to make high-cost series like The Power of Nightmares at public expense, those powerful forces are free to go about their business, unexamined and unchecked.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Adam Curtis, the writer and director of The Power of Nightmares:

Ask him why he failed to address the promotion of fear and nightmares by +all+ US and UK governments in the past century. Why did he not locate the roots of neocon policies in business control of domestic and foreign societies for profit? Why did he overlook the effects of this profit-drive in western mass killing in the Third World? Is this very real "politics of fear" not central to an understanding of international affairs in the 20th and 21st centuries?

Email: adam.curtis@bbc.co.uk

Email: roly.keating@bbc.co.uk

Email: http://www.bbc.co.uk/feedback/


Email: jana.bennett@bbc.co.uk

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"There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." (Dr. Sami al-Jumaili, main Fallujah hospital, November 9, 2004)

"Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war." (Thich Nhat Than)


This Thursday, December 2, the peace group A Call For Light is organising a peaceful vigil outside the BBC, Bush House, Aldwych, London, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. (http://www.acallforlight.org/)

Should you take time out to participate in this protest? Is it worth the effort and inconvenience involved?

If you are in doubt, we have selected below just a few examples indicating how the BBC has facilitated the mass killing of innocents in Iraq. We would all do well to recall the judgement of Nazi media boss, Julius Streicher, at Nuremberg:

"No government in the world... could have embarked upon and put into effect a policy of mass extermination without having a people who would back them and support them... These crimes could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him." (Conot, Robert E, Justice At Nuremberg, Carrol & Graf, 1983, NY, pp.384-385)

The BBC, of course, is not the Nazi media, but there have been real war crimes in Iraq, a real mass slaughter, and the BBC has helped make it possible. Please read the examples below and protest on December 2 out of compassion for the suffering of the men, women and children of Iraq.

They Know They Can Trust US

In their history of the British media, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton show how the BBC has a long history of defending the establishment of which it is a part. They describe "the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government". (Curran and Seaton, Power Without Responsibility, Routledge, 1991, p.144)

David Miller of Strathclyde University wrote earlier this year:

"BBC managers have fallen over themselves to grovel to the government in the aftermath of the Hutton whitewash. When will any of the BBC journalists who reported the 'Scud' attacks apologise? When will their bosses apologise for conspiring to keep the anti war movement off the screens? Not any time soon." (Miller, 'Media Apologies?', ZNet, June 15, 2004, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfmSectionID=21&ItemID=5713)

A Cardiff University report found that the BBC "displayed the most 'pro-war' agenda of any broadcaster". (Matt Wells, 'Study deals a blow to claims of anti-war bias in BBC news', The Guardian, July 4, 2003)

Over the three weeks of the initial conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC also placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties, which were mentioned in 22% of its stories about the Iraqi people, and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.

Andrew Bergin, the press officer for the Stop The War Coalition, told Media Lens:

"Representatives of the coalition have been invited to appear on every TV channel except the BBC. The BBC have taken a conscious decision to actively exclude Stop the War Coalition people from their programmes, even though everyone knows we are central to organising the massive anti-war movement...". (Email to Media Lens, March 14, 2003)

The BBC's own founder, Lord Reith, noted in his diary of the establishment:

"They know they can trust us not to be really impartial." (Quoted, David Miller, 'Is the news biased?' http://staff.stir.ac.uk/david.miller/teaching/7613bias.html)

Talking Up War - Talking Down Peace

The first BBC Newsnight programme after the massive anti-war march in London on February 15, 2003, saw political correspondent, David Grossman, asking:

"The people have spoken, or have they? What about the millions who didn't march? Was going to the DIY store or watching the football on Saturday a demonstration of support for the government?" (Newsnight, February 17, 2003)

It was the biggest protest march in British political history!

A day later, Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman asked playwright Arthur Miller:

"You live in New York City... you must vividly recall what happened on September 11. In the world in which we live now, isn't some sort of pre-emptive strike the only defensive option available to countries like the United States?" (Newsnight, February 18, 2003)

Noam Chomsky reflects on the idea that this kind of strike might have been "the only defensive option available" in dealing with, say, the conflict in Northern Ireland:

"One choice would have been to send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances, places like Boston, or to infiltrate commandos to capture those suspected of involvement in such financing and kill them or spirit them to London to face trial." (Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2001)

Another, sane possibility, Chomsky comments, is "to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals".

Newsreader Fiona Bruce reported that the build-up of troops in the Gulf was "to deal with the continuing threat posed by Iraq". (Bruce, 18:00 News, January 7, 2003)

She meant the threat +alleged+ by Bush and Blair - not quite the same thing.

On the BBC's 6 O'Clock News, Matt Frei noted, sagely:

"There may be a case for regime change in Iran, too. But for now the Bush administration is relying on change from within." (Frei, BBC1, 18:00 News, June 16, 2003)

Frei explained in September 2003:

"The war with terror may have moved from these shores to Iraq. But for how long?" (Frei, 22:00 News, September 10, 2003)

This at a time when even the British government had abandoned its desperate attempts to conflate the war in Iraq with "the war on terror", in the absence of any evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

In October 2004, the BBC's Rageh Omaar noted: "I have followed, reporting the war on terror, from Afghanistan to Iraq." (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, October 26, 2004)

Two years earlier, Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, had said:

"We have also seen the government, quite deliberately in my view, attempting to blur the line between the activities of al-Qaeda and the seeming threat of Saddam Hussein." (Newsnight, BBC2, November 25, 2002)

Inspectors - Were They Pulled Or Were They Pushed?

The BBC's Jane Corbin stated on Panorama that "the inspectors were thrown out... and a divided UN Security Council let Saddam get away with it." (Panorama, 'The Case Against Saddam,' BBC1, September 23, 2002)

On the BBC's Lunchtime News, James Robbins reported that inspectors were "asked to leave" after relations with Iraq broke down. (BBC1, 13:00 News, September 17, 2002)

The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, sent this email in response to one of our readers who challenged his claim that UN inspectors had been "kicked out" of Iraq in December 1998:

"Dear [Name Deleted].

If I am in your house, made to feel unwelcome and not allowed to wash or pee (not likely, a metaphor) and then, as a result, leave, you might be technically able to say that I had not been 'kicked out' - no leathered toe had been applied to my rear. But I might well use that phrase. Here as I understand it, is the sequence of events in 1998. I don't think my phrase increases the likelihood of war and will continue to try to report fairly on a subject where - I assure you - I don't feel or act as a mouthpiece of the Blair govt." (Forwarded to Media Lens, January 21, 2003)

Scott Ritter, former chief Unscom weapons inspector, who was an inspector in Iraq between 1991-98, said:

"If this were argued in a court of law, the weight of evidence would go the other way. Iraq has in fact demonstrated over and over a willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors." (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile, 2002, p.25)

Ritter claims that Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" of 90-95% of its WMDs by December 1998. He also claims that inspections were deliberately sabotaged by US officials in 1998 precisely +because+ the Iraqis were rapidly approaching 100% compliance - so removing justification for continued sanctions and control of Iraq. In December 1998, Ritter said:

"What [head of Unscom] Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing." (Quoted, New York Post, December 17, 1998)

Last year, Richard Sambrook, then BBC's director of news, told us that Ritter had been interviewed just twice: on September 29th, 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on March 1, 2003 for BBC News 24. Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that Newsnight had interviewed Scott Ritter twice on the WMD issue before the war: on August 3, 2000 and August 21, 2002.

A BBC news online search for 1 January, 2002 - 31 December 2002 recorded the following mentions:

George Bush Iraq, 1,022
Tony Blair Iraq, 651
Donald Rumsfeld Iraq, 164
Dick Cheney Iraq, 102
Richard Perle Iraq, 6
George Galloway Iraq, 42
Tony Benn Iraq, 14
Noam Chomsky Iraq, 1
Denis Halliday, 0

The Fall Of Baghdad

In April 2003, the BBC's Nicholas Witchell declared of the US drive into central Baghdad:

"It is absolutely, without a doubt, a vindication of the strategy." (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)

The BBC's breakfast news presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, beamed as she described how Blair "has become, again, Teflon Tony". The BBC's Mark Mardell agreed with her: "It +has+ been a vindication for him." (BBC1, Breakfast News, April 10, 2003)

Retired general William Odom, former head of the US National Security Agency, sees it differently:

"Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost. Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends." (Quoted, Sidney Blumenthal, 'Far graver than Vietnam', The Guardian, September 16, 2004)

BBC journalist Rageh Omaar reported his emotions as Baghdad fell:

"In my mind's eye, I often asked myself: what would it be like when I saw the first British or American soldiers, after six years of reporting Iraq? And nothing, nothing, came close to the actual, staggering reaction to seeing American soldiers - young men from Nevada and California - just rolling down in tanks. And they're here with us now in the hotel, in the lifts and the lobbies. It was a moment I'd never, ever prepared myself for." (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)

Ex-Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey was one of these same "young men from Nevada and California" in the main invasion force all the way to Baghdad. In May 2004, Massey said:


Infamously, on the day Baghdad fell, Andrew Marr declared:

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

"I don't think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he's somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result." (Marr, BBC1, 22:00 News, April 9, 2003)

By contrast, on November 20, 2004, journalist Dahr Jamail quoted an Iraqi, Abu Talat. Talat, we are told, was crying and distraught as he spoke:

"'I am in a very sad position. I do not see any freedom or any democracy. If this could lead into a freedom, it is a freedom with blood. It is a freedom of emotions of sadness. It is a freedom of killing. You cannot gain democracy through blood or killing. You do not find the freedom that way. People are going to pray to God and they were killed and wounded. There were 1,500 people praying to God and they went on a holiday were people go every Friday for prayers. And they were shot and killed. There were so many women and kids lying on the ground. This is not democracy, neither freedom.'" (Jamail, 'Terrorizing Those Who Are Praying...,' November 20, 2004, www.znet.org)

Marr said of joining the BBC:

"When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed." ('Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor', The Independent, January 13, 2000)

This was fortunate indeed. Prior to joining the BBC, Marr had written articles with titles such as:

'Brave, bold, visionary. Whatever became of Blair the ultra-cautious cynic?' (The Observer, April 4, 1999)


'Hail to the chief. Sorry, Bill, but this time we're talking about Tony.' (The Observer, May 16, 1999)

Marr declared himself in awe of Blair's "moral courage", writing: "I am constantly impressed, but also mildly alarmed, by his utter lack of cynicism."

Part 2 will follow shortly...


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. We urge you to peacefully protest the BBC on December 2.

In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Email: helen.boaden@bbc.co.uk

Email: matt.frei@bbc.co.uk

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