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Category: Alerts 2006


The BBC On The Haditha Massacre

The title of the BBC news report was suitably 'balanced': 'Iraqi Deaths.' Not 'American Massacre,' or 'American Massacre Of Iraqi Civilians.'

News anchor George Alagiah introduced the piece:

"The US military is preparing to announce charges against a group of marines accused of killing Iraqi civilians. More than 20 people, some of them children, died in Haditha a year ago. But it's not clear whether they were killed deliberately."

In May, the New York Times reported that the slaughter was "methodical in nature". (Thom Shanker, Eric Schmitt And Richard A. Oppel Jr., 'Military Expected to Report Marines Killed Iraqi Civilians,' New York Times, May 25, 2006)

The Los Angeles Times reported that many of the victims were killed "execution-style," shot in the head or in the back. A US government official accepted that the US marines had "suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership, with tragic results". (Tony Perry and Julian E. Barnes, 'Photos Indicate Civilians Slain Execution-Style,' Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2006. See Media Alert: Silence in the Service of Power)

Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has called the Haditha killings a "terrible crime". ('US Marine captain to face Haditha charges - lawyer,' Reuters, December 19, 2006)

But for BBC TV news "it's not clear" whether the old men, women and children were killed deliberately by American troops.

Washington correspondent Matt Frei's report began with footage of a military ceremony:

"The US marine corps - square-jawed embodiment of a proud military tradition. So how does this fit in? November 2005, the aftermath of a massacre in Haditha. 24 civilians were slaughtered - the oldest was in his seventies, the youngest three." (Matt Frei, News at Six, December 21, 2006)

This immediately contradicted Alagiah's introduction - according to Frei it was a massacre, the deaths +were+ deliberate. The report showed archive footage of the massacre's sole survivor, twelve-year-old Safa Younis. Frei commented: "She survived by playing dead next to her sisters' bodies."

Frei translated Younis' testimony: "US marines knocked on our door. My father opened it and they shot him dead. Then they went from room to room."

Frei continued:

"Haditha was and is a wasteland of insurgent violence. What triggered the shooting spree in 2005 was the death of Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, killed after the marine's convoy was hit by a roadside bomb."

This is standard for BBC reporting. Western crimes do not take place in villages and towns, in homes where people live and love and grieve. They take place in "wastelands" filled with murderous savages who have no right to defend themselves against our violence. And as is perennially true of reporting from Palestine, the violence of the West and its allies is always "triggered", is always a response to "their" violence.

Emphasising the point, Frei interviewed Jesse Grapes, former commander of Kilo Company - the unit accused of the massacre. Grapes was clearly not of the "wasteland". He was resplendent in smart suit with a US flag draped in the background. Grapes said of Terrazas:

"One of those guys with a million dollar smile. You know, always positive no matter how harrowing the situation. Always hard-working, would do anything that you asked him to do. And you lose someone like that it causes despair."

Frei's commentary continued: "But did despair spawn murder?"

Imagine for a moment if the BBC had been reporting the massacre of 24 British or American old men, women and children by Iraqi troops under Saddam Hussein, or al Qaeda fighters under Osama bin Laden. Would the former commander of the unit charged with the atrocity be invited to explain the suffering and despair that drove his men to kill innocent civilians? Would he be allowed to speak without any challenge from the reporter, without even the mildest of rebukes?

And would footage of a mother embracing one of the accused be shown, as happened next in Frei's report? A US marine was shown in uniform in Haditha and then hugging and laughing with his family. His mother asked: "You been good?" The soldier replied: "Ah, I try to be."

This was Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt, accused of one charge of murder involving unpremeditated killings of three males in a house.

This was followed by an interview with Sharrat's father, who wept as he spoke:

"Justin told me, 'Dad, it's better that we're fighting in Iraq, in the sands and the streets of Iraq, than in the streets of America.' And I hope these people understand what these guys are going through."

Can we possibly conceive of this kind of sympathetic coverage being afforded to 'enemy' troops accused of the massacre of British or American civilians? Would comparable words from the father of the 'enemy' accused be deemed actually monstrous in this case? And, again, there was no journalistic challenge, no balancing commentary to clarify that, by broadcasting these comments, the BBC was not intending to justify or excuse what had happened.

Frei's conclusion was almost as remarkable:

"Whatever the charges today, Haditha has left the marine corps and America with a very painful question they thought they'd never have to ask: How and why have the liberators ended up killing the liberated?"

With 655,000 Iraqis lying dead after nearly four years of war, with one million Iraqi civilian dead after 14 years of US-UK sanctions, Frei can suggest that, only now, with this incident, does the question finally arise of how Americans have ended up killing Iraqis.

On the same day that Frei made his comments, Helen Boaden, director of BBC news, wrote to a Media Lens reader:

"I think the key point that I would make in response is that it is not for the BBC to take a view about the legality of the war in Iraq... it is not for the BBC to take a stance on the issue." (Email to Media Lens, December 21, 2006)

Are we to believe, then, that Matt Frei is not taking a view, not taking a stance, in describing the American armies in Iraq as "liberators" and the Iraqi people as "liberated"?


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 Matt Frei at the BBC
Email: matt.frei@bbc.co.uk

Write to Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News
Email: HelenBoadenComplaints@bbc.co.uk

Write to Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC TV News
Email: peter.horrocks@bbc.co.uk

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Category: Alerts 2006


The Apparatus Of Silence

It is a feature of the bureaucratic mindset that trivial details are subject to meticulous attention, while issues relating to personal and moral responsibility are dismissed as non-existent. Thus correspondent Bridget Kendall’s pinpoint pronunciation as she described the death of Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet - pronounced “Peenochet” by the BBC reporter. Kendall got the name right, but everything that mattered was swallowed up by what media academic Richard Keeble calls “the apparatus of silence“.

“Peenochet’s” rise to power was discussed, as were his crimes, as were the failed attempts to hold him accountable. But of the power behind the throne, the nation that birthed this monster, there was not a word. (‘Chile‘s general dies‘: http://search.bbc.co.uk/cgi- bin/search/results.pl?q=pinochet+and+kendall& scope=all&edition=d&tab=all&recipe=all)

Kendall concluded her piece thus:

“To the very end judgements on Augusto Pinochet remained keenly divided.”

That can be said of a mass murderer like Pinochet, a Western ally, but not of official enemies like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

We wrote to Kendall on December 10 noting that she had made no mention of the American role in the September 1973 coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende. We asked if, for example, she was aware that an early, October 1970 plot to unseat Allende, was made “using CIA 'sub-machine guns and ammo‘“, and was the direct result of a request for action from the chairman of PepsiCo, according to Greg Palast in the Observer.

We received no reply. We re-sent the email on December 11 and again received no response.

Readers may be puzzled by mention of the words ‘Nixon’ and ’PepsiCo’ in the context of Pinochet’s bloodbath - a media database search showed that not one UK national newspaper has connected these words to this story since Pinochet‘s death.

Before we explore the links, let’s consider what the press has had to say on US involvement in Chile.

A Guardian obituary read:

“The coup, in which CIA destabilisation played a part...” (Malcolm Coad, ‘Augusto Pinochet,‘ The Guardian, December 11, 2006; www.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1968953,00.html)

And that was that! Space is always a problem for the media. Presumably, there was not space for more detail in this 3,049-word piece.

A BBC online obituary was fractionally bolder:

“It became known later that the CIA had spent millions to destabilise the Allende government." (http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/ hi/world/americas/472707.stm)

That, again, was that. Quite what the CIA had spent millions on was left to the reader’s imagination. Perhaps opposition politicians were funded. Perhaps propaganda messages were ruthlessly posted around Santiago. Who knows?

On reading the above, a friend joked that it represented a reversal of Spike Milligan’s book title: ‘Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall,‘ with the press desperate to downplay Western involvement in Allende‘s fall.

Rupert Cornwell in the Independent edged slightly closer to forbidden facts:

"Yes, the turmoil in Chile before the coup of September 1973 was shamefully fomented by the United States. But there is no evidence that Washington directly ordered the coup.” (Rupert Cornwell, ‘The general willing to kill his people to win the battle against communism,’ The Independent, December 11, 2006; http://news.independent.co.uk/ world/americas/article2064694.ece)

Again, vague hints sufficed. Note, also, the irrelevant apologetic for US actions - “there is no evidence that Washington directly ordered the coup“. But there is evidence that Washington moved heaven and earth to make the coup happen. The hard facts and direct quotes making this all too clear - available to us and anyone else with an internet connection - were nowhere in sight.

Jonathan Kandell in the New York Times trotted safely with the media herd:

“General Pinochet initially led a four-man junta in the 1973 military coup that brought him to power, with the support of the United States government...” (Kandell, ‘Augusto Pinochet - Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies at 91,’ New York Times, December 11, 2006)

And that, also, was that in this 2,600-word piece. A theme is emerging, is it not?

The Daily Telegraph had many pieces saying little on the subject, referring in one 1,200-word report to “the CIA-backed military coup in 1973“. (Neil Tweedie, ‘Pinochet, the friend of Britain who ruled his country by fear,’ Daily Telegraph, December 11, 2006)

The Telegraph’s 2,300-word obituary had only this to say of US involvement:

“Inevitably, such a government [Allende’s] did not appeal to the Americans. Richard Helms, the director of the CIA, sought means to ‘make the (Chilean) economy scream‘, while the Nixon administration cut off all aid and credits. Such measures exacerbated inflation in Chile, and intensified class conflicts.” (Daily Telegraph, ‘Obituary of General Augusto Pinochet,’ December 11, 2006)

Economic strangulation was the more passive element of what was a highly pro-active US campaign to destroy democracy in Chile.

The Telegraph described Pinochet as: “not only an extraordinarily successful dictator; he was also one of the very few to surrender power at the behest of the electorate.” (Ibid)

The Daily Mail noted merely that the junta “had secret CIA backing”. (Patrick Marnham and Richard Pendlebury, ‘Death of a friendly dictator,’ Daily Mail, December 11, 2006)

The Mail asked of Pinochet:

“So will history judge him as a brute or a pragmatic economic and political strongman, who rescued Chile from Marxist orchestrated disaster?”

This of a man who, as the same journalists wrote, “modelled himself on Stalin in the Thirties”.

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Christopher Hitchens managed one veiled reference to US involvement, noting that Henry Kissinger had been “anxious to protect the criminal he helped usurp power”. (Hitchens, ‘Thatcher’s tyrant,’ Mirror, December 11, 2006)

There was nothing more. A remarkable performance from the author of The Trial Of Henry Kissinger, which included many of the details of the US role in Chile. Hitchens only other article on the subject since Pinochet’s death appears to have been in Slate magazine (‘Augusto Pinochet - 1915-2006,' December 11, 2006; www.slate.com/id/2155242/). Hitchens made no mention at all of US involvement in the coup.

A Guardian news story noted:

“When Pinochet seized power in 1973, he knew he would be enjoying the strong support of the United States. The secretary of state and national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, was an admirer.” (Jonathan Franklin, Rory Carroll and Duncan Campbell, ‘Glee and grief as man who “brought Spanish inquisition to Chile” dies at 91,’ The Guardian, December 11, 2006)

The Guardian omitted to mention that the CIA initially reported difficulty finding officers willing to participate in a coup thanks to what it described as “the apolitical, constitutional-oriented inertia of the Chilean military”. (Quoted, William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p.210) The United States did not merely support Pinochet, they worked energetically to create him.

The Times wrote:

“... the coup was launched on September 1, 1973, with the support of the US which had played an active role in supporting the anti-Allende opposition”. (‘General Augusto Pinochet, November 25, 1915 - December 10, 2006,’ The Times, December 11, 2006)

The theme, then? The US “backed”, “supported”, “fomented” and “assisted” the coup, and cut off aid. But the active, central role played by the United States is simply not described.

We found a single article, in the Independent, that gave more than fleeting attention to US subversion of Chilean democracy. Hugh O‘Shaughnessy wrote: “the Chilean right, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and US companies such as ITT [International Telephone and Telegraph] sought to prevent Allende's assuming the presidency to which he had been freely and fairly elected.

“A US military attaché was later to confess that he carried down from Washington a large sum in dollar banknotes to buy the assassination of General René Schneider... [who] was resisting calls from the Chilean right and the US for an immediate coup against Allende.”

O’Shaughnessy added:

“By then, within Chile and in the United States, the enemies of the President's unstable coalition of six parties of the left and centre-left had shown their continuing desire to topple the head of state.“ (Hugh O'Shaughnessy, ‘General Augusto Pinochet,’ The Independent, December 11, 2006)

But this also only hints at the true scale of US subversion. The vast political sabotage of Chilean democracy and the fierce US determination to destroy Allende’s regime militarily were both buried out of sight by the Independent, as was the general trend in Latin America (and the Third World more generally) of which these horrors form one tiny part.

A media database search showed that the words ‘Pinochet’ and ‘CIA’ have been mentioned in seven articles in the UK national press since Pinochet’s death.

Not Acceptable To The United States

Peter Kornbluh is director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project at George Washington University. In an October 1998 article, Kornbluh described how the CIA “laid the ground work for the coup d'etat” in Chile. (Kornbluh, ‘The Chile Coup - The U.S. Hand,’ iF magazine, October 25, 1998; www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Terrorism/Chile%20Coup_USHand.html)

After Allende had narrowly failed to win the 1958 elections, the United States worked hard to avert future risks. Prior to the 1964 elections, a vast CIA campaign was mounted to subvert Chilean democracy. Eduardo Frei’s Christian Democratic Party was selected, with the CIA underwriting more than half the party’s campaign costs. The agency’s electoral operation cost $20 million - far more per voter than was spent by Johnson and Goldwater combined in the same year in the US presidential elections. A senate committee later gave an insight into one small segment of the onslaught:

“The propaganda campaign was enormous. During the first week of intensive propaganda activity, a CIA-funded propaganda group produced twenty radio spots per day in Santiago and on 44 provincial stations; twelve-minute news broadcasts five times daily on three Santiago stations and 24 provisional outlets, and much paid press advertising. By the end of June, the group produced 24 daily newscasts in Santiago and the provinces, 26 weekly ‘commentary’ programs, and distributed 3,000 posters daily.” (Quoted, William Blum, Killing Hope, Common Courage Press, 1995, p.207)

These efforts were supported by ‘red scare’ campaigns, funding of strikes, funding of right-wing organisations committing acts of violence, promotion of grassroots programmes, speaking tours and propaganda stories placed in Western media, and numerous other examples of flak and subversion.

Despite all of this, Allende won the September 4, 1970 election. The US response was clear. CIA director Richard Helms informed his senior covert action staff that "President Nixon had decided that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable to the United States." Helms added:

"The President asked the Agency to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him.”

Helms’s handwritten notes of the meeting with Nixon reveal the mindset:

“One in 10 chance perhaps, but save Chile!... not concerned with risks involved... $10,000,000 available, more if necessary... make the economy scream...” (Quoted, ibid, p.209)

Helms reported two parallel strategies for destroying Allende. As discussed, the "soft line" was (in Nixon's words) to "make the economy scream." The "hardline" was to aim for a military coup.

Ambassador Korry, was given the job of implementing the "soft line." He described his task: “not a nut or bolt will be allowed to reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and the Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty, a policy designed for a long time to come to accelerate the hard features of a Communist society in Chile”. (Quoted, Chomsky, Year 501 - The Conquest Continues, South End Press, 1993, p.36)

Noam Chomsky comments:

“Even if the hard line did not succeed in introducing fascist killers to exterminate the virus, the vision of ‘utmost deprivation’ would suffice to keep the rot from spreading, and ultimately demoralize the patient itself. And crucially, it would provide ample grist for the mill of the cultural managers, who can produce cries of anguish at ‘the hard features of a Communist society,’ pouring scorn on those ‘apologists’ who describe what is happening.” (Footnote 15; www.understandingpower.com/chap1.htm)

On October 16, a secret cable from CIA headquarters to the CIA station chief in Santiago, read:

"It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup... prior to October 24. But efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG [U.S. government] and American hand be well hidden." (Quoted, Kornbluh, op. cit)

Despite initial difficulties in recruiting officers within the Chilean army, supporters for the “hard line” were eventually found and an initial, botched coup attempt was made in October 1970. The attack began with the assassination of the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, Rene Schneider, who had insisted that constitutional processes be followed. The assassination backfired, however, serving to consolidate traditional army support for constitutional solutions.

In a vanishingly rare mainstream article on the subject, the Observer’s Greg Palast reported that the failed October 1970 plot, using CIA “sub-machine guns and ammo“, was “the direct result of a plea for action a month earlier by Donald Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, in two telephone calls to the company's former lawyer, President Richard Nixon“. (Palast, ‘Marxist threat to cola sales? Pepsi demands a US coup. Goodbye Allende. Hello Pinochet,’ The Observer, November 8, 1998;
www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/ Column/0,,305870,00.html)

Palast described how Kendall had arranged for the owner of PepsiCo’s Chilean bottling operation to meet Kissinger on September 15. Hours later, Nixon called in CIA chief Richard Helms and, according to Helms's handwritten notes, ordered the CIA to prevent Allende's inauguration on November 3.

Meanwhile, an ITT board member, ex-CIA director John McCone, pledged Kissinger $1 million in support of CIA action to prevent Allende from taking office. In addition, Anaconda Copper and other multinationals offered $500,000 to buy influence with Chilean congressmen to reject confirmation of Allende's victory.

Having failed to prevent both Allende's election victory and his inauguration, the CIA continued pursuing both its “soft” and “hard” lines. As CIA director William Colby later put it, the campaign was a “prototype laboratory experiment to test the techniques of heavy financial investment in an effort to discredit and bring down a government”. (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.129)

A 1970 ITT memorandum stated: “A more realistic hope among those who want to block Allende is that a swiftly-deteriorating economy will touch off a wave of violence leading to a military coup.” (Quoted, Blum, op. cit, p.211)

While almost all economic aid was cut off in its attempt to inflict “utmost deprivation” on the Chilean people, the United States increased its military assistance to Chile in 1972 and 1973, and trained Chilean military personnel in the US and Panama. The focus was on strengthening ties in pursuit of a “hard line” solution.

The rationale for overthrowing Allende was outlined in a CIA report dated November 12, 1970:

"Dr. Salvador Allende became the first democratically-elected Marxist head of state in the history of Latin America - despite the opposition of the U.S. Government. As a result, U.S. prestige and interests are being affected materially at a time when the U.S. can ill afford problems in an area that has been traditionally accepted as the U.S. 'backyard'." (Quoted, Kornbluh, op. cit)

The US was concerned, Kissinger’s aides recall, because “Allende was a living example of democratic social reform in Latin America.” (Quoted, Curtis, p.130) Kissinger stated that the “contagious example” of Chile would “infect” not only Latin America but also Southern Europe. (Ibid)

Chomsky comments on Allende:

“He was basically a social democrat, very much of the European type. He was calling for minor redistribution of wealth, to help the poor. (Chile was a very inegalitarian society.) Allende was a doctor, and one of the things he did was to institute a free milk program for half a million very poor, malnourished children. He called for nationalization of major industries like copper mining, and for a policy of international independence - meaning that Chile wouldn't simply subordinate itself to the US, but would take more of an independent path.” (‘Secrets, Lies and Democracy - Interview with Noam Chomsky,’ by David Barsamian; www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Chomsky/ SecretsLies_Chile_Chom.html)

A second, failed coup attempt was made on June 29, 1973. This is the BBC’s version of events:

“Political strife, rocketing inflation and general economic chaos resulted in an abortive military coup in June 1973.” (‘Obituary: Augusto Pinochet,’ December 10, 2006; http://news.bbc.co.uk /1/hi/world/americas/472707.stm)

As discussed above, the BBC noted merely that the CIA had made efforts “to destabilise the Allende government".

Ultimately, the superpower’s economic sabotage, and political and military subversion, was successful. On September 11, 1973, Chile's military seized control of strategic sites throughout the country and cornered Allende in his presidential offices, where he apparently committed suicide.

The CIA’s Santiago station had earlier described the operational intelligence it had collected: “arrest lists, key civilian installations and personnel that need protection, key government installations which need to be taken over, and government contingency plans which would be used in case of a military uprising”. (Quoted, Blum, op. cit, p.213) US officials later denied that this information had been passed on to the junta, although the rapid arrests of key targets immediately after the coup suggest otherwise, William Blum notes.

Nixon officials were delighted by the turn of events. A situation report from the US military in Valparaiso declared: "Chile's coup de etat was close to perfect." The report characterised it as Chile's "day of destiny" and "Our D-Day." (Kornbluh, op. cit)

In a telephone conversation taped shortly after the coup and made public after Nixon's death, Kissinger is heard to laugh: “The press is bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown.” Nixon responded: “Our hand doesn't show on this one, though.” (Washington Bullets: ‘Pinochet And Kissinger,’ www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/12/ 12/washington_bullets_pinochet_and_kissinger.php)

Kissinger immediately authorised the CIA to "assist the junta in gaining a more positive image, both at home and abroad," according to subsequently released documents. (Kornbluh, op. cit)

As part of these efforts, the CIA helped the junta write a "white book" justifying the coup. Kornbluh writes:

“The CIA financed advisors who helped the military prepare a new economic plan for the country. The CIA paid for military spokesmen to travel around the world to promote the new regime. And, the CIA used its own media assets to cast the junta in a positive light.”

The Nixon administration also supported Pinochet by opening the floodgates on economic aid. Three weeks after the coup, the US government authorised $24 million in commodity credits to buy wheat and $24 million more for feed corn, and planned the transfer of two destroyers to the Chilean navy.

Ultimately, the coup plotters were rewarded with a 558 per cent increase in US economic aid and a 1,079 per cent increase in US and multinational credits. (Rai, Chomsky’s Politics, Verso, 1995, p.67)

Only 19 days after Allende‘s death, a secret briefing paper prepared for Kissinger - entitled "Chilean Executions" - put the "total dead" from the coup at 1,500. The paper reported that the junta had summarily executed 320 individuals - three times more than publicly acknowledged. After three months, 11,000 people had been killed. Between 1994-1997 a further 2,400 people disappeared. According to the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR):

“... the single-minded ferocity of the coup and the subsequent deliberate use of torture, ‘disappearances’ and murder had at that time no parallel in the history of Chile or Latin America, a continent with a long experience of dictatorship and military brutality”. (Quoted, Curtis, op. cit, p.130)

CIIR described how the Pinochet regime instigated a “policy of permanent terror.” (Ibid, p.131)

When Kissinger was told of initial reports of massacres following the coup he responded:

"I think we should understand our policy - that however unpleasant they act, the [military] government is better for us than Allende was." (Kornbluh, ‘The Pinochet File,’ www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/ NSAEBB/NSAEBB110/index.htm)

This is the Guardian’s version of these events:

“Pinochet quickly became undisputed leader of the four-man junta - declaring himself president in 1974 - and set about the task of stamping out opposition. The ferocity and surgical precision of that repression repulsed the world and made Chile an international pariah for nearly two decades.” (‘Repression,’ The Guardian, December 11, 2006)

On December 11, we wrote to the Guardian’s Isabel Hilton regarding her article that day, ‘A dictator dismantled.‘ (www.guardian.co.uk/chile/story/0,,1969317,00.html):

Dear Isabel

I was interested to read your article, 'A dictator dismantled,' on Comment Is Free. You write of Pinochet:

"The dictatorship he installed was not the bloodiest in Latin America. It was shocking because it happened in a country proud of its democratic traditions."

Surely the real shock value lies in the fact that the United States organised the coup... [We cited Greg Palast‘s article]...

That's pretty shocking, isn't it? And there's much more besides, of course. But not a word in your article even hinted at it. Why not?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Hilton responded on December 16.

Dear David Edwards
There is never room to say everything in a rather short article and I have written about the US role many times. Is it surprising or shocking that the US played a central role? Hardly. The US had played that role in coups all over the sub continent for some time, (for me the worst was the one against Arbenz -- worse for its long term effect) their role in Chile was not surprising for anyone who followed Latin American events, and the shock factor had long since worn off.
Isabel Hilton

We replied on December 17:

Dear Isabel

Many thanks for your reply. You write:

"Is it surprising or shocking that the US played a central role? Hardly. The US had played that role in coups all over the sub continent for some time..."

Yes, you know that, but do your readers? In fact journalists generally refer to the US role in Pinochet's coup in vague terms (as in current reporting) - the details and motives are rarely discussed. As for the wider US pattern of forcibly subordinating people to profit, this is essentially a taboo subject for the media.

A media database search shows that in the last ten years you have mentioned the words 'Pinochet' and the 'CIA' in three articles. Obviously this covers a period when you were writing about Pinochet's detention in Britain. You have made no mention at all of PepsiCo or ITT in connection with the 1973 coup. Unfortunately, your references to US involvement have been superficial and have buried the wider pattern discussed above.


David Edwards

Conclusion - Why Does Any Of This Matter?

Is the suppression of this evidence of the US role in Chile’s bloodbath an irrelevant one-off? If the media normally do a fearlessly honest job, it would be absurd to make too much of these particular omissions, would it not? The media track record is visible enough, readers can find any number of comparable examples in these and many other earlier alerts.

A stunningly consistent pattern emerges. The elite corporate media always passes over Western responsibility for mass killing in the Third World. The standard motives at work - the subordination of human rights to corporate profit - are buried even deeper. Deepest of all lies the systematic pattern traced over decades right across the Third World revealing the utter ruthlessness of Western priorities.

But why is this so crucially important? The answer is because this suppression of the historical pattern enables contemporary politicians like George Bush and Tony Blair to deceive the public when they claim to be pursuing ’democracy’ in Iraq, ’freedom’ in Iran, and a ’just settlement’ in Palestine. It means that we in the West are simply unable to understand what Hugo Chavez represents for the people of Venezuela, what Evo Morales represents for the people of Bolivia - what it is these nations know they have to fear and what they are desperately trying to resist.

Forever presented a picture of Britain and America as civilised and humane, how can the public imagine that human beings are systematically subordinated to profit by their own governments? And how can anyone hope to prevent further atrocities until this basic truth is widely understood and acted upon?

A Chicago Public Radio interview (December 2006) with Media Lens co-editor David Edwards is available here:



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 Bridget Kendall at the BBC
Email: bridget.kendall@bbc.co.uk

Write to Isabel Hilton at the Guardian
Email: isabel.hilton@guardian.co.uk

Write to Rupert Cornwall at the Independent
Email: r.cornwall@independent.co.uk

Write to Neil Tweedie at the Telegraph
Email: neil.tweedie@telegraph.co.uk

Write to Rory Carroll at the Guardian
Email: rory.carroll@guardian.co.uk

Write to Jonathan Kandell at the New York Times
Email: jonathank@nytimes.com

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Category: Alerts 2006


The Media War-Mongers Take To The Lifeboats

Comedian Armando Iannucci recently argued that humorists are increasingly taking on the 'watchdog' role that has been vacated by journalists. David Aaronovitch was good enough to summarise in the Times:

"Long ago, complained Iannucci, politicians used to speak to us properly, the media used to subject their every action to forensic scrutiny and broadcast culture was so robust that people were happy to get their information from the news. Now politicians say stupid or mendacious things, the press (as over Iraq) doesn't pull them up on it, and it has left a gap." (Aaronovitch, 'So comedians think politics is stupid and mendacious. They must be joking,' The Times, November 14, 2006)

Iannucci described his own response to Iraq:

"The media didn't stop to analyse the facts. Didn't comb Bush and Blair's speeches at the time to point out deficiencies in logic. And instead it was left for some of them to apologise much later for having trusted the PM too much, for having assumed that what he told the Commons about WMD was true. It's a shameful failure. The media didn't work. And it left a gap.

"That's why I find myself stepping into that gap. Not just me, but many other humorists, satirists, comics, artists, people who make a virtue of the fact they distort logic for comic effect, but who still feel compelled to analyse that logic because no one else will." (Iannucci, 'Comedy to the rescue: Want to know what's going on in politics? Forget the news, The Guardian, October 18, 2006)

Aaronovitch found this absurd:

"Actually I will. Alice Miles will. Matthew Parris will. But onwards..."

In fact, Aaronovitch, Miles and Parris will not.

Parris is an interesting example. One of the most thoughtful journalists writing in the mainstream, his work is firmly rooted in a propaganda framework of assumptions. A self-proclaimed "dove", Parris gave this advice to opponents of the looming Iraq war in February 2003:

"Don't kid yourself that Saddam might really have nothing to hide. Of course he does. He's a mass-murderer and an international gangster: a bad man running a wicked Government; the British Prime Minister and the US President are good men running good Governments." (Parris, 'A dove's guide: how to be an honest critic of the war,' The Times, February 1, 2003)

This reads even more like irony now than it did then, but it was intended seriously. Parris helped slam the door on an honest discussion of just why Iraq is so important to the United States:

"Don't get tangled up in conspiracy theories about oil. It is insulting to many principled and intelligent people in the British and US administrations to say that this can be understood as an oil-grabbing plot. Besides, you drive a car, don't you? Is the security of our oil supplies not a consideration in foreign policy?"

If even "doves" rejected the issue, it surely had to be nonsense.

In fact the invasion was primarily about oil - about de facto ownership and control of this coveted resource, and denial of the same to regional rivals. Former US treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, reported seeing a memorandum preparing for war dating from the first days of the Bush administration. 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. The near-complete suppression of discussion of this obvious motive is one of the great achievements of modern propaganda.

Instead, Parris claims that the war was motivated by a perceived need to ensure the security of oil supplies. He has repeatedly argued, for example, that US-UK policy was driven by a fear that Iran would grab Iraqi oil. Teheran is capable of oil conspiracies, but not the "good" men running the "good" governments of the West.

Parris concluded:

"I do not think that the war, if there is a war, will fail. I can easily envisage the publication soon of some chilling facts about Saddam's armoury, a French and German scamper back into the fold, a tough UN second resolution, a short and successful war, a handover to a better government, a discreet change of tune in the biddable part of the Arab world, and egg all over the peaceniks' faces."

If superpower strong-arm tactics at the UN, the commission of the supreme war crime and its consequent terrorising impact on the wider world, had borne fruit, the peaceniks would have been required to hang their heads in shame.

Much of Parris's writing is rooted in false assumptions of this kind - the concept of "facts" capable of "chilling" the nuclear-armed West (ageing mustard gas in artillery shells perhaps) is a good example.

Rescuing The Deception

But one has to admire Aaronovitch's audacity in so brazenly celebrating his own honesty in holding the powerful to account. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to make the claim when the words he has written are readily accessible.

In reality, Aaronovitch is one of a group of journalists who came to the government's rescue after the lies on WMD and al Qaeda became indefensible. They helped repackage one of the most audacious campaigns of political deception ever seen - intelligence on Iraq's weapons had been "flawed", they told us, but the government had meant well. And anyway, overthrowing Saddam Hussein was part of a deeper US-UK determination to spread democracy in the Middle East.

WMD were suddenly transformed into a kind of excuse allowing the West to sacrifice billions of dollars and numerous lives out of a selfless determination to bring freedom to the Iraqi people.

But even these stenographers to power are now distancing themselves from their former heroes.

Thus, in a melancholy piece in the Observer last month, Rawnsley felt Tony Blair's pain:

"As you might expect from a man now in the departure lounge of his premiership, there is a strong valedictory flavour to Tony Blair these days. In a speech at the end of last week, he suggested that 'an idealistic young person' who 'wanted to change the world' should 'become a scientist'. If you want to make a difference, don't bother with politics." (Rawnsley, 'A Prime Minister who has lost his faith in politics,' The Observer, November 5, 2006)

Bitter words from the crusading philanthropist. Even now, Blair - manipulator, liar, and friend of unlovely Machiavellians like Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell - is presented as an idealist. Mandelson, it was, who said of New Labour ahead of the 1997 election, "we are seriously relaxed about people becoming very, very rich". (Quoted, Oliver James, 'New Labour's love of money is the root of all our troubles,' The Guardian, October 23, 2006)

Asking a close adviser why leading Blairites were themselves so infatuated with becoming wealthy, Rawnsley was told: "They spend too much time with very rich people." Rawnsley concluded that "ministers argue themselves into believing that they deserve a similar level of lifestyle to the mega-rich". (Ibid)

Consigning all of this to oblivion, and with the evidence of 650,000 Iraqi corpses staring him in the face, Rawnsley concluded:

"I hope that not every idealistic young person who wants to change the world follows the Prime Minister's advice to become a scientist. Some youthful idealists are still going to be needed by politics."

Rawnsley writes of "the Prime Minister" in the same way that earlier counterparts wrote of "His Majesty" and "His Holiness" - formal titles and deferential language are used to suggest gravitas and dignity where none exist.

Blair need not feel downcast by his political impotence - he +has+ changed the world for millions of people. That is clear enough from the many Iraqi gutters, ditches and A&E departments packed full of civilian dead.

As early as February 2002, Rawnsley was boosting Blair's propaganda:

"The intelligence material that the Prime Minister sees makes him genuinely disturbed - it would not be going too far to say petrified - about Saddam Hussein's potential ability to use weapons of mass destruction." (Rawnsley, 'How to deal with the American goliath,' The Observer, February 24, 2002)

This should have read: "The Prime Minister claims that the intelligence material he sees makes him genuinely disturbed..." But scepticism about Blair's sincerity, or indeed sanity, was the last thing on Rawnsley's mind.

The "Humanitarian Arguments"

In similar vein, in the crucial period ahead of the war, Johann Hari wrote in January 2003:

"We do not need Bush's dangerous arguments about 'pre-emptive action' to justify this war. Nor do we need to have the smoking gun of WMD. All we need are the humanitarian arguments we used during the Kosovo conflict to remove the monstrous Slobodan Milosevic." (Hari, 'Forget the UN: Saddam Hussein is the best possible reason for liberating Iraq,' The Independent, January 10, 2003)

It is clear now, as it was clear then, that "we" the people had nothing whatever to do with Blair's policy. The whole point was to deceive and pacify the public. Two months later, Hari reiterated his case:

"I passionately believe in the justice of freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam, and it is heartening that Mr Blair now uses this as one of the main justifications for the war." (Hari, 'If this war with Iraq is to be a moral war, it must be fought in a moral way,' The Independent, March 7, 2003)

At this same, key moment, Aaronovitch generated a stream of invective confidently mocking anti-war campaigners marching to prevent the war. He wrote:

"If I were an Iraqi, living under probably the most violent and repressive regime in the world, I would desire Saddam's demise more than anything else. Or do we suppose that some nations and races cannot somehow cope with freedom?" (David Aaronovitch, 'A few inconvenient facts about Saddam,' The Guardian, January 8, 2003)

Today, by contrast (when it doesn't matter), Aaronovitch wrote in reference to Iraq:

"Perhaps the concentration on freedom and democracy is the middle-class journalist's obsession, when what 'ordinary' people want is bread and shelter. Security first, a free press second." (Aaronovitch, 'How many deaths is the right to vote worth?' The Times, December 5, 2006)

Something failed to add up about these writers' concentration on freedom and democracy for just Iraq. Notably, neither Hari nor Aaronovitch had shown any concern for the awesome suffering of the Iraqi people, including the deaths of some 500,000 children under five, under UN sanctions from 1990-2003. Why would a journalist ardently affirm their government's claimed passion for liberating Iraq after ignoring the same government's genocidal sanctions over the previous 14 years? Was the issue the protection of the Iraqi people, or the protection of government policy?

In October 2004, some 18 months after his calls for Iraqi freedom and his refusal to march for peace, we checked how often Hari had subsequently written of the problems afflicting post-invasion Iraqi society. We found he had made no mention in his Independent column of the words cancer, child mortality, disease, depleted uranium, electricity, hospitals, landmines, malnutrition, water - all the focus of immense suffering in Iraq

Last month, Hari returned to the subject of Iraq with some contrition:

"I haven't written about Iraq recently, because I think those of us who supported this catastrophic invasion should apologise and then have the humility to shut up and reflect on what we have wrought." (Hari, 'How to make a swift exit from Iraq,' The Independent, October 26, 2006)

Last March, Hari wrote an article titled: "I was wrong, terribly wrong - and the evidence should have been clear all along." (The Independent, March 20, 2006)

This completed a process, begun in September 2005, of backing down in his support for the invasion, when Hari wrote:

"This week, I called my Iraqi friends and admitted that it was becoming increasingly impossible to defend the invasion." (Hari, 'We must ask the Iraqis whether they want the troops out, and now they probably do,' The Independent, September 22, 2005)

But admissions of error and apologies are not enough. What the Iraqi people have needed over the last three years is unflinching, honest commentary drawing attention to US-UK crimes, to the lack of medicines and health care, to the malnutrition, to the chaos in the hospitals in Basra, to the children dying in unprecedented numbers, and to the need for genuinely international, peaceful solutions to Iraq's tragedy.

Three months after Hari backed off, Aaronovitch also distanced himself from the catastrophe:

"I do apologise. For Abu Ghraib and Donald Rumsfeld. For not understanding the insurgents. For the looting. For the dire planning..." (Aaronovitch, 'Here's my apology on the 'disaster' of the Iraq war. Now, where's yours?', The Times, December 13, 2005)

Aaronovitch could not resist offering one last defence of the disaster:

"But a disaster compared with what? Compared with Saddam and sanctions or Saddam and cyanide."

In the year since his apology, Aaronovitch has mentioned Iraq 17 times, mostly in passing, in the Times. Over the same period, Hari has mentioned Iraq some 21 times, again mostly in passing, in his Independent articles. Both have essentially ignored the suffering they helped cause.

As for Matthew Parris, he surely hit the mark when he described the real concern of Hari, Aaronovitch and others:

"They are building a lifeboat for their reputations. The task is urgent. It is no small thing to find oneself on the wrong side of an argument when the debate is about the biggest disaster in British foreign policy since Suez." (Parris, 'Time for the neocons to admit that the Iraq war was wrong at its root,' The Times, October 21, 2006)


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 David Aaronovitch at the Times
Email: david.aaronovitch@thetimes.co.uk

Write to Andrew Rawnsley at the Observer
Email: andrew.rawnsley@observer.co.uk

Write to Johann Hari at the Independent
Email: j.hari@independent.co.uk

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Category: Alerts 2006


Giving Headline Billing To Military Spin

Last week, yet more innocent civilian lives were claimed by a US air attack in Iraq. How many times this tragedy has been repeated across that country is completely hidden from public view - a second, deeper tragedy.

According to Iraqi police major Khedr Hussein, 32 people were killed in the attack at Ishaqi, 90 km north of Baghdad. The local mayor, Amer Alwan, said that US aircraft bombed two homes around 1 a.m last Friday morning. Of 25 bodies pulled from the rubble so far, eight were women and six were children. (Reuters Foundation, December 8, 'Iraqis say US raid killed 32, including 6 children',

And yet the BBC news website chose to headline the US military's claim that "al-Qaeda militants" had been killed in the attack. Although the counter-claims of local Iraqi officials were mentioned in passing by the BBC, they were given much less emphasis and space. We wrote to Steve Herrmann, the head of BBC's online news service:

One of your Iraq news stories today is currently headlined, 'Iraq "al-Qaeda militants" killed'.

And the first line is:

"The US military says it has killed 20 suspected al-Qaeda militants in a ground and air assault in central Iraq." (December 8; http://news.bbc.co.uk/ 1/hi/world/middle_east/6220518.stm)

Why does your BBC news story give headline prominence to what the US military says, not what Iraqi officials say? Namely: that "at least six children and eight women were among 32 people killed in a U.S. air strike." (Reuters Foundation, December 8, 'Iraqis say US raid killed 32, including 6 children',
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/ newsdesk/COL838886.htm

I look forward to your response, please. (Email, December 8, 2006)

Herrmann has not yet replied.

Al-Jazeera has since published photographs confirming that civilians, including six children, died in the attack. ('Photos confirm US raid child deaths,' Al-Jazeera English, December 9, 2006; http://english.aljazeera.net/ NR/exeres/A7B418CB-37BD-4A69-B55C- CBDC7D932B38.htm)

Mayor Amer Alwan commented: "The Americans have done this before, but they always deny it. I want the world to know what's happening here. This is the third crime done by Americans in this area of Ishaqi. All the casualties were innocent women and children and everything they said about them being part of al-Qaeda is a lie." (Ibid)

It is awesome to consider, but the reality is that every corpse buried in Iraq was once a supremely precious individual to some friend or relative. Each death represents a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. After years of endlessly exposed government and military lies, when will BBC journalists find the compassion and courage to seek the truth behind this suffering?


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 Steve Herrmann, head of BBC news online:
Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk

Write to Helen Boaden, head of BBC news:
Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk

Consider submitting an official BBC complaint:

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Category: Alerts 2006


Child Poverty And The "Defence" Budget

It was the Daily Telegraph, not the 'liberal' Independent or Guardian, that reported accusations last week that Tony Blair is "wasting nearly £7 billion of taxpayers' money on a failing war on terror". (Toby Helm and Brendan Carlin, 'Anger at £7bn cost of war on terror,' Daily Telegraph, November 20, 2006)

Unsurprisingly, the Telegraph was reporting from within the government's propaganda framework of a "war on terror". But the news coverage was welcome given that critical reporting of the immense financial costs to the public of invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan has been muted.

The report added that Blair and his Tweedledum/Tweedledee accomplice, Gordon Brown, had proudly "trumpeted special funding" of British taxpayers' money to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan: a sum totalling £844 million. This funding announcement came just two days after Blair admitted in an Al-Jazeera interview that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had been a "disaster". Perturbed government officials have since back-pedalled frantically, claiming a prime ministerial "slip of the tongue".

The day after the Telegraph story, the Press Association reported that the "special funding" was part of a huge increase in Ministry of Defence expenditure limits: up £1.6 billion for the next financial year. Defence Secretary Des Browne quietly slipped out word of the increase in a written statement: the already massive UK "defence" budget would be raised from £32 billion to £33.6 billion for 2006-07. (Ben Padley, 'MoD seeks extra £1.4bn for Iraq and Afghanistan,' PA, November 21, 2006)

Several days afterwards, media database searches showed no mention, or follow-up, of this PA news story in the British press. The single exception is a comment piece by George Monbiot in today's Guardian. He observes of the huge increase in the military budget:

"No one noticed. Or if they did, no one complained. The government didn't even bother to issue a press release." (Monbiot, 'Only paranoia can justify the world's second biggest military budget,' The Guardian, November 28, 2006)

Also, as researcher Chris Langley explains, even last year's quoted expenditure limit of £32 billion is "misleading." (Langley, personal communication, November 27, 2006). The actual expenditure, including depreciation and cost of capital charges, was £39.8 billion, according to figures produced by the Defence Statistics Agency. (http://www.dasa.mod.uk/ natstats/ukds/2006/c1/table11.html)


Punching Above Its Weight - Trampling The Poor

In cash terms, as Monbiot notes, the UK military budget is the second highest in the world (after the US). But then, as we are often reminded by politicians and the media, ours is a country that likes to "punch above its weight" in global affairs. "Defence" is the fourth largest consumer of UK taxpayers' money after social security, health and education. (Chris Langley, 'Soldiers in the Laboratory,' report, 79pp., Scientists for Global Responsibility, January 2005; www.sgr.org.uk/ArmsControl/MilitaryInfluence.html)

The mainstream media rarely question why such a large portion of the country's tax budget is devoted to the military sector. You would be hard pressed to find a discussion about what impact these skewed finances might have on state support for public health services, education and social justice generally. In particular, there is no debate linking the country's huge military budget with the consequences for eradicating child poverty in Britain - an ongoing scandal. Hilary Fisher, director of the campaigning coalition End Child Poverty, notes:

"In a country as rich as Britain it is embarrassing and shocking that children still live in poverty." (www.ecpc.org.uk/index.php?id=4)

The coalition cites some of the ugly realities of child poverty in the UK:

  • 400,000 children have inadequate diets.
  • Around 52,000 families with children became homeless in 2005.
  • Increasing gas and electricity costs mean three million families are expected to be unable to heat their homes this year.
  • Children from families of unskilled labourers are 15 times more likely to die from a fire at home.

As one single parent of three children in North London says:

"The worst blow of all is the contempt of your fellow citizens. I and many families live in that contempt." ('Making UK poverty history,' Oxfam GB, BOND, End Child Poverty Coalition and the TUC, October 2005, report, 20pp., www.oxfmagb.org)

In October, End Child Poverty called on Gordon Brown to allocate just £4 billion to wipe out child poverty in Britain. The group warns: "It is clear that current policies and resources will not enable the government to reach its targets."

But one has to turn to the small-circulation Morning Star newspaper to join the dots and point out the obvious. A recent editorial noted that, in March 1999, Tony Blair promised to eradicate child poverty "within a generation," quoting 2020 as a target. (Editorial, 'Sick set of priorities,' Morning Star, November 20, 2006)

In March 2006, the government had been forced to announce that it had failed - by a significant margin - to meet the first target in that project. It had boasted it would reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent - approximately one million - and missed by 300,000.

The Morning Star editors wrote:

"There are 3.4 million British children still living in poverty because of that failure, roughly a quarter of the population under 16 years old, in a country which boasts the fifth-largest economy in the world."

The editorial pointed to the scandal of Blair calling, in the same month these child poverty statistics were published, for a renewed British nuclear "deterrent". Or, as the paper put it sagely, a replacement for "the irrelevant, ineffectual and unused Trident missile system at an estimated cost of around £25 billion".

But even the mind-boggling figure of £25 billion is likely a gross underestimate of the final cost to the public. A report in the Guardian, based on calculations by the Liberal Democrats, estimates a much higher total figure of £76 billion. This would be the treasure chest required to buy the missiles, replace four nuclear submarines, and maintain the system for its lifetime of 30 years. (John Vidal, Tania Branigan and James Randerson, 'Global warming: Could scrapping these... ...save this?', The Guardian, November 4, 2006)

Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, sent us his response to government plans to replace Trident:

"It's extremely disturbing that the government seems willing to take a decision to commission a new nuclear weapons system - whose total costs could be as high as £76 billion - while child poverty still exists in the UK." (Email, November 28, 2006)

Polly's Cameronian Caravan

Sadly, the same directness in challenging establishment priorities was absent from Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee's article last week on poverty. (Toynbee, 'If Cameron can climb on my caravan, anything is possible,' The Guardian, November 22, 2006). Over many years, Toynbee has built a reputation in the mainstream as a social democrat who champions the cause of poverty reduction.

"For the Tories to admit that ignoring relative poverty was a terrible mistake represents a real breakthrough," her article declared.

And - another Toynbee gem - Tory leader David Cameron "makes it easier for Labour to be bold on poverty, to hit that target of abolishing child poverty by 2020".

This was a trivial analysis. Toynbee thus gave credit to Tory leader David Cameron for his wretched PR attempt to hijack the poverty issue. There was no mention of the corporate-dominated policies supported by his party, and pursued by the state no matter which party rules, to the detriment of social justice - including any realistic hopes of abolishing child poverty. As radical historian Mark Curtis has written:

"Addressing poverty eradication without tackling big business is a bit like addressing malaria without mentioning mosquitoes." (Curtis, 'Web of Deceit,' Vintage, 2003, p.217)

We wrote to Toynbee as follows:

"There's no mention in your article of skewed government spending priorities such as its overblown 'defence' budget; and, specifically, whether the state should be paying billions for the invasion-occupation of Iraq.

"Or, looking to Richard Norton-Taylor's column immediately to the right of yours ['Beware Trident-Lite'], whether paying for a grossly expensive updated nuclear 'deterrent' is a responsible use of public revenue.

"Why did you not consider these issues of relevance in your piece on poverty today?" (Email, November 22, 2006)

In reply, we received an interesting permutation of the standard "lack of space" canard:

"Well, you can't put everything into one column! Or you'd always write the same one..." (Email, November 23, 2006)

Such a response would make sense if Toynbee had repeatedly examined the link between exorbitant military spending - the Trident replacement, in particular - and the lack of progress on eradicating child poverty. But, in the last twelve months, she has only twice hinted at a possible link. This is an unimpressive performance from someone lauded in the mainstream for her commitment to exposing poverty and social injustice. And so her answer enters the lexicon of liberal evasions.

We also wrote to Andrew Grice, political editor of the Independent, in response to his weekly column on the same topic. ('The week in politics: Beckham, Toynbee and the Tory view of poverty,' The Independent, November 24, 2006):

"You referred to: 'the root causes of deep poverty, such as alcohol and drug problems, and poor education and housing.' Why is there no mention in your article of the state's skewed priorities in spending taxpayers' money; in particular, the huge sums spent on 'defence'?

"As you are likely aware, Tony Blair faced accusations last week 'that he was wasting nearly £7 billion of taxpayers' money on a failing war on terror.'

"Moreover, Defence Secretary Des Browne has just announced an increase in the annual UK military budget from £32 billion to £33.6 billion for 2006-07.

"And then there is the proposed replacement for Trident, at a cost of £25 billion or more. Indeed, calculations that account for buying new missiles, replacing four nuclear submarines, and maintaining the system for 30 years, suggest a much higher total figure of £76 billion.

"Why did you consider all of this irrelevant to your column this week?" (Email, November 24, 2006)

We have received no response at time of writing.

Concluding Remark

Corporate reporters and commentators have mastered the art of not making painful connections; painful for powerful interests, that is. Thus, shameful child poverty and a massive military budget belong in separate compartments of mainstream thought. Woe betide anyone who should look at one, and then the other, and wonder aloud whether state policy is, in fact, insane.

It is as though the state were hard-wired to *exclude* rationality; indeed, to exclude compassion.

Chogyam Trungpa once noted that "compassion is the ultimate attitude of wealth: an anti-poverty attitude, a war on want. It contains all sorts of heroic, juicy, positive, visionary, expansive qualities". (Trungpa, 'Cutting through spiritual materialism', Shambhala, 2002, p. 99)

At root, we need to question whether the state can, in any meaningful way, act with rationality and compassion. And, if not, what we are going to do about it.


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 Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist:
Email: p.toynbee@guardian.co.uk

Copy to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian:
Email: a.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk

Write to Andrew Grice, political editor of the Independent:
Email: a.grice@independent.co.uk

Copy to Simon Kelner, editor of the Independent:
Email: s.kelner@independent.co.uk

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