Category: Alerts 2008
- Created on 05 December 2008
- 07 April 2011
The Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, posted the following on our website message board yesterday:
"Can this be true?
"If so, I think I have reason to feel aggrieved."
The link was to a blog by Bob Shone. Shone has, himself, long felt aggrieved by our criticism of Iraq Body Count (IBC), of which he is a passionate supporter. In response, he has smeared us whenever and wherever he can across the web. Perhaps because we have written less about IBC over the last couple of years, Shone has branched out by, for example, misrepresenting our criticism of Nick Davies's book Flat Earth News. See here.
In his latest blog, Shone writes:
"Medialens stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism' (Alert, 3/5/03). They've attacked Guardian columnist George Monbiot for not being more critical of the Guardian.* Yet, in a single Guardian article (The Lies of the Press), Monbiot wrote more words criticising the Guardian than Medialens wrote criticising the New Statesman (NS) in their entire run of NS columns." (http://dissident93.wordpress.com/ 2008/11/28/medialens-monbiot-wilby-milne/)
Monbiot comments on our message board:
"Now I discover that, if the posting I link to is correct, the editors justified their decision not to attack one of their employers - the New Statesman - with the very arguments they have lambasted me for using. I discover that the standards they have so volubly demanded of me somehow do not apply to them. In fact, they appear to be less prepared to do as they say than I am. Who would not, under these circumstances, feel annoyed?" (Monbiot, December 4)
How casually Monbiot has chosen to confront us with this damning public criticism. This, of course, is how internet-based media with essentially no resources are often treated by corporate journalism. If Monbiot had been targeting a powerful think tank or political party, he would perhaps have checked if the posting was "correct". And he would perhaps have taken a few seconds to look at the blog from which it came to examine the mindset of the blogger. Incidentally, our "employers" at the New Statesman paid us £60 per monthly column (if it appeared) - rather less, we suspect, than Monbiot's employers pay him.
The casualness of Monbiot's approach is even more depressing given that he has strongly supported our work, describing it as "a major service to democracy". (Monbiot, email to Media Lens, February 2, 2005)
It seems that, on this occasion, feelings of personal offence weigh more heavily with Monbiot than concern for any service we might be rendering.
This is our response to Monbiot:
We're happy to hear from you again. But why now? We wrote to you just over one year ago, asking why you had written:
"I believe that Iran is trying to acquire the bomb." (Monbiot, 'The Middle East has had a secretive nuclear power in its midst for years,' The Guardian, November 20, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2007/nov/20/foreignpolicy.usa)
We asked you to explain the basis for your belief. You also wrote:
"Yes, Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous and unpredictable state involved in acts of terror abroad. The president is a Holocaust denier opposed to the existence of Israel."
We asked if you believed that Ahmadinejad, rather than Khamenei, was the supreme ruler of Iran. If so, why? And we asked which "acts of terror abroad" you had in mind: did you include the claims that Iran had supplied Explosively-Formed Penetrators to blow up US-UK tanks and troops in Iraq, for example?
Finally, we asked the basis for your belief that Ahmadinejad was "opposed to the existence of Israel".
We wrote a further two times but received no reply. Two years earlier, you had written to us:
"I know we've had disagreements in the past, but I wanted to send you a note of appreciation for your work. Your persistence seems to be paying off: it's clear that many of the country's most prominent journalists are aware of Medialens, read your bulletins and, perhaps, are beginning to feel the pressure. If, as I think you have, you have begun to force people working for newspapers and broadcasters to look over their left shoulders as well as their right, and worry about being held to account for the untruths they disseminate, then you have already performed a major service to democracy. I feel you have begun to open up a public debate on media bias, which has been a closed book in the United Kingdom for a long time." (Email, February 2, 2005)
More recently, we asked for your views on the Guardian's latest comments on fossil fuel advertising - again, no reply. Why?
Bob Shone writes:
"Medialens stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism' (Alert, 3/5/03)." (http://dissident93.wordpress.com/ 2008/11/28/medialens-monbiot-wilby-milne/)
The link is to a media alert from 2003, so we can easily check. This is what we actually wrote:
"The deeper problem with [David] Miller's article - a problem faced by all honest journalists wherever they are writing in the mainstream - is that it appears in the Guardian but does not mention the Guardian. Miller's article gives the impression that the Guardian is promoting open and honest discussion on media bias. But this is not so. In fact Miller's article avoids many of the most serious issues of how the media colluded with a dishonest government to take us to war - an extraordinarily serious violation of our democracy - and, as seriously, it allows the Guardian to point accusing fingers at other media while being itself guilty of similar bias.
"We are well aware of the pressures facing Miller - mentions of the Guardian's failings would not have been welcome in his article. The problem facing dissidents is that it seems better to publish some of the truth in a national newspaper rather than none at all, and so we forever allow the 'liberal' press to publish watered down versions of media bias as if they were themselves free of bias. This helps obscure the extraordinary extent to which these same media outlets are manipulating the public in support of establishment goals. Furthermore, the sight of one media outlet criticising another gives the false impression that competitive pressures and internal clashes are protecting us from systemic media bias.
"It is understood in the media that to criticise the host media providing such valuable exposure and publicity is in extremely poor taste and will surely result in a journalist falling from favour. For all the talk of 'professional journalism', media relations are remarkable in that they are actually much closer to social relations - a newspaper or magazine is viewed as a kind of 'friend'. If you hurt your friend's feelings - or, worse, her interests - your friend will naturally feel hurt and may well break off relations. It might be vital for democracy and freedom to hurt your friends feelings and interests, but that's not the point - employees do +not+ criticise the company product. This curious personalisation of corporate media/individual journalistic relations has a powerful effect on what journalists feel able to write.
"The astonishing result is that we know of not one journalist writing in the mainstream willing to subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism. Because these media are part of the wider, profit-driven corporate media, journalists, with honourable exceptions, are also reluctant to criticise the media system as a whole, as this would clearly involve implicit criticism of their own media." (Chaining the Watchdog Part 2)
In other words, Shone's claim that we "stress that journalists should 'subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism'" in the alert is simply false - we said no such thing. He misrepresented what we wrote. In our experience, this is a standard Shone tactic. It is also something you could easily have checked.
We wrote in the same alert:
"Assuming that it is vital to challenge the mainstream media system, and assuming that this system will not itself host such a critique, what options are open to people determined to make such a challenge?" (Chaining the Watchdog Part 3)
Why would we adamantly demand something of journalists that we ourselves declare impossible, especially when we are anyway discussing alternatives?
As the above material makes clear, what we've actually said (endlessly, as Shone knows, having closely monitored our message board for years), is:
1) Journalists are unwilling and/or unable to criticise their host media, not just in their own media but anywhere.
2) We understand why they don't, the pressures against such criticism are huge, including: external flak, internal censure, stalled career progress, demotion, dismissal, reaching the point where a journalist is deemed "radioactive" (unemployable).
3) Nevertheless, we believe it is one of the tasks of the public to pressure journalists to do what they can to be +more+ critical of their host media and the media system more generally, and to pressure the media to accept more criticism. As you noted in your Guardian column, it was our criticism that prompted you to discuss the issue of fossil fuel advertising in the first place (http://www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2007/aug/14/comment.media).
Our hope is that by generating public criticism, we can help give honest journalists leverage to push their editors to cover issues they would not normally consider. It seems to have worked in this case (also in the Independent and Independent on Sunday). That's extremely important. We are aware that we are in a sense demanding the impossible, but reality has an odd way of bending before the insistence that something +should+ be possible. This has nothing to do with stupidly insisting that journalists should subject their host media to intense criticism as a matter of course, as Shone is suggesting.
4) It is also our task to look for alternative ways to challenge the system. We have, for example, talked of the possibility of dissident journalists boycotting the corporate media.
We did criticise the New Statesman while we were writing for them (2003-2005) both in the magazine and in media alerts. For example, in the magazine itself:
"Companies such as BNFL have money to fund a 32-page supplement in the New Statesman (which is 40 per cent dependent on advertising and sponsorship). But you won't be reading 32-page supplements by the anti-war movement or radical green groups any time soon. The idea that money should buy influence in news reporting or commentary is deemed outrageous. But when it comes to advertising in our 'free press' - business is business." (http://www.newstatesman.com/200310270009)
As Shone notes, citing us, we weren't critical of the New Statesman more often because we considered it small beer. We used our small column - 450 words once a month - to expose the big propaganda in the big media to a mainstream audience. Apart from two related alerts in autumn 2006, we have also paid the New Statesman very little critical attention since we stopped writing for it, for the same reason.
In our New Statesman articles, which were always focused on corporate media propaganda, we were implicitly criticising almost everything the magazine said, for example, about Iraq. So when we commented in different New Statesman articles:
"Elite journalists are protected by a corporate media system locked into a status quo serving corporate interests - profit over people, profit over truth." (David Edwards, 'The powerful get an easy ride; Observations on media,' New Statesman, July 5, 2004)
"...with the establishment united in silence, the press has nothing to say." (David Edwards and David Cromwell, 'Rigorous? Don't make us laugh,' New Statesman, March 25, 2004)
"In his new book, Web of Deceit, Mark Curtis shows how the mainstream media promote one key concept above all others: 'the idea of Britain's basic benevolence'. The illusion is maintained, Curtis writes, by consistent bias that 'sanitises quite terrible policies and presents them as 'normal'. US-UK responsibility for suffering is always downplayed, never eliciting the attention or horror it deserves." (David Edwards, 'A strange kind of liberation; Observations on Iraq and the media,' New Statesman, May 19, 2003)
We were implicitly criticising just about every New Statesman journalist (John Pilger aside) and every editorial that appeared around those articles at the time.
In February 2004, a time when we were writing the regular column, this appeared at the bottom of a media alert criticising then New Statesman political editor, John Kampfner:
Write to the John Kampfner, New Statesman political editor:
Copy your emails to Peter Wilby, New Statesman editor, and the magazine's letters page:
Both Kampfner and Wilby received numerous emails. It felt odd when one of us (Edwards) then chatted to Wilby on the phone to discuss the editing of the next New Statesman piece. Wilby was a kind and honest editor, we liked him and felt bad about some of the fierce emails he had received that had been copied to us. He responded graciously, but as you know, George, by mainstream standards this was completely impossible behaviour on our part. It just isn't done to cause a flood of complaints to be sent to the editor publishing your work.
We put both Wilby and Kampfner's names at the bottom of another alert in May 2005. This may have been the last straw. Wilby was replaced by Kampfner, who rejected our next submission - that turned out to be the end of our regular column. So in deciding whether you should feel aggrieved, you can compare the above with Shone's comment:
"In other words, Medialens were concerned about holding onto their column. Direct 'full-frontal' criticism of the NS would endanger that."
The irony of Shone's argument is that we weren't concerned about holding onto, or losing, the column. We made almost no effort to get it going again after our submission was rejected (Kampfner did publish a piece by us a year later, in 2006). We have never tried very hard to be published in the corporate media - we prefer to encourage people to look outside the mainstream for honest material. That's one reason why we have rejected numerous invitations to appear on the BBC, particularly BBC2's Newsnight, but also on BBC1, BBC radio, ITV, CNN, and others. Shone is just wrong on every level.
A Milestone In Moral Depravity - Media Lens And The Guardian
It is telling, in fact shameful, that Shone, who claims to be so meticulous, forgot to mention the far more pertinent example (certainly from your point of view): our record of criticising the Guardian in and out of the Guardian.
Of course we have criticised the Guardian endlessly in our alerts - both directly and implicitly as part of the corporate media system. But what about our criticism of the Guardian +in+ the Guardian?
In the summer of 2004, then Guardian comment editor Seumas Milne invited us to submit a piece on media coverage of Iraq - he appeared to have it in mind to publish a piece quickly during the quiet 'silly season' when many MPs and journalists were away. We agreed on the condition that the article would include serious criticism of the Guardian. It may be that this delayed publication - after an agonising process, the piece finally appeared in the depths of winter, on December 15!
While we were negotiating publication of the article, we put these names at the bottom of our September 29, 2004 alert:
These comments appeared directly above:
"As for The Guardian? Well, clearly, it would rather remain part of some grotesque agreement between reasonable gentlemen of the establishment. It wouldn't do for the paper to be +too+ critical [of Blair].
"Tens of thousands of [Iraqi] dead, hundreds of thousands of injured and grieving - a vast illegal act of mass murder. But for our 'liberal' press a vague gesture in the direction of an apology is a 'milestone' in Blair's rehabilitation. This is, itself, a milestone in moral depravity - urbane, well-heeled and well-spoken - of the most lethal kind." (Immoral Milestones)
Who knows, perhaps this helps explain why so many of our queries on the fate of our proposed article went unanswered by Milne, and why it took four months to reach the public.
Here's some of what we published in the December 15 Guardian article:
"Of 12,447 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003 on the Guardian Unlimited website, Ritter was mentioned in only 17, mostly in passing. Denis Halliday, who set up the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq, and who blamed the US and British governments for the huge death toll of Iraqi civilians under sanctions, was mentioned in two articles. His successor, Hans von Sponeck, who also resigned in protest at sanctions, received five mentions. The Independent mentioned Ritter only eight times in 5,648 articles on Iraq in 2003. Ritter's disarmament claim received fewer than a dozen brief mentions in the Guardian the year before.
"The failure of the liberal media, including the Guardian and Independent, is vital to this debate because, while they are consistently more open than their conservative counterparts, they set the boundaries of permissible dissent. In the case of Iraq, those boundaries helped create a disaster." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/ 2004/dec/15/media.pressandpublishing)
"We would argue that the media's failure on Iraq was not really a failure at all, but rather a classic product of 'balanced' professional journalism. The modern conception of objective reporting is little more than a century old. There was little concern that newspapers were partisan so long as the public was free to choose from a wide range of opinions. Newspapers dependent on advertisers for 75% of their revenues, such as the Guardian and Independent, would have been regarded as independent by few radicals and progressives in, say, the 1940s."
You can read the rest here:
We have never been invited back - the pieces we've offered have been rejected, our emails unanswered. A month after our Milne-commissioned piece appeared, we wrote in the New Statesman:
"The Guardian comment editor, Seumas Milne, has even had the gall to complain that the elections 'are routinely described by the BBC as Iraq's first free and democratic elections'.
"How convenient to take a free shot at the media's favourite punchbag, when not just Milne's own paper, but his entire industry, is pumping out exactly the same crass propaganda." (http://www.newstatesman.com/200501240007)
We noted in the media alert version of this piece that Milne replied to our criticism:
"!!" (Unity In Deceit)
"The confusion is understandable. Milne helped us publish an article strongly criticising Guardian performance in the Guardian itself in December - no mean achievement on his part. The unwritten media rule is that you back off from criticising people who help publish your work in this way."
Obviously, we knew Milne would see what we wrote in the New Statesman (and probably the alert).
Shone comments: "One wonders why Medialens were so hostile towards Milne."
It's worth re-reading what we wrote. Was it in fact 'hostile', or simply the kind of honesty that is not tolerated by the media? But isn't it interesting that it is interpreted as hostility?
Perhaps Shone should wonder what our criticism of Milne says about his charge that we are hypocrites. In fact, it is a good example of us living up to the standards he describes but which we do not in fact demand of journalists. As you know, it really is not done to publish high-profile criticism of a powerful gatekeeper who has recently opened his doors - most writers would do anything to avoid upsetting someone who has given them such an opportunity. As you also know, a foot in the door like that can potentially lead to a long, lucrative media career. So this was career-suicidal behaviour, as we well knew. It's worth reflecting, again, that Shone somehow forgot to mention any of this in his blog.
Should you feel aggrieved, George? Should Wilby? Should Milne? To be honest, we're not sure. It's true that we have been asking the impossible, putting people in difficult situations. But it seems to us that this is vital if we are to break the silence and reveal some truths about how the media stifles honest criticism.
The problem is that, as a result of this silence, the public believe they are being given a reasonably accurate version of the war in Iraq, of Afghanistan, of climate change, and so on. The next time the media insist that, this time, an attack on a defenceless Third World country really is vital, the public will likely find it credible. The stakes are high, George - higher than your personal discomfort.
It may be hard to believe, but we really don't like putting people like you, someone we respect and admire, on the spot. We honestly don't do it with any hatred or vindictiveness. On the other hand, we are very happy to burn bridges, if doing so helps cast a light into some dark corners of the propaganda system.
In the final analysis, we are all on the spot - the world is not changing fast enough. Again, if you are aggrieved, it's nothing compared to the real grief of millions of people surviving in the wreckage of Iraq, or the grief so many of us feel at the destruction of the climate and planet. Perhaps feeling uncomfortable is a price we all have to pay for progressive change.
David Edwards and David Cromwell
Category: Alerts 2008
- Created on 26 November 2008
- 07 April 2011
PARTS 1 & 2 - IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
Hectoring And Censoring - And Climate Catastrophe
Last week, Guardian News & Media (GNM) published ‘Living Our Values’, an independently audited account of the company’s annual performance on sustainability issues. GNM, which encompasses the Guardian, the Observer and guardian.co.uk, claims to have strong environmental ambitions. Its ongoing mission: to seek out and “explore subjects like climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality” in ever greater depth.
The Guardian’s ultimate aim is to be nothing less than "the world's leading liberal voice". (Siobhain Butterworth, ‘Open door. The readers' editor on... the Guardian's green and global mission,’ November 17, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008 s/nov/17/readers-editor-guardian-sustainability-business)
An awkward point for the Guardian, mentioned by the audit, is that their environmental performance has been strongly criticised by one of their own columnists, George Monbiot. Last year, after a gentle nudge from Media Lens, Monbiot asked the Guardian and other newspapers to reject adverts for products and services that are particularly damaging to the climate: ads for gas guzzling cars and flights. He pointed out that, by accepting these ads, his editors "make the destruction of the biosphere seem socially acceptable”. (Monbiot, ‘The editorials urge us to cut emissions, but the ads tell a very different story,’ The Guardian, August 14, 2007; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree /2007/aug/14/comment.media)
In the same column, Monbiot described most of the negative responses he received to his proposal as “inadequate”.
The Guardian’s latest audit comments on the controversy:
"Our role is neither to hector our readers nor to censor on their behalf. Our editorial coverage informs and influences their choices."
And yet the Guardian has consistently supported the ban of other destructive advertising. An April 1997 leader applauded one of New Labour’s key promises:
“Now Britain is on the verge of making a much belated further step in health promotion: a ban on tobacco advertising... Any industry whose product kills 300 of its own customers every day will have one over-riding concern: recruiting another 300 more consumers a day to ensure its survival...” (Leader, ‘Dealing with the killing weeds - Tobacco promotion should be banned as well as advertising,’ The Guardian, April 18, 1997)
In 2005, the World Health Organization estimated that global warming was already contributing to more than 150,000 deaths each year - 410 deaths every day. The toll could double by 2030. (Juliet Eilperin, ‘Climate Shift Tied To 150,000 Fatalities,’ Washington Post, November 17, 2005;http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/ content/article/2005/11/16/AR2005111602197.html)
In its reply to Monbiot’s calls for an advertising ban, the Guardian wrote:
“We would rather encourage advertisers... to become more sustainable. We have just appointed a commercial sustainability manager who will be considering ways to achieve this...” (Monbiot, op. cit)
But as the same editors noted of the tobacco industry in the 1997 leader cited above: “The various voluntary restrictions on advertising and promotion have been shown to be a sham.” Attempts to encourage fossil-fuel advertisers to become more sustainable have also resulted in sham and deception on a grand scale.
Guardian leaders since 1997 have been happy “to hector... and censor” on tobacco advertising, for example in a 2002 editorial entitled, ‘A healthy ban on adverts: Motor sport should be included as well’:
“It is not too late for ministers to take a stronger line against motor sport, which has been given an exemption until 2006. It is not that difficult for sports to attract alternative sponsors.” (Leading article, ‘A healthy ban on adverts: Motor sport should be included as well,’ The Guardian, August 23, 2002)
The Guardian editors take a cheap shot in their latest audit when they emphasise that they found more objections to ads for fashion brands that use low cost labour than to ads for cars and budget airlines (11% of Guardian readers and 10% of website users).
Why would readers feel strongly about the need to ban ads for high-emission transport when the subject has almost never been discussed by the media? The public needs access to serious discussion of the issues before it can reach an informed opinion. This is something media like the Guardian have never provided.
Ironically, Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of the Guardian and Observer, states in the audit:
“One of the roles of the media is to boil down intensely complex subjects and make them comprehensible. If these issues are not aired and placed on the public agenda and debated with facts that are reliable, then it lets everyone off the hook.” (Alan Rusbridger, quoted, in Guardian News & Media, Jo Confino and Emma Wright, editors, ‘Living our values. Sustainability report,’ November 17, 2008;http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2008/11/14/report2008.pdf)
The Guardian has certainly let itself off the hook. Discussion of the media’s heavy reliance on advertising, and its corrosive impact on news coverage, is dangerous territory where journalists dare not venture.
Instead, Rusbridger baldly asserts: "As long as the journalism is free and we allow George Monbiot to criticise us, and we feel free to criticise the people who advertise - that is more important than advertising."
The problem is that Rusbridger literally does mean George Monbiot. He is the only Guardian journalist who has seriously addressed the issue, and he is the only one likely to be able to do so in future. A lone voice is manageable; the Guardian would have a serious problem if several journalists on the paper began criticising major advertisers, who might well decide to switch to more supportive media platforms. This is a grave threat when advertising provides around 75 per cent of the Guardian’s revenue. (Peter Preston, ‘War, What Is It Good For?,’ The Observer, October 7, 2001)
The Guardian’s ‘Living Our Values’ (LOV) audit is, we are told, “up front about the contradictions between editorial and advertising.” The curious wording suggests that the famous “firewall” protecting editorial from advertising is not quite as all-consuming as we are led to believe.
Ownership by the Scott Trust puts the Guardian “in a privileged position,” the report continues. The newspaper has to be "profit-seeking, efficient and cost-effective," of course, but it is "values-driven, not profit-driven". The words are reassuring - and contradicted when the report reveals the underlying reality:
“The reason GNM is able to fulfil its core purpose [providing “liberal journalism”] is because of the financial support of its parent company Guardian Media Group (GMG). Over the past five years alone, GMG has invested £207m in GNM, part of which has gone into new all-colour presses and the development of our global website.
“GMG is able to do this by running a portfolio of profit-maximising businesses in areas such as radio, regional papers, property and second-hand car sales.” (LOV, p. 20)
The Guardian, then, is heavily dependent on “profit-maximising” businesses not normally associated with sustainability or “values-driven” performance.
Asked by the Scott Trust to restate the Guardian’s “values for the online era”, Alan Rusbridger declaims: “the trust exists to preserve the Guardian and its journalistic traditions in perpetuity... our journalists' main relationships are with our colleagues and with readers, viewers or listeners.”
In the real world, numerous studies have exposed the close relationship between journalists, advertisers and bias. In 1978, Columbia Journalism Review published one researcher’s telling discovery:
“In magazines that accept cigarette advertising, I was unable to find a single article, in seven years of publication, that could have given readers any clear notion of the nature and extent of the medical and social havoc being wreaked by the cigarette smoking habit... advertising revenue can indeed silence the editors of American magazines.” (R.C. Smith, Columbia Journalism Review, 1978, January. See: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_599.pdf)
Rusbridger also omitted to mention the journalists embedded with the military, with the political establishment, with corporate interests - producing material that is inevitably compromised by the need to carefully nurture influential news sources. Readers may recall, for example, the front-page Pentagon propaganda targeting Iran under Simon Tisdall’s byline last May. (Media Alert, ‘Pentagon Propaganda Occupies The Guardian’s Front Page,’ May 24, 2007)
“There should be a high premium on transparency, collaboration and discussion. At the same time we should allow plurality of opinion ... the papers should promote minority views as well as mainstream argument and should encourage dissent.” (LOV, p. 11)
Some dissent, though, is not welcome. Since the Guardian’s cynical smearing of Noam Chomsky in October 2005, Rusbridger has flatly refused to engage with us or our readers - in the last three years he has not replied to a single one of our emails. Recently, in response to an article on media fakery on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, we posted a comment about the Guardian’s own fakery in its treatment of Chomsky. The Guardian moderators deleted our comments and several others.
When we challenged the Guardian’s censorship, we were told our relevant remarks were off topic and had led to discussion that was “problematic.”. When we offered to publish a critical piece about the Guardian and the Scott Trust on Comment Is Free, we were asked by editor Georgina Henry: “But why would I be interested in commissioning piece about the Guardian and the Scott Trust from you?” (Email, August 22, 2007)
And yet Rusbridger says in the audit:
“We should behave fairly and allow our opponents a voice.”
Admirable sentiments of this kind are sprinkled throughout:
“Social justice has always been at the heart of our journalism.” (LOV, p. 5)
The report makes no mention of the fact that members of the Guardian Media Group Board and/or the Scott Trust have links with the corporate media, New Labour, Cadbury Schweppes, KPMG Corporate Finance, the chemicals company Hickson International Plc, Fenner Plc, the investment management company Rathbone Brothers Plc, global investment company Lehman Brothers, global financial services firm Morgan Stanley, the Bank of England...
Are we really to believe that a newspaper embedded in these establishment and corporate networks, and dependent on advertisers for 75 per cent of its revenues, can provide uncompromised coverage of a world dominated, and exploited, by these same powerful interests?
The Guardian claims to “desire to build trust in the media by becoming increasingly transparent about the decisions we reach and the way we implement them in both our editorial and commercial operations.” (LOV, p. 3)
A good place to start would be for GNM to tell us exactly how much money it takes from oil giants, car companies, airlines and other businesses heavily dependent on fossil-fuel consumption.
When we emailed George Monbiot for his response to the Guardian’s latest comments on advertising, he did not reply. Monbiot is a decent, well-intentioned person - we have great respect for him - but he is caught between the rock of honest dissent and the hard place of corporate priorities. A partial explanation for his silence is perhaps found on page 7 of LOV, where the Guardian unveils a plan:
“Expanding the role of George Monbiot, one of the most respected columnists writing about sustainability, to create video interviews with major figures.”
This is further evidence, if any were needed, that Monbiot continues to be used as a fig leaf to cover the Guardian’s failure to challenge power. Given the “profit-maximising” goals of the Guardian’s parent company, and the establishment figureheads of the Scott Trust, how could it be any other way?
The concession of an expanded role for Monbiot again recalls a favoured tactic of the tobacco industry. A memo from the company Philip Morris noted:
“... by opening a dialogue followed by a few minor concessions, the industry can be saved from heavy legislation for at least two to three more years.” (Philip Morris, 1976, 'Trust US We’re The Tobacco Industry,' Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids;http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/campaign/ global/framework/docs/TrustUs.pdf)
In a recent guest media alert, former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, wrote of dissident writers like Monbiot, Robert Fisk and John Pilger:
“However grateful we should be to these dissident writers, their relegation to the margins of the commentary pages of Britain's ‘leftwing’ media serves a useful purpose for corporate interests. It helps define the ‘character’ of the British media as provocative, pluralistic and free-thinking - when in truth they are anything but. It is a vital component in maintaining the fiction that a professional media is a diverse media.”
PART 2 - IN PRACTICE
The Observer Smears Climate Activism
Despite the fine words of the ’Living Our Values’ audit, the Guardian and the Observer are part of a corporate system that is determined to prevent the public from interfering with the maximisation of profits.
Earlier this month, the Observer smeared climate activists by highlighting police warnings of a “growing threat of eco-terrorism”. The alleged threat is presented by a group called Earth First!, which the paper claimed “has supporters who believe that reducing the Earth's population by four-fifths will help to protect the planet”. (Mark Townsend and Nick Denning, ‘Police warn of growing threat from eco-terrorists: Fear of deadly attack by lone maverick as officers alert major firms to danger of green extremism,’ The Observer, November 9, 2008)
The Observer implied no less than three times that Earth First! activists would not only like to see the Earth’s human population drastically reduced, but might be willing to take action to make that happen. The impression given was of a group bent on the mass murder of billions!
And yet, almost comically, the article focused on police concerns that “a ‘lone maverick’ eco-extremist may attempt a terrorist attack aimed at killing large numbers of Britons”.
If an entire group really is advocating mass murder, then presumably the concern is not for “a lone maverick”. And some kind of evidence - weaponry, plans, perhaps a declaration of intent - should be available to justify these extreme allegations. But none was provided by the Observer.
Worse still, the article linked eco-terrorists to some very sane and peaceable climate camps in Britain. A police unit, the Observer reported, “is currently monitoring blogs and internet traffic connected to a network of UK climate camps and radical environmental movements under the umbrella of Earth First!, which has claimed responsibility for a series of criminal acts in recent months.”
It seems that activists “are doing research of possible targets... they could research an airline and see how many of its aircraft are not environmentally friendly.”
The article thus insinuated that green terrorists “could” target airliners - a mere hypothetical possibility, but obviously a key public fear since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A group of four academics from the universities of Aston, Keele, Kent and Southampton responded to the allegations in a letter to the Observer:
“Neither in Britain nor in the US have even the most radical environmental activists attacked people rather than property... Research on environmental direct action taken in the name of Earth First! in the past 16 years shows that activists are overwhelmingly committed to nonviolence, and are not using terrorism, violence, or any other direct action to seek to reduce the Earth's human population.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2008/nov/16/18)
And what of the claim that the climate camps fall “under the umbrella” of the Earth First! group? We asked Kevin Smith, a member of the climate camp media working group, someone who has been involved in climate change activism since 2000, if this was an accurate description:
“No, not at all. Not in the slightest. There is no ‘umbrella’ for Climate Camp. It is a stand alone process. It involves a number of individuals who have been active in Earth First! networks, but no organisation has any sort of official representation or affiliation within the climate camp process.” (Email to Media Lens, November 18, 2008)
Likewise, the alleged involvement of a “network of climate camps” - a phrase perhaps intended to trigger fears of al Qaeda-style “cells” - is a myth. There have only ever been three climate camps in the UK - one every year for the last three years. The last was in August, lasting a week. No climate camp has ever resulted in a conviction for a violent offence.
Given the reality of impending climate catastrophe, the Observer’s demonisation of peaceable direct action is deeply irresponsible. The crisis is now so severe that everyone from Al Gore to leading NASA scientist James Hansen is supporting civil disobedience in an attempt to try and get something done. As Smith points out:
“The real extremists are the companies - such as E.ON and BAA - who are hell-bent on profiting from increasing C02 emissions by burning more coal and building more runways, and the government which is doing their bidding.” (Smith, letter to the Observer, email to Media Lens, November 17, 2008)
So what was the purpose of the Observer article? In their letter, the four academics wrote:
“When, in the late 1990s, some American politicians and media started to call activists 'eco-terrorists', it was the start of a concerted campaign which prepared the way for repressive policing and new laws curtailing fundamental civil liberties. Is the same thing about to happen here?”
Direct action is a potent way of pressing for political change. By associating that action with terrorism, the Observer is helping to dissuade the public from offering the support it urgently needs. More insidiously still, if the security apparatus subsequently chooses to crush this form of dissent, then the public will be less likely to object in the mistaken belief that a deadly “eco-terrorist” threat has been averted.
Chalk One For Media Activism - The Observer Withdraws The Story
On November 23, Stephen Pritchard, the Observer’s readers’ editor, wrote of the eco-terrorism article:
“It's perfectly legitimate to report police security concerns, but none of the statements were substantiated. No website links were offered, no names were mentioned, no companies identified and no police source would go on the record.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree /2008/nov/23/readers-editor-climate-change)
“We've been here before. Other newspapers reported on a predicted 'summer of hate' at climate camps that never materialised and the Press Complaints Commission found against the Evening Standard at climate campers were planning attacks at Heathrow... I can't verify that or the fears about mass murder because, despite repeated requests, Nectu won't respond. Accordingly, The Observer has decided to withdraw the story.”
Kevin Smith sent us his response:
“On the one hand, I obviously think it’s great that the article has been taken down. I think this has real consequences in terms of it not being able to be used in court at a later date for the granting of injunctions and so on. I'm also really pleased in that between this and the upholding of the complaint against the Evening Standard last year at the PCC [Press Complaints Commission], we are sending out a message to the mainstream media that people can't just print outrageous lies and slander against us and get away with it. It sounds like the paper was besieged from a number of different angles by people expressing their dismay at the article - it's really heartening that so many people took this article seriously and took it upon themselves to make complaints.
“I appreciate the efforts of Stephen Pritchard in going through the process of holding the journalists in question accountable and making the decision to retract the piece, but I don't want to get into the mentality of being grateful when it’s just horrendous that the article got printed in the first place. These 'green backlash' pieces were common at the height of the anti-roads protests in the Daily Mail and such papers, but I didn't expect that sort of thing from the Observer.
“I'm also incredulous that such odious, shoddy journalism was able to make its way through all the various layers, people who should have checked it out and spotted it for what it was.
“It's difficult when we spend so much time having to talk about the heavy-handedness of the police and repudiate these sorts of insidious aspersions, when what we are trying to do is have a serious conversation with the mainstream media about the real issues - the unsustainability of the model of constant economic growth in the face of the enormous ecological catastrophe we are facing.” (Email to Media Lens, November 25, 2008)
The last point is the most important. Media like the Guardian and the Observer are run by human beings - people who live on this planet, who have children and grandchildren who will be required to do the same over the next few decades. When will these journalists start having the kind of serious conversation about the real issues that people like Kevin Smith are seeking? When will they wake up from their glossy, PR version of the world to the reality of what we are doing to our planet, to the unimaginable disaster that is overtaking us?
What will it take before they wake up, before we all wake up, to the truth of where we are at this very moment, here, now?
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor
Siobhain Butterworth, readers’ editor of the Guardian
John Mulholland, editor of the Observer
Category: Alerts 2008
- Created on 13 November 2008
- 16 November 2010
Appearance And Reality In The Relaunch Of Brand America
In 1997, the British media filled with talk of "historic" change. Blair's victory that year "bursts open the door to a British transformation," the Independent declared. (Neal Ascherson, 'Through the door he can begin to create a freer land,' The Independent, May 4, 1997)
A Guardian leader saluted the nation: "Few now sang England Arise, but England had risen all the same." (Leader, 'A political earthquake,' The Guardian, May 2, 1997)
The editors predicted that, by 2007, Blair's triumph would be seen as "one of the great turning-points of British political history... the moment when Britain at last gave itself the chance to construct a modern liberal socialist order." (Ibid)
The Observer assured readers that the Blair government would create "new worldwide rules on human rights" and implement "tough new limits on arms sales." (http://www.antiwar.com/orig/pilger.php?articleid=5063)
This, after all, was the dawn of Blair's "ethical" foreign policy.
It was a dawn of the dead - Blair left behind him the almost unimaginable horror of Iraq and Afghanistan.
A rare poll conducted by Ipsos last January of 754 Iraqi refugees in Syria found that "every single person interviewed by Ipsos reported experiencing at least one traumatic event in Iraq prior to their arrival in Syria." (http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/ vtx/iraq?page=news&id=479616762)
UNHCR estimated that one in five of those registered with the agency in Syria over the previous year were classified as "victims of torture and/or violence." The survey showed that fully 89 per cent of those interviewed suffered depression and 82 per cent anxiety. This was linked to terrors endured before they fled Iraq - 77 per cent of those interviewed reported being affected by air bombardments, shelling or rocket attacks. Eighty per cent had witnessed a shooting... and so on. (Ibid)
John Pilger was a lonely voice in 1997 warning that Blair was a dangerous fraud, a neocon in sheep's clothing. As Pilger later pointed out, the media could hardly plead ignorance
"Blair's Vichy-like devotion to Washington was known: read his speeches about a new order led by America. His devotion to Rupert Murdoch, who flew him and Cherie Booth around the world first class, was known. His devotion to an extreme neoliberal Thatcherite economics was known..." (John Pilger, Blair's bloody hands,' March 4, 2005; http://www.antiwar.com/orig/pilger.php?articleid=5063
Over the past two weeks - one decade and three wars later - the same media have been insisting, as one, that US president-elect Barrack Obama is another "new dawn". A Guardian leader observed:
"They did it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the American people yesterday stood in the eye of history and made an emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world...
"Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America's hope and, in no small way, ours too." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2008/nov/06/barackobama-uselections2008)
In the Guardian's news section, Oliver Burkeman described the victory as "historic, epochal, path breaking". But there was more:
"Just being alive at a time when it's so evident that history is being made was elating and exhausting." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/ 2008/nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama)
In 2003, the Guardian's foreign editor, Ed Pilkington, told us:
"We are not in the business of editorialising our news reports." (Email, November 15, 2003)
Someone forgot to tell Burkeman, indeed the entire Guardian news team. At times like these, the media's claims to balanced coverage seem to belong to a different universe. Over the last two weeks, the public has been subjected to a one-way delusional deluge by the media. The propaganda is such that comments made by independent US presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, appear simply shocking:
"What we're seeing is the highest level of resignation and apathy and powerlessness I've ever seen. We're not talking about hoopla. We're not talking about 'hope'. We're not talking about rhetoric. We're not talking about 'rock star Obama'. We're talking about the question that is asked everywhere I go: 'What is left for the American people to decide other than their own personal lives under more restrictive circumstances year after year?' And the answer is: almost nothing." (Interview, RealNews.com, November 4; http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_ content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=2717)
Nader says of Obama: "This is show business what you're seeing." The crucial point: "Obama doesn't like to take on power." (Ibid)
But our media, passionately committed to 'balance' though they claim to be, are not interested. Their view (or so they claim): Obama's victory is a wonderful, transformational moment for the world.
The message is enhanced by precisely the abandonment of any pretence of impartiality. This might be termed the 'Get Real!' stratagem of propaganda swamping. The suggestion is that the truth is so obvious, so marvellous, that it is churlish to be concerned with balance. When the whole media system is screaming at us to be overjoyed, something is wrong - life is just not that straightforward.
The same version of events has been repeated right across the media. The Times's leading warmonger under Bush-Blair-Brown, Gerard Baker, commented: "there haven't been many days preceded by more energy and freighted with much greater historic significance than this one". (Baker, 'Amid the silence, citizens will make history with their sacred rite,' The Times, November 4, 2008)
The BBC's Justin Webb wrote:
"On every level America will be changed by this result - its impact will be so profound that the nation will never be the same." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/justinwebb/)
David Usborne gushed for the non-editorialising news pages of the Independent:
"As tears wetted a thousand cheeks in the Chicago crowd, it was clear that the significance of Mr Obama's victory may take some while to sink in." (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ barack-obama-wins-his-place-in-history-992750.html)
How to communicate the impact?
"Call it the demise of cynicism or the end of apathy. The country that pretends to be the standard-bearer of the democracy and presumes, indeed, to export it to the other countries around the world was living up to its own standards."
Jon Snow of Channel 4 News did not disappoint:
"Hello history (to use the word of the times). What a staggering and indescribable moment this is. Barack Obama's graceful acceptance of what had seemed both inevitable and impossible is up there equalling any political event since the downing of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela." (Snowmail, November 5, 2008)
And the basis for this staggeringly important moment?
"Even after so many months of speech-making it's still not clear what are the concrete changes that may now ensue and in particular, there are some big foreign policy areas where Obama is not promising a hugely different tack from Bush..." (Ibid)
As we will see below, the amazing fact is that this eruption of media hype is based on essentially nothing. Obama has had little to say about what he will do, and what he has said has been depressing for anyone hoping for genuine change. Matthew Parris summed it up in the Times:
"Here we have a handsome, dashing and intelligent man, a man with generous instincts and a silver tongue; but a man with no distinctive plan for government that he has seen fit to share with us; a daring opportunist; somebody we may one day judge as a sort of Tony Blair with brains. And here we go again, all over again, hook, line and sinker." (Matthew Parris, 'Calm down! He's not President of the World,' The Times, November 8, 2008)
The former Europe minister and arch-Blairite, Denis MacShane, also unwittingly supplied a note of caution:
"I shut my eyes when I listen to this guy [Obama] and it could be Tony. He is doing the same thing that we did in 1997." (Tom Baldwin, 'Blair team look in mirror of history,' The Times, November 8, 2008)
Obama And Iraq
As discussed above, the media's propaganda swamping on Obama - of which we have sampled only a fraction - is based on almost nothing at all. Tariq Ali commented on Democracy Now
"As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn't promise very much, basically talked in clichés and synthetic slogans like 'change we can believe in.' No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to Afghanistan, what he said was worse than McCain..." (http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/6/ president_elect_obama_and_the_future)
Andrew Rawnsley wrote in the Observer:
"Iraq and Afghanistan are the sharp end of the partnership between Britain and the United States. Senior members of the British government quite candidly confess: 'We don't have a particularly clear view about what they want to do.'" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2008/nov/09/obama- administration-brown-cameron-sarkozy)
And yet, in the face of Obama's silence, and flat rejection of progressive policies, the media has sought to portray him as an all-new "dawn". Thus, Jonathan Freedland wrote in his open letter to Obama:
"You have promised to... end the war in Iraq." (Freedland, 'A few thoughts on how to handle the world's most potent political weapon,' The Guardian, November 5, 2008)
In the same newspaper, Julian Borger described Obama's goals: "US troops will be pulled out of Iraq in the next 16 months..." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/ nov/05/uselections2008-barackobama6)
A Times leader asked: "How quickly can the United States military withdraw from Iraq?" (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/ leading_article/article5084156.ece)
We doubt any journalist on the Times actually believes Obama is intending to withdraw US troops from Iraq (in the intended meaning of the term).
In the Guardian, Jonathan Steele supplied a more realistic appraisal:
"... his position contains massive inconsistencies... he has not repudiated the war on terror. Rather, he insists that by focusing excessively on Iraq, the Bush administration 'took its eye off the ball'. The real target must be Afghanistan and if Osama bin Laden is spotted in Pakistan, bombing must be used there too." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/06/barack-obama-war-on-terror)
Steele commented on the number of troops Obama is planning to keep in Iraq:
"Officials on his team say it could number as many as 50,000 troops. Even if much of this force remains on bases and is barely visible to Iraqi civilians (much as the 4,500 British at Basra airfield are), it cannot avoid symbolising the fact that the occupation continues." (Ibid)
Obama - Hawk
John Pilger - who was right about Blair in 1997 and who is surely right about Obama now - also rejects the mainstream consensus:
"Like all serious presidential candidates, past and present, Obama is a hawk and an expansionist. He comes from an unbroken Democratic tradition, as the war-making of presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton demonstrates." (http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=492)
Obama, after all, has supported Colombia's "right to strike terrorists who seek safe-havens across its borders." (http://www.newstatesman.com/media/ 2008/06/pilger-obama-truly-bush) He has promised to continue America's fierce economic strangulation of Cuba. He has promised to support an "undivided Jerusalem" as Israel's capital.
In August, Obama said he would be willing to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government:
"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." (http://www.reuters.com/article/ domesticNews/idUSN0132206420070801)
He has also said: "We will kill Bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaida." (http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24464976-912,00.html)
ZNet's Michael Albert commented last week:
"My guess is, sadly, that within one week, literally one week, Obama's staff and cabinet choices will make decisively evident that without mass activism forcing new outcomes, change will stop at the surface. I fervently hope I am wrong." (Albert, 'Obama Mania?', ZNet, November 7, 2008)
Albert appears to have been vindicated. Vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a pro-war Zionist. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, helped push through NAFTA and favoured the war on Iraq. Alexander Cockburn writes of him:
"He's a former Israeli citizen, who volunteered to serve in Israel in 1991 and who made brisk millions in Wall Street. He is a super-Likudnik hawk, whose father was in the fascist Irgun in the late Forties, responsible for cold-blooded massacres of Palestinians." (www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11072008.html)
In a co-authored book, Emanuel wrote:
"We need to fortify the military's 'thin green line' around the world by adding to the U.S. Special Forces and the Marines, and by expanding the U.S. army by 100,000 more troops." (Ibid)
Nader comments on Obama:
"What he's basically doing so far is giving the Clinton crowd a second chance. Rahm Emanuel? He's the worst of Clinton. Spokesman for Wall Street, Israel, globalization." (Ibid)
Conclusion - Relaunching The Brand
We are to believe that the US political system that Ralph Nader accurately describes as "a two-party dictatorship in thraldom to giant corporations," has produced a staggeringly different, progressive individual. And yet Nader has described how he was himself locked out of the election. He was not allowed to participate in the televised debates and lack of media coverage consigned his campaign to oblivion. He wrote to Obama:
"Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys... Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?" (http://www.globalresearch.ca/ index.php?context=va&aid=10809)
It is no accident that the entire media system is so fervently announcing "historic" change. The American and British political brands have been badly battered and bloodied by utter disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by the fiscal chaos of the "credit crunch". The insanity of greed-driven militarism enforcing catastrophic 'solutions' has become all too obvious, as has the provision of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest of us.
And so the American political brand must be rebirthed, resold, relaunched as a fresh start under new management.
We are being put through a crash-course in "Learning to love America again," as the Telegraph put it. (Iain Martin, 'The election of Barack Obama,' Daily Telegraph, November 6, 2008)
A leader in the Times on November 5 could hardly have stated the message more clearly:
"The American nation will replenish the confidence that it has lately lost. In the eyes of the world, the slate will be clean and the pretext, always spurious, for anti-Americanism has been removed." (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/ comment/leading_article/article5084156.ece)
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to the BBC's Justin Webb
Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
Julian Borger at the Guardian
Siobhain Butterworth, readers' editor of the Guardian
Jon Snow at Channel 4 News
Category: Alerts 2008
- Created on 15 October 2008
- 16 November 2010
In Part 1 of this alert, we noted how journalists who threaten their employers' interests - and the interests of their key political and corporate allies - tend to be unceremoniously dumped. We also described how the force of the law can be deployed to silence dissidents seeking to expose chronic media bias.
In Part 2, we hosted journalist Jonathan Cook's splendid analysis in response. Cook's main point was that media managers rarely have to take such extreme measures because few journalists "make it to senior positions unless they have already learnt how to toe the line."
An interesting question arises, then, in the age of the internet: To what extent will these same ultra-sensitive media companies tolerate public criticism? For example, will they allow visitors to their websites to post material that is critical of their journalism, and perhaps even damaging to their interests? Last month, we tested the limits of dissent on the Guardian's Comment Is Free (CiF) website.
On September 20, we posted a message on CiF in response to an article written by Guardian journalist Emma Brockes. Brockes had commented wryly on Tania Head, a 9/11 survivor, "of whom it has been alleged that she was not on the 78th floor of the South Tower on September 11th as she claimed, but may have been in Spain at the time..."
"But well below the level of mental illness a lot of low-level fakery is actively embraced and rewarded." (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2008/sep/20/uselections2008.usa?commentpage= 1&commentposted=1)
We posted the following comment:
"This is from the same journalist [Brockes] who wrote in October 2005:
"'[Noam] Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.'"
In our post, we described Chomsky's outrage at the suggestion that he had denied that the Serb killings of Bosnians at Srebrenica in 1995 constituted a massacre. In 2005, Chomsky wrote to us of Brockes's article:
"Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear... her piece de resistance, the claim that I put the word 'massacre' in quotes. Sheer fabrication."
Chomsky described his treatment by Brockes and the Guardian as "one of the most dishonest and cowardly performances I recall ever having seen in the media." (See our media alert: 'Smearing Chomsky'.)
We were interested to see how these comments would be received by the Guardian website. In the event, our message remained in place for 48 hours but was then deleted. The site moderator explained in an email:
"The article that Medialens replied to was about emotional fakery and its role in American political culture. The comment that was removed did not address this topic but instead raised a past journalistic error by the author." (Email to Media Lens, September 23, 2008)
In fact, while Brockes had discussed emotional fakery, focusing on "self dramatisation", she had also written: "fakery no less shameless goes on every day in the political debate and the way we the audience internalise it. McCain flatly contradicts himself within the space of a single day."
Political fakery and self-contradiction were exactly the themes of our post, but it was deleted as "off topic" by the Guardian gatekeepers.
Only a handful of comments had been posted in response to Brockes's article. When we and one or two other people posted messages protesting the deletions, these were also deleted and someone called the Community Moderator shut down the debate, writing: "This discussion will now close, as it has mostly been off topic." A final message appeared: "Comments are now closed for this entry."
The website shows five messages deleted alongside just nine posts remaining. Other posts had been removed altogether: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/ sep/20/uselections2008.usa?commentpage= 1&commentposted=1
Self-Deceits Held In Common - Groupthink
We have seen how the propaganda system is filtered by a range of carrot and stick pressures: professional training, selection for obedience, promotions and demotions, sackings, legal pressures, and the rest. The final piece of the jigsaw is much more elusive and mysterious.
In his book Vital Lies, Simple Truths, psychologist Daniel Goleman examined the human capacity for self-deception. According to Goleman, we build our version of reality around key frameworks of understanding, or "schemas", which we then protect from conflicting facts and ideas. The more important a schema is for our sense of identity and security, the less likely we are to accept evidence contradicting it. Goleman wrote:
"Foremost among these shared, yet unspoken, schemas are those that designate what is worthy of attention, how it is to be attended to - and what we choose to ignore or deny... People in groups also learn together how not to see - how aspects of shared experience can be veiled by self-deceits held in common." (Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths - The Psychology of Self-Deception, Bloomsbury 1997, p.158)
Goleman concluded: "The ease with which we deny and dissemble - and deny and dissemble to ourselves that we have denied or dissembled - is remarkable."
Psychologist Donald Spence noted the sophistication of this process:
"We are tempted to conclude that the avoidance is not random but highly efficient - the person knows just where not to look." (Ibid, p.107)
This tendency to self-deception appears to be greatly increased when we join as part of a group. Groups create a sense of belonging, a "we-feeling", which can provide even greater incentives to reject painful truths. As psychologist Irving Janis reports, the 'we-feeling' lends "a sense of belonging to a powerful, protective group that in some vague way opens up new potentials for each of them." (Ibid, p.186)
Members are thus reluctant to say or do anything that might lessen these feelings of security and empowerment. In this situation, even pointing out the risks surrounding a group decision may seem to represent an unforgivable attack on the group itself. This is 'groupthink'. Individual self-deception, combined with groupthink, helps explain why journalists are able to ignore even the most obvious facts.
In our September 16 Media Alert, we wrote that the Independent had devoted 153 words in the first two weeks of September to the flooding catastrophe in Haiti. By that time, 1,000 people were reported killed with 1 million made homeless out of a population of 9 million.
In response, the Independent's former Washington correspondent, now Asia correspondent, Andrew Buncombe, wrote to us:
Dear Davids, Hello and best wishes. Hope all is well. Your latest alert about Haiti is as thought-provoking as ever but I think there are a couple of clear errors you've made that ought to be cleared up. Firstly you say The Independent did not report the hurricanes raging down on the country and that "the Independent has not mentioned Haiti since September 5. But the paper has at least helped explain its own prejudice". That simple point clearly is not true. Guy Adams filed on September 7 a page lead pointing out the chaos facing untold thousands. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/ americas/haiti-in-crisis- after-tropical-storm-claims-more-than- 500-lives-921716.html
But beyond that you also claim "This indifference has led to an appalling level of non-reporting, not just of the latest floods, but also of the killing of unarmed civilians by United Nations forces (Minustah), the Haitian National Police, and death squads". You say a raid in Cite Soleil in July 2005 was reported only by a few US newspapers but that is not the case. The Independent reported on the raid and revealed evidence collated by Kevin Pina that unarmed civilians were killed.
This was followed up in Feb 2007 by more details of civilians being killed by UN troops.
You're correct in saying that Haiti does not get as much coverage as the US but your claim that the paper has not reported on Haiti, its problems and its ongoing challenges is not true. A simple search on Google for articles about Haiti over the last few years would quickly show that. Best wishes, Andy Buncombe
We replied on September 21:
Many thanks for your email. You're right about Guy Adams' September 7 article. For some reason, that wasn't picked up by our LexisNexis search. We note, though, that the piece devoted 360 words to the disaster in Haiti. At the time we wrote the alert, that figure could have been added to the 153 words mentioning Haiti in the paper that month. That would have totalled 513 words for a 16-day period when perhaps 1000 people died and utter catastrophe befell the island.
"You say a raid in Cite Soleil in July 2005 was reported only by a few US newspapers but that is not the case."
In fact we weren't commenting on UK reporting in that section. We were describing research presented in Dan Beeton's report on +US+ media performance: 'Bad News From Haiti: U.S. Press Misses the Story.' We wrote:
"... only a few US newspapers mentioned the incident. These mostly portrayed the incident as a successful UN attempt to eliminate gang members - reports of civilian deaths were ignored.
"The US press has given similar treatment to atrocities committed by the Haitian National Police."
We thought it was clear that we were referring to Beeton's analysis solely of the US press, but perhaps we could have been clearer.
It's hard not to reflect on the deeper significance of your response. You're right that the Independent devoted 513 rather than 153 words to the devastation of Haiti from September 1-16. But, really, so what? Would you be focusing on this tiny difference in assessing the Independent's performance if you were not working for the paper? Wouldn't a dispassionate, rational observer join with us in criticising the Independent's appalling indifference to the disaster this month rather than arguing that "your claim that the paper has not reported on Haiti, its problems and its ongoing challenges is not true"? We did not argue that the Independent has "not reported on Haiti". We argued that its performance, particularly this month in offering a few hundred words - less than one word per death - was pitiful. We have a great deal of respect for you. But isn't your response on this occasion an example of a kind of corporate 'groupthink'?
David Edwards and David Cromwell
It is painful for a journalist to be aware of both his or her employer's shortcomings and his or her powerlessness to remedy them. As Daniel Goleman has noted, "when one can't do anything to change the situation, the other recourse is to change how one perceives it." (Goleman, op. cit, p.148)
This, finally, is the key human trait that enables "brainwashing under freedom" - journalists are able to perceive as important only that which allows them to thrive as successful components of the corporate system. The price is high, as Norman Mailer noted:
"There is an odour to any Press Headquarters that is unmistakeable... the unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine." (Mailer, The Time of Our Time, Little Brown, 1998, p.457)
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Matt Seaton, editor of the Guardian's Comment is Free website. Ask him why he rejected Greg Philo's excellent piece.
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Category: Alerts 2008
- Created on 03 November 2008
- 16 November 2010
Media Silent On Evidence Of Israeli Targeting Of Youngsters
On the afternoon of Thursday 28 February, 2008, a group of Palestinian boys were playing football on some open ground near their homes in the Gaza Strip. At around 3.20pm, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the boys, killing four of them instantly and seriously injuring another three. The four dead boys were Omar Hussein Dardouna, aged 14, Dardouna Deib Dardouna, aged 12, Mohammed Na'im Hammouda, aged 9, and Ali Munir Dardouna who was just 8.
Palestinian human rights fieldworkers investigated the circumstances of this attack by Israeli forces. They concluded there was no Palestinian resistance in the area at the time and that the boys "must have been clearly visible to the [Israeli] aircraft that fired the missile."
Similar cases abound. A new study by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that 68 children died in Gaza between June 2007 - June 2008 (PCHR press release, October 21, 2008; http://www.pchrgaza.org/files/ PressR/English/2008/2008/43-2008.html). Over the same period, 12 children were killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank. The report highlights the "deliberate targeting of civilians, including children". (Palestinian Council for Human Rights, 'Blood on their hands. Child killings by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) in the Gaza Strip. June 2007 - June 2008', October 22, 2008, p. 4; http://www.electronicintifada.net/ downloads/pdf/081021-pchr-childkillings.pdf)
Since the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, Israeli forces have killed 859 children in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The child death toll rose dramatically during the first six months of 2008, mostly as the result of a large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip. The massive assault, code-named 'Operation Winter Heat', was launched on February 27. The Israeli military killed more children (47) in the Gaza Strip during the first four months of 2008 than during the whole of 2007 (32 children). A total of 110 civilians were killed during 'Operation Winter Heat' in February-March 2008. (See our earlier Media Alerts: 'Israel's Illegal Assault On The Gaza "Prison"', March 3, 2008; and 'Israeli Deaths Matter More', March 11, 2008)
The website Remember These Children reports that 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians and 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis since September 29, 2000. (http://rememberthesechildren.org/about.html)
Most children killed in recent years in the Gaza Strip have died as a result of bombardment, surface-to-surface missiles, or missiles fired from aircraft. The Palestinian human rights investigation notes that Israel has "consistently bombed either inside or extremely close to densely populated residential areas, including schools and areas in close proximity to schools." It uses "disproportionate and excessive force across the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], without regard for civilian life, including the lives of children."
But the report is even more damning than that. It concludes that Israeli forces "deliberately target unarmed civilians, including children, as part of their policy of collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population."
The human rights investigation also concludes that:
"There is also strong and consistent evidence to suggest that [Israeli forces] deliberately kill Palestinian children in reprisal for the deaths of Israeli civilians or members of the [Israeli forces], which amounts to a war crime." (PCHR, op. cit., p. 46)
According to international humanitarian law, children are to be afforded special protection during international armed conflicts. This includes military occupation such as exists in the Palestinian territories under Israel. Legal protection is provided by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as by the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Israel signed the CRC in 1991.
Protection was strengthened by the (CRC) Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. The Protocol reaffirms "that the rights of children require special protection" and condemns "the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected under international law, including places that generally have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals." Israel signed the Optional Protocol on 14 November 2001 (PCHR, op. cit., p. 14), but it endlessly tramples the legal agreements to which it is a signatory.
Finally, the PCHR report notes that Israel has consistently failed to investigate Israeli killings of unarmed civilians, including children. On the rare occasions that official investigations are launched, these have been conducted by the Israeli forces themselves. The persistent result is a whitewash, and a travesty of justice.
And while Israel continues to kill unarmed civilians with impunity, the international community has failed to intervene effectively to exert pressure on Israel to stop killing Palestinian civilians, including children. These killings ought to be publicly condemned by the international community who, as High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, are obliged to act immediately in order to protect all unarmed civilians from Israeli attacks.
As the PCHR observes:
"The lives of Palestinian children are as sacred as the lives of children from Israel, Europe or anywhere else in the world."
Minimal Response From A Protective Media
The report from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights was shocking. Guy Gabriel, an adviser to the London-based Arab Media Watch, told us that the group "is a credible organisation with a lot to commend it, and is better placed than many - in terms of location, resources and support - to inform the wider world about the situation in Gaza." (Email, October 31, 2008). Journalist John Pilger commented: "The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is, in my experience, a highly credible statistics gathering body." (Email, October 27, 2008)
This credible human rights group, then, had produced compelling evidence of a persistent pattern of deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, +including children+, by the Israeli military. Surely this would have been headline news everywhere.
Sadly no. In the entire British press there was a giant, gaping hole in coverage.
The only exception we could find was a short, 400-word piece in the Guardian on the day of the report's publication: Rory McCarthy, 'Palestinian group says Israel killed 68 children in Gaza in year', The Guardian, October 21, 2008; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/21/israel- palestinian-children
As McCarthy pointed out:
"A prominent Palestinian human rights group says it has found evidence that 68 children were killed in the Gaza Strip in the 12 months to June this year as a result of 'disproportionate and excessive lethal force' by the Israeli military."
This was welcome coverage. But, crucially, there was no mention of the military policy of deliberately targeting civilians, including children. In his report, McCarthy said he was unable to obtain any response to the study from an Israeli official (it was a Jewish religious holiday). He then inserted the standard Israeli disclaimer
"[Israel] has in the past repeatedly defended its military actions in Gaza, saying it does not intentionally target civilians, and noting that Palestinian militants frequently fire from civilian areas."
On October 27, 2008, we emailed McCarthy and praised him for reporting the publication of the study. We then pointed to the study's central, repeated message - backed by multiple eye-witness testimony - that Israel deliberately targets civilians, including children. We asked why his Guardian article had omitted this core conclusion. McCarthy did not respond to our email, nor to a second sent on October 29.
As for the "balanced" and "impartial" BBC, the corporation appears to have performed its usual role of protecting the powerful. Judging by the PCHR report's apparent absence from headline BBC news coverage and the BBC's website, the corporation has buried the report's findings. As far as we could determine, the same shameful silence characterised ITN and Channel 4 News.
By contrast, Al Jazeera aired a three-minute segment on the report that included a moving interview with a bereaved mother. There was also disturbing footage of injured and traumatised children, one of whom had seen his father killed by an Israeli missile (Al-Jazeera, October 22, 2008; http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=PTzQOsO32ro). In the Al Jazeera news piece, Hamdi Shokri of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights emphasised:
"We have clear evidence to suggest and to say that there were patterns of deliberate killing and deliberate targeting of children."
We emailed Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, on October 26, 2008. We asked him why the BBC had done so little, if anything, to bring this damning human rights report to the public's attention. Why had the BBC failed to expose a deliberate Israeli practice of targeting children? In short, why can't the BBC do better in its coverage of the occupied territories? Bowen did not respond.
Greg Philo, of the world-renowned Glasgow Media Group, recently commissioned YouGov to ask a sample of 2,086 UK adults whether they thought that more news coverage should be given to the Israeli point of view, or more to the Palestinians, or equal for both. Nearly twice as many people thought that the Palestinians should have the most as compared with the Israelis, but the bulk of the replies (72%) were that both should have the same. A staggering 95% of the population were unhappy with the main news output of the broadcasters. (Philo, 'More News, Less Views', September 30, 2008; http://www.gla.ac.uk/centres/mediagroup/MoreNews.html)
Routine silences and omissions in coverage of the Middle East are symptoms of a deep-rooted bias that suppresses public awareness of the true gravity of Israel's human rights abuses. Rarely, if ever, do we hear of the "indiscriminate beating, tear-gassing, and shooting of children", as documented in a thousand-page study from Save the Children. The average age of the victims was ten years old; the majority of those shot were not even participating in stone throwing. In 80 per cent of cases where children were shot, the Israeli army prevented the victims from receiving medical attention. The report concluded that more than 50,000 children required medical attention for injuries including gunshot wounds, tear gas inhalation and multiple fractures.
In 1989, a bulletin from the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, titled 'Deliberate Murder', reported the targeting of Palestinian children in leadership roles. Israeli army and snipers from "special units" had "carefully chosen" the children who were shot in the head or heart and died instantaneously. Other evidence, from Israeli human rights groups and the Israeli press, point to extensive use of torture, such as severe beating and electric shocks, against detainees including children. (Mike Berry and Greg Philo, 'Israel and Palestine - Competing Histories', Pluto Press, London, 2006, pp. 86-87)
Amnesty International has also reported that groups of Palestinian civilians, including children, appear, "on many occasions, to have been deliberately targeted". Israeli soldiers themselves have admitted that they have deliberately shot and killed unarmed civilians including children (Ibid., p. 116). Indeed, for many years, Amnesty has documented and condemned Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. Most of these violations are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are therefore war crimes. (Ibid., pp. 60-61).
Israeli Terror: Not Terror, By Definition
In his 2002 documentary, 'Palestine Is Still The Issue', John Pilger interviewed Dori Gold, then Senior Adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. Pilger asked why Israel fails to condemn its own leaders for their terrorist acts in the same way that they condemn terrorist acts against Israel:
John Pilger (JP): When those Israelis, who are now famous names [Menachem Begin, Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon], committed acts of terrorism just before the birth of Israel, you could have said to them, nothing justifies what you've done, ripping apart all those lives. And they would say it did justify it. What's the difference?
Dori Gold (DG): I think we have now, as an international community, come to a new understanding. I think after September 11th the world got a wake-up call. Because terrorism today is no longer the mad bomber, the anarchist who throws in an explosive device into a crowd to make a point. Terrorism is going to move from the present situation to non-conventional terrorism, to nuclear terrorism. And before we reach that point, we have to remove this scourge from the Earth. And therefore, whether you're talking about the struggle here between Israelis and Palestinians, the struggle in Northern Ireland, the struggle in Sri Lanka, or any of the places where terrorism has been used, we must make a global commitment of all free democracies to eliminate this threat from the world. Period.
JP: Does that include state terrorism?
DG: No country has the right to deliberately target civilians, as no organisation has a right to deliberately target civilians.
JP: What about Israeli terrorism now?
DG: The language of terrorism, you have to be very careful with. Terrorism means deliberately targeting civilians, in a kind of warfare. That's what the terrorism against Israeli schools, coffee shops, malls, has been all about. Israel specifically targets, to the best of its ability, Palestinian terrorist organisations.
JP: All right, when an Israeli sniper shoots an old lady with a cane, trying to get into a hospital for her chemotherapy treatment, in front of a lot of the world's press for one, and frankly we'd be here all day with other examples, isn't that terrorism?
DG: I don't know the case you're speaking about, but I can be convinced of one thing. An Israeli who takes aim - even an Israeli sniper - is taking aim at those engaged in terrorism. Unfortunately, in every kind of warfare, there are cases of civilians who are accidentally killed. Terrorism means putting the crosshairs of the sniper's rifle on a civilian deliberately.
JP: Well that's - that's what I've just described.
DG: That is what - no. I can tell you that did not happen.
JP: It did happen. And - and I think that's where some people have a problem with the argument that terrorism exists on - on one side. Your definition is absolutely correct, about civilians. And those suicide bombers are terrorists.
DG: If you mix terrorism and counter-terrorism, if you create some kind of moral obfuscation, you will bring about not just a problem for Israel, but you will bring ab - bring about a problem for the entire western alliance. Because we are all facing this threat.
As John Pilger concluded:
"It's hard to see the difference between what the Israelis call 'counter-terrorism' and terrorism. Whatever the target, both involve the killing of innocent people." (John Pilger, 'Israeli Terror', http://www.johnpilger.com/ page.asp?partid=143; 'Palestine Is Still The Issue' documentary can be viewed here: http://video.google.co.uk/ videoplay?docid=1259454859593416473; Dori Gold interview starts at around 34 mins:32 secs)
Today, Dori Gold "spends his time traveling around the world raising awareness about the situation going [sic] in Israel and the fight over Jerusalem [and] is available for speaking engagements, fundraisers and corporate events." (http://www.bookthebest.com/profile/dori_gold)
We asked John Pilger for his response to the new study from the Palestinian human rights group and the report's effective burial by the corporate media. He told us:
"That this shocking report has been virtually ignored across the mainstream media, with the exception of the Guardian, is a striking example of the media's two classes of humanity in Palestine. There is first class humanity, worthy of meticulous, often emotive coverage; these are the Israelis, including those guilty of great crimes, such as Ariel Sharon. And there is second class humanity, unworthy of even acknowledgement of their brutalising let alone the epic injustice done to them; these are the Palestinians. No, 'second class' is too high. They are third and fourth class victims, for not even the suffering and murder of their children is considered human enough to warrant reporting." (Email, October 27, 2008)
We are reminded of British historian Mark Curtis's term, "Unpeople", to describe those on the receiving end of the West's policies, actions and massive firepower. For those unfortunate individuals in the crosshairs of Western violence, their human aspirations, hopes, dreams, loves and lives are simply of no value.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Rory McCarthy, Guardian reporter
Siobhain Butterworth, readers' editor of the Guardian
Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor
Helen Boaden, director of BBC News
David Mannion, ITV News editor in chief
Jim Gray, editor of Channel 4 News