We have received repeated threats of legal and police action from Alastair Brett, legal manager of News International’s Times Newspapers on June 28 and July 2. Brett claims a Times Journalist, Bronwen Maddox, has been subject to threatening emails from Media Lens readers. Brett also claims that we have breached copyright by publishing an email from Maddox without permission. We have sought legal advice and, having essentially zero resources for fighting a court case, feel we have no choice but to delete Maddox’s email from our media alert, ‘Selling The Fireball’, as demanded. You can see the amended version below:

With more than 1 million people lying dead in Iraq, it pains us greatly to see our attempt to host an honest, rational discussion on the looming threat of war with Iran butchered in this way.

It is almost exactly seven years since we started Media Lens and this is the first time we have been threatened with legal action. We will have more to say about this in due course, as will others. As ever, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone in communicating with journalists.

Best wishes
The Editors

Yesterday, we published a media alert in which we discussed our exchange with Times commentator, Bronwen Maddox. In response, Times commentator Oliver Kamm wrote to us:


To quickly address the last point, it is amazing that anyone would attempt to denigrate a website on the grounds that it hosted a particular comment posted by a member of the public. Presumably, then, media professionals should revile the Guardian editors, associated as they are with the paper’s Comment is Free website, which hosts all manner of outrageous comments. Maddox was a “target”, not of “complaints” or “imprecations”, but of polite invitations to rational discussion of the facts. Kamm is arguing that these should be rejected on the grounds that a post he didn’t like appeared on our message board. Comment is indeed free, but sometimes superfluous.

Media Lens is very much a collaborative effort. We are assisted by a large number of friends, including specialists and expert commentators in different fields. They are often incredibly generous in sending us advice, comments, references and other help. On this occasion, we circulated Kamm’s email to Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, David Peterson and others, hoping for a couple of comments in response. But Peterson went much further – he sent us a full demolition of both Maddox’s and Kamm’s arguments. There’s little point trying to gild the Peterson lily, so we are very happy to publish his reply as a Guest Media Alert.

We would, though, first like to invite readers to reflect on how confidently the mainstream journalists recited the official propaganda line that the authors of the NIE report had radically changed their testimony to highlight the Iranian ‘threat’. And notice how Maddox in particular strongly asserted that “the IAEA’s report a few weeks ago… has injected the new urgency”, which had left the NIE report badly out of date.

As we will see, in an almost identical replay of media performance in 2002-2003 over Iraq, these bold assertions are based on a heap of highly questionable government claims involving captured laptops and the like.

It is also useful to compare the quality of Peterson’s analysis with that of Kamm and Maddox. The chasm in rationality tells us much about why the corporate media is doing such an appalling job of informing the public and in working to relieve human suffering.

Peterson’s response:

Dear David:

What is changed in our reading of [the NIE report] Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities (Dec. 3, 2007) by the little excerpt that Oliver Kamm produces from U.S. National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Feb. 5, 2008)? Kamm believes that everything is changed. In point of fact, nothing is changed.

In the passage quoted by Kamm, McConnell’s phrase is “nuclear program” – not nuclear weapons program. There is no question that Iran has a nuclear program.


I do not know by what criterion Iran has been determined to be making “rapid progress” in uranium enrichment – (a) Iran has been at it for years; (b) both the IAEA and Iran itself report that Iran has achieved a reactor-grade level of enrichment between 4% and 5%; and (c) aside from Washington’s capacity to influence the way these matters are treated internationally, what other reason could there be for calling this “rapid progress”?

The source of the allegations about “actual weapons” and “weapons design” is dubious in the extreme. Here was how the Christian Science Monitor explained it three weeks ago:

“But there is a history of imperfect intelligence tips. A report in the Los Angeles Times last year quoted a senior diplomat at the IAEA saying that the CIA and other Western spy agencies had been giving sensitive information, but that ‘since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong.’ The story said US officials “privately acknowledge” that much of the evidence they had on Iran – including the detailed designs described in the current IAEA report, reportedly taken from a laptop stolen in Iran -‘remains ambiguous, fragmented and difficult to prove.’” (Scott Peterson, ‘Nuclear report: parsing Iran’s intent,’ June 5; -wome.html?page=1)

Because of the way the LA Times archives its material, this article at the moment is inaccessible to me. However, see Julian Borger’s article from February 23, 2007:

“One particularly contentious issue concerned records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran. In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

“Tehran rejected the material as forgeries and there are still reservations about its authenticity in the IAEA, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate inside the agency. ‘First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don’t put it on laptops which can walk away,’ one official said. ‘The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you’d have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer.’ IAEA officials do not comment on intelligence passed to the watchdog agency by foreign governments, saying all such assistance is confidential.” (Borger, ‘U.S. Intelligence on Iran Does Not Stand Up, Say Vienna Sources,’ The Guardian, Feb. 23, 2007; world/2007/feb/23/topstories3.usa)

For another helpful report, also see Ewen MacAskill, ‘Intelligence expert who rewrote book on Iran,’ The Guardian, Dec. 8, 2007.

Anyway. Bronwen Maddox makes her assertions on very weak (and my hunch is officially-sourced and meritless) grounds. Oliver Kamm’s use of Michael McConnell’s February 5, 2008 exchange with U.S. Senator Evan Bayh changes nothing in our reading of the December National Intelligence Estimate on Iran – most certainly nothing in a direction that warrants belief in Iran’s nuclear weapons threat to international peace and security. What is more, to resort to this exchange strikes me as an act of desperation.

On the other hand, where Iran is concerned, the threat posed to international peace and security by the U.S.-Israel axis is as grave or graver than ever. But this is a categorically different point than one derived from U.S. and Israeli allegations about Iran’s nuclear program.

Last Point. In an appearance by Oliver Kamm on the BBC’s Late Edition program Kamm was once asked a question that (to roughly paraphrase it) went something like this: The U.K. has nuclear weapons. The Government is proposing to upgrade them and to maintain them for decades to come. How do you justify denying nuclear weapons to other states such as Iran and North Korea, but accept the fact that the U.K. and U.S. not only keep but upgrade theirs? Kamm’s reply was:

“We are a civilized state. Iran and North Korea are not. It’s not just a matter of the way we conduct our own affairs. Iran has conducted systematic nuclear deception, while being a signatory to the [nuclear] non-proliferation treaty.” (

Given that Oliver Kamm has placed himself within the “clash-of-civilizations” camp, on the +civilized+ side of the great divide, no less, I for one may be forgiven if I am unmoved by his defense of Bronwen Maddox and the Washington regime’s allegation that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

And I trust that the rest of Media Lens’s supporters will be equally unmoved.

David Peterson
Chicago, USA
[email protected]

Postscript. For the sake of the Media Lens archives, I will reproduce here the relevant excerpt from Michael McConnell’s February 5, 2008 exchange U.S. Senator Evan Bayh; three contemporaneous reports that dealt with Michael McConnell’s testimony; and an op-ed by John R. Bolton, wherein this quite brutal American pre-emptively attacks McConnell on the very day McConnell was scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate:


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 Oliver Kamm
Email: [email protected]

Write to Bronwen Maddox at the Times
Email: [email protected]