On July 4, Independence Day in the United States, Channel 4 News broadcast a Jon Snow interview with Hillary Clinton, former US Secretary of State and presumed presidential candidate. For a self-proclaimed ‘pinko liberal’ like Snow, this was a glorious opportunity to ask hard-hitting questions about US foreign policy and Clinton’s own role in shoring up the American Empire.
In the event, the interview was largely a series of soft questions, culminating in a cosy epilogue about Clinton looking forward to being a granny. As John Hilley of the Zenpolitics blog observed, it was ‘a safely-moderated version [of what] passes for “probing journalism”.’
‘Where’, asked Hilley, ‘was the serious indictment of US-directed murder and mayhem in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Syria? What of Washington’s protection of terror state Saudi Arabia?’
Why did Snow ask Clinton a loaded question about the West’s supposed ‘failure’ to press Israel on illegal settlements; as though the US, in particular, is a hapless and helpless bystander to Israel’s major international crimes?
‘why didn’t Snow highlight America’s role as a principal and criminal supporter of Israel, and specify the $3 billion a year it gifts the Israeli state to continue its brutal military occupation? Why didn’t he call out the US as a fundamental cause of the problem, and grill Clinton on her own complicit part in that “failure”?’
Also deeply unimpressed by Snow’s performance was Media Lens reader Ed Murray. He sent the journalist a scathing email in which he described the interview as ‘a party political broadcast on behalf of the American Imperialist Party.’
We highlighted Murray’s email via Twitter:
‘An uncomfortable email for @jonsnowC4 to read – which he will likely ignore or brush away.’
Snow chose the second option:
‘Intriguingly, Media Lens post delightfully critical material, but no option to reply!’
This was a peculiar, clodhopping response from a veteran journalist with, one might think, the skills to navigate resources and dig out information. But somehow Snow had missed that Media Lens has a messageboard where he is welcome to post, an email address to contact us, and a lively Facebook page. He could have replied to our ‘delightfully critical material’ on Twitter. He could even have responded via his own Channel 4 blog which reaches a national, indeed global, audience. Instead, he went for another diversionary tactic:
‘Media Lens: 18,000 Tweets; 14,000 followers/ JSnow 8,500 Tweets 424,000 folowers:If only you were more constructive, you might help!’
This turgid display of Twitter willy-waving was, as more polite and erudite readers pointed out, merely argumentum ad populum. By Snow’s logic, perhaps we should bow down before the political wisdom of Justin Bieber (27,200 tweets and 52.7 million followers) or perhaps the remarkably tweet-efficient Beyoncé (only 8 tweets, but a stonking 13.4 million followers).
‘Chomsky Fan Numero Uno’
As we have previously noted, Snow enjoys wide acclaim, especially among his colleagues in the media industry, for his seemingly critical awareness and probing journalism. Politicians are put on the spot and tough questions asked, we are led to believe. In reality, his long, privileged position at the helm of C4 News is not disconnected from his consistent habit of emphasising the crimes of official enemies, while soft-pedalling or blanking those of ‘our’ leaders in Washington and London.
In a 2001 interview with David Edwards, not long before Media Lens was launched, Snow brusquely dismissed the propaganda role of the corporate media (which, even now, he persists in calling ‘the mainstream’). He also rejected out of hand the idea that Western foreign policy is imperialistic, violent and profit-oriented. And yet he still brazenly described himself in the same interview as ‘Chomsky fan numero uno.’ It all begs the question of how seriously we are to take Snow’s credentials as a critical journalist or even a left-leaning liberal.
Returning to our Twitter exchange, Snow then performed another side-step: the classic ‘hostility’ evasion:
‘@medialens but have you thought that perhaps they don’t follow you because they don’t like your hostility to ordinary hacks?’
This is yet another example of how sending questions to a journalist about his or her output, even when done without abuse or ad hominem terms, is so often dismissed as ‘hostility’. As we pointed out in our reply, it tends to be only ‘hacks’ that make that argument (many, in fact, are privately supportive of us). It’s a no-win situation with some journalists, anyway, because our politeness can be damned as ‘passive aggressiveness.’
Following up his assertion of ‘hostility’, Snow said that what ‘puts me off media Lens’ is that ‘I get nothing but abuse – what’s the point?’ Like many journalists, Snow seems unable to distinguish between Media Lens and readers of Media Lens. We have always tried to remain calm and polite, with occasional doses of good-natured humour, in our exchanges with people… journalists included! We also encourage readers to adopt the same approach and we strongly discourage abusive messages to journalists. When journalists claim, wrongly, that they get abuse ‘from Media Lens’, they might as well claim that they get abuse ‘from the Guardian’ if an angry Guardian reader fires off an email to them.
The truth is that corporate journalists will use almost any rhetorical device, including stubborn silence, to avoid the substance of the arguments we make. Otherwise, surely they would be able to respond with reasoned, evidence-based answers to whatever we put to them.
Snow didn’t get much joy on Twitter from members of the public, with virtually every response critical of his stance.
Anthony Atanasio wrote:
‘Its hypocrisy, pandering, and propaganda that most of “us” feel hostile towards. @medialens is a breath of fresh air’
Wreck the Rhime tweeted:
‘It’s ridiculous to suggest that an opposite view is hostile. An easy way to discredit. You’re better than this Jon’
The ‘number of followers argument’, an obvious red herring, is contradicted by the fact that Media Lens has considerably more followers than journalists writing regularly for high-profile newspapers. Perhaps Media Lens would have even more than Jon Snow if, like him, we had a daily news programme in a popular early evening slot on a major British television channel. And if we wore funny socks and ties.
‘Medialens Don’t Get It’
Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, is another titan of the media world who is generally well-regarded by his peers and much of the public, but who is unwilling to engage in substantive debate with us. Indeed, he blocked us on Twitter some time ago for some unspecified crime; most likely ‘hostility’, or perhaps for having the ‘temerity’ to be critical of his reporting.
Last week, he was challenged by @JuniorCelente on Twitter, following our latest alert on the disproportionate coverage given to Israeli deaths over Palestinian deaths:
‘how do u feel reporting for org that routinely gives Israeli perspective as its own? E.g: http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2011/625-bad-news-from-the-bbc-part-2-the-john-motson-approach-to-analysing-news.html’
‘we don’t. Medialens don’t get it.’
In fact, what Bowen ‘doesn’t get’ is the carefully collected and interpreted evidence that demonstrates that BBC News has a distinct pro-Israel bias. In particular, Bowen clearly ‘doesn’t get’ the in-depth work of the renowned Glasgow Media Group led by Professor Greg Philo. (See our media alerts here and here following the publication of ‘More Bad News From Israel’ in 2011.) Careful analysis of BBC News coverage on Israel and Palestine by Philo and colleague Mike Berry reveals ‘the dominance of the Israeli perspective’. They note that BBC News ‘perpetuate[s] a one-sided view of the causes of the conflict’. (Greg Philo and Mike Berry, ‘More Bad News From Israel’, Pluto Books, London, 2011, pp. 340 and 344.)
Bowen has never, as far as we are aware, engaged in any meaningful way with Philo and Berry’s thorough study. Presumably, he also dismisses the testimony of the senior BBC News producer about the power wielded by the Israeli lobby, as quoted by Philo:
‘We wait in fear for the telephone call from the Israelis.’
Bowen also brushes away the experience of Tim Llewellyn, a former BBC Middle East correspondent, who notes that the BBC is ‘culturally and socially stuck in the Zionist frame’ and that BBC News coverage of Israel and Palestine is ‘replete with imbalance and distortion’.
Bowen dismisses all of this out of hand; at least, in public. But, as we’ve seen over the years in exchanges with journalists, Bowen has no substantive counterarguments to refute us: no facts, evidence or reasoned discussion.
Media Lens reader Ryan Moon challenged Bowen to justify the blanket dismissal that ‘Medialens don’t get it’. The journalist answered:
‘As you suspect I’m extremely busy here in Baghdad. I’m not going to get into a correspondence on this or answer more of the usual medialens tweets.’
‘What I meant is that medialens has a clear agenda. I’d refute medialens charges in the same way I defend our reporting against pro Israelis who think we’re part of anti Zionist conspiracy. I am not saying criticism from both sides makes the BBC perfect. We’re not. But if viewers around the world want the best account there is of what’s happening, then it’s on the BBC.’
Conforming to the usual pattern of steadfast loyalty to his employer, Bowen simply asserts that the BBC provides ‘the best account… of what’s happening.’ He doesn’t have to justify this because, in his own mind, he’s clearly right and also because he’s ‘extremely busy’. He will always be ‘extremely busy’. Until, one day, he retires and then perhaps finally feels willing to speak out more freely – as the veteran US news anchor Dan Rather did on Iraq when his career was over; rather feebly and when it was all far, far too late.
So why do we even bother challenging journalists? Because our objective is to raise public awareness of the systemic constraints in the corporate media, even on the supposed ‘Titans’ like Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr, Jeremy Bowen and ‘pinko liberal’ Jon Snow. Our hope is that by exposing the distortions and omissions in corporate news – very much including the BBC and Channel 4 News – we will help to build a head of steam for alternative, truly democratic and accountable media.
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.
Jon Snow, Channel 4 News presenter
Email: [email protected]
Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor
Email: [email protected]