Fifteen years ago this month we sent out our first media alert.
We began Media Lens, not because we believed high quality broadsheets were offset by a morally debased tabloid press; not because the ‘left-leaning’ liberal press was fine, but the Tory press was dreadful; not because the press as a whole was biased on some issues, or plagued by ‘churnalism’. We started Media Lens because the deeper we looked into almost every issue, the more we found that the truth of corporate media performance was actually breath-taking, jaw-dropping, sci-fi surreal. We found that the entire system had evolved and been designed to systematically filter out, reject, marginalise, mock and ignore just about everything and everyone that threatened the elite-run, state-corporate status quo.
This doesn’t mean that everything is filtered out – the system must incorporate small doses of diluted or specialised dissent: a Fisk, a Boyle, a Jones or two – to maintain the myth of a ‘spectrum’ catering for all, heroically defending democracy. And, particularly in the age of non-corporate, web-based whistleblowing, some truths simply cannot be denied.
Our point is that powerful tidal forces both within and without the corporate media are flowing relentlessly against threatening truths, and that this has been enough to stifle challenges to the status quo. These forces are generated by the demands of corporate profit, by state power promoting corporate profit, and by the exigencies of class war (the 1% keeping the 99% away from the levers of power).
If the response that initially drove us to start Media Lens in 2001 was a kind of stunned disbelief, nothing could have prepared us for what followed. For fifteen years we have found ourselves confronting the extraordinary phenomenon of otherwise sane, highly-educated, often amiable human beings commenting from inside a corporate media bubble that excludes almost everything that matters without their even noticing.
Head-On Collisions With Truth
In a recent article, for example, Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner writes:
‘I believe that a strong journalistic culture is worth fighting for. So is a business model that serves and rewards media organisations that put the search for truth at the heart of everything…’
Like everyone else in her profession, Viner cannot understand how ‘a business model’ is in head-on collision with placing ‘the search for truth at the heart of everything’. The ‘business model’ obviously means the maximisation of profit achieved in cooperation with corporations and state agencies infamously hostile to truth. It means deathly compromise. In the real world we live in, it means putting profit, not truth, ‘at the heart of everything’.
The beauty, almost, of her comment is that Viner filters out this inherent conflict at the heart of ‘the business model’ precisely because she is herself a filtered product of the same model. But what is so key is that this filtering of even blindingly obvious, plain-as-day truth is evident in all corporate media reporting.
For a long time, Iraq was of course the dominant theme in our media alerts. Readers will recall that, in 2002, former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter published a tiny, 78-page paperback called, ‘War on Iraq – What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know.’ (Profile Books, 2002)
As we noted many times before the war in 2002 and 2003, Ritter described how, by December 1998, Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ (p.23) of so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’, so that only ‘useless sludge’ (p.29) remained. The book was widely available – we bought it in a Bournemouth bookshop – and Ritter was an extremely credible establishment source on the state of Iraq’s weapons. And yet he was almost completely ignored by the corporate media. His views were not allowed to become part of the factual background for understanding the case for war on Iraq in 2003.
We did our best to spread awareness of Ritter’s views and numerous readers emailed the Chilcot commission urging them to consider his testimony and include it in their findings. We saw the emails streaming in and we saw the replies confirming receipt.
In the event, Chilcot gave Ritter four tiny mentions in passing. Ritter’s key claims, published before the 2003 invasion, were not even mentioned, not even discussed in a report that extends to 2.6 million words over 12 volumes. As significantly, no-one in the corporate press commented on this omission. Is this not sci-fi surreal?
Or consider that, in 2007, two years before the Chilcot inquiry began, no less a source than former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of Nato, General Wesley Clark – the same Nato chief who had led the war on Serbia in 1999 – told Democracy Now! about his conversation with a Pentagon general in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks:
‘About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me in.
‘He said, “Sir, you’ve got to come in and talk to me a second.” I said, “Well, you’re too busy.” He said, “No, no.” He says, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September . I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq? Why?” He said, “I don’t know.” He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.” So I said, “Well, did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?” He said, “No, no.” He says, “There’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”
‘So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”.’
This was an extraordinary claim, one that contradicts virtually the entire ‘mainstream’ discourse on the Iraq war, the Syrian war, the Libyan war, and every other modern war involving the US. But then Clark is an extraordinary source.
Although he was filmed making these comments in 2007, Clark’s name does not appear anywhere among the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report. Again, nobody in the corporate media noticed. Is this not also surreal?
Our final example, by far the most crucial of our time, was summarised in a recent article by researcher Emily Lundberg:
‘Media-propagated doubt on climate change – generated from traditional news outlets, alternative media groups, interest groups and individual bloggers – altered public perception and stalled decision-making on the issue of climate change. Under a misguided strategy of contrived balance, the American mainstream media contributed to the generation and maintenance of a misinformed public constructed via the strategy of developing a prevailing sense of scientific uncertainty where there was in fact little.’
This has been disastrous; if we allow the corporate media to continue, it will certainly be catastrophic. Again, from where we’re sitting, the corporate media response to climate change is utterly beyond belief, something we would never have imagined was possible when we started Media Lens in 2001.
An Appeal For Support
Since then, a plethora of non-corporate websites and blogs have joined us in challenging the ‘mainstream’ media. Where once we were deemed a bit odd, even self-destructive, for criticising the much-vaunted Guardian, Independent and BBC, now large numbers of people are identifying the bias in their reporting. We believe that this media activism has played a vital role in facilitating the astonishing successes achieved by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the US, and Podemos in Spain. Certainly they and their supporters think so. And so, too, do the increasing numbers of ‘mainstream’ journalists turning their fire on internet-based media critics.
Presently, around 300 kind souls support our work with monthly contributions, typically sending us £5 or £10 each. Others make one-off donations. We are very grateful indeed; we have no other financial support.
Until recently, these funds have just about covered a very modest income for Media Lens’s two full-time editors and a webmaster who now only helps us with essential maintenance work. However, perhaps because people are struggling under the government-imposed ‘austerity’ regime, and because many good causes are competing for support, our already limited resources have dipped sharply. If this continues, we may have to seek paid work elsewhere. We would then try to maintain a reduced Media Lens operation in our spare time. Obviously this would be pretty disastrous for our output.
Please do what you can to support our work by visiting our donations page and selecting one of the available options (PayPal, credit/debit cards, monthly bank standing order). We very much appreciate your help.
John Pilger wrote this month of our work:
‘At a time when journalism has become anti-journalism – the facade behind which powerful vested interests control much of our lives – Media Lens is a beacon, a whistleblower, unflagging in subverting lies, spin and hypocrisy, inspirational in its truth-telling.’ (Pilger, email to Media Lens, July 15, 2016)
Noam Chomsky praised our work:
‘For 15 years, Media Lens has provided incisive critical analysis of media coverage of major events of current history while also offering a valuable corrective to distortion, misrepresentation, and crucial omissions. A major contribution for those seeking a realistic understanding of what is happening in the world.’ (Chomsky, email to Media Lens, July 14, 2016)
The Colossus blog commented recently:
‘Media Lens has been comprehensively vindicated time and time again, particularly in its exposés of the media’s uniform violation of journalistic principles in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Many of the journalists complicit in that shameful act of collective servility remain respected commentators, and many have used their lofty platforms to smear and besmirch Media Lens, which exists as a perennial reminder to the corporate media of its continuing desecration of its democratic responsibilities, without observation of which no press can be considered “free” in any meaningful sense. There comes a point in the training of a dog at which its owner may release it from its leash, in full knowledge that the dog, ostensibly free to run a mile in any given direction, will remain loyally at the side of its master.’
DE and DC