When we started Media Lens in 2001, our guiding aspiration was that independent, web-based activism would have a profoundly positive impact on public discourse.
Hard to believe now, but we nurtured hopes that the greater honesty and compassion of thousands of non-corporate media activists would force traditional media to improve. ‘Mainstream’ outlets that continued to sell elite bias as objective Truth would be relentlessly exposed, become a laughing stock – they would simply have to raise their game. We even had a notion that decent, or half-decent, people working within corporate media might secretly welcome these pressures and quietly embrace change out of enlightened self-interest. Why? Because corporate executives love their children, too. As was very obvious then, and is even more obvious now, the prioritising of profit over people and planet must be reversed.
But, of course, human beings and human societies are not that reasonable and rational. It was never going to be that easy.
What has actually happened is that, as non-corporate media have increasingly exposed the limits and failings of corporate media, the latter have adopted a bunker mentality, shutting out inconvenient truths, shutting out dissent, shutting down communication with critics. When we started sending media alerts, BBC and Guardian journalists regularly responded with quite rational, reasonable responses. Now, we mostly receive stony silence, or abusive sneers.
Make no mistake, there has been change: corporate media have been grievously wounded by web-based activism. Their response has been to retreat into an ever more extreme fantasy world that in many ways exceeds the madness even of the McCarthyite era. They have actually become much worse, not better.
In the 1950s, the West really had recently faced down a genuinely existential Nazi threat; Stalin was an utterly ruthless dictator who did in theory (if not in reality) head a party and state bent on global class war and revolution. East and West did find themselves facing a perceived enemy armed with weapons that could wipe us all off the face of the planet, if only by accident. The hysteria, lying and propaganda were preposterous; but they did have some basis, however tenuous, in the real world.
Now, by comparison, we have the same or worse levels of hysteria and intolerance directed against Iraqi, Libyan, North Korean and Iranian ‘threats’ that exist only in the crazed crania of state-corporate propagandists for whom war is just profit-maximising by other means, just another marketing plan. We have claims that omnipresent Putin is seeking to undermine Western democracies at every turn, influencing everything from Brexit to the election of Trump, and of course Corbyn.
And yes, Corbyn – a life-long anti-racist campaigner, a rare compassionate human being in British politics – has been found suddenly to be posing an ‘existential threat’, no less, to Britain’s Jews on the basis of exact truth reversal and pure invention. The Five Filters website recently collated a list of 107 Guardian and Observer articles – all but three of them published this year – promoting this completely fake scandal. As Noam Chomsky commented to us earlier this month:
‘The charges of anti-Semitism against Corbyn are without merit, an underhanded contribution to the disgraceful efforts to fend off the threat that a political party might emerge that is led by an admirable and decent human being, a party that is actually committed to the interests and just demands of its popular constituency and the great majority of the population generally, while also authentically concerned with the rights of suffering and oppressed people throughout the world. Plainly an intolerable threat to order.’ (Noam Chomsky, email to Media Lens, September 9, 2018)
It takes someone of Chomsky’s integrity and standing to help us all to, in effect, pinch ourselves and recognise that the 107 Guardian articles really are fake and really have been published in a corporate newspaper that endlessly rails against ‘fake news’. We ask you, does it take more than a glance at this separate list of Guardian and Observer attacks on Corbyn published between 2015-2017 to understand that the antisemitism ‘scandal’ is just the establishment throwing the ethical kitchen sink at Corbyn having thrown everything else? Could it be more obvious that Corbyn’s mild socialism is simply not allowed as an option for voters?
More incredible even than all of this is the impossible, the unimaginable, the completely insane response to looming climate catastrophe. Set aside this summer’s staggering extreme weather events in the UK, Europe and right around the world. Set aside the giant hurricanes and typhoons that will soon, scientists warn, exceed the category 5 maximum-level strength, such that there will be ‘superstorms capable of taking out cities like Dubai or Tampa. They are here, right now’. Why would that not happen? CO2 levels are rising inexorably. Temperatures are rising inexorably. And last year, as energy analyst Barry Saxifrage reported:
‘humanity set another fossil fuel energy record of 11.4 billion tonnes of oil equivalent (Gtoe). A decade ago we were at 10 Gtoe of energy. In 2000, we were at 8 Gtoe.’
But these smaller scale disasters and warnings are dwarfed by the fact that the governments of the world have already sat back and watched the loss of Arctic ice guarantee climate mayhem – a loss already dramatically impacting the jet stream, which has become weaker and wavier (key factors enhancing the destructiveness of the recent superstorms) – without any perceptible sense of emergency. As former Nasa climate scientist James Hansen makes clear, the claim that leaders have done much of anything to address this genuinely existential threat is ‘bullshit’, a ‘fraud’.
There is no alarm, no sense of crisis. Our leaders have done nothing. Beyond platitudes, they have said nothing. Why not? Because they don’t exist.
It is clear enough now that we, the people, in fact do not have representatives or leaders: we have puppets selected to respond to the needs of corporate interests for war and growth, and yet more growth. But if we are looking to someone in the cockpit to steer us away from the mountain of evidence of looming climate cataclysm, then there is no-one flying the plane. If we are looking to corporate media to recognise and respond to truth, then forget it – they have battened down the hatches, have excluded all but the most tepid dissent and have buried their heads in the sand.
So it’s up to you and us. Can anything be done? We genuinely do not know. But we do know that we cannot give up on everyone and everything we know and love; we cannot accept defeat. To give up on hope is to guarantee there is no hope. As the historian Howard Zinn said so well:
‘There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.’ (Howard Zinn, ‘A Power That Governments Can’t Suppress’, City Lights, 2007, p.267)
In that spirit, we are delighted to announce the publication of our new book, ‘Propaganda Blitz – How The Corporate Media Distort Reality’, published by Pluto Press on September 20. In his superb foreword, John Pilger writes:
‘In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens – remarkable because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism – the BBC, the Guardian, Channel 4 News.
‘Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they email a journalist to ask why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths. The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.
‘My impression is that they have shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate, questioning, deconstructing and ultimately demystifying the media’s monopoly.
‘What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards was a teacher, David Cromwell is a former scientist. Yet, their understanding of the morality of real journalism – a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity – is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.
‘In 2007, they were awarded the Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award. I was asked to contribute to the citation. “Without Media Lens during the attack on and occupation of Iraq,” I wrote, “the full gravity of that debacle might have been consigned to oblivion, and to bad history.”
‘Such is the importance of their work, which I think is heroic. I would place a copy of this book in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.’
Media Lens is 100 per cent crowdfunded – we have no advertisers, organisational funders or wealthy donors – and, since 2010, the public has supported the two of us as fulltime editors.
However, funds have been on a downward trend over the past few years. This is in part, perhaps, because we have rarely requested support. Also, many people are struggling financially and there are, of course, numerous important causes that need support. We therefore made the decision in April this year to take a significant pay cut. Unfortunately, current donations suggest that this lower level of pay will only be sustainable for another year at most. If financial support continues to fall, we will need to make further cuts. At this point, we may well have to seek alternative employment, likely impacting severely on Media Lens’ output.
As discussed, ‘mainstream’ politics and media are trapped in a lethally deluded view of the world shaped by the needs of short-term profit. Only public dissent, only a great mass of people challenging and rejecting this state-corporate insanity, offers any hope at all. It is clear there will be no change from within the system.
If you have ever considered supporting Media Lens or, perhaps, of increasing your support, this is certainly one time when we strongly urge you to do so, please.
David Edwards and David Cromwell