9 July will mark 20 years since we sent our first media alert – a 500-word piece on the West’s crimes against humanity.
Since then, our media alert and cogitation archives have swollen to well over 5,000 pages and 2 million words. On our now-defunct message board, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, we’ve been correcting for the distorted vision of corporate journalism for two decades.
We published our first media alert two months before al Qaeda’s 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the US, and three months before the US military’s 7 October terror attacks began on Afghanistan.
The ‘terror’ is not hyperbole. At the time, Afghanistan was facing severe famine. Aid agencies warned that even the threat of US bombing would shut down aid convoys and imperil the lives of 7.5 million people. With the blitz well underway, a rare glimpse of the resulting catastrophe, now permanently hidden from public awareness, emerged in January 2002:
‘Besieged by the Taliban and crushed by years of drought, people in this remote mountain settlement have resorted to eating bread made from grass and traces of barley flour. Babies whose mothers’ milk has dried up are fed grass porridge. The toothless elderly crush grass into a near powder. Many have died. More are sick. Nearly everyone has diarrhoea or a hacking cough. When the children’s pain becomes unbearable, their mothers tie rags around their stomachs to try to alleviate the pressure.’ (Nessman, ‘Afghans eat grass as aid fails to arrive,’ The Guardian, 9 January 2002)
Two months later, humanitarian agencies asked:
‘Why, eight weeks after the worst of the war in Afghanistan was over, were people still eating grass just one inch away on a highway map from the major Afghan city of Mazar-I-Sharif?’ (Jonathan Frerichs, Lutheran World Relief and Action by Churches Together, 7 March 2002)
Few people gave a damn. The reigning zeitgeist was that, in the wake of 9/11, the empire had to strike back, somewhere, hard – whatever the consequences, let the bodies pile up in their thousands.
In early January 2002, Edward Herman estimated that media coverage afforded to the death of US soldier Nathan Chapman – the first and, at that point, sole US combat casualty of the invasion – had exceeded coverage of all Afghan victims of bombing and starvation. Concerned to preserve the right kind of ‘balance’, CNN Chair Walter Isaacson observed that it ‘seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan’. (Howard Kurtz, ‘CNN chief orders “balance” in war news,’ Washington Post, 31 October 2001)
This was by no means our first encounter with a phenomenon with which we have been wrestling for the past two decades; a phenomenon which, in 2021, leaves us exactly as uncomprehending as it did in 2001.
The phenomenon is the clear fact that journalists, politicians and academics are almost completely unable to perceive the truth of the horror inflicted by their governments on human beings in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. It is the clear fact that they don’t care that they don’t understand, and that they don’t understand why they should try.
Of course, they know that the ‘Good Guys’ have sent tanks and cruise missiles, have invaded and dropped bombs. But they don’t get the reality; or rather, they don’t feel the truth: the magnitude, intensity and sheer criminality of the violence and suffering inflicted on people who are exactly as human as they are.
Perhaps the key word here is ‘feel’ – they don’t feel the truth. Perhaps they don’t feel much at all.
Understand What Happened Here
In 2002, not long after we started, we quoted words that exactly capture the theme that has always been our central focus and motivation. The comments were made by the unnamed cousin of a Palestinian man shot dead by the Israeli army, apparently in error, in Nablus, the West Bank refugee camp. The cousin described his shock at the events of September 11, adding:
‘I know what they feel. But I want them to know what I feel. I think many of them don’t want to know about us, don’t want to know what we feel. They think we are from another country, or from another star. We also, like them, we cry. We live. We feel sad. We feel happy. And we have minds, also. I want them to use their minds and to understand what happened here.’ (Through Muslim Eyes, Channel 4, 6 September, 2002)
But they didn’t and don’t – they never do. They don’t use their minds to understand, but more importantly they don’t use their hearts. In his 2005 Nobel Prize speech, Harold Pinter said:
‘It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.’
The key sentence with which we have been grappling for twenty years: ‘It was of no interest’. How can it not be of interest? Not just for understanding our society’s impact on human life, but for understanding our society’s capacity for violence, and for hiding the truth about, well, everything.
Last year, when we wrote about the latest book by senior BBC news presenter and propaganda ne’er-do-well, Steve Richards, we found one mention of the word ‘Libya’ in the entire book. And yet Libya had been destroyed by Britain, France and the US in 2011. The word ‘Yemen’ did not appear in Richards’ book. And yet famine-stricken Yemen has been torn to shreds by Saudi Arabia supported by UK arms, training and personnel. Syria was not mentioned. But Syria has also been torn to shreds by Western proxies, a flood of arms and direct involvement.
Moving to the left extreme of ‘mainstream’ opinion, Guardian columnist Owen Jones mentioned the war on Libya once, in passing, in his book, ‘This Land!’ (2020). Yemen was also mentioned once in passing. Likewise, Jones mentioned Libya once in his previous book, published just three years after the start of NATO’s terror attacks.
Last year, former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger mentioned Libya once in passing in his latest book, ‘The News and How To Use It’. Yemen was unmentioned.
Surely, things are different, surely people can feel the truth, beyond the ‘mainstream’.
In a recent alert, we analysed a book comprised of chapters, mostly by progressive British academics who apparently had no problem contributing to a book with the absurd, myth-boosting title, ‘Capitalism’s Conscience: 200 Years of the Guardian’.
The book mentions Libya and Syria once, in passing. The Saudi-UK atrocities in Yemen are unmentioned. Iraq gets precisely five mentions, all of them in passing.
On 20 April, we challenged one of the book’s contributors, Justin Schlosberg, senior lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London:
‘Justin, do you think it’s reasonable for a collection of essays purportedly examining the Guardian’s record in challenging the powerful over the last 200 years to ignore the paper’s complicity in the destruction of Iraq, Libya and Syria?’
To our genuine amazement, Schlosberg replied:
‘Actually I’m not at all convinced that those topics – as important as they are for you – are necessarily more prescient than the Guardian’s deeply problematic coverage of Israel/Palestine, Latin America, women, the economy, etc.’
‘I don’t recognise the intrinsic hierarchy of issues as you present them. The Guardian’s coverage in relation to two centuries of oppression of women and Palestinians strike me as fairly legitimate issues of focus, along with others covered in a book with obviously limited scope..’
On 29 April, the Italian political analyst and filmmaker, Gabriele Zamparini, challenged Matt Kennard of Declassified UK who co-authored an excellent chapter for the book with Mark Curtis:
‘And how do you feel about the fact that “Capitalism’s Conscience” mentions Libya and Syria once, Iraq five times, all in passing, with Yemen unmentioned?’ (@medialens above) Don’t you think these were egregious omissions for a book whose title include the word *conscience*?’
Again, to our amazement, Kennard replied:
‘How do you feel that there was no chapter on climate change or nuclear weapons or corporate power or New Labour or the welfare state or the NHS or US politics or the rise of China?’
‘Sorry, the Guardian’s complicity in the killing, wounding and displacement of literally millions of people in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen is NOT just one issue among many. These are the most horrendous crimes of our time. The Guardian’s role simply has to be discussed.’
The Media Green Zone
The Green Zone is a heavily protected, 10-square-kilometre security zone located in central Baghdad that was originally the site of the Coalition Provisional Authority – the US-run imperial government overseeing the illegal occupation of Iraq.
Subject to numerous and ongoing attacks by Iraqi resistance fighters, entry to the Green Zone is defended by high concrete blast walls and barbed wire fences, with the southern and eastern sides of the zone protected by the Tigris river. A handful of entry points are guarded by heavily-armed imperial forces. The Green Zone continues to operate as a base for western private military contractors, and US, British, Australian and Egyptian embassies.
The Green Zone has always been presented by ‘mainstream’ media as a centre of administration and representation, rather than of dominance and control maintained by US and British violence. It is the place where the ongoing, de facto occupation of Iraq ensures that the right kind of ‘democracy’ prevails in Iraq; one that allows Western oil interests to generate massive revenues from Iraqi oil.
Rumaila oilfield, the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world, is currently operated by Britain’s BP. Rumaila produces about 1.5 million barrels a day, 40 per cent of Iraq’s output. The US oil giant ExxonMobil operates West Qurna I oilfield. Shell ran Majnoon oilfield before handing it back to the Iraqi state in 2018. Shell now runs the Basra Gas Company, which has rights to associated gas from fields across the south of Iraq. We learn much about our world from the fact, essentially never discussed, that the allies who led a war of aggression costing at least one million lives have been so richly rewarded.
After 20 years (in reality, more like 30 years) of close analysis, it is very clear to us that the ‘free press’ is, in fact, a Media Green Zone overseeing the corporate occupation of British, US and other democracies. Ostensibly tasked with informing and representing the public, this Media Green Zone is a system that has evolved and been designed to impose strict control over a ‘managed democracy’.
Like the Baghdad Green Zone, access to the Media Green Zone is restricted to a handful of heavily-defended entry points. Editors and senior managers are carefully selected, often from privileged backgrounds (elite private schools and Oxbridge universities), to ensure that anti-corporate resistance is unable to inflict damage on news and comment pages, and especially via TV screens. The latter are potentially far more damaging, and therefore access to broadcasting is subject to far tighter controls.
Because the Media Green Zone is about oppression and control rather than representation, corporate media forces do not fraternise with the resistance. Their job – unknowingly, or not – is to marginalise and counter resistance, which naturally leaves little room for discussion.
In recent years, whenever we challenged Alan Rusbridger, Jonathan Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Steve Richards, Paul Mason, Owen Jones, Marina Hyde, Tim Adams and many, many others, we received no replies at all. To challenge the fundamental rationale and functioning of the Media Green Zone is to instantly render one’s facts, sources and arguments illegitimate. For example, the obviously crucial question, ‘Who got Iraq’s oil?’ breaks these rules and cannot be raised. We have seen no serious, honest discussion of this question anywhere in the ‘mainstream’.
When one of us asked Jon Snow, who recently retired as Channel 4 presenter, about the completely obvious and disastrous pattern of post-1945 British and US interventions defending profits and installing profit-friendly clients like the Shah in Iran, he interrupted:
‘Oh, this is bollocks! Total bollocks. Utter bollocks!’
Our media alerts on Richards et al were rational, detailed, closely argued and polite; analyses which certainly merited a thoughtful reply. But not in what are effectively wartime conditions, a time of corporate occupation.
The Art Of Feeling
Life has a funny way of balancing out. The inexplicable lack of feeling for suffering endured by the victims of Western violence and exploitation, is exactly mirrored in the fateful, inexplicable lack of feeling for the suffering we and our children will face in the short-term – in the next decade – as climate destabilisation wreaks havoc across the globe.
The bitter irony is that the Media Green Zone automatically filtering out ‘dangerous’, profit-hostile truth continues to filter out the ‘dangerous’, profit-hostile truth of climate collapse. Not just the severity and immediacy of the threat, but the stark incompatibility of capitalism and human survival. Just last month, Boris Johnson declared that actions to save the planet were about ‘growth and jobs’, not ‘expensive bunny-hugging’.
In reality, the ‘bunny-hugging’ refers to efforts to move beyond the insanity of infinite growth shielded by fake promises and greenwash. In responding to President Biden’s recent, supposedly epiphanous pledges, climate activist Greta Thunberg said:
‘Unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight. And, to be honest, I don’t believe, for a second, that you will actually do this. The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today. And since it doesn’t really exist, and the general level of awareness is so absurdly low, you will still get away with continuing to contribute to the destruction of present and future living conditions… How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it?’
In our cogitations, we have discussed how excessive, head-trapped intellectuality acts to block feeling. It is crucial to understand that love, compassion and fellow-feeling exist in the head only as ideas. As we all know, mere ideas are powerless to resist the awesome propulsive force of the ego’s craving for status, fame and fortune.
We believe that intellectual activism must be balanced, supplemented, by a focus on overcoming the social (and progressive left!) conditioning that has trained us to disregard and override our feelings, not just for others but for ourselves.
There can be no revolution in the head, or the world, without a revolution against a culture that has persuaded us that the heart is a pump; that feeling is an irrelevant, sentimental distraction from what really matters.
If we have learned one thing over the last 20 years, it is that the capacity, not just to know, but to feel the truth is, finally, what matters. It is this that makes the difference between full human dissent and empty, callous conformity.
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David Edwards and David Cromwell – The Editors