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Media Lens response to Rupert Read

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David Edwards
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Joined: 26 Jan 2004
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Post Post subject: Media Lens response to Rupert Read Reply with quote

We have always had friendly, positive relations with Rupert Read, a Green Party councillor in Norwich and a Reader in philosophy at the University of East Anglia. He writes:

‘I have long been an active supporter of Medialens ( ). Like many others, I have supported them with money, time, tips, and I have been proud to have done so.’

So we were surprised that someone who had been supportive of us for so long would be willing to risk undoing all of that support by suggesting that we are ‘friends’ and supporters of Gaddafi and Assad. And to link these claims with our alleged ‘support for genocide denial’ made by fellow green commentator George Monbiot in the Guardian. Read helpfully linked to a Monbiot blog entry titled, ‘Media Cleanse’. Read’s original Left Foot Forward (LFF) blog entry appeared under the title:

‘Exposed: The pro-Assad useful idiots in our midst’

If Monbiot’s ‘Media Cleanse’ depicted us as apologists for ethnic cleansing, LFF’s title likened us to earlier Western sympathisers of the totalitarian Soviet system. Clearly, then, we are ‘loony lefties’ in the classic mould – so hard-left that we have become fascists. Criticism is one thing, but smears of this kind do nothing less than trash our reputation, not just as political commentators, but as decent human beings.

Read writes: ‘The title was not mine: it was imposed upon me by the Left Foot Forward editors. I have objected to it strenuously, but they refuse to change it.’

He explained that there were further problems:

'I have asked LFF to change the piece to reflect what I actually think! But they have again refused. I think it is very unfortunate that LFF are muddying the waters here on this important topic by not replacing the above with the correct version. Anyway, as I say, you can read it here:'

But as we will see below, Read writes of us on his own blog:

‘Like various others on the Left, such as John Pilger and “Moronwatch”, their attitude seems to have been one of “My enemy's enemy is my friend”.’

It is not clear to us that a ‘friend’ of Gaddafi and Assad is very different from a ‘useful idiot’ of tyranny in exactly the way intended by the LFF blog title. (We note in passing that LFF is edited by Will Straw, son of Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary under Blair and one of the key players in the invasion of Iraq.)

Read says of us: ‘some of the wheels seem to be coming off’ our ‘wagon’. Early evidence for this being our ‘long-running spat with George Monbiot, over the Rwandan genocide and the terrible atrocities in Bosnia’.

Actually, the ‘spat’ has been about our defence of our right to publish the work of two of the world’s most brilliant and courageous political analysts: Edward Herman and David Peterson. That’s the technical reason. The real reason is that Monbiot is seeking to punish us for our criticism of his journalism. Otherwise it makes no sense whatever for him to be focusing on us rather than, say, ZNet or MRZine, who have published far more of Herman and Peterson’s work than we have. As one of the world’s largest and most famous leftist websites, ZNet’s outreach obviously dwarfs our own.

In ten years, we have ourselves barely written a word about Rwanda or Bosnia.

Read quotes a colleague: ‘things have reached a strange pass when the prime way that an organisation allegedly dedicated to hunting down bias in the mainstream media becomes known is not for its work in this capacity but rather for its own substantive political/moral position on conflicts in Bosnia, Libya, Syria, etc.’

But is it strange for a progressive website to take a ‘political/moral position’ on the issues it is analysing? For example, is it a ‘strange pass’ to reach when a progressive website takes a ‘political/moral position’ on its government’s illegal invasion of Iraq? Or would it be very strange if it did not take a ‘political/moral position’ on the utterly needless and avoidable deaths of 1 million people in Iraq? Is it ‘strange’ to observe that Nato trampled international law and UN Security Council Resolution 1973 in seeking, and achieving, regime change in Libya?

Things, according to Read, ‘have taken a further and more serious turn’ with our ‘dogmatic opposition to the last resort of intervention now, as with Libya, and to any serious criticism of and serious attitude to [sic] brutal regimes, such as Syria's’.

Read supports the claim on ‘last resort’ with the comment: ‘It is very likely that the UN-backed, internationally-legal action in Libya saved Benghazi from a bloodbath’.

In fact we have not opposed intervention as a ‘last resort’ in Libya, and certainly not on the basis of dogma. As we noted in our latest alert, there is actually precious little evidence of an impending bloodbath in Benghazi. The recapture of other towns by pro-Gaddafi forces did not result in major massacres.

It is also wrong to claim that Nato’s action was ‘internationally-backed’. A no-fly zone protecting Benghazi from attack was agreed, but on the basis that an immediate ceasefire would be implemented, an arms embargo would be enforced, and peace talks would be initiated. This set of arrangements was backed by the UN. But it wasn’t backed by Nato, which went its own way in trampling international law by acting as the de facto ‘rebel’ ground-attack airforce, by supplying ‘rebels’ with arms and special forces, and by rejecting all peace overtures (eliciting harsh criticism from people who allowed UN 1973 to pass, including the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin). Eric Posner, Professor at University of Chicago Law School commented:

‘Both international and U.S. law took a drubbing alongside Qaddafi's ragtag army, casting further doubt upon the already tenuous notion that international military actions can be conducted on a legal basis.

‘The basis for the intervention under international law was dubious from the start. Libya is a sovereign state and, as a matter of international law, NATO cannot bomb it without a legal justification. The rebels' request for military intervention could not override the government's quite understandable, if regrettable, refusal to give its consent to be bombed. So, the United States and NATO turned to the U.N. Security Council, which enjoys the power under the U.N. Charter to authorize military interventions in foreign countries.

‘But two problems arose. The first was the legal justification for intervening. The Charter gives the Security Council authority to take actions to promote peace and collective security. But Libya did not threaten its neighbors or any other country. The purpose of the intervention, according to the resolution that authorized it, was to protect Libyan civilians from their government.

‘Some commentators claimed that the Libyan intervention was justified by the Responsibility to Protect (obnoxiously known as "R2P"), a principle formally endorsed by U.N. members in 2005… The truth is that the Responsibility to Protect is too capacious a norm to regulate states: It can be cited to justify virtually any intervention in the type of country that the West might want to invade, while it can also be evaded on grounds that it is not formal law, so countries can avoid intervening in a crisis when intervention does not serve their interests.’

It is hard to take seriously the claim that this was a war of ‘last resort’, as Read claims. After the commencement of bombing on March 19, the ‘international community’ rejected all ceasefire offers from the Libyan government and made none of its own. In the latest alert, we quoted Read’s much-loved International Crisis Group (ICG):

'UNSC resolution 1973 emphatically called for a ceasefire, yet every proposal for a ceasefire put forward by the Qaddafi regime or by third parties so far has been rejected by the TNC [Transitional National Council] as well as by the Western governments most closely associated with the NATO military campaign... neither the TNC nor NATO has made a ceasefire proposal of its own and there has yet to be a meaningful attempt to test Qaddafi's seriousness or pose conditions on acceptance that would subject a putative ceasefire to effective independent supervision'. (ICG, Popular Protest In North Africa and the Middle East, (V): Making Sense of Libya, Middle East/North Africa Report N°107 – 6 June 2011, pp.28-29)

In light of this, are we really to believe that, prior to bombing, Nato countries did everything in their power to achieve a peaceful outcome, so that this was indeed a war of last resort? As Noam Chomsky commented recently:

‘The real question is - could the mandate to protect civilians have been carried out through diplomacy?’

We suspect the truth will slowly emerge. Like Iraq and Kosovo, this may well have been a war of first resort – a war the West was determined to fight for its own self-interested reasons.

Read’s sentence, mentioned above, is unclear but presumably he is alleging our ‘dogmatic opposition… to any serious criticism of… brutal regimes’. He adds that our ‘attitude seems to have been one of ‘“My enemy's enemy is my friend”’, such that we are ‘tacit apologists’ ‘for Gaddafi, Assad, and other thugs’.

Read should feel free to present a scintilla of evidence to support this ugly claim that we are ‘friends’ and supporters of the Gaddafi and Assad governments. We wish him luck. We did not and do not support either. On the contrary, we have spent many years opposing our government’s supply of weapons to tyrants like Gaddafi, and to a long list of people like him. It should be obvious from everything we’ve written that we are deeply opposed to all forms of authoritarian rule, especially those dependent on violence. Our primary concern is to challenge our own government’s violence and criminality – our first responsibility as democratic citizens. With wearying predictability the attempt is reflexively smeared with the claim that we are ‘apologists’ and ‘genocide deniers’ for the latest official enemy.

Read’s comment makes us wonder if he has actually read our recent work on Libya. In an alert published on March 23, we wrote:

‘Recall that, despite being a violent and unpredictable dictator, Gaddafi was embraced by "the international community"…’

In an April 14 media alert consisting of questions and answers about our work, we included this:

‘Q: How would you rate the liberal media coverage of the recent uprisings taking place across the Middle-East? Are there any glaring holes in the narrative, and are we being informed about the extent of western support for these regimes?

‘A: The independent, Israel-based journalist, Jonathan Cook, formerly of the Guardian, notes how the United States 'is caught mute and impassive as the henchmen of empire unleash US-made weapons against their peoples who are demanding western-style freedoms...'

‘The gaping hole in media reporting is to explain why the US has been supporting these henchmen with billions of dollars of military hardware. What is the US motive? What does this tell us about US priorities in the Middle East and elsewhere? What is more important: freedom, democracy, human rights, or control of natural resources and corporate profits? There have been occasional mentions of how the West has supplied arms to Mubarak and Qaddafi, but these deeper questions are ignored.’

Read writes:

‘It is perfectly respectable to be against Western wars or Western proxy wars, or to take up an absolutist position of non-violence. What is hard to respect are the following two attitudes: (1) The pretence that there can never be a justification for last resort military interventions (as we should plainly have done to stop the Rwanda genocide, for instance)…’

If it is ‘perfectly respectable to take up an absolutist position of non-violence’, how can it not be respectable to assert that ‘there can never be a justification for last resort military interventions’? If we respect the first, we must also respect the second, because it is contained within the first.

Read accuses us of using ‘cherry-picked sources’ and observes:

‘it is clear from the daily footage coming out of Syria via social media sites and Facebook groups over the past months that, remarkably, most protests are still peaceful. Whilst it is hard to verify content on social networking sites it is clear that the overriding narrative is one of peaceful protest…’

He accuses us of ‘smearing the (heroic) Syrian revolutionaries by quoting nonsense from hopeless sources’.

We do not contest that most of the protest is peaceful and authentic. We focused specifically on the armed element of the protest and specifically ‘on the first outbreaks of violence in Syria’. The two main articles referenced in the alert, by Professors Michel Chossudovsky and Jeremy Salt, both recognise the presence of authentic pro-democracy protestors in Syria. Both also recognise the reality of Syrian government oppression of these peaceful protestors. To make this, and our own position, clearer, we added an update two days after publication of the alert on October 14:

‘Update - October 14, 2011

‘We have received a number of heartfelt responses to this alert suggesting, for example, that we have 'cast doubt on the authenticity of the people's protests and the ongoing violent response of the Al Assad regime'.

‘To be clear, our point is not at all to contest that there has been fierce government repression of entirely authentic protest in Syria. Our point is that, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, there is also a heavily-armed opposition fighting government forces in Syria, and that the significance of this armed element is rarely, if ever, discussed by the mainstream media. As Jeremy Salt commented in the article cited above:

‘“There is no doubt that the bulk of people demonstrating in Syria want peaceful transition to a democratic form of government. Neither is there any doubt that armed groups operating from behind the screen of the demonstrations have no interest in reform. They want to destroy the government.”

‘To raise important questions about the possible involvement of our own government in fomenting violence - an infamous strategy of the West - has nothing to do with smearing peaceful protest or apologising for tyranny.’

Our main point was to challenge the media refusal to recognise the reality and significance of armed anti-government resistance in Syria. We noted that the Guardian had referred to a ‘vicious crackdown on Syria's protest movement’. We asked: ‘is [this] an accurate depiction of the conflict?’

Our question has been misinterpreted by several critics, but it is valid. If hundreds of US troops and police were being killed in US cities, would the Guardian refer to the US government response (which would be ferocious) as a ‘vicious crackdown on America’s protest movement’? It might well describe a vicious crackdown on peaceful protestors – which is certainly taking place in Syria – but it would also refer to a fierce conflict with heavily-armed ‘fighters’/’insurgents’/ ’terrorists’ killing hundreds of US troops and police.

Professor Salt clearly believes there is detailed, hard evidence of external military involvement. He writes:

‘Large shipments of weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey. They include pump action shotguns, machine guns, Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, Israeli-made hand grenades and numerous other explosives.’

There is also plenty of circumstantial evidence: the large number of deaths amongst Syrian government forces, standard US behaviour elsewhere in the region (notably in Libya, Iraq and Iran) and elsewhere over decades, and extremely credible evidence of high-level plans to overthrow the Syrian government:

US Neocon sources are also not coy. The Weekly Standard comments this week:

‘Collective action does not mean bringing the unmovable Russians and Chinese on board. It means going after Revolutionary Guard camps. It means destabilizing Iran’s ally Syria by creating a no-fly zone there that protects the Syrian opposition and helps bring down Bashar al-Assad.

‘Collective action means using every possible method and tactic to destabilize the Iranian regime by working with allies inside and outside of Iran. It means doing everything possible to ensure that Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stripped of his clerical robes, is the next Middle East dictator dragged from a hole in the ground.’

Perhaps Chossudovsky and Salt would agree that there is no firm evidence indicating the origin of any external military interference. We are not experts in the field, but we believe Chossudovsky and Salt are credible sources whose arguments merit discussion. That doesn’t mean we know they are 100% accurate, but it does mean we are doing something more than ‘quoting nonsense from hopeless sources’.

As we asked in the alert of the mainstream view: ‘is it an accurate depiction of the conflict?’ We were asking questions, exploring viewpoints banished from the mainstream. We were not declaring Absolute Truth.

Read writes that we used ‘Israeli news sources with known biases on the subject of Syria uncritically’.

But the Israeli source simply pointed to the death of government troops and police in Syria. The same has been widely reported by numerous non-Israeli media, including the BBC (which, to be sure, also has known bias):

Ironically, Read does his own cherry-picking, repeatedly recommending and citing the views of the International Crisis Group (ICG) which is heavily funded by Western governments. Luminaries on the ICG board include people like Ken Adelman, Richard Armitage and Gareth Evans - the latter described by John Pilger as ‘a functionary of a superpower’ notable for his ‘appeasement of East Timor's mass murderers’ in Indonesia. (Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, pp.260-1)

Adelman said of the Iraq war:

‘It bothers me that people in Britain don't see it as people in America see it. We did a beautiful thing.’ (Quoted, 'How Blair Lost By Winning,’ Geoffrey Wheatcroft, The New York Times, October 8, 2003)

In January 2003, Johann Hari cited ‘concrete evidence’ from ICG indicating that Iraqis would, as Hari put it, ‘welcome friendly bombs’. Read in 2011 echoes Hari in 2002, when the latter wrote of how ICG had conducted interviews with dozens of Iraqis:

‘It is time that, in light of the ICG report, we in the West admit that we have misunderstood the Iraqi people's position… a significant number of those Iraqis interviewed, with surprising candour, expressed their view that, if regime change required an American-led attack, they would support it.' (See:

Read would do well to take a close look at Hari’s mea culpa from 2006: ‘After three years, after 150,000 dead, why I was wrong about Iraq’:

‘The Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world’s major sources of oil… I obviously found this rationale disgusting, but I deluded myself into thinking it was possible to ride this beast to a better Iraq. Reeling from a visit to Saddam’s Iraq, I knew that Iraqis didn’t care why their dictator was deposed, they just wanted it done, now… In that immediate rush, I – like most Iraqis – failed to see that the Bush administration’s warped motives would lead to a warped occupation. A war for oil would mean that as Baghdad was looted, troops would be sent to guard the oil ministry, not the hospitals – a bleak harbinger of things to come.’

Today, Reuters has reported: ‘Libya is plunging into a cycle of tribal violence and retribution…’

We quoted ICG in our latest alert to make the point that ‘even establishment think tanks’ had drawn attention to Nato’s refusal to pursue a ceasefire in Libya. We are normally highly sceptical of ICG reporting, especially when it supports Western governments’ calls for intervention and war.

Apart from links to a couple of articles in the Guardian and Huffington Post, ICG appears to be Read’s main source. Additionally, he draws on social media, on the opinion of ‘Libyans who I know personally,’ several ‘colleagues’ and ‘My wife, Juliette Harkin, [who] is currently undertaking a study for publication with Westminster University’.

On the basis of these sources, he writes:

‘It is clear, in other words, that the Assad government is unreformable. So there is no longer anything contentious about wanting to destroy the Assad government.’

This is certainly the mainstream view (It exactly echoes Hari’s view in 2003). Indeed it is always the mainstream view of any official enemy targeted for destruction – Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, now Syria. Given the proven capacity of the West’s propaganda machine to manipulate what we come to know and believe, we view this kind of certainty with real scepticism. We feel far more cautious about asserting our own understanding of what is happening in Syria and why. As Chomsky said recently of Libya:

‘Libya is a highly tribal society and there is a lot of conflict among the tribes, who knows what is going to come out of all this?... Very few people in the west understand much about all this.’

We suspect much the same is also true of Syria, and of commentators like Rupert Read.

Read concludes:

‘John Pilger, 'Stop the War' and others... have failed to understand the new dynamic of the Arab Spring and the way that external powers, whatever their motivations, have done something on balance good by intervening in Libya and ending Gaddafi's mass-murderous regime…’

For details on ‘something on balance good’, see the bloodbath described in our latest alert:

Seumas Milne’s courageous observation in the Guardian should give pause for thought to all supporters of Nato’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya:

‘… while the death toll in Libya when Nato intervened was perhaps around 1,000-2,000 (judging by UN estimates), eight months later it is probably more than ten times that figure. Estimates of the numbers of dead over the last eight months – as Nato leaders vetoed ceasefires and negotiations – range from 10,000 up to 50,000. The National Transitional Council puts the losses at 30,000 dead and 50,000 wounded.

‘Of those, uncounted thousands will be civilians, including those killed by Nato bombing and Nato-backed forces on the ground. These figures dwarf the death tolls in this year's other most bloody Arab uprisings, in Syria and Yemen. Nato has not protected civilians in Libya – it has multiplied the number of their deaths, while losing not a single soldier of its own.’

Read’s response to these horrors on the OpenDemocracy website:

'In the killing of Gaddafi, in the killings in Sirte, and in some other very bad incidents, the Libyan rebels have shown themselves to be less than spotless.’

By contrast, in his blog attacking us, Read referred to 'the terrible atrocities in Bosnia'. This suggests to us that Read is vulnerable to the propaganda messages that are so powerful in shaping our view of the world.

David Edwards and David Cromwell
Mon Oct 31, 2011 3:11 pm
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