In bygone years, defenders of the Guardian's supposed 'progressive' credentials would typically cite the presence of Seumas Milne, Owen Jones and George Monbiot. The newspaper's cupboard is looking decidedly threadbare now. After a year's leave of absence, Milne left the paper permanently in January to continue leading Jeremy Corbyn's media team. Jones has been notable for his, at best, conflicted support of Corbyn having, for two years, turned a blind eye to his paper's relentless opposition to Corbyn's leadership. Jones has also allowed himself to be used by the Israel lobby. Meanwhile Monbiot, notwithstanding years of valuable environmental journalism, has shown consistently poor judgement when writing about foreign policy. There are now no plausible fig leaves to hide the Guardian's liberal gatekeeper role in suppressing, marginalising and smearing the required radical challenges to established power.
This insidious role was highlighted once again in a woeful piece by Jonathan Freedland in the wake of last week's council elections. Titled, 'No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown', the Guardian sage and BBC contributor pointed to a projected national figure of 27% support for Labour, 'the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981.' This time it was not 'a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media': the pejorative phrase suggesting that the 'hate' is unjustified or overwrought. 'The verdict of the electorate', the former Guardian opinion editor intoned, 'was damning'.
We will examine the thinking behind Freedland's sweeping dismissal in what follows. But first, we need to remind ourselves of the incessant media vitriol and opposition faced by Jeremy Corbyn since he first ran for the Labour leadership in 2015. Extensive evidence of this corporate media bias has been presented in studies published by Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck, University of London and by the London School of Economics.
Why should there be such huge media – indeed establishment – opposition towards Corbyn? Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, puts it succinctly:
'Jeremy Corbyn represents – and, crucially, is seen to represent – a potential threat to vested interests in a way that right-wing Labour figures never did. This is what underlies the extraordinary hostility to his leadership. Any radical individual or movement that refuses to abide by the usual consensus on austerity, immigration or foreign policy can expect to be either marginalised or ridiculed, misrepresented or ignored.
'This tells us a lot about the balance of power in the mainstream media: you depart from the rules, you should expect to be punished.'
'The leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to the most savage campaign of falsehood and misrepresentation in some of our most popular media outlets. He has, at different times, been derided, ignored, vilified and condemned.'
Let's now turn to Jonathan Freedland's article. A key piece of his 'evidence' for pinning Labour's 'meltdown' on Corbyn comes from Dave Wilcox, a former Labour group leader in Derbyshire, who said that he was repeatedly told by 'genuine Labour supporters' when canvassing that 'we are not voting for you while you have Jeremy Corbyn as leader.'
'He will be howled down, of course, by the online Corbynista army who will tell Wilcox that what he heard with his own ears never happened, that it's an invention of the media, that it's really the fault of the media and plotting Labour MPs.'
The sneering reference to an 'online Corbynista army' reveals the smug condescension at the core of Freedland's mindset. From his superior perspective, there is simply no need to take seriously the ample evidence of intense media and political antagonism towards Corbyn and his policies; likewise, the barrage of opposition from many Labour MPs whose views often lie to the right of their own constituents and local party members. As Graham Bash of Labour Briefing observes, when Corbyn won the Labour leadership in September 2015:
'the parliamentary Labour party shamefully refused to accept the party's overwhelming verdict, briefed against Corbyn, forced a second leadership contest, acted as a party within a party and feared a Corbyn government more than another Tory government.'
Rather than point to any of this, Freedland instead wants to emphasise the views of two focus groups in Birmingham, largely consisting of Labour voters. This was an event co-organised by Huffington Post and Edelman Communications, a huge PR company (clearly with no vested interest in shaking up society):
'They described Jeremy Corbyn as a "dope", "living in the past", "a joke", as "looking as if he knows less about it than I do". One woman admired Corbyn's sincerity; one man thought his intentions were good. But she reckoned he lacked "the qualities to be our leader"; and he believed Corbyn was simply too "soft".'
Freedland belittled Labour's John McDonnell for supposedly turning a blind eye to the facts of the election:
'When the best that shadow chancellor John McDonnell can offer is that the party has not been completely wiped out, you glimpse the scale of the disaster.'
But Corbyn and his team do not dispute the mammoth task that lies ahead if success at the General Election on June 8 is to be achieved. And, unlike Freedland, McDonnell has rightly pointed to the role of the media in blocking fair and open debate which is, we are so often told, a prerequisite for genuine democracy:
'We expect all the usual abuse and bias from the Mail and Sun, but the Guardian and BBC are just as biased, but in a more subtle way.'
In a piece titled, 'The media are trying to destroy Jeremy Corbyn,' McDonnell expanded about the press coverage he and Corbyn had received during the Labour leadership campaign:
'None of them, except the Morning Star, supported us. Even the liberal left Guardian opposed us and undermined us at every opportunity.' (Our emphasis)
'It can sound like we're paranoid but the reality is that the treatment Jeremy has had across the media has been appalling. It's the worst any politician has been treated. The problem with the BBC and other broadcasters is that because of the cut backs that have gone on with journalists, they are taking their stories from newspapers rather than investigating and reporting for themselves and therefore the bias of the press infects the broadcast media too... It's an object lesson about the establishment using its power in the media to try and destroy an individual and what he stands for.'
As we saw above, there is ample evidence of this vitriolic media opposition towards Corbyn and what he stands for. But Freedland, a well-rewarded journalist with a typically complacent liberal Guardian/BBC worldview, has no interest or incentive in seriously exploring this 'savage campaign'. The disdain, indeed contempt, for socialism in Guardian/BBC circles has been made ever more apparent by the direct threat posed by a Corbyn-led Labour party.
No wonder, then, that historian Mark Curtis, author of important books on UK foreign policy including 'Web of Deceit' and 'Unpeople', described Freedland's article as 'a visceral hate-piece'. There were so many possibilities for the most ridiculous or laughable lines from Freedland. Curtis proposed this one:
'Having finally won control of the Labour party after three decades of Stakhanovite effort, what radical programme have these great revolutionaries pledged to the nation? Four extra bank holidays.'
One of our readers, Rob Newton, begged to differ with Curtis, nominating these lines instead:
'Corbyn's defenders will blame the media, but what was striking about these groups was that few of the participants ever bought a paper and they seldom watched a TV bulletin.'
As Newton pointed out, Freedland was apparently proposing a remarkable phenomenon of 'opinions informed by osmosis'. Or is it a complete coincidence that people might believe Corbyn is supposedly 'unfit' to be Prime Minister after nearly two years of the 'mainstream' media constantly hyping this 'truth'?
But what about these lines?
'Blaming others won't do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result.'
This is also surely a strong candidate for most risible comment. There is the added irony that Freedland has completely buried the role of his own newspaper in opposing Corbyn from the very moment he ran for the Labour leadership. To not even mention this fact, is to betray the intellectual dishonesty at the heart of Freedland's 'analysis'. He even makes a ludicrous claim for Tony Blair's 'leftwing' credentials:
'Corbyn and McDonnell's programme includes nothing remotely as leftwing as, say, the £5bn windfall tax on the utilities promised, and implemented, 20 years ago by the supposed evil neoliberal Tony Blair.'
It appears that Freedland is just not ready to let go of one of his lifetime heroes. Then again, it seems that hardly a week goes by without the Guardian wheeling out the blood-soaked war criminal to promote the former PM's views; not least if it means another chance to try to land a punch on Corbyn.
Ironically, just a few days after Freedland's egregious article was published, his erstwhile colleague Roy Greenslade, the Guardian's former media commentator, now Professor of Journalism at City University London, had a generally good piece titled, 'Prince and commoner: one rule for Philip and another for Jeremy'. Greenslade rightly noted that:
'Mainstream media as a whole took its gloves off and Corbyn's electoral hopes have been doomed from day one. He was "a great leap backwards", said the Mail. Beware this "absurd Marxist", said the Express, while the Daily Telegraph referred to his "divisive ideology" and "atavistic hostility to wealth and success". And the Sun? It just called him "bonkers". There was scepticism too from the liberal left. The Independent thought he would not persuade middle England to accept his policies. Neither the Daily Mirror nor the Guardian greeted him with open arms.'
'the overall anti-Corbyn agenda, repeated week upon week, month after month, was one that broadcasters were unable to overlook, despite their belief in balance and adherence to impartiality. News bulletin reports reflected the headlines. Current affairs programmes picked up on the themes. That's how media narratives are constructed.
'Aside from a general antagonism towards his brand of socialist politics and the gleeful exploration of internal party dissension, overlapping themes of inconsistency, incompetence and incoherence have emerged.'
'In such a climate, was anyone in the least bit surprised by Labour being stuffed in the local elections?'
This was a rare example of honest commentary in stark contrast to the Guardian's shameful campaign against Corbyn (which has appalled many of their readers). Inevitably, Greenslade did not go anywhere near far enough in acknowledging his old paper's endless attacks on Corbyn. To say merely that the Guardian did not greet Corbyn with 'open arms' was conspicuously mealy-mouthed in an otherwise admirable piece. But, to his credit, at least Greenslade recognises a real media phenomenon that his ex-colleague Freedland seems desperate to bury.
'Here's a response to the latest attempt by @medialens to dismiss the mounting evidence on the authorship of the #KhanSheikhoun attack'
This is a very serious misrepresentation of what we have argued in two media alerts. We made our position crystal-clear in the latest alert:
'We have no idea who was responsible for the mass killings in Idlib on April 4; we are not weapons experts. But it seems obvious to us that arguments and evidence offered by credible sources like Postol should at least be aired by the mass media.'
To interpret this as an attempt to 'dismiss the mounting evidence on the authorship of the #KhanSheikhoun attack' is to exactly reverse the truth, which is frankly outrageous from a high-profile Guardian journalist. We are precisely calling for journalists to not dismiss evidence on the authorship of the alleged attack. This is why we quoted investigative reporter Robert Parry:
'The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for "our side" and reject anything coming from the "other side," which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.'
We have most certainly not urged anyone to 'dismiss' the White House version of events. We have asked journalists to consider that version as well as evidence offered by credible critics like former UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, and by investigative journalists like Parry. We are clearly arguing in favour of inclusion of evidence, not exclusion. Monbiot has simply reversed the truth. In an expanded version of his tweeted response titled, 'Disavowal', he writes:
'There's an element on the left that seems determined to produce a mirror image of the Washington Consensus. Just as the billionaire press and Western governments downplay and deny the crimes of their allies, so this element downplays and denies the crimes of the West's official enemies.'
We have no interest in downplaying or denying any crimes. We hold no candle whatever for Assad or Putin, as we held no candle for Milosevic, Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein. We are simply urging journalists to consider both 'Washington Consensus' arguments and serious counter-arguments offered by credible sources. Monbiot writes:
'The pattern is always the same. They ignore a mountain of compelling evidence and latch onto one or a few contrarians who tell them what they want to hear (a similar pattern to the 9/11 conspiracy theories, and to climate change denial). The lastest [sic] example is an "alert" published by an organisation called Media Lens, in response to a tweet of mine.'
Our latest alert was not 'in response' to Monbiot's tweet; it was in response to Professor Postol's analysis challenging a White House report on the alleged attacks in Idlib. We simply used Monbiot's tweet as a typical example indicating what we described as the 'corporate media zeitgeist'.
Is it reasonable to describe Postol, one of the world's 'leading weapons experts', according to the New York Times, as a 'contrarian'? Is Hans Blix, who led the weapons inspections team in Iraq in 2002-2003, a 'contrarian'? How about former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who was 100% vindicated by the failure to find WMD in Iraq? Can Noam Chomsky also be dismissed as merely a 'contrarian' following a 'pattern' which is 'always the same'? Chomsky commented recently:
'Well, there are some interesting questions there -- you can understand why Assad would have been pretty crazy [to provoke a US intervention] because they're winning the war. The worst thing for him is to bring the United States in. So why would he turn to a chemical weapons attack? You can imagine that a dictator with just local interests might do it, maybe if he thought he had a green light. But why would the Russians allow it? It doesn't make any sense. And in fact, there are some questions about what happened, but there are some pretty credible people -- not conspiracy types -- people with solid intelligence credentials that say it didn't happen.
'Lawrence Wilkerson said that the US intelligence picked up a plane and followed that it probably hit an Al-Qaeda warehouse which had some sort of chemical weapon stored in it and they spread. I don't know. But it certainly calls for at least an investigation. And those are not insignificant people [challenging the official narrative].'
We are saying no more or less than this – it calls for at least an investigation.
Chomsky pointed to comments made by Wilkerson, former chief of staff to General Colin Powell, in a recent interview on the Real News Network:
'I personally think the provocation was a Tonkin Gulf incident..... Most of my sources are telling me, including members of the team that monitors global chemical weapons –including people in Syria, including people in the US Intelligence Community–that what most likely happened ...was that they hit a warehouse that they had intended to hit...and this warehouse was alleged to have to [sic] ISIS supplies in it, and... some of those supplies were precursors for chemicals..... conventional bombs hit the warehouse, and due to a strong wind, and the explosive power of the bombs, they dispersed these ingredients and killed some people.'
There is also the collective judgement of 20 former members of the US Intelligence Community, the Steering Group of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity:
'Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian "chemical weapons attack." Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.....This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important –what they appear to believe happened.'
Monbiot's 'one or a few contrarians' include all of the above, plus journalists John Pilger, Jonathan Cook, Peter Hitchens, Gareth Porter, Philip Giraldi, and others. They also include Piers Robinson, Professor of Politics, Society and Political Journalism at the University of Sheffield, who responded to our request for a comment:
'Monbiot supports the official narrative that the Assad regime is responsible for the April 4 event when it is alleged that Assad's forces launched a chemical weapon attack on civilians. He is presenting this as factually correct even though some credible commentators have raised questions regarding these claims and whilst there remains a lack of compelling evidence. In a recent posting Monbiot quotes recent French intelligence service claims regarding Assad's guilt in this matter.
'The problem here is that there are substantial grounds for remaining cautious of official claims. It is no secret that Western governments and key allies of theirs (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) have been seeking the overthrow of Assad for many years now. Indeed, the recently published Chilcot Inquiry, in section 3.1, revealed discussions between Blair and Bush which indicate that Syria was considered a potential target straight after 9/11. Given these objectives it is entirely plausible that Western intelligence services might be manipulating information so as to generate the impression that the Assad regime is responsible. Indeed, this kind of propaganda was well documented in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq when weak intelligence was used by US and British politicians to justify their certainty that Iraq possessed WMD. These are all very good reasons for journalists and commentators to ask challenging questions rather than to dismiss out of hand any such attempts in the way Monbiot does.' (Email to Media Lens, May 3, 2017)
Tim Hayward, Professor of Environmental Political Theory at Edinburgh University, has also responded to Monbiot's piece here:
'There are serious unsettled questions about every aspect of the incident, not only the anomalies concerning time of incident, identity of victims, causes of death, role of White Helmets, and about whose interests it served, but also concerning the forensic evidence itself.'
'In a tweeted response, he repeated his opinion that people like me, who question it, are denying a mountain of evidence.
'So to state a point that should not need stating: to question is not to deny – although nor is it to affirm. It is to seek knowledge and understanding. Being less impressed than George by the quantity of data presented as evidence, I have only ever commented on its quality.'
Hayward adds that in Monbiot's latest post: 'he has entrenched more deeply his defence of the NATO narrative'.
Monbiot says 'the pattern is always the same'. In fact, there is indeed a pattern of 'mainstream' media insisting on the need for war in response to unproven claims that are often later debunked. We gave several examples in our first alert on the alleged chemical weapons attacks in Idlib. It is absurd for Monbiot to wearily dismiss our 'pattern', when our scepticism over claims made on Iraq and Libya - and numerous other issues, over many years - has so obviously been justified. Again, our problem is with the refusal of 'mainstream' media to report or discuss the opinions of credible experts challenging government claims. Back to Monbiot:
'As it happens, just as Media Lens published its article, the French intelligence agency released a new report, which adds substantially to the growing – and, you would hope, un-ignorable – weight of evidence strongly suggesting that the Assad government was responsible: http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/syria/events/article/chemical-attack-in-syria-national-evaluation-presented-by-jean-marc-ayrault
'Doubtless the French government will now be added to the list of conspirators.'
We have not argued for any kind of conspiracy – perhaps the US, UK and French governments all agree because they have seen the same evidence and are correct in their apportioning of blame. We don't know; we are not weapons experts. Our point is that if journalists like Monbiot are serious about establishing the truth, they will test the French government and other claims against the arguments and evidence offered by dissidents. They will consider the different claims, and come to some kind of informed conclusion. What is not acceptable is that journalists should simply accept as Truth arguments made by Western governments openly seeking regime change in Syria and that have a spectacular track record of lying about claims supposedly justifying war.
'For the record, I oppose Western military intervention in Syria. I believe it is likely only to make a dreadful situation worse. I believe that the best foreign governments can do at the moment is to provide humanitarian relief, seek to broker negotiated settlements and accept refugees from the horrors inflicted by all sides in that nation.
'I have no agenda here other than to ensure that the reality suffered by the people of Khan Sheikhoun is not denied. The survivors of the chemical weapons attack are among the key witnesses to the fact that the weapons were delivered by air – it is their testimony as well as that of investigators that is being dismissed by people who would prefer to deny that the Assad government could have been responsible.'
Again, we are not arguing for any evidence or testimony to be 'dismissed'. We are arguing for counter-arguments to be admitted and considered by a press that is supposed to be objective, neutral and fair. Monbiot adds:
'When people allow geopolitical considerations to displace both a reasoned assessment of the evidence and a principled humanitarianism, they mirror the doctrines of people such as Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair. The victims become an abstraction, a political tool whose purpose is to serve an agenda. That this agenda stands in opposition to the objectives of people like Kissinger and Blair does not justify the exercise.'
This is really outrageous. We are not mirroring, but exactly opposing, the positions adopted by the likes of Kissinger and Blair. They, of course, were strongly against fair consideration of all the available evidence. Blair, for example, did everything he could to manufacture a case for war on Iraq by manipulating and hyping evidence, and by keeping evidence exposing his fake case for war from public view. In responding to Monbiot, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook is able to understand the point that somehow eludes Monbiot:
'We need more debate about the evidence, not less of it. Postol, Blix and Ritter may be wrong. But they should have a fair hearing and their arguments should be fully aired in the mainstream – especially, in supposedly liberal media outlets like the Guardian. Anyone who wants to understand what happened in Idlib must also want a vigorous and open debate that most members of the public will have access to.' (Our emphasis)
'The implications should be obvious. If we deny crimes against humanity, or deny the evidence pointing to the authorship of these crimes, we deny the humanity of the victims. Aren't we supposed to be better than this? If we do not support the principle of universalism – human rights and justice for everyone, regardless of their identity or the identity of those who oppress them – what are we for?'
We agree but for reasons Monbiot would probably not understand. When we admit only the view of Western governments and agencies supporting their position, and ignore the evidence of courageous whistleblowers and dissidents, we are risking the lives of people in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. When those of us promoting inclusion of evidence are smeared as 'deniers', then we are in a sorry state indeed. Asking awkward questions is not a Thought Crime.
A few years ago, Monbiot had what he believed was a brilliant, revelatory insight: that the left is marred by a 'malign intellectual subculture', comprised of Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger and others, including us, that is as blinkered and intellectually dishonest as the 'libertarian right'. The left also sees only what it wants to see. Monbiot was able to grasp this because, as he says:
'I've long prided myself on being able to handle more reality than most...'
The perfect irony is that, to cling to this view of the 'malign' subculture, Monbiot has had to turn his own blinkered eye to the many times the left's sceptical response to state-corporate claims justifying war has been vindicated. Saddam Hussein did not 'expel' weapons inspectors prior to bombing in December 1998, as claimed. He did not deliberately attempt to worsen the effects of sanctions by obstructing UN food supplies. He was not involved in the September 11 attacks and did not have links to al-Qaeda. He did not attempt to hide WMD that he did not have. Gaddafi did not fuel mass rape with Viagra, he did not use African mercenaries, and there is no evidence that he was planning a massacre in Benghazi. The 'pattern' of the left questioning these claims is something to celebrate, not disavow.
DE and DC
It is hard to believe that just three weeks ago the entire corporate media was in uproar over Syria; specifically, about the need to 'do something' in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib, Syria, on April 4. Guardian commentator George Monbiot summed up the corporate media zeitgeist:
'Do those who still insist Syrian govt didn't drop chemical weapons have any idea how much evidence they are denying?'
Monbiot linked to evidence supplied by Bellingcat, an organisation hosted by Eliot Higgins. In a 2014 letter to the London Review of Books, Richard Lloyd and Ted Postol, described by the New York Times as 'leading weapons experts', dismissed Higgins as 'a blogger who, although he has been widely quoted as an expert in the American mainstream media, has changed his facts every time new technical information has challenged his conclusion that the Syrian government must have been responsible for the sarin attack [in Ghouta, August 2013]. In addition, the claims that Higgins makes that are correct are all derived from our findings, which have been transmitted to him in numerous exchanges'.
Professor Postol, a professor emeritus of science, technology, and national-security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has an impressive record of fearlessly debunking propaganda. For example, the Pentagon declared the Patriot missile system no less than 98% successful at intercepting and destroying Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War. After careful examination, Postol found that the Patriot's success rate was rather less impressive:
'It became clear that it wasn't even close to intercepting any targets, let alone some targets.' (Postol, quoted, Great Military Blunders, Channel 4, March 2, 2000)
Postol has now challenged a White House report on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib. He notes:
'The only source the document cites as evidence that the attack was by the Syrian government [air force] is the crater it claims to have identified on a road in the North of Khan Shaykhun.'
But Postol claims that the White House's photographic evidence 'clearly indicates that the munition was almost certainly placed on the ground with an external detonating explosive on top of it that crushed the container so as to disperse the alleged load of sarin'.
'I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.
'No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report... was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.'
Postol's conclusion could hardly be more damning:
'I have worked with the intelligence community in the past, and I have grave concerns about the politicization of intelligence that seems to be occurring with more frequency in recent times – but I know that the intelligence community has highly capable analysts in it. And if those analysts were properly consulted about the claims in the White House document they would have not approved the document going forward.'
'We again have a situation where the White House has issued an obviously false, misleading and amateurish intelligence report.'
Postol recently told The Nation:
'What I think is now crystal clear is that the White House report was fabricated and it certainly did not follow the procedures it claimed to employ.'
'My best guess at the moment is that this was an extremely clumsy and ill-conceived attempt to cover up the fact that Trump attacked Syria without any intelligence evidence that Syria was in fact the perpetrator of the attack.... It may be that the White House staff was worried that this could eventually come out—a reckless president acting without regard to the nation's security, risking an inadvertent escalation and confrontation with Russia, and a breakdown in cooperation with Russia that would cripple our efforts to defeat the Islamic State.
'If that is not an impeachable offense, then I do not know what is.'
Robert Parry, an investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, comments:
'On April 11, five days after Trump's decision to attack the Syrian airbase, Trump's White House released a four-page "intelligence assessment" that offered another alleged motivation, Khan Sheikhoun's supposed value as a staging area for a rebel offensive threatening government infrastructure. But that offensive had already been beaten back and the town was far from the frontlines.
'In other words, there was no coherent motive for Assad to have dropped sarin on this remote town. There was, however, a very logical reason for Al Qaeda's jihadists to stage a chemical attack and thus bring pressure on Assad's government. (There's also the possibility of an accidental release via a conventional government bombing of a rebel warehouse or from the rebels mishandling a chemical weapon – although some of the photographic evidence points more toward a staged event.)'
We have no idea who was responsible for the mass killings in Idlib on April 4; we are not weapons experts. But it seems obvious to us that arguments and evidence offered by credible sources like Postol should at least be aired by the mass media. As Parry writes:
'The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for "our side" and reject anything coming from the "other side," which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.'
Our search of the Lexis database (April 26) finds that no UK newspaper article has mentioned the words 'Postol' and 'Syria' in the last month. In our April 12 media alert, we noted that former and current UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix, Scott Ritter and Jerry Smith, as well as former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi, had all questioned the official narrative of what happened on April 4. Lexis finds these results for UK national newspapers:
'Blix' and 'Syria' = 0 hits
'Ritter' and 'Syria' = 0 hits
'Jerry Smith' and Syria = 1 hit
'Giraldi' and 'Syria' = 0 hits.
It is remarkable that, even after the deceptions of Iraq and Libya, journalists are so unwilling to report credible evidence challenging the US government's version of events. This is made even more shocking by the fact that Trump has not, of course, been treated with the respect and deference usually reserved for US presidents. Rather, he has been subjected to a barrage of relentless and damning criticism. And yet, in response to his illegal bombing of a foreign country, the press has not only dropped its usual criticism, but showered Trump with praise while suppressing reasoned criticism. Yet more evidence that corporate journalism is dangerously corrupted by political and economic forces demanding Perpetual War.
One of the longstanding functions of the 'mainstream' media is to channel government ideology about who are 'the Good Guys' - that's 'us' and our allies - and who are the 'Bad Guys' – 'Putin's Russia', 'Saddam's Iraq', 'Chavez's Venezuela', 'Gaddafi's Libya' (until rehabilitated for a while by Blair) and North Korea.
Consider a recent BBC News at Ten segment on the US, China and North Korea that began with presenter Huw Edwards saying:
'President Trump has said the United States will "solve" the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme. In an interview with the Financial Times, the president said the US would act alone if China would not intervene. He made his comments ahead of a visit to the US by the Chinese president later this week. Our North America editor, Jon Sopel, is at the White House.
'And, Jon, what does this tell us then about President Trump's approach to this upcoming visit?'
Jon Sopel: 'Well, Huw, for all the talk of surveillance and phone tapping and wire taps and Russia, this is the major strategic national security issue, at least as far as this White House is concerned. What to do about North Korea and their growing ability, it seems, to launch a nuclear missile that could hit the west coast of America.' (April 3, 2017; kindly captured and uploaded to YouTube for us by Steve Ennever)
As we will see, far from being responsible, 'impartial' journalism, this was blatant propaganda, depicting North Korea as a serious threat to the United States, capable of hitting California with a nuclear missile.
Consider, by contrast, a careful analysis by the US writer Adam Johnson in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting last month.
Johnson noted that:
'Tensions between the United States and North Korea are making their way back into the news after a series of missile tests and presidential Twitter threats. Meanwhile, a conservative think tank—previously thought all but dead—has seen a resurgence in relevancy, thanks to its alignment with Donald Trump. The result is that the Heritage Foundation has provided much of the narrative backbone for North Korean/US relations in the age of Trump, making the rounds in dozens of media articles and television appearances.'
'One key feature of reports on North Korea's nuclear weapons program is the Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map that shows an entirely hypothetical, not-yet-proven-to-have-been-built intercontinental ballistic missile hitting the US mainland.'
Two types of missile, known as KN-14 and KN-08, are depicted in media reports as capable of reaching the United States.
Johnson highlighted the crucial fact that:
'These missiles have not been tested by North Korea'.
In other words, the media have been publishing 'misleading' maps that 'buried the fact that the range indicating the US could be nuked had not, in fact, been demonstrated.'
Recall Sopel's words:
'What to do about North Korea and their growing ability, it seems, to launch a nuclear missile that could hit the west coast of America.'
The sole extent of Sopel's journalistic scrutiny was to insert two words, 'it seems', in a report blatantly boosting the US propaganda message of North Korea as a nuclear 'threat' capable of attacking the west coast of the United States.
As for the right-wing Heritage Foundation, Johnson raised questions about its funding ties to the South Korean government and to the US weapons industry:
'In the late '90s, it was criticized for accepting $1 million in funding directly from the South Korean government. A 2015 report in The Intercept (9/15/15) showed the cozy relationship between the foundation and military contractor Lockheed Martin, with Heritage building the requisite marketing collateral to lobby Congress to expand the F-22 program, urging the purchase of 20 planes for resale to Japan, Australia and "possibly South Korea."'
He also points out that:
On April 4, 2017, we emailed Sopel (email@example.com):
Dear Jon Sopel,
On last night's BBC News at Ten you reported that the White House is concerned by 'North Korea and their growing ability, it seems, to launch a nuclear missile that could hit the west coast of America.'
But surely responsible journalism should include scrutiny of government claims, rather than channelling them uncritically to your audience? Indeed, BBC editorial guidelines say that journalists must show 'appropriate scrutiny... to those who are in government, or hold power and responsibility'. You have not done so here.
By contrast, US media analyst Adam Johnson has examined the claims surrounding the supposed threat posed by North Korea's missile programme. Many of the lurid claims and 'scary nuke maps' originate with the right-wing Heritage Foundation which has (or had) funding links to South Korea and US military contractor Lockheed Martin.
Crucially, Johnson notes of the missiles that are depicted as being able to hit the west coast of America:
'These missiles have not been tested by North Korea'.
Even a BBC News article concludes of the claim for long-range nuclear missiles:
'experts have cast doubts on this given the lack of evidence.'
Why did your report not include these balancing facts and concerns?
David Cromwell & David Edwards
Editors, Media Lens
Sopel did not reply.
Current news coverage about North Korea omits significant history. The fact that the United States devastated the Korean peninsula in the 1950s is regularly buried. US General Douglas MacArthur testified to Congress in 1951 that:
'The war in Korea has already destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.' ('Napalm – An American Biography' by Robert Neer, Belknap Press, 2013, p. 100)
US Air Force General Curtis LeMay wrote:
'We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both...we killed off over a million civilians and drove several million more from their homes, with the inevitable additional tragedies bound to ensue.' (Ibid., p. 100)
All this is regularly forgotten in news reports about North and South Korea today. Instead, BBC News and other outlets dutifully report, without blinking, that:
'US Vice-President Mike Pence has said his country's "era of strategic patience" with North Korea is over.'
One BBC News article stated:
'North Korea has long been seen to use provocation and brinkmanship to raise tension for its own strategic advantage.'
That this sentence applies to the United States in global affairs, where it goes beyond brinkmanship into actual full-scale invasion and war, is an irony that will not be lost on many readers.
As if on cue, the US Navy has just provoked North Korea by deploying a strike force, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, in its direction. The Guardian said this was 'to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula'. Why the US should provide 'a presence' is not questioned; it is simply taken for granted that Washington is the world's policeman. The Guardian also noted casually that the recent:
'US strike against a Syrian base is also being seen as a warning to North Korea'.
Again, it is just a given that the US is entitled to make such threats.
In an interview with Democracy Now!, Noam Chomsky sketched the more recent history of US - North Korea relations that is also routinely missing from 'mainstream' media reporting:
'1994, [Bill] Clinton made—established what was called the Framework Agreement with North Korea. North Korea would terminate its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. would reduce hostile acts. It more or less worked, and neither side lived up to it totally, but, by 2000, North Korea had not proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. George W. Bush came in and immediately launched an assault on North Korea—you know, "axis of evil," sanctions and so on. North Korea turned to producing nuclear weapons. In 2005, there was an agreement between North Korea and the United States, a pretty sensible agreement. North Korea agreed to terminate its development of nuclear weapons. In return, it called for a nonaggression pact. So, stop making hostile threats, relief from harsh sanctions, and provision of a system to provide North Korea with low-enriched uranium for medical and other purposes—that was the proposal. George Bush instantly tore it to shreds. Within days, the U.S. was imposing—trying to disrupt North Korean financial transactions with other countries through Macau and elsewhere. North Korea backed off, started building nuclear weapons again. I mean, maybe you can say it's the worst regime in history, whatever you like, but they have been following a pretty rational tit-for-tat policy.'
Thus, despite standard media misrepresentations to the contrary, North Korea has been following 'a pretty rational policy' in the face of 'hostile acts' and 'harsh sanctions' from, in particular, the US. You would never know that if you relied solely on 'mainstream' media such as BBC News.
DC and DE
As ever, it didn't take long for them to make up their minds. Roy Greenslade reports in the Guardian on the media reaction to Donald Trump's bombardment of Syria in 'retaliation' (USA Today) for the alleged chemical weapons attacks on Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria:
'There was an identifiable theme in almost every leading article and commentary: "Well done Donald, but ... " The "buts" amounted to eloquent judgments on the president's character, conveying explicit messages of disquiet and distrust.'
In other words, almost every leading article and commentary in every UK newspaper supported Trump's blitz.
Much the same was true in the United States where Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that of 46 major editorials, only one, in the Houston Chronicle, opposed the attack. FAIR's Adam Johnson reported:
'83% of major editorial boards supported Trump's Syria strikes, 15% were ambiguous and 2% - or one publication - opposed.'
The support for Trump's attack was of course based on instant certainty that Assad had deployed chemical weapons in Idlib. Barely two days after the alleged attacks, a leader in The Times commented:
'Assad's latest atrocity, the dropping of several hundred kilograms of toxic sarin gas on civilians, including children, is a breach of international law...'
An Independent leader one day later titled, 'The US strike against Assad was justified', explained:
'The use of chemical weapons is a special crime. It is prohibited by international law. It follows that the sarin gas attack in Idlib, Syria, on Tuesday, ought to have consequences.'
The editors noted that 'we are not in a position to be completely certain about Mr Assad's complicity in this case' - but the attack was 'justified' anyway.
A confused leader in the Sunday Telegraph observed that 'the alleged use of chemical weapons last week demanded a reaction'. Does an allegation demand a reaction? In reality, the paper waved away any doubts:
'Inaction against Assad would mean tolerance of a war crime.'
This near-universal support came despite the fact, as Elizabeth Jackson noted on Australia's ABC website, that 'international law experts today are warning that the US strikes were, in fact, illegal'. Ben Saul, professor of international law at the University of Sydney, commented:
'It's pretty clear that the strikes are illegal under international law, because they're not a use of force in self-defence, or with the authorisation of the Security Council, which are the only two circumstances in which the use of military force is legal under the United Nations Charter of 1945.'
'So, international law very tightly regulates the use of military force, and using violence to punish another country is simply not permitted under international law. Syria hasn't attacked another country.'
We looked in vain for scepticism about the pretext for bombing from the handful of dissidents at the 'liberal left' of the corporate 'spectrum'. The Guardian's Owen Jones wrote of 'the gassing of little kids who suffered unbearable torture as they were murdered by the Assad regime'. No doubt there, then. Jones's dissident colleague at the Guardian, George Monbiot, tweeted:
'We can be 99% sure the chemical weapons attack came from Syrian govt'
Senior Guardian columnist and former comment editor Jonathan Freedland wrote:
'And we almost certainly know who did it. Every sign points to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.'
Freedland dismissed alternative explanations with the familiar mixture of certainty and contempt that is such a feature of Western warmongering:
'Sure, Damascus blamed the rebels who hold the town of Khan Sheikhoun, as they always do. And, yes, Assad's enablers and accomplices in Moscow offered a variation on that theme, saying that Syrian planes had struck a rebel stockpile of nerve agents, accidentally releasing them into the atmosphere.'
On April 5, the day after the alleged attack, Democracy Now! led with a headline that appeared to endorse the 'mainstream' view:
'"The Assad Regime is a Moral Disgrace": Noam Chomsky on Ongoing Syrian War'
Chomsky doubtless had nothing to do with a headline that flew in the face of his astute observation on the need for caution in criticising Official Enemies:
'Suppose I criticise Iran. What impact does that have? The only impact it has is in fortifying those who want to carry out policies I don't agree with, like bombing.'
That was certainly true on April 5, two days before Trump bombed Syria at a time when US-UK media were executing a classic propaganda blitz.
The day before Trump's attack, the Stop the War Coalition, no less, affirmed that there had indeed been a chemical weapons attack in Idlib 'which appears to have been carried out by Assad's forces'.
Remarkably, given the extent to which the media's 'pussy-grabbing' bete orange has been damned as an existential, Hitlerian threat to the world, corporate journalists actually egged Trump on to wage war. A Guardian piece by Warren Murray noted:
'A military intervention would mean going directly up against Vladimir Putin, who is fighting on the side of Assad, and probably killing Russians. But failing to act [violently] would look weak.'
Julian Borger and Spencer Ackerman wrote:
'Trump has consistently argued that the failure to deliver on the "red line" threat projected US weakness. But it was far from clear on Wednesday what action his own administration would take now that Assad had crossed "many, many lines".'
Also in the Guardian, former Spectator editor, Matthew d'Ancona went even further in making 'a strong [sic], principled [sic] case for Britain to offer every form of assistance: diplomatic, humanitarian and – yes – military' to Trump's attack on Syria.
Ironically, the only real scepticism on the case for war came from conservative commentators in the Tory press: Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail. Hitchens was asked if he had been invited by the BBC or Sky to share his views. He replied:
'My phone grows more silent, the more I oppose foreign wars.'
So what is objective, impartial journalism?
The standard view was offered in 2001 by the BBC's then political editor, Andrew Marr:
'When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.' (Marr, The Independent, January 13, 2001)
And by Nick Robinson describing his role as ITN political editor during the Iraq war:
'It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking... That is all someone in my sort of job can do.' (Robinson, '"Remember the last time you shouted like that?" I asked the spin doctor', The Times, July 16, 2004)
'Just the facts, Ma'am', as Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi wryly describes this take on journalism.
It is why, if you ask a BBC or ITN journalist to choose between describing the Iraq war as 'a mistake' or 'a crime', they will refuse to answer on the grounds that they are required to be 'objective' and 'impartial'.
But actually there are at least five good reasons for rejecting this argument as fundamentally bogus and toxic.
First, it turns out that most journalists are only nervous of expressing personal opinions when criticising the powerful. Andrew Marr can't call the Iraq war a 'crime', but he can say that the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 meant that Tony Blair 'stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result' (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003). Nick Robinson can report that 'hundreds of [British] servicemen are risking their lives to bring peace and security to the streets of Iraq'. (ITN, September 8, 2003)
The 'Wham, bam, thank you, Ma'am' version of 'impartiality', perhaps.
Journalists are allowed to lose their 'objectivity' this way, but not that way - not the way that offends the powerful. Australian media analyst Sharon Beder offers a further example of the same double standards:
'Balance means ensuring that statements by those challenging the establishment are balanced with statements by those whom they are criticising, though not necessarily the other way round.' (Sharon Beder, 'Global Spin', Green Books, 1997, p.203)
The second problem with the no-opinion argument is that it is not possible to hide opinions by merely 'sticking to the facts'. The facts we highlight and ignore, the tone and language we use to stress or downplay those facts, inevitably reflect personal opinion.
The third problem is indicated by the title of historian Howard Zinn's autobiography: 'You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train'. Even if we believe it is possible to suppress our personal opinion in reporting facts, we will still be taking sides. Zinn explained:
'As I told my students at the start of my courses, "You can't be neutral on a moving train." The world is already moving in certain directions - many of them are horrifying. Children are going hungry, people are dying in wars. To be neutral in such a situation is to collaborate with what is going on.' ('The Zinn Reader', Seven Stories Press, Howard Zinn, 1997, p.17)
Matt Taibbi gives a striking example:
'Try as hard as you want, a point of view will come forward in your story. Open any newspaper from the Thirties or Forties, check the sports page; the guy who wrote up the box score, did he have a political point of view? He probably didn't think so. But viewed with 70 or 80 years of hindsight, covering a baseball game where blacks weren't allowed to play without mentioning the fact, that's apology and advocacy. Any journalist with half a brain knows that the biases of our time are always buried in our coverage...'
A fourth, closely-related problem is that not taking sides - for example against torture, or against big countries exploiting small countries, or against selling arms to tyrants, or against stopping rather than exacerbating climate change - is monstrous. A doctor treating a patient is biased in seeking to identify and solve a health problem. No one would argue that the doctor should stand neutrally between sickness and health. Is it not self-evident that we should all be biased against suffering?
Finally, why does the journalistic responsibility to suppress personal opinion trump the responsibility to resist crimes of state for which we are accountable as democratic citizens? If the British government was massacring British citizens, would journalists refuse to speak out? Why does the professional media contract outweigh the social contract? Journalists might respond that 'opinion-free' journalism is vital for a healthy democracy. But without dissent challenging open criminality, democracy quickly decays into tyranny. This is the case, for example, if we remain 'impartial' as our governments bomb, invade and kill 100,000s of people in foreign countries. A journalist who refuses even to describe the Iraq war as a crime is riding a cultural train that normalises the unthinkable. In the real world, journalistic 'impartiality' on Iraq helped facilitate Britain and the United States' subsequent crimes in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
This is the ugly absurdity of the innocent-looking idea that journalists' 'organs of opinion' can and should be removed.
So if we reject this flawed and immoral version of objectivity behind which so many corporate journalists hide, what then is objective journalism? Are we arguing for open bias, for a prejudice free-for-all disconnected from any attempt at fairness? Not at all.
The title of the editorial said it all:
'The Guardian view on George W Bush: a welcome return'
In a tongue-in-cheek, almost jovial, piece the Guardian unsubtly rehabilitated a man responsible for crimes that are among the most egregious in all history.
Bush was responsible for the destruction of an entire country, the killing of one million Iraqis, the wounding and displacement of countless millions more. The car bombs, the suicide bombs, the mass executions, the dead-of-night disappearances, the blow torch and electric drill tortures, the bombs in London and Madrid, the rise of Islamic State, and much, much more – they all began with George W. Bush.
But the Guardian japed:
'During his time in the White House, George W Bush was regarded as a warmonger and hardline conservative. As president he did an awful lot to polarise the country and was viewed as such a threat to world peace that when he left office the Nobel committee handed his successor the peace prize – for not being him.'
The piece continued:
'It says a lot about the United States that Mr Bush can be seen now as a paragon of virtue. He sounds a lot better out of office than in it.'
And so 'the 43rd US president should be applauded'.
Not a single syllable was uttered about his literally millions of victims.
It is unthinkable, of course, that the Guardian would 'welcome' the return of an Assad, or a Putin, or any Official Enemy, in this way. But it is 'normal' for a newspaper that tirelessly attempts to rehabilitate Bush's great partner in war crime, Tony Blair. One of the foundations of the 'mainstream's' Grand Propaganda Narrative is that some people are simply, somehow, permanent members of The Club – respectable, well-intentioned, fundamentally decent – where others are beyond the pale, to be reviled, abused, hunted and killed, if possible.
Historian Mark Curtis tweeted a link to the editorial:
'Perhaps a single article can define a newspaper. The Sun: Gotcha. The Mail: Migrant Scroungers. The Guardian: this...'
So how did the Guardian's progressive journalists respond?
'I don't agree with it.'
In June 2011, Monbiot was rather more forthright in using his Guardian column to identify and damn a 'malign intellectual subculture that seeks to excuse savagery by denying the facts' of the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda.
To a global audience, Monbiot named and shamed Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Peterson, John Pilger, and Media Lens as political commentators who 'take the unwarranted step of belittling... acts of genocide'.
In a stirring conclusion, Monbiot wrote:
'The rest of us should stand up for the victims, whoever they are, and confront those trying to make them disappear.'
See our discussion of these claims here.
We asked Monbiot about the need to 'confront' the Guardian now as it disappeared the victims of George Bush. He replied:
'You plainly believe there's no difference between not mentioning something and actively airbrushing it, as Herman/Peterson did.'
But in 2011, Monbiot of course made no such specious distinction when he insisted on the need to 'confront those trying to make' victims 'disappear'. As former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented on Twitter:
'Man of principle @GeorgeMonbiot suddenly lost for words as @guardian - his employer - glosses over Bush's crimes against humanity in Iraq'
A prime example of the kind of activist Monbiot was urging to 'confront' injustice and denial is his colleague at the Guardian, Owen Jones. In a rousing series of tweets in November 2014, Jones reported from a train carriage on what it means to walk the talk:
'Just told man to take his racism + get out of (packed) carriage after he threatened to "end" Indian bloke for disrespecting in "my" country'
How did the perp respond to the Guardian columnist's order to vacate the carriage?
'He legged it to the toilet. When he emerged he yelled "I'm not a racist by the way", and the carriage laughed'
What a fool! And what a contrast Jones paints to his own heroic actions. How did fellow passengers react?
'murmurs of "well said" to be fair. Wasn't bowled over though'
Alas, only the author came out of the incident with real credit - according to the author.
'John McDonnell [Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer] was right to swiftly force Naz Shah's resignation - but now the party has to suspend her.'
One day later, Jones added:
'Ken Livingstone has to be suspended from the Labour Party. Preferably before I pass out from punching myself in the face.'
Jones's response to the Guardian's rehabilitation of George Bush was rather different:
'The Trump calamity doesn't mean rehabilitating George W Bush, a man chiefly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and other horror'
There were no calls for the comment editor to be suspended, or for the editor to resign. In fact Jones made no mention of his employer and did not link to the editorial. Happily for the Guardian, many of his Twitter followers will have had no idea what he was on about.
The truth is that Guardian, Independent and BBC regulars never criticise their employers. But they do celebrate and defend them. Last December, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook challenged Monbiot on Twitter:
'Guardian, your employer, is precisely part of media problem. Why this argument is far from waste of energy. It's vital.'
'that's your view. I don't share it. Most of my work exposing corporate power has been through or with the Guardian.'
In March 2015, Jones tweeted:
'Incredible news that @KathViner is new Guardian editor! Nearly whooped in the quiet carriage. That's how excited I am.'
Spare a thought for Jones's fellow passengers. He certainly spared a thought for his outgoing boss:
'Like so many others, owe so much to Alan Rusbridger. The Guardian is a global force, and that's so much down to him. Surreal he's gone'
'Surreal he's going, that is. He's still the boss!'
After 18 months of turning a blind eye to the Guardian's relentless attack on Corbyn, both Jones and Monbiot have publicly dumped him. Jones told the Evening Standard last month:
'The Left has failed badly. I'd find it hard to vote for Corbyn.'
More recently, Jones plunged the knife in to the hilt.
Having completely ignored the media's anti-Corbyn campaign, Monbiot commented on Twitter:
'I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, but it has been one fiasco after another. I have now lost all faith.'
'I hoped Corbyn would be effective in fighting the government and articulating a positive alternative vision. Neither hope has materialised.'
The truth is that the 'free press' does not tolerate authentic dissent. In the final analysis, high-profile dissidents are salaried corporate employees. They can speak no more honestly about their employers, other potential employers, or the industry in general, than someone selling cars, computers or mobile phones.
The exalted status of our most famous 'left-leaning' media corporations is based on de facto censorship rather than truth-telling. After all, why would the public doubt the honesty of the Guardian or the Independent when they are essentially never subject to serious criticism? This matters because the role of the corporate media is not just one issue among many – it is the key issue determining how all other issues are communicated to a mass audience.
The result is devastating – empowered by their ill-deserved reputations, 'left-leaning' media in fact relentlessly agitate for wars in countries like Libya and Syria, relentlessly attack progressive voices challenging power and, worst of all, literally sell the high-tech, climate killing, corporate-led status quo as 'normal'.
Are we suggesting that writers of principle should resign from corporate media? Yes, it is time to stop pretending anything will ever be achieved by publishing radical journalism that will be used to draw readers into a moral and intellectual killing zone serving big business.
There are other alternatives now – it's time to boycott the corporate media, dump them in the dustbin of history, and build alternatives that will allow democracy and people to breathe.
In a recent media alert, we noted the occasional tell-tale signs of uncomfortable truths that slip through cracks in the propaganda façade of BBC News. Very occasionally, the propaganda nature is clearly highlighted and can be enjoyed for its directness and the flustered BBC response it provokes.
Such was the occasion last Friday (February 17) when the BBC's Justin Webb interviewed political journalist Peter Oborne live on BBC Radio 4 Today. It is fair to say Webb wasn't expecting what happened. His attempts to hide his discomfort by repeatedly laughing can be heard in this clip captured and uploaded to YouTube by Steve Ennever. We have provided a transcript in what follows.
Immediately before Oborne was interviewed, BBC North America correspondent Jon Sopel had delivered his verdict on US president Donald Trump's 'most extraordinary' press conference the previous day. (Sopel's radio contribution was summed up in a piece by him on the BBC News website). The BBC correspondent claimed that 'everything about reporting on this presidency is unexpected and unpredictable'.
Justin Webb then began his interview with Peter Oborne:
JW: 'What do you make of Trump last night?'
PO: 'Well, I thought it was great entertainment. And I have to say that I was listening to Mr Sopel there who reported the Blair years very enthusiastically, and he was accusing Donald Trump of all sorts of things which he never accused Blair of, and [Alistair] Campbell: he only took one line of argument, he excluded the hostile press, he was obsessed by the media. This just as much applied to the man that Mr Sopel admired so much when he reported it for the BBC, which was this sort of one-dimensional politics and obsession with the press. Welcome to what's been going on for the last twenty years. Nothing new.'
This was a brave opening gambit by Oborne. To directly challenge the propaganda stance of a BBC correspondent who had just been reporting – to declare that he 'reported the Blair years very enthusiastically' – was a remarkable breath of fresh air. Webb laughed in apparent disbelief at Oborne's criticism and hit back:
JW: 'Are you saying that...are you seriously arguing that Donald Trump is a kind of extension of Tony Blair?'
Webb's incredulous response reminded us of a 2004 BBC Newsnight interview, when anchor Jeremy Paxman commented to Noam Chomsky:
'You seem to be suggesting, or implying - perhaps I'm being unfair to you - but you seem to be implying there is some equivalence between democratically elected heads of state like George Bush or Prime Ministers like Tony Blair and regimes in places like Iraq.' (BBC Newsnight, May 21, 2004)
Likewise, in a 2001 BBC radio interview, an equally astonished Michael Buerk asked former UN assistant-secretary general Denis Halliday:
'You can't... you can't possibly draw a moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein and George Bush Senior, can you?'
Oborne was unfazed and rose to Webb's challenge:
PO: 'Well, what, the mendacity, the lying, the cheating, the obsession with the press. What's new, of course, is that it's much more entertainment. The Blair lot imposed this boring message. They just refused to... there was a ban on anybody saying or doing anything interesting. Now with Trump, at least he's off-message, he's real, it's actually happening, and you know BBC correspondents can sneer at it as much....'
JW [interrupting, incredulous] 'Well..., he wasn't sneering. He wasn't sneering. He was just reporting what actually happened.'
Webb's attempted defence of his colleague Jon Sopel was lame. Anyone who checks Sopel's remarks will see that he was not 'just reporting what actually happened'. Sopel's account was clearly coloured by his own prejudices.
Oborne reasonably countered that 'it was [sneering]'. He now removed his gloves altogether:
'The superficial, arrogant smugness with which he [Sopel] condemned the president, the democratically elected, by the way, I know you don't like elections much at the BBC...'
PO: '...democratically elected president of the United States of America.'
JW: 'We absolutely reported on his democratic election, and on his policies, and on what's happening. Are you seriously suggesting that the chaos of the Trump presidency, and his approach to the outside world is being got up by a media that don't like him? And actually behind the scenes, as he says, everything's running smoothly. Is that a serious position that a serious person can take?'
Oborne dismissed Webb's blather as a strawman argument:
PO: 'I didn't say any of those things. The point I was making was that the characteristics of the Trump presidency, and in particular its media handling, the attempt to side-line the press, the complete contempt for the truth, there's nothing new here. It happened with the Clinton years, it happened during the Blair years. Actually, it was worse during the Blair years, because the press was so reverential, and they sold us the lie about weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war. And then they sold us – Cameron, the inheritor of Blair – sold us the lie about Libya and that catastrophe in north Africa. And the press and the BBC cheered him along. They didn't question it and now that they've got somebody they don't like, they're going after him....'
PO: 'But when you had liberal leaders who you loved – Iraq, Libya and so forth – you cheered them on.'
This was all much too much for the 'neutral' BBC. Webb shut down the discussion:
JW: 'Well, I'm not sure they felt at the time they were necessarily cheered on. Certainly not the Blair government and the BBC. And indeed not this programme. But, erm, there you go. Peter Oborne, nice to talk to you, thank you.'
This was BBC-speak for: 'Get lost!'
Oborne was absolutely right to point to the media's complicit role in enabling the Iraq war and the destruction of Libya. He was also entirely justified in highlighting the media adulation that was showered on Blair; still noticeable at the Guardian, in particular, which is apparently unable to move on from its love affair with the war criminal. For Webb to chuckle his way through these uncomfortable truths says it all. The mocking disdain for the truth encapsulates the complacent, power-serving 'liberal' mindset that infests BBC News.
Mark Doran, one of our readers, noted afterwards on Twitter that Webb also laughed out loud with apparent incredulity during an interview with US journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald was challenging Webb's assertion that Edward Snowden had 'given away secrets that had been useful to people who want to do harm to other perfectly innocent people'. Greenwald responded: 'You just made that up', and proceeded to outline Webb's ignorance of the facts of Snowden's revelations.
As is typical for a high-profile BBC journalist, Webb has a long history of subservience to state power. In 2007, we discussed his three-part homage on BBC Radio 4 to the United States, the mythical 'shining city on a hill'. His paean to the US exposed the ideological blindness that holds sway at the BBC, smoothing over, or ignoring, the brutal realities of US power.
Ten years later, with everything that has happened since, our conclusion has only been confirmed: namely, that Justin Webb, Radio 4 Today editors and senior BBC professionals are doctrinal managers whose task is to deflect attention from the interests, goals and brutal consequences of Western power.
DC and DE
As corporate media continue to haemorrhage ad revenue to websites like Facebook, and credibility to social media activism, dissent seems to be increasingly viewed as a luxury the 'mainstream' can ill afford.
Where once a handful of dissidents was allowed to challenge the Grand Propaganda Narratives (GPN) of the day, modern leftists are tolerated only if they accept these narratives even as they talk radical change.
A Guardian regular who stands out in this regard is Paul Mason, formerly BBC Newsnight Business Editor and Channel 4 News Economics Editor. Promoted to prominence by the corporate system he ostensibly resists, Mason reinvented himself as a vocal left activist who strongly supports Jeremy Corbyn. Mason now has 377,000 followers on Twitter, an impressive total for a political commentator. And yet some of his views are incongruous to say the least.
In a Guardian piece this week, Mason focused on the latest North Korean missile test, which he declared 'a clear threat or a clear bluff... So the question for the world is: how do we contain the threat and detect the bluff?'
Mason was thus reinforcing the GPN that all problems are 'our' business, and that 'we' have the moral credibility to 'do something' about them. This despite 'our' appalling track record, recognised by Mason himself:
'We've been here before, of course, with Saddam Hussein in 2003. Then, the chemical weapons turned out to be a bluff and the biggest threat to world peace emanated from Washington and London.'
In other words, the same 'we' that needs to 'contain' the North Korean 'threat' to peace was itself the actual threat to peace in Iraq. Subsequent Western war crimes in Libya, Syria and Yemen suggest that little has changed.
In claiming that Saddam Hussein tried to 'bluff' the West on WMD, Mason reinforced the GPN that Iraq was more than just a wanton war of aggression. Instead, Western leaders were suckered by Saddam's suicidal braggadocio, by 'faulty' intelligence, and so on.
In an unpublished letter to the Guardian in response to Mason's piece, journalist Ian Sinclair wrote:
'In reality the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told ABC News in December 2002: "We don't have weapons of mass destruction. We don't have chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry". Hussein himself repeated this in February 2003, telling Tony Benn in an interview screened on Channel Four: "There is only one truth and therefore I tell you as I have said on many occasions before that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever".' (Email to Media Lens, February 16, 2017)
Not only did the Iraqi government not attempt a bluff, it was telling the truth.
Mason insisted that Britain should work to ensure that the response to North Korea is 'restrained, proportional and done through the UN security council'. But in claiming, as Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen burn, that the US-UK alliance might suddenly, somehow act multilaterally and responsibly - despite its track record of unilaterally pursuing self-interest at almost any human cost - he was promoting a GPN.
Are we able to prove the existence of a corporate media campaign to undermine British democracy? Media analysis is not hard science, but in this alert we provide compelling evidence that such a campaign does indeed exist.
Compare coverage of comments made on Syria by a spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in October 2016 and by UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson in January 2017.
There is little need for us to remind readers just how often Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad has been described as 'a monster' and 'a dictator' in the UK press. Assad has of course routinely been reviled as a tyrant and genocidal killer, compared with Hitler and held responsible, with Putin, for the mass killing and devastation in Syria. The role of the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others has often been ignored altogether.
Assad has been UK journalism's number one hate figure for years, on a par with earlier enemies like Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi (arguably, Assad is essentially the same archetypal 'Enemy' in the minds of many corporate journalists).
In December 2015, the Daily Telegraph reported that Boris Johnson accepted Assad was a monster, but that he had made a further remarkable comment:
'Let's deal with the Devil: we should work with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria.'
Johnson wrote that 'we cannot afford to be picky about our allies'. And so:
'Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site [Palmyra from occupation by Isis]? You bet I am.'
Seven months later, after he had been made UK foreign secretary, Johnson exactly reversed this position:
'I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power. The international community, including Russia, must be united on this.'
Six months further forward in time, in January 2017, Johnson's position flipped once again. The Independent reported:
'President Bashar al-Assad should be allowed to stand for election to remain in power in Syria, Boris Johnson has said in a significant shift of the Government's position.'
Johnson was not coy about admitting the reason for this further flip:
'I see downsides and I see risks in us going in, doing a complete flip flop, supporting the Russians, Assad. But I must also be realistic about the way the landscape has changed and it may be that we will have to think afresh about how to handle this.'
The changed 'landscape', of course, is a new Trump presidency that is famously opposed to Obama's war for regime change in Syria. The Mail reported how Johnson had recalled a trip to Baghdad after the Iraq war when a local Christian had told him:
'It is better sometimes to have a tyrant than not to have a ruler at all.'
Johnson's observation on this comment:
'There was wisdom... in what he said and that I'm afraid is the dilemma...'
When we at Media Lens have even highlighted the US-UK role in arming, funding and fighting the Syrian war, and have discussed the extent of US-UK media propaganda – while holding not even the tiniest candle for Assad – we have been crudely denounced as 'pro-Assad useful idiots', as 'just another leftist groupuscle shilling for tyrants' that 'defends repression by President Assad'.
Other commentators have suffered similar abuse for merely pointing out, as Patrick Cockburn recently noted in the London Review of Books, that 'fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda [on Syria] to a degree probably not seen since the First World War'.
Nothing could be easier, then, than to imagine the corporate media lining up to roast Boris Johnson for what simply had to be, from their perspective, the ultimate example of someone who 'defends repression by President Assad': actually suggesting that the media's great hate figure might contest elections and even remain in power.
We can imagine any number of spokespeople for Syrian 'rebel' groups, human rights organisations and others, enthusiastically supplying damning quotes for news and comment pieces. We can imagine the headlines:
'Anger at Johnson's "shameful apologetics" for Syria regime'
'Boris slammed for "monstrous" U-Turn On Assad'
'Johnson's sympathy for Assad the devil shames us all'
And so on...
A second critical theme cries out for inclusion. Donald Trump has been relentlessly lambasted as racist, sexist, fascist, and in fact as a more exotically coiffured version of Hitler. Given that Johnson openly admits the UK government has reversed policy on hate figure Assad to appease hate figure Trump, the headlines are again easy to imagine:
'UK Government slammed for "selling out ethics and the Syrian people" to appease Trump regime'
'"Britons never, never will be slaves"? Boris Johnson's bended knee before Trump shames us all'
And so on...
Instead, these were the actual headlines reporting Johnson's policy shift:
The Telegraph (January 27):
'Armed Forces could have peace role in Syria, suggests Boris'
The Guardian (January 26):
'Boris Johnson signals shift in UK policy on Syria's Assad'
A comment piece in the Guardian was titled:
'Theresa May looks for new friends among the world's strongmen; Saturday's meeting with Erdogan in Turkey shows how Britain is re-ordering its international priorities after the Brexit vote'
No talk of apologetics, shame, or supping with the devil; just Britain 're-ordering its international priorities'.
The i-Independent (January 27):
'Johnson signals shift in policy over Assad's future'
The Times (January 27):
'Johnson: Britain may accept Assad staying in power'
The headline above an opinion piece in the same paper (February 1) merely counselled caution:
'May will have to take a stand over Russia. In this new age of realpolitik, Britain must beware bending to Trump's shifting foreign policy'
The article was careful not to criticise Johnson: 'It would be wrong to pin' his Syrian 'triple flip' on 'Borisian dilettantism. We have entered an era of intensified realpolitik... That means rethinking everything...'
The Sun (January 27), having raged apoplectically at Assad for years, would have been expected to rage now at Johnson. The headline:
'UK TROOPS FOR SYRIA'
The only comment:
'In a break with UK policy [Johnson] also said a political solution might see tyrant Bashar al-Assad allowed to stand in UN-supervised elections.'
The Daily Mail (January 26):
'Assad could run in a future Syrian presidential election, Boris Johnson says in shift of UK foreign policy'
Clearly, then, there was nothing the least bit excitable or outraged in any of these headlines – the news was presented as undramatic and uncontroversial.
But the point we want to emphasis is that, in fact, none of these news reports contained a single word of criticism of Johnson. They included not one comment from any critical source attacking Johnson for siding with the press's great bête noire of the last several years, Assad, in bowing to their great bête orange, Trump.
In an important recent book, the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh refers to the present era of corporate-driven climate crisis as 'The Great Derangement'. For almost 12,000 years, since the last Ice Age, humanity has lived through a period of relative climate stability known as the Holocene. When Homo sapiens shifted, for the most part, from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to an agriculture-based life, towns and cities grew, humans went into space and the global population shot up to over seven billion people.
Today, many scientists believe that we have effectively entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene during which human activities have 'started to have a significant global impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems'. Indeed, we are now faced with severe, human-induced climate instability and catastrophic loss of species: the sixth mass extinction in four-and-a-half billion years of geological history, but the only one to have been caused by us.
Last Thursday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved their symbolic Doomsday Clock forward thirty seconds, towards apocalypse. It is now two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest since 1953. Historically, the Doomsday Clock represented the threat of nuclear annihilation. But global climate change is now also recognised as an 'extreme danger'.
Future generations, warns Ghosh, may well look back on this time and wonder whether humanity was deranged to continue on a course of business-as-usual. In fact, many people alive today already think so. It has become abundantly clear that governments largely pay only lip service to the urgent need to address global warming (or dismiss it altogether), while they pursue policies that deepen climate chaos. As climate writer and activist Bill McKibben points out, President Trump has granted senior energy and environment positions in his administration to men who:
'know nothing about science, but they love coal and oil and gas – they come from big carbon states like Oklahoma and Texas, and their careers have been lubed and greased with oil money.'
Rex Tillerson, Trump's US Secretary of State, is the former chairman and CEO of oil giant, ExxonMobil. He once told his shareholders that cutting oil production is 'not acceptable for humanity', adding: 'What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?'
As for Obama's 'legacy' on climate, renowned climate scientist James Hansen only gives him a 'D' grade. Obama had had a 'golden opportunity'. But while he had said 'the right words', he had avoided 'the fundamental approach that's needed'. Contrast this with the Guardian view on Obama's legacy that he had 'allowed America to be a world leader on climate change'. An article in the Morning Star by Ian Sinclair highlighted the stark discrepancy between Obama's actual record on climate and fawning media comment, notably by the BBC and the Guardian:
'Despite the liberal media's veneration of the former US president, Obama did very little indeed to protect the environment.'
And so while political 'leaders' refuse to change course to avoid disaster, bankers and financial speculators continue to risk humanity's future for the sake of making money; fossil fuel industries go on burning the planet; Big Business consumes and pollutes ecosystems; wars, 'interventions' and arms deals push the strategic aims of geopolitical power, all wrapped in newspeak about 'peace', 'security' and 'democracy'; and corporate media promote and enable it all, deeply embedded and complicit as they are. The 'Great Derangement' indeed.
Consider, for example, the notorious US-based Koch Brothers who, as The Real News Network notes, 'have used their vast wealth to ensure the American political system takes no action on climate change.' Climate scientist Michael Mann is outspoken:
'They have polluted our public discourse. They have skewed media coverage of the science of climate change. They have paid off politicians.'
'The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change – in the hundreds of millions. [...] To me, it's not just a crime against humanity, it's a crime against the planet.'
But the Koch Brothers are just the tip of a state-corporate system that is on course to drive Homo sapiens towards a terminal catastrophe.
Earlier this month, the world's major climate agencies confirmed 2016 as the hottest since modern records began. The global temperature is now 1C higher than preindustrial times, and the last three years have seen the record broken successively - the first time this has happened.
Towards the end of 2016, scientists reported 'extraordinarily hot' Arctic conditions. Danish and US researchers were 'surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year.' One of the scientists said:
'These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking.'
Another researcher emphasised:
'This is faster than the models. It is alarming because it has consequences.'
These 'consequences' will be terrible. Scientists have warned that increasingly rapid Arctic ice melt 'could trigger uncontrollable climate change at global level'.
It gets worse. A new study suggests that global warming is on course to raise global sea level by between six and nine metres, wiping out coastal cities and settlements around the world. Mann describes the finding, with classic scientific understatement, as 'sobering' and adds that:
'we may very well already be committed to several more metres of sea level rise when the climate system catches up with the carbon dioxide we've already pumped into the atmosphere'.
It gets worse still.
The Paris Climate Accord of 2015 repeated the international commitment to keep global warming below 2C. Even this limited rise would threaten life as we know it. When around a dozen climate scientists were asked for their honest opinion as to whether this target could be met, not one of them thought it likely. Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, was most adamant:
'there is not a cat in hell's chance [of keeping below 2C].'
But wait, because there's even worse news. Global warming could well be happening so fast that it's 'game over'. The Earth's climate could be so sensitive to greenhouse gases that we may be headed for a temperature rise of more than 7C within a lifetime. Mark Lynas, author of the award-winning book, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, was 'shocked' by the researchers' study, describing it as 'the apocalyptic side of bad'.