On January 22, BBC News at Ten carried a piece by 'defence' correspondent Jonathan Beale reporting a speech by General Sir Nick Carter, the British Army's Chief of General Staff. Carter gave his speech, pleading for more resources in the face of the Russian 'threat', at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), an establishment thinktank with close links to the military and corporate media.
Beale began his BBC News piece with a prologue of raw propaganda, delivered in an urgent and impassioned tone:
'Russia's building an increasingly modern and aggressive military. Already tested in battle in Syria, using weapons Britain would struggle to match – like long-range missiles. In Ukraine, they've been using unconventional warfare, electronic cyber and misinformation. And they're even on manoeuvres on Europe's doorstep, with large-scale exercises near Nato's borders. Enough to worry the head of the British army who tonight gave this rare public warning.'
The essence of Carter's 'rare public warning' was that:
'Russia was building an increasingly aggressive expeditionary force and the potential military threats to the UK "are now on Europe's doorstep"... the Kremlin already boasted an "eye-watering quantity of capability" - a level the UK would struggle to match... Britain "must take notice of what is going on around us" or... the ability by the UK to take action will be "massively constrained".'
'Rather like a chronic contagious disease, it will creep up on us, and our ability to act will be markedly constrained - and we'll be the losers of this competition.'
The army chief's warning had been approved by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson.
On News at Ten, Beale's reporting of the speech amplified the army chief's message – in other words, the Defence Secretary's stance - by deploying such key phrases as:
'Increasingly aggressive', 'tested in battle', 'Britain would struggle to match', 'manoeuvres on Europe's doorstep', 'near Nato's borders'.
There was, of course, no mention of US/Nato encroachment towards Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union (contravening assurances given to Gorbachev), or the US bases and military exercises close to Russia's borders as well as globally, or the long history of US threats and major crimes around the world. Nor was there any reference to Ukraine which has routinely been reported as an example of Russian 'aggression'. John Pilger observes that the BBC along with others, including CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian:
'played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and dangerous cold war.
'All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.'
Beale's credulous reporting of the army chief's speech was an exemplar of 'public broadcast' media whipping up fear to promote state interests.
Later, standing outside the Ministry of Defence, Beale said:
'This intervention by the head of the army is as much an appeal for more money for defence as it is a warning about the threat posed by Russia.'
And yet Beale had earlier dramatically highlighted the 'worrying' facts, asserting they were 'enough to worry the head of the British army' - in other words, that the army chief really was worried; not dissembling. Beale's subsequent comment was a token, blink-and-you'll-miss-it acknowledgement of the reality: that Carter's speech was aimed at propping up UK military power.
Note that Beale's 'neutral' reporting was not about an 'alleged threat posed by Russia'; simply the 'threat posed by Russia'. This subtly insidious use of language occurs daily on 'impartial' BBC News.
And, as ever, such a report would be incomplete without an establishment talking head from a 'defence and security' think tank. Professor Michael Clarke, a senior RUSI fellow, was on hand to perform the required role. This was BBC News in standard establishment/state/military/corporate mode.
'The only thing the MSM [mainstream media] is good for is fake news, falsification and manipulation of truth & propaganda. Ask yourself for whose benefit?'
This is a reasonable starting point for a debate about the major news media. Beale did not distinguish himself with the quality of his response:
'What a load of tosh.'
In contrast, Beale's 'opinion-free' response to the army chief's propaganda speech was:
'Coherent, detailed and impressive speech by @ArmyCGS @RUSI_org tonight making the case for investment in #defence. CDS [Chief of Defence Staff] in waiting?'
Imagine if the BBC man's observations had been reversed. It is, of course, completely unthinkable that a BBC reporter would respond to a major military or political speech with:
'What a load of tosh.'
It would be equally unthinkable for a BBC journalist to respond to a speech by, for example, Noam Chomsky with:
'Coherent, detailed and impressive speech tonight exposing Western war propaganda.'
And likewise, a dissident expert would never be invited to respond scornfully, or even sceptically, to a speech by the likes of Sir Nick Carter on the BBC's News At Ten.
Further examples are pumped out daily by this 'globally respected' broadcaster. On January 8, Fiona Bruce introduced an item about Syria on BBC News at Ten with the phrase: 'Syrian government forces, backed by Russia'. Why does BBC News not regularly use the phrase, 'Saudi government forces, backed by the United States and the UK' when reporting on bombs dropped on Yemen? The answer should be obvious.
On January 29, Huw Edwards announced on BBC News at Ten:
'We talk exclusively to the head of the CIA about the threat from Russia.'
Note the duplicitous wording once again. Not 'alleged' threat or 'claimed' threat, far less 'hyped-up' threat. BBC correspondent Gordon Corera's 'interview' of the CIA's Mike Pompeo was a travesty of journalism, with no meaningful challenge or context. That the US is regularly regarded by global public opinion as a major threat around the world was totally off the agenda. You will wait in vain for an exclusive interview on BBC News at Ten with a senior figure about the 'threat from the United States'.
Ironically, just the previous day, Piers Morgan had conducted a sycophantic ITV 'interview' with Donald Trump. The object of the exercise was clearly to garner high viewer ratings, and thus boost advertising revenue; not to challenge the US president in any meaningful way.
'The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard - not let them spout self-evident tosh. That's just showbiz.'
But when it comes to a showbiz-style BBC News interview with the head of the CIA? A convenient silence.
When one of our readers, Steve Ennever, uploaded the BBC's CIA interview to YouTube, complete with Huw Edwards' introduction, it was swiftly removed – within an hour or so - under pretence of a 'copyright claim'. What is the publicly-funded BBC so afraid of? The clip of the interview does appear on the BBC News YouTube channel. But why should they have a monopoly on it? Are they actually fearful of public-interest media activism that focuses on BBC News clips?
It is notable that all the brave BBC News voices go quiet at times like this. As far as we could tell, there was not a single dissenting voice about the BBC 'exclusive' interview plugging CIA propaganda. The conformity is remarkable and yet systemic.
The uncomfortable truth for the BBC is that the gap between showbiz and BBC 'news' is narrow. In fact, there is a significant overlap. Worse than that, BBC News is all too often a conduit for propaganda that promotes wars, corporate interests, 'patriotism', military pageantry, excessive consumerism and calamitous inaction on climate.
As we have previously noted, a persistent feature of BBC News reporting on Yemen, for instance, is that the UK's complicity in Saudi war crimes and Yemen's humanitarian disaster is buried. To take another example, this BBC News headline is permissible:
'Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan, BBC finds'
But these are not:
'US threatens 100% of Afghanistan, BBC finds'
'US threatens 100% of Iraq, BBC finds'
'Global opinion regards US a major world threat, BBC finds'
And when the BBC takes a rare look at propaganda, it only does so in order to examine the propaganda of Official Enemies. Thus, BBC News will robustly critique Russian propaganda in a way it never does with the West's.
In summary, it does not take extensive observation to discern the general pattern of BBC News 'journalism' on matters of great significance:
1. Western military or political leader says something.
2. BBC News provides headline coverage.
3. Policy 'expert' from a right-wing or 'centrist' think tank is quoted in support.
4. BBC correspondent provides supportive 'analysis'.
5. Token sceptical voice is briefly quoted.*
6. Extensive follow-up; talking points on BBC programmes such as Newsnight, Daily Politics, etc.
When Eleanor Bradford, a former BBC Scotland health correspondent, rightly drew attention to the corporation failing women over the issue of pay equality, British historian Mark Curtis added an important corollary:
'It's true. Why should women be paid less than men for conveying state propaganda under the guise of news? It's only fair they should receive same salaries as all male govt employees.'
Curtis has published several books revealing the UK's real role in world affairs, based on diligent research of previously secret government records. He is currently releasing declassified documents that reveal the reality of post-WW2 British policy towards numerous countries, as opposed to the propaganda version of events that has filled books, newspapers, magazines, television and radio programmes, and even infected academia.
Curtis explains the rationale for his project:
'The British public has little idea what has been done, and is being done, in their names.
'I want everyone to be able to see at least some of the documents that I have seen because they tell a much truer story of this country's real role in the world than they will hear on the BBC or read in The Telegraph.'
Curtis is addressing some of the most 'ignored episodes' in British foreign policy - such as the UK's support for the Idi Amin coup in Uganda in 1971, and for the welcoming of the Pinochet military takeover in Chile, the covert operation to overthrow Sukarno in Indonesia in the late 1950s, and the covert UK war in Yemen in the 1960s.
Curtis notes that now-released internal files reveal that:
'there is no interest in the human rights of the people that live in regions like the Middle East, Africa or Asia - British policy is all about geopolitics, promoting commercial interests and upholding Britain's power status.'
Moreover, the files show that:
'the British public is largely viewed as a threat and they therefore shouldn't be allowed to know what is being done in their names...The danger is that the public might deflect elites from their policy course - this is unacceptable to Whitehall.'
Curtis rightly points to the need to challenge traditional sources of 'news' which keep the public ignorant of crucial facts and context. Non-mainstream sources should be encouraged and supported:
'Social and alternative media is very encouraging - this is where people should be getting more and more of their information, bypassing mainstream sources.'
Ironically, it was a 'renegade producer' from the BBC who encouraged newspaper journalist John Pilger to start making documentaries. Charles Denton taught Pilger that:
'facts and evidence told straight to the camera and to the audience could indeed be subversive.'
Pilger encourages young journalists today to 'make a difference' by breaking the silence surrounding the reality of Western foreign policies. He adds a warning:
'The moment they [young journalists] accept, say, the BBC view of the world, that there are only two sides to an argument, and both those sides are on what we call the establishment side, then it's over.'
DC & DE
Open a corporate media website on any given day and you will find someone, somewhere blaming social media for something. No claim is too absurd.
Last week, journalist Sean Williams, who writes for the New Yorker, New Republic and Wired, tweeted us in a state of high anxiety:
'I just want you to know you're ruining the national dialogue and pushing more people towards right wing populism. Really.'
Quite a claim for a project that began in Southampton's Giddy Bridge public house over a pint and a packet of cheese & onion. We replied:
'Two guys with no resources, relying solely on donations, critiquing global, multi-billion-dollar media corporations? That's crazy. All our support is on the left - people like John Pilger, Noam Chomsky and Jonathan Cook, who reject that idea completely.'
Beyond even ruining 'the national dialogue', social media are of course blamed for a tsunami of 'fake news' undermining democracy at every level. The irony of the fake news claim is that the corporate media's refusal to analyse, or even mention, its own record of spreading fake news is a prime example of how it functions as a system, not merely of deception, but of imposed insanity.
Consider the work of Andrew Rawnsley of the Observer, garlanded with British Press Awards Young Journalist of the Year (1987); What The Papers Say Columnist of the Year (2000); Channel 4 Political Awards Book of the Year (2001); Channel 4 Political Awards Journalist of the Year (2003); House Magazine Awards Commentator of the Year (2008); Chair's Choice Award at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards (2015).
Lamenting Trump, Rawnsley wrote in the Observer last month:
'The United States has shrunk from its traditional role as exemplar of democracy and global champion of it.'
Rawnsley, of course, has been a high-profile political commentator throughout the period when Iraq, Libya and Syria have been 'championed' by the West. Regime change was ordered in Syria after the 'exemplar of democracy' had brought ungovernable chaos to Libya, which was ordered after regime change had brought ungovernable chaos to Iraq.
The fact that regime change has been attempted again in Syria, even after these twin calamities, says much about the brutality of Western power. Indeed it suggests that social collapse removing organised opposition to US machinations in the region is a deeper aim beyond even regime change.
Rawnsley is notable among political commentators for being laughably wrong when laughing at others for being laughably wrong. He wrote in April 2003:
'The war in Iraq would undo Tony Blair, they cried. It would be his Suez on the Tigris, they said. Wrong. It would be Vietnam crossed with Stalingrad. Wrong. To win the war, the Anglo-American forces could only prevail by inflicting casualties numbered in their hundreds of thousands. The more extravagantly doom-laden predictions had the deaths in millions. Wrong.' (Rawnsley, 'The voices of doom were so wrong,' The Observer, April 13, 2003)
By August 2011, even Rawnsley had to acknowledge the 'searing experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq,' above all the 'horrors of Iraq' with its 'slide into bloody anarchy'. Remarkably, this revised opinion appeared in an article that lauded the 'liberation' of Libya and mocked everyone who had been, once again, wrong:
'We were told that it would be impossible to get a UN resolution – and one was secured. We were told that Arab support would not stay solid – and, by and large, it did. We were told, as recently as 10 days ago, that the campaign was stuck in a stalemate which exposed the folly of David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in pursuing the enterprise. So much for the wisdom of the conventional.'
This was a 'relief' for all 'who hold that democracies sometimes have both the right and the obligation to take up arms against dictators'. And after all - as in Iraq in 2003, at least in Rawnsley's mind – the price had been impressively low:
'The number of civilian casualties inflicted by the airstrikes seems to have been mercifully light... You might call it intervention-lite.'
And thank god, because 'the ideal of liberal interventionism could probably not have survived another humiliation'.
As the above suggests, one of the more dramatically dissonant cognitive collisions in the 'mainstream' involves the way elite journalists simultaneously affect world-weary, seen-it-all cynicism and post-Pollyanna naivety. Imagine the impact on Rawnsley's romantic worldview, if he read last week's report from Bloomberg business news:
'In another sign the sector is stabilizing, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc have agreed to annual deals to buy Libyan crude.'
Newly reopened fields 'will increase the North African country's crude output by 57,000 barrels a day', although production remains well below the mouth-watering level of 1.6 million barrels a day reached before NATO's war to oust Gaddafi in 2011, described in the West as a 'no-fly zone'.
This follows equally heartening news from BP Middle East in Iraq: 'Rumaila oilfield achieves 3 billion barrel production landmark'. Achievements include:
'Production increased by more than 40% since BP joined partnership to redevelop Rumaila oilfield in 2010
'Oil production rate highest in 27 years
'Around $200 billion generated for the Iraqi economy.'
The results are impressive. As Boris Johnson would say, 'all they have to do is clear the dead bodies away'.
In 2015, the press reported that Sir John Sawers had joined BP's company board as a non-executive member. In 2003, Sawers was the British Government's Special Representative in Baghdad assisting the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority as the transitional government during the occupation of Iraq. A year earlier, Sawers, then ambassador to Egypt, had sent a memo that urged the government to 'clearly and consistently' state that its goal was regime change in Iraq, and asked 'how would we provide for stability after Saddam and his cronies were killed'. He added: 'All these are much more important questions than legality.'
This 'gaffe' did no harm to Sawers' career. In 2009 he was made head of MI6.
In lamenting Trump, Rawnsley offered a gesture in the direction of truth, noting that 'America' – he meant USAmerica – 'was always extremely imperfect in this role' of championing democracy around the world. The same could be said, with equal merit, of Genghis Khan.
An example of the 'imperfect' record was supplied by Julian Borger of the Guardian. Also lamenting 'the chaos of the Trump White House, Borger wrote of Obama:
'Meanwhile, the administration was criticised by both left and right for keeping US forces out of the Syrian civil war, leaving the field to Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers, who flattened entire cities.'
British and US forces also destroyed entire cities in Iraq and Libya without the word 'flattened' being used by Borger. It is true that the corporate 'left' criticised Obama for not launching an all-out attack on Syria – former Guardian columnist Paul Mason deemed the decision a 'Disaster!' - but authentic left voices rejected as nonsense both the criticism and the claim that the US was thereby guilty of 'leaving the field' to Assad and the Russians. The US was always very much involved. In June 2015, the Washington Post reported:
'At $1 billion, Syria-related operations account for about $1 of every $15 in the CIA's overall budget... US officials said the CIA has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years — meaning that the agency is spending roughly $100,000 per year for every anti-Assad rebel who has gone through the program.'
'The U.S.-made BGM-71 TOW missiles were delivered under a two-year-old covert program coordinated between the United States and its allies to help vetted Free Syrian Army groups in their fight against President Bashar al-Assad...
'So successful have they been in driving rebel gains in northwestern Syria that rebels call the missile the "Assad Tamer," a play on the word Assad, which means lion.'
In March 2017, it was reported that Raytheon, which makes the TOW missile, had seen its stocks triple since 2012.
Western liberal commentators have ceaselessly raged at claims that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and indiscriminate 'barrel bombs'. We are unaware of any who have dared imagine how the US government would respond to thousands of foreign troops fighting on the US mainland using 15,000 anti-tank missiles supplied by a foreign superpower to kill thousands of US troops, seriously threatening to overthrow the government. In 1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporised without US national survival ever being at stake.
Borger cynically used 'criticism' to suggest that a mere claim was indeed the case: 'Meanwhile, the administration was criticised by both left and right...'
'Obama came under great criticism over Syria; for declaring that the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" for US military action, and then failing that test by not striking after a mass-casualty chemical attack in August 2013.'
In fact, Obama 'came under great criticism' for imagining that he had the right to declare a 'red line' at all, and then for falsely claiming he had conclusive evidence that Assad had ordered a mass-casualty chemical attack.
Borger's use of 'criticism' gave the impression that he had covered the full range of views, for and against, when in fact he had filtered out the criticism that mattered.
These endless reassurances of benevolent Western intent – 'we' sometimes get it wrong, but 'we' do support freedom where 'we' can, and cannot stand idly by while people suffer – are absurd, embarrassing, but lethally effective.
People like to believe well of their governments and the claims are largely uncontested, repeated all over the media, and thereby seem to be based on some kind of reality. The terrible consequence of this, however, is that it allows politicians and journalists to appear credible when they claim 'humanitarian concern' about events taking place in countries on the West's list of Official Enemies. Anyone challenging this alleged benevolent concern is instantly shouted down as a brutal cynic, as an 'apologist' for the target of Western 'intervention'.
The deeper point here is that the refusal of corporate media to discuss this corporate media contribution to fake news means its discussion is itself fake. And not just fake - to ignore the crucial contribution of corporate fake news to the destruction of whole countries is insane. Blanking obvious, key aspects of reality truly is a form of social insanity.
Rawnsley's amiable face has been smiling out at readers, without challenge, for decades – until now. Thanks to social media, readers are at last able to see some rational dissent – the imperial corporate commentariat is now naked. One of the up-sides to social media that the 'mainstream' cannot even discuss.
As Noam Chomsky has often remarked: 'liberal bias is extremely important in a sophisticated system of propaganda.' One major news outlet that Chomsky had in mind was the New York Times, but the same applies in the UK. As a senior British intelligence official noted of the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan:
'It is always helpful for governments who want to get the Guardian readers of the world on board to have a humanitarian logic.'
This suggests that respected liberal media like the New York Times and Guardian are key battlegrounds in the relentless elite efforts to control public opinion.
On January 15, the Guardian was relaunched as a tabloid with a 'new look'. Katharine Viner, the paper's editor, proclaimed in all seriousness:
'we have a special relationship with our readers. This relationship is not just about the news; it's about a shared sense of purpose and a commitment to understand and illuminate our times. We feel a deep sense of duty and responsibility to our readers to honour the trust you place in us.'
Those words - 'shared sense of purpose and commitment', 'duty', 'responsibility', 'honour', 'trust' - imply an openness to readers' comments, even to criticism; an important point to which we return below.
'We have grounded our new editions in the qualities readers value most in Guardian journalism: clarity, in a world where facts should be sacred but are too often overlooked; imagination, in an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are.'
The grand declaration to honour the yearning of its readers 'for new ideas and fresh alternatives to the way things are' rings hollow. This, after all, is a paper that fought tooth-and-nail against Jeremy Corbyn. As Rob Newton pointed out via Twitter, linking to a lengthy series of screenshots featuring negative Guardian coverage:
'The "left liberal" Guardian's campaign against @JeremyCorbyn was as relentless as the right-wing Daily Mail & The Sun. Here's the proof'
Vacuous phrases continued to pour forth from the editor on the 'new look' paper:
'Guardian journalism itself will remain what it has always been: thoughtful, progressive, fiercely independent and challenging; and also witty, stylish and fun.'
'Fiercely independent and challenging'? When the Guardian Media Group is owned by The Scott Trust Limited, a 'profit-seeking enterprise'? (In other words, it is not a non-profit trust, with many readers still mistakenly holding a romantic vision of benign ownership.) When the paper is thus owned and run by an elite group of individuals with links to banking, insurance, advertising, multinational consumer goods, telecommunications, information technology, venture investment, corporate media, marketing services and other sectors of the establishment? When the paper remains dependent on advertising revenue from corporate interests, despite the boast that 'we now receive more income from our readers than we do from advertisers'. When the paper has actually ditched journalists who have been 'fiercely independent and challenging'?
However, it is certainly true that the Guardian 'will remain what it has always been': a liberal pillar of the establishment; a gatekeeper of 'acceptable' news and comment. 'Thus far, and no further', to use Chomsky's phrase. But, as mentioned, the Guardian will not go even as far in the political spectrum as Corbyn: a traditional left Labour figure, rather than a radical socialist proclaiming 'Revolution!' or an anarchist itching to bring down global capitalism.
Meanwhile, readers can expect the 'new look' Guardian to continue its attacks on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, such as the recent smear piece by ex-Guardian journalist James Ball that began scurrilously:
'According to Debrett's, the arbiters of etiquette since 1769: "Visitors, like fish, stink in three days." Given this, it's difficult to imagine what Ecuador's London embassy smells like, more than five-and-a-half years after Julian Assange moved himself into the confines of the small flat in Knightsbridge, just across the road from Harrods.'
Ball went on, dripping more poison:
'Today, most of those who still support Assange are hard-right nationalists – with many seeing him as a supporter of the style of politics of both Trump and Vladimir Putin.'
'The WikiLeaks twitter feed is a pretty good start tbh [to be honest]'
That Katharine Viner's Guardian would happily publish such crude propaganda in an ostensibly 'serious' column speaks volumes about the paper's tumbling credibility as well as conformity to power.
No doubt, too, this liberal 'newspaper' will continue to boost Tony Blair, the war criminal whose hands are indelibly stained with the blood of over one million people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. But, for the Guardian, he will forever be a flawed hero, someone they have worked hard to rehabilitate in recent years, constantly seeking out his views and pushing him as a respectable elder statesman whose voice the public still needs to hear.
The essence of the Guardian was summed up by satirical comedian reporter Jonathan Pie on the day of the relaunch:
'New design. Same old virtue signalling, identity politics obsessed, champagne socialism (minus the socialism), barely concealed contempt for the working classes bullshit I presume though.'