When Russian and Syrian forces were bombarding 'rebel'-held East Aleppo last year, newspapers and television screens were full of anguished reporting about the plight of civilians killed, injured, trapped, traumatised or desperately fleeing. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, both Official Enemies, were denounced and demonised, in accordance with the usual propaganda script. One piece in the Evening Standard described Assad as a 'monster' and a Boris Johnson column in the Telegraph referred to both Putin and Assad as 'the Devil'.
As the respected veteran reporter Patrick Cockburn put it:
'The partisan reporting of the siege of East Aleppo presented it as a battle between good and evil: The Lord of the Rings, with Assad and Putin as Saruman and Sauron.'
This, he said, was 'the nadir of Western media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Syria.' Media reporting focused laser-like on 'Last calls (or messages or tweets) from Aleppo'. There were heart-breaking accounts of families, children, elderly people, all caught up in dreadful conditions that could be pinned on the 'brutal' Assad and his 'regime'; endless photographs depicting grief and suffering that tore at one's psyche.
By contrast, there was little of this evident in media coverage as the Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of around one million, was being pulverised by the US-led 'coalition' from 2015; particularly since the massive assault launched last October to 'liberate' the city from ISIS, with 'victory' declared a few days ago. Most pointedly, western media coverage has not, of course, demonised the US for inflicting mass death and suffering.
As Cockburn pointed out, there were 'many similarities between the sieges of Mosul and East Aleppo, but they were reported very differently'.
'When civilians are killed or their houses destroyed during the US-led bombardment of Mosul, it is Islamic State that is said to be responsible for their deaths: they were being deployed as human shields. When Russia or Syria targets buildings in East Aleppo, Russia or Syria is blamed: the rebels have nothing to do with it.'
'Heartrending images from East Aleppo showing dead, wounded and shellshocked children were broadcast around the world. But when, on 12 January, a video was posted online showing people searching for bodies in the ruins of a building in Mosul that appeared to have been destroyed by a US-led coalition airstrike, no Western television station carried the pictures.'
'In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. [...] Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad's forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee.'
For as long as we can remember, 'pragmatists' have insisted:
'You have to play the media game. You have to work with the corporate press and broadcasters to achieve mass outreach, and hope that you can steer them in a more positive direction.'
The idea is that some arguments and policies just go 'too far', guaranteeing 'mainstream' rejection and attack, which results in fewer progressive voices being heard, benefiting precisely no-one. Bottom line: 'You have to play the game.'
An alternative approach argues that analysis rooted in compassion that refuses to compromise in exposing the cruelty of state-corporate power can smoke out the corporate media. Alarmed by what they perceive as a class enemy, as a threatening sign that democratic forces might escape the carefully filtered tweedledum-tweedledee choices, elite media will indeed attack. But in the process of attacking, these media are forced to drop the pretence that they are independent and impartial, or even well-intentioned.
This is crucial because it is the illusion that 'mainstream' media are basically fair and benevolent that allows them to sell a fake version of democracy as the real thing. Uncompromised analysis does come at a cost, but it holds up a mirror to the corporate media system in a way that erodes its power to deceive. This is a very different game, one that is very much worth the candle. In fact, we believe it has the power to challenge state-corporate power's system of 'managed democracy' favouring elite interests.
This is exactly what we have witnessed in the last two years with Jeremy Corbyn's rise to power within the Labour Party. For two years, Corbyn's compassionate, people-centred policies were dismissed as a 'loony left' joke, a relic of the past. Corbyn would never be able to persuade the public, not least because his views would never be given a fair hearing by a press that would subject him to relentless attack. He didn't stand a chance. At time of writing, Corbyn holds an eight-point lead over the Conservatives.
'Mainstream' pundits reckoned without the rise of social media.
A week before the election, a student of journalism tweeted a question to the excellent former BBC journalist and interviewer Afshin Rattansi, now host of RT's Going Underground:
'Hey Afshin, love Going Underground on RT, any advice for a broadcast Journalism major? Thanks so much!'
Rattansi replied linking to the 1992 documentary, 'Manufacturing Consent – Noam Chomsky and the Media', adding:
'Simple: Just watch ['Manufacturing Consent']... and follow @medialens :)'
As the election loomed, we started receiving many supportive messages of this kind. After we mentioned in a tweet that we had now been tilting at 'mainstream' media windmills for 16 years, one corporate journalist wrote to us privately:
'Can't believe its 16 years. Makes me feel very old. Time rushes past etc. But all the more credit to you guys for sticking at it.'
Another leading journalist wrote in:
'I really value being kept honest by you guys.'
Also to our surprise, as the basic shape of the election result became clear on June 9, we began receiving numerous comments from readers on Twitter congratulating, not just Corbyn, but us on our work, as if we had been vindicated by his success. After so many years when we have been smeared as 'apologising for' this tyrant and 'denying' that mass murder, it felt like our Twitter timeline was positively smiling at us.
The reason is that people of course realised that social media – of which we are only one, minuscule part – had achieved an awesome result. Thousands of us had helped Corbyn hold up the mirror in which the public – huge numbers of them – were able to see the dishonesty, viciousness and blatant bias of a corporate media system that was supposed to hold the ring in a fair democratic contest.
The corporate media system – notably the BBC – is now subject to a level of public scepticism and challenge that we never thought possible when we started Media Lens in 2001. Many people, especially the young, are rejecting news and commentary peddled by a profit-oriented, billionaire-owned, advertiser-dependent, government-interest media system that is very far from 'mainstream'.
It's fair to say that something truly extraordinary happened in June: after years of Blairite cynicism, compassion once again attained 'mainstream' respectability – Corbyn's views could no longer be dismissed as the ravings of an idiotic chancer who got lucky but who, of course, lacked a genuine democratic mandate.
Mark 'Artist Taxi Driver' McGowan senses that the country has woken up:
'This General Election has changed the course of history. What this country wants is a fair wage, not poverty wages for working all week. This country wants housing [and] opportunity for all its children. [...] This country wants change.'
'What this country wants is to live in a world of peace, not war. What this country wants is equality. This country wants love and compassion. This country wants a chance. This country believes and trusts in people. Not the media. Not the corporations.'
All along, the salaried 'pragmatists' made famous by the corporate media – the Owen Joneses, the George Monbiots and Paul Masons - who naturally urge 'tactical' compromise, 'strategic' self-censorship and 'caution' – turned out to be key opponents of the only strategy able to undermine the corporate media monopoly: stubbornly uncompromising, completely non-violent dissent rooted in compassion for injustice, inequality and suffering that targets even the best corporate media.
Professionally-minded media activists often worry about 'funding models' for media activism. Here, also, 'pragmatism' tends to rear its ugly head: How to escape the advertiser-dependent 'business model' and yet generate revenue? How to emulate best-practice corporate website design and marketing to achieve a comparable mass audience without comparable funding? How to publish dissent that is effective in challenging, without overly alienating, the 'mainstream' in order to retain 'respectability' as part of the 'national conversation'?
Our idea for funding draws inspiration from the way the public spontaneously rallied around Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Heaven knows, it was not slick marketing that persuaded people to give of their time, energy and money to them. The public was drawn to support a couple of people who were obviously sincere about offering a more compassionate politics.
Likewise, the public has immense power to divert resources from corporate media to non-corporate media challenging them. This challenge is no longer a pipe dream; it is very real and already making a big difference. There is no longer any need to pay or otherwise support media corporations selling corporate-owned politics, Perpetual War, unsustainable materialism and climate disaster. All we need to do is support honest, non-corporate media countering this horrifically irresponsible and violent system of disinformation - the public will do the rest.
With our media alerts and social media output on Twitter and Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, YouTube), Media Lens will continue to do what we can in the months and years ahead. But we need your support to do so. We are 100% reliant on crowdfunding from individuals; we have no other source of income and no wealthy funders making large donations. We are, of course, very grateful to all who donate, enabling both of us to work full-time on Media Lens. However, our funds are at their lowest ebb since the early years of our project and we are now appealing for your support.
If you do not already do so, please consider supporting us, ideally by sending regular monthly donations. Options for donating to Media Lens can be found on this page. Please donate only if it is financially comfortable for you to do so – if it is at all difficult, please support us in other ways (by emailing us useful information, challenging journalists, supporting us on Facebook, Twitter, and so on).
If you don't support us and we eventually run out of funds, we will continue to do what we can in our spare time – there is no question of us stopping for lack of funds. We might stop for other reasons, but as long as we continue to enjoy what we're doing as much as we do, we will continue doing the best we can.
We do this for the same reason people made Bernie dolls and shared Corbyn's messages on Facebook – it is a sheer delight to support kindness and sanity against cruelty and greed.
Thank you for all your support.
DE and DC
Last week, Jeremy Corbyn humbled the entire political and corporate media commentariat. With a little help from Britain's student population. And with a little help from thousands of media activists.
Without doubt this was one of the most astonishing results in UK political history. Dismissed by all corporate political pundits, including the clutch of withered fig leaves at the Guardian, reviled by scores of his own Blairite MPs (see here), Corbyn 'increased Labour's share of the vote by more than any other of the party's election leaders since 1945' with 'the biggest swing since... shortly after the Second World War'. He won a larger share of the vote than Tony Blair in 2005.
Corbyn achieved this without resorting to angry lefty ranting. His focus was on kindness, compassion, sharing, inclusivity and forgiveness. This approach held up a crystal-clear mirror to the ugly, self-interested cynicism of the Tory party, and transformed the endless brickbats into flowers of praise.
On Twitter, John Prescott disclosed that when Rupert Murdoch saw the exit poll 'he stormed out of the room'.
As ever, while the generals made good their escape, front-line troops were less fortunate. Outfought by Team Corbyn, out-thought by social media activists, outnumbered in the polls, many commentators had no option but to fall on their microphones and keyboards. LBC radio presenter Iain Dale led the way:
'Let me be the first to say, I got it wrong, wholly wrong. I should have listened more to my callers who have been phoning into my show day after day, week after week.'
The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff, who had written in January, 'This isn't going to be yet another critique of Corbyn, by the way, because there is no point. The evidence is there for anyone with eyes', tweeted:
'This is why I trust @iaindale's judgement; he admits when it was way off. (As mine was. As god knows how many of ours was)'
'Like everyone else who didn't foresee the result, I'll be asking myself hard questions & trying to work out what changed...'
Annoying as ever, we asked:
'But will you be asking yourself about the structural forces, within and outside Guardian and corporate media generally, shaping performance?'
'Is a corporate journalist free to analyse the influence of owners, profit-orientation, ad-dependence, state-subsidised news? Taboo subjects.'
Presumably engrossed in introspection, Hinsliff did not reply.
'I was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn - The Labour leader did much better in the election than I expected. I need to understand and learn from my mistakes'
Channel 4 News presenter and Telegraph blogger, Cathy Newman tweeted:
'Ok let's be honest, until the last few weeks many of us under-estimated @jeremycorbyn'
Translating from the 'newspeak': many corporate journalists waged a relentless campaign over two years to persuade the public to 'underestimate' Corbyn, but were wrong about the public's ability to see through the propaganda.
'I think Mr Corbyn has proved a lot of people, including me, completely wrong.'
In a typically dramatic flourish, Channel 4's Jon Snow's summation was harsh but fair:
'I know nothing. We the media, the pundits, the experts, know nothing.'
'Fair play to Jeremy Corbyn and his team. They have done a lot of things I confidently thought they - he - could not do. I was wrong.'
In March, Observer columnist Nick Cohen graphically predicted that 'Corbyn's Labour won't just lose. It'll be slaughtered.' In an article titled, 'Don't tell me you weren't warned about Corbyn', Cohen indicated the words that would 'be flung' at Corbynites 'by everyone who warned that Corbyn's victory would lead to a historic defeat':
'I Told You So You Fucking Fools!'
Apparently frothing at the mouth, Cohen concluded by advising the idiots reading his column that, following the predicted electoral disaster, 'your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind'.
Awkward, then, for Cohen to now 'apologise to affronted Corbyn supporters... I was wrong'; presumably feeling like a fucking fool, having changed his fucking mind.
Tragicomically, Cohen then proceeded to be exactly as 'wrong' all over again:
'The links between the Corbyn camp and a Putin regime that persecutes genuine radicals. Corbyn's paid propaganda for an Iranian state that hounds gays, subjugates women and tortures prisoners. Corbyn and the wider left's indulgence of real antisemites (not just critics of Israel). They are all on the record. That Tory newspapers used them against the Labour leadership changes nothing.'
Former Guardian comment editor and senior columnist Jonathan Freedland spent two years writing a series of anti-Corbyn hit pieces (see our media alert for discussion). Last month, Freedland wrote under the title, 'No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown', lamenting:
'What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require?'
Freedland helpfully relayed focus group opinion to the effect that Corbyn was a 'dope', 'living in the past', 'a joke', 'looking as if he knows less about it than I do'. Freedland has also, now, had no choice but to back down:
'Credit where it's due. Jeremy Corbyn defied those - including me - who thought he could not win seats for Lab. I was wrong.'
Like Freedland, senior Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has relentlessly attacked Corbyn. On April 19, she wrote of how 'Corbyn is rushing to embrace Labour's annihilation':
'Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Was ever there a more crassly inept politician than Jeremy Corbyn, whose every impulse is to make the wrong call on everything?'
This week, Toynbee's tune had changed:
'Nothing succeeds like success. Jeremy Corbyn looks like a new man, beaming with confidence, benevolence and forgiveness to erstwhile doubters...'
Apparently channelling David Brent of The Office, Toynbee added:
'When I met him on Sunday he clasped my hand and, with a twinkle and a wink, thanked me for things I had written.'
With zero self-awareness, Toynbee noted that the Mail and Sun had helped Corbyn: 'by dredging up every accusation against him yet failing to frighten voters away, they have demolished their own power'.
Former Guardian political editor Michael White, yet another regular anti-Corbyn commentator, admitted:
'I was badly wrong. JC had much wider voter appeal than I realised'
Former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, replied:
'Problem is you *all* got it wrong. That fact alone exposes structural flaw of corporate media. You don't represent us, you represent power'
'You're not still banging on, are you Jonathan. You do talk some bollocks'
Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and New Statesman contributor Abi Wilkinson tweeted:
'Don't think some of people making demands about who Corbyn puts in shadow cabinet have particularly earned the right to be listened to...'
'Any hope I once held about Corbyn's ability to steer the party in a more positive direction has been well and truly extinguished'
'The Labour reckoning - Corbyn has fought a spirited campaign but is he leading the party to worst defeat since 1935?'
In March, Cowley opined:
'The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming - Speak to any Conservative MP and they will say that there is no opposition. Period.'
Like everyone else at the Guardian, columnist Owen Jones' initial instinct was to tweet away from his own viewspaper's ferocious anti-Corbyn campaign:
'The British right wing press led a vicious campaign of lies, smears, hatred and bigotry. And millions told them where to stick it'
And yet, as recently as April 18, Jones had depicted Corbyn as a pathetic figure:
'A man who stood only out of a sense of duty, to put policies on the agenda, and who certainly had no ambition to be leader, will now take Labour into a general election, against all his original expectations. My suggestion that Corbyn stand down in favour of another candidate was driven by a desire to save his policies...'
Jones has now also issued a mea culpa:
'I owe Corbyn, John McDonnell, Seumas Milne, his policy chief Andrew Fisher, and others, an unreserved, and heartfelt apology...
'I wasn't a bit wrong, or slightly wrong, or mostly wrong, but totally wrong. Having one foot in the Labour movement and one in the mainstream media undoubtedly left me more susceptible to their groupthink. Never again.'
We will see!
To his credit, Jones managed to criticise his own employer (something he had previously told us was unthinkable and absurd):
'Now that I've said I'm wrong...so the rest of the mainstream commentariat, including in this newspaper, must confess they were wrong, too.'
Despite the blizzard of mea culpas from colleagues, George Monbiot also initially pointed well away from his employer:
'The biggest losers today are the billionaires who own the Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph. And thought they owned the nation.'
After receiving criticism, and having of course seen Jones' mea culpa, Monbiot subsequently admitted that anti-Corbyn bias is found 'even in the media that's not owned by billionaires':
'This problem also affects the Guardian... Only the Guardian and the Mirror enthusiastically supported both Labour and Corbyn in election editorials.
'But the scales still didn't balance.'
This is a change from Monbiot's declared position of three years ago, when he rejected the idea that the Guardian was part of the problem. This week, he recalled his own dumping of Corbyn in a tweet from January: 'I have now lost all faith.' The full tweet read:
'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.'
Monbiot blamed media bias on the way journalists are selected – 'We should actively recruit people from poorer backgrounds' - and wrote, curiously, 'the biggest problem, I believe, is that we spend too much time in each other's company'.
We suggested to Monbiot that this was not at all 'the biggest problem' with 'mainstream' media, and pointed instead to elite ownership, profit-orientation, advertiser dependence and use of state-subsidised 'news', as discussed by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 'propaganda model'.
Jonathan Cook responded to Monbiot, describing the limits of free speech with searing honesty:
'This blindness even by a "radical" like Monbiot to structural problems in the media is not accidental either. Realistically, the furthest he can go is where he went today in his column: suggesting organisational flaws in the corporate media, ones that can be fixed, rather than structural ones that cannot without rethinking entirely how the media functions. Monbiot will not – and cannot – use the pages of the Guardian to argue that his employer is structurally incapable of providing diverse and representative coverage.
'Nor can he admit that his own paper polices its pages to limit what can be said on the left, to demarcate whole areas of reasonable thought as off-limits. To do so would be to end his Guardian career and consign him to the outer reaches of social media.'
The same, of course, applies to Jones, who made no attempt at all to account for corporate media bias.
Media grandee Will Hutton, former editor-in-chief of the Observer, now Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, wrote of 'How the rightwing tabloids got it wrong - It was the Sun wot hung it'. On Twitter, we reminded Hutton of his own article, one month earlier:
'Er, excuse us..! Will Hutton, May 7: "Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressives"'
Tragicomically, given the awesome extent of his employer's anti-Corbyn bias, John Cody Fidler-Simpson CBE, BBC World Affairs Editor, tweeted:
'I suspect we've seen the end of the tabloids as arbiters of UK politics. Sun, Mail & Express threw all they had into backing May, & failed.'
'Likewise the "quality" press and the BBC, which has been so biased even a former chair of the BBC Trust spoke out'
Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC trust from 2007 to 2011, commented on the BBC's 'quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party':
'I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.'
One week before the election, the Guardian reported that 'a new force is shaping the general election debate':
'Alternative news sites are run from laptops and bedrooms miles from the much-derided "Westminster bubble" and have emerged as one of the most potent forces in election news sharing, according to research conducted for the Guardian by the web analytics company Kaleida.'
These alternative articles were 'being shared more widely online than the views of mainstream newspaper commentators'. Remarkably, 'Nothing from the BBC, the Guardian or the Daily Mail comes close' to the most-shared alternative media pieces. The Canary reported that it had doubled the number of visitors to its site to six million in May. A story by Evolve Politics, run by just two people, was shared 55,000 times on Facebook and was read at least 200,000 times. These websites 'explicitly offer a counter-narrative to what they deride as the "MSM" or mainstream media'.
Indeed, the evidence is now simply overwhelming - the 100-year big business monopoly of the mass media has been broken.
It is obvious that the right-wing press – the Daily Mail, the Sun, The Times and Telegraph – play a toxic role in manipulating the public to favour elite interests. But many people are now realising that the liberal press is actually the most potent opponent of progressive change. Journalist Matt Kennard commented:
'The Guardian didn't get it "wrong". It is the mouthpiece of a liberal elite that is financially endangered by a socialist program.'
In truth, the Guardian sought to destroy Corbyn long before he became Labour leader (see here and here). This means that it did not target him because he was an ineffective leader imperilling Labour. And this hostility was no aberration, not a well-intentioned mistake that they got 'wrong'. To this day, the Guardian remains Blair's great cheerleader, despite his awesome crimes, just as it was Hillary Clinton and Obama's cheerleader, and just as it was Bill Clinton's before them.
While employing a handful of compromised fig leaves, the Guardian has ruthlessly smeared anyone who has sought to challenge the status quo: Julian Assange, Russell Brand, Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger, George Galloway and many others. It has also been complicit in the great war crimes of Iraq, Libya and Syria – accepting fake government justifications for war at face value, ignoring expert sources who made a nonsense of the claims, and propagandising hard for the West's supposed 'responsibility to protect' the nations it so obviously seeks to destabilise and exploit.
In our view, the corporate journalists who should be treated with most caution are precisely those celebrated as 'dissidents'. Corporate media give Owen Jones, George Monbiot, Paul Mason and others immense outreach to draw 100,000s of progressives back to a filtered, corporate version of the world that favours established power and stifles progressive change. Above all, as Jonathan Cook says, the unwritten rule is that they will not speak out on the inherent structural corruption of a corporate media system reporting on a world dominated by corporations.
This is crucial, because, as last week confirms, and as we have been arguing for 16 years, if change begins anywhere, it begins with the public challenging, exposing and rejecting, not just the right-wing press, but the corporate media as a whole, the 'liberal-left' very much included.
In the last month, we witnessed astonishing numbers of people challenging all media, all the time on every bias – we have never seen anything like it. The young, in particular, are learning that they do not need highly-paid, privileged corporate employees to tell them what to think.
We don't need to tolerate a corporate-filtered view of the world. We can inform ourselves and each other, and we can do so with very much more honesty, courage and compassion than any corporate journalist. If there is one message from last week, it's a simple one – dump the corporate media; all of it.
A key function of BBC propaganda is to present the perspective of 'the West' on the wars and conflicts of the world. Thus, in a recent online report, BBC News once again gave prominence to the Pentagon propaganda version of yet more US killings in Yemen. The headline stated:
'US forces kill seven al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, says Pentagon'
Seven 'militants' killed is the stark message. A veneer of 'impartiality' is provided by the weasel words, 'says Pentagon'. BBC News then notes blandly, and without quotation marks:
'The primary objective of the operation was to gather intelligence.'
Nowhere in the short article was there any attempt to provide an alternative view of who had been killed and why. Were they really all 'militants'? How is a 'militant' distinguished from a 'civilian', or from a soldier defending his country against foreign invaders? There was not even a cautious statement to the effect that the Pentagon's claims could not be verified, as one might expect of responsible journalism.
Instead, we have to turn to Reprieve, an international human rights organisation founded in 1999 by the British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith. The group reports that five of the 'militants' were civilians, including a partially blind 70-year-old man who was shot when he tried to greet the US Navy Seals, mistaking them for guests arriving in his village.
But their civilians are mere 'collateral damage' in war. Since January 2017, the US has launched 90 or more drone strikes in Yemen, killing around 100 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. This death toll includes 25 civilians, among whom were 10 children, killed in the village of al Ghayil in the Yemeni highlands during a US raid that was described by President Trump as 'highly successful'.
Mentions of such atrocities were notable by their absence in 'mainstream' media coverage of Trump's recent trip to Saudi Arabia where he signed trade deals worth around $350 billion. This included an arms deal of $110 billion which the White House described as 'the single biggest in US history.' It would not do for the corporate media, including BBC News, to dwell on the implications for Yemen where at least 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the Saudi-led bombing campaign in 2015. 14 million Yemenis, more than half the population, are facing hunger with the Saudis deliberately targeting food production.
The World Health Organisation recently warned of the rising numbers of deaths in Yemen due to cholera, saying that it was 'unprecedented'. Save the Children says that at the current rate, more than 65,000 cases of cholera are expected by the end of June. The cholera outbreak could well become 'a full blown-epidemic'. Moreover:
'The upsurge comes as the health system, sanitation facilities and civil infrastructure have reached breaking point because of the ongoing war.'
As US investigative journalist Gareth Porter observes via Twitter:
'World leaders are silent as #Yemen faces horrible cholera epidemic linked to #Saudi War & famine. Politics as usual.'
Iona Craig, formerly a Yemen-based correspondent for The Times, notes that 'more than 58 hospitals now have been bombed by the coalition airstrikes, and people just do not have access to medical care in a way that they did before the war.' As if the bombing was not already brutal, Saudi Arabia has imposed a cruel blockade on Yemen that is delaying, or even preventing, vital commodities from getting into the country. Grant Pritchard, interim country director for Save the Children in Yemen, says:
'These delays are killing children. Our teams are dealing with outbreaks of cholera, and children suffering from diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition.
'With the right medicines these are all completely treatable — but the Saudi-led coalition is stopping them getting in. They are turning aid and commercial supplies into weapons of war.'
As one doctor at the Republic teaching hospital in Sanaa commented:
'We are unable to get medical supplies. Anaesthetics. Medicines for kidneys. There are babies dying in incubators because we can't get supplies to treat them.'
The doctor estimated that 25 people were dying every day at the hospital because of the blockade. He continued:
'They call it natural death. But it's not. If we had the medicines they wouldn't be dead.
'I consider them killed as if they were killed by an air strike, because if we had the medicines they would still be alive.'
None of this grim reality was deemed relevant to Trump's signing of the massive new arms deal with Saudi Arabia. BBC News focused instead on inanities such as Trump 'to soften his rhetoric', 'joins Saudi sword dance' and 'no scarf for Melania'. But then, it is standard practice for the BBC to absolve the West of any blame for the Yemen war and humanitarian disaster.
British historian Mark Curtis poses a vital question that journalists fear to raise, not least those at the BBC: is there, in effect, collusion between the BBC and UK arms manufacturer BAE Systems not to report on UK support for the Saudi bombing of Yemen, and not to make it an election issue? He rightly points out that the BAE Systems Chairman, Sir Roger Carr, was also Vice-Chair of the BBC Trust until April 2017 (when the Trust was wound up at the end of its 10-year tenure). The BBC Trust's role was to ensure the BBC lived up to its statutory obligations to the public, including news 'balance' and 'impartiality'. How could Sir Roger's dual role not suggest a major potential conflict of interest?
On the wider issue of 'mainstream' media coverage of foreign policy, the political journalist Peter Oborne notes that:
'Needless to say, the British media (and in particular the BBC, which has a constitutional duty to ensure fair play during general elections) has practically ignored Corbyn's foreign policy manifesto.'
Oborne writes that the manifesto:
'is radical and morally courageous.'
He explains that, pre-Corbyn:
'Foreign policy on both sides was literally identical. The leadership of both Labour and the Conservatives backed the wars in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states in the Gulf.
'London did what it was told by Washington. [...] This cross-party consensus has been smashed, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader. Whatever one thinks of Corbyn's political views (and I disagree with many of them), British democracy owes him a colossal debt of gratitude for restoring genuine political debate to Britain.
'And of course his extremely brave and radical decision to break with the foreign policy analysis of Blair and his successors explains why he is viewed with such hatred and contempt across so much of the media and within the Westminster political establishment.'
But, as Oborne notes, this important change has not been fairly represented in media coverage. In particular, on Yemen and Saudi Arabia:
'it is deeply upsetting that the BBC has betrayed its own rules of impartiality and ignored Corbyn's brave stand on this issue.'
'If there is a considered detailed complaint to something we've done, I will always respond to it personally.'
Perhaps Oborne's challenge to the BBC was not deemed sufficiently 'considered' or 'detailed' by the senior BBC News editor. Likewise, our own challenges over many years in numerous media alerts addressing BBC foreign coverage have been ignored or, at best, brushed away.
It was noteworthy that Corbyn's considered response to the most recent terrorist attack in London was selectively reported, arguably censored, by BBC News. Corbyn said:
'We need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology.
'It is no good Theresa May suppressing a report into the foreign funding of terrorist groups. We have to get serious about cutting off the funding to these terror networks, including Isis here and in the Middle East.'
Sky News broadcast Corbyn's comments, but they do not appear to have been covered by BBC News. Certainly, as far as we can see, there is no mention of them in their 'Live' blog on the London attack or in Laura Kuenssberg's analysis, 'Election 2017: Impact of London terror attack on campaign'. And nothing about the Saudi link with terrorism appears in the BBC's online report on Corbyn's speech, focusing instead on the issue of May's cuts to police numbers while Home Secretary. Even this issue alone, if properly and fully addressed by the media, should be a resigning matter for May as Prime Minister. Responding to the London attacks, Peter Kirkham, a former Senior Investigating Officer with the Metropolitan police, accused the government of lying over police numbers on UK streets. And a serving firearms officer says that:
'the Government is wrong to claim police cuts have nothing to do with recent attacks.
Despite her denials, Theresa May's cuts to police numbers have made attacks like London and Manchester much more likely.'
Kuenssberg's piece included passing mention of 'the Tories' record on squeezing money for the police'. But she gave no figures showing a reduction in the number of armed police; crucial statistics which she could have easily found from the Home Office.
Mark Curtis gives a damning assessment of BBC reporting on foreign affairs, particularly during the general election campaign. Noting first that:
'One aspect of a free and fair election is "nonpartisan" coverage by state media.'
'Yet BBC reporting on Britain's foreign policy is simply amplifying state priorities and burying its complicity in human rights abuses. The BBC is unable to report even that Britain is at war – in Yemen, where the UK is arming the Saudis to conduct mass bombing, having supplied them with aircraft and £1 billion worth of bombs, while training their pilots.'
Curtis then provides some telling statistics:
'From 4 April to 15 May, the BBC website carried only 10 articles on Yemen but 97 on Syria: focusing on the crimes of an official enemy rather than our own. Almost no BBC articles on Yemen mention British arms exports. Theresa May's government is complicit in mass civilian deaths in Yemen and pushing millions of people to the brink of starvation; that this is not an election issue is a stupendous propaganda achievement.'
Indeed, our newspaper database searches reveal that, since the election was called on April 18, there has been no significant journalistic scrutiny of May's support of Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign in Yemen. The subject was even deemed radioactive during a public meeting in Rye, Sussex, when Amber Rudd, standing for re-election, appeared to shut down discussion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Electoral candidate Nicholas Wilson explains what happened:
'At a hustings in Rye on 3 June, where I am standing as an independent anti-corruption parliamentary candidate, a question was asked about law & order. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in answering it referred to the Manchester terrorist attack. I took up the theme and referred to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia & HSBC business there. She spoke to and handed a note to the chairman who removed the mic from me.'
The footage of this shameful censorship deserves to be widely seen. If a similar event had happened in Russia or North Korea, it would have received intensive media scrutiny here. Once again, we note the arms connection with the BBC through BAE Systems Chairman, Sir Roger Carr. Wilson has also pointed out a potential conflict of interest between HSBC and the BBC through Rona Fairhead who was a non-executive director of HSBC while serving as Chair of the BBC Trust.
These links, and Theresa May's support for the Saudi regime, have gone essentially unexamined by the BBC. And yet, when BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg responded to Corbyn's manifesto launch, her subtle use of insidious language betrayed an inherent bias against Corbyn and his policies on foreign affairs. She wrote: 'rather than scramble to cover up his past views for fear they would be unpopular', he would 'double down...proudly'. Kuenssberg's use of pejorative language - 'scramble', 'cover up', 'unpopular' – delivered a powerful negative spin against Corbyn policies that, in fact, as Oborne argues, are hugely to his credit.
When has Kuenssberg ever pressed May over her appalling voting record on Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen? In fact, there is no need for May to 'scramble' to 'cover up' her past views. Why not? Because the 'mainstream' media rarely, if ever, seriously challenge her about being consistently and disastrously wrong in her foreign policy choices; not least, on decisions to go to war.
DC & DE
Correction (June 6, 2017)
We have removed these two lines as the BBC, in fact, has written a handful of articles mentioning this issue, mostly in passing:
'Curtis also notes that the BBC has not published any online article about UK arms being sold to the Saudis for use in Yemen since as far back as January. This, he says, is "misinforming the public, a disgrace".'
In the wake of yet another horrendous atrocity, this time in Manchester claiming 23 lives, 'respectable' media once again refused to seriously discuss the extent to which violent attacks against 'us' are linked to 'our' violent attacks against 'them'. Instead, howls of disgust typically arise when anyone mentions terms like 'blowback' and 'reaping the whirlwind'.
In a headline comment piece in the Guardian, Rafael Behr warned of 'the hazard of moral relativism':
'A well-trodden analytical approach follows the twisted trail of jihadi logic back to political grievance, Middle Eastern wars and blaming the west.'
Presumably, then, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5, was adopting 'jihadi logic' when she commented in a 2011 Reith lecture:
'whatever the merits of putting an end to Saddam Hussein, the war was also a distraction from the pursuit of al-Qaeda. It increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama Bin Laden's claim that Islam was under attack was correct... our involvement in Iraq spurred some young British Muslims to turn to terror.' (Our emphasis)
Likewise, former MI5 chief, Stella Rimington, who discussed the impact of the Iraq war on these threats:
'Well, I think all one can do is look at what those people who've been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most of them, as far as I'm aware, say that the war in Iraq played a significant part in persuading them that this is the right course of action to take... I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading.' (Our emphasis)
At their worst, references to 'jihadi logic' descend to accusations of outright apologetics. Guardian columnist Owen Jones accurately observed on Twitter:
'If you say the Versailles Treaty and the Great Depression contributed to the rise of the Nazis, does that make you a Nazi apologist? (No.)'
But a key difference, often forgotten, is that while governments in countries like Iraq, Libya and Syria are often portrayed as bitter enemies, none of them have threatened, much less attacked, Britain.
In the Guardian, Paul Mason commented:
'The "blowback theory", which blames Islamist terrorism directly on western expeditionary warfare, is both facile and irrelevant in this case. By bombing Libya we did not enrage or radicalise young Muslims such as Abedi: we simply gave them space to operate in.'
Professor Jake Lynch of the University of Sydney responded on the Guardian's letters page:
'Blowback theory is most definitely relevant. It is not confined to "blam[ing] Islamist terrorism directly on western expeditionary warfare", as Mason incorrectly states. Islamic State germinated in the scorched earth left behind when we removed the regime of Saddam Hussein. If we had not invaded Iraq, the organisation that is now attacking us would not exist. That is blowback.'
Remarkably, Mason also wrote:
'David Cameron was right to take military action to stop Gaddafi massacring his own people during the Libyan uprising of 2011: the action was sanctioned by the UN, proportionate, had no chance of escalating into an occupation.'
A September 9, 2016 report into the war by the foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons commented on Cameron's policy:
'The result was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of ISIL in North Africa.'
As for the alleged justification for war:
'Despite his rhetoric, the proposition that Muammar Gaddafi would have ordered the massacre of civilians in Benghazi was not supported by the available evidence... Gaddafi regime forces targeted male combatants in a civil war and did not indiscriminately attack civilians. More widely, Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.' (Our emphasis. See our alert)
And while Cameron's Libyan no-fly zone was sanctioned by the UN, regime change certainly was not.
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.