If the human species survives long enough, future historians might well marvel at what passed for 'mainstream' media and politics in the early 21st century.
They will see that a UK Defence Secretary had to resign because of serious allegations of sexual misconduct; or, as he put it euphemistically, because he had 'fallen short'. But he did not have to resign because of the immense misery he had helped to inflict upon Yemen. Nor was he made to resign when he told MPs to stop criticising Saudi Arabia because that would be 'unhelpful' while the UK government was trying to sell the human rights-abusing extremist regime in Riyadh more fighter jets and weapons. After all, the amount sold in the first half of 2017 was a mere £1.1 billion. (See our recent media alert for more on this.) Right now, the UK is complicit in a Saudi blockade of Yemen's ports and airspace, preventing the delivery of vital medicine and food aid. 7.3 million Yemenis are already on the brink of famine, and the World Food Programme has warned of the deaths of 150,000 malnourished children in the next few months.
Meanwhile, Robert Peston, ITV political editor, and Laura Kuenssberg, BBC News political editor, have seemingly never questioned the British Prime Minister Theresa May about the UK's shameful role in arming and supporting Yemen's cruel tormentor. Nor have they responded when challenged about their own silence.
Future historians will also note that British newspapers, notably The Times and the 'left-leaning' Guardian, published several sycophantic PR pieces for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 'a risk-taker with a zeal for reform'. 'Is he taking on too much too fast?', asked a swooning Patrick Wintour, the Guardian's diplomatic editor. Martin Chulov, the paper's Middle East correspondent, waxed lyrical about the Crown Prince's 'bold move' in arresting senior royals, a prominent Saudi billionaire and scores of former ministers as part of a 'corruption purge'. The dramatic action was designed to 'consolidate power' while bin Salman 'attempts to reform [the] kingdom's economy and society'. As Adam Johnson noted in a media analysis piece for Fairness in Accuracy And Reporting, the Guardian's coverage was akin to a 'breathless press release.' A follow-up article by Chulov, observed Johnson, 'took flattering coverage to new extremes'. The 'rush to reform' was presented uncritically by the paper, painting the Crown Prince as a kind of populist hero; 'a curious framing that reeks more of PR than journalism.'
Meanwhile, Richard Spencer, Middle East editor of The Times, wrote articles proclaiming, 'Prince's bold vision drives progress in Saudi Arabia' and 'It's wrong to blame all terror on the Saudis', featuring such propaganda bullet points as:
'the Saudis are on our side, arresting militants and giving us vital intelligence'.
In October 2017, The Times even ran a four-part series promoting a Saudi conference to attract investment in the head-chopping kingdom with the lure of 'sweeping social and economic reforms'. As for any awkward questions about the brutality Saudi Arabia was inflicting on Yemen, well, they were swept away.
Historians examining media archives from this time will also observe that Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Tony Blair's government, opined that the UK had been 'misled' about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction:
'Top-secret US intelligence casting serious doubt over [Saddam Hussein's] destructive capabilities was not shared with Britain.'
'Mainstream' news journalists blandly reported Brown's miserable excuses without demur. They failed to mention that former UN chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter had comprehensively dismissed the propaganda notion of Saddam as a threat well before the US-led invasion of March 2003. Ritter's team had concluded that Iraq had been 'fundamentally disarmed', with anything that remained being simply 'useless sludge' because of the limited 'shelf-lives' of chemical and biological weapons. This crucial information was already available by October 2002, five months before the invasion, in a handy short book that somehow 'escaped' the attention of the British government, including Brown, and that of a compliant corporate media that broadcast endless Western propaganda.
Nevertheless, millions of people around the world marched against the Iraq war before it began, because they did not swallow the torrent of deceits emanating from Washington and London. Brown, however, had always backed Blair to the hilt, telling the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war in 2010 that Blair took 'the right decision for the right reasons' and insisting that 'everything that Mr Blair did during this period, he did properly'.
Future historians will also study the media hysteria in 2017 over 'Russiagate' that focused obsessively on outraged claims of supposed pivotal Russian interference in Trump's election as US President. But, as US investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald noted:
'Inflammatory claims about Russia get mindlessly hyped by media outlets, almost always based on nothing more than evidence-free claims from government officials, only to collapse under the slightest scrutiny, because they are entirely lacking in evidence.'
Greenwald is not saying that there was definitely no Russian interference. But the 'evidence' for decisive intervention presented thus far is unconvincing, to say the least. The crucial point is that Western corporate media have only ever given minimal coverage to major longstanding US government efforts to intervene in other countries - from propaganda campaigns, meddling in foreign elections, and all the way up to assassinations, coups and full-blown invasions. A Time magazine cover story in 1996 even boasted that US interference helped Boris Yeltsin to be re-elected as president of Russia:
'Exclusive: Yanks to the Rescue. The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.'
The historical record will also reveal, in apparent blindness and deafness to this extensive record of US criminal behaviour, that BBC News journalists based there frequently end up gushing about the greatness of 'America'. It is a rite of passage that demonstrates their bona fides as servants of power.
It will not surprise future historians that prestigious press and broadcasting awards were given to those who reported within the limits circumscribed by established power. Such rewards were few for those who dared to expose crimes by the West or 'our' allies.
One of these 'allies', arguably the most important in the Middle East, is Israel. Earlier this month, Priti Patel resigned as Britain's minister for international aid after it had been revealed that she had had numerous secret meetings with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while on a 'family holiday'. She had also visited an Israeli military field hospital that treats Al Qaedi-affiliated fighters. Following her trip, Patel had actually wanted to send UK aid to the powerful Israeli army, even while cutting Palestinian aid to vital projects in Gaza. The episode briefly opened 'a small, opaque window on the UK's powerful Israel lobby', observed Jonathan Cook. But the topic of the Israel lobby is seemingly taboo in polite British society. Laura Kuenssberg quickly deleted a tweet she had sent out quoting an unnamed senior Tory MP complaining about the 'corrupt' relationship that has enabled Israel to 'buy access' in Westminster.
Perhaps, then, it was no surprise that when the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Territories published a strongly-worded report in New York on October 26, 2017, the resulting media silence was deafening. Michael Lynk, a Canadian professor of law and a human rights expert, called on the world to hold Israel accountable for fundamental violations of international law during fifty years of occupation. This was especially timely with the 100-year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration that effectively stole Palestine from the Palestinians who were 'ethnically cleansed' from the land that became the state of Israel.
Lynk encouraged the international community to take 'unified actions on an escalating basis' to declare the occupation illegal and to demand Israel's withdrawal. Gaza, he said, was 'in misery', and Israel's continued illegal occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem was a 'darkening stain'. Despite the seriousness of these charges, and their authoritative UN source, we could not find a single mention in the UK press or on the BBC News website. Scholars in the future will marvel at this stunning media obedience to Western power, obtained without visible coercion.
Undoubtedly, what will appal future historians most is that the urgent calamitous risks of human-induced climate change were well known, but that nothing was done to stop the looming chaos. Worse than that: powerful private business, financial and economic elites, and the governments they had essentially co-opted, forged ahead with policies that accelerated the climate crisis.
The evidence has already been unequivocal for many years. In November 2017, a comprehensive review of climate science by thirteen US federal agencies concluded in a 477-page report that evidence of global warming was 'stronger than ever'. They said that it was 'extremely likely' – meaning with 95 to 100% certainty – that global warming is human-induced, mostly from carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
One climate scientist said:
'A lot of what we've been learning over the last four years suggests the possibility that things may have been more serious than we think.'
The language was couched in typical scientific caution. But the horror at what was unfolding was surely not far from the surface of academics' minds.
And yet, in a further sign of the short-term insanity that drives state and corporate policy, governments continued to channel huge sums of public money into planet-killing industries. European states, including the UK government, gave more than €112bn (£99bn) every year in subsidies to support fossil fuel production and consumption.
In 2016, gas companies spent €104m in intensive lobbying campaigns to try to encourage European policymakers to accept the myth that natural gas is a 'clean fuel' in an attempt to 'lock in' fossil fuels for decades to come. Moreover, fossil fuel companies lobbied hard behind the scenes of the Paris climate talks, as well as follow-up negotiations, to manipulate outcomes in their private favour. After all, cynical corporate madness has no boundaries when profits are the overriding concern. Absurdly, the text of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change did not even include the words 'fossil fuels'. Scientists warned that fossil fuel burning is set to hit a record high in 2017.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that 2017 is set to be one of the top three hottest years on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The WMO also noted that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have 'surged at unprecedented speed' to the highest level in 800,000 years.
The signs of ecological breakdown are all around us. Last month, a new study revealed that the abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years. The results had 'shocked scientists'. This matters hugely because flying insects are, of course, a vital component of a healthy ecosystem upon which we are crucially dependent for food, water and oxygen. Robert Hunziker observes succinctly that this ecosystem, 'the quintessential essence of life on our planet', is breaking down. Our life support system is being destroyed.
One of the many symptoms of this breakdown that is likely to overwhelm human society is mass migration as a result of climate change. Tens of millions of people will be forced to move because of climate disruption in the next decade alone. This flood of human refugees will make the numbers of those who fled the Syrian conflict into Europe look like a trickle.
Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said:
'What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.'
However, if governments really were motivated to protect the public, as they always claim when amplifying the threat of terrorism, they would have already announced a halt to fossil fuels and a massive conversion to renewable energy. A landmark study recently showed that global pollution kills nine million people a year and threatens the 'survival of human societies'. If terrorism was killing nine million people every year, and the very survival of human society was threatened, the corporate media and politicians would be reacting very differently. But because it's global pollution, merely an economic 'externality', private power can continue on its quest for dominance and profits.
The situation now is truly desperate. We are literally talking about the survival of the human species. There will be those who declare, either with black humour or a morally-suspect flippancy, that 'the planet would be better off without us'. But we surely cannot so casually dismiss the lives and prospects of literally billions of people alive today and their descendants too.
Government policies are driven primarily by short-term political gain and corporate power, so there needs to be a massive public demand for control of the economy towards sustainability. The alternative is no human future. But just at a time when public resistance and radical action are most needed, social media networks owned and controlled by huge corporations are suppressing dissent. A major part of the struggle for human survival, then, will be to overcome the unaccountable media corporations and tech giants that are attempting to define what is deemed 'acceptable' news and commentary.
The truth of corporate journalism, and the great irony of its obsession with 'fake news', is that it is itself utterly fake. What could be more obviously fake than the idea that Truth can be sold by billionaire-owned media dependent on billionaire-owned advertisers for maximised profit?
The 'mainstream' worldview is anything but – it is extreme, weird, a product of corporate conformity and deference to power. As Norman Mailer observed:
'There is an odour to any Press Headquarters that is unmistakeable... The unavoidable smell of flesh burning quietly and slowly in the service of a machine.' (Mailer, 'The Time Of Our Time', Little Brown, 1998, p.457)
A prime example of 'mainstream' extremism is the way the UK's illegal wars destroying whole countries are not an issue for corporate moralists. Physicians for Global Responsibility estimate that 1.3 million people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone. And yet it is simply understood that UK wars will not be a theme during general elections (See here and here). By contrast, other kinds of 'inappropriate behaviour' are subject to intense scrutiny.
Consider the recent resignation of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and his replacement by Prime Minister Theresa May's Chief Whip, Gavin Williamson. Fallon resigned after it was revealed that he had 'repeatedly touched the broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer's knee at a dinner in 2002'.
Fallon was damaged further by revelations that he had lunged at journalist Jane Merrick:
'This was not a farewell peck on the cheek, but a direct lunge at my lips.'
The Commons leader Andrea Leadsom also disclosed that she had complained about 'lewd remarks' Fallon had made to her.
Sexual harassment is a serious issue, despite the scoffing of some male commentators. In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens shamefully dismissed women's complaints as mere 'squawking'.
But it is strange indeed that, while harassment is rightly deemed a resigning offence, other 'inappropriate behaviour' leaves 'mainstream' commentators completely unmoved.
Fallon voted for both the 2003 war that destroyed Iraq and the 2011 war that wrecked Libya. He voted for war on Syria. He voted for replacing the Trident nuclear missile system. Earlier this year, he even declared that Britain would be willing to launch a nuclear first strike.
After he was made Secretary of Defence in July 2014, Fallon oversaw the supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia waging war on Yemen. Two years later, Campaign Against Arms Trade reported that UK sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war included £2.2 billion of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1 billion of missiles, bombs and grenades, and nearly half a million pounds' worth of tanks and other armoured vehicles. British sales of military equipment to the kingdom topped £1.1bn in the first half of this year alone.
In December 2016, Fallon admitted that internationally banned cluster munitions supplied by the UK had been used in Saudi Arabia's bombing campaign. Six months earlier, Amnesty International had reported that British-made cluster bombs were being used in attacks on civilians that had claimed the lives of children. For none of these horrors did Fallon resign.
So what kind of conflict are these weapons fuelling? The Guardian reports this week:
'Yemen is in the grip of the world's worst cholera outbreak and 7 million people are already on the brink of famine.'
In July, Reliefweb reported:
'The scale of the food crisis in conflict-ridden Yemen is staggering with 17 million people - two thirds of the population - severely food insecure and seven million of these on the verge of famine.'
Director-General of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, José Graziano da Silva, has described Yemen as the UN's 'largest humanitarian crisis today', noting that conflict and violence have disrupted agriculture, with violence intensifying in areas most short of food. In December 2016, a study by UNICEF, the UN children's agency, found that at least one child was dying in Yemen every 10 minutes. The agency found that, since 2014, there had been a 200 per cent increase in children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, with almost half a million affected. Nearly 2.2 million children were in need of urgent care.
This week, the Saudi-led coalition declared it would close Yemen's borders to prevent an alleged flow of weapons from Iran, after it intercepted a missile attack by Houthi rebels near Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Johan Mooij, Yemen director of Care International, commented:
'For the last two days, nothing has got in or out of the country. Fuel prices have gone up by 50% and there are queues at the gas stations. People fear no more fuel will come into Hodeidah port.'
'People depend on the humanitarian aid and part of the cholera issue [is] that they do not eat and are not strong enough to deal with unclean water.'
There have been 'daily airstrikes in Sana'a,' Mooij said, adding: 'People fear the situation is escalating.'
On Monday, the UN's World Food Program said that, out of Yemen's entire population of 28 million people, about 20 million, 'do not know where they're going to get their next meal'. These are Fallon's millions, May's millions, the 'mainstream's' millions.
In the Independent, Mary Dejevsky made the only mention of Yemen in an article discussing Fallon's resignation that we have seen in the national corporate press:
'In the Middle East [on Fallon's watch], the UK made great efforts to maintain its alliance with Saudi Arabia – and the arms sales that went with it – playing down the desperate plight of Yemen which was a by-product of this policy.'
Mass death, Iraq and Libya destroyed, millions of lives torn apart, profiteering in the billions from the torture of an impoverished, famine-stricken nation – none of this was deemed worthy even of mention in considering the record of Fallon and his 'inappropriate behaviour'.
As for his replacement, the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow tweeted a link to his blog piece titled: '10 things you might not know about Gavin Williamson'. Vital facts included news that the new Defence Secretary 'kept a pet tarantula called Cronus on his desk', 'likes hedgehogs', 'is only 41', and 'went to a comprehensive school'.
Sparrow was adhering to the journalistic convention that parliamentary politics should be depicted as a light-hearted, Wodehousian farce. It is all a bit of a laugh - everybody means well. Despite Williamson's lethal new role, the word 'war' was not mentioned.
Preoccupied with spiders and hedgehogs, Sparrow found no space to mention that Williamson 'almost always voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas'. He voted for war in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. He voted against the Yemen motion put before the House of Commons in October 2016 that merely called on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it had been determined whether they had been responsible for war crimes. The motion was defeated by 283 votes to 193, telling us everything we need to know about the 'mainstream's' much-loved myth that British policy is motivated by a 'responsibility to protect'.
The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg tweeted a link to the BBC's own comedy profile, which also discussed the tarantula and other nonsense, and made no mention of Williamson's record on war. We asked Kuenssberg:
'Will you be asking him if he has any regrets on voting against the Yemen motion to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, given the vast civilian crisis?'
We received no reply.
The extreme cognitive dissonance guiding 'mainstream' moral outrage was again highlighted by the Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff, who tweeted:
'Can't help thinking that now would be quite a good time for the first ever female defence secretary, really'
'What difference would it make to the civilians dying under our bombs in Yemen and Syria? Isn't that the key issue on "defence"?'
Hinsliff did not reply. But the answer, of course, is that it would make no difference at all.
A recent interview with 88-year-old Noam Chomsky once again demonstrates just how insightful he is in providing rational analysis of Western power and the suffering it generates. By contrast, anyone relying on BBC News receives a power-friendly view of the world, systematically distorted in a way that allows the state and private interests to pursue business as usual.
In what follows, we present examples of Chomsky's clarity on several important topics and contrast them with the distortions and silences from BBC News. These examples are not intended to be fully comprehensive, with lots of detailed background. But they are highly illustrative of the propaganda nature of what the BBC broadcasts every day.
First, consider North Korea which has carried out missile tests that have 'demonstrated its growing power and expertise, stoking tensions with the US', as the BBC puts it. A helpful graphic shows much of the northern hemisphere within range of these missiles. In particular, the west coast of the United States is portrayed as under real threat from the 'hermit' state's nuclear missiles: a scaremongering scenario that BBC News has promoted in line with the propaganda requirements of the White House, the Pentagon and the arms industry. Video clips on the BBC News website have titles such as 'N Korea announces nuclear test', 'S Korea drill response to N Korea missile', 'We're used to hearing about being bombed' and 'I don't know when I might be killed'.
In a forthcoming book of interviews with journalist David Barsamian, 'Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy', Chomsky acknowledges that North Korea has a 'growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles' which does indeed 'pose a threat to the region and, in the longer term, to countries beyond.' But then he provides vital context for this arsenal of weapons:
'its function is to be a deterrent, one that the North Korean regime is unlikely to abandon as long as it remains under threat of destruction.'
Yes, threat of destruction; something that is very real in the historical memory of the people:
'North Koreans remember well that their country was literally flattened by U.S. bombing, and many may recall how U.S. forces bombed major dams when there were no other targets left. There were gleeful reports in American military publications about the exciting spectacle of a huge flood of water wiping out the rice crops on which "the Asian" depends for survival.'
Today, as Chomsky notes, we are instructed that 'the great challenge faced by the world' is how to compel North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programmes. 'Perhaps we should resort to more sanctions, cyberwar, intimidation [...] perhaps even to direct attack on North Korea'.
He then continues:
'But there is another option, one that seems to be ignored: we could simply accept North Korea's offer to do what we are demanding. China and North Korea have already proposed that North Korea freeze its nuclear and missile programs. The proposal, though, was rejected at once by Washington, just as it had been two years earlier, because it includes a quid pro quo: it calls on the United States to halt its threatening military exercises on North Korea's borders, including simulated nuclear-bombing attacks by B-52s.'
Wait. What was that? There is another option? An article in The Diplomat, which describes itself as 'the premier international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region', outlines the proposal; namely that:
'Pyongyang declare a moratorium on both nuclear and missile tests, in exchange for the United States and South Korea halting their large-scale joint military exercises.'
China has given this proposal the succinct name of 'dual suspensions'.
Chomsky explains further:
'The offer to freeze North Korea's nuclear and missile programs in return for an end to highly provocative actions on North Korea's border could be the basis for more far-reaching negotiations, which could radically reduce the nuclear threat and perhaps even bring the North Korea crisis to an end. Contrary to much inflamed commentary, there are good reasons to think such negotiations might succeed.'
'Yet even though the North Korean programs are constantly described as perhaps the greatest threat we face, the Chinese-North Korean proposal is unacceptable to Washington, and is rejected by U.S. commentators with impressive unanimity. This is another entry in the shameful and depressing record of near-reflexive preference for force when peaceful options may well be available.'
So, there is a reasonable proposal from China and North Korea that could form the basis for negotiations leading to a peaceful resolution of the crisis – but it has been dismissed by Washington and US commentators. To what extent has it been covered by BBC News? Consider a report by Seoul-based BBC correspondent Stephen Evans when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson threatened North Korea with military action. Like Obama, Trump has ruled out negotiation with North Korea. The 'situation remains the same', said Evans in the section of the BBC News report grandly titled 'Analysis':
'North Korea shows no hint of being willing to renounce nuclear weapons, whatever economic blows it receives and whatever China might think.'
If a BBC News reporter presents an 'analysis' that does not mention an important proposal that could bring about peace, and which the US has outright dismissed, what does that say about BBC bias?
This is not a one-off. Washington-based BBC correspondent Barbara Plett-Usher noted dutifully that Tillerson had urged an 'international response' to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, without once mentioning the China-North Korea proposal.
Last month, BBC's China editor Carrie Gracie also offered her 'Analysis':
'China has insisted time and again that it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state, and it can't avoid the obvious and urgent question: how does China intend to stop it?'
There was nothing about the proposal that China has made, with North Korea, to address the stalemate. Likewise, earlier in the year, Gracie had said in another BBC News report:
'So in Beijing today, Mr Tillerson kept it diplomatic. There was no public repetition of President Trump's complaint that China is not doing enough to prevent North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.'
The BBC News reporter was thus uncritically presenting Washington's 'complaint' about China without pointing out that its rational proposal had been summarily dismissed by the US. This is not journalism; it is power-friendly propaganda.
A standard technique deployed by corporate journalists to fend off challenges from the public is to point to selected examples of 'abuse' and then tar all reasoned criticism with the same mucky brush. Or, if that doesn't work, to sneer at claims of 'conspiracy' or 'plots', thus permitting instant dismissal of the arguments made. Polly Toynbee managed to combine the two techniques in a recent Guardian column. It is a near-masterclass in liberal propaganda.
Toynbee began her article by claiming that the BBC, described in hagiographic terms as 'the nation's crucible', is 'often bad at defending itself'. With BBC journalism supposedly 'under ferocious and unjustified attack', in particular from both 'pro- and anti-Brexiteers', she was pleased to hear BBC chairman David Clementi 'standing up for its journalists' in his speech at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge last week.
Clementi said it was unacceptable for politicians, whom he did not name, to 'stand by and watch' heckling at press conferences. He added:
'I have become increasingly aware of the abuse that some of them – particularly female journalists – are subject to on an almost daily basis.'
'These days, there is much more abuse. It is increasingly explicit and aggressive. And much of it occurs online.
'I welcome the work the Government is doing to tackle this, and I'm following closely the efforts of Twitter and Facebook, amongst others, to clamp down on the perpetrators. I hope the social media platforms do even more.'
It is obviously true that sexist and misogynist abuse exists on social media and that threats against women should be taken seriously. But as website Skwawkbox rightly pointed out, the speech by Clementi, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, was actually 'a barely-veiled attack on new media'. He:
'ignore[d] the fact that anger toward journalists is, overwhelmingly, precisely because they do not "do their job" and ask the awkward, unwelcome question – and most of the rest of the time, it's because they ask ridiculous questions.'
'The BBC angers the aware amongst its viewers and readers precisely by failing to question government policy, instead giving government ministers and spokespeople not just a "free ride" but an untrammelled opportunity to propagandise unchallenged.'
This is not territory that Toynbee wished to explore.
Next, she referred to the reported claim that Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor, has been appointed a bodyguard. In the following sentence, Toynbee then mentioned Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was murdered in June 2016. This was an insidious link to make, implying that criticism of Kuenssberg's journalism would increase the risk of any death threats against her. Toynbee made no reference to a petition by website 38 Degrees being taken down last year after claims of 'sexist abuse' against Kuenssberg. The petition, signed by 35,000 people, had protested her blatantly biased anti-Jeremy Corbyn reporting.
The former UK ambassador Craig Murray said that he had read through every single one of the comments on the 38 Degrees website when around 26,000 people had signed the petition. He noted:
'Of the many scores, possibly hundreds (there is no counter) of comments I read through, only one was sexist. That one was very unpleasant, but totally unrepresentative. I can see no reason why they could not just delete any such stupid comments. Everywhere on the internet gets them, including this blog.'
'It seems to me astonishing that a tiny and unrepresentative number of people can get a petition scrapped which had been signed by many thousands of genuine people.'
He was later told by 38 Degrees that the alleged abuse was not on the petition website itself; it 'was on connected social media'. But when Murray asked them for the evidence of abuse, 'they absolutely refuse[d] to show it.'
'We have had five people searching all day. So far we have one single tweet, which was nasty – it called Laura K by a expletive reserved for women. And it did refer to the petition. But it was sent by a young man, 90% of whose comments referred to football and 100% of whose tweets used similar expletives. [...] But even if there are more nasty examples of abuse, that is not the fault of the 35,000 good people who signed the petition. [...] I utterly condemn any such abuse, but it does not negate the genuine concerns of the petitioners. Regular readers know I myself receive constant abuse, sometimes death threats.'
As for the BBC's political editor, Murray described her as:
'the most openly biased journalist I have ever seen on the BBC, particularly in her very obvious vindictive hatred of Jeremy Corbyn and of Scottish Independence.'
Inevitably, the corporate media's focus on a tiny number of abusive comments helped to block any discussion about deep-rooted BBC bias.
As the late media activist Danny Schechter wrote, when it comes to the corporate broadcast media: 'The more you watch, the less you know.'
Schechter's observation only fails in one key respect: 'mainstream' output does tell us a lot about which foreign governments are being lined up for regime change.
In 2013, it was remarkable to see the BBC reporting claims from Syria on a daily basis in a way that almost always blamed the Syrian government, and President Assad personally, for horrendous war crimes. But as the New York Times reported last month, the picture was rather less black and white. The US was embroiled in a dirty war that was 'one of the costliest covert action programs in the history of the C.I.A', running to 'more than $1 billion over the life of the program'. Its aim was to support a vast 'rebel' army created and armed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to overthrow the Syrian government.
The BBC's relentless headline stories were mostly supplied by 'activists' and 'rebels' who, in fact, were militants attempting to overthrow Assad, and whose claims could not be verified. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn described the problem afflicting virtually all 'mainstream' reporting on Syria:
'All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War... The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.'
There was a simple reason why 'rebel' claims were uncontested: they originated from 'areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them'. The additional point being that 'it has never been plausible that unaffiliated local citizens would be allowed to report freely'.
This was obvious to everyone, doubtless including the BBC, which nevertheless produced a tsunami of 'rebel'-sourced propaganda. Crucially, these stories were not balanced attempts to explore the various claims; they sought to establish a version of events justifying regime change: 'rebels' and 'activists' were 'good', Assad was 'bad' and had to go. Journalist Robert Parry explains:
'The job of the media is not to provide as much meaningful information as possible to the people so they can exercise their free judgment; it is to package certain information in a way to guide the people to a preferred conclusion.'
The BBC campaign was clearly inspired – whether consciously or otherwise - by a high-level decision to engineer regime change in Syria.
The key moment arrived in August 2013 when the US came very close to launching a major attack against Syrian government forces, supposedly in response to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Damascus. Only the UK parliament's rejection of the case for war and warnings from US generals on doubts about the claims, and likely fallout from regime change, prevented Obama from attacking.
Particularly disturbing was the fact that, as the possibility of a direct US regime change effort faded, so too did the steady flow of BBC atrocity claims. It was as if, with the goal temporarily unattainable, the propaganda tap was simply closed. It was later re-opened ahead of an anticipated, pro-war Clinton presidency, and then as part of an attempt to push president-elect Trump to intensify the Syrian war.
In J.G. Ballard's classic novel, The Drowned World, people are struggling for survival on a post-apocalyptic, overheating planet. A 'sudden instability in the Sun' has unleashed increased solar radiation, melting the polar ice caps and causing global temperatures to rise by a few degrees each year. Once-temperate areas, such as Europe and North America, have become flooded tropical lands, 'sweltering under continuous heat waves'. Life has become tolerable only within the former Arctic and Antarctic Circles.
The frailty of 'civilisation' and the attempts to cope with psychological changes in the human condition as a result of the catastrophe are laid bare. It is a frightening surreal vision of the human predicament by a master novelist. At one point, one of the characters is asked about his life before the apocalypse. He answers, 'I'm afraid I remember nothing. The immediate past is of no interest to me.'
Hurricane Harvey has provided a genuinely terrifying glimpse of a global Ballardian dystopia that may actually be humanity's fate. And yet, even now, corporate media are suppressing the truth.
On August 25, the category 4 Hurricane Harvey, with 130 mph winds, made landfall near Corpus Christi on the southern coast of Texas. Harvey's progress then stalled over Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, dumping enormous 'unprecedented' quantities of water, creating 'a 1-in-1,000-year flood event'. To date, 50 people have been killed, around one million residents have been displaced and 200,000 homes have been damaged in a 'path of destruction' stretching for over 300 miles. The Washington Post reported that:
'the intensity and scope of the disaster were so enormous that weather forecasters, first responders, the victims, everyone really, couldn't believe their eyes.'
The total financial cost of Harvey is yet to be determined. But, according to the governor of Texas, damages will likely be in the range of $150 billion to $180 billion, exceeding the $118 billion cost of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans in 2005. Around 80 per cent of Hurricane Harvey victims do not even have flood insurance; many had skipped buying insurance believing it to have been a 'low-risk gamble'.
Meteorologist Eric Holthaus surveyed the deaths and devastation caused by Harvey and said bluntly: 'this is what climate change looks like'. He added:
'The symbolism of the worst flooding disaster in U.S. history hitting the sprawled-out capital city of America's oil industry is likely not lost on many. Institutionalized climate denial in our political system and climate denial by inaction by the rest of us have real consequences. They look like Houston.'
BBC News reported that Harvey had actually shut down almost a quarter of the US capacity for oil refining.
Other societal factors have played their part in worsening the crisis. Dr Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne, observes that Houston is the second-fastest growing city in the US, adding:
'As the region's population grows, more and more of southern Texas is being paved with impermeable surfaces. This means that when there is extreme rainfall the water takes longer to drain away, prolonging and intensifying the floods.'
As Robert McSweeney and Simon Evans note in a piece for Carbon Brief:
'The rising population also changes flood risk in some unexpected ways. Parts of Houston are subsiding rapidly as a result of people extracting too much groundwater'.
'the US government was warned 20 years ago, in a National Wildlife Federation report, that its flood insurance programme was encouraging homes to be built, and rebuilt, in flood-prone areas of the country. [...] Two decades on, the author of the report says a flood event like Hurricane Harvey "was inevitable".'
Meanwhile, halfway around the planet in South Asia, an even greater climate-related catastrophe was taking place. Reuters observed that 'the worst monsoon floods in a decade' have killed over 1,400 people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Around 41 million people have been displaced. That number is simply staggering. And in areas with little infrastructure and financial resources, the consequences are almost unthinkable. The Times of India reported that rains had brought Mumbai, a city of 18 million people, 'to its knees'.
E.A. Crunden wrote in a piece for ThinkProgress that the crisis:
'is alarming aid officials, who say the issue is spiraling into an unprecedented disaster.'
Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told the New York Times of his concern that the disaster in South Asia might not get the attention it needs:
'We hope people won't overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer [to] home.'
Although coverage of the monsoon flooding in South Asia was not entirely absent in British media by any means, it was swamped by the coverage devoted to Harvey in Texas and Louisiana. We conducted a ProQuest newspaper database search on September 4 for the period since August 25 (the day Hurricane Harvey hit Texas). Our search yielded just 26 stories in the UK national press on the South Asian flooding, while there were 695 articles on Harvey. Thus, coverage from the US dominated South Asia by a factor of almost 30 to 1, even though the scale of deaths and flooding was far greater in the latter. There was some good coverage of both, notably in the Guardian. But the general trend was glaring. Somehow, people in South Asia just don't matter as much as Americans; or Westerners in general.
Similarly, Ben Parker, a senior editor at IRIN, a non-profit group specialising in humanitarian news, consulted databases of online news stories and noted that 'US media last week [Aug 24-31] mentioned Hurricane Harvey at least 100 times more than India'. As for the rest of the world, the gap was smaller: non-US media gave 3-4 times as much attention to Harvey as to the monsoons.
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.