Media Lens - 2003 News analysis and media criticism Thu, 18 Jul 2019 11:59:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb THE TYRANT WITH A THOUSAND FACES

"Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down... Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused." (Woodrow Wilson, 1907)

Stony Silences - The Comsat Commissars

Reviewing the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein on the day of his capture by American troops, ITN's Trevor Macdonald described yet again the gassing of civilians at Halabja in March 1988:

"It was an atrocity met by a stony silence from the West who at that stage regarded the Iraqi president as a much needed ally in the Middle East." (ITN News Special, December 14, 2003)

In fact the British government's view of the atrocity was expressed loud and clear in its doubling of export credits to Baghdad, which rose from £175 million in 1987 to £340 million in 1988. A UK Department of Trade and Industry press release of November 1988 described how "this substantial increase reflects the confidence of the British government in the long term strength of the Iraqi economy and the opportunities for an increased level of trade between our two countries following the ceasefire in the Gulf War". (Quoted, Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit, Vintage, 2003, p.36)

Five months after Halabja, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe noted in a secret report that "opportunities for sales of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq will be considerable". In October 1989, Foreign office minister William Waldegrave wrote of Iraq: "I doubt if there is any future market of such a scale anywhere where the UK is potentially so well-placed" and that "the priority of Iraq in our policy should be very high". (Ibid, p.37)

In the first year after Halabja, the British government steadfastly refused to accept that its ally had used chemical weapons, stating that the evidence "was compelling but not conclusive". Human Rights Watch reported recently that the evidence it collected on Halabja at the time was simply ignored by the Foreign Office. The British government, it seems, was "singularly unreceptive". (Ibid)

On August 18, 2002, the New York Times reported how in the 1980s the Reagan administration secretly provided "critical battle planning assistance at a time when American intelligence knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq war". Walter Lang, a former senior US defence intelligence officer added: "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern."

The Times' story was quickly buried and forgotten.

Soon after Halabja, the US approved the export of virus cultures and a $1 billion contract to design and build a petrochemical plant that the Iraqis planned to use to produce mustard gas. Profits were the bottom line. Indeed "so powerful was the grip of the pro-Baghdad lobby on the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan", Dilip Hiro notes in the Observer, "that it got the White House to foil the Senate's attempt to penalise Iraq for its violation of the Geneva Protocol on Chemical Weapons to which it was a signatory". (Hiro, 'When US turned a blind eye to poison gas', The Observer, September 1, 2002)

The US continued to support Iraq after the Iran-Iraq war because of "our duty to support US exports" the State Department declared in early 1990. (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.111)

Recent reports by the US Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban affairs, reveal that the US sold anthrax, nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulinum to Iraq up until March 1992, even after the 1991 Gulf War, and four years after Halabja.

This is the same "pragmatic" Western approach being pursued now in support of mass murderers in Russia, Turkey, Colombia, Algeria and elsewhere - leaders who could become the next "new Hitler" at the drop of a hat were they ever to repeat Saddam's mistake by crossing the West.

Warning shots were fired earlier this year when the Turkish government refused to allow a US land attack on Iraq from its borders. Having consistently ignored atrocities against Turkish Kurds with US weapons, the US media suddenly began writing of "Turkey's ghastly record of torturing, killing, and 'disappearing' Turkish Kurds and destroying more than 3,000 of their villages." (Editorial, Boston Globe, March 6, 2003)

The murderous history of crucial, vigorous US-UK support for Iraqi crimes is rewritten by ITN as the West responding with "a stony silence" - disapproving, we might presume, but helpless to intervene.

Very Important And Very Ironic

Why has "the Left" so abjectly failed to support the people of Iraq by opposing the war to topple their tyrant? So asks Nick Cohen in the Observer:

"Just before the war, Jose Ramos-Horta, one of the leaders of the struggle for independence of East Timor, looked on the anti-war protesters and asked: 'Why did I not see one single banner or hear one speech calling for the end of human rights abuses in Iraq, the removal of the dictator and freedom for the Iraqis and the Kurdish people?'." (Cohen, 'By the left... about turn', The Observer, December 14, 2003)

Cohen's comments are a good example of exact mainstream truth-reversal. While media commentators had next to nothing to say about the West's complicity in Saddam's atrocities - just as they have nothing to say about support for Turkey, Russia and Colombia's atrocities now - dissidents vigorously opposed Western support for the tyrant. In 1992, Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) described how the media, shrieking with horrified outrage at Saddam's crimes now, responded at the time he was actually committing those crimes with our support:

"During that whole period when the United States was helping build up the military and economic might of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the issue of his human rights abuses was off the media agenda. There was this classic in the New York Post, a tabloid in New York. After the [Gulf] crisis began, they had a picture of Saddam Hussein patting the British kid on the head and their banner headline was 'Child Abuser'. That was very important to us and very ironic, because Amnesty International and other human rights groups had released studies in 1984 and 1985 which showed that Saddam Hussein's regime regularly tortured children to get information about their parents' views. That just didn't get the coverage.

"It shows one of the points FAIR has made constantly: that when a foreign government is in favour with the United States, with the White House, its human rights record is basically off the mainstream media agenda, and when they do something that puts them out of favour with the US government, the foreign government's human rights abuses are, all of a sudden, major news." (Jeff Cohen in conversation with David Barsamian - Stenographers To Power, Common Courage Press, 1992, p.142)

Even this level of media subservience was insufficient for US leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. When a delegation led by Majority Leader and future presidential candidate Bob Dole visited Saddam in April 1990, they conveyed President Bush's greetings and assured Saddam that his problems did not lie with the US government but with "the haughty and pampered [US] press". Senator Alan Simpson advised Saddam to "invite them to come here and see for themselves". Dole assured Saddam that a commentator who had been critical of Iraq on Voice of America had been removed. (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, op., cit, p.112)

On the same news special, ITN's International Editor Bill Neely added of a possible war crimes trial:

"Awkward things will come out of this trial. Saddam will love saying, 'Who backed me in the 1980s? Who armed me? Who gave me the weapons of mass destruction? Why, the United States!'"

The exposure of participation in crimes consistently described as "genocidal" by the media is merely "awkward". This together with Macdonald's earlier comment was as much as ITN managed to say of Western support for Saddam Hussein in a report lasting 40 minutes.

Over on BBC1, Rageh Omaar made a similarly fleeting gesture in the direction of truth in reviewing Saddam's life over (one more time) footage from Halabja:

"Saddam Hussein has not always been our enemy. Indeed he was our ally when he committed this atrocity.

"And he was supported by Britain and the US in the catastrophic war against neighbouring Iran, an eight-year titanic struggle which left a million dead and in which Saddam Hussein again used chemical weapons. But for the West he was a useful bulwark against the spread of Ayatollah Khomeini's branch of radical Islam, and so support of him was maintained." (Omaar, BBC1, December 14, 2003)

In fact Saddam was an ally of the West long before Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979 and long before (and after) the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Author Roger Morris observes:

"As its instrument the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein...

"According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the CIA, the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq's educated elite - killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated." (Morris, 'A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making,' The New York Times, March 14, 2003)

As we have seen, the "duty to support US exports" meant that the US continued to support Saddam long after Iran's capitulation ended the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Again, Omaar's vague comments of how Saddam had been an "ally" who "was supported by Britain and the US" was as much as the BBC had to say in its 35-minute report. Vast crimes against humanity, direct and vital US-UK involvement in mass killing - why bother with details? The emphasis on Saddam as a "bulwark" against "radical Islam" is classic media distortion transforming the horrific subordination of human beings to profit and power into a reasoned act of self-defence against the "mad Mullahs" that the public have been trained to hate and fear.

As ever, while detailing Saddam's crimes in minute detail, it was impossible for the media to suggest that Western support for the Iraqi tyrant might have been something other than a random blip; that it might have been part of a well-documented and extremely consistent pattern in US and UK foreign policy.

To sample at random, a month after the CIA, with British support, helped install a regime which went on to kill some 200,000 people in Guatemala, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden wrote to the newly-installed puppet:

"Please convey to His Excellency the President the good wishes of Her Majesty's Government and accept the assurance of my highest consideration." (Quoted, Mark Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.154)

The Shah of Iran, also installed by a CIA coup, presided over a boiling bloodbath of torture and killing. As the death toll peaked, President Carter declared:

"Iran under the great leadership of the Shah is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership, and to the respect, admiration and love which your people give to you." (Quoted, James Bill, Foreign Affairs, Winter, 1978-79)

In 1983 Vice President Bush expressed his admiration for Romanian dictator Ceaucescu's political and economic progress and his "respect for human rights". (Quoted, Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, op., cit, p.113)

Current favourites include dictators in Central Asia - Uzbekistan's Karimov and Turkmenistan's Niyazov, for example - serving US interests in resource-rich areas. US assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, William Burns, says Washington has "much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism". (Ibid, p.115) This of the generals who have subjected the country to a reign of terror since the country's first democratic elections were cancelled having produced the wrong result in 1991 - victory for an Islamist party. The list goes on...

Our journalists somehow fail to notice the entire historical record (including state documentation), and find nothing strange in the fact that the West has long supported the likes of Suharto, Pinochet, the Shah, Papa and Baby Doc, Somoza, Galtieri, Trujillo, Diem, Amin, et al.

The US and UK select, arm, install and protect these thugs because an "iron fist" is required to ensure "good investment climates" in the Third World.

A good investment climate means low cost access to resources, unimpeded by democratic constraints. Low cost access means poverty wages, no welfare safety system (which would give the poor an option other than working for poverty wages), no trade unions (which might seek to improve the condition of the poor), no community organisations (which might threaten to raise costs by enabling peasants to organise against exploitation). Workers should have minimal rights: no restrictions on hours worked, no safety standards, no restrictions on the use of dangerous pesticides and banned Western products generally, all of which would increase costs.

The consistent nature of Western foreign policy suggests that focusing on individual leaders and parties - finding cause for optimism in Tony Blair's endearing smile or George Bush's Christian faith - is a gross form of self-deception at best. Policy flows from a stable framework of domestic power pursuing similar goals in similar ways over many decades.

This institutional framework is rooted, not just in greed, but in the limitless greed of corporate fundamentalism - there are no limits, no acceptable costs that have to be tolerated where they can be avoided. People pay the price.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Ask the media why they have so little to say about US and UK complicity in the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein. Cut and paste and send them all or part of this Media Alert - ask the journalists and editors below why they have failed to mention these readily available facts.

Write to:



Write to:




Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:08:15 +0000

Comparing the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent

By Matthew Randall

Introduction: Distorted Agendas

As a rule, UK parliamentary debate on asylum and immigration is both selective and power serving. While the actual demographic and economic effects of immigration on the UK are rarely discussed, the causes of immigration - global inequality, conflict and human rights abuses - are ignored.

Irrespective of party, leading politicians repeatedly highlight issues of exclusion - fears of 'invasion', alleged 'threats' and actual prejudices - ensuring a very negative image of immigrants despite their statistically small impact on society (see below). Concerns over crime, disease, terrorism, detention and surveillance are consistently pushed well to the fore.

This lack of balance can be attributed to a number of factors, including the existence of a covert racist ideology and the political expediency of 'the race card' - factors that repeatedly compromise the welfare of refugees and immigrants.

Honest consideration of asylum and immigration issues should involve a far more diverse range of topics, reflecting the complexity of contemporary national and global relations. These include issues of nationalism, sovereignty, racism, demography, human rights, arms sales, war, refugee health, economic policy and moral responsibility.

Liberal Media Balance?

A truly independent and honest 'quality' press would include debate on these marginalised issues, providing readers with a balance to the distorted focus of party politics. But does this happen? What +do+ we actually read in broadsheet newspapers on asylum and immigration? Which themes are consistently emphasised? And who speaks to us through these articles - who sets the agenda for discussion?

Is appropriate coverage given, for example, to the fact that in 2001 the UK had only 169,370 officially recognized refugees living within its borders compared to Germany's 988,500, Iran's 1.9 million or Pakistan's 2.2 million? Are we made sufficiently aware that during the same year the UK received 71,365 applicants for asylum, granting this status to just 11,180 individuals - 0.02% of the UK population? Or that Pakistan received a single influx of 199,900 Afghan refugees? Or that the ten largest refugee movements in 2001 were, with the exception of Yugoslavia, all made between countries in the Third World?

How many of us learn from our press that UK population growth is slowing down to the extent that it has actually become a cause for concern? How many are aware that a 2002 UN report recommended "replacement immigration" as a solution to this problem, or that the recommendation was rejected by the European Commission on the grounds that the impact of immigration on population was insignificant?

What do the media have to say about the fact that the UK has recently sold arms to all five countries of origin topping the UK list of asylum applicants in 2001? This, despite the fact that, in each case, violent military conflict remains the dominant root cause of refugee flight. More generally, what emphasis is placed on adverse conditions in countries of origin - poverty, human rights abuses, global income disparity, conflict and torture - in articles concerned with asylum and immigration?

A Case Study: Immigration, The Propaganda Model, and Three UK Newspapers

With these and other questions in mind, the following case study was carried out to compare articles from the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Independent. The methodology was not complex. Using an archive search at each of the newspaper's websites, the first thirty articles in 2003 with titles displaying any of a set of keywords: 'asylum', 'asylum seeker(s)', 'immigration', 'refugee(s)' were located and used as a representative sample. These ninety articles were then analysed to record the themes/topics discussed. An article merely had to refer once to a certain topic to be counted as having mentioned it, even if this reference consisted of one sentence.

The secondary element of the case study involved identifying the 'voice' of the articles, reflecting the opinions or perspectives consulted and who was being directly quoted. All opinions and perspectives referred to in an article were included in the initial count irrespective of whether these were later criticised either by the journalist or by any other group.

The hypothesis being tested proposed that the three newspapers chosen would all, despite perceived differing political leanings, discuss topics and themes in line with the interests of elite power, as predicted by Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model of media control. More specifically it was predicted that macro themes - particularly those reflecting badly on Western state-corporate power and those providing a more global perspective on asylum and immigration - would be marginalised, reflecting the preferred focus of dominant elites.

It was also hypothesised that micro issues, such as asylum accommodation and welfare payments, would be discussed at great length and would form the dominant theme of this sample, with topics involving negative portrayals of immigration - illegality, terrorism, crime and disease - also pushed well to the fore.

A further prediction was that the opinions consulted would heavily favour powerful interests, as predicted by the propaganda model's third filter (the sourcing of mass media news). In this way it was anticipated that high-ranking politicians would form the major 'voice' of the articles, with the people most affected by the issues discussed, i.e. asylum seekers/immigrants, being heard less often, if at all.

Same Difference - Media Themes

One of the immediately striking results of the case study is the consistent unity of themes across the different newspapers. The three most popular themes are the same for all papers, consisting of exclusion policies aimed at 'bogus' asylum applicants (mentioned in 73% of the Guardian articles / Independent: 80% / Telegraph: 73%), crime/terrorism perpetrated by asylum seekers (Guardian: 56% / Independent: 60% / Telegraph: 66%) and the accommodation/detention of applicants awaiting decisions (Guardian: 60% / Independent: 26% / Telegraph: 36%).

At the other end of the scale, five major themes fail to attract even one sentence in all ninety articles. These are: effects of immigration on UK population figures, poverty/ income disparity in sending countries, effects of the arms trade, effects of Western economic policies in sending countries, and comparisons of UK refugee intake with Third World countries.

According to the study, the leading topics for press debate on asylum and immigration are clearly micro issues, irrespective of a newspaper's political ideology. The two most dominant themes both reflect negatively on the subject of discussion: the criminal/terrorist activities of asylum seekers/ immigrants, and policies to exclude 'bogus'/illegal individuals from the UK.

The opinions conveyed on these matters vary between journalists and newspapers. The fact remains, however, that when a reader opened these newspapers and read an article mentioning asylum, refugee or immigration in the title, 56% of the articles mentioned crime or terrorism and at least 73% discussed policies designed to exclude fraudulent applications.

It is interesting to compare coverage afforded to crime committed by asylum seekers/immigrants with coverage afforded to crime committed +against+ them by other groups. The Telegraph, for example, discusses the former in exactly two thirds of the case study, while failing to make one reference to the latter. The other two newspapers also follow this trend, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. Overall, in the ninety articles, 61% refer to immigrant criminal activities, with just 8.8% mentioning crimes against immigrants.

These figures tell us much about the degree to which these articles discuss issues that promote fear and prejudice in the UK population, a choice that is closely aligned with the agenda of political elites. The issue of asylum and immigration is reported in terms of a 'threat' and 'invasion' despite a lack of statistical evidence supporting such dramatic claims. Thus, as can be seen from the above example, the huge number of crimes committed against immigrants - ranging from torture, forced eviction and illegal detention in their countries of origin to property abuse and physical violence in the UK - is given far less attention than the much smaller proportion of crimes committed by immigrants themselves.

Continuing this trend, all three newspapers produce more articles referencing the health risks from immigrants (an unsubstantiated concern dismissed as early as 1903 by the Royal Commission on Aliens), than those mentioning the health of asylum seekers who often arrive recovering from trauma, torture, malnutrition and physical violence.

Macro Themes - Minor Coverage

As predicted, macro themes are very poorly represented in this case study. Comparative analyses of immigration and asylum worldwide are barely referenced at all. When this does briefly emerge, the issue in all cases involves a positive commentary on the strict exclusion policies of other European countries, and not, as might be expected, any analysis of the UK's comparatively low intake. Discussion of the number of refugees and migrants entering and living in non-western countries is completely absent from all ninety articles - a major omission given the huge statistical discrepancies existing between these two groups and the clear relevance this would have for UK policy.

Other macro themes focusing on important root causes of immigration and refugee flight, such as war, torture, poverty and oppression, are referred to fleetingly, if at all. The effects of poverty and inequality in sending countries are deemed unworthy of mention in any newspaper despite extensive coverage detailing politicians' condemnations of 'bogus' and 'illegal' 'economic immigration'.

Analysis of the economic conditions that might lie behind these 'illegal' attempts to enter the UK is therefore absent. War and violent conflict are mentioned in just eight of ninety articles in all three newspapers, a very low figure when compared with the thirty-seven articles discussing the relatively minor issue of asylum seeker accommodation. That these articles were published during the intensive build-up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq did not appear to have any affect on this figure, despite the fact that a large proportion of UK asylum applicants arrive from Iraq.

Only one article in the Guardian discusses the potential effect of the invasion on refugee numbers. This minimal coverage reflects a general failure to discuss the situation in sending countries. In each newspaper this theme warrants a reference in just two articles, 6% of the material studied.

The fundamental macro issue of demography - indicating both the insignificant effects of immigration on population growth and its potentially positive effects on the UK's aging population - is not mentioned throughout the case study.

Macro issues that might embarrass powerful state-corporate interests are also ignored or neglected. Two major examples include the impacts of the arms trade and economic trade liberalisation. The former receives no mention at all, while the latter is hinted at (indirectly) in one piece in the Guardian. This consists of a brief sentence by a Catholic Bishop, stating that asylum seekers were a symptom of "a tragically disordered world; victims of unjust social, economic and political structures."

The one 'awkward' theme for elites that appears to receive a proportionate share of coverage is that of human rights. This issue is referenced in nineteen of the ninety articles, a total of 21%. However this exception becomes less outstanding when the nature of the references becomes clear: sixteen of these nineteen references relate to the same story - initiated by comments from both government and opposition politicians - that the UK might be forced to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights in order to continue its justified exclusion of certain asylum seekers.

Although this is a human rights issue, it is placed in the context of exclusion policies and 'bogus' asylum applicants. This limits to just three articles any mention of human rights abuses in the country of origin - abuses that might have caused the original application to be made, and which cast a far less negative light on the subject of asylum and immigration.

An interesting, perhaps ironic, footnote to the thematic results involves the eight references made to media coverage. Both the Guardian and the Independent provide a number of articles denouncing what they describe as the essentially racist coverage of tabloid and right-wing newspapers, including the third news outlet in this case study, the Daily Telegraph. The latter does not follow this theme and has no articles mentioning media coverage.

However, as this case study shows, although opinions expressed on immigration themes certainly illustrate ideological differences between 'right-wing' newspapers such as the Telegraph and the more 'liberal' Independent/Guardian, there is clear conformity when it comes to deciding +which+ themes to discuss - a fundamental conformity which closely follows the predictions of the propaganda model. Comment on this aspect of coverage does not feature in the Guardian/ Independent articles criticising media performance.

Opinion Groups

As predicted, the major opinion groups consulted by all three newspapers were either government or opposition politicians. Overall the opinions of politicians are referenced in seventy-two of the ninety articles, or 80% of the material studied. By contrast, the major subjects of discussion, i.e. immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, express their views in five articles, 6% of the case study.

In the Daily Telegraph, politicians are quoted in twenty-three of the thirty articles whereas only one asylum seeker is afforded an equivalent forum. Even this one exception consists of only two short sentences. In the Independent statements by politicians are referenced in 76% of its articles while the opinions of asylum seekers and refugees can be heard in only 3% of the sample.

The second major group represented in the articles are non-governmental (NGO) spokespeople who have their opinions recorded in just under a third of the case study. This would seem to suggest a certain level of balance afforded to people outside elite political circles. However a closer analysis shows that politicians remain overwhelmingly the agenda-setters in these articles with NGO representatives very seldom initiating the subject of the news item. Their role is very much confined to reaction and comment. Of the fifteen Guardian articles that give NGO opinions, ten are in specific reply to a government initiative or statement.

This essentially passive role in defining which events are newsworthy, results in a clear lack of themes that one would expect to be highlighted by organisations working directly with refugees and asylum seekers. Only two Guardian articles provide exceptions to this trend, with one warning of a refugee crisis and the other highlighting the racist violence visited on immigrants.

Despite the substantial body of academic research devoted to the subject of immigration and asylum, the opinions of independent academics are effectively absent from the case study. Only one article of the ninety references an academic source. Even this one exception does not quote a scientific study, choosing instead to mention an anecdotal account of a Cambridge professor.

The huge dominance of party political opinion in the case study lends particular credence to the propaganda model's third filter. Analysis of media sourcing demonstrates that UK newsgathering has a strong symbiotic relationship with political elites ensuring that a substantial number of articles are formed around government press releases and statements of policy. Groups without recourse to large public relations resources - such as asylum seekers, refugees and the predominantly small NGOs that represent them - tend not to set the agenda for issues under discussion.


The results of this case study indicate a consistent tendency amongst ideologically distinct newspapers to focus on aspects of immigration and asylum that concur with the priorities of the political elite. These are aspects, moreover, that represent an extremely narrow range of information and opinion.

The argument is not that individual journalists necessarily support the agenda of political elites - many articles argue fiercely against government policy. However, indirect support of this agenda occurs through the significant avoidance and omission of important themes and issues that should form regular and central points of reference.

Matthew Randall lives, works and studies in Berlin, Germany, where he recently completed a postgraduate Masters Degree in Intercultural Work and Conflict Management.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.




Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:06:46 +0000

We received a second response from Johann Hari on November 29:

Dear David and David,

I've been moping in bed with 'flu all day and just had an amicable row with a friend who read your alert and basically agrees with it. Some interesting points emerged from our discussion of it (and some e-mail exchanges with some of your readers), so I thought I'd add them to my previous e-mail if I may.

I realise that my answer to your question about when US foreign policy towards the Middle East changed was somewhat cursory. I think there is a growing realisation among US elites since September 11th that the policy of propping up tyrannies in the Middle East has led to disaster for America.

Of course they are not suddenly worried about Arab lives in some purely altruistic sense. Rather, they have developed a new sense of enlightened self-interest, where America will only become safe if the Middle East undergoes a bourgeois democratic revolution and Arab grievances can find outlets within democratic processes.

Read Bush's Guild Hall speech: it is a fairly candid statement of that, and as close to a retraction and apology for US foreign policy in the region for the last forty years. (Of course, like you, I would like to see the criminals who enacted that policy - Henry Kissinger at the forefront, but also Bush's own father and countless others - tried. We should keep arguing for that, forlorn though it may be; but that should not blind us to other positive developments). Of course there is a danger in taking what politicians with an abysmal history of lying say at face value. We will have ample opportunity to see if Bush is this time telling the truth.

On a separate but related point, you say: "what 'we' need [if we are to justify any war on humanitarian grounds] is a credible track record of compassionate, humanitarian intervention." I believe that we are developing that track-record. The Kosovo war - which you see as part of a devilish plot - would be my first example, but since that is contentious, let us leave it aside. Let's look at Sierra Leone. Noam Chomsky admitted to me at a New Statesman lunch that this was 'probably' a sincere humanitarian intervention, although he did add, "that's probably because I haven't looked into it too closely." He hasn't looked into it, I fear, because he suspects that if he did it would displease his fan base and undermine his thesis that Western powers invariably (as opposed to often, as I believe) act in line with a rapacious imperialism.

Sierra Leone was - to summarise crudely, albeit in a way that nobody to my knowledge disputes - a desperately poor country whose democracy was about to be liquidated by a gang of hand-chopping thugs. Only intervention from the British army prevented it descending into civil war, with all the attendant human miseries. Britain had no strategic or financial interest in that devastated country. Blair did it for the same reason he has dedicated so much energy to the Northern Ireland peace process: because he believed it would make the world a better place. Is this not humanitarian intervention? And if you concede that Blair can act in a humanitarian way at least once, doesn't that undermine your position that his government is obviously reprehensible in everything it does? Does it undermine your hero Harold Pinter, who bizarrely claimed on the Today programme that Blair bombed Kosovo because "he enjoys killing children"?

Onto another point. You ask why I did not agitate for the ending of sanctions, a course that the Iraqi people clearly wanted throughout the nineties: a proper and important question. As I explained in my earlier message, the primary responsibility for the deaths caused by sanctions lie with Saddam Hussein, because the same sanctions did not cause anything like the same number of deaths in Northern Iraq, where Saddam's power (mercifully) did not extend. However, my position was simple, and it was firmly opposed to sanctions. Sanctions should not have been implemented, because the whole policy of 'containment' - locking a dictator in a box along with the Iraqi people, where he could merrily butcher them - was heinous.

Your alternative to sanctions was to leave Saddam in place and hope that the battered, tyrannised Iraqi people could somehow find a way to break the lock of a modern totalitarian state and overthrow him. I believe that this course would have resulted in far, far more deaths than the current invasion: look at how many people were slaughtered in just one uprising, in 1991. My alternative to sanctions was regime change. We both wanted them to end; it was only our tactics that differed.

There is a wider disagreement between us concerning the attitude towards power that we on the left should adopt. You seem to believe - I hope this is a fair précis - that the holders of power in our world, even in advanced democracies (which are mere husks of democracy in your telling), are depraved perpetrators of genocide and mass murder, utterly contemptible and beyond redemption. The only possible course decent people can adopt is to smash this power structure and begin the long course of building a new one. To engage those with power, to try to make it more decent and to coax it to do good things, is, at best, a fool's errand, and at worst an attempt to humanise a monster. The only decent thing that can be done with power as it is currently constituted is to oppose it entirely and to agitate for a better world.

I have wrestled with this view. I do not want to spend my life putting a humanitarian veneer on horrendous policies, and there are days - usually when Donald Rumsfeld gives a press conference - when I wonder if that is what I am doing, and whether you are right. That is why I welcome your alert, even though it obviously isn't pleasant to be harshly criticised: anybody with a conscience should have to examine their relationship to power, and justify themselves.

My own attitude to power is that we should formulate our political philosophies independently, and support governments when they accord with them and oppose them when they do not. I hope you will accept that this is what I try to do. Whether or not George Bush was in favour of overthrowing Saddam, I was on the side of the Iraqi people, backing the end of his tyranny. Whether or not Tony Blair is in favour of gay rights (mercifully, he is), rights for refugees (appallingly, he most certainly is not), I hold to my independent position. Whatever Bush and Blair say, I will support (in whatever pathetically small way I can through my column) the people of Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea and (yes) Uzbekistan against the tyrants who repress them. If Bush and Blair act to end their tyrannies - which would require a very substantial reversal when it comes to Uzbekistan - then I will welcome them.

I can see why you are tempted to see any support for the recent war as cow-towing to power. Bluntly, in the case of many journalists, it was. Establishment arse-lickers like William Rees-Mogg (who wrote a preposterous piece in the Times the other day about how America "always" supports democracies) like the Downing Street invites and the places on corporate boards. But can't you see there is a substantial difference between the Rees-Moggs, who suddenly discover a concern for Iraqi democracy when it is convenient, and people like Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens, who were in favour of the overthrow of Saddam long before any powerful person thought it prudent, or for that matter David Aaronovitch, who was advocating an invasion when the idea seemed preposterous years ago?

Our positions must be independent of those with power. I fear that those of your heroes John Pilger and Noam Chomsky is determined by power just as simplistically as the likes of Rees-Mogg, because where he will always snap into line with the US government, they will oppose it, not matter what it does. So Pilger heroically backed the East Timorese liberation movement for decades, but then then, when the US very belatedly changed its policy and Pilger's East Timorese friends thanked the heavens, he opposed that too! (I recommend Francis Wheen's excellent forthcoming book for documentation of all this, along with clear accounts of Noam Chomsky's horrifying blindness to the genocide in Cambodia).

So: no Rees-Mogg line in defence of power, no Pilger line opposed to it; independent principles, which we hold those with power to. Sierra Leone is evidence that great good can happen within existing power-structures. If your apparent position - oppose all that the existing power structure does - had been adopted in Sierra Leone, we would have been lobbying in effect for the liquidation of a very fragile African democracy and its descent into becoming a failed state, with many horrific deaths. That is not a political position I am comfortable with. If we wait for the existing power-structures of the world to be torn down before we advocate any positive action, there will be an awful lot more countries like Sierra Leone ripped to shreds before we're done.

Anyway, I have written far more than I intended, and my tissues have turned into a soggy mush that cannot absorb any more mucus no matter how hard I try, so I'll leave this here until your response, if that's okay.

Hope you are well,

Yours sincerely,


Dear Johann

Even by the standard of the responses we've received from mainstream journalists your arguments are remarkable.

You write, accurately, that your answer to the question of when US foreign policy in the Middle East became guided by "enlightened self-interest" was "somewhat cursory". You explain: "I think there is a growing realisation among US elites since September 11th that the policy of propping up tyrannies in the Middle East has led to disaster for America."

The oil companies, arms manufacturers, indeed much of corporate America, might have something to say about that. No matter, let's take a look at your evidence.

But what is so remarkable is that there is none - your non-cursory evidence supporting this extraordinary claim consists, quite literally, of a speech by George Bush at the Guild Hall!

You do add that on "a separate but related point" there is a growing track-record of humanitarian intervention, as indicated by the actions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (we'll return to these, and your gross misrepresentation of Chomsky's position below). But as these took place in 1999 and 2000, respectively, they of course cannot support your non-cursory explanation relating to September 11, which thus continues to rely on one speech by Bush.

Your comment on how America understands it "will only become safe if the Middle East undergoes a bourgeois democratic revolution" reeks of the unthinking arrogance of so many media commentators - of course the United States should be supported in asserting its moral and legal right to promote "democratic revolution" wherever it pleases. Let the world's lone superpower overturn whichever government it chooses through mass violence out of - what else? - "self-defence".

The US writer Edward Herman has been studying US foreign policy in great depth and with great intelligence for decades. We thought it would be interesting to see what he made of your argument. This was his response:

"[Hari's] suggestion that US policy in the Middle East is geared to making America 'safe' is comical - did he swallow the notion that Saddam, with or without WMD, could pose a real security threat to the US? If safety is not the criterion, how about domination of oil and control and projection of power so openly announced by the Bush team in 1992 and later? Also the protection of  Sharon and ethnic cleansing in Palestine. I like his phrase 'only if Arab grievances can find outlets within democratic processes'! No suggestion that they might have grievances from US supported massive ethnic cleansing in favor of settlers, which is so god-damned obvious as a grievance and crime." (Email to Media Lens, November 29, 2003)

You write:

"Of course there is a danger in taking what politicians with an abysmal history of lying say at face value. We will have ample opportunity to see if Bush is this time telling the truth."

There is indeed a danger - the tens of thousands of Iraqi dead from the latest war you supported will +not+ have ample opportunity to see if Bush is telling the truth. The idea that, based on zero evidence, we should sit back while Bush wages war around the world and see if "this time", at last, great power is finally telling the truth is too absurd even to discuss.

While you are waiting and seeing, even establishment foreign policy analysts like Samuel Huntington are warning that "America's imperial ambition" is a threat to everyone, the United States included (Foreign Affairs, March-April, 1999). Robert Jervis also writes in Foreign Affairs of how the Bush administration has one aim: "unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority". (Foreign Affairs, July-August, 2001)

You say that the war on Iraq is part of a new humanitarian trend rooted in Bush's recognition that "we should not tolerate oppression for the sake of stability". And yet UN resolution 1441, used by the Bush administration to prepare the way for war, was rammed through the Security Council by senior US officials whose job was "to urge leaders to vote with the United States on Iraq or risk 'paying a heavy price'." (Dafna Linzer, Boston Globe, February 24, 2003), with the fate of Yemen after the 1991 Gulf War doubtless on everyone's minds. Noam Chomsky makes the obvious point:

"The support is in fact submission; signers understood what the alternative would be. In systems of law that are intended to be taken seriously, coerced acquiescence is invalid. In international affairs, however, it is honoured as diplomacy." (Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival, Routledge, 2003, p.36)

You assert that we see the Kosovo war "as part of a devilish plot". This, again, hardly merits comment.

You write:

"Noam Chomsky admitted to me at a New Statesman lunch that this was 'probably' a sincere humanitarian intervention, although he did add, 'that's probably because I haven't looked into it too closely.' He hasn't looked into it, I fear, because he suspects that if he did it would displease his fan base and undermine his thesis that Western powers invariably (as opposed to often, as I believe) act in line with a rapacious imperialism."

Your first sentence struck us as deeply implausible. Chomsky has repeatedly stated that he believes it is quite possible that there has not in all history been an example of humanitarian state intervention. We suspected he was trying to make a typically honest point to you about the need to actually study issues rather than rushing to judgement. We asked Chomsky to clarify his position. This was his response:

"I have no idea whether I met him at the lunch, but I certainly didn't 'admit' anything of the sort.  Rather, I stated that Britain in Sierra Leone might be an authentic example of humanitarian intervention. And there was no 'although'; another flight of the Hari imagination.  Rather, I stated that I hadn't looked into it more closely.  The reasons are not his silly inventions -- which tell us a lot about him; more below -- but rather a moral truism, that I have repeated to the point of boredom, and did again at the lunch: a person is responsible for the anticipated consequences of his or her own acts, and if capable if comprehending moral truisms, will therefore focus finite energy and attention on them -- +focus+, which does not mean, as the subservient intellectuals like to pretend, keep to them exclusively.

"Of course, I would not expect him to understand the moral truism that I repeated, once again, at the lunch.  Nor will he ever understand it, I suppose, any more than it could be understood by his Stalinist counterparts.  As anyone familiar with Russia in the old days knows, the loyal commissars could never understand -- or at least pretended not to understand -- why Soviet dissidents concentrated on the actions of Russia, not someone else's.  And their Western mimics, like Hari, cannot understand why I concentrate on actions of the US, and he should concentrate on actions of England.  Of course, I don't suggest a comparison.  He is far more depraved than his models, who could at least plead fear for their conformity to power, and who had far less responsibility for the actions of their states than he and I have -- REPEAT, FAR LESS for obvious reasons, a deeply significant fact, but another one that he will never comprehend, I presume.

"Those who do understand moral truisms and elementary facts will understand at once why, in a life with finite time and energy, I wouldn't undertake the kind of research project about Britain in Sierra Leone than I do about issues for which I share responsibility, which I can influence, and which therefore should take priority.  That would be true even if I had not again explained the obvious, in monosyllables, at that lunch.  The fact that he would resort to these idiotic fabrications tells us a lot about him; even more, perhaps, than his apparent utter inability to comprehend moral truisms." (Email to Media Lens, November 29, 2003)

Your response to these comments on your website is revealing:

"I think that rant speaks for itself really." (

Your suggestion that someone as honest and rational as Chomsky would not look too closely at an issue because it might "displease his fan base and undermine his thesis" reveals your ignorance of his work. The whole point about Chomsky is that he focuses on precisely the presumed strongest examples testing his arguments - such as the idea that Watergate demonstrates the independence of the press, that the Kosovo intervention indicates a "new humanitarianism" - to show the true scale of state-corporate lying and deceit.

You say of Britain's intervention in Sierra Leone: "Blair did it for the same reason he has dedicated so much energy to the Northern Ireland peace process: because he believed it would make the world a better place. Is this not humanitarian intervention?"

Again, naturally, no evidence is required - it's enough just to say it. British historian Mark Curtis has unearthed remarkable evidence in released government documents that reveal the British motivation for interventions in the Third World since 1945. His work - in particular The Ambiguities Of Power (Zed Books, 1995) and Web Of Deceit (Vintage, 2003) - are must-read books. We asked Curtis what he thought of your analysis of the interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone:

"I have looked through the formerly secret government files on numerous past British military interventions and if there is one thing that is clear, it is that the publicly stated reasons for intervention are never the real ones. In the case of British Guiana in 1953, for example, when British troops were sent to remove a democratically-elected government, the government told Parliament it was intervening to stop the Guianan government acting as a stooge of Moscow; the files reveal, however, that British planners were really concerned about the Guianan government threatening British business interests. In Malaya in the 1950s, the official reasons for intervention - repeated for a decade - were to prevent "communism terrorism"; the files, however, show that planners saw the war primarily as "in defence of [the] rubber industry", which British business interests effectively controlled. These are just two examples.

"Coming closer to the Blair government and Sierra Leone, it should be remembered that the intervention took place only a few months after the bombing of Yugoslavia. This was again trumpeted - with the support of the entire mainstream media - as an humanitarian intervention to save the lives of thousands of Kosovans. Yet the record makes clear that it was following the NATO bombing that the worst humanitarian catastrophe ensued; before, human rights abuses were horrific, certainly, but on far lower scale than the Foreign Office was putting out, and indeed in the context of a civil war between the Belgrade government and the KLA. Only when the NATO bombing started were huge numbers of people pushed over the borders.

"This is not to excuse Milosevic for gross horrors; it is simply to state the facts. And indeed, Blair and Clinton stated quite openly what is a more plausible reason for their bombing than humanitarian intervention - the "credibility" of NATO. That, around the 50th anniversary of NATO, the US and UK could not let Milosevic undermine the Alliance. I also think other factors were at play - such as forcing Milosevic's removal at a time when NATO and the EU wanted to expand eastwards.

"On Sierra Leone, the safest thing to say is that when we see the declassified files in 30 years, I suggest we will see a different story than that spun by Blair's propagandists and their allies in the mainstream media. If we look for plausible reasons for the intervention, the immediate one is the restoration of a pro-British government, which had of course been overthrown. This followed, it should be remembered, the coup in neighbouring Gambia, which also overthrew a very long-standing British ally, virtually a puppet. The major country in the region is of course Nigeria. I am just looking through the declassified files on the civil war there in the late 1960s - they reveal very clearly the UK's support for the Lagos government and the primacy of British oil interests, which dictated British then, and we can assume also now.

"This is the UK's prize in the region, along with the stability needing to be provided by pro-British governments. This is also in the context of ongoing rivalry between France and the UK in the region. I think London was worried that the instability/conflict in the area, based as they see it around Liberia, was threatening pro-British governments, the wider British role in the region and possibly Nigeria itself.

"I also think an additional factor, related to this, was the need to demonstrate British power in this region - to show that it was still capable of defending its interests through military force, a similar issue, indeed, to 'credibility'. This is also similar to some of France's concerns in the region. This is not to say that the intervention has not had some benign effects - the opposition RUF were clearly entirely gruesome. But to argue that humanitarian reasons were primary in deciding Whitehall to act is another thing altogether.

"Nigeria is a good example of how propping up favoured governments in the region works against West Africans interests - British oil companies and Nigerian elites have been bleeding ordinary Nigerians dry for decades. They have seen hardly any of the benefits of oil revenues and many have become poorer. We should not expect a pro-British government in Sierra Leone to deliver benefits for people over the long term; this would simply be defying history.

"It is typical that the mainstream media takes at face value, and accepts, the governments arguments for intervention in Sierra Leone, as elsewhere - then, discussion merely takes place around whether the government is promoting the right tactics to achieve its noble purposes, based on its own propaganda. In the light of what is publicly known about the government's propaganda strategy on Iraq, this role of the media is really remarkable, a tremendous elite achievement in democratic society." (Email to Media Lens, December 2, 2003)

It's important that we add Chomsky's response to your reference to his "horrifying blindness to the genocide in Cambodia". We can only imagine that you have not read Chomsky and Herman's work on the issue - particularly The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volumes 1 and 2 (South End Press, 1979), or the responses to it, all of which have been comprehensively rebutted.

Chomsky writes:

"Very interesting.  Neither he [Hari], nor anyone, has found even a misplaced comma in what Ed [Herman] and I wrote about Cambodia (I wrote nothing relevant of my own), which of course bitterly and prominently condemned the atrocities, suggested that US intelligence was probably the most reliable source (as proved to be the case in retrospect; we were probably the only ones to cite them), but argued that one should try to tell the truth about the horrifying atrocities, not concoct lies of a kind that would have made Stalin and Goebbels gasp -- which is no exaggeration.

"As noted, not the slightest error, or hint of an error, has ever been unearthed.  Ask Hari to produce one, instead of just following his crowd in the obligatory tantrum.  The tantrum is extremely revealing.  We were challenging the right to lie in service to the holy state, and that is intolerable.  Hence the reactions in which Hari joins, possibly in total ignorance in his case, just repeating what he's heard at some dinner party.

"There is another point, which takes the intelligence of a ten-year old to understand, so I rarely bother with it.  In our two volumes, Ed and I were comparing the reaction to atrocities, depending on the source and the way domestic power wanted them to be perceived.  Our two prime examples were East Timor and Cambodia, a very good test case as anyone familiar with the facts is aware, and as we showed in detail.  We described the atrocities as comparable in scale and character, as was true (bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt to the US-UK and their educated classes).

"The prime difference was that in one case the US-UK bore direct responsibility, and were in fact carrying forward their decisive support for the crimes at the very moment we wrote, while in the other case the crimes could be blamed on an official enemy and could also be exploited to justify further US-UK crimes (as they were, as we also have documented).  The difference in treatment was dramatic.  Massive lying in both cases, but in opposite directions, going well beyond what we predicted.

"The revelation of the subservience of intellectuals to power in the case of Cambodia has elicited a huge mountain of tantrums (to which Hari adds his toothpick) -- though, as noted, not a particle of evidence or argument to support any of the hysterical charges, just more lying (as we've also reviewed).  The chapter on East Timor has almost never been mentioned, though by any moral standards it was vastly more important, since what we revealed there were ongoing crimes, for which we share enormous responsibility.  You might check, for example, to see what Hari wrote about the fact that his hands are dripping with blood of Timorese, right up to late September 1999, and what he has written about the comparable crimes of the official enemy.  That would tell us a lot about whether the comparison to Stalinist commissars is fair -- to the commissars.

"Here's the point of logic, admittedly beyond the capacity of deeply indoctrinated Western intellectuals to understand.  We described the two crimes as comparable.  Therefore, those who claim (like Hari) that we were downplaying the crimes of Pol Pot are themselves downplaying their own crimes in East Timor.  That's elementary logic.  And the conclusion is also obvious.  To deny one's own ongoing crimes is vastly more disgraceful than denying the crimes of someone else.  Hence Hari is, once again, declaring that he falls well below the Stalinist commissars he seems determined to mimic.  Elementary logic suffices to demonstrate that.  Note that this would be true even if we were downplaying Pol Pot's crimes, which is a pure lie, as he would discover if he sought to try the experiment of literacy instead of repeating gossip he's heard somewhere."

Johann, it is reasonable for you to imagine that you can repeat fact-free establishment propaganda - including the usual smears - in the Independent and come away with your credibility intact. It is a big mistake, however, to expect the same outcome in media where evidence, consistency and rationality are deemed important.

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell

Hari has since responded a third time. We will not be responding to this email. It is available at the Media Lens website www.Media under 'latest', and also at


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.


Importantly, please copy your emails to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:


And to the letters editor:


Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:05:38 +0000

On November 20, we received the following email from Johann Hari of the Independent in response to our Media Alert, Friendly Bombs, Part 1 (November 20, 2003):

Dear David and David,

Thank  you for your e-mail. While I obviously disagree profoundly with you, I  am never less than provoked and stimulated by your alerts, which provide a very valuable function in making journalists justify their position.

As  I'm  sure  you can understand, I am insanely rushed but I hope you will accept this brief response.

We  have  a legitimate disagreement over what the Iraqi people want. I made clear  before  the war that we could not know what Iraqi people wanted with the  scientific certainty of a MORI poll (I don't have time to check quotes but   all   my   pre-war  articles  are  amply  available  on  my  website, Pore through them if you are self-punishing enough and you'll  find  everything I mention here). However, the International Crisis Group  survey  and my own limited experiences with the Iraqi people in Iraq itself and my more extensive experiences with the Iraqi exile community led me to believe that there was support for the invasion.

This  was  subsequently  proven to be correct, because every single opinion poll  following  the  liberation  -  produced by firms who have successfully predicted  the  results of general elections across the world - showed that Iraqis  wanted  the  invasion  to proceed. I am basing my interpretation of Iraqi  opinion  on  polls, the best source of information that we have. You seem to be basing yours on guesswork, supposition and telepathy.

I  was  also, of course, basing my view on the experience of Northern Iraq, where,  under US and British military protection since 1991, the Kurds have built  a  thriving  democracy.  Why  do  you  never  mention  this?  Do you congratulate   the   Kurds  on  their  incredible  achievement  -  70  free newspapers,  a democratic parliament and Prime M inister (who supported the invasion  of  the  South),  and  female  High Court judges - I know that the Americans  allowed  Turkish  troops to attack Kurdish freedom fighters on a handful  of  occassions, and I am appalled by that - but does it undnermine the whole achievement and make their democracy meaningless? Of course not.

The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny, and all the  factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not  occur.  How do you explain that? Please don't just give me quotes from Dennis  Halliday  and  say  "he knows better than you": actually answer the argument.

You  ask when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the  Muslim  countries  (as  your friend George Galloway has in the past: I refer  you  to  his  Mail on Sunday article in which he says that ""in poor third  world  countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to  petty  squabbling  politicians.  Pakistan  is  always  on  the brink of breaking  apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together ... Democracy is a means,  not  an  end  in  itself.").  I  refer you to George Bush, who said apologised  yesterday  for "decades of failed US policy in the Middle East? we  should  not  tolerate  oppression  for  the sake of stability." Nor, he
implied, should they fund and arm it. Yes, it will take time to turn around all  US  policy:  we  can  discuss (and must campaign about) the horrors of Uzbekistan and the House of Saud. But I believe it is beginning.

Do  I  think the US will promote deep democracy, a form better than our own corporate  semi-democracy?  Of  course not. It will be deeply imperfect and bounded  within neoconservative precepts that you and I reject. But it will be  a damn sight better than Ba'athist Stalinism, and it was worth fighting for.

It is a shame that you have to imply that every single person who disagrees with  you  has some sinister mission to corrupt the truth. For example, you act  as  though you have cunningly exposed that I went to Iraq in September 2002  as part of a holiday tour. Yes: I cunningly disguised this by writing it as a front page story for the Guardian.

I hope you'll understand if I don't enter into a lengthy dialogue, although I  will  be very interested in your response. I also hope you'll understand that  I  feel  your revelation that you would not have fought a war against Nazism  but  rather  would  have  spent your energies informing the British people   that   they   were  complicit  while  gay  people  and  Jews  were systematically   murdered  on  the  other  side  of  the  Channel  somewhat undermines  your ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny.

Lastly,  I  hope  the people who have e-mailed in response to your original message will accept this response.

Thanks again for an interesting media alert,


Dear Johann

Many thanks for your kind words. We appreciate your taking the time to respond at such length.

You say that you accept one "could not know what the Iraqi people wanted with the scientific certainty of a MORI poll", and yet in the Independent you have written repeatedly of "the indisputable wishes of the Iraqi people". (Hari, 'The state visit of President Bush: I support Bush on Iraq - but I'll join the protests', The Independent, November 19, 2003)

"Indisputable" suggests certainty, does it not?

It is curious that you focus so intensely on the highly uncertain wishes of the Iraqi people, and yet you ignore the very clear democratic wish of the British people +not+ to invade and bomb them. This time last year support for invasion without UN backing stood at barely 10% anywhere outside the United States. In January, 81% of the British public was opposed to unilateral military action by the US and UK, with 47% opposed to war in all circumstances. Only 10% of those polled believed that the war should start regardless of UN backing. (Alan Travis, 'Support for war falls to new low,' The Guardian, January 21, 2003)

Surely your respect for the indisputable wishes of the British people means you should have been fiercely opposed to war.

You describe our analysis of Iraqi opinion polls as "guesswork, supposition and telepathy". In reality, like most journalists we debate with, you have simply ignored the points we made: the poll of Iraqis mentioned by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian, the absence of "concrete evidence" of Iraqi support for invasion, the ICG's establishment links and sympathies, and so on.

You also ignored our point that the Iraqi people "cheering us on" were in reality facing a miserable choice between war or continued genocidal sanctions that had already claimed one million lives. A reasonable range of options presented by pollsters might, for example, have included:

No invasion but continued genocidal sanctions and bombing with Saddam Hussein retaining power.

US/UK invasion deposing Saddam Hussein.

UN-backed invasion deposing Saddam Hussein by a genuinely international coalition under the auspices of the UN.

Full Iraqi compliance with UNMOVIC inspections leading to 100% disarmament of WMD and the lifting of non-military sanctions, with Saddam retaining power.

In your Independent articles, you have presented no evidence to suggest that the Iraqi people were polled on such a range of options. Even if they had been, Iraqis might well have felt inclined to simply ignore options that avoided war but which were clearly not on the West's agenda. It is absurd to state that the Iraq people freely chose the invasion while looking down the barrel of a gun.

It is interesting to consider the latest polls of the people you claim were "cheering us on" during the invasion. An October poll by Iraq's Centre for Research and Strategic Studies showed that 67 per cent of Iraqis viewed "coalition" forces as "occupying powers", more than 20 per cent higher than a survey conducted shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. According to the poll, the number of Iraqis who viewed the coalition as a "liberating" force had dropped from 43 to 15 per cent, with very few feeling safe in the presence of the police or occupying armies. (Peter Beaumont, 'US helicopter shot down in Iraq', The Observer, October 26, 2003)

Oxford Research International (ORI), sampled the views of 3,244 Iraqis interviewed in their own homes in October and early November. They found that 79 percent of people questioned had "no trust" or "very little trust" in the US-led "coalition" - 8 percent said they had a great deal of confidence in the occupying force. 42 percent said they had a great deal of trust in Iraq's religious leaders.

The authors of the survey said: "The very troops which liberated Iraqis from Saddam are the most mistrusted institution in Iraq today."

You refer to the situation in Northern Iraq. Echoing familiar government propaganda, you write: "The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny, and all the factors which you attribute to sanctions and I attribute to Saddam did not occur."

The reality is revealed by considering the issue of child mortality. While it is true that child mortality rates were lower in the autonomous north than in south/central regions controlled by Saddam Hussein, UNICEF noted that, "the difference [in child mortality rates] cannot be attributed to the differing ways the Oil for Food Programme is implemented in the two parts of Iraq".

The same point was reiterated by UN humanitarian co-ordinator, Tun Myat, who noted on several occasions that the "improvement in nutrition in the north was not due to differences in distribution, or the fact that the United Nations was responsible for implementation of the programme in the north". (UN Press Briefing, November 19, 2000)

Important differences between the north and the south/centre described by the UN included:

· "that the sanctions have not been so rigorously enforced in the north as the border is more 'porous' than in the [south/centre]". (UNICEF, August 1999)

· that the north, with roughly 15% of Iraq's population, has 50% of Iraq's productive arable land. (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, September 2000)

· that the north "received 22% more per capita [than the south/centre] and gets 10% of all UN-controlled assistance in currency" while the rest of the country received only commodities. (UNICEF, August 1999)

· "the fact that the north has received far more support per capita from the international community than the south and centre of the country". (UNICEF, August 1999)

You write, "The same sanctions applied in Northern Iraq as in Saddam's tyranny." But Professor Richard Garfield, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University, pointed out in the New York Times on September 13, 1999, that the embargo in the North is "not the same embargo":

"The North enjoys porous borders with Turkey, Syria, and Iran, and thus is effectively less embargoed than the rest of the country. It benefits from the aid of 34 Non-Government Organizations, while in the whole rest of the country there are only 11...

"Food, medicine, and water pumps are now helping reduce mortality throughout Iraq, but the pumps do less for sanitation where authorities cannot buy sand, hire day laborers, or find many other minor inputs to make filtration plants work. Goods have been approved by the UN and distributed to the North far faster than in the Center or South. The UN Security Council treats people in that part of the country like innocents. Close to 20 million civilians in the Center and South of the country deserve the same treatment."

Finally, Gabriel Carlyle of Voices In The Wilderness UK, told us, "it is interesting to note that child mortality rates in south/central Iraq were also lower in some of those areas close to the border with the autonomous governorates, where similar conditions prevail and where people have been able to fall back on traditional patterns of life". (Email to Media Lens, January 16, 2003)

You celebrate "a democratic parliament and Prime Minister (who supported the invasion of the South)" in northern Iraq. This will be Barham Salah, the prime minister who said of the oil-for-food programme that has left Iraq devastated:

"The oil-for-food programme is a good programme; it must continue. It is the best thing that has happened to Iraq since the foundation of the Iraqi state. By the way, not only for the Kurdish areas but also for the rest of Iraq, because we never had it so good - all Iraqis not just Kurds." (Interviewed in The Mother of all Ironies, by John Sweeney, Correspondent, BBC2, June 23, 2002)

This is crude pro-Western propaganda, but then Salah is doubtless sensitive to the harsh realities of realpolitik in "democratic" northern Iraq. Perhaps he had read the New York Times report in March 2002 noting that the Bush administration had assured its Turkish ally that in the event of an invasion it would "ensure Iraq's territorial integrity" and not allow the creation of an independent Kurdish state. (New York Times, March 10, 2002)

This makes perfect sense given, rhetorical flourishes aside, the consistent US policy of indifference to the Kurds and their suffering. Ten days after the gassing of 5,000 Kurds at Halabja in March 1988, Jim Hoagland made an accurate prediction in the Washington Post:

"Washington's friendship for Baghdad is likely to survive one night of poison gas and sickening television film. TV moves on, shock succeeds shock, the day's horror becomes distant memory. The Kurds will stay on history's margins, and policy will have continuity." (Hoagland, Washington Post, March 26, 1988)

"Iraq has not paid much of a diplomatic price for its actions," the Christian Science Monitor noted on December 13 that same year. Indeed, on September 8, 1988, when US Secretary of State George Shultz met with Saadun Hamadi, Iraq's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in Washington, he expressed merely "concern" about Halabja. "The approach we want to take [toward Iraq] is that, 'We want to have a good relationship with you, but that this sort of thing [the Halabja massacre] makes it very difficult,'" a State Department official explained. (Quoted, Anthony Arnove, 'Convenient And Not So Convenient Massacres', ZNet Commentary, March 28, 2002)

In explaining "when the United States changed its mind from supporting tyranny in the Muslim countries" you refer "to George Bush, who said [sic] apologised  yesterday for 'decades of failed US policy in the Middle East - we  should  not  tolerate  oppression  for  the sake of stability'."

It is remarkable that you should present as serious evidence the words of a president who has this year revealed an almost infinite capacity for deceit.

You refer to an alleged revolution in American foreign policy in the above message and also in a second email - we will return to this in our next alert.

We have never suggested that any journalist is on a "sinister mission to corrupt the truth". We are forever pointing out that we reject sinister conspiracy theories of this kind - the idea that journalists are involved in dark "missions" to deceive people. We're sure you are sincere in everything you're saying.

Finally, you write that the fact that we "would not have fought a war against Nazism" undermines our "ability to take the moral high ground on issues pertaining to tyranny."

We are much more interested in fighting tyranny in all its forms than in aspiring to some "moral high ground".

The essence of Nazism was the belief that violence, fear, hatred of enemies, and deception, could be harnessed as tools of elite aggrandisement and enrichment. One of the terrible ironies of the West's violent destruction of the Nazi killing machine is that violence thereby became even more deeply entrenched in our own economic and political systems. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when we looked into the abyss of mass violence and total war, the abyss looked into us.

Generally speaking, real solutions to problems rooted in greed, hatred and irrationality can only be found in compassion, restraint and reason.

Part 2 will follow shortly.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.


Importantly, please copy your emails to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:


And to the letters editor:


Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:04:29 +0000

Exposing The Final Lie Of The War On Iraq

No links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction, and now no question that the invasion of Iraq has led to a massive increase in the threat of terrorism, as the series of bombings across Iraq, in Riyadh (May 12 and November 9), Casablanca (May 16), Jakarta (August 5) and Istanbul (November 17 and 20) have made horrifically clear.

Last night, ITN's royal correspondent, Tom Bradby, asked the establishment media's favourite question of protestors:

"Is this the day to be demonstrating against the leaders of the free world?" (ITN, News At Ten, November 20, 2003)

During the war, reporters asked:

"Is there any point in protesting now that the democratic decision has been taken to go to war?"

The media have conveniently forgotten a key lesson from the Vietnam War. Then, mass protests at the height of the war persuaded Pentagon officials to urge an end to the slaughter because the alternative, escalation, risked "provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions". (The Pentagon Papers, Vol. IV, p. 564, Senator Gravel Edition, Beacon, 1972)

The media have also forgotten the very essence of the Nuremberg charter, which is that individuals have international duties which transcend national obligations of obedience to the state.

Bradby asked protestors why they were carrying placards describing Bush as the world's number one terrorist when "the real terrorists" had just killed and injured hundreds in Istanbul.

It might seem unfair to pick on a royal correspondent. But then it might seem unfair that a royal correspondent should be picked to report on a serious and important peace movement.

Elinor Goodman of Channel 4 News declared that the latest bombings in Istanbul had, "ironically", made Bush and Blair's task easier at yesterday's press conference - they could point to the bombings as an example of exactly what they were fighting against.

Goodman made it sound as though this view was based on something more than her personal opinion. In fact the targeting of British interests in Istanbul should be the final nail in the coffin of Bush and Blair's credibility - the last justification for the war on Iraq has been exposed as a lie. The fact that one-quarter of London's entire police force was required to protect Bush, at a cost of £5 million, tells its own story. Is this what 'success' in responding to the "serious and current threat" of terror looks like?

Remarkably, in all the extensive coverage, almost no journalist managed to provide credible evidence indicating the central point about yesterday's events - that intelligence agencies and experts on security issues predicted +exactly+ this outcome from a US-UK attack on Iraq.

In early 2003, a high-level task force of the Council on Foreign Relations warned of likely terrorist attacks far worse than September 11, including possible use of weapons of mass destruction within the US, dangers that became "more urgent by the prospect of the US going to war with Iraq". (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, 'Confronting The Empire', ZNet, February 1, 2003)

This awareness created deep unease within the intelligence community. In a letter to the Guardian, Lt Cdr Martin Packard (rtd), a former Nato intelligence adviser, wrote:

"In the case of Iraq the urgency for military action appears to arise not because of a gathering Iraqi threat but because of political and economic considerations in America. Scepticism over US-UK spin on Iraq is validated by the number of senior military officers and former intelligence analysts who remain unconvinced that war at this stage is justified. Many of them believe that the threat to UK interests and to regional stability will be increased by a US-led attack on Iraq rather than diminished." (The Guardian, Letters, February 8, 2003)

According to Douglas Hurd, former Conservative Foreign Secretary, war on Iraq ran "the risk of turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism". (Financial Times, January 3, 2003)

Shortly before the war, Saudi Arabia's former oil minister, Sheikh Yamani, said:

"What they are going to do if they embark on this is to produce +real+ terrorists. I think sometime in the future Osama bin Laden will look like an angel compared to the future terrorists." (Newsnight, January 30, 2003)

The Bush/Blair strategy, Noam Chomsky noted, "has caused shudders not only among the usual victims, and in 'old Europe,' [but] right at the heart of the US foreign policy elite, who recognise that 'commitment of the US to active military confrontation for decisive national advantage will leave the world more dangerous and the US less secure'." (Chomsky, op., cit) There are, Chomsky pointed out, no precedents whatever for this kind of establishment opposition.

Anatol Lieven, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, wrote that the Bush administration is pursuing "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism," inspired by fear of lethal threats. Lieven warned that America "has become a menace to itself and to mankind".

Citing none of the above sources, today's Guardian leader merely asks, lamely:

"Who is this enemy that seems both invisible and ubiquitous? What causes this pitiless hatred? To say simply they 'hate freedom' is no explanation. Do Mr Bush and Mr Blair really believe that this is a war that can definitively be one? And are their policies in the Middle East and beyond steadily making matters worse, not better?" ('Reaping the whirlwind', The Guardian, November 21, 2003)

The Independent's editors actually praise Blair:

"For once Tony Blair stepped up to the microphone after a shocking event and failed to strike the right note. He paid his respects to those killed and injured in Istanbul and their families with suitable sympathy, and he expressed with clarity the sense of outrage that most people must feel." ('The real nature of the threat from these terrorists and their twisted ideology', The Independent, November 21, 2003)

The Naivety Of Realpolitik

"Ha ha ha to the pacifists", wrote Christopher Hitchens in November 2001 after the fall of Kabul. (The Guardian, November 14, 2001) But in January 2002, Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas of the Royal Institute of International Affairs said of this first phase of the "war on terror":

"Taking out the terrorist training camps might appear as if it's a major step towards defeating international terrorism... But if anyone thinks that this temporary degradation of al-Qaeda's capabilities through the elimination of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan somehow or other reduces the risks of terrorist attacks in the future, I'm afraid they're wrong. Because terrorist training camps don't have to be in Afghanistan, they can be anywhere. And indeed the temptation now for al-Qaeda will be to site the training of its operatives in Western Europe, Canada and even in the United States. And we have seen that they are capable of doing that, because the attack on September 11, if anything, seems to have been planned in Hamburg, not in Afghanistan." (Professor Victor Bulmer-Thomas, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV, January 27, 2002)

Nicholas Kristof notes in this month's New York Times that "the big winner" of US security strategy in Afghanistan "was the Taliban, which is now mounting a resurgence". In the two years since the war, opium production in the demolished country has soared 19-fold and become the major source of the world's heroin. Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, writes in a "grim new report" on Afghanistan:

"There is a palpable risk that Afghanistan will again turn into a failed state, this time in the hands of drug cartels and narco-terrorists." (Nicholas D. Kristof, 'A Scary Afghan Road', The New York Times, November 15, 2003)

Paul Barker, the Afghan country director for CARE International, says:

"Things are definitely deteriorating on the security front."

Nancy Lindborg of Mercy Corps, the American aid group, says: "We've operated in Afghanistan for about 15 years and we've never had the insecurity that we have now."

Writers like Hitchens, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch and Johann Hari have consistently mocked the naivety and sentimentality of anti-war protestors. But nothing could be more naïve than attempting to fight suicide bombers with tanks and planes, than extinguishing fire with petrol, than fuelling hatred born of injustice with yet more hatred and injustice.

When IRA bombs exploded in London, the RAF was not sent to bomb the source of their finances in the United States. In dealing with the Mafia, no one would suggest sending B-52s over Sicily. The sane course, as Chomsky notes, would be "to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals". (Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2001)

Earlier this year we cited Geshe Lhundub Sopa's words on the issue of war and peace. The words bear repeating:

"The consequences of activities such as destruction and killing motivated by a mind disturbed by greed and hatred are like light rays, in that they will spread everywhere, bringing war and suffering."

We can be absolutely certain that this will continue to be our reality until we rid ourselves of the greed and hatred that dominate our political and economic systems, and the policies they generate.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to the heads of BBC news and ITN expressing your views:

Ask them why they failed to mention that high-level security sources warned that an attack on Iraq would generate increased terrorism around the world. Why did they not suggest that the latest terror attacks expose the final lie of the war on Iraq - that it would +reduce+ the threat of terrorism?




Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:03:18 +0000

Western Benevolence, Johann Hari And "Us"

Following the killing of 27 people including 19 Italian troops in Nassiriya on November 12, Channel 4 News presenter, Jon Snow, asked Labour MP Ann Clwyd:

"Are we now losing the Shias? That would be a tragedy."

We asked Snow to explain the meaning of this question:

"Did you mean to suggest that you view yourself as a member of 'the coalition', of the British government, or both?" (David Edwards, email to Jon Snow, November 12, 2003)

Snow responded almost immediately:


We wrote again on November 12:

"How can Clwyd, as a representative of a British government that waged war on Iraq and is now ruling the country by force of arms, be included among 'we as human beings' who have not given up on 'peaceful activity in favour of violence'?"

We received no reply. We wonder if, in the 1980s, Snow would have asked a Soviet politician at the time of the Red Army's invasion of Afghanistan:

"Are we now losing the people in the Kunar region? That would be a tragedy."

Would it still have been reasonable to argue that the "we" referred to 'us' as peace-loving human beings, the Soviet government included?

A week earlier, another Channel 4 news anchor referred to killings resulting from a "terrorist insurgency" in Iraq. We asked Channel 4 to explain why they had not also talked in terms of a "terrorist occupation". We received this reply from deputy editor, Martin Fewell:

"Agree with your point. We always try to be careful when using the word 'terrorist' or describing an event as 'an act of terrorism' on Channel Four News. I don't think we got it right this time, and we told the team that on Friday night. It's the Pentagon, and specifically Donald Rumsfeld, who use words like 'terrorist' and 'insurgency' to describe what's happening in Iraq. We should have ascribed this comment to them, not repeated it as a statement of fact." (Email to Media Lens, November 10, 2003)

Two days later, Channel 4's Jonathan Rugman declared:

"Yes, the Americans want democracy here [Iraq], but they don't want to die for it." (Channel 4 News, November 12, 2003)

Moments later, Rugman noted that, if they "democratise too quickly", the Americans risk handing power over to Shia clerics. It appeared not to be an attempt at irony.

Channel 4, the BBC, ITN - all are busy reporting that the Americans are working "to democratise" Iraq. And all are instantly contradicting themselves by pointing out that the Americans are trying not to "rush the process" in order to secure the democracy they "hoped for". (BBC 1 News at Ten, November 13, 2003)

The media forever try to convince us of the fundamental benevolence of Western power in this way. Reinforcement is provided by encouraging viewers and readers to believe that, together with our leaders, we form a united and benevolent "us".

As a result it is easy to lose sight of the actual policymakers selected out of the oil and arms industries - George Bush, Condaleeza Rice, Dick Cheney - and fierce hawks like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. We may begin to actually think in terms of a benign "us" led by individuals who somehow act independently of their backgrounds, their declared intentions, and the greedy vested interests of which they are a part.

Writing in the Independent on Sunday, Robert Fisk told the truth about the lie that America and Britain are passionate supporters of democracy:

"We supported the Egyptian generals (aka Gamal Abdul Nasser) when they originally kicked out King Farouk. We - the Brits - created the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan. We - the Brits - put a Hashemite King on the throne of Iraq. And when the Baath party took over from the monarchy in Baghdad, the CIA obligingly handed Saddam's mates the names of all senior communist party members so they could be liquidated.

"The Brits created all those worthy sheikhdoms in the Gulf. Kuwait was our doing; Saudi Arabia was ultimately a joint Anglo-US project, the United Arab Emirates (formerly the Trucial State) etc. But when Iran decided in the 1950s that it preferred Mohammed Mossadeq's democratic rule to the Shah's, the CIA's Kim Roosevelt, with Colonel "Monty" Woodhouse of MI6, overthrew democracy in Iran. Now President Bush demands the same "democracy" in present-day Iran." (Fisk, 'How we denied democracy to the Middle', The Independent on Sunday, November 9, 2003)

Noam Chomsky noted recently that the current US leadership has failed to explain when, or why, they abandoned the view they held in 1991: that "the best of all worlds" would be "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein". How does this fit with their promise to democratise Iraq now? Chomsky adds:

"At the time, the incumbents' British allies were in the opposition and therefore more free than the Thatcherites to speak out against Saddam's British-backed crimes. Their names are noteworthy by their absence from the parliamentary record of protests against these crimes, including Tony Blair, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon, and other leading figures of New Labour." (Chomsky, ZNet Commentary, 'The Iraq War and Contempt for Democracy', October 31, 2003)

The kind of 'democracy' that is actually being built in Iraq is summed up by Iraqi exile Sami Ramadani:

"Saddam's old right-wing friends, Rumsfeld and co, are recruiting Saddam's security men and are prepared to drench Iraq in new bloodbaths precisely to stop its people from achieving democracy and true liberation." (Ramadani, 'Iraqis Distrust The US And Its Promises Of Democracy', letter to the editor, The Independent, September 20, 2003)

These issues are very rarely raised by our media because they threaten to expose far too many truths about our own society. After all, if the public started to think about the interests opposing genuine democracy in Iraq, it might also start thinking about the interests opposing democracy at home. And come to think of it, why +do+ Republicans and Democrats, New Labour and Tories, offer near-identical policies benefiting the same elite interests? Why do we feel so disenfranchised from a political system that seems to have nothing to do with us? How did our political system come to be structured in a way that prevents us from making meaningful choices?

Johann Hari And The "Friendly Bombs"

Like so many journalists, Johann Hari of the Independent takes it for granted that "we" are intent on bringing "democracy" to Iraq. Hari wrote in January:

"We do not need Bush's dangerous arguments about 'pre-emptive action' to justify this war. Nor do we need to have the smoking gun of WMD. All we need are the humanitarian arguments we used during the Kosovo conflict to remove the monstrous Slobodan Milosevic." (Hari, 'Forget the UN: Saddam Hussein is the best possible reason for liberating Iraq', The Independent, January 10, 2003)

There is, again, a simple series of questions that demand to be asked in response to this statement. They are the same questions posed by playwright Harold Pinter in 2000:

"Who is this 'we' exactly that you're talking about? First of all: Who is the 'we'? Under what heading do 'we' act, under what law? And also, the notion that this 'we' has the right to act presupposes a moral authority of which this 'we' possesses not a jot! It doesn't exist!" (Interview with David Edwards, 1999. See Interviews: www.Media

According to Hari, all "we" need are the humanitarian arguments. But actually what "we" need is a credible track record of compassionate, humanitarian intervention. And as veteran Middle East correspondent Charles Glass has noted, there is none to be found:

"The United States has one strategic interest in the Middle East: oil. Everything else is gravy, sentiment, rhetoric... American transnational corporations do not care about Israeli settlers and their biblical claims, Palestinians who are losing their land and water, Kurds who are caught stateless between gangsters in Baghdad and Tehran, victims of war or torture in Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, South Lebanon..." (Glass, New Statesman, November 15, 1996)

This is the reality, not the seductive, but utterly false, vision of a US government of humanitarians, by humanitarians for democracy. We can accept the illusion if we like, but that simply means the "humanitarians" will continue killing for profit with impunity.

Hari writes of his support for a US-led invasion:

"Who, you may be asking incredulously, would want their country to be bombed? What would make people want to risk their children being blown to pieces? I thought this too until, last October, I spent a month as a journalist seeing the reality of life under Saddam Hussein. Strangely, it's the small details which remain in the memory, even now, three months later. It's the pale, sickly look that would come over people's faces when I mentioned Saddam. It's the fact that the Marsh Arabs - a proud, independent people who have seen their marshes drained and been 'relocated' to tiny desert shacks..." (Hari, 'Forget the UN', op., cit)

This is impassioned stuff - we can imagine Hari in combat fatigues standing stern-faced amid the rubble and chaos. But in a December 2002 article for the Guardian, Hari described the same visit as "the mother of all package tours" and as "a holiday". The tour, he wrote, lasted 18 days. As for spending this "month" as "a journalist seeing the reality of life under Saddam", Hari wrote:

"First, I met Julie and Phil. They seemed an almost comically suburban couple: polite, a little posh, all golf jumpers and floral smocks... The group had a handful of people like Phil, risk-takers craving a change from Marbella and some amusing dinner-party anecdotes. Sean, a 36-year-old New York restaurateur and multimillionaire, was clearly in this category... Then there were the hardcore archaeology fiends... With this group of amiable maniacs, I boarded the flight to Damascus." ('The mother of all package tours', Hari, The Guardian, December 3, 2002)

Hari's first day in Iraq "as a journalist" with Julie, Phil and Sean would have sent shivers up even John Pilger's spine:

"Our first full day in Baghdad was pretty frustrating. The Baghdad Museum has begun to evacuate its most important exhibits, and clay pots are not my priority on this trip...  As we darted from museum to ancient monument, I snatched every moment I could with 'real' Iraqi people."

Occasionally Hari was stricken by bewildering moments of conscience:

"I began to experience what I quickly identified as my John Pilger moments. If I didn't know better, I would swear that Saddam Hussein had deliberately scattered the most dignified, stoical Iraqis and - especially - the cutest doe-eyed children in our paths, and trained them to say lines riddled with pathos about sanctions. As I looked at these kids on the streets, it was tempting to work up a satisfying rage about sanctions and piously denounce all this as the work of my own government."

How to respond to these glimpses of dissident enlightenment? Was Hari drawing up plans to send his CV to Media Lens? Alas, no:

"Instead I just took a valium and lay down for a few hours."

On the basis of these experiences and other evidence, Hari claims that many people in Iraq wanted "us" to bomb them to freedom.

In January, Hari cited "concrete evidence" from The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank, indicating that Iraqis would, as Hari put it, "welcome friendly bombs". In autumn 2002, the ICG had conducted interviews with dozens of Iraqis - the majority from the urban areas of Baghdad and Mosul. The introduction to the ICG report cautioned: "the Iraqis interviewed for this briefing paper do not constitute a scientific or representative sample". Hari, however, made great claims for the report:

"It is time that, in light of the ICG report, we in the West admit that we have misunderstood the Iraqi people's position. We have been acting as though an attack on Saddam would be the beginning of another hideous ordeal for the population, the interruption of an otherwise peaceful situation." (Hari, 'Forget the UN', The Independent, January 10, 2003)

The report describes how "a significant number of those Iraqis interviewed, with surprising candour, expressed their view that, if regime change required an American-led attack, they would support it'. The notion of leaving the country's destiny in the hands of an omnipotent foreign party has more appeal than might be expected - and the desire for a long-term US involvement is higher than expected." (Hari, op., cit, January 10, 2003)

This is the extent of the "concrete evidence" presented by Hari. He did, however, provide an additional piece of anecdotal evidence: "one person I spoke to said that 'the few soldiers who fight for [Saddam] will be defeated in a weekend'..." Ironic words, six months into a ferocious and growing guerrilla insurgency.

It is, we suppose, conceivable that, despite the 1991 obliteration of Iraqi infrastructure - which "effectively terminated everything vital to human survival", according to one Harvard study team - and despite the 12 years of genocidal sanctions and endless bombing, some Iraqis might still believe "we" are sincerely intent on their liberation.

It is also conceivable that the ICG report confirms what we had already learned about human nature from the experience of Nicaragua after years of US-backed terror attacks and economic strangulation: namely, that if a small country is tortured for long enough by the world's superpower, its victims may well agree to almost anything that promises to end the torture.

As the 1990 election campaign opened in Nicaragua, Washington made clear that the economic strangulation and terror - waged by a US proxy army, the Contras - would continue unless the revolutionary Sandinista government were ousted and Washington's candidate elected. The eventual election of the US candidate was hailed in the US press as a triumph of "government with the consent of the governed... To say so seems romantic, but we live in a romantic age."

Time magazine explained that the US's "romantic" policy had been, "to wreck the economy and prosecute a long and deadly proxy war until the exhausted natives overthrow the unwanted government themselves". (Quoted Noam Chomsky, Powers and Prospects, Pluto, 1996, p.110)

The consequences of this "triumph for democracy" in Nicaragua were catastrophic - a 35% increase in child deaths from malnutrition, mass starvation on the Atlantic coast, a drugs epidemic, and UN warnings that the next generation would be "smaller, weaker, and less intelligent" as a result.

Similarly, it is quite possible that the "exhausted natives" of Iraq might choose even violent invasion over genocidal Western sanctions. For Hari to interpret this as Iraqis "cheering us on", however, is obscene.

We noticed that Hari described the ICG, somewhat tentatively, as "by no means pro-war". In fact ICG is packed with establishment figures. Its president and CEO, Gareth Evans, for example, was formerly Australian foreign minister. In this last role he was described by John Pilger as "a functionary of a superpower" notable for his "appeasement of East Timor's mass murderers" in Indonesia. (Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, pp.260-1)

Evans wrote last February:

"The real question, the first-order one, goes back simply to threat: Is Iraq's present leadership such a threat to international peace and security that it must be overthrown by military force?

"If this question can be answered affirmatively, war would be justifiable." ('The question for Powell'. Comment by Gareth Evans in the International Herald Tribune, February 3, 2003)

Another member of the ICG's board, Ken Adelman, said recently:

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

Other luminaries on the ICG board include Morton Abramowitz (former US assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Turkey), Richard Allen (former US national security adviser), Saud Nasir Al-Sabah (former Kuwait ambassador to the US and UK), Wesley Clark (former NATO supreme allied commander), and many other high-ranking state and corporate figures.

In reality, pre-war polls showed that Iraqis were of course keen to avoid yet another war. In March, Jonathan Steele of the Guardian sampled the views of some of the 300,000 Iraqi refugees, students and businesspeople living in Jordan. Steele reported:

"According to a Guardian straw poll, a majority is opposed to war, giving the lie to those who claim that the imminent attack by US and British forces has the overwhelming backing of the Iraqi people.

"The Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, is deeply unpopular, but only 35 per cent of those asked see the use of massive force as the correct way to oust him." (Steele', 'Exiles voice fears as conflict looms', The Guardian, March 19, 2003)

Steele added:

"This was not a scientific survey, but phone calls home from Amman to Iraq have surged in the last few days. These anxious Iraqis, who are in regular contact with Baghdad and other cities, probably reflect the mood of Iraqis in the country with a high degree of accuracy."

Hari insists that +he+ listened to the authentic will of the Iraqi people whereas peace campaigners in the West  "interpreted events in Iraq through the filter of their own prejudices." He continues:

"Whenever there is a development in that battered country, they do not bother to think about the views of actual, real Iraqi people; no, they simply and arrogantly assume that they already know what Iraqis think." (Hari, 'The last thing Iraqis want is for Britain and America to leave their country', The Independent, August 22, 2003)

Hari doubtless knows what British and US leaders think and have planned for Iraq. Plans which, if Hari is to be believed, amount to a compassionate revolution in US foreign policy. Quite when Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz stormed the gates of corporate greed is not clear.

Curiously, Hari doesn't explore +why+ Iraq is such a "battered country". He never explains why, in the past, he failed to demand that Bush and Blair recognise the wishes of the Iraqi people by lifting genocidal non-military sanctions costing a million lives.

The passionate concern, then, is for Iraqi democracy - Iraqi genocide is unworthy even of mention.

Part 2 will follow shortly...


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.


Ask Hari why he is so sure that the West is intent on bringing democracy to Iraq.

Ask him if he is aware of the long and bloody US/UK history of selecting, arming and installing dictators in the region. What makes the regime of Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Cheney so much more compassionate and moral than earlier US regimes? When and why did this compassionate revolution take place, and why did nobody notice? Why has there not been a peep of protest in response to this unprecedented subordination of profit to people in the right-wing press?

Ask how many times in the past Hari called for Bush and Blair to recognise the wishes of the Iraqi people by lifting the genocidal non-military sanctions.

Importantly, please copy your emails to Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent:


Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:01:47 +0000

Patriotism, Progress And A Beautiful Thing

Perseus: "What's the world like?"
Danae: "Not like this."
Perseus: "What's this, then?"
Danae: "A prison."
Perseus: "I thought it +was+ the world."
(The Greek Myths, BBC2, April 23, 2003)


A medieval woodcut shows a traveller who has somehow worked his way to the very edge of the known world with its familiar houses, churches, trees, sun and moon. The traveller is shown poking his head and right arm through a boundary of stars enclosing this everyday world and reaching out to a universe of wonders beyond. The sphere of reality we know - the 'normal' world - is depicted, not as a reassuring haven, but as a barrier to be transcended.

The Bubble Of Approved Reality

On October 31, BBC and ITV news both presented reports detailing an award ceremony "honouring Britain's war heroes". There were interviews with the mother of a teenage soldier who had courageously saved the life of a comrade during a 'friendly fire' incident. The soldier gave his account of what happened over dramatic video footage from the war.

The only gesture towards dissent involved passing mention of the fact that an officer awarded an OBE by the Queen had been cleared of war crimes by the Ministry of Defence. Colonel Tim Collins of the Royal Irish Regiment had been accused of mistreating Iraqi civilians and prisoners of war by a US soldier and by Iraqis - the case was dismissed.

The news reports were presented in the same way as all coverage of royal events - as a time of national pride and solidarity when Britain unites to celebrate something good about the country. Yes, there are issues of balance in all reporting but sometimes it's only proper that we should make it clear that we're "Backing Britain". What was so interesting to us is that it was clear that balance was not only deemed unimportant in these reports, it was unthinkable - from the media's point of view, patriotism simply +is+ the balanced view. Tolstoy noted the significance as long ago as 1900:

"Patriotism today is the cruel tradition of an outlived period, which exists not merely by its inertia, but because the governments and ruling classes, aware that not their power only, but their very existence, depends upon it, persistently excite and maintain it among the people, both by cunning and violence." (Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p.100)

Thus there were no mentions of the fact that many people in this country find nothing honourable in a war of aggression against a defenceless Third World minnow. Balance would necessarily have involved coverage of the kind of view expressed so well by Mark Twain:

"I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonoured from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her the soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass." (Mark Twain, quoted, Normon Solomon, 'The Twain That Most Americans Never Meet', ZNet Commentary, November 19, 1999)

The point is this - can we honestly imagine the BBC or ITN +ever+ allowing this kind of sentiment to be expressed as part of that kind of news report?

Subjected to the continuous effects of this flat ban on balance, it naturally becomes difficult for viewers to poke their heads through the stifling sphere of everyday 'reality' to see the war for what it was. Unchallenged celebrations of honoured heroes, national courage and pride have the effect of obscuring what was actually a major war crime, a massive act of state violence involving a quarter of a million men against an essentially defenceless Third World country.

As viewers and readers we forever receive the subliminal impression that truths of this kind are 'outrageous', 'offensive', 'irresponsible', and so we learn that certain thoughts +are+ 'outrageous', and so we learn to reject them - no matter how important and reasonable they might be. This is thought control in action.

Concorde - Patriotism Meets 'Progress'

On October 24 both BBC and ITN devoted large amounts of airtime to the 'retirement' of the British Airways fleet of supersonic Concorde airliners. Reporters described how they had shed tears as the planes landed at Heathrow airport for the last time. This occasion, also, was the cause of much patriotic fervour with pilots waving Union flags from their cockpits.

The consensus view across the board in all news reports was that the loss of Concorde was a staggeringly ironic step backwards in this age of "progress" when everything is moving ever faster, not slower. The sentiment was summed up by a letter published in the Daily Telegraph:

"The end of Concorde is a giant step backwards for mankind. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire has such a symbol of technological progress been cast aside." (Letters, October 24, 2003)

As reporters and members of the public wept, it would surely have been mean-spirited for our media to have provided balance to this version of progress. The idea that travelling ever faster, consuming resources ever more voraciously, might have nothing to do with genuine "progress" on a finite planet is, again, unthinkable to a corporate media steeped in a culture of endlessly rising consumption and profits. Would it be "progress" for individuals to make their hearts beat ever faster?

It is remarkable that, even now, this version of "progress" is able to go completely unchallenged as if the environment movement had never existed. Balance would involve airing the views, for example, of environmentalist Theodore Roszak:

"Work that is built upon false needs or unbecoming appetites is wrong and wasteful. Work that deceives or manipulates, that exploits or degrades is wrong and wasteful. Work that wounds the environment or makes the world ugly is wrong and wasteful." (Theodore Roszak - People/Planet)

In April 1999, a joint session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved a report titled: 'Summary for Policy Makers - Aviation and the Global Atmosphere'. The report made clear that the then proposed development of a fleet of second generation supersonic, high-speed civil transport aircraft to replace Concorde, would have severe consequences on the climate. The IPCC estimated that the global warming effect of such aircraft would be about a factor of five larger than the subsonic aircraft they would replace. These aircraft would also reduce stratospheric ozone and increase levels of ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth's surface.

So You Want To Be An Urban Warrior

The November 1 cover of the Weekend magazine of Britain's leading liberal newspaper, the Guardian, shows a photo of Tony Blair - considered by many at home and abroad to be a war criminal - exposing the left breast of his wife, Cherie, while frolicking in a swimming pool. Except of course it isn't Blair as the Guardian explains:

"No, this isn't Tony and Cherie mucking about in a pool - Celebrity and fantasy in Alison Jackson's new lookalike photographs."

As we enter the magazine, we travel on a surreal journey past full-page, full-colour adverts for Tiffany diamond rings and Vacheron Constantin watches ("Royal Eagle Chronograph in pink gold"), before arriving at Julie Burchill's by now familiar mocking of the anti-war movement:

"You positively wriggle with delight when King Hipocrite Sean Penn gives yet another interview talking up his greatest role yet - that of anti-Bush, anti-Iraq-war peacenik. In October last year, Penn spent $56,000 publishing an open letter to President Bush in the Washington Post, putting the case against the war, before flying to Iraq and meeting the foreign minister of the genocidal, parasitical, murdering junta then ruling this unfortunate country." (Burchill, 'Mind the gap', November 1, 2003)

Penn is declared a hypocrite for courageously opposing the US assault on Iraq - so risking endless invective of this kind and even physical attack - because, Burchill writes, "In the 1980s, this glorious heir to Gandhi spent a month in jail after a glorious attack on a harmless extra."

Moving on, we pass a full-page advert for DFS sofas to read Alexander Chancellor's column. Chancellor writes that "puppy-training is a highly contentious issue. There is a wide gulf between those who favour stern discipline and those who think that extreme sensitivity is the key". ('Man bites dog', November 1, 2003)

On we go past more full-page adverts for Sony cameras, Chanel perfumes, Mercedes-Benz cars, Hugo Boss eau de cologne, Omega watches... and we come to the lookalike pictures of the Blairs by the pool. Past another full-page advert for Samsung mobile phones, we see a cigar-toting lookalike Saddam Hussein reading a British government dossier on weapons of mass destruction.

A full-page advert for BT Mobile separates the counterfeit Saddam from a faked photograph of the Duke of Edinburgh admiring a series of pictures of a woman masturbating. The next page has a picture of a naked Elton John lookalike receiving 'colonic irrigation' opposite a full-page advert for Intel PCs. Full-page adverts for Siemens washing machines, Gore-Tex shoes, Tesco, De Vere Hotels, Suzuki cars, Cornwall Breaks, Kenya Safaris, Olympus cameras, Averys wine merchants, all follow.

And then we reach a four-page spread: 'Fashion spirit'. Here the country's leading liberal newspaper advises: "Metropolitan chic isn't all combat trousers and trainers. True urban warriors add a touch of class to their street wear." And "class" it is - the "double-breasted coat" retails at £1,235, the "rollneck sash dress" at £615, and the "A-line miniskirt" at £398. An address and phone number in Paris where these items can be acquired by "true urban warriors" are provided. Below, we learn that "silver trousers" are available at £1,080 from Selfridge's.

We move on past full-page adverts for Epson computers, more 'Fashion spirit' ads, Multibionta vitamins, The Images of Borneo, Kitchen Magic, Sofa Workshop, three pages of Hotpoint adverts, Epson printers. Then we hit another section, 'Home Space', and essentially an endless series of adverts...

Epilogue - A Beautiful Thing

High in the Swiss Alps, Hans Castorp is lost and alone in a lethal snowstorm. Delirious from the cold, Castorp - the hero of Thomas Mann's novel, The Magic Mountain - suddenly finds himself engulfed by a hallucination of startling intensity and clarity. All around him he sees deep blue southern seas, a bay enclosed by mountains, and white houses scattered among palm trees and cypress groves. The sublime beauty of it all, Mann tells us, is "too much, too blest for sinful mortals". (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, p.490, Penguin, 1988)

The people populating this world are equally beautiful:

"How joyous and winning they are, how fresh and healthy, happy and clever they look!"

Their souls, too, appear completely unblemished to the enchanted Castorp:

"They seem to be wise and gentle through and through."

But this is the dream world of illusion, of patriotism, of the adverts - the world as it is +supposed+ to be. Ken Adelman of the US Defence Policy Board said recently of the invasion of Iraq:

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

Suddenly Castorp catches the eye of someone different, a sombre looking boy who looks directly at Castorp and then, pointedly, past him. Following the boy's gaze, Castorp spies a large, forbidding temple. Responding to an inner compulsion, Castorp walks over to the temple and enters.

And here, far from the appearance of order, beauty and benevolence outside, is the awful truth on which this dream world is somehow based. Thomas Mann explains:

"Two grey old women, witchlike... were busy there, between flaming braziers, most horribly. They were dismembering a child. In dreadful silence they tore it apart with their bare hands - Hans Castorp saw the bright hair blood-smeared - and cracked the tender bones between their jaws, their dreadful lips dripped blood. An icy coldness held him. He would have covered his eyes and fled, but could not."

With these symbols Mann had brilliantly depicted the catastrophic gulf between the benevolent appearance and violent reality of modern Western society - our society. And Castorp was tempted to cover his eyes and run from this truth, as so many of us do. Erich Fromm wrote:

"To be naive and easily deceived is impermissible, today more than ever, when the prevailing untruths may lead to a catastrophe because they blind people to real dangers and real possibilities." (Fromm, The Art Of Being, Continuum, 1992, p.19)

Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 10:00:31 +0000

Why do activists so often focus on hard facts, reams of figures and dry arguments, while neglecting to deal with the intensely human issues of motivation, loneliness, burnout, selfishness and suffering? Why do we so often respond to elite power with anger, disgust and, possibly, violence? How do we overcome illegitimate authority while retaining our humanity?

Karl Marx once noted that: "To be radical means to go to the root, and the root - is man himself." While Pierre Joseph Proudhon, who wrote that "property is theft", exhorted: "The Old World is in a process of dissolution. one can change it only by the integral revolution in the ideas and in the hearts."

It's worth mulling over those wise words from Marx and Proudhon. An integral revolution requires both political ideas and an honest examination of our own hearts. To be radical is to go to the root of what it is to be human. And yet such views are all too readily dismissed in left-green circles as 'irrelevant', 'emotional' or simply left unaddressed.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the Brazilian activist-educator Paolo Freire wrote with insight that: "the situation of oppression is a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they oppress." Note that crucial word "both" - oppressed +and+ oppressors are dehumanized. Freire added:

"One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings' consciousness."

The struggle for freedom is always at risk, because those who are oppressed may lose their own humanity in the struggle. On the other hand, whenever oppressive forces are overthrown, the humanist and libertarian vision of the formerly oppressed then belongs to everyone. Every individual, ideally, experiences a process of "permanent liberation."

Such liberation requires constant self-awareness and examination of our assumptions, decisions and actions in specific situations. This is tough; very tough. There is an all too-human tendency to rationalise our own behaviour, especially when we act irresponsibly or cruelly. As the psychologist Erich Fromm wrote in Fear of Freedom:

"However unreasonable or immoral an action may be, man has an insuperable urge to rationalize it, that is, to prove to himself and to others that his action is determined by reason, common sense, or at least conventional morality. He has little difficulty in acting irrationally, but it is almost impossible for him not to give his action the appearance of reasonable motivation."

Such rationalisation may occur when we are 'under orders' from 'superiors', whether our boss at work, a military commander, or our political leaders. In such cases, there can be a strong, even overwhelming, demand to subjugate one's individuality to some higher 'good'. There can also be a strong element of willing submission, however, as Fromm explains:

"In our effort to escape from aloneness and powerlessness, we are ready to get rid of our individual self either by submission to new forms of authority or by a compulsive conforming to accepted patterns."

These "accepted patterns" tend to follow destructive contours shaped by state-corporate power. Positive - and not so positive - human qualities are deployed to serve destructive ends, as we see today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Love, freedom, duty, conscience have all been called upon by leaders to support destructive impulses. These impulses are rationalised, or even unthinkingly assimilated, by powerful social groups including leading politicians, corporate chiefs, and influential media commentators. As Edward Herman noted recently, "It is the function of the experts, and the mainstream media, to normalise the unthinkable for the general public." Thus, it becomes 'acceptable' and 'realistic' to invade poor and weakened nations in order to introduce what elite power calls 'democracy'.

Meanwhile, according to established wisdom, it is 'unthinkable' to replace capitalist institutions with eco/social-friendly networks and practices to help save the rapidly deteriorating global commons. Instead, 'we' must adopt a 'pragmatic' approach and make trade and investment 'more efficient'. These notions are what constitute 'common sense' and 'informed public opinion'. Welfare cutbacks, belt-tightening and 'rigour' may be required in the short term. However, these painful but necessary measures will ensure a better future for all, so we are told.

Challenging received truths can be a painful experience, perhaps leading to ridicule, imprisonment, torture or worse. For those inside influential circles, there is the risk of losing membership of 'the group', thus losing a crucial sense of 'belonging', even if that sense has been obtained at the cost of losing the ability to develop one's own potential and one's individuality. Thus the social demands of state-corporate power are elevated to the level of individual ethical norms.

I remember when I applied for a job as a geophysicist with Shell, sixteen years ago. I flew out to the Netherlands to attend a gruelling day of interviews at Shell's head office in The Hague. There were eight different senior managers from various departments who grilled me in separate sessions. One, in particular, was deliberately provocative. He asked me: "So, why do you want to come and work for a company that is destroying the environment and screwing the Third World?"

Why indeed! The 'correct' answer, of course, was that Shell was 'investing' in the 'Third World', thus promoting development there, and also developing new technologies - cleaner fuels, reduced-impact chemicals, renewable energy projects - that would protect the environment. That was the answer he got, which I really did believe - well, half-believe - at the time. And, yes, I got the job. But by the time I had left Shell, nearly five years later, I had lost my belief in that doctrine. I am sure that many individuals within corporations and state institutions do believe the capitalist myth of benign intent and fruitful outcomes. How could they do their job conscientiously and diligently if they thought otherwise?

The maintenance of state-corporate power - and its continuing concentration - actually +requires+ that we absorb elite demands and raise them to the level of individual ethics. Or, as employees, we simply try to ignore the fact that the bottom line is profit, profit and profit, even when it means - as it invariably does - that people and planet are despoilt. State-corporate power +requires+ that the social bonds between people be weakened; that we feel isolated, abandoned and ultimately demoralized. Society then becomes, as Emil Durkeheim warned: "a disorganised dust of individuals".

But the incredibly strong urge to make connections, to avoid being alone, is difficult to extinguish. Clearly, this can lead to much that is good. But there is also the risk that, if pursued without wisdom, such an urge can actually lead to a downward spiral of self-deception. Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness explains:

"We may sacrifice the truth in order to secure our identity, or preserve a sense of belonging. Anything that threatens this gives rise to fear and anxiety, so we deny, cut off our feelings. The end result of this pattern is dehumanization. We become split from our own lives and feel great distance from other living beings as well. As we lose touch with our inner life, we become dependent on the shifting winds of external change for a sense of who we are, what we care about, and what we value. The fear of pain that we tried to escape becomes, in fact, our constant companion."

Where then to turn? Carl Jung offers solace, while making an astute observation about the relationship between love and power: "Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other." Genuine love is based on equality, mutual respect and sharing; there is no room here for towering, crushing power. This is as true of love and power in society, as it is between individuals. Serving the interests of those who lust for power, or those who wish to retain their power, is inherently destructive of loving forces in society, and of humanity, solidarity, peace and compassion.

But Salzberg, too, offers plenty of reason to hope. First, she notes that:

"One of the most powerful aspects of delusion, or ignorance, is the belief that what we do does not really matter."

And, indeed, it is a sign of the success of massive and continuous campaigns of business and government propaganda that current systems of state-corporate control are generally thought to be essentially benign and, in any case, irreversible. In order for the status quo to be maintained, it is necessary for elite power to promote constantly the myth that what we do does not really matter, as long as we continue to consume capitalist goods and services, and toe the official line. Salzberg counters as follows:

"We have the power to align ourselves with certain values and to create the life we want by making wholesome choices. When we are generous, life is tangibly and qualitatively different."

Albert Einstein would have agreed: "Man [and, presumably, woman!] can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself [or herself] to society."

Such devotion, when applied wisely, helps others as well as ourselves. The practice of generosity has a remarkable renewable quality; it replenishes and reinforces our inherent human ability to alleviate suffering, wherever we encounter it. The motivation to reduce suffering marks the fault line between the expression of love and the expression of unwholesome power.

Salzberg puts it like this: "Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal."

Therein lies the root of what it is to be radical.

Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 09:59:25 +0000

In Part 1 of this Media Alert we published an exchange with Guardian columnist George Monbiot. On October 14 we received the following response from Monbiot:

Dear David and David,

thank you for your letter. I do not disagree that "the UK media serve as a powerful propaganda system defending the interests of state-corporate power." Nor do I believe that the liberal media provide sufficient balance. But it seems to me that you have asked Edward Herman the wrong question. I did not question "the applicability of the model to the British media". I questioned the applicability of the model to the Guardian, for the same reasons as Rusbridger does. As you may remember, my last communication to you in our previous exchange pointed out that you had misrepresented my position in this respect.

Of course the liberal media present an unblananced picture of the world, and the BBC in particular always chooses, when in doubt, the position of safety, which means positioning itself not very far from the line taken by the mainstream press - Times, Telegraph, Mail, Economist etc. Surely the reason for this is that if it does otherwise, the mainstream papers will jump down its throat. Having worked in and out of it (mostly as a freelancer) for 18 years, I can testify that it is terrified of their response, and of the political capital its opponents will make out of that response. Surely this is the simplest and most evident explanation of why - to my frustration and yours - it so often takes the establishment line and presents that as a neutral position?

In other words, the source of the problem is elsewhere. It lies with the deliberately and outrageously distorted reporting of the big corporate news organisations. It therefore seems odd to me that you concentrate on the outlets in which the symptoms of the problem are felt, rather than go to the source of the problem, and expose the lies of the right-wing press. You suggest that "many people recognise" its distortions. That is true in general, but not on a day-to-day basis. It takes time and effort to work out precisely what the real story is, in what respects it has been misreported, and why the interests which control these media want it covered in a misleading way. This is what I thought you were going to do when you started Media Lens, and it was obvious to me that this was an urgent and necessary task, which no one else was discharging. So it has been a disappointment to me to see that you appear largely to be ignoring the underlying problem, and concentrating on the derivative one.

What I also find weird is that the majority of the articles you cite to support your case that the liberal media shuts out the voices of dissent are drawn from precisely the liberal media you are attacking - in this letter, for example, you cite Pilger in the New Statesman and Moore in the Guardian. If your model applied to these outlets as consistently as you say it does, these voices of dissent would surely not be published by them.

Finally, you ask me "what is your view of the Guardian's reporting on Iraq?" Last time I  gave you my opinion on the Guardian's coverage, I asked you to treat it in confidence. You betrayed that confidence.

With my best wishes, George Monbiot.

We replied to Monbiot on October 28 as follows:

Dear George

There can hardly be a more complex, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary subject than the modern mass media. It involves just about everything: party politics, economics, technology, the human capacity for self-deception, the psychology of mass manipulation, issues of objectivity, ethics, and so on. We have spent years researching and thinking about these issues trying to understand how it all works.

We are always amazed, then, when journalists present us with analyses that offer no supporting evidence - no facts, sources, references - just generalisations backed up by anecdotal evidence and that trusty credibility catch-all: 'years of experience' in the industry.

We also have spent many years freelancing, but we tend to be wary of, rather than impressed by, in-depth professional experience for the reasons indicated by the American writer Upton Sinclair:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

You write, "the source of the problem... lies with the deliberately and outrageously distorted reporting of the big corporate news organisations. It therefore seems odd to me that you concentrate on the outlets in which the symptoms of the problem are felt, rather than go to the source of the problem, and expose the lies of the right-wing press".

Your assertion, then, is that "the big corporate news organisations" constitute what you described in your first letter as the "real centres of power". It is these news organisations that are responsible for generating a distorted media agenda and for intimidating into conformity a liberal media "terrified" of a right-wing media attack "and of the political capital its opponents will make out of that response".

We have studied many analyses of the media and have not encountered one that identifies "the big news corporations" as the "source of the problem" in fixing the political and media agenda and in intimidating the "liberal media". Instead, typically, the right-wing media are seen as only one source, albeit an important one, of corporate flak, which does indeed work to attack and intimidate dissident voices in the "liberal media" and in society more generally. But flak is also produced by political parties, governments, intelligence services, defence departments, corporate front groups and think tanks, corporate-funded academics, and on and on.

Edward Herman, for example, writes that the right-wing media in the US have served "as literal press agents and cheerleaders for the Bush administration, setting the tone and helping cow the 'liberal' sector of the corporate media into similar, if less vocal, subservience to the government". He adds, tellingly, "although most of them didn't need to be cowed". And as Herman points out right-wing media performance is only the tip of the corporate iceberg:

"At a deeper level, this reflects the fact that the corporate community is very pleased with the Bush administration, which has been brazenly aggressive in providing business tax breaks, resource giveaways, reductions in environmental controls, cutbacks in the welfare state, and impediments to labor organization. Such service to the needs of the powerful feeds into the performance of the corporate and advertiser-funded media, which treats a Bush much differently than a Clinton, Gore, or any other politician who may try hard to placate business, but is not prepared for 100 percent corporate service." (Edward Herman, 'George Bush versus national security', Z Magazine, October 2003)

In other words the performance of "the big corporate news organisations" is itself symptomatic of the much deeper corporate domination of society manifested through a wide variety of political and economic institutions. It is, then, simply false to identify "the big news organisations" as "the source of the problem".

This impacts strongly on your related claim that the right-wing press is somehow an "underlying problem" while the performance of the "liberal media" is a mere "derivative" problem. You say of the BBC:

"Of course the liberal media present an unbalanced picture of the world, and the BBC in particular always chooses, when in doubt, the position of safety, which means positioning itself not very far from the line taken by the mainstream press - Times, Telegraph, Mail, Economist etc. Surely the reason for this is that if it does otherwise, the mainstream papers will jump down its throat... Surely this is the simplest and most evident explanation of why - to my frustration and yours - it so often takes the establishment line and presents that as a neutral position?"

But where is your evidence for this "simplest and most evident explanation" for BBC performance? Is this just a personal hunch? In reality, the simplest explanation of why the BBC presents the establishment line as neutral is because it is +part+ of the establishment. We don't have to rely on anecdotal testimony to support this explanation.

The current BBC Chairman, Gavyn Davies, was after all appointed by the Blair government. Davies was previously chief economist of the global bank Goldman Sachs, and was touted as the next Governor of the Bank of England in 1997. By 2001 he was reputed to have amassed a personal fortune of £150 million. Davies's wife runs Gordon Brown's office. His children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding and Tony Blair has stayed at his holiday home. "In other words", Richard Ingrams wrote in the Observer, "it would be hard to find a better example of a Tony crony." (Ingrams, The Observer, September 23, 2001)

Sarah Ryle of the Observer noted of Davies's appointment, "those at the BBC prepared to comment only off the record say the Davies appointment is a good one. Broadcasting is as much about business as it is about content, today more than ever before." (Quoted, Sarah Ryle, the Observer, September 23, 2001)

The previous BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, left to become chairman of British Telecom. There are establishment influences and links like this throughout the BBC. In their book, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton show how the BBC has a long history of defending the establishment of which it is a part. They describe "the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government". (Curran and Seaton, Power Without Responsibility, Routledge, 1991, p.144)

The BBC's own founder, Lord Reith, noted in his diary of the establishment:

"They know they can trust us not to be really impartial." (Quoted, David Miller, 'Is the news biased?'

The idea that the BBC is a benign but "terrified" victim of the right-wing press is a red herring (a liberal herring, in fact, as we like to call them).

The BBC truly is, as Sarah Ryle comments, "as much about business as it is about content" just like the rest of the mass media - it is a major global corporation. David Cox wrote recently in the New Statesman:

"As new channels lure viewers away, advertising-funded broadcasters with public responsibilities are having to look to their ratings. That includes state-owned Channel 4, as well as ITV. Instead of taking up the slack, the BBC, though richer than ever before, has chosen to play the same game. Its success in doing so has increased the pressure on its advertising-funded rivals." (David Cox, New Statesman, July 21, 2003)

Herman and Chomsky make much the same point in their new introduction to Manufacturing Consent:

"In the process of what Ledbetter calls the 'malling' of public broadcasting, its already modest differences from the commercial networks have almost disappeared. Most important, in their programming 'they share either the avoidance or the defanging of contemporary political controversy, the kind that would bring trouble from powerful patrons.'" (New introduction to Manufacturing Consent. Email from Edward Herman to David Edwards, August 10, 2002)

Public broadcasters such as the BBC are very much part of established corporate power, not somehow separate and intrinsically more honest, as you would have us believe.

There is a further problem with your claim. If the BBC is reacting out of terror in response to a right-wing agenda, why is BBC performance consistently +worse+ than that of the right-wing media?

A July 2003 Cardiff University report found that the BBC "displayed the most 'pro-war' agenda of any broadcaster". (Matt Wells, 'Study deals a blow to claims of anti-war bias in BBC news', the Guardian, July 4, 2003)

Over the three weeks of conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of US-UK government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.

Could it not be argued, then, that organisations like Murdoch's Sky channel were responding in terror to the BBC's pro-war agenda?

At the recent preview of their film, Breaking The Silence, John Pilger and his producer, Chris Martin, both stated their belief that documentaries of the kind they produce for Carlton TV could not appear on the BBC. Their view is that the BBC is in fact less open and tolerant, less radical, than the more overtly commercial media.

Yes, there is pressure on journalists within the BBC, but the pressure comes from the establishment nature and sympathies of the BBC itself, as well as from the all-pervasive power of corporate influence throughout politics, economics, media and society generally.

Here, as in the United States, corporate power has a long history of rising up to crush dissent in society. That is why the media is one big problem that cannot be divided into an "underlying" problem - the right-wing press - and a "derivative" problem - the liberal media.

And that is why Media Lens focuses on the best media and shows how they are also part of the propaganda system. Because we all know that the Sun and the Telegraph are not +more+ open and honest than the Guardian and the BBC, readers can confidently conclude that we in fact do not have a free, open and honest media in this country.

Your apologetics for the BBC rank alongside your explanation last year for why the Guardian published so few dissident journalists:

"This may sound strange to you, but a - perhaps the - major constraint on radical journalism in the left-liberal independent press (which, as all the other papers are owned by multi-millionaires, is another way of saying the Guardian and Observer) is the dearth of good radical journalists... There seems to me to be plenty of evidence that the Guardian would print more radical journalism if it could find it. I am repeatedly asked by the editors of other sections to write for them, but very seldom have the time to do so." ('Update: Final Exchange With George Monbiot On The Guardian And The Propaganda Model', December 10, 2002, Media Alerts archive - www.Media

You write:

"What I also find weird is that the majority of the articles you cite to support your case that the liberal media shuts out the voices of dissent are drawn from precisely the liberal media you are attacking - in this letter, for example, you cite Pilger in the New Statesman and Moore in the Guardian. If your model applied to these outlets as consistently as you say it does, these voices of dissent would surely not be published by them."

But the propaganda model clearly predicts that examples of dissent +will+ appear in the media, but that they will be few and far between. Pilger and Fisk do appear, after all. But it could not be more obvious that the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent have for many years almost completely shunned the best dissident writers: Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Howard Zinn, Ben Bagdikian, Robert McChesney, Amy Goodman, Sharon Beder, Michael Albert, and so on. Mark Curtis, author of Web of Deceit, has published two articles this year in the Guardian, none last year, with a total of 5 articles totalling some 3,500 words over six years.

George, your criticism just doesn't add up. We have received many hundreds of emails from readers this year expressing their outrage at the way the "liberal media" have failed to report what we and other alternative media have been reporting. Many simply cannot understand how 'liberal' papers and TV outlets could fail so disastrously to ask even the most obvious questions; how they could fail to mention even the most basic evidence in challenging politicians lying their way to a bloody war. Our deliberate targeting of the "liberal media" has struck a chord with people who share a deep unease and disappointment with their performance. After all, if the "liberal media" are that awful, what else is there?

It is obvious that the "liberal media" have betrayed the public just as they have betrayed the people of Iraq. We have been a tiny voice trying to draw attention to this issue and yet, in response, you can only express your "disappointment" at our "odd" and "weird" efforts. Meanwhile, as far as we can tell, you have made not one critical comment about the atrocious media performance on Iraq this year.

In an interview with ephemera in May 2002, you said:

"My experience suggests that the way you get companies to change is to work against them and not to work for them. What companies are extremely afraid of, and will go to great lengths to avoid, is protest, direct action, public embarrassment and exposure. What they are very happy with, and they have an infinite capacity to absorb, is dialogue and discussion and people attempting to work for positive change on the inside. In fact, what we see is a process which some people have described as "being dialogued to death," whereby the big companies that have come in for criticism have effectively managed to bring their critics into the fold, get the game back onto their home turf and set the rules according to their own prescriptions. The result is that not only are those activists effectively hamstrung, but campaigning and activism in general are too." ('Interview with ephemera', May 29th, 2002,

So why would it be a problem to criticise media corporations, "liberal" or no? At worst, you should be delighted at what we are doing, but perhaps frustrated that we aren't criticising even more media even more often. Isn't it the case, George, that you are yourself an example of an activist "effectively hamstrung" by being brought "into the fold" of the corporate media? What else could explain your failure to comment on the media's appalling performance in helping to make war possible this year?

Your silence in response to our question about your views on the performance of the Guardian is remarkable. You say we betrayed your confidence. Even if true, that would hardly justify not speaking out honestly now on such an important issue. We assume you are referring to a passage in our June 25 Media Alert:

"In private, Monbiot has talked very differently of a cell of hardcore reactionaries on the Guardian which makes life hell for anyone attempting to promote a more radical agenda." ('Biting The Hand That Feeds - Part 1', June 25, 2003)

It seems to us that the whole media is run on a kind of giant "gentleman's agreement" whereby certain things are said only "in confidence". We are often astonished and depressed by the stark contradiction between what journalists say in private and in public. We take the moral issues surrounding requests for confidentiality very seriously indeed. But these issues must surely be considered in light of the role played by the media in facilitating massive crimes against humanity.

If the media is complicit in mass murder, and if journalists are only willing to tell the truth about the media in private, where does our moral responsibility lie? Should we reveal these "confidential" views to the public in the hope that airing the truth might make it harder for the media to deceive the public, and so make it harder for the government to kill and maim tens of thousands of people in the Third World? Or should we stay silent, bearing in mind, as Soviet dissident Yevgeney Yevtushenko noted: "The truth is replaced by silence, and the silence is a lie."?

To participate in that lie is also not an honourable option.

These are not simple choices but the decisions we make must be determined by the likely consequences of speaking out, or of remaining silent, for real people. Media Lens is, above all, an experiment in speaking out.

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to George Monbiot giving your views:


Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 09:58:26 +0000

In the first two weeks of December 2002, Media Lens published a total of three alerts on exchanges with Guardian columnist George Monbiot ('George Monbiot Responds on Iraq and "Just War"', December 2, 2002; 'George Monbiot Responds Again on Iraq and "Just War"', December 7, 2002; and 'Final Exchange With George Monbiot On The Guardian And The Propaganda Model', December 10, 2002. See: www.Media

These exchanges followed a comment we had made in a Media Alert on November 27. We quoted Monbiot as follows:

"[I]f war turns out to be the only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and incontestable purpose is that and only that..." (Monbiot, 'See you in court, Tony,' The Guardian, November 26, 2002)

We wrote:

"Monbiot would doubtless deny to his last breath that his support for an assault against just this shattered Third World country as a last resort has anything to do with the ceaseless propaganda that has poured from the tireless cynics of the Bush/Blair administrations and their media commissars. He holds his views (+he+ believes) because Iraq +is+ a special case, not because propaganda has +made+ Iraq seem a special case. This is the awesome power of deception - fascinating for everyone except the people on the end of our bombs." ('Iraq - Panorama Editor and Guardian Editor Respond', November 27, 2002)

During the exchange that followed, Monbiot referred to Media Lens in his Guardian column accusing us of "ridiculous evasion" and "intellectual wriggling".

On December 3, 2002, Monbiot wrote: "I must end this letter with an apology. I do not have time to write another, as I have a very busy schedule. So please do not expect a response to your next reply." On December 12, Monbiot wrote again: "This really will be the last thing I write."

We heard no more from Monbiot until October 10 of this year when we received the following email in response to our October 10 Media Alert: 'Lulling Us Into Submission':

Dear David and David,

given that this is the first time in a long time you have mentioned the Daily Telegraph, and then only because it is mentioned in an article in the Guardian, do I take it that you do not read the Telegraph, or, for that matter, the Times, the Sun, the Mail, the Economist or the Spectator? I ask because almost everything you write appears to be directed against the liberal media, rather than those outlets with the greatest readership, the greatest power and the widest global ambitions, and which, incidentally, match your interpretation of how and why the media works far more closely than the liberal media do. I find it hard to understand why you concentrate almost exclusively on the omissions and contradictions of the liberal media, and ignore the real centres of power.

Yours Sincerely, George Monbiot

It's an important question that has occasionally been raised with us by readers. We were happy to explain our rationale in our response on October 13:

Dear George

Many thanks for your letter; we hope you're well. As you know, we believe that the UK media serve as a powerful propaganda system defending the interests of state-corporate power. We believe that powerful elites are able to fix the premises of media discourse, to filter what the public are told, and so to effectively manage public opinion.

While, as we discuss below, many people recognise the establishment-friendly nature of the right-wing press, many also take comfort from the idea that it is balanced by an independent, open and honest "liberal media".

The problem is that this "liberal media" also provides reporting and commentary based on a framework of assumptions shaped by the needs and goals of the same system of power. Because this power is rooted in corporate greed and state violence, the media, including the "liberal media", is complicit in crimes against humanity, including genocide in Iraq.

A typical presumption found throughout the mainstream media is the idea that British governments generally act with benevolent intent. Thus Guardian editors talk of "Britain's reputation as both a respecter and champion of human rights." ('Rights and wrongs', The Guardian, March 6, 2000) Leading Guardian columnist Martin Woollacott has written that "the foreign policies of democratic states, beyond the basic requirement of ensuring physical security, are now based firmly on two pillars - trade advantage and human rights". ('The see-through reality of sanctions', The Guardian, August 31, 1996) In a book on the Labour government, Guardian writers Polly Toynbee and David Walker refer to Blair as "a high minded champion of human rights". (New Labour In Power, Manchester University Press, 2000, p.254)

Facts and voices contradicting this idea of benevolence are largely excluded from the "liberal media". British historian Mark Curtis makes exactly this point in his book, The Ambiguities of Power:

"The main argument in this study is that the systematic link between the basic priorities and goals of British foreign policy on the one hand and the horrors of large-scale human rights violations on the other is unmentionable in the propaganda system, even though that link is clearly recognisable in an analysis of the historical and contemporary record." (Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power, Zed Books, 1995, p.117)

If opposition to ongoing and additional horrors of this kind is to have any chance of success, the propaganda system as a whole must be exposed, challenged and undermined. We need large numbers of people to see through the illusion that we have a liberal media, and to work to fashion windows of honest discussion both within the mainstream and through the development of honest and compassionate alternative media.

As you know our analysis is based, in part, on Herman and Chomsky's "propaganda model of media control". Last year you questioned the applicability of the model to the British media, and so we asked Edward Herman, who drew up the model, for his opinion. This was his response:

"On the applicability of the model to Britain, one can go through that list of filters and ask whether they fit. Ownership? Blatantly true with Murdoch, an important media proprietor, and no reason to think they are less powerful in Britain than in the US. For the BBC, the impact of government is probably at least as severe as under Thatcher, and she brought intervention to a pretty high level I do believe. Advertising? Why not effective in the UK in its usually subtle way. Sourcing? Little basis for difference from the US, although I suspect not quite as bad. Flak? Possibly not quite as bad, but flak from government and powerful lobbies is surely real. Ideology? Anticommunism, market ideology, possibly not quite as powerful as in US, but probably real--and the force of patriotism and demonization of enemies I suspect is as great and powerfully affecting ability to speak honestly on Israel or Iraq." (Email to Media Lens, December 9, 2002)

In short, Herman is in no doubt that the propaganda model can indeed be used to explain and understand the performance of the British media - he is a big supporter of our project.

This brings us to the issue of why we focus so intensely on the "liberal media", especially comparatively honest media like the Guardian and the Independent.

The reason, as we mentioned above, is that one of the main objections to the propaganda model consists in the argument that while right-wing media do indeed defend established state and corporate interests - through Black's Telegraph, Murdoch's Times and Sun, and so on - this is balanced by "liberal media", which do not. According to this argument, the "liberal media" are doing a pretty good job and need merely to be supported in their efforts to counter right-wing propaganda.

The applicability of the propaganda model to the right-wing media is often considered uncontroversial. For example, we discussed the model with Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, and Observer editor, Roger Alton, in December 2000:

David Edwards: "There's a radical analysis of the media which says that wealthy owners, parent companies, advertisers, and the profit orientation of the media, act as filters that tend to remove facts and ideas that are damaging to powerful corporate and state interests. Is that an argument you're aware of? Is it something you'd agree with?"

Alan Rusbridger: "It's understood. I think that does work, and obviously the general interests of most of the people who own newspapers are going to be fairly conventional, pro-business, interests. So, you know, I'm sure that is broadly true, yes."

Rusbridger of course rejected the model's applicability to the Guardian:

"But then we're not owned by a... We're owned by a trust; we haven't got a proprietor. So we're in a sort of unique position of being able to discuss this kind of stuff." (Interview with David Edwards, December 22, 2000, www.Media

Roger Alton gave a similar response:

"You would be unlikely to find some perfectly hostile story to Sky in the Sun. And you'd be unlikely to find an analysis of Northern & Shell in the Express. You'd probably be unlikely to find a savage attack on the Spectator in the Telegraph. A lot of that is partially also related to shared opinions. If you are a highly Christian, traditional, sort of Little Englander, anti-Europe, you would be unlikely to want to come and work for a paper like this one." (Interview with David Edwards, December 20, 2000, www.Media

Even mainstream editors, then, accept that the propaganda model can account for the performance of the right-wing press - there seems little to be gained from continually stating the obvious. However, we have mentioned the Telegraph in a range of Media Alerts this year - in two Alerts in March, two also in April and two in May, and most recently on June 6. Coincidentally, we are currently preparing a Guest Media Alert by Matthew Randall comparing the performance of the Telegraph with the Guardian in their reporting on asylum and immigration issues. It makes grim reading.

Nevertheless, the real test for our argument lies in the claim that the best media, the "liberal media", are not servile to power in the way of the right-wing press.

Our work, and the work of many others, has shown that the "liberal media" does not at all act as a counter-balance to the right-wing press. Instead it is a vital element of a propaganda system protecting established power. As Chomsky has pointed out, the role of the "liberal media" is to consider the range of 'respectable' thought and to draw a line: "to say, in effect, this far and no further".

The lethal result is that there is minimal mainstream media opposition to even truly historic state-corporate abuses of power, and certainly not enough to generate the kind of mass public awareness and outrage required to challenge and end these abuses.

In his latest book, Web Of Deceit, Mark Curtis writes:

"The liberal intelligentsia in Britain is in my view guilty of helping to weave a collective web of deceit. Under New Labour, many commentators have openly taken part in Labour's onslaught on the world... To read many mainstream commentator's writings on Britain's role in the world is to enter a surreal, Kafkaesque world where the reality is often the direct opposite of what is contended and where the starting assumptions are frighteningly supportive of state power." (Curtis, Web Of Deceit, Vintage Books, 2003, p.4)

John Pilger recently wrote a searing indictment of the "liberal media" - the Guardian and Independent very much included:

"'The New Special Relationship' was the next good news, with Blair and Clinton looking into each other's eyes in the garden at No 10 Downing Street. Here was the torch being passed, said the front page of the Independent, 'from a becalmed and aimless American presidency to the coltish omnipotence of Blairdom'. This was the reverential tone that launched Blair into his imperial violence."

Pilger adds:

"By the time Robin Cook launched his infamous mission statement, putting human rights at the 'heart' of foreign policy and promising to review arms sales on 'ethical' grounds, not a sceptical voice was to be heard coming from liberalism's powerhouses. On the contrary, the Guardian counselled Blair not to be too 'soft centred'. (John Pilger, 'The Fall And Rise Of Liberal England', New Statesman, October 13, 2003)

Both Pilger and Curtis do occasionally appear in the mainstream, but they are tiny islands of honesty in an ocean of power-friendly propaganda.

Pilger describes how "An epic shame and silence covers much of liberal England."

This is the same silence and shame we have exposed in analysing the performance during the Iraq crisis of the paper that hosts your column, the Guardian.

We showed how, in the year prior to the invasion, the Guardian rarely made any attempt to evaluate the success of the 1991-98 UNSCOM inspections, ignoring crucial claims by senior UNSCOM weapons inspectors that Iraq had been 90-95% disarmed of WMD by December 1998. Chief UNSCOM inspector, Scott Ritter, for example, claimed that Iraq had been "fundamentally disarmed" by December 1998 and offered no threat. At time of writing the Guardian and Observer website lists 10,811 articles mentioning Iraq this year. Ritter's name has been mentioned in 14 of these articles. According to its website, Ritter has been mentioned in 6 articles in the Independent this year.

Like the rest of the "liberal media", the Guardian gave almost no coverage to the claim by UNSCOM inspectors, the CIA, and others, that any retained Iraqi WMD would by now likely be "harmless sludge". The Guardian repeatedly claimed that inspectors had been thrown out of Iraq, contradicting its own reports in 1999 and early 2000. The "liberal media" as a whole made vanishingly few mentions of the 250,000 Iraqi victims of the 1991 Gulf War, or of the 1 million civilian dead as a result of US/UK sanctions.

In all the endless discussion about Iraq's recent history, the "liberal media" has almost completely buried former UN humanitarian coordinator Denis Halliday's damning references to the "genocidal" effects of US/UK sanctions. Halliday has been mentioned in 2 of the 10,811 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq this year. The list goes on...

Instead the "liberal media" has been filled with literally tens of thousands of articles and news reports echoing US/UK propaganda.

John Pilger wrote recently:

"My own view is that had the great broadcasting institutions and newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic not merely channelled and echoed the agendas and lies of government, but instead exposed and challenged them, the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq would have been made untenable."

We agree - the media played a crucial role in making war possible. We believe that the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent and the BBC acted as a kind of media 'Blair' to the Telegraph's 'Bush'. In other words we are proposing a judgement on the "liberal media" comparable to Michael Moore's recent judgement on Blair:

"Thank you, Mr Blair. Without you, Bush would have had to invade Iraq alone. But he needed at least one major ally to make it look like it wasn't just the Americans doing the nasty deed. The American people were against going it alone. Once you hopped on board, Bush had the cover he needed. You made that happen. You are the one who gave us the Iraq war. I hold you more responsible for this mess than little Georgie." (Michael Moore, 'Michael Moore's message to Tony Blair', The Guardian, October 7, 2003)

The "liberal media's" betrayal of the British public contributed to the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis, while the lives of millions more have been plunged into yet more unnecessary chaos, horror and suffering. This is one reason why we focus so intently on the "liberal media".

What is your view of the Guardian's reporting on Iraq?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell
Media Lens

Part 2 will follow shortly...


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to George Monbiot giving your views:


Alerts 2003 Sun, 14 Nov 2010 09:57:18 +0000