Media Lens - 2012 News analysis and media criticism Mon, 19 Nov 2018 02:19:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Illusion Of Democracy

By David Cromwell

Liberal Journalism, Wikileaks And Climate Deceptions

In an era of permanent war, economic meltdown and climate weirding’, we need all the champions of truth and justice that we can find. But where are they? What happened to trade unions, the green movement, human rights groups, campaigning newspapers, peace activists, strong-minded academics, progressive voices? We are awash in state and corporate propaganda, with the ‘liberal’ media a key cog in the apparatus. We are hemmed in by the powerful forces of greed, profit and control. We are struggling to get by, never mind flourish as human beings. We are subject to increasingly insecure, poorly-paid and unfulfilling employment, the slashing of the welfare system, the privatisation of the National Health Service, the erosion of civil rights, and even the criminalisation of protest and dissent.

The pillars of a genuinely liberal society have been so weakened, if not destroyed, that we are essentially living under a system of corporate totalitarianism. In his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, the former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges notes that:

‘The anemic liberal class continues to assert, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that human freedom and equality can be achieved through the charade of electoral politics and constitutional reform. It refuses to acknowledge the corporate domination of traditional democratic channels for ensuring broad participatory power.’ (p. 8)

Worse, the liberal class has: ‘lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.’  (pp. 9-10) 

This pretense afflicts all the major western ‘democracies’, including the UK, and it is a virus that permeates corporate news reporting, not least the BBC. For example, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson has a new book out with the cruelly apt title, ‘Live From Downing Street’. Why apt? Because Downing Street is indeed the centre of the political editor’s worldview. As he explains in the book’s foreword:

‘My job is to report on what those in power are thinking and doing and on those who attempt to hold them to account in Parliament.’ (Added emphasis).

Several observations spring to mind:

1. How does Nick Robinson know what powerful politicians are thinking?

2. Does he believe that any discrepancy between what they really think and what they tell him and his media colleagues is inconsequential?

3. Why does the BBC's political editor focus so heavily on what happens in Parliament? What about the wider spectrum of opinion outside Parliament, so often improperly represented by MPs, if at all? What about attempts in the wider society to hold power to account, away from Westminster corridors and the feeble, Whip-constrained platitudes of party careerists? No wonder Robinson might have regrets over Iraq, as he later concedes when he says:

‘The build-up to the invasion of Iraq is the point in my career when I have most regretted not pushing harder and not asking more questions.’ (p. 332).

4. Thus, right from the start of his book Robinson concedes unwittingly that his journalism cannot, by definition, be ‘balanced’.

But, of course, corporate media professionals have long propped up the illusion that the public is offered an ‘impartial’ selection of facts, opinions and perspectives from which any individual can derive a well-informed world view. Simply put, ‘impartiality’ is what the establishment says is impartial.

The journalist and broadcaster Brian Walden once said: ‘The demand for impartiality is too jealously promoted by the political parties themselves. They count balance in seconds and monitor it with stopwatches.' (Quoted, Tim Luckhurst, ‘Time to take sides’, Independent, July 1, 2003). This nonsense suggests that media ‘impartiality’ means that one major political party receives identical, or at least similar, coverage to another. But when all the major political parties have almost identical views on all the important issues, barring small tactical differences, how can this possibly be deemed to constitute genuine impartiality?

The major political parties offer no real choice. They all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; or towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.

The essential truth was explained by political scientist Thomas Ferguson in his book Golden Rule (University of Chicago Press, 1995). When major backers of political parties and elections agree on an issue ­– such as international ‘free trade’ agreements, maintaining a massive ‘defence’ budget or refusing to make the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – then the parties will not compete on that issue, even though the public might desire a real alternative.

US media analyst Robert McChesney observes:

‘In many respects we now live in a society that is only formally democratic, as the great mass of citizens have minimal say on the major public issues of the day, and such issues are scarcely debated at all in any meaningful sense in the electoral arena.’ (McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The New Press, 2000, p. 260).

As the Washington Post once noted, inadvertently echoing Ferguson’s Golden Rule, modern democracy works best when the political ‘parties essentially agree on most of the major issues’. The Financial Times put it more bluntly: capitalist democracy can best succeed when it focuses on ‘the process of depoliticizing the economy.' (Cited by McChesney, ibid., p. 112).

The public recognises much of this for what it is. Opinion polls indicate the distrust they feel for politicians and business leaders, as well as the journalists who all too frequently channel uncritical reporting on politics and business. A 2009 survey by the polling company Ipsos MORI found that only 13 per cent of the British public trust politicians to tell the truth: the lowest rating in 25 years. Business leaders were trusted by just 25 per cent of the public, while journalists languished at 22 per cent.

And yet recall that when Lord Justice Leveson published his long-awaited report into 'the culture, practices and ethics of the British press' on November 29, he made the ludicrous assertion that ‘the British press – I repeat, all of it – serves the country very well for the vast majority of the time.’

That tells us much about the nature and value of his government-appointed inquiry.


The Flagship Of Liberal Journalism On The Rocks

Damning indictments of the liberal media were self-inflicted by its vanguard newspaper, the Guardian, in two recent blows. First, consider Decca Aitkenhead’s hostile interview with Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange in which he is described as a ‘fugitive’ who has been ‘holed up’ in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for six months. Aitkenhead casts doubts over his ‘frame of mind’, with a sly suggestion that he might even be suffering from ‘paranoia’. She claims Assange ‘seems more like an in-patient than an interviewee [...]. If you have ever visited someone convalescing after a breakdown, his demeanour would be instantly recognisable. Admirers cast him as the new Jason Bourne, but in these first few minutes I worry he may be heading more towards Miss Havisham.’

He ‘talks in the manner of a man who has worked out that the Earth is round, while everyone else is lumbering on under the impression that it is flat’. Aitkenhead continues: ‘it's hard to read his book without wondering, is Assange a hypocrite – and is he a reliable witness?’ Indeed ‘some of his supporters despair of an impossible personality, and blame his problems on hubris.’

Aitkenhead asks him ‘about the fracture with close colleagues at WikiLeaks’ and wants him to ‘explain why so many relationships have soured.’ She gives a potted, one-sided history of why the relationship between the Guardian and Wikileaks ‘soured’, saying dismissively that ‘the details of the dispute are of doubtful interest to a wider audience’.

The character attack continues: ‘the messianic grandiosity of his self-justification is a little disconcerting’ and ‘he reminds me of a charismatic cult leader’. Aitkenhead concludes: ‘The only thing I could say with confidence is that he is a control freak.’

The hostile, condescending and flippant tone and content contrast starkly with the more respectable treatment afforded to establishment interviewees such as Michael Gove, Michael Heseltine, Christopher Meyer and Alistair Darling. Aitkenhead almost fawns over Darling, then the Chancellor:

'His dry, deadpan humour lends itself to his ironic take on the grumpy old man, which he plays with gruff good nature. [...] He reminds me of childhood friends' fathers who seemed fearsome until we got old enough to realise they were being funny.'

Darling says that 'I was never really interested in the theory of achieving things, just the practicality of doing things.' Aitkenhead sighs:

'One might say this has been Darling's great strength. The pragmatic clarity made him a highly effective minister... But it may well also be his weakness - for at times he seems almost too straightforward, even high-minded, for the low cunning of political warfare.'

Sometimes people would approach the Chancellor in public and demand that he fix the economy. Darling recalls that one chap accosted him at a petrol station:

' "I know it's to do with oil prices - but what are you going to do about it?" People think, Well, surely you can do something, you are responsible - so of course it reflects on me.'

Aitkenhead asks him sweetly: 'Is it painful to be blamed so personally?'

Two days after the Guardian’s hit job on Julian Assange, it was followed by the paper’s low-key announcement of its public poll for person of the year: Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of leaking state secrets to Wikileaks. The implication of the Guardian’s grudging note was that Manning had only won because of ‘rather fishy voting patterns’:

‘Manning secured 70 percent of the vote, the vast majority of them coming after a series of @Wikileaks tweets. Project editor Mark Rice-Oxley said: "It was an interesting exercise that told us a lot about our readers, our heroes and the reasons that people vote."’

Although the short entry appeared in the Guardian’s online news blog, there was no facility for adding reader comments, thus avoiding any possible additional public embarrassment. Perhaps the paper is mortified that it has been shown up by Wikileaks and Manning for not doing its job of holding power to account.

As Jonathan Cook, a former Guardian journalist, wrote last year:

‘The Guardian, like other mainstream media, is heavily invested – both financially and ideologically – in supporting the current global order. It was once able to exclude and now, in the internet age, must vilify those elements of the left whose ideas risk questioning a system of corporate power and control of which the Guardian is a key institution.’

So much for the British flagship of liberal journalism then.


Climate Betrayal And Deceptions

One of the biggest failures of the liberal class has been its inability to see, far less challenge, the inherently destructive and psychopathic nature of corporations.

We once wrote to Stephen Tindale, then executive director of Greenpeace UK, and asked him why they did not address this in their campaigning:

‘Let us see Greenpeace (and other pressure groups) doing more to oppose, not so much what corporations do, but what they are; namely, undemocratic centralised institutions wielding illegitimate power.’ (Email, January 7, 2002)

Ignoring or missing the point, Tindale replied: ‘We will continue to confront corporations where necessary  [...] we are an environmental group, not an anti-corporate group. We will therefore work with companies when we can do so to promote our campaign goals.’ (Email, January 28, 2002)

Corporate Watch has pointedly asked of nongovernmental organisations, such as Greenpeace: ‘Why are NGOs getting involved in these partnerships?’ One important factor, it seems, is 'follow the leader'. Corporate Watch notes:

'For many NGOs, the debate on whether or not to engage with companies is already over. The attitude is “all the major NGOs engage with companies so why shouldn't we?” ' (Corporate Watch, ‘What's Wrong with Corporate Social Responsibility?’, 2006, p. 2).

The sad reality is that Greenpeace and other major NGOs accept the ideological premise that the corporate sector can be persuaded to act benignly. To focus instead on the illegitimate power and inherent destructive nature of the corporation is a step too far for today’s emasculated ‘pressure groups’, whether they are working on environmental protection, human rights or fighting poverty.

Adding to the already overwhelming evidence of corporate power protecting itself at almost any cost, a recent book titled Secret Manoeuvres in the Dark (Pluto Books, 2012) exposes the covert methods of corporations to evade democratic accountability and to undermine legitimate public protest and activism. Using exclusive access to previously confidential sources, Eveline Lubbers, an independent investigator with, provides compelling case studies on companies such as Nestlé, Shell and McDonalds. ‘The aim of covert corporate strategy’, she observes, ‘is not to win an argument, but to contain, intimidate and ultimately eliminate opposition.’

Lubbers also points out that dialogue, one of the key instruments of ‘corporate social responsibility’, is exploited by big business ‘as a crucial tool to gather information, to keep critics engaged and ultimately to divide and rule, by talking to some and demonizing others.’ Lubbers’ book, then, is yet another exposure of corporate efforts to prevent civil society from obtaining real power.

And yet virtually every day comes compelling evidence showing how disastrous this is for humanity. A new scientific report this month reveals that global carbon emissions have hit a record high:

‘In a development that underscores the widening gap between the necessary steps to limit global warming and the policies that governments are actually putting into place, a new report shows that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will likely reach a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 2011.’

This is a disaster for climate stability. Meanwhile, a new study based on 20 years of satellite observations shows that the planet’s polar ice sheets are already melting three times faster than they were in the the 1990s.

In September, senior NASA climate scientist James Hansen had warned of a ‘planetary emergency’ because of the dangerous effects of Arctic ice melt, including methane gas released from permafrost regions currently under ice. ‘We are in a planetary emergency,’ said Hansen, decrying ‘the gap between what is understood by scientific community and what is known by the public.’

As ever, the latest UN Climate Summit in Doha was just another talking shop that paid lip service to the need for radical and immediate action in curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the face of climate chaos.

The failure of the liberal class to rein in, or seriously challenge, corporate power is typified by this appalling gap between climate change rhetoric and reality. The rhetoric is typified by the political call to keep the average global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. The appalling reality is that the rise is likely to be in the region of 4-6 deg C (but potentially much higher if runaway global warming kicks in with the release of methane). This gap - actually a chasm of likely tragic proportions - is graphically depicted by climate scientist Professor Kevin Anderson of Manchester University in a recent powerful and disturbing presentation.

Anderson cites an unnamed ‘very senior political scientist’ who often advises the government. This adviser says:

‘Too much has been invested in two degrees C for us to say it is not possible. It would undermine all that has been achieved. It would give a sense of hopelessness that we may as well just give in.’

Anderson also reports that on the eve of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in 2010, he had a 20-minute meeting in Manchester with Ed Miliband, then the of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Miliband told Anderson:

‘Our position is challenging enough. I can't go with the message that two degrees C is impossible - it's what we've all worked towards.’

Anderson also relates that he attended a Chatham House event where the message from both ‘a very senior government scientist and someone very senior from an oil company’ – which he strongly hinted was Shell – was this:

‘[We] think we're on for 4 to 6 degrees C but we just can't be open about it.’

Anderson warns that this deception is ‘going on all the time behind the scenes’ and ‘that somehow we can't tell the public’ the truth. The consequences could be terminal for large swathes of humanity and planetary ecosystems.

In short, we desperately need to hear the truth from people like Kevin Anderson, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

To return to Chris Hedges on ‘the death of the liberal class’:

‘The liberal class is expected to mask the brutality of imperial war and corporate malfeasance by deploring the most egregious excesses while studiously refusing to question the legitimacy of the power elite's actions and structures. When dissidents step outside these boundaries, they become pariahs. Specific actions can be criticized, but motives, intentions, and the moral probity of the power elite cannot be questioned.’ (Hedges, op. cit., pp. 152-153)

and he warns:

‘We stand on the verge of one of the bleakest periods in human history, when the bright lights of civilizations will blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites, who successfully convinced us that we no longer possessed the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe, will use their resources to create privileged little islands where they will have access to security and goods denied to the rest of us.’ (p. 197)

We must have the vision to imagine that, however bleak things appear now, things can change: if we put our minds to it and work together.



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 18 Dec 2012 08:51:40 +0000
Won't Get Fooled Again? Hyping Syria's WMD 'Threat'

By: David Edwards

Reading about crimes of state over many years, it is tempting to try to fathom the mind-set of political leaders. What actually is going on in their heads when they order sanctions that kill hundreds of thousands of children? What is in their hearts when they wage needless wars that shatter literally millions of lives? Are they desperately cruel, mindlessly stupid? Do they imagine they are living in a kind of hell where monstrous acts have to be committed to avoid even worse outcomes? Are they indifferent, focused on what will bring them short-term political and economic gain? Are they morally resigned, perceiving themselves as essentially powerless in the face of invincible political and economic forces ('If I didn't do it, someone else would.')?

Similar questions come to mind as the US and UK governments once again raise the spectre of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to demonise a target for ‘regime change’, this time in Syria. What is actually going on in the minds of people who know that exactly the same ploy was exposed as a cynical deception just a few years ago? Do they view the public with contempt? Are they laughing at us? Are they playing the only card they perceive to be available to them; one that they know will work imperfectly, but will have to do?

In the US, NBC commented:

‘U.S. officials tell us that the Syrian military is poised tonight to use chemical weapons against its own people. And all it would take is the final order from Syrian President Assad.’

US media watch dog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting asked: ‘So where did all of this new information come from?’ The familiar, ominous answer: ‘Anonymous government officials talking to outlets like the New York Times.’ This, for example:

‘Western intelligence officials say they are picking up new signs of activity at sites in Syria that are used to store chemical weapons. The officials are uncertain whether Syrian forces might be preparing to use the weapons in a last-ditch effort to save the government, or simply sending a warning to the West about the implications of providing more help to the Syrian rebels.

‘“It's in some ways similar to what they've done before,” a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. “But they're doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It's not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.”’ (Michael Gordon, Eric Schmitt, Tim Arango, 'Flow of arms to Syria through Iraq persists, to US dismay,' New York Times, December 1, 2012)

FAIR commented:

‘Absent any further details, that would seem to be a strange standard for confirmation… But the theatrics – satellite images, anonymous sources speaking about weapons of mass destruction and so on – are obviously reminiscent of the lead up to the Iraq War.’

They are indeed. On May 26, 2004, the New York Times published a humbling mea culpa titled, ‘The Times and Iraq.’ The editors commented:

‘Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.’

As a result, the paper published a ‘Confidential News Sources Policy’, which included:

‘In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading. If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story.’ (Confidential News Sources, New York Times, February 25, 2004)

Clearly this has all been forgotten.

The same claims about Syrian WMD have of course also poured out of the UK media. A December 5 leading article in The Times was titled: 'Assad's Arsenal.' The first line of the editorial:

'The embattled Syrian regime may be preparing to use chemical weapons. That would be a catastrophe; it must be averted, whatever it takes.’

As ever, Rupert Murdoch's editors - and, no doubt, the boss, standing just over their shoulders - regretfully declared that Western military 'intervention' might turn out to be the only answer: ‘we must also hope that the US and its allies would take any action that was deemed necessary to prevent the human and moral disaster that would be caused by the Syrian regime attempting its final exit in a cloud of mustard gas’.

War, for the West, is now as normal as the air we breathe. Obviously it is the job of the West, with its blood-soaked track record, to save the peoples of the world from tyrannies that just happen to obstruct its geostrategic goals.

In November 2002, as war loomed on Iraq, The Times reported:

‘President Saddam Hussein has been trying to buy from Turkish suppliers up to 1.25 million doses of atropine, a derivative of deadly nightshade.

‘It has wide-ranging medical uses but also protects the body from nerve agents that can paralyse their victims and kill in as little as two minutes.’ (Elaine Monaghan, ‘Iraq move increases chemical war fear,’ The Times, November 13, 2002)

In 2010, The Times published the claim that Iran intended to develop a ‘trigger’ for a nuclear weapon. Investigative journalist Gareth Porter reported:

‘U.S. intelligence has concluded that the document published recently by the Times of London… is a fabrication, according to a former Central Intelligence Agency official.’

The counterterrorism specialist Porter had in mind, Philip Giraldi, commented:

‘The Rupert Murdoch chain has been used extensively to publish false intelligence from the Israelis and occasionally from the British government.’

In April 2011, The Times reported of Libya:

'There are increasing fears that Colonel Gaddafi could use suspected stocks of chemical weapons against [Misrata]... There are also fears that Colonel Gaddafi has stocks of nerve gas in the southern desert city of Sabha.' (James Hider, 'Amid rigged corpses and chemical weapon threat, city fears for its life,' The Times, April 27, 2011)

No matter, The Times might yet see a Libya-style 'intervention' in Syria. The Guardian reports this week:

'Britain's military chiefs have drawn up contingency plans to provide Syrian rebels with maritime, and possibly air, power in response to a request from David Cameron, senior defence sources said on Monday night.’

The UK government is planning to fight with ‘rebels’ despite clear evidence of war crimes and the involvement of numerous foreign mercenaries armed and funded by regional tyrants. The Syrian government also stands accused of appalling crimes.


Rusting Bins Of Mass Destruction - The Fantasy Specialists

In the Guardian, Matt Williams and Martin Chulov used dramatic language to report claims ‘that the [Syrian] regime is considering unleashing chemical weapons on opposition forces’.

The Guardian article cited CNN, which in turn cited ‘an unnamed US official as the source of its report’. Williams and Chulov expressed not a word of scepticism in their piece, adding a two-sentence denial from the much-demonised Syrian ‘regime’ as ‘balance’.

A BBC article managed this reference to scepticism:

‘Pressed in the interview by the BBC's Frank Gardner, he said he could understand why the public might be sceptical after the blunders made over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction 10 years ago.’

To his credit, the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus did rather better:

‘Was there an element of political spin here to accompany Nato's decision to deploy patriot missiles in Turkey?

‘Sources contacted by the BBC say that there are indications of activity at certain chemical weapons storage sites.

‘However it is of course impossible to determine if this is a preliminary to the weapons' use or, as some analysts believe, much more likely, the movement of munitions to ensure their security. Indeed such movement has been noted in the past.’

Despite the caution, Marcus promoted the idea that Syrian WMD might fall into the ‘wrong’ hands and that the US might need to intervene to prevent that happening.

In the Independent, Robert Fisk went much further, pouring scorn on the claims:

‘The bigger the lie the more people will believe it. We all know who said that – but it still works. Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own Syrian people. If he does, the West will respond. We heard all this stuff last year – and Assad’s regime repeatedly said that if – if  – it had chemical weapons, it would never use them against Syrians.

‘But now Washington is playing the same gas-chanty all over again. Bashar has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own people. And if he does…’

Fisk added: ‘over the past week, all the usual pseudo-experts who couldn’t find Syria on a map have been warning us again of the mustard gas, chemical agents, biological agents that Syria might possess – and might use. And the sources? The same fantasy specialists who didn’t warn us about 9/11 but insisted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in 2003: “unnamed military intelligence sources”... And yes, Bashar probably does have some chemicals in rusting bins somewhere in Syria’.

If accurate, Fisk's ‘rusting bins’ make a nonsense of the ‘considerable pressure' on 'the US to come up with plans to secure the Syrian weapons in the event of the collapse of the regime’ described by Marcus.

Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News wrote an excellent piece titled: 'Syria, a weapon of mass deception?’:

‘Without wishing to delve too far into The Who’s back catalogue… we need to remind ourselves in the UK that we won’t get fooled again.’

Thomson offered a rare 'mainstream media' example of rational thinking on the issue:

‘But just to be old fashioned: what’s the evidence of any threat? What’s the basis for all this? What, in short, are they all talking about? Yes, by all accounts Syria has nerve and chemical agents. But possession does not mean threat of use. Israel is not credibly threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran, despite possessing them.’

He noted that 'the story built upon nothing [has been] accepted as global fact when it’s nothing of the kind' and made the obvious point:

‘After Iraq and WMD, if the CIA or MI6 say it’s cold at the north pole, any sensible person would seek at least a couple more sources or would fly there and check.'

Amid the standard channelling of propaganda, then, a small number of journalists have learned from the past and are willing to challenge official claims. But we should also not be fooled by these admirable but rare examples of dissent. The overwhelming majority of corporate media reports - notably the TV broadcasts reaching millions of people - echo the claims of government ‘impartially’; that is, without the least sign of independent thought or critical comment. The best journalists reject such an obviously compromised version of ‘professionalism’ – but they are few and far between.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 11 Dec 2012 08:51:44 +0000
'Flatten All Of Gaza' - The 'Benghazi Moment' That Didn't Matter

By: David Edwards

On March 30, 2011 - eleven days into Nato’s war on Libya - Professor Juan Cole wrote from his armchair at the University of Michigan:

‘The Libya intervention is legal [sic] and was necessary to prevent further massacres… and if it succeeds in getting rid of Qaddafi’s murderous regime and allowing Libyans to have a normal life, it will be worth the sacrifices in life and treasure. If NATO needs me, I’m there.’

Cole thus declared himself ready to suit up and reach for the sky with Nato's bombers. It was an extraordinary moment.

The rationale, of course, was the alleged risk of a massacre in Benghazi by Gaddafi's forces. Cole told Democracy Now!:

‘They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters… And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.’

This was mostly a product of the fevered atmosphere generated every time state-corporate propaganda targets a ‘New Hitler’ for destruction (Gaddafi, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Assad, et al). Two or three weeks of sustained moral outrage from Washington, London and Paris, echoed across the media, are more than sufficient to generate the required hysteria. Almost anything can then be claimed, with even rational questioning denounced as 'apologetics for tyranny’. In The Politics of Genocide, Edward Herman and David Peterson wrote:

‘The vulgar politicisation of the concept of genocide, and the “emerging international norm” of humanitarian intervention, appear to be products of the fading of the Cold War, which removed the standard pretexts for intervention while leaving intact the institutional and ideological framework for its regular practice during those years.’ (Herman and Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, Monthly Review Press, 2010, pp.10-11)

With mainstream political parties no longer exercising restraint on the war wagon, the need to 'do something' can be turned on and off like a tap.

By way of a rare exception, Seumas Milne noted in the Guardian of Gaddafi that ‘there is in fact no evidence – including from other rebel-held towns Gaddafi re-captured – to suggest he had either the capability or even the intention to carry out such an atrocity against an armed city of 700,000’.

But most of the press was untroubled by a lack of evidence - the West was simply right to act. A leader in The Times commented on October 21, 2011:

‘Without this early, though sensibly limited, intervention, there would have been a massacre in Benghazi on the scale of Srebrenica.’ (Leading article, 'Death of a Dictator,' The Times)

An Independent editorial agreed:

'Concern was real enough that a Srebrenica-style massacre could unfold in Benghazi, and the UK Government was right to insist that we would not allow this.’ (Leading article, ‘The mission that crept,’ Independent, July 29, 2011)


'We Must Blow Gaza Back To The Middle Ages'

With the above in mind, consider that, on November 16, on the third day of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, with at least 18 Palestinians already killed, the BBC reported:

‘Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza has intensified after it authorised the call-up of 30,000 army reservists, amid reports of a possible ground offensive.’

Israel's cabinet quickly approved the activation of 75,000 reservists, as well as hundreds of Merkava main battle tanks, armoured bulldozers and other assault vehicles, which were transported into position for attack.

Was a massacre looming? The Israeli deputy prime minister Eli Yishai appeared to promise as much on November 18:

‘We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.’

A prominent front-page article in the Jerusalem Post by Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, openly advocated mass killing:

‘We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

‘There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.’

Was the call to 'Flatten all of Gaza' beyond the pale of respectable discourse? Apparently not for the BBC, which quoted a less frenzied comment by Sharon three days later.

Recall the human cost of Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week offensive waged between December 2008 and January 2009. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported:

‘The magnitude of the harm to the population was unprecedented: 1,385 Palestinians were killed, 762 of whom did not take part in the hostilities. Of these, 318 were minors under age 18. More than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded, of them over 350 seriously so.’

There is no question, then, that a ‘Benghazi moment’ had arrived for Gaza around November 16 or shortly thereafter. A Cast Lead-style massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians was a very real possibility. If Hamas rockets had killed more civilians, for example in Tel Aviv, it might well have happened.

Whereas Benghazi was being torn apart by a Western-fuelled insurgency, Gaza is under decades of military occupation and years of siege, greatly strengthening the moral case for external intervention. Escape from a ground assault would have been completely impossible for Gaza's 1.6 million people, about half of them children. And whereas Benghazi was up against Gaddafi’s tin pot army, Gaza was targeted by the most advanced weaponry US taxpayers’ money can buy. Gaza, certainly, was facing a cataclysm beyond anything Gaddafi could have inflicted on his own people.

By any reasonable accounting, then, the case for a no-fly zone, indeed a no-drive zone – some kind of humanitarian intervention – was far more compelling for Gaza than it had ever been for Libya. And yet our search of the Lexis media database found no mention in any UK newspaper of even the possibility of setting up a no-fly zone over Gaza. There was no reference to Gaza’s ‘Benghazi moment’.

By contrast, many ‘Benghazi moments’ have been identified in Syria. A leader in the Independent commented in July:

‘It was the imminent threat to civilians in Libya's second city, Benghazi, that clinched the argument at the UN for outside intervention. But with multiplying reports that the fight is on for Syria's second city, Aleppo, the signs are that even government air strikes will not spur a similar Western and Arab alliance into action. Morally, that has to be deplored.’

We saw no commentary suggesting that Western military action might have been justified to prevent a massacre of civilians in Gaza.


Moral ME – The Armchair Warriors Doze Off

In 1999, David Aaronovitch (then of the Independent) made an announcement on Nato's war to 'defend' Kosovo that equally stunned and inspired readers (Juan Cole among them, perhaps):

‘What would I myself be prepared to sacrifice in order to stop the massacres and to strike an immense blow against the politics of racial and ethnic nationalism? Would I fight, or (more realistically) would I countenance the possibility that members of my family might die?’

His answer:

‘I think so… So yes, for this cause, if the government asked me to, I'd do what was necessary without complaining a lot.’ (Aaronovitch, 'My country needs me,' The Independent, April 6, 1999)

Presumably, with Gaza facing another massacre this month, Aaronovitch must again have been eager to swap his armchair for a cockpit to ‘strike an immense blow’ against racial and ethnic nationalism. Not quite:

‘Thinking about how to write about Gaza without just repeating laments of last decade. Sometimes seems little that is both true and useful to say.’

No fighting to be done, it seems, and not even much to be said - it was just all very sad. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky commented in Manufacturing Consent of a similar case:

‘While the coverage of the worthy victim was generous with gory details and quoted expressions of outrage and demands for justice, the coverage of the unworthy victims was low-keyed, designed to keep the lid on emotions and evoking regretful and philosophical generalities on the omnipresence of violence and the inherent tragedy of human life.’ (Herman and Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p.39)

Leading Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland also shook his head sadly and wondered whether Israelis and Palestinians would be ‘locked in a battle that drags on and on, perhaps till the end of time?’ Freedland focused on ‘the weariness’: ‘I feel it myself, a deep fatigue with this struggle, with the actions of both sides’. ‘So yes, I'm weary’, ‘weary of it’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm tired’, ‘I'm weary’, ‘And I'm especially tired’, ‘I feel no less exhausted. For I'm weary’, ‘I'm tired, too’, ‘And I'm weary’, ‘this wearying’… and so on.

Prior to the onset of this moral ME, Freedland had been the very picture of interventionist vim and vigour. In March 2011, he wrote an energetic piece on Libya titled, ‘Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.’ A key obstacle was that ‘Iraq poisoned the notion of "liberal interventionism" for a generation’. No matter:

‘If those nations with the power to stop these pre-announced killings had stood aside, they would have been morally culpable. Benghazi was set to become another Srebrenica – and those that did nothing would share the same shame.’

Last February, ignoring the chaos he had helped make possible in Libya, Freedland wheeled out the same arguments in response to the Syrian crisis. The article featured a picture of Syrian children holding up a cartoon of a green-headed Assad pointing a Kalashnikov at the head of a little girl holding an olive branch. Freedland wrote:

‘The 2003 invasion of Iraq has tainted for a generation the idea once known as "liberal interventionism".’

He added: ‘We have new problems now. Fail to see that and we make the people of Homs pay the price for the mistake we made in Baghdad.’

And Tripoli! Freedland had clearly not wearied of the price paid by the victims of ‘liberal interventionism’ in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.


‘Terror Attack’ In Tel Aviv

One week into Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud, on a day when 13 Palestinians were killed – with more than 136 people in Gaza killed by that point in 1,500 attacks since the operation began on November 14 - 28 people were injured in a Tel Aviv bomb attack. ITV News's international editor Bill Neely commented: ‘Tel Aviv bus bomb is first terror attack there in 6 years.’ And: ‘Israeli Police confirm terror attack.’

We wrote to Neely: ‘Bill, are the attacks on Gaza “terror attacks”? Have you described them as such?’

Neely replied: ‘Media Lens; Love what U try 2 do - keep us all honest - but pedantry & refusing 2 C balance hs always bn ure weakness.’

Neely wrote again to us and another tweeter: ‘U & Media Lens R absolutely right. Language is v. important. But a bomb on a bus, like a missile, is terror weapon.’

Neely clearly agreed that missiles were also weapons of terror. So we asked him: ‘Bill, agreed. Given that's the case have you ever referred to Israel's “terror attacks” in a TV news report?’

Neely responded: ‘Just to be clear, do you think British bombs on Afghanistan are terrorism? Or on Berlin in 44?’

We answered: ‘Very obviously. Winston Churchill thought so, too.’

We sent a comment written by Churchill to Arthur Harris, Commander-in-Chief of RAF’s Bomber Command in 1945:

‘It seems to me that the moment has come that the bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed.’ (Blitz, Bombing and Total War, Channel 4, January 15, 2005)

Neely wrote back: ‘States use terror - the UK has in war, but groups do 2 & we shd say so.’

We tried again: ‘Bill, you're not answering. You've described Hamas attacks as “terror” on TV. How about Israeli, US, UK attacks?’

Neely simply wouldn’t answer our question. But how could he? The truth, of course, is that ITV would never refer to these as ‘terror attacks’. Words like ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’, ‘militant’, ‘regime’, ‘secretive’, ‘hermit’ and ‘controversial’ are used to describe the governments of official enemies, not our own government and its leading allies.


'Is This What They Mean By The Cycle Of Violence?'

The November 21 bus bombing, injuring 28 Israelis (initially reported as ten injured), was a far bigger story for the media than the killing of 13 people in Gaza that day. The bias was reflected in the tone of coverage. The BBC reported 'Horror in Israel' whereas they had earlier referred to a 'difficult night for people in Gaza' after 450 targets had been struck with scores of people killed.

Ordinarily, the BBC loves to compare the line-up of hardware available to combatants, for example here and here. But during Operation Pillar of Cloud, the broadcaster was far more interested in comparing the ranges of Hamas’ home-made rockets. In this deceptive example of BBC ‘balance’ two maps show ‘Areas hit in Gaza by Israel’ and ‘Areas hit in Israel and the West Bank by Gaza militants’ (only the Palestinians are 'militants'). The impression given is of two roughly equal threats.

The BBC graphic also shows the exact ‘Range of Hamas rockets.’ But there was no graphic of this kind comparing Palestinian and Israeli firepower. Perhaps the juxtaposition of home-made weapons and a long list of very powerful high-tech weapons would have been too absurd, even embarrassing.

The final death toll of the latest massacre is horrifying: 103 of the 158 people killed in Gaza were civilians. Of these, 30 were children - twelve of them under ten-years-old. More than 1,000 Palestinians were injured. Six Israelis were killed, two of them soldiers. This infographic provides a shocking comparison of numbers killed on both sides since 2000. And this excellent little animation asks: 'Is this what they mean by the cycle of violence?'

Inevitably, president Obama said: ‘we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself’.

Noam Chomsky has been a rare voice making the counter-argument:

‘You can't defend yourself when you're militarily occupying someone else's land. That's not defense. Call it what you like, it's not defense.’

Obama also said: ‘There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.’

Try telling that to the many bereaved in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Irony is dead, it seems – killed by drone-fire!


Suggested Action

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to:

Jonathan Freedland at the Guardian


Twitter: @j_freedland

 Email us:

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 27 Nov 2012 11:16:44 +0000
Gaza Blitz - Turmoil And Tragicomedy At The BBC

By David Cromwell and David Edwards

BBC News is in turmoil. Having last year dropped a report on claims of sexual abuse against the late DJ and television presenter Jimmy Savile, the flagship Newsnight programme this month wrongly implicated Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child abuse. As a result, after just 54 days in his job, the BBC director-general, George Entwistle, ‘stepped down’ on November 10. The BBC’s head of news, Helen Boaden, and her deputy, Stephen Mitchell, were then also ‘asked’ to ‘step aside’. Peter Rippon, the Newsnight editor responsible for the Savile decision, had already 'stepped aside'.

The Lord Patten-led BBC Trust, which is supposed to ensure that the BBC is run in the public interest, has once again been revealed as a useless, dangling appendage.

Newsnight’s journalistic failures on child abuse are bad enough, rightly heaping pressure on the broadcaster. But there was no comparable pressure for senior staff to 'step aside' over the BBC's truly catastrophic failure to challenge US-UK propaganda on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and the country's supposed 'threat' to the West. This failure paved the way to war in Iraq and the subsequent brutal and bloody occupation at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. As Media Lens noted recently on Twitter: ‘If you think Newsnight failed badly now, compare with anchor Jeremy Paxman's 2009 confession on Iraq’: namely, that he and his media colleagues were ‘hoodwinked’ by propaganda about Iraq. Paxman made these extraordinary comments:

'As far as I personally was concerned, there came a point with the presentation of the so-called evidence, with the moment when Colin Powell sat down at the UN General Assembly and unveiled what he said was cast-iron evidence of things like mobile, biological weapon facilities and the like...

'When I saw all of that, I thought, well, "We know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he's seen the evidence; I haven't."’

In other words, BBC journalism ended where serious journalism, and simple common sense, begins.


How Can This Be ‘Self Defence'?

The role of BBC News as handmaiden to power is exemplified by its reporting on the latest series of brutal Israeli assaults on Gaza. On the first day of Operation Pillar of Cloud, thirteen people, including three children, were reportedly killed, and about 100 wounded. Israeli forces succeeded in their objective of ‘assassinating’ Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in a clear act of extrajudicial state execution.

On November 16, Israel was reported to have hit 150 sites in Gaza the previous night, with 450 strikes in total. And yet the main BBC headline that morning read: 'Egypt PM arrives for Gaza mission.' What would the BBC headline have been if 450 targets in Tel Aviv had been hit by F-16 bombs, drone missiles and artillery?

The Israeli attacks have routinely been reported as 'retaliation' for Palestinian ‘militant rocket attacks’ on southern Israel. In a study of news performance in 2001, the Glasgow Media Group noted that Israelis ‘were six times as likely to be presented as “retaliating” or in some way responding than were the Palestinians.’ A BBC correspondent in Gaza said ‘there are now fears now (sic) of a major escalation of violence’.  But the Israeli execution of Ahmed al-Jabari was a major escalation of violence. BBC News reported three Israeli deaths by rockets fired from Gaza with the briefest mention of the earlier deaths of ‘eleven Palestinians - mainly militants but also children’. As ever, there was no explanation of how a Gaza civilian is distinguished from a ‘militant’.

The sequence of recent events, so lacking in 'mainstream' reports, that led to Israel's massive attacks on Gaza can be summarised thus:

  • October 29: The BBC reports that 'Militants in Gaza have fired 26 rockets into Israel, officials say, amid a flare-up in fighting which shattered a brief ceasefire between the two sides. No injuries were reported from the barrage, in the south of the country.' The BBC said that, 'It came hours after Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza, after militants fired rockets following the killing by Israel of a Gazan who Israel said fired mortars at its troops.'

  • November 4: an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, is shot when he wanders close to the border with Israel. Medics have to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay.

  • November 8: Israeli soldiers invade Gaza, shooting and killing a 13-year old Gazan boy, Ahmad Abu Daqqa, who was playing football.

  • November 10: Palestinian resistance fighters attack an Israeli army jeep near the boundary with Gaza, injuring 4 Israeli occupation soldiers. An Israeli shell kills two children in Gaza. An Israeli tank later attacks a funeral service killing two more civilians, wounding more than 20 others.

  • November 11: Palestinian resistance fighters reportedly agree a ceasefire.

  • November 13: Reuters reports that truce between Palestinians and Israel appears to be holding.

  • November 14: Israel breaks ceasefire by killing Ahmed al-Jabari and launching intense attacks on Gaza. According to investigative journalist Gareth Porter: 'Israeli assassination of Jabari destroyed possibility of mediated Israeli-Hamas truce.'

Stop the War concluded:

'Israeli government claims that they are conducting a "defensive" operation in response to rocket fire from Hamas is not true. Israel is directly responsible for the latest round of violence and must cease attacking Gaza immediately.' (Email, November 15, 2012)

On November 15, retaliating to the escalation in Israeli violence, Hamas missile strikes launched from Gaza into southern Israel killed three people. Every violent death is a tragedy but Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, gave much-needed perspective in an article published the same day:

'While Israeli officials are quick to rattle off the numbers of projectiles fired from Gaza, rarely do they tell you what they fire into Gaza, what the effects of this fire is and what the fallout from it is.

'For example, in 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza have been responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 where (sic) women or children [...]

'Through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. [...] It is important to note that these figures do not represent a totality of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza but rather only Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza which cause casualties. The total number of Israeli projectiles fired into Gaza is bound to be significantly larger.

Munayyer added: 'more Palestinians were killed in Gaza yesterday than Israelis have been killed by projectile fire from Gaza in the past three years.'

The Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook noted via Facebook on November 15:

'Here, according to the BBC, are the five most important stories relating to Israel's attack on Gaza. (Screengrab via Nour Bakr):

'Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv

'Israel's Gaza rocket problem

'"Hamas targets our children"

"'Determined to follow the path of jihad"

'UK's Hague criticises Hamas'

Gaza missiles fired at Tel Aviv

As Cook observed, it was as though 'nothing newsworthy is happening to the people of Gaza'.

A letter signed by Noam Chomsky and a number of other signatories noted the relentless corporate media channelling of the Israeli perspective over the Palestinians' and summarised:

'It doesn't take an expert in media science to understand that what we are facing is at best shoddy and skewed reporting, and at worst willfully dishonest manipulation of the readership.'

On Newsnight (November 14, 2012), BBC presenter Gavin Esler allowed Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, to present his state’s propaganda view essentially unchallenged. The 'taking' of Ahmed al-Jabari, Ayalon said, was 'self-defence, it’s a classic self-defence', adding:

'There is no other way to deal with terrorists who you cannot reason with but by defending yourself in a way that they will not be able to operate again.'

Esler did not counter the Israeli 'self defence' argument by pointing to the actual chronology of recent events. Ayalon then went on to state that Israel 'gave Gaza, entirely so, to the Palestinians. We left Gaza altogether in 2005, seven years ago.'

Again, Esler failed to offer any serious journalistic challenge. He did not point out that although Israel says it 'withdrew' from Gaza in 2005, its control of Gaza’s water, electricity, sewage and telecommunications systems, and its control of Gaza’s land and sea borders and airspace, means that the UN still views Israel's control of Gaza's population as an occupation. As indeed does the UK government. The Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on record as saying in November 2010:

'Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza's borders, airspace and territorial waters, the UK judges that Israel retains obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power.' (Hansard, 30 Nov 2010 : Column WA425).

There was also no mention during Newsnight of released Israeli state documents revealing that the blockade of Gaza is state policy intended to inflict collective punishment. The documents showed that 'the dietary needs for the population of Gaza are chillingly calculated, and the amounts of food let in by the Israeli government measured to remain just enough to keep the population alive at a near-starvation level. This documents the statement made by a number of Israeli officials that they are "putting the people of Gaza on a diet".'

By contrast, Al Jazeera English broadcast a powerful interview with Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian American journalist and co-founder of Electronic Intifada. He referred to the largely unreported timeline of events which emphasises once again how absurd it is for the corporate media to echo the Israeli claim that its violent acts can properly be described as ‘defending itself’:

‘How can Israel be defending itself if it is crossing into Gaza, killing children, that when Israeli occupation forces are attacked - and Palestinians have a right to self-defence, they have a right to resist occupation - Israel responds by shelling civilians. I mean who in their right mind would call that "self-defence"? Who would call a siege – a six-year long siege where they count the calories of children in Gaza and only allow a drip-feed of food in to meet the minimum calories to avoid starvation – who would call that self-defence? Who would call it self-defence, the fact that Israel shells fishermen on a daily basis?'

Noam Chomsky recently visited Gaza and reported his impressions in a moving piece.

‘Even a single night in jail is enough to give a taste of what it means to be under the total control of some external force. And it hardly takes more than a day in Gaza to begin to appreciate what it must be like to try to survive in the world’s largest open-air prison, where a million and a half people, in the most densely populated area of the world, are constantly subject to random and often savage terror and arbitrary punishment, with no purpose other than to humiliate and degrade, and with the further goal of ensuring that Palestinian hopes for a decent future will be crushed and that the overwhelming global support for a diplomatic settlement that will grant these rights will be nullified.

‘The intensity of this commitment on the part of the Israeli political leadership has been dramatically illustrated just in the past few days, as they warn that they will “go crazy” if Palestinian rights are given limited recognition at the UN. That is not a new departure. The threat to “go crazy” (“nishtagea”) is deeply rooted, back to the Labor governments of the 1950s, along with the related “Samson Complex”: we will bring down the Temple walls if crossed. It was an idle threat then; not today.’

The ongoing blitz on Gaza is surely another horrific example of Israel's willingness to 'go crazy'.


Fear Of The Israeli Phone Call

Between December 2008 - January 2009, Israeli forces mounted a massive campaign of violence against Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. B’Tselem estimates that 1,389 Palestinians were killed including 344 children. In addition to the large numbers of killed and wounded, there was considerable damage to Palestinian medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, sewage plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes.

The BBC later refused to broadcast a charity appeal on behalf of the people of Gaza, an almost unprecedented act in BBC history.

Amena Saleem, a campaigner with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, points to the BBC ‘keep[ing] the truth about Israel’s illegal actions from its audiences’, a clear failing which is ‘spread across the whole of BBC programming, from news right through to entertainment.’

Why is this? One factor is the intense pressure applied by a powerful pro-Israeli lobby. The flak sometimes originates from the Israeli government itself. The Glasgow Media Group's Greg Philo and Mike Berry noted in their 2009 book, 'More Bad News From Israel':

‘to criticise Israel can create major problems. Journalists spoke to us of the extraordinary number of complaints which they receive. We have presented our findings to many groups of media practitioners. After one such meeting a senior editor from a major BBC news programme told us: "we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis". He then said that the main issues they would face were from how high up had the call come (e.g. a monitoring group, or the Israeli embassy), and then how high up the BBC had the complaint gone (e.g. to the duty editor or the director general).' (p. 2)

When confronted by Philo and Berry’s careful analysis, the BBC Middle East Bureau Chief ducked our challenge, retreating into ever more exotic contortions.

In our book 'Newspeak in the 21st Century' (Pluto Press, 2009), we devoted two whole chapters to the BBC: the first, exposing the fiction of BBC ‘balance’, the second comprising an A-Z compendium of BBC propaganda. Further examples were sprinkled throughout the book. One Media Lens reader was so determined to get the book’s message across that he paid for 100 copies of 'Newspeak' to be sent to the BBC. Thanks to his generosity, and the efforts of our publisher, the book was sent to virtually all senior BBC news journalists and editors, members of the BBC Executive Board, as well as the BBC Trustees. A letter from the publisher, enclosed with the book, asked politely for a response from each BBC person approached. A dedicated email address was provided to receive BBC replies. The response? Almost complete silence.

Over a number of years, Helen Boaden, the now suspended BBC head of news, was a sparring partner – or often non-sparring partner – of Media Lens and our readers. In 2006, we challenged Boaden about the assertion from BBC reporter Paul Wood, who was embedded with 'coalition' troops, that British and American forces ‘came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights’. (BBC, News at Ten, January 5, 2006). Her defence: ‘this was indeed one of the stated aims before and at the start of the Iraq war - and I attach a number of quotes at the bottom of this reply.’ (Boaden, email to Media Lens, January 20, 2006)

Boaden supplied no less than six pages of quotes from George Bush and Tony Blair ostensibly proving her point that the war on Iraq was waged ‘to bring democracy and human rights’. This summed up the tragicomedy of BBC News reporting.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to: Fran Unsworth, acting head of BBC News


]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Fri, 16 Nov 2012 10:07:35 +0000
'Sworn Enemies'? A Response To George Monbiot


Hi George

It's good to know that your email is intended in a 'friendly and constructive spirit'. We hope you will post a link to this response on your home page and via Twitter.

You write that Media Lens is a ‘project whose purpose is to engage and persuade progressive journalists by critiquing their work and encouraging people to write to them’.

We do, of course, encourage readers to send polite emails to journalists. But our primary purpose is to raise public awareness by highlighting examples of corporate media bias. What people do with that awareness is really up to them. Our hope is that it feeds into activism, campaigning and the creation of non-corporate media like MediaBite, News Unspun and BS News.

Above all, we’re trying to stimulate debate and participation. Engaging with journalists is certainly part of that, but we have few illusions about influencing media employees who often have little room for manoeuvre and who are deeply dependent on the corporate system. We do hope for marginal improvements as a direct result of our work - they do happen and do matter - but it’s not a primary concern.

You write:

‘As you know, journalists whose politics are broadly in line with yours, and who are hostile to big business and the corporate domination of politics and the media, have become, following your attempts to engage with them, not your allies but your sworn enemies.’

Specifically, you focus on 'the issue of bombardment’:

‘Bombarding a very busy person with the same thing, over and over, is an effective formula for infuriating them and making them think “to hell with the lot of you!”.

But cast your mind back to July 2004 when you slammed the media for ‘falsehoods’ prior to the invasion of Iraq that were ‘massive and consequential’, adding: ‘it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job’. You bravely included the Guardian and Observer in your criticism, and asked: ‘So who will hold the newspapers to account?’

Your conclusion:

‘It seems that the only possible answer is you. You, the readers, must take us to task if we mislead you. Pressure groups should be bombarding us with calls and emails - you'd be amazed by the difference it makes.’

An example followed when you wrote an article in the Guardian on the problem of advertising and climate change after being 'challenged by the editors of a website called Medialens'.

Eight years ago, we would be ‘amazed’ at what a positive difference ‘bombarding’ makes. Now we’d be amazed at how counter-productive it is. This is another reversal of opinion reminiscent of your dramatic conversion to nuclear power.

The big addition to the Guardian over the last year, of course, has been the fine American journalist Glenn Greenwald. Last year, we challenged him on his willingness to criticise the Guardian. He replied in his usual forthright manner, describing our argument as ‘moronic’. So far so good for your hypothesis that we do a great job of alienating like-minded journalists. But Greenwald told another Twitter user (copying to us):

‘I don't mind - I actually like - debates like these. They're healthy among allies. I'm not interpreting it as rudeness.’

Last month we responded to news that Greenwald had joined the Guardian by challenging this tweet from him:

‘Would NPR [National Public Radio] ever do a panel called: "Iran perspectives on Israel," with 3 advocates of the Iranian govt and nobody else?’

We wrote: ‘Would the Guardian ever do a panel called: "Herman/Chomsky perspectives on the corporate media"?'

You will recognise this as the kind of annoying challenge we’ve been sending you for years. Again, consider Greenwald’s message to us just days later after David Aaronovitch of The Times described us as ‘Twitter dickheads’ who thought ‘killing US embassy staff is cool’:

‘You are really deeper in the heads of the British establishment-serving commentariat than anyone else – congrats.’

Greenwald went on to condemn Aaronovitch’s charge as a ‘lie’ and a ‘wretched falsehood’. He defended us against Aaronovitch, Oliver Kamm (The Times), Nick Cohen (Observer) and other hard-right ‘liberal-left’ commentators.

A concerned Twitter user then warned Greenwald about us, essentially making your point:

‘You should look at ML's targets since 2001. Very revealing. So much time spent on [Seumas] Milne, Monbiot, Nick Davies, IBC [Iraq Body Count], etc.’

But Greenwald understands what we’re doing and is not easily swayed. He replied: ‘Journalists with a large corporate platform, and who are seen as liberal commentators, wield lots of influence.’ And added of us: ‘They've criticized me before, too - sometimes harshly - that doesn't make me think they're evil.’


The Curious Case Of Sweden’s Fria Magazine

This confirms many years of experience. Obviously no-one likes criticism, particularly prominent journalists accustomed to warm applause from progressives. But, to their credit, we’ve found that many of the better journalists are able to keep their heads. They judge us by the rationality of our arguments and by the value of what we’re saying; they don’t just write us off or lash out.

A few years ago, we wrote a media alert with the harsh but irresistible title, ‘Debunking Buncombe’, inviting readers to contact the eponymous Andy Buncombe of the Independent. Despite the ensuing ‘bombardment’, Buncombe has since cited our work in his newspaper and often retweets our media alerts on Twitter, even when they criticise the Independent. For example:

'@MediaLens has some useful thoughts on the coverage of Gaddafi's killing.'

As usual when a high-profile journalist mentions us positively (or indeed mentions us at all), Oliver Kamm worked hard to scare Buncombe off with hair-raising tales of our involvement with ‘genocide denial’. Buncombe’s response:

‘As for MediaLens, while I certainly don't agree with everything they say, I've never read anything they've produced that would support your very strident allegation.’

You, by contrast, are Kamm’s great triumph – you swallowed his smears hook, line and libel, echoing them in a Guardian column that alienated a huge swath of the Left. You even gave one of your blog entries the title: ‘Media Cleanse’, writing of how 'a group which claims to defend human rights turned into an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers'.

We challenged Buncombe exactly as we challenged you, but he took it upon himself to publicly defend us against a hard-right fanatic. The risk, as he must surely have been aware, was that he would be labelled ‘one of them’. Or as Aaronovitch told Greenwald: ‘Your funeral.’

A journalist who knows better than most what it’s like to be ‘bombarded’ by Media Lens is Peter Barron, who was editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme at a time when we sent dozens of media alerts criticising BBC performance on Iraq in 2002-2003. Barron commented on the BBC website: ‘after every controversial episode I get hundreds of e-mails from sometimes less-than-polite hommes engages’.

Despite this, he wrote:

‘Another organisation that tries to influence our running orders is Medialens... They prolifically let us know what they think of our coverage… In fact I rather like them. David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they're plain right.’

Starkly contradicting your 2012, although not your 2004, analysis, Barron added:

‘Are these unsolicited interventions helpful or unhelpful? The former, I think, as long as we read them with eyes wide open. You might argue that it would be purer to ignore the pressure from all quarters, but I think lobbying can actually improve our journalism, as long as it's not corrupt, that access to the editors of programmes is equally available to everyone (via e-mail it is) and that we question everything we're told.’

Barron noted that when the second Lancet study on the death toll in Iraq was published in 2006, he received a wave of emails from ‘anti-war groups’ urging him to cover the story. But he then received ‘a second wave of e-mails. Not really suggesting we don't do the story, but urging that, if we do, to note that even the authors claim that it is of "limited precision". Don't be bullied by the anti-war lobby’.

One might wonder who these ‘second wave’ emailers were and what their motive was. The question naturally arises: are we to leave the field to pro-war lobbyists often centrally organised and funded, with roots in corporate-sponsored think tanks and state-sponsored agencies, with journalists of the hard-right working diligently to advance their agenda? While we are two writers solely dependent on the donations of individual readers (none of them wealthy philanthropists), these flak groups have huge resources. On Twitter, we agreed not to put your name at the bottom of any more alerts because doing so was driving you ‘bananas’. You shouldn’t expect the same understanding from the pro-war lobby.

Former New Statesman editor, Peter Wilby, whose email featured in our ‘Suggested Action’ section even when he was publishing David Edwards’ articles on a regular basis for two years, subsequently reviewed one of our books, Guardians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media, in the New Statesman:

‘All journalists should read it, because the Davids make a case that demands to be answered.’

As a final example, we’ve had intense debates with another well-known journalist at the Guardian whose email address has appeared many times in our alerts. Exactly contradicting your 2012 hypothesis, in April 2011 this journalist recommended us to the editor-in-chief of Sweden’s Fria magazine, Madelene Axelsson, who then interviewed us about our work. She wrote to us:

‘Well you know he was in fact the one who directed me to you. He spoke very highly of your work and said more than one time what important work you do.’ (Email, Madelene Axelsson to David Edwards, April 26, 2011)

The ‘he’ in question, George, as you know, was you!


Power Concedes Nothing

You write:

‘I do not love receiving scores of almost identical messages from people who sound as if they haven’t thought through an issue for themselves, but are parroting a line – often the exact words – formulated by someone else.’

No-one has read more of these emails than we have over the years and we wholly reject your description. By the very nature of what we’re doing we tend to attract non-conformists. We are anti-authoritarian, anti-conformity, anti-parroted thinking. In our experience, the vast majority of emails sent to journalists are of a very high standard – restrained, thoughtful, serious. We suspect it is precisely this that annoys you. It is easy to dismiss idiotic abuse. It is much harder to deal with intelligent, accurate criticism.

You write:

‘I’ve stayed with the Guardian because I believe it provides the best opportunity I have at the moment to change the way people see the world.’

That’s fine – you sincerely believe that - but we fear you may have suffered from the process of corporate assimilation you warned against many years ago:

‘It is an exceptional person who emerges from this process with her aims and ideals intact. Indeed it is an exceptional person who emerges from this process at all. What the corporate or institutional world wants you to do is the opposite of what you want to do. It wants a reliable tool, someone who can think, but not for herself: who can think instead for the institution. You can do what you believe only if that belief happens to coincide with the aims of the corporation, not just once, but consistently, across the years (it is a source of wonder to me how many people’s beliefs just happen to match the demands of institutional power, however those demands may twist and turn, after they’ve been in the company for a year or two).’

It is ‘a source of wonder’ to us that your perceptions of the Guardian ‘just happen to match the demands of institutional power’. Thus, you write: ‘the bulk of the Guardian’s coverage of these issues has presented fierce challenges to the Murdoch empire, the banks, the government’s cuts, its privatisation and outsourcing, the war with Iraq, the drone war in Pakistan and a host of other topics of interest to you’.

Fierce challenges? Not true, as we'll see below. For now, consider that in 2010, you and a host of other liberals signed a letter published in the Guardian titled ‘Lib Dems are the party of progress’:

‘The Liberal Democrats are today's change-makers. They have already changed the election; next they could drive fundamental change in our political and economic landscape.’

In your booklet, An Activist’s Guide to Exploiting the Media, you wrote:

‘We’re genuine people, not hired hands defending a corporate or institutional position.’ (George Monbiot, An Activist’s Guide to Exploiting the Media, Bookmarks Publications Ltd, London, 2001)

We wonder how the younger George Monbiot would have viewed your defence of the Guardian now.

You told us on Twitter that while comments posted about your work on the Comment is Free website can be annoying, it is somehow worse to have them appear in your inbox. But think what you're saying, George! Some two million people are lying dead in Iraq as a result of Western war, sanctions and yet more war – some of the most barbaric crimes of modern times. While catastrophic climate change looms, the political and media silence is deafening. Authentic democratic choice has dissolved to nothing. And we need only remember the struggles of the past when civil rights, peace and other activists organised, mobilised - and even fought and died - to achieve progressive change. And yet, from the comfort of your salaried position at the Guardian, you are publicly protesting a tiny website urging people to send polite emails! In the last five years, your email address has appeared seven times at the bottom of our media alerts – a little more than once a year. How complacent and comfortable have you become? The abolitionist Frederick Douglass said:

‘Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ (Frederick Douglass, 1857. Cited, Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, Perennial Classics edition, HarperCollins, 1999, p.183)


Moral Complexity

Let's look in more detail at some of your claims. You write that the issues surrounding ‘the matter of whether NATO support for the rebels opposing Gaddafi was a good or a bad thing, are morally complex. I still don’t know where I stand on that (which is why I haven’t written about it), because I can see compelling moral arguments on both sides.’

The West clearly exploited UN Resolution 1973 to illegally pursue regime change in Libya. As Seumas Milne noted, the cost was paid in tens of thousands of Libyan lives. Libya is now in a state of violent chaos with numerous armed militia running a lawless country awash with weapons. If we care about international law, Libyan lives and resisting our government’s violence, there is really no moral complexity.

Last year you tweeted: 'I find myself seriously torn by it. I feel the right thing has been happening for all the wrong reasons.'

In fact terrible things were happening, supported by Nato – massacres, ethnic cleansing, widespread destruction – for all the wrong reasons.

You write that we ‘often seem to ascribe to people the worst of all possible motives’:

‘I’ve noticed over the years that when a journalist working for the Guardian disagrees with your line, you have characterised them as a corporate stooge.’

This is simply false. We have never referred to any journalist in any alert as ‘a corporate stooge’. One of the really fascinating issues for us – something we have thought about and discussed for many years – is the question of how it is that intelligent, well-intentioned people can unwittingly come to conform to destructive power. You make no concessions to this kind of discussion or the reality behind it in your letter to us. The fact is that media professionals do conform to the needs of their employers. Coincidentally, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook emailed us two weeks ago to discuss just this issue. He wrote:

‘I've always loved the metaphor you have in Newspeak [our 2009 book] of the great shoals of fish that move and turn in absolute synchronicity, even though it is impossible to identify a leader or a hand directing them. That is exactly how it felt when I was at the Guardian. We all knew precisely what was expected of each of us and yet one couldn't identify a single person, not even the Editor, who was guiding or directing us. We simply knew what we should do. If we gave it a label, it was the "ethos" of the place. That's why you were at the Guardian, after all. You either accepted it willingly as your own ethos or left. It's another way of understanding Chomsky's filters: the reason senior journalists always say no one ever told them what to write etc. No, we didn't need to be told. We were Guardian worker bees or drones: we had the Guardian "ethos". Those who didn't were picked off, like a straggler fish caught by a shark.’ (Jonathan Cook, email to Media Lens, October 25, 2012)

This is the kind of honest, thoughtful, self-critical analysis that fascinates us; not the crude demonisation of ‘stooges’ and ‘quislings’.


Missing Frameworks Of Understanding

You write:

‘The third issue is what I perceive as confirmation bias: that you appear to have begun with a conclusion – that the Guardian conforms to the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model – then sought evidence to support it.’

In fact, like most people, when we first read the Guardian, we assumed it was indeed an open, independent window on the world. It was only after the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman opened our eyes that we began to question that view. You write:

‘I challenge you to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the paper’s coverage of climate change over the past few years…’

The US media analyst David Peterson commented on this point:

‘George Monbiot is trying to dissuade Media Lens from even bothering to counter his statement and his general belief about the Guardian – Observer’s performance as a news organization by raising the bar of evidence sufficiently high (i.e., exhaustive case studies of Guardian - Observer performance on a variety of important topics) that he expects you not to take him up on his challenge.

‘The readership of his website will find his letter to you (or be directed to it via Twitter), see that you have not just turned-on-a-dime and in short order produced, say, ten case-studies of sufficient scope as to meet his criteria, and come away feeling that you cannot answer him.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 28, 2012)

Sadly, that does appear to be what you had in mind. In fact, we have extensively followed and analysed Guardian coverage on climate change over many years (see our Post Script, which provides a small sample of this work. You quoted not a single word from our alerts or books in support of your arguments).

Paired examples can be used to demonstrate bias in quite a simple way. In May, we noted that the media had instantly decided that Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, had been personally responsible for the massacre of women and children in Houla. Within hours of the massacre being reported, a cartoon in the Guardian depicted Assad with his mouth and face smeared with blood. We recalled that, in March, a US soldier had shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children. We asked what kind of evidence the media would have required before finding Barack Obama (and even Michelle Obama) personally responsible for this or any other massacre. It is inconceivable that the Guardian would have published a comparable cartoon with Obama’s face smeared with blood so soon after a massacre had been reported.

This was a small but significant example of how the media, including the Guardian, consistently treat ‘our’ leaders, 'our' violence, 'our' crimes, one way, and those of the Official Enemy another way. This was not hard science, but it was common sense. By the way, compare our actual purpose with the absurd suggestion that we were apologising for Assad’s violence and tyranny, as Kamm and others have claimed.

We have also provided comprehensive assessments of Guardian and Observer reporting. In 2003, we found that the number of articles mentioning Iraq in January of that year in the two papers totalled 760. These are some of the mentions we found:

Iraq and George Bush, 283 mentions. Iraq and Tony Blair, 292. Iraq and Jack Straw, 79. Iraq and Colin Powell, 67. Iraq and Donald Rumsfeld, 40. Iraq and Dick Cheney, 17. Iraq and Richard Perle, 3.

We also found these mentions for major anti-war voices:

Iraq and Tony Benn, 11 mentions. Iraq and George Galloway, 10. Iraq and Harold Pinter, 5. Iraq and Scott Ritter, 4. Iraq and Noam Chomsky, 4. Iraq and John Pilger, 2. Iraq and Denis Halliday, 0. Iraq and Hans von Sponeck, 0. Iraq and Milan Rai, 0.

So these leading voices for peace at a time of massive public opposition to war totalled 36 out of 760 mentions of Iraq, less than Donald Rumsfeld alone received. Again, this was not hard science, but it did provide serious evidence of Guardian/Observer opinion bias in favour of warmongers. We found a similar pattern of coverage in 2002. See our Post Script for further key examples.

You set a very low bar in triumphantly pointing to the Guardian’s better coverage of climate science compared with the likes of the Telegraph, Express and the execrable Mail. This is hardly a badge of honour. The veteran, award-winning climate campaigner Aubrey Meyer is now so unimpressed by the Guardian that he told us: ‘I stopped reading the paper because the coverage became so trivial.’ (Email to Media Lens, October 29, 2012)

On climate, you write: ‘I think you’ll discover that far from doing so, the Guardian has mounted a fierce and sustained challenge to the corporate-friendly coverage of this issue in the media…’

A deeper problem with the Guardian’s performance on climate change is that the honest frameworks of understanding required to generate radical change are simply ignored or side-lined throughout the newspaper. For example, it should be a part of basic awareness that corporations, including your employer, are locked into a biocidal logic demanding maximised revenues in minimum time at minimum (corporate) cost. Front and centre of Guardian reporting on climate should be the fact that corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for shareholders; that it is in fact illegal for corporations to prioritise the welfare of people and planet above private profit. The Guardian should be presenting the state-corporate system as fundamentally pathological. This it manifestly does not do, even when challenged to do so (specifically economics editor Larry Elliott and environment editor John Vidal: see Post Script).

The long and spectacular history of corporate power organising to manipulate culture, economics and politics should also be a central theme in comment pieces and editorials. Your newspaper barely skims the surface of these issues. Instead, it endlessly peddles the party political charade as meaningful. It persuades readers to find hope in a Blair (even after Iraq!) and an Obama, when it should be exposing the biocidal nature of the entire system of which they are a part, and calling for grassroots change through massive public mobilisation. As we and others have pointed out, voters are free to choose from two or three political ‘choices’ that have in reality all been pre-selected by established power. A significant proportion of the Guardian’s output is devoted to selling this fraudulent choice as a positive exercise in democracy.

Similar non-issues for the Guardian are the true nature and role of the corporate media, and the part it plays in normalising irresponsible consumption and in stifling awareness of the threat of climate change. The Guardian has never published a serious structural analysis explaining why a corporate media system cannot be trusted to report honestly on a world dominated by corporate power. How could it? There are occasional mentions of isolated aspects of the problem – the role of advertisers, Murdochian monopolies and so on – but the basic structure of the system is just not up for discussion. Your idea that the Guardian is a ‘fierce’ contributor to action on climate change when it is dependent on advertisers for 60 per cent of its revenues is darkly humorous, nothing more.

We could go on – our comprehensive assessments, over many years, reveal that these basic frameworks are ignored in favour of ‘left-liberal’ ‘optimism’ and ‘pragmatism’. There is no meaningful discussion of structural change because corporate media like the Guardian are literally in the business of maintaining the status quo. It is remarkable that this is not obvious to you.

As well as the above and the Post Script, you can read responses from Jonathan Cook and David Peterson here. We twice emailed Glenn Greenwald asking for his thoughts on your criticism - we received no reply.

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell


Update November 6, 2012

In the first paragraph, we originally wrote:

'It's good to know that your email is intended in a "friendly and constructive spirit", and not as a follow-up to something you wrote of us three weeks earlier: "I could spend my life unpicking their falsehoods. Perhaps I should, cos no one else is."

George Monbiot has clarified that he was not in fact referring to us.

We are happy to correct this misunderstanding.

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Mon, 05 Nov 2012 10:09:03 +0000
Bad Pharma, Bad Journalism

By David Cromwell

Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor and science writer who, until November 2011, wrote the Guardian’s Bad Science column which was presented as a thorn in the side of pseudoscience, quackery and ‘Big Pharma’, the giant and powerful pharmaceutical industry. On September 21, the Guardian published an extract, ‘The drugs don't work: a modern medical scandal’, from Goldacre's new book, Bad Pharma. (Unfortunately no longer available on the Guardian website. However, it can currently be accessed here). A disturbing picture emerges of corporate drug abuse:

'Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques that are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects.’

As an example, Goldacre cites detailed medical reviews of trials testing the benefits of statins, cholesterol-reducing drugs, taken to reduce the risk of heart attacks. In 2003, two such reviews were published. Both found that industry-funded trials were about four times more likely to report positive results. A further review in 2007 found twenty new studies in the intervening four years. All but two of them showed that industry-sponsored trials were more likely to report flattering results. In other words, industry-funded drug trials with negative results tend to be buried, glossed over or otherwise ignored.

Goldacre notes:

‘In any sensible world, when researchers are conducting trials on a new tablet for a drug company, for example, we'd expect [...] that all researchers are obliged to publish their results, and that industry sponsors – which have a huge interest in positive results – must have no control over the data. But, despite everything we know about industry-funded research being systematically biased, this does not happen. In fact, the opposite is true: it is entirely normal for researchers and academics conducting industry-funded trials to sign contracts subjecting them to gagging clauses that forbid them to publish, discuss or analyse data from their trials without the permission of the funder.’

As a further example, consider the giant pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline which wanted to extend the market for the commonly used antidepressant paroxetine to children. Drugs that are licensed for use in adults are sometimes also prescribed for children. Clearly this represents a potential hazard with the risk of unknown side-effects. Regulators have tried to address this by offering inducements to companies to apply for formal authorisation for drug use in children. GSK therefore conducted a series of trials of paroxetine in children. However, at the end of the trials there was no clear benefit in treating depression. Rather than tell doctors and patients, or withdraw the drug, a secret internal company memo concluded: 'It would be commercially unacceptable to include a statement that efficacy had not been demonstrated, as this would undermine the profile of paroxetine.’ In the year after this secret memo, 32,000 prescriptions were nonethless issued to children for paroxetine in the UK alone. So while the company knew the drug didn't work in children, it was in no hurry to tell doctors, despite knowing that large numbers of children were taking it.

Goldacre continues:

‘It gets much worse than that. These children weren't simply receiving a drug that the company knew to be ineffective for them; they were also being exposed to side-effects. This should be self-evident, since any effective treatment will have some side-effects, and doctors factor this in, alongside the benefits (which in this case were nonexistent). But nobody knew how bad these side-effects were, because the company didn't tell doctors, or patients, or even the regulator about the worrying safety data from its trials. This was because of a loophole: you have to tell the regulator only about side-effects reported in studies looking at the specific uses for which the drug has a marketing authorisation. Because the use of paroxetine in children was “off-label” [i.e., marketing authorisation had been granted for adults, but not specifically for children], GSK had no legal obligation to tell anyone about what it had found.’

And he concludes:

‘Missing data poisons the well for everybody. If proper trials are never done, if trials with negative results are withheld, then we simply cannot know the true effects of the treatments we use. Evidence in medicine is not an abstract academic preoccupation. When we are fed bad data, we make the wrong decisions, inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering, and death, on people just like us.’

No reasonable person could fail to be troubled by Goldacre’s damning assessment of the drugs industry. But had he gone far enough? Economist Harry Shutt didn't think so. Shutt is a rare example of a professional economist who is also a radical critic of the current economic system. Since the 1970s, he has been a consultant for international development agencies including the UN and the World Bank. He has also written easily-digested books, such as The Trouble with Capitalism (Zed Books, 1998/2009) and The Decline of Capitalism (Zed Books, 2005), exposing the growing unsustainability of the status quo. In 2005, he warned presciently of 'an unavoidable financial crisis' on a greater scale than any before. Ever since the global crash of 2007-2008, he has argued that a return to enduring growth is neither desirable nor possible, and that western societies have to 'grasp the nettle' of a 'post-capitalist' economic future. His articulate thoughts on this can be found in his latest book, Beyond the Profits System (Zed Books, 2010).


Those Dirty Words: 'Public Ownership'

Shutt emailed Goldacre:

‘The blindingly obvious inference of the extract from your book published in the Guardian - as of so many others you once commendably wrote in your Bad Science column - is that this is an industry totally unsuited to being run on profit-maximising lines by conventional shareholder companies. Given that, and the tremendous level of subsidy the industry already receives from governments around the world, why not spell out the vital necessity of locating it within publicly owned/non-profit organisations where there need be no obstacle to full transparency?’

In an Observer interview, Goldacre responded to Shutt (as well as other readers who had submitted questions after publication of the book extract):

I am a realist about this. I don't want a central-command state economy. In general, drug companies are reasonably good at developing new treatments and there's also a lot of good in the industry. The point of my book is that it's possible for good people in badly designed systems to perpetrate acts of great evil completely unthinkingly. I don't think any of the people I write about would punch an old lady in the face, but they would inflict the same level of harm when they are abstracted away from the outcomes of their actions.

‘This is made easier, I think, because in general, most drugs do work better than nothing: it's just that we may be misled into using, for example, an expensive new drug where an older, cheaper one is more effective.

‘Overall, the problem is we don't have a competent regulatory framework that prevents things from going horribly wrong. If companies are allowed to hide the results of clinical trials then they will, and that will distort clinical practice. Doctors and patients will be misled and make sub-optimal decisions about what treatment is best for them.

‘Similarly, if you can get on to the market by making a me-too copycat drug that represents little or no therapeutic advance and is even less effective than the drugs that it copies, then you will. And you can get such a drug to the market because regulators approve new treatments even when they've only been shown only to be better than placebo.’

But this ducked the question that had been put to him, as Shutt pointed out in a follow-up email (October 9, 2012):

Dear Ben Goldacre

I was disappointed in your response to my question regarding the appropriateness of the profit-maximising model for the pharmaceutical industry and surprised at your implied suggestion that I must be advocating a centrally planned (Soviet-style?) economy.

You must be aware that many major industries in market economies are or have been state-owned without the countries concerned being identifiable as centrally planned. An obvious example is the rail industry, which is state-owned in nearly every European country and demonstrably performs more cost-effectively than its privatised UK counterpart, which (as pointed out in a recent Guardian article) the overwhelming majority of the British public has consistently favoured being renationalised (along with the water sector) without anyone inferring that those expressing this view must be card-carrying Communists. You must likewise know that a major British drug manufacturer - the Wellcome Foundation - was until 1986 a wholly owned subsidiary of a charitable trust, and that charitable and NHS institutions continue to provide vital funding for medical research here and around the world - to the considerable profit of Big Pharma.

In view of this and of your own work demonstrating the damaging consequences of profit-driven business models in terms of a) bad health outcomes and b) wasted public resources, I find your position rather baffling. Yet I am not so cynical as to suppose you might be motivated by a fear that reducing or eliminating perverse incentives to Big Pharma would tend to reduce the market for investigative journalism in the sector.

Best regards

Harry Shutt

Receiving no reply, Shutt emailed him again on October 15:

Dear Ben Goldacre

Further to my message of 9 October I have just noticed that in your response to some of the comments arising you repeat your assertion that you 'don't think it's common that medical interventions do more harm than good'. This statement seems an obvious and regrettable departure from your normal very proper insistence that findings and policy in the field of medical science should be evidence-based. May I also point out that the same principle is supposed to apply as far as possible in social sciences such as economics, although there practitioners are much more easily allowed to get away with claims - such as that 'cutting taxes stimulates growth' - for which there is no real evidential basis.

It is of course well known that bigotry is too readily passed off as science in any field according to whichever ideology or vested interest is dominant. It has been one of the great merits of your Bad Science column that you have consistently challenged this tendency in the field of medicine and diet. It is therefore all the more disappointing that you seem unwilling to maintain this rational stance when the evidence you have so commendably accumulated points to a conclusion which, although totally logical, may be viewed as too politically extreme by Big Pharma and other powerful commercial interests.

Given what is now at stake in the disintegrating global economy, leadership towards rational solutions to our problems from those such as yourself with established authority in their field has never been more needed. I hope you will not shrink from giving it through whatever medium you can.

I look forward to receiving your reply.

Best regards

Harry Shutt

Ben Goldacre has not replied to Harry Shutt’s follow-up emails.


Power, Profit And The Law

Meanwhile, the Guardian published a positive review of Goldacre's book by Luisa Dillner who works for the British Medical Journal. She concurred with his assessment of 'how the $600bn drug industry, doctors, academics, regulators and medical journals have let patients down.'

How will Big Pharma respond to Goldacre's book? Dillner speculates:

'Drug companies may say that the problems he identifies have now disappeared. New rules insist they register the details of trials, and publish the results – whether negative or positive. But as Goldacre points out, little has really changed, because no one checks up.'

Like Goldacre, Dillner hopes that better, tougher regulation will fix things, adding weakly:

'At the BMJ we are revising our declarations of interest form to say we will seek [our emphasis] to work with doctors who have not received financial hand-outs from drug companies...'

Making it clear she doesn't want to push things too far, she adds:

'But pharmaceutical companies are, after all, not charities. They exist to make and sell drugs, some of which work well, and to make a profit for their shareholders.'

Which begs the question: why not charities or public ownership, as suggested by Shutt? Dillner herself points out that doctors do not like admitting that they could ever be influenced by corporate ads and sponsorship, 'even though the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.' And because they are not charities or publicly owned, and exist to make a private profit for shareholders, Big Pharma massively inflates the cost of developing new drugs. Companies claim that it costs £550m to bring a new drug to the market, but Goldacre cites evidence putting it at a quarter of that cost.

Nick Harvey reports in New Internationalist that:

'one-fifth of the world’s generic drugs – containing the same active ingredients as a patented drug but made by a different company at a fraction of the price – are made in India. As well as supplying India’s huge population, these drugs are shipped to poor countries around the world.'

Moreover, notes Harvey, the majority of global research and development funding is used to produce merely minor variations in existing drugs. This leads not only to high prices - indeed 'mammoth profits are generated by aggressive pricing' - but a dearth of genuinely new drugs.

Harvey adds:

'Countries are allowed by the World Trade Organization to produce generic drugs if there is a major public health imperative, a practice known as compulsory licensing. India issued its first compulsory licence in March, ordering German drugmaker Bayer to allow a generic manufacturer to make its cancer drug Nexavar (sorafenib) for one-thirtieth of the usual $5,000 price tag. India’s patent controller argued that not only had Bayer failed to make the drug "reasonably affordable", it had failed to supply the drug in large enough quantities, a decision Bayer is challenging in the courts.'

Novartis, another large drugs company, is also mounting a legal challenge in India to enable it to continue patenting 'new' drugs that are little different from existing drugs.

Big Pharma is abusing its power to attack a legal framework that allows generic drug production to benefit people, particular in poor countries. So again - why not charities or public ownership?


Who's Living In Cloud-Cuckoo Land?

In an astute piece on Goldacre’s published response to Shutt's first email, titled ‘Bad Pharma meets the Good Regulation Fairy’, one commentator started off by quoting the Slovenian cultural critic Slavoj Žižek:

‘It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.’

Goldacre’s evasive answer to Shutt illustrated that point. The author of the piece, a freelance journalist who maintains anonymity on his blog, rightly noted that Goldacre, in raising the spectre of a Soviet-style ‘central command economy’, was dismissive of Shutt’s perfectly reasonable challenge. Goldacre's riposte was ‘a very jaded straw man and definitely not what Shutt was advocating.’

The journalist continued:

‘This was followed, most bizarrely, by the assertion that people in the drugs industry perpetuate acts of great evil, not because they are innately evil, but because they work in a badly designed system. This is precisely what Shutt was saying – it’s a badly designed system, its acts are not the “fault” of the individuals working in it, so change the system. As an answer, that lacks something. It’s like saying 2+3 isn’t 5, it’s 5.’

Goldacre’s ineffectual rebuttal of Shutt's challenge boiled down to the good regulation fairy of a ‘competent regulatory framework’ to fend off rampant global capitalism. This displays a curious ideological faith in an inequitable system; curious, because it comes from a science writer and doctor who prides himself – usually with justification - on reliance on hard evidence and clear analysis.

The journalist then asks us to imagine the reaction if the state had been guilty of flooding hospitals, clinics and GP surgeries with dangerous or dysfunctional drugs. There would, of course, have been howls of outrage followed immediately by urgent and deafening demands for the privatisation of pharmaceuticals. That critics of the cynical, profit-driven and abusive practices of corporate drug companies call merely for better regulation provides a crucial insight into the dangerous imbalance of power in society. In his naive and faith-based appeal for a ‘competent regulatory framework’, Goldacre has overlooked the fundamental problem that western ‘democratic’ political systems are utterly dominated and skewed by destructive, profit-driven corporate priorities.

Given the failure of Goldacre’s imagination, the journalist suggests a thought experiment. Consider ‘an ideal world where the state sits benevolently above the fray and government regulation can do its job unimpeded. What would regulation actually do?’

'...competent and effective regulation will, if it does anything, radically reduce the number of pharmaceuticals that are allowed to go on the market. Thereby massively hitting drug company profits (they are currently the darlings of stock markets worldwide because they are so profitable) and, in turn, the number of people they employ.

‘Thus, you are soon face to face with a fundamental conflict of our capitalist system. An unavoidable collision between the impulse most decent people share for reducing the anti-social effects of capitalism, against the need for capitalism to prosper so that everyone can have good jobs and incomes. We are, whether we like it or not, materially dependent on the system’s success. But a successful system causes results, such as global warming and prescribing dangerous medicines, that are inherently destructive.’

He sums up cogently:

‘If regulation of the pharmaceutical industry were actually competent, as Goldacre wants it to be, it would prevent capitalism from working (actually it’s not working well anyway but effective regulation would be another drag on profits). A 2009 UN report found that a third of the profits of the world’s biggest 3,000 companies would be wiped out if firms were forced to pay for the use, loss and damage to the environment they cause. In other words, truly effective environmental regulation would render capitalism impossible.

‘So regulation is, quite deliberately, not effective. It allows, as research has found, just enough reform to buy off critics without seriously impeding corporate priorities. In the end, Goldacre’s vision of a “competent regulatory framework” is far more utopian than changing the system so that profit maximization is not the modus operandi of pharmaceutical companies.’

This is a devastating conclusion: it’s the would-be reformers who are living in cloud-cuckoo land. The same applies to other ‘mainstream’ journalists, activists and writers, on any number of topics, who are propping up the present unjust, unstable and planet-devouring system of global capitalism by calling merely for ‘better regulation’. Anything more challenging than this is well off the corporate media agenda. It is even off the agenda of the bulk of the green movement, trade unions, human rights groups and other major nongovernmental organisations that we are supposed to believe are challenging the status quo.


Cut To The Chase

As mentioned earlier, Ben Goldacre has still not responded to economist Harry Shutt’s polite and rational follow-up emails. Perhaps he realises the simple points made by Shutt are unassailable. This is not unusual in our experience. Challenging those with a platform in the corporate media about its failure – indeed, its systemic inability – to question the very framework of corporate capitalism in which it is embedded is routinely met with silence, evasions or even condescending brush-offs. Media Lens has seen them all, whether from The Guardian, The Independent, The Sunday Times or the Financial Times

Indeed, it was the Sunday Times economics editor who declared dismissively from his Murdoch-funded position that:

‘Most of us get these things out of our system when we are students.’

Well, undoubtedly he did; and perhaps with some residual feelings of regret or even guilt.

When the documentary film-maker Michael Moore was asked why he made his 2009 film, Capitalism: A Love Story, he responded:

‘Well, I’ve been making movies for about twenty years now. Actually, it’s twenty years ago this week Roger & Me was at the New York Film Festival. And the films I’ve done, from that one all the way through Sicko, always seem to come back to this central core concern, which is the economic system we have is unfair, it’s unjust, it’s not democratic, it seems to lack any sort of ethical center to it. And I guess I can keep making movies for another twenty years about the next General Motors or the next healthcare issue or whatever, but I thought I’d just kind of cut to the chase and propose that we deal with this economic system and try to restructure it in a way that benefits people and not the richest one percent.’

Our battle, then, is not for ‘reform’ or better ‘regulatory frameworks’ applied to a fundamentally unjust and undemocratic state of affairs. It’s about restructuring the economic system so that it benefits everyone and not just the rich few.



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Ben Goldacre, Bad Science website. 


Twitter: @bengoldacre

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 23 Oct 2012 08:03:29 +0000
'But' Or 'And'? Reporting Chavez, Obama, Biden, Miliband, Cameron


By: David Edwards


Liberal journalism is balanced, neutral and objective, except when it’s not. A BBC news report on Hugo Chavez’s latest election triumph in Venezuela commented:

'Mr Chavez said Venezuela would continue its march towards socialism but also vowed he would be a “better president”.’ (Our emphasis. The article was subsequently amended, although the 'but' remains)

The ‘but’ revealed the BBC's perception of a conflict between Venezuela’s ‘march towards socialism’ and Chavez becoming a ‘better president’. Despite the appearance of neutral reporting, the ‘but’ snarled at both Chavez and socialism.

A second BBC article described Chavez as ‘one of the most visible, vocal and controversial leaders in Latin America’.

Another found him a 'colourful and often controversial figure on the international stage'.

Is Chavez more ‘controversial’ than war—fighting leaders like Bush, Blair, Brown, Obama and Cameron? How many tens or hundreds of thousands of people has Chavez killed? Imagine the BBC reporting: ‘David Cameron is an often controversial figure on the international stage.’ In fact the term is reserved for enemies of the West.

The same bias is found in editorials that often express, or reflect, the passionately partisan views of owners and editors. In 1997, the Independent proclaimed that Tony Blair’s election victory ‘bursts open the door to a British transformation’ to a ‘freer land’. (Neal Ascherson, ‘Through the door he can begin to create a freer land,’ The Independent, May 4, 1997)

For the editors of the Guardian, Blair’s triumph was ‘one of the great turning-points of British political history... the moment when Britain at last gave itself the chance to construct a modern liberal socialist order.’ (Ibid)

If that wasn’t enough, the Observer described how Blair would create ‘new worldwide rules on human rights’, no less, and enforce ‘tough new limits on arms sales’. Blair, Jack Straw (foreign secretary from 2001-2006) and others would make this part of a new, ‘ethical’ foreign policy.

In his newly published autobiography, Last Man Standing, Straw ‘dismisses an “ethical foreign policy” as an “unhelpful” label’, Peter Wilby notes. Was that all it meant to him? Wilby explains:

‘The abiding principle of Straw's life is that Labour should be in power. What it should use power for is something he hardly seems to think about.’

It turns out that Straw was famous among his peers for his ‘guile and low cunning’. But when it mattered, the press were happy to mistake that ‘low cunning’ for impassioned sincerity. In 2001, the Guardian editors commented on a speech by Blair:

‘The core of the speech - intellectual as well as moral - came when he contrasted the west's commitment to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the terrorists' proven wish to cause as many civilian casualties as possible, a point which Jack Straw followed up powerfully in the Commons yesterday. Let them do their worst, we shall do our best, as Churchill put it. That is still a key difference.’ (Leading article, 'Blair plays it cooler - A new tone, but few new answers,' The Guardian, October 31, 2001)

The reality was rather less heroic, as Wilby observes:

‘The big philosophical issues of politics… are scarcely on Straw's radar. Big pictures and big ideas are not for him. His habit is to amble along in roughly the same direction as everyone else.’

The direction, in 2001, was the killing of 100,000s of people, the devastation of entire nations.

Responding to Barack Obama's victory in 2008, a Guardian leader again exulted:

‘Today is for celebration, for happiness and for reflected human glory. Savour those words: President Barack Obama, America's hope and, in no small way, ours too.’

In the Guardian news section, Oliver Burkeman appeared to be hyperventilating through tears of happiness:

‘Just being alive at a time when it's so evident that history is being made was elating and exhausting...’

Obama has certainly been making history in the Waziristan region of northwest Pakistan. Waziristan is not being hit with occasional drone strikes; it is being subjected to permanent drone siege. Ahmed Wali Mujeeb writes on the BBC website:

‘The drones do not suddenly appear over the horizon, carry out the attack and leave. At any given time of the day, at least four are hovering in the sky, emitting a distinctive and menacing buzzing sound.

‘“Anybody who has been listening to the buzzing all through the day usually can't sleep at night,” says Abdul Waheed, a tribesman in North Waziristan.

‘“It's like a blind man's stick - it can hit anybody at any time.”

‘Wali Mujeeb commented: “Everybody believes they could be next.”’

Noam Chomsky summarises Obama’s 'historic' policy shift:

‘If the Bush administration didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them.’

Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald notes that Obama’s ‘claimed right to target even American citizens for extrajudicial assassinations, without a whiff of transparency or oversight, is as radical a power as any seized by George Bush and Dick Cheney’.

The reality for voters asked to choose between Obama and Mitt Romney in November’s presidential election is that ‘they have no discernible differences when it comes to any of the underlying policies’.

The media response to Obama’s ‘historic’ election was a lie.


Great Speech - No Content

In similar vein, consider the media reaction to a recent speech by Labour leader Ed Miliband. Influential columnist Polly Toynbee set the tone with a Guardian article entitled: ‘Ed Miliband's breathtaking bravura and a One Nation stroke of genius.’

For Toynbee, the speech was another historic moment:

‘That was it: the day Ed Miliband wiped the smile off Conservative faces. With breathtaking bravura he held the hall rapt. No autocue, at ease, personal and passionate... It was the day Miliband's private qualities at last turned into public strengths: not just brainy but funny, likable and an unashamed egalitarian to the core of his being.’

Notice, we are so far focused on Miliband’s personal qualities and the lack of an autocue (he spoke without notes). Toynbee continued:

‘One Nation Labour is a stroke of genius, one short phrase finally burying the shifty uncertainty about how to escape the difficult legacies of both Blair and Brown. Not Old Labour, not New Labour, but One Nation Labour.’

A propaganda phrase, pilfered from the Old Tories by the New Tories was the big story. The BBC unwittingly revealed the true extent to which this ‘stroke of genius’ merited celebration when it reminded readers that the phrase was ‘normally associated with moderate Tories’. Democratic choice in Britain is now limited to ‘moderate Tories’ or less moderate Tories. The BBC noted that Miliband had thus ‘attempted to snatch the centre ground of British politics’, blithely contradicting its own implication that Labour had shifted to the right.

The Guardian’s Jackie Ashley also celebrated the triumph, as did Simon Hoggart. A Guardian leader agreed: ‘his speech was certainly that of an unusually able person.’ Moreover: ‘He said what he meant and he meant what he said. You cannot ask more of a leader than that.’

Tragicomically, former New Statesman political editor, Mehdi Hasan, now writing for the Huffington Post, was above all impressed by the fact that Miliband had ‘produced a powerful and passionate 65-minute speech, without notes… There was not a lectern or autocue in sight. Journalists weren’t offered the traditional mid-speech hard-copy transcript: there wasn’t one to offer.’ Hasan mentioned the amazing lack of notes no less than seven times in his 800-word piece.

So what did the speech have to say about looming catastrophic climate change, our political and economic thraldom to corporate power, the West’s addiction to Permanent War, the general insanity of global capitalism, and so on? Hasan’s answer:

‘Forget content and policy; this wasn’t supposed to be that sort of speech.’

A Guardian leader confirmed the observation:

‘There were relatively few specifics in Mr Miliband's speech… That's fair enough. This is not yet the moment for details.’

Instead, Miliband's speech offered: ‘A vision of a Britain where patriotism, loyalty, dedication to the common cause courses through the veins of all and nobody feels left out...’ and so on.



Compassionate Boasts

The same is true of the US presidential race where ‘Personality quirks and trivialities about the candidates dominate coverage, and voter choices, leaving little room for substantive debates.’

In the first Obama/Romney debate, neither candidate mentioned the greatest threat of our time, catastrophic climate change. British prime minister David Cameron also ignored the issue in his recent conference speech; as did the Guardian in listing ‘Five things that were left out of David Cameron's speech.’

Cameron argued that ‘it's not enough to know our ideas are right - we've got to explain why they are compassionate too’; a key goal for ‘the modern compassionate Conservative party, who are the real champions of fighting poverty in Britain today’. This recalled comments made by George Bush Snr in his inaugural address in 1989. Shortly before devastating Central America and Iraq, Bush declared:

'America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the Nation and gentler the face of the world. My friends, we have work to do.’

Compassion, famously of course, is also a major theme for Obama’s Democrats. In his vice presidential debate with Republican contender Paul Ryan, Joe Biden boasted of the catastrophic impact of US-led sanctions on Iran:

'These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period. Period.'

Biden added:

'The ayatollah sees his economy being crippled... He sees the currency going into the tank. He sees the economy going into freefall.’

Perhaps Biden would have spoken with more humility if he had remembered the impressive performance of US-led sanctions on Iraq from 1990-2003, which resulted in the deaths of more than 500,000 children under five. To be fair to Biden, the current sanctions are killing people. The New York Times reports:

‘When he joined Iran’s state airline in 1983, its fleet of Boeings and Airbuses was in mint technical condition. Whenever he walked down the gate toward his plane, black Aviator sunglasses under his pilot’s cap, Captain Shahbazi said, he would swell with pride and confidence.

‘But after 17 years of United States sanctions that have prevented the Islamic Republic from buying new Western planes and spare parts, he said he now felt ashamed before his passengers and angry over American policies, which he said, were responsible for Iranian plane crashes that have left more than 1,700 passengers and crew members dead.’

The Guardian fills in some background:

‘Western sanctions are compounding the country's economic woes, sending the national currency into a nosedive and making dollars hard to come by. The situation has worsened significantly in recent months; the latest US and EU sanctions on Tehran came into effect in July. As a result, the prices of chicken, milk, cheese, bread, sugar and yogurt, among other staples, are now rising almost every day.’

The results:

‘Among those bearing the brunt of the crisis are patients and hospitals reliant on currency for imported medicines and foreign-based services. Iran's Haemophilia Society, for example, has blamed the sanctions for risking thousands of children's lives due to a lack of proper drugs.’

The journalist moderating the Biden/Ryan debate, CNN’s Martha Raddatz, commented of Iran that ‘there's really no bigger national security... [threat?] this country is facing’. If we accept the baseless claim that climate change is a fantasy, then this is indeed correct, although Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has indicated the level of sanity:

‘But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.’

And of course Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers, not least Israel with its several hundred warheads. No matter, perspective is something no-one should expect from the corporate press anytime soon.



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Please write to:

Steve Herrmann, editor BBC News website


Polly Toynbee at the Guardian


Mehdi Hasan at Huffington Post via Twitter


Write to us at Media Lens:

Helen Boaden, head of BBC News.


]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 16 Oct 2012 06:02:57 +0000
The Ice Melts Into Water

Arctic Ice Melt, Psychopathic Capitalism And The Corporate Media

By David Cromwell and David Edwards


Last month, climate scientists announced that Arctic sea ice had shrunk to its smallest surface area since satellite observations began in 1979. An ice-free summer in the Arctic, once projected to be more than a century away, now looks possible just a few decades from now. Some scientists say it may happen within the next few years.

The loss is hugely significant because Arctic sea ice reflects most solar energy into space, helping to keep the Earth at a moderate temperature. But when the ice melts it reveals dark waters below, which absorb more than 90 per cent of the solar energy that hits them, leading to faster warming both locally and globally.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, warns that the Arctic may be ice-free in summer as soon as 2015. Such a massive loss would have a warming effect roughly equivalent to all human activity to date. In other words, a summer ice-free Arctic could double the rate of warming of the planet as a whole. No wonder that leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen says bluntly: ‘We are in a planetary emergency.’

In a comprehensive blog piece on the Scientific American website, Ramez Naam points out that:

‘The reality of changes to the Arctic has far outstripped most predictions. Only a few years ago, in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the bulk of models showed the Arctic ice cap surviving in summer until well past 2100. Now it’s not clear that the ice will survive in summer past 2020. The level of sea ice we saw this September, in 2012, wasn’t expected by the mean of IPCC models until 2065. The melting Arctic has outpaced the predictions of almost everyone – everyone except the few who were called alarmists.’

As well as global warming from carbon dioxide (CO2), there is the additional risk of warming from methane (CH4) being released into the atmosphere. Huge quantities of methane are locked up in land permafrost. But even vaster quantities exist as methane hydrates frozen below the shallow waters of the Arctic Ocean’s continental shelves. Naam warns:

'If even 10% of the northern permafrost’s buried carbon were released as methane, it would have a heating effect over the next decade equivalent to ten times all human greenhouse emissions to date, and over the next century equivalent to roughly four times all human greenhouse emissions to date.'

That's just the methane on land, trapped in the permafrost. If the methane hydrates buried on the Arctic continental shelves were to be released, that would have a warming effect equivalent to hundreds of times the total human carbon emissions to date.

Although Namm says 'we are probably not in danger of a methane time bomb going off any time soon', recent observations show that Arctic methane is being released into the atmosphere. And there is scientific controversy over how serious and how rapid this release is.

In summary, Naam points to a triple whammy effect:

1. Warming from the greenhouse gases we are currently emitting.

2. Warming from the loss of ice and permafrost in the Arctic, and the exposure of dark water and dark land below.

3. Warming from the release of more carbon into the atmosphere as the permafrost and the Arctic sea floor methane begin to melt.

The situation is already dire. According to a new report commissioned by twenty governments, more than 100 million people will die by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change. Five million deaths already occur each year from air pollution, hunger and disease as a result of climate change and carbon-intensive economies. This death toll would likely rise to six million a year by 2030 if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue. More than 90 per cent of those deaths will occur in developing countries.

On a sane planet, action would have been taken long before now to limit the risk. But, as Greenpeace International head Kumi Naidoo notes, fossil fuel industries have been working hard to corrupt the political process:

‘Why our governments don't take action? Because they have been captured by the same interests of the energy industry.’

As we noted in an alert last year, a Greenpeace study titled Who's Holding Us Back? reported:

'The corporations most responsible for contributing to climate change emissions and profiting from those activities are campaigning to increase their access to international negotiations and, at the same time, working to defeat progressive legislation on climate change and energy around the world.'

Greenpeace added:

‘These polluting corporations often exert their influence behind the scenes, employing a variety of techniques, including using trade associations and think tanks as front groups; confusing the public through climate denial or advertising campaigns; making corporate political donations; as well as making use of the "revolving door" between public servants and carbon-intensive corporations.’

Unsurprisingly then, meaningful action on tackling climate change is nowhere on the political agenda.


Drilling To Oblivion

Around the same time that a record low in Arctic sea ice was being recorded, a new report from the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee urged a halt to all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, at least 'until new safeguards are put in place.' Committee chair Joan Walley MP said:

'The shocking speed at which the Arctic sea ice is melting should be a wake-up call to the world that we need to phase out fossil fuels fast. Instead we are witnessing a reckless gold rush in this pristine wilderness as big companies and governments make a grab for the world’s last untapped oil and gas reserves.'

Caroline Lewis, member of the committee, warned that ‘the race to carve up the Arctic is accelerating faster than our regulatory or technical capacity to manage it.’

But the record of corporate capitalismshows that powerful industrial forces will do all they can to lobby governments to allow for continued economic exploitation of the planet’s resources. According to the US Geological Survey, within the Arctic Circle there are some 90 billion barrels of oil - 13 per cent of the planet's undiscovered oil reserves - and 30 per cent of its undiscovered natural gas. The race for corporate profits is now on, with Shell already committed to a ‘multi-year exploration program’ in the Arctic.

The receding Arctic ice is a 'business opportunity' for those wishing to exploit newly available shipping routes. Cargo that now goes via the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal will, in many cases, have a shorter Arctic route, ensuring ‘efficiency savings’ for big business.

Companies are also licking their lips at the prospect at getting their hands on vast deposits of minerals as Greenland’s ice cap recedes.

‘For me, I wouldn’t mind if the whole ice cap disappears,’ said Ole Christiansen, the chief executive of NunamMinerals, Greenland’s largest homegrown mining company, with his eyes on a proposed gold mining site up the fjord from Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. ‘As it melts, we’re seeing new places with very attractive geology.’

A good example of the psychopathic mind-set at the heart of corporate capitalism. Science writer Peter Gleick responded incredulously on Twitter: '25 foot sea rise?' For that is indeed the catastrophic scale of global sea level rise that would occur with the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.


The BBC Parks The Problem

The BBC’s extremely poor and biased coverage of climate change continues to dismay seasoned observers. As Verity Payne and Freya Roberts noted on The Carbon Brief website, the corporation’s ‘fondness for pitting non-experts against each other over particularly complex areas of climate science reached surreal heights’ in a recent BBC2 Newsnight segment on Arctic sea ice loss. The encounter between Conservative MP Peter Lilley and the Green Party’s new leader Natalie Bennett eventually degenerated into an argument over the merits of locally-sourced food. Payne and Roberts concluded:

‘It's hard to understand how, over a year after the BBC Trust reviewed the corporation's science coverage, paying particular attention to topics such as climate change, this is what we end up with.’

In fact, the BBC's awful performance is not that much of a mystery. The corporation has always been a reliable supporter of state and corporate power. But particularly since the fallout from reporting the government’s ‘sexing-up’ of discredited claims about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, when heads rolled at the BBC, the broadcaster has been at pains not to offend the government and allied interests. Its abysmal failure to inform the British public of the coalition’s effective dismantling of the National Health Service is another key example.

According to former BBC correspondent and editor Mark Brayne, who was privy to internal editorial discussions in 2010, the BBC has ‘explicitly parked climate change in the category “Done That Already, Nothing New to Say”.’ Brayne added:

‘On climate change, that BBC journalistic urgency to be seen to be fair now means, after a period between Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and the disaster of [the 2009 UN Climate Summit in] Copenhagen when global warming was everywhere in the output, that the Corporation has been bending over backwards to reflect the opposite, sceptical view.’

Consider the analogy of two men at a bar, says Brayne. One man claims that two plus two equals four, and the other that two plus two equals six. The BBC solution to this disagreement? ‘Put them both on the Today Programme, and the answer clearly lies somewhere in the middle.’

The Today programme, BBC Radio 4’s ‘agenda-setting’ morning programme, is a serial offender when it comes to irresponsible climate coverage. On July 13 this year, veteran interviewer John Humphrys interviewed Ralph Cicerone, president of the US National Academy of Sciences. Part of the interview went like this:

JH:  ‘But to say nearly every spot on the globe has warmed significantly over the past 30 years and indeed the entire planet is warming is different from saying it's going to continue to warm to such an extent that we have to spend vast and unimaginable amounts of money to protect ourselves against a catastrophe that many people, some distinguished scientists say, isn't actually proven.’

RC: ‘Well of course the way you've worded it, it was quite strong; "vast and unimaginable sums of money", I don't think I've heard anybody make such a proposal.’

Moments later, Humphrys made the idiotic assertion that:

‘You can’t absolutely prove that CO2 in the atmosphere is responsible for global warming.’

As climate writers Christian Hunt and Ros Donald put it politely:

‘If the Today programme brought this level of research and preparation to interviewing politicians, it probably wouldn't be taken particularly seriously.’

In fact, the standard of political debate on Today, as with the rest of BBC News, is on a similarly appalling level: routinely tilted towards state-corporate power, and all at public expense.

Meanwhile, BBC News happily chunters along issuing a stream of articles and broadcasts about Britain’s ‘dreadful weather’ this year and how it has, for example, ‘cost rural Britain £1bn’ in lost income. But you would be hard pressed to find any links drawn between this and human-induced climate change.


Guarding The Mythology Of 'Feeble Response'

Greens like to flock to the Guardian almost as though it were the house paper of the environment movement. One recent Guardian editorial noted that: ‘pessimists in the climate change community warn that within the next century global mean temperatures could rise by 6C. A fierce, sustained drought in the US, with 170 all-time US heat records broken in June alone, has already hurt world food stocks.’

These are important points. But given the observed rapid changes in the Arctic under global warming, the Guardian’s pejorative use of ‘pessimists’ should probably be replaced with ‘realists’. The Guardian continued:

‘The global response to these signals of potential calamity has so far been feeble.’

This hugely understates the problem. But, even more damning, it diverts attention from root causes. As mentioned earlier, huge vested interests have mounted decades-long campaigns of disinformation, fierce lobbying and intimidation to subvert and bully governments into (a) avoiding what needs to be done in the face of climate chaos; and (b) providing tax breaks, subsidies and other measures to enhance rapacious corporate practices under the guise of boosting economic ‘growth’ and ‘job creation’ (newspeak terms for corporate profits).

Senior Guardian editorial staff seem unable to move beyond the same anodyne waffle they have been publishing for thirty years:

‘Britain's “greenest government ever” has shown what it thinks of scientific evidence, by placing a homeopathic medicine enthusiast in charge of the National Health Service, and a reputed climate sceptic as environment secretary. The outlook is not promising.’

The Guardian has almost nothing to say about the deep-rooted changes required to redress the imbalance of power in society; or about its own role in pushing climate-damaging policies and practices. The Guardian is a corporate newspaper dependent on advertisers for around 70 per cent of its income. Put simply, like other corporate media, it is part of the problem.


Media Malpractice - Challenging The Decline In Coverage

In the US, climate blogger Joe Romm notes that the decline in corporate media climate coverage has been well documented, both in print and the evening news. Bill Blakemore of ABC News observes that a number of the climate scientists ‘are perplexed by — and in some cases furious with — American news directors.’ Blakemore elucidates:

‘“Malpractice!” is typical of the charges this reporter has heard highly respected climate experts level — privately, off the record — at my professional colleagues over the past few years.

‘Complaints include what seems to the scientists a willful omission of overwhelming evidence the new droughts and floods are worsened by man made global warming, and unquestioning repetition, gullible at best, of transparent anti-science propaganda credibly reported to be funded by fossil fuel interests and anti-regulation allies.’

Blakemore adds that he has spoken with climate scientists who ‘agree with those, including NASA scientist James Hansen, who charge that fossil fuel CEOs are guilty of a “crime against humanity,” given the calamity that unregulated greenhouse emissions are quickly bringing on.’ With 100 million deaths from global warming predicted by 2030, the charge is no hyperbole. Indeed this surely represents the greatest crime in all human history. And yet governments and big business, shielded by the corporate media, are getting away with it.

It probably comes as no surprise that the worst US media offenders belong to the Murdoch stable. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) shows that Fox News had been 'misleading' viewers about climate science in 93 per cent of primetime programmes that addressed the subject over a six-month period in 2012. Fox News hosts and guests ‘mocked and disparaged statements from scientists and drowned out genuine scientific assertions with cherry-picked data and false claims.’ The opinion pages of the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal performed slightly better: only 81 per cent of the examples studied were misleading, according to the UCS analysis. Similar surveys of the UK media are sorely needed. And, more to the point, action taken to challenge this corporate media complicity in history's premier crime.

We have to re-examine our assumptions about what might be most effective in changing things for the better. For years, left and green activists have argued that we should work with corporate media to reach a wider public. For a long time the argument may have seemed unassailable. But after decades of accelerating planetary devastation and rapidly declining democracy, the argument has weakened to the point of collapse. By a process of carefully rationed corporate 'inclusion', the honesty, vitality and truth of environmentalism have been corralled, contained, trivialised and stifled.

Corporate media 'inclusion' of dissent has deceived the public with the illusion of openness and change, while business-as-usual has taken us very far in the opposite direction. Ironically, meek 'cooperation' has handed influence and control to the very forces seeking to disempower dissent. And in the absence of serious left/green criticism, corporate media performance has actually deteriorated.

Why should progressives help this system sell the illusion that the corporate media offers a ‘wide spectrum of views’ when its biased output overwhelmingly and inevitably promotes Permanent War for resources and war on the planet? The corporate media must be confronted with the reality of what it is, and what it has done. It is vital that this be highlighted to the public it has been deceiving.

While the power of the internet remains relatively open, there is a brief window to free ourselves from the shackles of the corporate media and to build something honest, radical and publicly accountable. Climate crisis is already upon us, with much worse likely to come. The stakes almost literally could not be higher.



The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to:

Helen Boaden, head of BBC News.


Fraser Steel, Head of the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit.


Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor.


Twitter: @arusbridger

John Vidal, Guardian environment editor.


Twitter: @john_vidal

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 02 Oct 2012 05:42:13 +0000
US Consulate Killings - Spontaneous Religious Or Planned Political?


By: David Edwards


On September 11, four Americans, including the US ambassador, were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The following day, the BBC's Lunchtime News reported that the killings were part of 'disturbances' which were 'linked to an anti-Islamic video' (BBC News, September 12, 2012). The BBC's News at Six explained that the US ambassador was killed 'in a protest'. This was mild language indeed given that the consulate had been attacked with assault rifles, hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. (According to the New York Times, two US security guards were killed by mortar fire).

We can easily imagine the BBC reaction if the killings had happened under Gaddafi, Chavez or some other official enemy. The favoured adjective, 'terrorist', would surely have made an early appearance.

How to explain the BBC's response? The key, of course, is that the current Libyan government owes its existence to Western military intervention. It achieved power because the West exploited UN resolution 1973, which authorised a 'no-fly zone', as an excuse to bomb Gaddafi's forces to defeat. The 'no-fly zone' in fact became a 'no-drive zone' for one side of the conflict. As so often, the BBC was taking its cue from Washington and Downing Street. Obama expressed 'appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government and people in responding to this outrageous attack... This attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya'.

Like most other media, the BBC instantly concluded that the 'protest' and killings were expressions of religious rather than political anger. As late as September 22, the BBC reported: 'The attack on the US consulate was triggered by an amateur video made in the US which mocks Islam.'

In similar vein, Julian Borger wrote an article in the Guardian under the title: 'How anti-Islamic movie sparked lethal assault on US consulate in Libya.' Kim Sengupta commented in the Independent:

'The US ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff were killed in an attack by an armed mob which stormed the country's consulate in Benghazi in a furious protest over an American film mocking the Prophet Mohammed.'

How, the world asked, could any sane human being kill over a second-rate film, over the idea that a religion had been insulted? Reasonable questions. On the other hand, one might ask how anyone could kill or die for a flag, or an idea like 'the Homeland/Fatherland/Motherland', or for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Subsequent reporting suggested that the initial media consensus blaming a provocative film was false. The Telegraph noted:

'A security guard wounded in the attack... has insisted it was a planned assault by Islamist fighters, and not a protest that got out of hand.

'The guard, who works for a British firm, said there was no demonstration over a controversial anti-Islamic film before extremists stormed the compound in the eastern city of Benghazi.'

Matthew Olsen, director of the US National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: 'I would say [the four Americans] were killed in the course of a terrorist attack.'

Olsen added:

'A number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in eastern Libya, particularly in the Benghazi area. We are looking as well at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al Qaida or al Qaida's affiliates, including al Qaida in the Maghreb.'

US Senator Joe Lieberman also questioned the US regime's assertion that the attack was spontaneous:

'I will tell you based on the briefings I have had, I have come to the opposite conclusion and agree with the president of Libya that this was a premeditated, planned attack that was associated with the... anniversary of 9/11. I just don't think people come to protest equipped with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and other heavy weapons.'

Between June and August in Benghazi, there had been bomb, grenade and RPG attacks on the US consulate, the UK ambassador's motorcade, the Tunisian consulate, and the local headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, with leafleted warnings of more to come. CNN reported that Chris Stevens was 'worried about what he called the never-ending security threats' and 'mentioned his name was on an al Qaeda hit list'.

The attack also gave an insight into the US role in the country it helped 'liberate'. The New York Times observed:

'Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.'

Their role in a Libya that we are told is 'free' and 'independent':

'American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of Colonel Qaddafi's forces; they aided in efforts to secure Libya's chemical weapons stockpiles; and they helped train Libya's new intelligence service, officials said.'

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, evidence that the attack was a carefully planned, politically-motivated attack, rather than a spontaneous eruption of religious ire, is the wrong kind of news for the many supporters of Nato's intervention in Libya:

'Critics of the war in Libya warned that the US was siding with (and arming and empowering) violent extremists, including al-Qaida elements, that would eventually cause the US to claim it had to return to Libya to fight against them – just as its funding and arming of Saddam in Iraq and the mujahideen in Afghanistan subsequently justified new wars against those one-time allies.'

The truth of the attack 'underscores how unstable, lawless and dangerous Libya has become'. Indeed, as we noted in July, the media did an excellent job of burying an Amnesty International report which described 'the mounting toll of victims of an increasingly lawless Libya, where the transitional authorities have been unable or unwilling to rein in the hundreds of militias formed during and after the 2011 conflict'.

This post-intervention mayhem is something supporters of Western intervention are naturally keen to hide – focus on a 'mocking' film has served the purpose.


'Killing US Embassy Staff Is Cool' – The Media Lens View, Obviously

David Aaronovitch of The Times shared the standard view that religious fanatics had attacked the embassy, adding:

'Protesters protest. We need another word for people who want to storm buildings and burn them down.'

Perhaps we also need another word for Aaronovitch. He wrote in 2003:

'Kosovo was, most of us agree, "worth it". Worth it even though we hit the train on the bridge at Leskovac, killing 10, and the refugee convoy at Prizren in Kosovo which slaughtered more than 70. "Worth it" to both Robin Cook (then foreign secretary) and me. As was the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 or, in Afghanistan, the infamous missile attack on the gun-toting wedding party.'

After we sent a tweet noting Aaronovitch's own enthusiasm for embassy burning, a small number of readers challenged him. His response:

'I couldn't work out where the trickle of "killing US embassy staff is cool" Twitter dickheads was coming from. Then medialens tweeted.'

To his credit, Glenn Greenwald - who had begun following us on Twitter a few days earlier – spoke up in our defence (a rare occurrence for a high-profile mainstream journalist), observing that Aaronovitch had 'just smeared @medialens with a lie' and 'a wretched falsehood'.

Greenwald wrote to us: 'You are really deeper in the heads of the British establishment-serving commentariat than anyone else - congrats.'

On Twitter, he noted that we had in fact challenged political analyst Sharmine Narwani on the same point after she had asked:

'100s of 1,000s of Arabs & Muslims slaughtered by American troops. Tell me again why I should care about whatshisname-plus-three? #Libya.'

We responded: 'Because all suffering is equal.' (David Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

Narwani missed the point, replying: 'If it were equal, the NYTimes would cover dead Arabs every day...uoften dead b/c of US policies.'

We wrote back:

'That's right - they certainly don't see suffering as equal. I'm saying that's our reason for caring about all, including those 4.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We never quite get used to the jaw-dropping cynicism of the smears flung at us by Aaronovitch et al. Anyone who has read even a small sample of what we have written knows that we would never endorse the idea that 'killing US embassy staff is cool' (Aaronovitch is certainly familiar with our work; he once urged one of us to meet with him, insisting: 'I'm not that bad.').

We had earlier written on Twitter:

'Terrible when anyone dies (so many have suffered in Libya), but notice the very particular shock and horror when the Empire is struck.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We expanded on this in a tweet quoted by Greenwald in his Guardian column:

'A crucial task is to perceive how our compassion is channelled towards some and away from others. It's the foundation of all mass violence.' (Edwards, Twitter, September 12, 2012)

We were obviously arguing against the idea that the US consulate deaths were 'cool' and in favour of equalised compassion for all.

Greenwald commented: 'There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.'

A key focus of our work over the last decade has been to show how media bias reinforces this 'hierarchy of human life'. It plays a crucial role in fuelling the barbarism of our world.

Aaronovitch responded to Greenwald's expression of support for Media Lens, reminding him we were 'Kooks', before adding his perception of the likely consequences for Greenwald's reputation: 'Your funeral.'

In conclusion, Aaronovitch advised Greenwald: 'One last piece of information. You have signed up alongside the stupidest and most extreme section of the British left. Enjoy.'

But, someone asked, surely Greenwald was aware that Media Lens 'deny Serbian atrocities' (we do not). Did he not agree that these accusations were accurate? Greenwald replied: 'I didn't follow their views on that at the time, but from what I've seen since: false.'

Prize-winning former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, commented:

'David Aaronovitch's Twitter comment "Your funeral" to Glenn Greenwald was exceptionally revealing, didn't you think? Among other things, it suggested not only that he sees the UK liberal media as an exclusive old boys' club - and he's not wrong about that, it seems – but that he regards himself as the president of it. Would that make [The Observer's] Nick Cohen the treasurer, and [The Observer's] Peter Beaumont the receptionist?' (Email to Media Lens, September 14, 2012)

So what are we to make of the media's reflexive tendency to report and accept the claims of power at face value, and even to adopt the exact same tone in responding to controversial events? Do we at Media Lens imagine that senior editors and journalists sit around conspiring to deceive the public?

The truth is much more prosaic and even more disturbing. Establishment bias is built into the very structure, the very DNA, of professional journalism. Robert McChesney and John Nichols explain in their book Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press, 2005):

'Professional journalism places a premium on legitimate news stories based upon what people in power say and do. The appeal is clear. It removes the tinge of controversy from story selection – "Hey, the Governor said it so we had to cover it" – and it makes journalism less expensive: Simply place reporters near people in power and have them report on what is said and done. It also gives journalism a very conventional feel, as those in power have a great deal of control over what gets covered and what does not. Reporting often turns into dictation as journalists are loathe to antagonize their sources, depending upon them as they do for stories.'

No conspiracy theory is required – the corporate system naturally tends to generate conformity across the media 'spectrum'.


Suggested Action

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to David Aaronovitch on Twitter:



]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 25 Sep 2012 07:56:46 +0000
Why Are We The Good Guys?


Reclaiming Your Mind From The Delusions of Propaganda

By David Cromwell


One of the unspoken assumptions of the Western world is that ‘we’ are great defenders of human rights, a free press and the benefits of market economics. Mistakes might be made along the way, perhaps even tragic errors of judgement such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the prevailing view is that 'the West' is essentially a force for good in the wider world. Why Are We The Good Guys? is a provocative challenge to this false ideology. The book digs beneath standard accounts of crucial issues such as foreign policy, climate change and the constant struggle between state-corporate power and genuine democracy.

Analysis of these pressing issues today is leavened by some of the formative experiences that led the author to question the basic myth of Western benevolence: from schoolroom experiments in democracy, exposure to radical ideas at home, and a mercy mission while at sea; to an unexpected encounter with former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the struggles to publish hard-hitting journalism, and the founding of Media Lens in 2001.

Historian Mark Curtis, the ground-breaking exposer of previously secret government files in books such as Web of Deceit and Unpeople, welcomes the publication of the book:

‘This book is truly essential reading, focusing on one of the key issues, if not THE issue, of our age: how to recognise the deep, everyday brainwashing to which we are subjected, and how to escape from it. This book brilliantly exposes the extent of media disinformation, and does so in a compelling and engaging way.’

Dr John Robertson, Reader in Media Politics at the University of West Scotland, says:

‘This is a tremendously comprehensive review of all the ways in which mainstream Western media distort our view of reality in the key context of foreign affairs. With a particular emphasis on the Middle East but with good historical depth rooting understanding in US policy after World War II, Cromwell does an excellent job of organising a wide range of evidence, neglected by our media, yet fundamental to any meaningful understanding of our deeply embedded bad faith. The bad faith, which enables our media and many of its consumers to think that we are “the good guys”. This is an ideal introduction for any reader and, also, is a very useful source for students in schools, colleges and universities.’

And John Pilger, the renowned journalist and documentary maker, says:

‘One of the beacons in a politically dark world is the light cast by a moral few who analyse and reveal how journalism works in the cause of power. David Cromwell has pride of place in this company. Every member of the public and every journalist with an ounce of scepticism about authority should read his outstanding book.’

What follows are adapted extracts from the book.


The Golden Rule Of State Violence

One of the cardinal principles of Western elites is that ‘we’ are, by definition, ‘the good guys’ and anyone ‘we’ attack are ‘the bad guys’. You could say that the golden rule of Western state violence is: terrorism is what they do; counterterrorism is what we do.

It is, of course, fine for journalists in the West to point to the crimes of official enemies, and to mock them for their transparent propaganda efforts. Thus, the BBC’s Emily Maitlis was able to introduce Newsnight with a touch of sardonic wit: ‘Hello, good evening. The Russians are calling it a “peace enforcement operation”. It’s the kind of Newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.’

Maitlis was referring to the invasion of Russian forces into the Georgian province of South Ossetia in August 2008. By contrast, it would be inconceivable for a BBC presenter to refer sceptically to the West’s invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya as a ‘peace enforcement operation’, and to describe such language as ‘the kind of newspeak that would make George Orwell proud.’

Corporate media reporting of the global financial and economic crisis of recent years fits the same biased pattern. From the perspective of power, it is important that a steadying hand is applied to the tiller of news and commentary on the crisis, as well as the global economy itself. The liberal media has its role to play in shoring up public confidence in a discredited, unjust system.

In the Guardian’s comment pages, star columnist Jonathan Freedland was permitted to express a glimmer of dissent in 2008, near the start of the current crisis. ‘Turbo-capitalism is not just unfair,’ he wrote, ‘it is dishonest and dangerous.’ He pleaded: ‘surely this is the moment when Labour and the centre-left can dare to question the neoliberal dogma that has prevailed since the days of Thatcher.’

Freedland’s dissection of the crisis was limited at best, timidly suggesting that ‘you could argue’ that ‘capitalism is always [...] parasitical on the state.’ What he called for was a kinder, gentler form of capitalism instead of the ‘turbo-capitalism’ which is happy to rely ‘on us, the public, and our instrument, the state, when it gets in trouble.’ Thin on details, he concluded weakly: ‘Now we should demand a say the rest of the time, too.’ It was grim fare indeed.

Economist Harry Shutt, author of several books including The Trouble with Capitalism (Zed Books, London, 1998/2009), notes astutely that one of the most striking features of the ongoing crisis is: ‘the uniformly superficial nature of the analysis of its causes presented by mainstream observers, whether government officials, academics or business representatives.’ This applies very much to journalists too, not least in the liberal media.

Shutt continues:

‘Thus it is commonly stated that the crisis was caused by a combination of imprudent investment by bankers and others [...] and unduly lax official regulation and supervision of markets. Yet the obvious question begged by such explanations – of how or why such a dysfunctional climate came to be created – is never addressed in any serious fashion.’



The Marshall Plan: Myth and Actuality

And then, of course, someone will pop up with a counter example; something that demonstrates that actually Western states can and do make huge gestures of benevolence. A classic case is the Marshall Plan, the post-World War II ‘rescue package’ implemented by the US government, ostensibly to restore the devastated economies and infrastructure of Europe. The offer of aid was made to all of Europe, even including those parts under Russian occupation.

Walt Whitman Rostow, an economist who worked on implementing the Marshall Plan, and who later played a key role in the US war against Vietnam, stated that the plan was actually part of an ‘offensive’ which aimed ‘to strengthen the area still outside Stalin’s grasp’.William Clayton, Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, raised fears in December 1947 that if Washington did not provide such aid, ‘the Iron Curtain would then move westward at least to the English Channel.’ While the Marshall Plan had still been under discussion, Clayton had stated that ‘we will hold in our hands the powerful weapon of discontinuance of aid if contrary to our expectations any country fails to live up to our expectations.’ Chester Bowles, chief of the Economic Stabilization Bureau, was candid: ‘The real argument for the Marshall Plan is a bolstering of the American system for future years.’

With the post-war ascendancy of the US in global affairs, America was now flexing its muscles as part of its ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom, the former seat of imperial power. The Marshall plan was a crucial political ace as part of this global muscle-flexing. In Washington, the British Embassy was informed ‘that Britain’s socialism [sic] could stand in the way of the loan ... Congress was greatly concerned to establish that US dollars weren’t going to be used to bolster up a red dictatorship or, equally perverse, to subsidise welfare measures [in Britain].’ The British Consul General Frank Evans reported that he ‘could not but be depressed by the violent dislike and distrust manifest by these men towards the British experiment in social democracy’.

US pressure was exerted on UK policy; in particular, to abandon any further reforms such as nationalisation. In July 1947, the US Ambassador said bluntly: ‘It would help the US obtain from congress the help which the United Kingdom required if it were made clear that there would be no further nationalisation of great industries in this country.’  In June 1948, the Foreign Office recommended that the nationalisation of iron and steel should be postponed if not abandoned for the sake of ‘Anglo-American relations.’

Not much of this is ever mentioned today.



A Shock to the System

When I was in the sixth and final year of secondary school – a Catholic school – I somehow got involved in a discussion with my physics teacher about Northern Ireland. It was 1979. There had just been yet more violence. I don’t recall whether it had been perpetrated by the IRA, unionist extremists or British forces. Whatever was the spur for the classroom political discussion, veering away that day from electromagnetism, Newtonian dynamics and atomic theory, I remember being stunned when the teacher asserted that the British used intimidating and abusive methods against the Catholic population of the province, extending even to targeted assassinations. There was just one other pupil in the class; a grand total of two doing Sixth Year Studies in physics that year. I’m not sure who was the more flabbergasted. About all I could manage in reply was a weak, ‘How do you know?’ The teacher responded: ‘I lived in Northern Ireland for several years. These things were simply well known locally.’

Perhaps one of the most infamous cases of British violence in Northern Ireland is Bloody Sunday, the killing of thirteen people by soldiers during a peaceful civil rights march in Derry on 29 January 1972. Seven of the dead were teenagers. In all, twenty-seven people were shot. An inquiry into the events, the Widgery Tribunal, was widely criticised as a ‘whitewash.’ The subsequent Saville Inquiry began in 1998 and dragged on until 2010 amid controversy about its rising costs estimated at more than £400 million. The final report vindicated the relatives who had campaigned for years to clear the names of those who were killed, some of whom were shot as they attempted to flee. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that the army killings were ‘unjustified and unjustifiable.’

Primary blame was affixed to the soldiers on the ground. But Niall Ó Dochartaigh, lecturer in political science and sociology at the National University of Ireland, Galway, pointed out that senior military commanders, in particular General Sir Robert Ford who’d planned the disastrous security operation that day, had ‘got off extraordinarily lightly.’

Ó Dochartaigh continued: ‘Saville has done an extraordinary job in his primary task of forensically examining the details of individual shootings, but his analysis of the politics of Bloody Sunday is open to question. The story of high-level responsibility has yet to be told.’

I was aware of Bloody Sunday and had a vague memory of being appalled by reports of that day in 1972. The event was portrayed in the media and in subsequent mainstream debate as a tragic aberration. So the notion that British forces, whether soldiers or intelligence networks, were involved in a systematic campaign of intimidation, even terror, in Northern Ireland was a shock. It was an early experience that made me question: are we really the good guys here?


Why Are We The Good Guys? by David Cromwell

Publication date: 28 September, 2012

Pages: 317

Paperback price: £15.99 / US$26.95               ISBN: 978 1 78099 365 2

eBook version: £6.99 / $9.99                          ISBN: 978-1-78099-366-9

]]> (Editor) Alerts 2012 Tue, 18 Sep 2012 05:35:20 +0000