Media Lens - Current Alert News analysis and media criticism http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016.html Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:02:56 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Fake News About 'Fake News' - The Media Performance Pyramid http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/833-fake-news-about-fake-news-the-media-performance-pyramid.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/833-fake-news-about-fake-news-the-media-performance-pyramid.html

 

In the wake of Brexit and Trump, 'mainstream' media have done the formerly unthinkable by focusing on media bias. The intensity of focus has been such that the Oxford Dictionaries have announced that 'post-truth' is their 'Word of the Year 2016'.

'Post-truth' refers to 'circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'.

Students of 'brainwashing under freedom' will notice that this bears a striking resemblance to 20th century US policy advisor Reinhold Niebuhr's insistence on the use of 'emotionally potent over-simplifications' to control the public mind. It's nothing new, in other words.

We learn from a lengthy article on Wikipedia that 'post-truth politics' is driven by 'fake news':

'Fake news websites publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation to drive web traffic inflamed by social media.'

This 'fake news' is being harvested by social media that seal unwitting users in airtight 'filter bubbles':

'A filter bubble is a result of a personalized search in which a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user (such as location, past click behavior and search history) and, as a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, effectively isolating them in their own cultural or ideological bubbles.'

The results are terrifying indeed. Author Andrew Smith argued in the Guardian that, post-Trump and Brexit, future historians will decide 'whether this will go down as the year democracy revealed itself unworkable in the age of the internet'. The forecast is grim:

'One day, I suspect, we will look back in disbelief that we let the net-induced friction on civil society reach this pitch, because if we didn't know before, we know now that our stark choice is between social networks' bottom line and democracy. I know which I prefer.'

These words appeared less than two years after the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre, when a Guardian editorial had opined:

'Any society that's serious about liberty has to defend the free flow of ugly words, even ugly sentiments.'

Now, it seems, anyone 'serious about liberty' has to resist the free flow of ugly words for fear of 'net-induced friction on civil society'. Whatever that means.

Smith was reacting to 'the accidental or deliberate propagation of misinformation via social media'. Many millions of people 'saw and believed fake reports that the pope had endorsed Trump; Democrats had paid and bussed anti-Trump protesters...'; and so on.

Curiously, Smith made no mention of the relentless 'mainstream' and social media efforts to link Trump with Putin seen by many millions of people around the globe. Nor did Smith mention the upside of social media – the democratisation of outreach, the related growth in popular support for Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and for left-wing movements like Spain's Podemos.

Like the rest of 'mainstream' journalism, Smith had nothing to say about the leading role played by traditional corporate media in the 'deliberate propagation of misinformation'. A remarkable omission, given the unprecedented ferocity of the smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn.

In one news report, seven different Guardian journalists discussed the rise of 'fake news' around the world without mentioning the key role of 'mainstream' media. This led to conclusions such as:

'Fake news is not a problem of any scale in Australia: the media market, dominated by a handful of key players serving a population of just over 21 million people, does not seem fragmented enough.'

Some perspective was provided by former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi in 2009:

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

Another Guardian piece was titled:

'Bursting the Facebook bubble: we asked voters on the left and right to swap feeds - Social media has made it easy to live in filter bubbles, sheltered from opposing viewpoints. So what happens when liberals and conservatives trade realities?'

The problem being:

'Facebook users are increasingly sheltered from opposing viewpoints – and reliable news sources [sic] – and the viciously polarized state of our national politics appears to be one of the results.'

Facebook readers, then, are sheltered from the giant, global corporate media that dominate our newspapers, magazines, publishing companies, cinema, TVs, radios and computer screens – even though social media are themselves corporate media. And presumably we are to believe that readers of 'reliable news sources' – the BBC, Guardian, The Times, Telegraph and other traditional outlets - are forever being exposed to 'opposing viewpoints' by these media.

If we beg to differ, having studied the media intensively for two decades, it may be because we belong on a list of 200 websites that 'are at the very least acting as bona-fide "useful idiots" of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny', according to the PropOrNot group. The Washington Post reports:

'PropOrNot's monitoring report, which was provided to The Washington Post in advance of its public release, identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans. On Facebook, PropOrNot estimates that stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.'

Matt Taibbi notes in Rolling Stone that outlets as diverse as AntiWar.com, LewRockwell.com and the Ron Paul Institute are on the list, although the Washington Post offered no information about the PropOrNot group, 'which offered zero concrete evidence of coordination with Russian intelligence agencies'. Chris Hedges of Truthdig, which is on the list, describes the Post's report as an 'updated form of Red-Baiting.' He added:

'This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.'

Significantly, the Guardian experiment in swapping social media concluded with this extraordinary comment from one of the participants, again just two years after Charlie Hebdo:

'Maybe we should stop having social media. For all the things that social media has done in terms of making it easier for me to stay in touch with someone that I was vaguely friends with in college, maybe the ability with social media for people to construct their own reality to create a mob is not worth it.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 15:07:06 +0000
Filtering The Election http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/832-filtering-the-election.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/832-filtering-the-election.html

 

Introduction

When the likes of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, and now Donald Trump, are declared the latest 'New Hitler', we learn little except that they are enemies of the establishment. It means the 'On' button has been pressed on a propaganda machine designed for maximal demonisation, leaving no room for public doubt. This inevitably drives comparisons in the direction of Hitler and the Nazis.

The rationale is well-understood by the public relations community. Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on PR and communications, explained the spectacularly successful strategy for obstructing action on environmental issues:

'People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt... Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary.' (Lesly, 'Coping with Opposition Groups,' Public Relations Review 18, 1992, p.331)

Conversely, when action is required, the issue must be presented as one-sided, clear-cut, black-and-white.

This doesn't mean that Saddam Hussein wasn't a tyrant, and it doesn't mean that Trump isn't a grave threat to uncivilisation; it means that establishment enemies are described as 'New Hitlers' for reasons that have little or nothing to do with any threat they might pose.

In Trump's case, the public was not being softened up for invasion, bombing and murder, although his liberal opponents have often 'joked', with complete unawareness of the irony, about assaulting and assassinating him.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Fri, 18 Nov 2016 08:17:29 +0000
Flagship Of Fearmongering: The Guardian, MI5 And State Propaganda http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/831-flagship-of-fearmongering-the-guardian-mi5-and-state-propaganda.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/831-flagship-of-fearmongering-the-guardian-mi5-and-state-propaganda.html

Readers of the Guardian woke up last Tuesday (November 1, 2016) to find that the newspaper and website had been given over to promoting MI5. To be more precise: the paper was trumpeting a fearmongering 'exclusive' with MI5 Director-General, Andrew Parker. It was billed as 'the first interview of its kind' and was conducted by the paper's deputy editor, Paul Johnson, and the diplomatic editor, Ewen MacAskill. However, it quickly became clear that this 'interview' consisted largely of the two senior Guardian journalists listening to the MI5 chief and diligently writing down what he said with no discernible challenge or scrutiny.

Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook summed up perfectly the contents of the 'interview':

• the Russians under Vladimir Putin are an evil empire;
• Islamic jihadists are everywhere but MI5 is brilliant at foiling their terror attacks;
• the increased budget MI5 has received is entirely justified because it is doing such a brilliant job of foiling terror attacks;
• MI5's extra powers to surveil us all are necessary to foil those terror attacks;
• whatever happens with Brexit, MI5 will continue doing a brilliant job protecting the British people;
• MI5 is determined to become a friendlier place for women and minority ethnic applicants.

This was state ideology masquerading as robust reporting; in Britain's 'flagship' newspaper of liberal journalism, no less. The front page of the Guardian website, with an accompanying photograph of two armed policemen, was a model example of propaganda that should be pored over by journalism students for decades to come:

EXCLUSIVE / MI5 chief warns of growing Russian threat to UK
• Moscow 'using cyber-warfare' against targets across Europe
• 'About 3,000' violent Islamic extremists in Britain
• Andrew Parker is first serving spy chief to give newspaper interview
Andrew Parker / There will be terrorist attacks in Britain
Paris-style attacks / UK police warn of jihadi gun threat
Opinion / 'Hear us out before you knock Prevent'

The featured opinion piece was by Simon Cole who is chief constable of Leicestershire and the National Police Chiefs' Council lead for Prevent. This is a government mass surveillance programme rolled out under 'the war on terror' which has been heavily criticised for dividing and alienating sectors of the British public, notably Muslims.

Nowhere in this coverage did the Guardian point out that US and British foreign policy – including wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, bombing in numerous other countries, support for Israel while it brutally oppresses Palestinians, and drone programmes of 'targeted' killings - has boosted the risk of terror attacks here in the UK. Indeed, intelligence services had warned Tony Blair of the increased terrorist threat to Britons before the invasion of Iraq. Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5 (and thus a predecessor of Andrew Parker), told the Chilcot inquiry in 2010 that the invasion of Iraq had 'undoubtedly' increased the terrorist threat in Britain. Intelligence and security officials also said that UK foreign policy was a factor in the 'radicalisation' of the suicide bombers who committed the 7/7 terror attacks in London in 2005.

Moreover, as historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis has shown, Britain has long colluded with radical Islamic forces in order to pursue imperialistic foreign policy objectives. Curtis observes that the UK is now participating in seven covert wars: in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia.

Somehow, none of this was deemed relevant to the Guardian's big interview with the head of MI5. Aren't newspapers supposed to do actual journalism, and thus scrutinise and challenge claims made by those in powerful positions? Does the Guardian treat its readers with such indifference, perhaps even contempt, that it feels no need to adhere to such basic standards?

Consider, for example, the following words from the MI5 head about the alleged 'increasing threat' posed by Russia:

'It is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks. Russia is at work across Europe and in the UK today. It is MI5's job to get in the way of that.'

There was no hint in the Guardian's coverage of MI5's newspeak that the West is engaged in all of these activities too and, given the huge resources deployed by the US and Nato, to a greater extent worldwide. Nor was there any mention of the West's much larger death toll with millions of victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. It beggars belief that the Guardian 'interviewers' would be unaware of all this. So, did they consciously decide not to point out that the West does all the things Parker pinned on Russia, and to a far greater and more deadly effect? Are we to believe that Paul Johnson and Ewen MacAskill – supposedly tough, hard-hitting experienced journalists - were so meek as not to challenge Parker? Don't they realise how supine that makes them appear to their readers?

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Tue, 08 Nov 2016 00:01:00 +0000
Yemen Vote - The Responsibility To Protect Profits http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/830-yemen-vote-the-responsibility-to-protect-profits.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/830-yemen-vote-the-responsibility-to-protect-profits.html

At first sight, compassion appears to loom large in 'mainstream' politics and media. When the American and British governments target countries like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, 'compassion' is always at or near the top of the agenda.

Time and again, the cry from the political system is: 'We Must Do Something!' 'We' must save Afghan women from the 'Medieval' Taliban. 'We' must save Kuwaiti new-borns flung from their incubators by Iraqi stormtroopers. 'We' must save Iraqi civilians from Saddam's shredding machines. 'We' must save civilians in Kosovo from Milosevic's 'final solution'.

As for the suffering civilians of Aleppo in Syria, hard-right MPs like Andrew Mitchell demand, not merely that 'we' save them, not merely that 'we' engage in war to save them, but that 'we' must confront Russia, shoot down their planes if necessary, and risk actual thermonuclear war – complete self-destruction – to save them:

'If that means confronting Russian air power defensively, on behalf of the innocent people on the ground who we are trying to protect, then we should do that.'

State-corporate propaganda is full of 'shoulds', all rooted in 'our' alleged 'responsibility to protect'. Why 'us'? Why not Sweden or Iceland? Because 'we' care. 'We' just care more.

A key task of the corporate media is to pretend this is something more than a charade. The truth is hinted at in BBC political programmes that open with jovial, bombastic, comical music, as if introducing some kind of music hall farce. The cast is currently led by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a P.G. Wodehouse character reimagined by Stephen King. After chuckling about how 'There is no other country that comes close to [Britain's] record of beligerence' in invading or conquering 178 out of 200 countries existing today, Johnson opined:

'As our American friends instinctively understand, it is the existence of strong and well-resourced British Armed Forces that gives this country the ability to express and affirm our values overseas: of freedom, democracy, tolerance, pluralism.'

As Johnson doubtless understands, this was a near-exact reversal of the truth. He noted in 2014 of the 2003 Iraq invasion:

'It looks to me as though the Americans were motivated by a general strategic desire to control one of the biggest oil exporters in the world...'

If politicians are clearly bluffers, corporate journalists are selected because they powerfully echo and enhance the alleged need for compassionate 'intervention'. The likes of David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, John Rentoul, Jonathan Freedland and Oliver Kamm earn their salaries by appearing to tear their hair out in outrage at the crimes of official enemies and at the 'useful idiocy' of the perennial, naysaying 'leftists'. Aaronovitch of The Times has supported just about every opportunity to wage war, whether under Labour or the Tories, for decades. In March 1999, in an article titled, 'It's because we're rich that we must impose peace for others,' Aaronovitch commented:

'Given a choice, do we really think that the suffering civilians of Sierra Leone would object to a military presence by the British?' (Aaronovitch, The Independent, March 25, 1999)

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, he wrote of Afghanistan:

'For a fair-minded progressive the call should not be Stop the War. That slogan is now irrelevant and harmful. The requirement is surely to win the peace...

'So on Sunday, instead of listening to the same old tired stuff about cowboys with rockets and selective horror stories from Mazar; instead of marching along with mouth open and ears closed (however comforting that can be); instead of indulging yourself in a cosmic whinge, why not do something that might help the people of Afghanistan?' (Aaronovitch, 'Stop trying to stop the war, Start trying to win the peace,' The Independent, November 16, 2001)

The message is always the same: we understand you're sincere, but sometimes you have to drop your reflexive 'anti-Americanism', drop your blinkered adherence to 'principled opposition' and live in the real world. You can't just sit on your hands, you can't just righteously preach – you have to act!

This is the shtick of the corporate warmonger and it is repeated over and over again. It appears to be the key function that determines whether a commentator is granted job-for-life privileges at newspapers like the Guardian, The Times and Telegraph.

But the point is that compassion – the kind rooted in an understanding that all suffering is equal, the kind that feels even more responsibility for suffering caused by our own government – is not partial, it does not defer to power. It doesn't fall silent when 'we' are committing crimes. Quite the reverse.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Thu, 03 Nov 2016 09:22:38 +0000
‘Centrist Soft-Liberal Feminism’ - Presidentialising Hillary Clinton http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/829-centrist-soft-liberal-feminism-presidentialising-hillary-clinton.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/829-centrist-soft-liberal-feminism-presidentialising-hillary-clinton.html

A Guardian piece last month described: 'How September 11 revealed the real Hillary Clinton.'

While even supporters recognise that Clinton's campaign has been notably cold, passionless and bereft of conviction, 'The Clinton who emerges from the WNYC [New York Public Radio] tapes is passionate, raw and unrestrained.'

The Guardian quotes sources who reveal how Clinton 'showed herself to be a fighter', demonstrating a 'personal care' that 'made a profound impression'. She was 'kind and gentle', the 'most vivid memory' being of 'the senator's eyes'. Her behaviour was 'the mark of somebody who is sincere, who you want on your side'. All in all, 'she came across as an effective and empathetic leader'. Tragically, the public has seen little of this:

'I regret that sometimes she doesn't come across well in front of a crowd as people don't know her as so many of us do.'

This presidentialising of Clinton is a key, structural function of 'left-liberal' media like the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent and the BBC. Establishment candidates like Bill Clinton, Obama, and now Hillary Clinton are presented as awesomely benevolent, brave and wise. Even George W. Bush – derided as a buffoon both before and after he held office – was depicted as a calmly authoritative humanitarian. An ITN news report talked of Bush 'losing patience' with the president of crisis-hit Haiti. (ITN, 10:15 News, February 28, 2004) This was Bush as benign father figure, fierce in his determination to help the poor.

Propaganda of this kind exploits the human tendency to revere authority and celebrity. If leaders have an aura of benevolence, when their turn comes to 'intervene' with great violence in far-flung countries, few will be willing to question their good intentions.

In our time, this benevolence is often said to be indicated by a leader's alleged passion for gender and sexual rights. Why 'alleged'? Machiavelli explained:

'It is not essential... that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most essential that he should seem to have them...' (Nicolò Machiavelli, 'The Prince,' 1513, Dover publications, 1992, p.46, our emphasis)

Gender and sexual rights are favoured because they can be presented as almost apolitical: a state-corporate executive can believe in gay marriage and bomb Iraq to smithereens; she can smash whole countries with bombing, invasion and ethnic cleansing, and support equality for women.

Writing on Clinton in June, senior Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee commented:

'This is a time to celebrate. At last, a woman leads a major US party to fight for the presidency.'

Moreover:

'Clinton is not some token woman who has inched into place by offending no one. All her life she has fought the feminist cause...'

Clinton, indeed, is 'a feminist with a long track record of standing up for the right causes'.

In September, Laurie Penny, contributing editor to the New Statesman, backed Clinton 'because she is a woman and a feminist, even if her feminism is unlike my own'. For Penny, Clinton is not just 'a proud feminist woman', she is a representative of something called 'centrist soft-liberal feminism'; a claim to which we will return.

Toynbee argued that: 'Rarely has any candidate so deserved their place.' Penny agreed:

'The presidency of the United States does not belong by right to anyone... If it did, though, it would belong to Hillary Clinton.'

Toynbee asked readers to carefully inspect their minds for traces of hidden gender bias:

'If you are naturally left of centre, especially if you are a woman, yet you find you instinctively dislike her, ask yourself why.'

Penny did the same:

'If you would truly prefer a Trump presidency to this... then you may want to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, truly, if you might not be a little bit sexist.'

Toynbee emphasised Clinton's credentials:

'if she wins, what an added bonus that, as the first woman to enter the White House, she will also step through the door as by far the most qualified and experienced arrival there for generations... this first woman would also be the safest pair of hands in decades'.

So did Penny, noting that Clinton has 'a career whose length and breadth would make her the most qualified presidential candidate in history'.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Mon, 17 Oct 2016 11:53:58 +0000
Media Silence Over Deadly Sanctions: From Iraq To Syria http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/828-media-silence-over-deadly-sanctions-from-iraq-to-syria.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/828-media-silence-over-deadly-sanctions-from-iraq-to-syria.html

Awkward facts that erode the 'benign humanitarian' self-image of the West are routinely side-lined or buried by the corporate media. Consider, for example, the severe impact of sanctions imposed on Syria by the United States and the European Union.

An internal United Nations assessment, revealed on September 28 by Rania Khalek in The Intercept, makes clear that the sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and preventing vital aid, including medical supplies, from reaching those in dire need. Access has been denied for blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps and spare parts for power plants, amongst other items.

Khalek notes that the internal assessment, which was prepared for the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, describes:

'the U.S. and EU measures as "some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed." Detailing a complex system of "unpredictable and time-consuming" financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh "regarding provision of humanitarian aid."'

US sanctions on Syrian banks have made the transfer of funds into Syria 'nearly impossible'. This has had a two-fold effect:

1. Aid groups have been unable to pay local staff and suppliers which has delayed or prevented aid from reaching those in need.

2. An unofficial and unregulated financial network has proliferated, making it easier for ISIS and al Qaeda to divert funds undetected.

Khalek also reports that a leaked email from 'a key UN official' blamed US and EU sanctions for contributing to food shortages and weakened health care. In particular:

'sanctions had contributed to a doubling in fuel prices in 18 months and a 40 percent drop in wheat production since 2010, causing the price of wheat flour to soar by 300 percent and rice by 650 percent.'

The UN official cited sanctions as a 'principal factor' in the erosion of Syria's health care system. Khalek adds:

'Medicine-producing factories that haven't been completely destroyed by the fighting have been forced to close because of sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency'.

The US first imposed sanctions on Syria in 1979, after designating its government 'a State Sponsor of Terrorism'. Over time, further sanctions were added with more extreme restrictions imposed in 2011 after it was claimed the Syrian government had initiated violence against peaceful protesters (a claim that has been contested). In 2013, sanctions were eased, but only in areas that opposed President Assad. As Khalek notes:

'Around the same time, the CIA began directly shipping weapons to armed insurgents at a colossal cost of nearly $1 billion a year, effectively adding fuel to the conflict while U.S. sanctions obstructed emergency assistance to civilians caught in the crossfire.'

When Khalek challenged the US State Department about the devastating impact of sanctions on war-torn Syria, where 13 million people are dependent on humanitarian assessment, she was fed a statement 'which recycled talking points that justified sanctions against Iraq in [the] 1990s':

'U.S. sanctions against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], his backers, and the regime deprive these actors of resources that could be used to further the bloody campaign Assad continues to wage against his own people'.

The same specious propaganda arguments were used by the West, notably the United States and Britain, to 'justify' barbaric sanctions against Iraq from 1990 to 2003, following the first Gulf War. Leading politicians and officials in the West claimed that the sanctions were aimed at punishing and containing Saddam. But the victims were the Iraqi people themselves. In 1999, the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that the mortality rate for children under five in Iraq had doubled. In all, half a million young Iraqi children died as a result. Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, infamously declared that 'the price is worth it'.

Given the terrible consequences in Iraq under the crippling UN embargo, the United States government is no doubt perfectly aware of the impact of sanctions on the Syrian people. Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, observes:

'Sanctions have a terrible effect on the people more than the regime and Washington knows this from Iraq. But there's pressure in Washington to do something and sanctions look like you're doing something.'

Hans von Sponeck, who resigned from his post as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Baghdad in 2000, accused Washington and London of 'knowingly maintaining conditions of misery' in Iraq under sanctions. (Hans von Sponeck, 'A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq', Berghahn, 2006, p. 27). We are not supposed to believe that 'our' governments would do such a heinous thing. And, indeed, von Sponeck's book was essentially ignored by the western media. It has never been reviewed by any major UK newspaper, and has literally been mentioned only once (by Robert Fisk in the Independent).

As well as the current punitive sanctions on Syria, Khalek also notes that:

'in cities controlled by ISIS, the U.S. has employed some of the same tactics it condemns. For example, U.S.-backed ground forces laid siege to Manbij, a city in northern Syria not far from Aleppo that is home to tens of thousands of civilians. U.S. airstrikes pounded the city over the summer, killing up to 125 civilians in a single attack. The U.S. also used airstrikes to drive ISIS out of Kobane, Ramadi, and Fallujah, leaving behind flattened neighborhoods. In Fallujah, residents resorted to eating soup made from grass and 140 people reportedly died from lack of food and medicine during the siege.'

An honest media would report all this with headline coverage and include much critical analysis in editorials and opinion pieces. They would also ask searching questions of the British Prime Minister and other leading politicians. Needless to say, this has not happened. Indeed, our searches have revealed just one newspaper article covering the report's assessment that US and EU sanctions are contributing to the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. Patrick Cockburn reported in the Independent:

'the US and EU sanctions are imposing an economic siege on Syria as a whole which may be killing more Syrians than die of illness and malnutrition in the sieges which EU and US leaders have described as war crimes. Over half the country's public hospitals have been damaged or destroyed.'

We found nothing on the BBC News website.

Even when the Guardian trumpeted an 'exclusive' on September 30 (two days after Rania Khalek's piece in The Intercept) that more than 80% of UN aid convoys in Syria had been blocked or delayed, there was nothing about the crippling effect on aid by US and EU sanctions. There was a single passing mention to these sanctions, but only in the context of heaping blame on the official enemy Assad:

'the UN has awarded contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to individuals closely associated with Assad, including businesspeople whose companies are under US and EU sanctions.'

We asked Nick Hopkins, the author of the Guardian article, to explain why his 'exclusive' had ignored criticism of US and EU sanctions (here and here). He did not respond. Hopkins, a former BBC journalist, had also remained silent when we challenged him in 2011 about a propaganda piece on Iran. Likewise, he ignored us in 2013 when we challenged him to justify misinforming Guardian readers that merely 'tens of thousands' had died in Iraq following the 2003 invasion by US-led forces.

These are just a tiny sample of the myriad examples that reveal the Guardian's role as a liberal gatekeeper of acceptable views in the 'mainstream'. Bear this in mind the next time you see an online Guardian advert pleading:

'Producing in-depth, thoughtful, well-reported journalism is difficult and expensive – but supporting us isn't. If you value the Guardian's international coverage, please help to fund our journalism by becoming a supporter.'

Support journalism that regularly buries Western crimes? Smears Jeremy Corbyn and the public movement behind him? And promotes a 'liberal' view of climate-wrecking capitalism? No thanks.

DC

 

Update: October 10, 2016

A sentence has been changed to indicate that the claim the Syrian government initiated deadly violence against peaceful protesters is contested.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Mon, 10 Oct 2016 06:33:23 +0000
The Great Libya War Fraud http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/827-the-great-libya.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/827-the-great-libya.html

National newspapers were 'unimpressed by Jeremy Corbyn's victory' in the Labour leadership election, Roy Greenslade noted in the Guardian, surprising no-one. Corbyn secured almost 62% of the 506,000 votes cast, up from the 59% share he won in 2015, 'with virtually no press backing whatsoever'.

In reality, of course, Corbyn did not just lack press backing. He won in the face of more than one year of relentless corporate media campaigning to politically, ethically, professionally, psychologically and even sartorially discredit him. That Corbyn survived is impressive. That he won again, increased his vote-share, and took Labour Party membership from 200,000 to more than 500,000, is astonishing.

None of this moves journalists like the BBC's political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, who commented: 'there's been no big new idea or vision this week that Labour can suddenly rally round'.

Polly Toynbee explained: 'I and many Guardian colleagues can't just get behind Corbyn'. Why? 'Because Corbyn and McDonnell, burdened by their history, will never ever earn the trust of enough voters to make any plans happen.'

Toynbee fails to recognise the nature and scale of the problem. In supporting Corbyn, the public is attempting to shape a genuinely democratic choice out of the sham choices of corporate-owned politics. This awesome task begins with the public waking up to the anti-democratic role of the corporate media in defending, of course, corporate-owned politics. So-called 'mainstream media' are primarily conduits for power rather than information; they are political enforcers, not political communicators. To the extent that the public understands this, change is possible.

Supported by non-corporate, web-based media activism, Corbyn has already smoked out these media to an extent that is without precedent. Many people can see that he is a reasonable, compassionate, decent individual generating immense grassroots support. And they can see that all 'mainstream' media oppose him. It could hardly be more obvious that the corporate media speak as a single biased, elitist voice.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Mon, 03 Oct 2016 13:40:25 +0000
Menwith Menace: Britain’s Complicity In Saudi Arabia’s Terror Campaign Against Yemen http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/826-menwith-menace-britain-s-complicity-in-saudi-arabia-s-terror-campaign-against-yemen.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/826-menwith-menace-britain-s-complicity-in-saudi-arabia-s-terror-campaign-against-yemen.html

The 'mainstream' Western media is, almost by definition, the last place to consult for honest reporting of Western crimes. Consider the appalling case of Yemen which is consumed by war and an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

Since March 2015, a 'coalition' of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the US, Britain and France, has been dropping bombs on neighbouring Yemen. The scale of the bombing is indicated in a recent article by Felicity Arbuthnot - in one year, 330,000 homes, 648 mosques, 630 schools and institutes, and 250 health facilities were destroyed or damaged. The stated aim of Saudi Arabia's devastating assault on Yemen is to reinstate the Yemeni president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and to hold back Houthi rebels who are allied with the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Saudis assert that the Houthis, who control Yemen's capital, Sanaa, are 'proxies' for Iran: always a convenient propaganda claim to elicit Western backing and 'justify' intervention.

Philip Hammond, who was UK defence secretary when the Saudi bombing began in 2015, promised:

'We'll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.'

The British government has been true to its word; in this respect at least. Campaign Against Arms Trade says that UK sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of the attacks on Yemen include £2.2 billion of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1 billion of missiles, bombs and grenades, and nearly half a million pounds of armoured vehicles and tanks. Just days ago, it was revealed that Britain is now the second biggest dealer of arms in the world. Is there any clearer sign of the corrupt nature of UK foreign policy?

Perhaps there is. Last month, Oxfam reported that in excess of 21 million people in Yemen, out of a total population of around 27 million, are in need of humanitarian aid, more than in any other country. Over 6,000 people have been killed, more than 3 million displaced and more than 14 million are suffering hunger and malnutrition.

Amnesty International reports that British-made cluster bombs have been used in deadly attacks on civilians. Children are among those who have been killed and maimed. The human rights organisation says that the UK should stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty has also called for Saudi Arabia to be dropped from the United Nations Human Rights Council because of 'gross and systematic violations of human rights', both at home and abroad.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Tue, 13 Sep 2016 10:19:16 +0000
'Propagandising For War' - Gareth Porter Responds To The BBC Today Programme On Syria http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/825-propagandising-for-war-the-bbc-today-programme-on-syria.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/825-propagandising-for-war-the-bbc-today-programme-on-syria.html

A report published by the London School of Economics last month found extreme levels of bias in BBC reporting. The 'impartial' BBC's early evening news was almost five times more likely to depict Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in a negative light. In the time period studied (September 1 - November 1, 2015), no headlines on this key news programme presented Corbyn in a positive light.

But this is a mere drop in the ocean of the corporation's pro-establishment bias. It could hardly be more obvious that BBC news reports, comment pieces and discussions are overwhelmingly hostile to US-UK government enemies like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Syria, and overwhelmingly favourable to the United States and Israel. It has long been clear to us that BBC journalists perceive this, not as bias, but as an accurate depiction of a world that really is divided into well-intentioned Western 'good guys' and their enemies, the 'bad guys'.

On August 20, the BBC website featured a Radio 4 Today programme discussion hosted by former political editor Nick Robinson interviewing BBC World Affairs Editor John Cody Fidler-Simpson and Dr. Karin von Hippel, a former State Department official dealing with US strategy against Islamic State.

The discussion was introduced with the following written text, which was repeated in slightly altered form in Robinson's spoken introduction:

'Exactly five years ago President Obama called on the Syrian President Bashir-Al-Assad to step down but today he is still in power.'

The prominence and repetition of the observation of course conferred great significance. The implication: for the BBC, Obama is not just the leader of another country, he is a kind of World President with the authority to call on other leaders to 'step down'. In reality, Obama made his demand, not in the name of the United Nations, or of the Syrian people, but because, as President George H.W. Bush once declared: 'what we say goes'.

In his introduction, Robinson described a disturbing image that 'has gone viral on social media' of a Syrian child allegedly injured by Russian or Syrian bombing. The child, five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, is depicted sitting between Obama and Putin. Robinson noted that one of these images carried the sarcastic caption: 'Thank you for keeping me safe.' We have found the image but not that caption.

One reasonable interpretation of Robinson's introduction, then: five years ago, Obama called on Assad to go, but 'failed' to follow through in making that happen – 'little Omran', and numerous other Syrian civilians, are continuing to suffer as a result. Adam Johnson writes that the viral picture of Daqneesh has 'amped up calls for direct US intervention against the Syrian government' made by numerous 'laptop bombardiers' 'jumping from one outrage in urgent need of US bombs to the next'. The BBC's Today programme discussion can be understood as a further example of this media herd behaviour.

John Simpson agreed with Robinson that Obama had been keen to avoid 'the kind of dreadful errors' - he meant crimes - that George W. Bush had committed in Iraq, and so had 'wanted to stay out of things'. According to Simpson, Obama's failure to intervene in Syria has been a 'disaster'. After all, Russia recently 'managed to attack Syria with its planes from the airfields of Iran'. As investigative journalist Gareth Porter notes below, the Syrian government in fact invited Russian military support, so Russia can hardly be described as attacking Syria. Simpson, by contrast, argued that Russo-Iranian cooperation was 'a link up which would have caused absolute consternation in the United States, and worldwide, just a few years ago'. In other words, the world's sole superpower has proven powerless to stop the kind of military cooperation it practices the world over all the time – how awful!

Simpson's imperial sympathies have been aired before on the BBC, notably in October 2014:

'The world (well, most of it) wants an active, effective America to act as its policeman, sorting out the problems smaller countries can't face alone.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Thu, 25 Aug 2016 11:30:38 +0000
Fifteen Years Of Media Lens - An Appeal For Support http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/824-fifteen-years-of-media-lens-an-appeal-for-support.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/824-fifteen-years-of-media-lens-an-appeal-for-support.html

 

Sci-Fi Surreal

Fifteen years ago this month we sent out our first media alert.

We began Media Lens, not because we believed high quality broadsheets were offset by a morally debased tabloid press; not because the 'left-leaning' liberal press was fine, but the Tory press was dreadful; not because the press as a whole was biased on some issues, or plagued by 'churnalism'. We started Media Lens because the deeper we looked into almost every issue, the more we found that the truth of corporate media performance was actually breath-taking, jaw-dropping, sci-fi surreal. We found that the entire system had evolved and been designed to systematically filter out, reject, marginalise, mock and ignore just about everything and everyone that threatened the elite-run, state-corporate status quo.

This doesn't mean that everything is filtered out – the system must incorporate small doses of diluted or specialised dissent: a Fisk, a Boyle, a Jones or two - to maintain the myth of a 'spectrum' catering for all, heroically defending democracy. And, particularly in the age of non-corporate, web-based whistleblowing, some truths simply cannot be denied.

Our point is that powerful tidal forces both within and without the corporate media are flowing relentlessly against threatening truths, and that this has been enough to stifle challenges to the status quo. These forces are generated by the demands of corporate profit, by state power promoting corporate profit, and by the exigencies of class war (the 1% keeping the 99% away from the levers of power).

If the response that initially drove us to start Media Lens in 2001 was a kind of stunned disbelief, nothing could have prepared us for what followed. For fifteen years we have found ourselves confronting the extraordinary phenomenon of otherwise sane, highly-educated, often amiable human beings commenting from inside a corporate media bubble that excludes almost everything that matters without their even noticing.

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Mon, 25 Jul 2016 07:17:35 +0000
The Great Iraq War Fraud http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/823-the-great-iraq-war-fraud.html http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2016/823-the-great-iraq-war-fraud.html

Last week, seven years after the Iraq Inquiry was set up, Sir John Chilcot finally delivered his long-awaited report. Although it stopped short of declaring the Iraq war illegal, and although it failed to examine the real motives for war, the report was not quite the whitewash that had been feared by peace campaigners.

Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, gave a succinct summary of the Chilcot report, listing four of the main findings (each followed by our own comment):

1. There was no imminent threat to Britain from Saddam Hussein, so war in March 2003 was unnecessary.

In reality: utterly devastated by war, bombing and 12 years of sanctions, Iraq posed no threat whatsoever towards Britain or the US. The idea that there was any kind of threat from this broken, impoverished country was simply a lie; a propaganda fabrication by warmongering cynics and corporate hangers-on eager for a piece of the pie.

2. The existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was presented with a certainty that was not justified. It was never 'beyond doubt' that the weapons existed. None have been found in the subsequent 13 years.

In reality: it was completely clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the whole 'weapons of mass destruction' issue was a propaganda fabrication; a way of suggesting a 'threat' where none existed. Iraq only ever possessed battlefield biological and chemical weapons that were of no conceivable threat to the West. Iraq didn't even use them when the West attacked the country in 1991. Not only that, but UN weapons inspectors had overseen the near-complete destruction of even these tinpot devices between 1991-1998; only 'sludge' remained: a known fact. Iraq was of no more threat to the West in 2002-2003 than Thailand or Iceland; that is all that needs to be said. Almost everything else is superfluous: cynical propaganda which was, and is, manipulated by violent Western leaderships that think nothing of smashing other countries to bits for whatever reason they declare 'necessary'.

3. There was a failure of democratic government and accountability, with Blair keeping most of his Cabinet in the dark. This meant that he avoided telling them things which they ought to have known.

In reality: The Americans decided to exploit the dead of September 11 to wage war in the name of power and profit. Blair decided to take part in the crime, come what may, from the start. His whole intention was to make that possible, to trap Iraq into war and to use the UN to apply a veneer of legality to the monstrous crime. One million people paid with their lives, and a whole country was destroyed in the process. Bush at least had an 'excuse'; he was, after all, a hard-right president operating out of a notoriously venal, violent and corrupt Republican 'party'. (As Noam Chomsky has noted, it is wrong to consider it a legitimate party. It is merely a collection of greedy vested interests, qualifying it as a candidate for 'for the most dangerous organization in human history'.) Blair, on the other hand, was prime minister on behalf of a supposedly left-leaning Labour party rooted in supposedly genuine ethical values. His rejection of democracy in the name of war was the perfect culmination of his coup transforming Labour into another power-serving Tory party.

4. George Bush and Blair worked to undermine the authority of the UN.

In reality: Bush and Blair sought to exploit the good name of the UN to provide a cover for their crime. The intention was to use the appearance of diplomacy as propaganda justifying war. If Saddam could be trapped into appearing intransigent in the face of UN resolutions, so much the better for war. Diplomacy was only ever perceived as a means to achieve war, not peace. The whole 'weapons of mass destruction' fraud had been concocted by conspirators intent on war. Why would those same fraudsters attempt to work through the UN to achieve peace? That was the last outcome they wanted.

In an already infamous phrase, Blair told Bush that:

'I will be with you, whatever'.

Those words will haunt Blair to his grave.There is no doubt that his reputation is now in tatters, even in 'mainstream' circles. There have been follow-up calls for him to be punished by being thrown out of the Queen's Privy Council, impeached and put on trial for misleading Parliament, and charged with war crimes.

Unusually for the 'mainstream' press, Andrew Buncombe of the Independent wrote a piece focusing on the death toll in Iraq. As he notes, a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet in 2006, estimated the number of Iraqi dead at around 650,000. Even worse, a report (pdf) last year by Physicians for Social Responsibility estimated the Iraq death toll as around one million. Added to this ghastly pyramid of corpses, the Bush-Blair 'War on Terror' has led to 220,000 dead in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. These appalling figures hardly ever appear in the 'mainstream' media. As Les Roberts, one of the Lancet authors, observes, the media is guilty of 'failing to report on uncomfortable truths.'

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editor@medialens.org (Editor) Alerts 2016 Tue, 12 Jul 2016 23:50:10 +0000