- In Alerts 2006
- Post 09 January 2006
- Last Updated on 09 January 2006
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On October 20, 2005, we published a Media Alert, ‘Real Men Go To Tehran,’
We detailed media reactions after an anonymous British official had accused Iran of supplying Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated roadside bombs that had killed eight British soldiers and two security guards since May, 2005. Tony Blair commented at an October 7 press conference:
"There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq." (Adrian Blomfield and Anton La Guardia, 'Stop meddling in Iraq, Blair tells Teheran,' Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2005)
We noted that, despite obvious reasons for scepticism, much of the British media had once again taken Blair at his word. Anton La Guardia wrote in the Daily Telegraph:
"The best guess is that Iran has adopted a 'ballots and bullets' policy: helping the insurgency to sap America's strength while supporting political allies to take power in Baghdad. So far, the policy has been highly successful." (La Guardia, 'Troops are pawns in vicious Iran game,' Daily Telegraph, October 6, 2005)
The BBC's Paul Reynolds noted that the British accusation came “after months of frustration". Reynolds explained that William Patey, the British ambassador to Baghdad, had "time and again complained to his Iranian counterpart that there is a traceable link" between the bombs that have killed British soldiers "and devices used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which is backed by Iran". (Reynolds, 'Hardball diplomacy goes public,' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4314032.stm, October 5, 2005)
The Sun‘s political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, declared:
"We are now to all intents and purposes at war with Iran. It may still be a war of words - and worried Western leaders will do their best to keep it like that. But if oil-hungry Teheran has its way, this is doomed to turn to bloody conflict." (Kavanagh, 'Why West is paying for going soft on Iran,' The Sun, October 12, 2005)
More recently, on January 5, the Independent reported a government “U-turn” over the claims:
“Britain has dropped the charge of Iranian involvement... Government officials now acknowledge that there is no evidence, or even reliable intelligence, connecting the Iranian government to the infra-red triggered bombs which have killed 10 British soldiers in the past eight months.” (Kim Sengupta, Ben Russell, Terri Judd, ‘Anger as Britain admits it was wrong to blame Iran for deaths in Iraq,’ The Independent, January 5, 2006)
Sue Smith, the mother of a young soldier killed in Iraq, put much of mainstream journalism to shame when she commented of the British and American governments:
"They don't like Iran and they are using this for sympathy towards their attitudes, claiming that they were involved in the murder of our sons. I had the impression from the moment they made that statement that it was purely bully-boy tactics against Iran. It makes me really angry. They should be dealing with the people who killed our sons and not using it as a weapon. The way I look at it, it was just an excuse for another invasion. They have a foothold in the Middle East and they want to go further." (Ibid)
We sent a copy of the Independent article to the BBC’s Paul Reynolds, asking:
“Having initially covered this story (below), are you planning to return to it now?” (January 5, 2006)
“Actually David, no. The FO [Foreign Office] and MOD [Ministry of Defence] put out a joint statement today denying the story so one is left a bit in limbo! Not that I do not trust Michael Evans of The Times but it is too intangible to go on at the moment.” (January 5, 2006)
“Thanks, Paul. It's not just Michael Evans - the Independent has also published a substantial report on the issue (below), as has the Belfast Telegraph. The original story was also "intangible" - we only had British government sources to go on, after all - and surely the U-turn and latest twist you mention are at least worth reporting. Is this a further sign that, post-Hutton, the BBC is more reluctant than ever to subject the government to criticism?
David” (January 6, 2006)
Reynolds replied again:
The earlier sources were clear -- the ambassador who briefed and the PM. I do not know the source of these latest claims.
PR” (January 6, 2006)
Finally, we replied:
“Thanks, Paul. Yes, clear - and clearly unreliable, and therefore ‘intangible‘.
David” (January 6, 2006)
Geldof, Goldsmith And Cameron’s Ethical Foreign Policy
This further nail in the coffin of government credibility will change nothing for most mainstream journalists, who are paid large sums to affect wide-eyed gullibility and innocence.
The latest example of wilful blindness involves the alleged prostration of new Tory leader David Cameron before the principle of unconditional compassion. Last month the media reported that Band Aid co-founder Sir Bob Geldof would participate in Cameron's latest policy commission on globalisation. The Times described how Geldof would “form an unlikely alliance with Peter Lilley, the former Social Security Secretary, who will chair Mr Cameron's latest attempt to rewrite Tory policy and transform the party's uncaring image“. (David Charter, ‘Thatcher-basher Geldof advises Cameron's team,‘ The Times, December 28, 2005)
The crucial word here is “image”. Zac Goldsmith, editor of the Ecologist, has also signed up. As though the last 25 years of political and business subversion of the green movement had never happened, environment writer Mark Lynas commented in the Independent on Sunday:
“Perhaps the Rubicon was crossed when David Cameron was seen with Zac Goldsmith, editor of The Ecologist, discussing the ins and outs of global warming. Once the party of big business and anti-regulation, the Tories seem set to outflank a struggling Labour on the issue.
“What is so surprising is not just the shifting of the ideological landscape that this implies, but the fact that everyone agrees that it matters.” (Lynas, ‘2006 What’s in it for you,’ Independent on Sunday, January 1, 2006)
Lynas is thereby guaranteed the kind of long and successful career within the mainstream won as a result of similar comments by predecessors John Vidal, Paul Brown, Geoffrey Lean, Sir Jonathan Porritt, Lord Peter Melchett et al in the late 1980s. As ever, no attempt is made to identify the internal structural changes driving this astonishing revolution in what was “once the party of big business and anti-regulation” - it is enough that Tory leaders proclaim the revolution.
A spokesman for Geldof insisted his view is that Third World poverty “should be above politics - it is politically very important but should not be a political football".
But nothing is above politics for the Tory party. Bruce Anderson explains in the Times:
“Anyone who wants to understand the changes that are now taking place in the Tory party should begin by considering a Latin tag - suaviter in modo, fortiter in re“.
Anderson translates: “‘be firm on the essentials of policy, while using conciliatory language to explain yourself to the public‘. That is Cameronism.” (Bruce Anderson, ‘Exorcise these Tory ghosts,‘ The Times, December 28, 2005)
But that is not Cameronism. Like Blairism, Cameronism is about hiding, not explaining, the truth. It is about subordinating people and planet to profit while manufacturing an image of concern and social responsibility. Cameronian “compassion“ is quite obviously a revamped version of Blair‘s fraudulent “ethical foreign policy“.
Richard Ingrams notes in the Independent that Cameron is being advised on foreign policy matters by the right-wing hawk Michael Gove, a keen supporter of George Bush and Ariel Sharon, “so it is fair to assume that when compassion is on the Cameronian menu the Iraqis and the Palestinians will not be getting much of a share”. (Ingrams, ‘Richard Ingrams' Week: Cameron on Iraq,’ The Independent, December 24, 2005)
Does George Bush Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Returning to Iraq, the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, notes that the United States has been the biggest foreign player in the Middle East for 50 years, but that Bush has created “a much more intimate connection by going to war and occupying Iraq”. (Bowen, ‘Middle East on the road to change,’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/middle_east/4551726.stm, January 2, 2006)
“Intimate” is an interesting adjective to describe the relationship between an imperial superpower and its victims. Bowen writes blandly that the US administration justifies the enormous human and financial cost of the war “by saying that it is spreading democracy to people who deserve it yet have been denied it”.
This sounds like objective, balanced reporting - Bowen is merely reporting the US government view, after all. But the meaning is changed by subsequent comments. Bowen observes that “Voting in itself is not a magic formula to make people's lives better... Under American protection, Iraq's newly elected politicians now have to show they can build a democracy.”
“Under American protection“? This is certainly one version of events, but not the neutral, balanced version promised by the BBC. Orwell is already turning in his grave. But there is more:
“Critics - enemies - of Washington are still very easy to find in the Middle East. But the irony is that the US intervention in the region, and the way that it is pushing its democracy agenda, has created a political space that dissenters can occupy.”
Bowen lists alleged examples of democratisation in the region, before concluding:
“All this does not mean that the dreams that the Bush administration has for the region are coming true.”
This is the key propaganda sentence: the United States and Britain are driven by fundamentally benign motives in the Middle East - by “dreams” of democracy, no less. Our governments invade countries illegally, wage vast propaganda campaigns to deceive their own populations, and kill and injure countless thousands of innocent civilians. But somehow, at heart, they are striving to spread liberty, democracy and the rights of man.
Alas, we can be sure that US “dreams” will not accommodate the views of Iraqis “under American protection” recorded in a British Ministry of Defence poll leaked to the British press in late October. The poll, conducted last August, showed that 82 per cent of Iraqis were “strongly opposed” to the presence of ‘coalition’ troops in Iraq. Less than 1 per cent said the troops were responsible for an improvement in security. Given that the Kurds, who make up 20 per cent of the Iraqi population, largely welcomed the US and British presence in Iraq, the survey revealed “negligible” support for the ‘coalition’ among Iraqi Arabs. (Patrick Cockburn, ‘Death toll of US troops in Iraq approaches 2,000,’ The Independent, October 24, 2005)
The figures are unsurprising, given that 71 per cent of Iraqis report having no access to clean water, 70 per cent have no functioning sewerage system, 47 per cent are short of electricity, and 40 per cent of southern Iraqis are unemployed. A database search by Media Lens found a grand total of five mentions of the leaked Ministry of Defence poll figures in the entire British national press.
Even the figures cited above were suitably buried several paragraphs into an Independent article titled: ‘Death toll of US troops in Iraq approaches 2,000.’
Jeremy Bowen’s version of events is part of a long tradition at the BBC. On the BBC's Newsnight programme last April, Mark Urban discussed the significance of a lessening of Iraqi attacks on US forces:
"It is indeed the first real evidence that President Bush's grand design of toppling a dictator and forcing a democracy into the heart of the Middle East could work." (Urban, Newsnight, BBC2, April 12, 2005)
In a 2003 Panorama special, Matt Frei said:
"There's no doubt that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East... is now increasingly tied up with military power." (Frei, BBC1, Panorama, April 13, 2003)
When we challenged Newsnight editor, Peter Barron, to tell us if he thought this comment was objective and balanced, he replied:
"I don't think it's right to challenge the assumption that he [Bush] wants democracy in Iraq." (Email to Media Lens, April 14, 2005)
More recently, Paul Wood declared on the BBC’s December 22 News at Ten that British and American forces "came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights".
We asked the BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden (December 22, 2005), if she stood by this remarkable, and obviously biased, comment. Boaden replied:
“Dear Mr Edwards
Paul Wood's analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.
Director, BBC News” (January 5, 2006)
That is flatly false. When British and American forces "came to Iraq in the first place" the emphasis was entirely on disarming an alleged "serious and current threat" to the West from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Only when this claim was revealed as an indefensible fraud, did Blair and, later, Bush begin emphasising "democracy and human rights".
Even if your comments had been accurate, they would have missed the point. Wood said US-UK troops "came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights". He did not say: 'Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair claim that US-UK forces came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights'. Wood was presenting as truth arguments made in "many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair". Is it the job of objective, neutral BBC journalists to take it as read that our leaders are telling the truth? Isn't that the task of propagandists?
David Edwards” (January 5, 2006)
After reading this exchange on the Media Lens message board, media analyst Darren Smith wrote to Boaden reminding her of Andreas Whittam Smith’s May 2003 comments in the Independent:
“There was no ambiguity about the reasons for fighting. The only text which matters is the motion the Prime Minister put down in the House of Commons on 18 March, just before hostilities began. It asked members of Parliament to support the decision of Her Majesty's Government ‘that the United Kingdom should use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction‘.
“There was nothing else in the motion other than citations of various United Nations Security Council resolutions. Regime change was not a British war aim.” (Whittam Smith, ‘If the weapons are not found, Blair must quit,’ The Independent, May 19, 2003)
But this cannot have been true because it conflicts with the needs of established power. It conflicts with the need for professional journalists - the hoary ’cynics’ of their own self-serving mythology - to never learn from the past, to stand wide-eyed and breathless as they amplify the latest attempts to flog vice as virtue.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Paul Reynolds
Write to Helen Boaden
Write to Jeremy Bowen
Write to Bruce Anderson