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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

December 1, 2004



Tomorrow, December 2, the peace group A Call For Light is organising a peaceful vigil outside the BBC, Bush House, Aldwych, London, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm.

Like the rest of the mainstream media, the BBC did next to nothing to expose the devastating effects of US-UK war and sanctions on the civilian population of Iraq from 1990 onwards. Ahead of last year's war, the BBC endlessly echoed and channelled UK government propaganda claims, almost never subjecting those claims to serious challenge.

Post-invasion and post-Hutton, the BBC has presented the occupation of Iraq as a flawed but well-intentioned act of 'liberation' and 'rebuilding'. Yesterday, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network reported of Fallujah:

"Approximately 70 percent of the houses and shops were destroyed in the city and those still standing are riddled with bullets." ('Fallujah still needs more supplies despite aid arrival',, November 30, 2004)

You would not know from BBC coverage that a vast war crime has taken place in Fallujah. If Saddam Hussein had demolished 70% of Kuwait in 1990, it would surely have been declared one of the great atrocities of the twentieth century.

Legitimising The Illegitimate

The US-UK "coalition" would soon "hand over power to the Iraqis" on June 30, Laura Trevelyan declared on BBC1 in May. (16:45 News, May 23, 2004) Thus "soon the occupation will end", Orla Guerin observed. (BBC1, 19:00 News, June 16, 2004)

The death of a British soldier in Basra was particularly tragic, Guerin noted on the day of the "handover" (June 28), because he was "the last soldier to die under the occupation". (BBC1, 13:00 News, June 28, 2004) On the same programme, Matt Frei declared Iraq "sovereign and free" on "an enormously significant day for Iraq". It was an "historic day", anchor Anna Ford agreed.

Guerin described how Iraqi troops participating in an official ceremony "have waited all their lives for freedom", and so "feel satisfaction that power will be back in Iraqi hands". (Guerin, BBC1, 18:00 News, June 28, 2004)

Back in the real world, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times:

"The formal occupation of Iraq came to an ignominious end yesterday... In reality, the occupation will continue under another name, most likely until a hostile Iraqi populace demands that we leave." (Krugman, 'Who lost Iraq?', New York Times, June 29, 2004)

Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent:

"Alice in Wonderland could not have improved on this. The looking-glass reflects all the way from Baghdad to Washington... Those of us who put quotation marks around 'liberation' in 2003 should now put quotation marks around 'sovereignty'." (Fisk, 'The handover: Restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - or Alice in Wonderland?' The Independent, June 29, 2004)

In November, Anna Ford continued with the BBC's preferred version of events:

"Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he has given American and Iraqi forces the authority to clear Fallujah of terrorists." (Ford, BBC1, 13:00 News, November 8, 2004)

Caroline Hawley noted in July that the interim Iraqi government would need to ensure the security of the Iraqi people "if it's to keep their support". (Hawley, BBC1, 18:00 News, July 28, 2004)

We await credible evidence of this support for the US puppet regime.

Nicholas Witchell said in September:

"Dr. Allawi may say, 'we're winning', and there may be a time soon when that claim is more obviously justifiable. If that time arrives, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be delighted." (Witchell, BBC1, 22:00 News, September 23, 2004)

On October 20, Ben Brown said:

"The people of southern Iraq know they have their freedom." (Brown, BBC1, 22:00 News, October 20, 2004)

Imagine our reaction if a Russian journalist had said the same of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

On October 21, Caroline Hawley observed:

"It's hard to imagine that there can be free and fair elections across this country without a dramatic improvement in security." (Hawley, BBC1, 22:00 News, October 21, 2004)

With the United States having so far lost 1,100 troops killed in action in Iraq, with ten times that number wounded, at a cost of $200 billion, some find it hard to imagine that Bush and Rumsfeld would allow free and fair elections +regardless+ of the 'security' situation.

Dr. Wamidh Omar Nadhmi, a senior political scientist at Baghdad University, and an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein's government, is official spokesman for the Iraqi National Foundation Congress. Nadhmi says:

"We suggested to the occupation forces and Iraqi government four requirements for an Iraqi election: an international committee of oversight; an immediate ceasefire because we cannot have elections under bombardment and rockets; [the] withdrawal of American troops from the major cities one month before the election." (Quoted, Dahr Jamail, 'Iraqi Critics Speak Out on Occupation, Elections,' The New Standard, November 22, 2004)

Ignoring these suggestions, which Nadhmi describes as prerequisites for a free and democratic election, the interim government declared martial law. Nadhmi asks:

"How can we have a free election under martial law?... Martial law is one of the nails in the coffin of this regime. The last pretext for democracy here is now buried. Their declaration of martial law is a declaration of political bankruptcy."

From An Establishment Perspective

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)

New York Times commentator Thomas Friedman allows us to decode the propaganda:

"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (Quoted, John Pilger, 'The New Rulers of the World', Verso, 2001, p.114)

US presidential candidate and congressman, Dennis Kucinich, wrote in March, 2003:

"Is President Bush's war in Iraq about oil? Of course it is. Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one: Oil is a major factor in the President's march to war, just as oil is a major factor in every aspect of US policy in the Persian Gulf." (Kucinich, 'Obviously Oil', AlterNet, March 11, 2003)

The BBC's John Humphrys said:

"So maybe it's not being too naive to think America really does want to use its position as the world's only superpower to spread freedom and democracy. The truth is, it's a question of where. Only last week James Woolsey - who once ran the CIA and has been appointed to run the new information ministry in Iraq - claimed America had been actively promoting democracy for most of the past century." (Humphrys, 'Bush turns a blind eye to the wars he doesn't want to fight', Sunday Times, April 13, 2003)

Mel Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former CIA analyst, takes a different view:

"None of this smells right at this point....and points to the politicization of the reconstruction process. Too many contracts have already gone to Cheney's old firm (Halliburton) and Shultz's old firm (Bechtel). The possible appointment of Jim Woolsey is total farce. Woolsey was a disaster as CIA director in the 90s and is now running around this country calling for a World War IV to deal with the Islamic problem. This is a dangerous individual who should not be part of any reconstruction process." ('War in Iraq With Mel Goodman, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy', April 15, 2003,

On the BBC's Newsnight programme, Gavin Esler noted that US crimes at Abu Ghraib prison had produced: "Images that shamed America's mission in Iraq." (Esler, Newsnight, August 24, 2004)

Much as crimes in Kabul "shamed" the Soviet Union's mission in Afghanistan in the 1980s, perhaps.

In March 2003, Newsnight's Kirsty Wark's observed that the declining humanitarian situation in Iraq threatened to "take the shine off" the "Shock and Awe" bombing campaign. (Wark, Newsnight, March 21, 2003)

Much as the humanitarian situation threatened to "take the shine off" Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

In July 2004, Newsnight described how Iraqi insurgents were "blighting US attempts to bring peace and stability to Iraq". (Newsnight, July 5, 2004)

Resistance to an illegal superpower invasion by a quarter of a million troops is the real obstacle to peace, according to the BBC. Imagine the BBC declaring (not merely reporting) that the US-UK occupation was blighting international attempts to bring peace and stability to Iraq.

On October 1, Nicholas Witchell reported that a series of insurgent car bombs in Baghdad were "intended to undermine the future". (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, October 1, 2004)

As opposed to the +Americans'+ version of "the future".

On the BBC's Politics Show, Jeremy Vine suggested that the failure to discover any WMDs in Iraq would be "toe-curlingly embarrassing for the politicians". (Vine, The Politics Show, BBC1, May 4, 2003)

Imagine launching an illegal invasion, occupation and devastation of a defenceless Third World country, killing tens of thousands of civilians on a completely concocted pretext. What could be more "embarrassing"? Or indeed a more compelling case for a war crimes tribunal?

Earlier this year, Nicholas Witchell was happy to confuse the issue of the Daily Mirror's pictures of alleged abuse of Iraqis with the wider issue of British abuse:

"After the appalling +reality+ of what the Americans have been doing, the Mirror's pictures threatened to compromise the work of every British soldier." (Witchell, BBC1 22:00 News, May 14, 2004, original emphasis)

But British abuses +were+ real. For example, according to the Red Cross, married father of two, Baha Mousa, was among nine men seized at a hotel in Basra by British troops in September 2003:

"'Following their arrest, the nine men were made to kneel, face and hands against the ground, as if in a prayer position,' the report said. 'The soldiers stamped on the back of the neck of those raising their head.'" (Agencies, 'Red Cross report details alleged Iraq abuses', The Guardian, May 10, 2004)

Amnesty International launched "a scathing attack on the British military in Iraq", the Guardian reported. Amnesty produced evidence of eight cases in which Iraqi civilians, including a girl aged eight, were shot dead by British soldiers in southern Iraq.

Naming The Bad Guys

Discussing the war against the insurgency, Newsnight's Kirsty Wark asked a US military expert: "Can you choke off terrorism in Iraq?" (Newsnight, September 23, 2004)

James Robbins reported that the interim government was faced by: "Saddam loyalists joined by al Qaeda elements." (Robbins, BBC1, 13:00 News, June 28, 2004)

Most experts reject the claim that al Qaeda and other foreign fighters are at the heart of the insurgency. Toby Dodge, a British-based analyst, told the Al Jazeera website:

"[The] Insurgency is a national phenomenon fuelled by alienation. I don't think this war is winnable because they have alienated the base of support across Iraqi society." (Quoted, James Cogan, 'Iraqi elections announced amid mass repression,' November 22, 2004)

On November 16, the Los Angeles Times reported that US-UK forces are fighting "a homegrown uprising dominated by Iraqis, not foreign fighters." According to the paper:

"Of the more than 1,000 men between the ages of 15 and 55 who were captured in intense fighting in the center of the insurgency over the last week, just 15 are confirmed foreign fighters, Gen. George W. Casey, the top US ground commander in Iraq, said Monday."

The LA Times added: "American commanders said their best estimates of the proportion of foreigners among their enemies is [sic] about 5 percent." (Quoted, Norman Solomon, 'Will the Real "Iraqi Forces" Please Stand Up?', November 19, 2004

In October, the BBC's Paul Wood referred to the "so-called 'resistance fighters'". (Wood, BBC1, 13:00 News, October 22, 2004)

Ben Brown described Fallujah as "a haven for Sunni extremists". (Brown, BBC1, 18:30 News, October 27, 2004)

In September 2004, Witchell said:

"As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life - either as a result of mistakes by the Americans, or, far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents." (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, September 30, 2004)

A research study published in The Lancet in October made a conservative estimate of 98,000 civilian deaths since the invasion:

"The researchers found that the majority of deaths were attributed to violence, which were primarily the result of military actions by Coalition forces. Most of those killed by Coalition forces were women and children... Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of Coalition forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery." ('Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion', October 28, 2004

Blair's Passion

Tony Blair "passionately believes" that Saddam Hussein had to be confronted to avoid future regrets, the BBC's Laura Trevelyan insisted. (Trevelyan, BBC1, 13:00 News, January 14, 2003)

By contrast, former cabinet minister, Clare Short, insists that Tony Blair used "various ruses" and "a series of half-truths, exaggerations, reassurances that were not the case to get us into conflict by the spring". (Patrick Wintour, 'Short: I was briefed on Blair's secret war pact', The Guardian, June 18, 2003)

Paul O'Neill, former US Treasury secretary, explained how the Bush administration came to office determined to topple Saddam Hussein, using the September 11 attacks as a pretext: "It was all about finding a way to do it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.'" (O'Neill, quoted, Julian Borger, 'Bush decided to remove Saddam "on day one"', The Guardian, January 12, 2004)

O'Neill reports seeing one memorandum, long before September 11, 2001, preparing for war dating from the first days of the administration. Another, marked "secret" said, "Plan for Post-Saddam Iraq". O'Neill also saw a Pentagon document entitled "Foreign Suitors For Iraqi Oilfield Contracts", which discussed dividing Iraq's fuel reserves up between the world's oil companies. So much for Blair's passionate beliefs!

Matt Frei had this to say:

"If you remember, Paul O'Neill was sacked mainly because he was incompetent, and he was more infamous for his gaffes than his insights on economic theory. He once famously said that the collapse of the energy giant Enron was an example of the genius of capitalism, and perhaps more accurately that the tax code in America was 9,500 words of complete gibberish." (Frei, Newsnight, BBC2, January 12, 2004)

The 1991 Gulf War And The Effects Of Sanctions

A Guardian report cited by historian Mark Curtis found that the issue of oil featured in 4% of BBC1 reports and in 3% of BBC2 reports - a remarkable achievement, given the obvious central concern. The BBC told its reporters to be "circumspect" about pictures of death and injury. ('"Circumspect" BBC', The Guardian, January 15, 1991)

David Dimbleby asked on live BBC TV:

"Isn't it in fact true that America, by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we've seen, is the only potential world policeman?" (Quoted, John Pilger, Hidden Agendas, Vintage, 1998, p.45)

Only 7% of the 88,500 tons of bombs dropped in the 1991 war employed 'smart' technology. The accuracy of these weapons was indicated by the performance of the much-vaunted Patriot missile system, declared 98% successful in intercepting and destroying Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 war. Professor Ted Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was asked by Congress to investigate the 98% claim. Much to his surprise, Postol found that the Patriot's success rate was rather less impressive than claimed:

"It became clear that it wasn't even close to intercepting +any+ targets, let alone some targets." (Postol, Great Military Blunders, Channel 4, March 2, 2000, original emphasis)

In a 2002 documentary, the BBC's John Simpson reported of the 1991 Gulf War:

"The big attack didn't bring the terrible loss of life that Saddam had feared." (Simpson, 'Saddam: A Warning from History', BBC1, November 3, 2002)

In late 1991, the Medical Educational Trust in London estimated that up to a quarter of a million men, women and children had died in the assault. On his return from Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the war, UN diplomat Marrti Ahtisaari wrote:

"Nothing that we had seen or read had prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results..." (Quoted, Milan Rai, War On Iraq, Verso, 2002, p.135)

The BBC's Ben Brown said of the effects of UN sanctions:

"He [Saddam Hussein] claims UN sanctions have reduced many of his citizens to near starvation - pictures like these [of a malnourished baby and despairing mother] have been a powerful propaganda weapon for Saddam, which he'll now have to give up." (Brown, BBC News, June 20, 1996)

In the Observer of June 23, 2002, John Sweeney reviewed arguments made in his BBC documentary on the same day:

"The Iraqi dictator says his country's children are dying in their thousands because of the West's embargoes. John Sweeney, in a TV documentary to be shown tonight, says the figures are bogus." (Sweeney, 'How Saddam 'staged' fake baby funerals', The Observer, June 23, 2002)

In his Observer article, Sweeney wrote:

"In 1999 Unicef, in co-operation with the Iraqi government, made a retrospective projection of 500,000 excess child deaths in the 1990s. The projection is open to question. It was based on data from within a regime that tortures children with impunity. All but one of the researchers used by Unicef were employees of the Ministry of Health, according to the Lancet."

We asked Hans von Sponeck, who ran the UN's 'oil for food' programme in Iraq, to respond. Von Sponeck described Sweeney's article as "exactly the kind of journalism that is Orwellian, double-speak. No doubt, the Iraq Government has manipulated data to suit its own purposes, everyone of the protagonists unfortunately does this. A journalist should not. UNICEF has used large numbers of international researchers and applied sophisticated methods to get these important figures.

"Yes, the Ministry of Health personnel cooperated with UNICEF but ultimately it was UNICEF and UNICEF alone which carried out the data analysis exactly because they did not want to politicise their work... This article is a very serious misrepresentation." (Email to Media Lens, June 24, 2002)

Former UN Assistant Secretary-General, Denis Halliday, who set up and ran the UN's 'oil for food' programme, has said:

"Washington, and to a lesser extent London, have deliberately played games through the Sanctions Committee with this programme for years - it's a deliberate ploy... That's why I've been using the word 'genocide', because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I'm afraid I have no other view at this late stage." (Interview with Media Lens, May 2000,


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. We urge you to peacefully protest the BBC on December 2.

In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

You can contact any of the BBC journalists named above by following the same pattern. For example, Matt Frei's email address is:

Please copy all emails to us at Media Lens:

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Posted by David Edwards @ 01:28 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 30, 2004


"There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded. There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can't move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands." (Dr. Sami al-Jumaili, main Fallujah hospital, November 9, 2004)

"Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war." (Thich Nhat Than)


This Thursday, December 2, the peace group A Call For Light is organising a peaceful vigil outside the BBC, Bush House, Aldwych, London, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. (

Should you take time out to participate in this protest? Is it worth the effort and inconvenience involved?

If you are in doubt, we have selected below just a few examples indicating how the BBC has facilitated the mass killing of innocents in Iraq. We would all do well to recall the judgement of Nazi media boss, Julius Streicher, at Nuremberg:

"No government in the world... could have embarked upon and put into effect a policy of mass extermination without having a people who would back them and support them... These crimes could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him." (Conot, Robert E, Justice At Nuremberg, Carrol & Graf, 1983, NY, pp.384-385)

The BBC, of course, is not the Nazi media, but there have been real war crimes in Iraq, a real mass slaughter, and the BBC has helped make it possible. Please read the examples below and protest on December 2 out of compassion for the suffering of the men, women and children of Iraq.

They Know They Can Trust US

In their history of the British media, Power Without Responsibility, James Curran and Jean Seaton show how the BBC has a long history of defending the establishment of which it is a part. They describe "the continuous and insidious dependence of the Corporation [the BBC] on the government". (Curran and Seaton, Power Without Responsibility, Routledge, 1991, p.144)

David Miller of Strathclyde University wrote earlier this year:

"BBC managers have fallen over themselves to grovel to the government in the aftermath of the Hutton whitewash. When will any of the BBC journalists who reported the 'Scud' attacks apologise? When will their bosses apologise for conspiring to keep the anti war movement off the screens? Not any time soon." (Miller, 'Media Apologies?', ZNet, June 15, 2004,

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

Over the three weeks of the initial conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters. The BBC was less likely than Sky, ITV or Channel 4 News to use independent sources, who also tended to be the most sceptical. The BBC also placed least emphasis on Iraqi casualties, which were mentioned in 22% of its stories about the Iraqi people, and it was least likely to report on Iraqi opposition to the invasion.

Andrew Bergin, the press officer for the Stop The War Coalition, told Media Lens:

"Representatives of the coalition have been invited to appear on every TV channel except the BBC. The BBC have taken a conscious decision to actively exclude Stop the War Coalition people from their programmes, even though everyone knows we are central to organising the massive anti-war movement...". (Email to Media Lens, March 14, 2003)

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

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

Talking Up War - Talking Down Peace

The first BBC Newsnight programme after the massive anti-war march in London on February 15, 2003, saw political correspondent, David Grossman, asking:

"The people have spoken, or have they? What about the millions who didn't march? Was going to the DIY store or watching the football on Saturday a demonstration of support for the government?" (Newsnight, February 17, 2003)

It was the biggest protest march in British political history!

A day later, Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman asked playwright Arthur Miller:

"You live in New York City... you must vividly recall what happened on September 11. In the world in which we live now, isn't some sort of pre-emptive strike the only defensive option available to countries like the United States?" (Newsnight, February 18, 2003)

Noam Chomsky reflects on the idea that this kind of strike might have been "the only defensive option available" in dealing with, say, the conflict in Northern Ireland:

"One choice would have been to send the RAF to bomb the source of their finances, places like Boston, or to infiltrate commandos to capture those suspected of involvement in such financing and kill them or spirit them to London to face trial." (Chomsky, 9-11, Seven Stories Press, 2001)

Another, sane possibility, Chomsky comments, is "to consider realistically the background concerns and grievances, and try to remedy them, while at the same time following the rule of law to punish criminals".

Newsreader Fiona Bruce reported that the build-up of troops in the Gulf was "to deal with the continuing threat posed by Iraq". (Bruce, 18:00 News, January 7, 2003)

She meant the threat +alleged+ by Bush and Blair - not quite the same thing.

On the BBC's 6 O'Clock News, Matt Frei noted, sagely:

"There may be a case for regime change in Iran, too. But for now the Bush administration is relying on change from within." (Frei, BBC1, 18:00 News, June 16, 2003)

Frei explained in September 2003:

"The war with terror may have moved from these shores to Iraq. But for how long?" (Frei, 22:00 News, September 10, 2003)

This at a time when even the British government had abandoned its desperate attempts to conflate the war in Iraq with "the war on terror", in the absence of any evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

In October 2004, the BBC's Rageh Omaar noted: "I have followed, reporting the war on terror, from Afghanistan to Iraq." (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, October 26, 2004)

Two years earlier, Labour MP, Glenda Jackson, had said:

"We have also seen the government, quite deliberately in my view, attempting to blur the line between the activities of al-Qaeda and the seeming threat of Saddam Hussein." (Newsnight, BBC2, November 25, 2002)

Inspectors - Were They Pulled Or Were They Pushed?

The BBC's Jane Corbin stated on Panorama that "the inspectors were thrown out... and a divided UN Security Council let Saddam get away with it." (Panorama, 'The Case Against Saddam,' BBC1, September 23, 2002)

On the BBC's Lunchtime News, James Robbins reported that inspectors were "asked to leave" after relations with Iraq broke down. (BBC1, 13:00 News, September 17, 2002)

The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, sent this email in response to one of our readers who challenged his claim that UN inspectors had been "kicked out" of Iraq in December 1998:

"Dear [Name Deleted].

If I am in your house, made to feel unwelcome and not allowed to wash or pee (not likely, a metaphor) and then, as a result, leave, you might be technically able to say that I had not been 'kicked out' - no leathered toe had been applied to my rear. But I might well use that phrase. Here as I understand it, is the sequence of events in 1998. I don't think my phrase increases the likelihood of war and will continue to try to report fairly on a subject where - I assure you - I don't feel or act as a mouthpiece of the Blair govt." (Forwarded to Media Lens, January 21, 2003)

Scott Ritter, former chief Unscom weapons inspector, who was an inspector in Iraq between 1991-98, said:

"If this were argued in a court of law, the weight of evidence would go the other way. Iraq has in fact demonstrated over and over a willingness to cooperate with weapons inspectors." (Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile, 2002, p.25)

Ritter claims that Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" of 90-95% of its WMDs by December 1998. He also claims that inspections were deliberately sabotaged by US officials in 1998 precisely +because+ the Iraqis were rapidly approaching 100% compliance - so removing justification for continued sanctions and control of Iraq. In December 1998, Ritter said:

"What [head of Unscom] Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing." (Quoted, New York Post, December 17, 1998)

Last year, Richard Sambrook, then BBC's director of news, told us that Ritter had been interviewed just twice: on September 29th, 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on March 1, 2003 for BBC News 24. Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that Newsnight had interviewed Scott Ritter twice on the WMD issue before the war: on August 3, 2000 and August 21, 2002.

A BBC news online search for 1 January, 2002 - 31 December 2002 recorded the following mentions:

George Bush Iraq, 1,022
Tony Blair Iraq, 651
Donald Rumsfeld Iraq, 164
Dick Cheney Iraq, 102
Richard Perle Iraq, 6
George Galloway Iraq, 42
Tony Benn Iraq, 14
Noam Chomsky Iraq, 1
Denis Halliday, 0

The Fall Of Baghdad

In April 2003, the BBC's Nicholas Witchell declared of the US drive into central Baghdad:

"It is absolutely, without a doubt, a vindication of the strategy." (Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)

The BBC's breakfast news presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, beamed as she described how Blair "has become, again, Teflon Tony". The BBC's Mark Mardell agreed with her: "It +has+ been a vindication for him." (BBC1, Breakfast News, April 10, 2003)

Retired general William Odom, former head of the US National Security Agency, sees it differently:

"Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost. Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends." (Quoted, Sidney Blumenthal, 'Far graver than Vietnam', The Guardian, September 16, 2004)

BBC journalist Rageh Omaar reported his emotions as Baghdad fell:

"In my mind's eye, I often asked myself: what would it be like when I saw the first British or American soldiers, after six years of reporting Iraq? And nothing, nothing, came close to the actual, staggering reaction to seeing American soldiers - young men from Nevada and California - just rolling down in tanks. And they're here with us now in the hotel, in the lifts and the lobbies. It was a moment I'd never, ever prepared myself for." (Omaar, BBC1, 18:00 News, April 9, 2003)

Ex-Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey was one of these same "young men from Nevada and California" in the main invasion force all the way to Baghdad. In May 2004, Massey said:

"It sickened me so that I had actually brought it up to my lieutenant, and I told him, I said, you know, sir, we're not going to have to worry about the Iraq [people] - you know, we're basically committing genocide over here, mass extermination of thousands of Iraqis." ('Ex-US Marine: I killed civilians in Iraq', Democracy Now, May 24, 2004,

Infamously, on the day Baghdad fell, Andrew Marr declared:

"Well, I think this does one thing - it draws a line under what, before the war, had been a period of... well, a faint air of pointlessness, almost, was hanging over Downing Street. There were all these slightly tawdry arguments and scandals. That is now history. Mr Blair is well aware that all his critics out there in the party and beyond aren't going to thank him, because they're only human, for being right when they've been wrong. And he knows that there might be trouble ahead, as I said. But I think this is very, very important for him. It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics.

"I don't think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he's somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result." (Marr, BBC1, 22:00 News, April 9, 2003)

By contrast, on November 20, 2004, journalist Dahr Jamail quoted an Iraqi, Abu Talat. Talat, we are told, was crying and distraught as he spoke:

"'I am in a very sad position. I do not see any freedom or any democracy. If this could lead into a freedom, it is a freedom with blood. It is a freedom of emotions of sadness. It is a freedom of killing. You cannot gain democracy through blood or killing. You do not find the freedom that way. People are going to pray to God and they were killed and wounded. There were 1,500 people praying to God and they went on a holiday were people go every Friday for prayers. And they were shot and killed. There were so many women and kids lying on the ground. This is not democracy, neither freedom.'" (Jamail, 'Terrorizing Those Who Are Praying...,' November 20, 2004,

Marr said of joining the BBC:

"When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed." ('Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor', The Independent, January 13, 2000)

This was fortunate indeed. Prior to joining the BBC, Marr had written articles with titles such as:

'Brave, bold, visionary. Whatever became of Blair the ultra-cautious cynic?' (The Observer, April 4, 1999)


'Hail to the chief. Sorry, Bill, but this time we're talking about Tony.' (The Observer, May 16, 1999)

Marr declared himself in awe of Blair's "moral courage", writing: "I am constantly impressed, but also mildly alarmed, by his utter lack of cynicism."

Part 2 will follow shortly...


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. We urge you to peacefully protest the BBC on December 2.

In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

You can contact any of the BBC journalists named above by following the same pattern. For example, Matt Frei's email address is:

Please copy all emails to us at Media Lens:

Media Lens readers may also wish to consider contacting the BBC's programme complaints unit at:

Send your views to us

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 12:44 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, November 26, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 26, 2004


On November 8 and 11 we published two Media Alerts: 'Legitimising Mass Slaughter in Fallujah,' in which we commented on the bias and inhumanity of BBC and ITV News reporting on Fallujah.

These alerts generated a massive response from readers - one of the biggest we have seen - and contributed, we believe, to a short-lived improvement in both BBC and ITV reporting. As a flood of emails was being copied to us, the BBC in particular began paying attention to the plight of civilians in Fallujah in a way that it had conspicuously not done earlier in the week. This could of course have been a coincidence, but we doubt it. We suspect that BBC editors and journalists were shocked by the intensity and extent of public feeling, a suspicion strengthened by a response of unprecedented seriousness from the BBC's director of news, Helen Boaden (see below).

We also suspect that some journalists at the BBC, including front-line journalists, were already uneasy about the savagery of the US demolition of Fallujah and the BBC's response to it. On October 11, news anchor Anna Ford sent short messages of this kind to several readers:

"I've taken your concerns to the Head of TV News Roger Mosey. Daily discussion here on our coverage." (Forwarded to Media Lens, November 11, 2004)

It is worth bearing in mind that while no one likes to receive even rational criticism, journalists can use challenges of this kind to raise important issues within their organisations. Like all corporations, media companies are essentially totalitarian institutions subject to a strict, top-down hierarchy of control. Journalists are expected to be 'team players', 'focused' and 'disciplined' - code words that refer to the need to remain focused on 'pragmatic' bottom line goals of profitability and market share. In the BBC's case, it also means not inviting the kind of devastating punishment the government meted out over the Andrew Gilligan affair.

To attempt to take a moral stance in this environment is difficult; it risks raising issues that are deeply threatening to senior management. The BBC's senior management, of course, is appointed by the government. A flood of well-argued emails rooted in concern for human suffering allows journalists to challenge government and/or corporate malfeasance with less risk of their being labelled 'committed', 'crusading' or 'ideological'.

On November 16, we received the following from the BBC's Helen Boaden:

Dear Medialens
It's good to have considered feedback and I am sorry that you are troubled by some of our coverage of the assault on Fallujah. Our correspondents in Iraq are working under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions and we are proud of them.

Our aim as BBC journalists is to approach all stories, including wars, from an impartial standpoint, reflecting events and significant opinions in a fair and balanced way.

It is often incredibly difficult to disentangle the strands to get at the truth. However, editors, producers, researchers and correspondents are constantly assessing every aspect of coverage. Our aim is to inform our audiences and put developments in context so as to explain a complicated and developing story. We are well aware of the need to report on the widest possible range of opinion about what is going on.


We have monitored our reports on BBC Television News, BBC Radio and BBC News Online from lunchtime on November 8th. The BBC One TV One o'clock News opened with the headline "US-led troops are about to launch a major offensive on the city of Fallujah" which was accurate. The closing headline to which you refer was not as precise as we would have wanted and lessons have been learned from this. However, there was no sense of ambiguity whatsoever about who was leading the assault.

Furthermore, on the BBC One Six 0'Clock News, Andrew Marr made it clear that while the British government wanted to emphasise that the Fallujah attack was Mr Allawi's decision, there was a different interpretation. He said, "There are Americans backed up by British troops going in there, so responsibility for whatever happens in Fallujah will be shared by the Prime Minister and the American president."

I have reminded our newsrooms that it is important to use the word "interim" when talking about the Iraqi government, to reinforce the fact that it is as yet non-elected by popular vote.


>From the outset we have raised questions about civilian casualties both in the city and those who have fled. Getting first hand information from within Fallujah has been extremely difficult. We have made clear that correspondents embedded with the marines have seen little of civilians and their reports are restricted. In Fallujah in the past week, we, in common with other broadcasters, have not been able to report freely from civilian areas for safety reasons; but we have tried to remedy this as much as we can. We have reported what's being said by aid officials in the city; we have talked by phone to ordinary residents (three such contributors to last Wednesday's Newsnight alone); we are interviewing Iraqis in the UK and we are using Arabic media reports and the BBC Arabic Service.

>From the start, Newsnight and other outlets have interviewed Fadhil Badrani, who is a journalist in Fallujah, who reports for the BBC World Service in Arabic. He has spoken of the street battles and the "hell" which the people left in Fallujah have to endure.
We have also interviewed a journalist who was in Fallujah until a few days before the US assault.

BBC News Online have carried Arab press reviews and special reports from Fadhil Badrani.

The use of such words is often contentious. This term was decided upon because it describes people who are "rising in active revolt". It is the best word to use in situations of rebellion or conquest when there is no free-standing government.

We aim to provide our audiences with the information they need to make their own judgements. . Having consulted widely, this is probably the most appropriate word to use in the case of the fighters in Fallujah, as distinct from civilians who may be staying in the city for other reasons, such as they're old or ill or want to protect their homes from possible looting.

On Radio Five Live's Drive programme there was a discussion on this very issue. The broadcaster and sociologist Professor Laurie Taylor was asked about whether the BBC should call the fighters in Fallujah VCS.MOSGW5.TVC.BBC.MOS

VCS audio insert
NAME: FALLUJAH terminology row
NUMBER: 14642
IN WORDS: Insurgents... that is the word
OUT WORDS: ...what we're talking about
DURATION: 1'10''
NEWTVCENPS0500000000E1DFEB67FALLUJAH terminology row4410030870002EDITORS-1835-2"insurgents", "resistance fighters" or "militants". He replied: ".We should probably credit the BBC with getting it right.with the word insurgent."

As for use of the word terrorist, it is the Americans and Mr Allawi who have used this word. We have simply reported it.


We do not agree that the BBC is biased and acting as the mouthpiece for the US/UK government.
We have consistently reported on a wide range of arguments in the run up to, and now during, the Fallujah offensive.

Here are a few examples. We reported:

*on the significant opposition to the Iraq war of Sir Stephen Wall, Tony Blair's one-time right-hand man on European matters..

*the political fall-out within Iraq - the resignation from the interim government of the main Sunni Party, in protest at the Fallujah assault.

*Radio 4's World At One interviewed Iraq's former foreign minister about his "grave concerns about a protracted and bloody military operation in Fallujah."
"It also heard from Gwyn Prins, joint alliance research professor at the LSE and Columbia University who, while believing there's military and political logic behind the decision to deal with the "Fallujah problem" said the situation should not have reached such a pitch.

*Radio 4's PM interviewed the UK spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic party, Fareed Sabri. (The Americans last tried to take Fallujah in April. The military operation failed but it was followed by a negotiated peace. Fareed Sabri took part in that negotiation)

*Last Friday's TV 10 o'clock News kicked off its second piece on the story with Kofi Annan's criticisms of the coalition action and included Peter Kilfoyle MP as a domestic critic of the war.


Our BBC One Six and Ten o'Clock News bulletins led with Fallujah on November 8 and 9. On November 10 the story ran second to Darfur, a new and very significant breaking story. Fallujah was still the lead on that day's Newsnight; and we have devoted considerable airtime to Fallujah in all our output since November 8.

On the question of Fergal Keane's reporting from Darfur: he was a witness to brutal behaviour by the Sudanese authorities. If one of our reporters saw brutal behaviour by Iraqi or coalition forces we would similarly report that. You may remember that we gave extensive coverage earlier this year to the abuses revealed in Abu-Ghraib.

Indeed, on Monday, November 15, the BBC One Ten O'Clock News carried the NBC television network footage of what it says is a US soldier shooting dead an unarmed, wounded Iraqi prisoner at a mosque. The allegations and the US Army's investigation into them were reported across all BBC networks.

Thank you for your continuing interest.
Yours sincerely,

Helen Boaden
Director, BBC News

Media Lens Response

We are grateful for such a substantial and thoughtful response.

Boaden argues that "there was no sense of ambiguity whatsoever about who was leading the assault."

This is correct, although not in the way Boaden intends. The BBC's lunchtime news anchor, Anna Ford, opened her report on the programme in question with this statement:

"Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he has given American and Iraqi forces the authority to clear Fallujah of terrorists."

On seven occasions in this one programme, the BBC gave the impression that Allawi was the final authority in Iraq, thus indicating that the assault on Fallujah was an Iraqi government operation directing US and Iraqi forces to the attack. There was no ambiguity whatever, as Boaden rightly points out.

Entrenched habits of patriotic journalism are such that the media finds it impossible to report objectively, much less critically, on wars in which British forces are involved. Journalists reflexively slot conflicts into 'us' versus 'them' frameworks, with 'us' portrayed as reluctant, chivalrous interventionists intent on 'bringing peace', 'restoring order', 'rebuilding the country' (we have destroyed) and so on. 'Them' on the other hand refers to 'terrorists', 'murderers' and, in this case, 'Saddam loyalists' and 'foreign fighters' (essentially the same devilish 'foreign agitators' of Cold War propaganda).

It is difficult to maintain the 'us' and 'them' view of the world when we are illegal occupiers killing ordinary Iraqis resisting our occupation - so the illegality and the ordinary Iraqi resistance fighters are hardly mentioned. The issue of oil, of course, is not allowed even to exist, although it would be at the forefront of reporting on the crimes of an official enemy.

Remarkably, at the height of the attack on Fallujah, the broadcast media repeatedly switched from news of the attack to news from the rest of Iraq with comments such as: "Elsewhere in Iraq there has been an upsurge in violence as insurgents attacked..."

The point was not made that there had +also+ been "an upsurge in violence" elsewhere in Iraq, as though the attack on Fallujah was not deemed to constitute violence. This also fits a generalised pattern. Violence is a pejorative term suggesting illegitimacy or illegality - the "coalition", by contrast, is involved in 'peacekeeping', 'maintenance of law and order', and 'security'; not violence.

As part of its patriotic role, the media is drip-feeding the British public the impression that Iraqis are in control of their country and are deeply committed to fighting the insurgency. This is crucial propaganda lending a veneer of legitimacy to an illegal occupation and the staggering violence by which it is being maintained. The reality - that a Western superpower is imposing its will on an impoverished but oil-rich Third World country against the will of its people - is nowhere in sight.

The US manipulation of local puppets in pursuit of this cause is intended to camouflage the reality. To present the words of such stooges as worthy of serious attention - which is exactly what happens when news programmes open with such words - is crude propaganda worthy of Goebbels or the commissars under Stalin.

Boaden suggests that Andrew Marr's comment indicated that "while the British government wanted to emphasise that the Fallujah attack was Mr Allawi's decision, there was a different interpretation". This is what Marr said:

"There are Americans backed up by British troops going in there, so responsibility for whatever happens in Fallujah will be shared by the Prime Minister and the American president."

The suggestion that different parties involved in a military action share responsibility for what happens does not in any way offer a "different interpretation" to the claim that +final+ responsibility rests with Allawi as ultimate author of the action. Boaden's argument is a red herring.

We did not raise the issue of the importance of using "interim" to describe Allawi's government. This is a trivial point beside the BBC's presentation of Allawi's regime as an independent, legitimate source of authority worthy of respectful, indeed headline, attention.

Boaden writes that "From the outset we have raised questions about civilian casualties."

In fact the BBC main news said next to nothing about such casualties until a flood of complaints from our readers appeared to contribute to a short-lived change in reporting. Boaden appears to recognise this initial, low-key emphasis when she writes: "Getting first hand information from within Fallujah has been extremely difficult."

And yet reliable reports from doctors in the city, from escaping refugees, and from the Iraqi Red Crescent, +were+ being heard at a time when BBC TV news was finding them "extremely difficult" to access. In fact, the BBC's emphasis has been highly patriotic. It was initially focused on the preparations and goals of the US military, presenting the attack on Fallujah from a "coalition" point of view. The impression given was of a World War II-style 'just cause', which the attack on Fallujah most certainly was not.

Boaden's comment on use of the term "insurgent" was also not raised by us - another red herring.

Boaden writes "As for use of the word terrorist, it is the Americans and Mr Allawi who have used this word. We have simply reported it."

Why, then, has the BBC not repeatedly reported "use of the word terrorist" by commentators describing US and British military actions in Iraq? Is it because Allawi and the Americans are deemed legitimate in a way that the insurgents are not? Allawi, as we have discussed, has +zero+ legitimacy, while the Americans are acting illegally in occupying the country, as the UN secretary-general Kofi Annan has made clear. Note, again, that Boaden brackets Allawi with the American government, suggesting comparable legitimacy.

Has the BBC ever reported that the British or US governments are involved in state terror? We doubt it. And yet both are undoubtedly using the demonstration effect of mass violence to terrorise insurgents, and Iraqis generally, into abandoning resistance to the occupation. US military officials have openly stated that the appalling fate suffered by Fallujah is intended 'pour encourager les autres' - a very clear example of state terrorism.

Boaden writes: "On the question of Fergal Keane's reporting from Darfur... If one of our reporters saw brutal behaviour by Iraqi or coalition forces we would similarly report that."

Recall that Keane said: "This was a day when the Sudanese government showed the face of raw power. When the international community was left powerless, and the most vulnerable, defenceless."

There was nothing in BBC TV reporting that expressed comparable moral outrage at the destruction of Fallujah by the Western superpower acting outside of international law. But in fact far worse violence was committed in Fallujah than featured in Keane's report. Here, too, the international community was powerless in the face of the slaughter, and the most vulnerable citizens in Fallujah were also its victims.

It was morally indefensible to subordinate our own ongoing and illegal mass killing in Fallujah to reports of lesser crimes by a foreign government for which we are not democratically or morally responsible. Instead of holding foreign secretary Jack Straw to account for his crimes against humanity in Iraq, he was respectfully invited by the BBC to comment on Sudanese crimes in Darfur. This was grotesque in the extreme.

Next Thursday, December 2, the peace group A Call For Light is organising a peaceful vigil to protest BBC reporting outside the BBC, Bush House, Aldwych, London, between 5:30pm and 7:00pm. See our next Media Alert for more details and comment.


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.

Please attend the December 2 vigil outside the BBC.

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 01:45 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, November 21, 2004


By David Cromwell

November 21, 2004

"It's time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet."
(Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and philosopher)

What are you afraid of? What makes you anxious? Losing your health, your hair, your teeth, your looks? If you have children, perhaps you fear for them: for their health, the risk that they'll get wrapped up in drugs or crime, or that they'll miss out on a good education. If you're a parent, as I am, your biggest fear may well be that you'll lose your children. If you're not a parent, perhaps you desperately wish that you were. Or perhaps you'd prefer to remain childless, but fear becoming a parent accidentally.

Are you in love, looking for love or falling out of love? Do you fear being alone in your old age, perhaps even dying alone? And what about feelings of inadequacy? About not having a slim, well-toned body, or not being clever enough, or not having the 'right' clothes, gadgets, education, luxurious home or several holiday destinations through the year. Fear, anxiety, loneliness, insecurity, suffering. Why should any of this matter to political activists anyway?

Well, who wants to live in a world where we aren't concerned about each other? We are all united in wishing to be happy, to be free from suffering. Arguing the case for social justice and ecological sustainability with accurate facts, figures, quotes, references, examples and proposals is all very well. It is necessary, but it is not sufficient. We bandy around words ike 'community', 'solidarity', 'peace' and 'freedom'. And yet, we so often become uncomfortable or even dismissive if asked, 'what motivates you?', 'how do you remain committed?', or even 'how's life with you?'.

These questions are so often deemed irrelevant to political activism and organising; an impediment, or simply a distraction, to the primary task of confronting state-corporate power or building a movement from the ground up. Why is it considered strong to be driven by anger at injustices in the world, but considered weak to take time out to examine ourselves and what it takes to make us cry, laugh, sad, happy, enthused or fulfilled?

Something my father said recently struck me hard: "Nobody asked to be brought into this world". This was in the context of how difficult life can be and how, simple and saccharine as it may sound, we ought to look out for each other. It is not a particularly original observation, of course, but at that moment it really resonated with me. Life can be hard; even for us in the 'privileged' and ' rich' countries of the west. The fact is, most of us at some time encounter stress, heartache, illness, frustration, ennui, depression, perhaps even despair. We should recognise those all too human frailties and afflictions in each other without scorn or discomfort, and without regarding it as a distraction from the political project of building a just and peaceful society. Rather than regarding such issues as a distraction, they should be recognised as utterly central to what we would like to achieve: true peace, freedom, happiness.

Fear of freedom

>From the day that the baby realises that she is a separate entity from her mother, there is a striving to reproduce that primary tie; to connect with other individuals, and with human society as a whole. As the German psychologist Erich Fromm explained so well, the fear of being alone - of being an atomised individual in society - underlies the fear of genuine freedom: not so much freedom from things, such as poverty, repetitive work or damaging relationships; but the freedom to do things, to take responsibility for one's actions and thoughts, to cut the umbilical cord of dependency on 'higher' forms of authority, and to grow as a fully-integrated person.

The consequences of this fear can be harmful indeed: "in our effort to escape from aloneness and powerlessness", wrote Fromm, "we are ready to get rid of our individual self either by submission to new forms of authority or by a compulsive conforming to accepted patterns." (Fromm, 'Fear of Freedom', Routledge, London, 2002, p. 116). From there it is a slippery slope to simply knuckling under, getting on with life, doing whatever our 'benign' leaders want, or simply letting them get on with whatever it is they do; whether it be handing over yet more public revenue and power to corporations, introducing ever more draconian legislation to protect domestic 'security', or pulverising yet another already impoverished and devastated nation.

I was motivated to put these thoughts down, partly because of an exchange with someone I had on email three years ago, following the launch of the US/UK attacks on Afghanistan in late 2001. My correspondent is a decent person, a loving father, and someone with strong environmentalist leanings. And yet he told me: "The world isn't fair, never has been, never will be, and it's survival of the fittest whether we like it or not, so if we want to survive and maintain our pampered life-styles, we stay the fittest - and that doesn't necessarily mean the nicest if you're not part of our tribe." I was quite taken aback by this outburst.

I suspect, and it would admittedly be hard to verify this, that such a cynical 'pragmatic' view is held by a far greater number of westerners than we would like to think. It is a selfish notion that seems to accord with Darwinian evolution, with its dictate of 'survival of the fittest'. Applied, inappropriately, to human societies, it seems to imply that 'might is right'. On this view, competition is what drives human behaviour or, at the very least, it is a major component in human makeup. Compassion, altruism and kindness are evolutionary adaptations, so we are told, that improved our fitness to survive and flourish. As psychologist Steven Pinker puts it, in his typically sweeping style:

"Family feelings are designed to help our genes replicate themselves." (Pinker, 'How The Mind Works', p. 30).

In other words, we might put ourselves out for a close relative, to the extent of risking our lives to save him or her, but we would be less likely to do so for someone not related to ourselves, goes the argument.

Pinker adds that the "tragedy of reciprocal altruism is that sacrifices on behalf of nonrelatives cannot survive without a web of disagreeable emotions like anxiety, mistrust, guilt, shame, and anger." (Pinker, 'The Blank Slate', Penguin, London, p. 256).

For example, we might well feel anxious about, and even angry towards, individuals who take unfair advantage of our kindly acts in order to accrue benefits for themselves. This may be as simple as feeling resentful at having had one's colleague round to our home not just once, but twice, and still not having received a dinner invitation in return! Or, to use Pinker's examples: gaining from, but not contributing to, the public good, such as hunting animals for food, building a lighthouse that keeps everyone's ships off the rocks, or banding together to invade neighbours or to repel their invasions.

A successful, thriving society requires cooperation and a measure of trust and honour between its members. Those who cheat are an unfair burden on society, and 'law-abiding' members of the group must punish them. Otherwise cheaters could end up destroying the cohesion, even the very survival, of the whole group. Consequently, claims Pinker, anger "evolved from systems for aggression and was recruited to implement the cheater-punishment strategy demanded by reciprocal altruism." (Pinker, 'The Blank Slate', Penguin, London, p. 272).

"Go ahead, make my day!"

But is this depiction of anger as beneficial, providing evolutionary advantages, the whole truth? Psychologist Martin Seligman, pioneer of the burgeoning field of 'positive psychology' cautions: "We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. 'Go ahead, make my day,' warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don't express our rage, it will come out elsewhere - even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac disease and more anger." (Seligman, 'Authentic Happiness', p. 69)

Anne Harrington, a science historian at Harvard University, points out the systematic failings of science in the investigation of deep human values such as altruism and compassion. These values tend to be simply eliminated from the scientific analysis, says Harrington:

"Historically, the more deeply our sciences have probed reality, the less relevant concepts like compassion become. Behind altruism is strategizing for genetic fitness."

In, other words, as psychologist Daniel Goleman notes, the scientific reduction of altruism to notions of "genetic fitness" is "how evolutionary theory explains away such selflessness." (Daniel Goleman, 'Destructive Emotions And How We Can Overcome Them. A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama', Bloomsbury, London, 2003, p. 280)

Evolutionary theory is, of course, one of the most successful scientific theories of all times, but one must be careful in using it to 'explain' human qualities, particularly if such explanations are one-sided. As Seligman maintains:

"I believe that evolution has favored both good and bad traits, and any number of adaptive roles in the world have selected for morality, cooperation, altruism, and goodness, just as any number have also selected for murder, theft, self-seeking, and terrorism" (Seligman, p. xiii).

Seligman explicitly rejects pessimistic depictions of selfish human nature, or of anger being innate. This approach, he argues, is scientifically unsound: "Current dogma may say that negative motivation is fundamental to human nature and positive motivation merely derives from it, but I have not seen a shred of evidence that compels us to believe thisS [the] dual-aspect view that positive and negative traits are equally authentic and fundamental is the basic motivational premise of Positive Psychology." (Seligman, p. 211)

Letting go of old bad habits by focussing on others

Returning now to the individual, it is all too easy for personal attitudes to be shaped by our own narrow bundle of inwardly-directed anxieties. The German philosopher Ernst Cassirer expressed it well: "We live much more in our doubts and fears, our anxieties and hopes about the future, than in our recollections or in our present experiences."

Fear and anxiety so often dominate our reaction to people and the world around us. Isn't this terribly sad? By looking primarily inwards, at our own problems, which thus tend to multiply and magnify, we can too easily become attached to feelings of negativity, even misery. This almost becomes a badge of honour, a bundle of suffering that we must carry around on our backs wherever we go; excess baggage that we are, in fact, loathe to set down.

As psychotherapist Howard Cutler notes: "When it comes down to it, many of us resist giving up our misery - a vexing and baffling feature of human behavior I often observed in the past when treating psychotherapy patients. As miserable as some people might be, for many there is a kind of perverse pleasure in the self-righteous indignation one feels when one is treated unfairly. We hold on to our pain, wear it like a badge, it becomes part of us and we are reluctant to give it up. After all, at least our characteristic ways of looking at the world are familiar. Letting go of our customary responses, as destructive as they may be, may seem frightening, and often that fear abides on a deeply ingrained subconscious level."

That fear of letting go of our habitual tendencies can be conquered, or at least assuaged, by focusing on the needs of others, rather than our own. Seligman says simply: "When we are happy, we are less self-focused, we like others more, and we want to share our good fortune even with strangers. When we are down, though, we become distrustful, turn inward, and focus defensively on our own needs. Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of well-being." (Seligman, p. 43)

On the other hand, Seligman points out the evolutionary role of positive emotions: "They broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself. When we are in a positive mood, people like us better, and friendship, love, and coalitions are more likely to cement. In contrast to the constrictions of negative emotion, our mental set is expansive, tolerant, and creative. We are open to new ideas and new experience." (Seligman, p. 35)

The conscious effort to undertake small acts of kindness for others is a good place to start. Though such acts may initially feel somewhat forced, it is worth the effort to weaken the fears, doubts and anxieties that afflict us all. It is a simple and fun pragmatic scientific experiment, at minimal cost, that anyone can try. When to begin? Now! As Marcus Aurelius wisely observed: "there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don't use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return." ('Meditations', new translation by Gregory Hays, Phoenix, London, 2003, p. 20).

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Posted by David Edwards @ 12:27 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, November 19, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 19, 2004


Manufacturing The Myth Of 'America'

American elites have long sought to manufacture and promote a shared myth of 'America' based on "symbols by which Americans defined their dream and pictured social reality." (Alex Carey, Taking The Risk Out Of Democracy, UNSW Press, 1995, p.75)

Adam Curtis alluded to this myth-making in his BBC series The Power of Nightmares, but he portrayed it as a process initiated and pursued by neoconservatives from the 1940s onwards, inspired by the teachings of Leo Strauss.

There was no hint that these myths were small elements of a vast programme of social engineering carried out by US governments, both Democrat and Republican, and by powerful business associations, from the first days of the 20th century and earlier.

Indeed Curtis had nothing to say about the key issue of business control of American society - the words 'corporate', 'corporation' and 'business' were not mentioned in the series. The neocons were depicted as fanatical ideologues, with literally zero mention of their roots in the business community. In April 2001, the Guardian's Julian Borger reported:

"In the Bush administration, business is the only voice... This is as close as it is possible to get in a democracy to a government of business, by business and for business." (Borger, 'All the president's businessmen', The Guardian, April 27, 2001)

Robert Reich, Clinton's former labour secretary added: "There's no longer any countervailing power in Washington. Business is in complete control of the machinery of government." (Ibid)

The reality that the neocon project is profit-driven rather than ideology-driven makes a nonsense of the idea that it aims to "spread the good of democracy around the world". As the US historian Sidney Lens noted recently:

"Even a cursory look suggests that American policy has been motivated not by lofty regard for the needs of other peoples but by America's own desire for land, commerce, markets, spheres of influence, investments, as well as strategic impregnability to protect such prerogatives. The primary focus has not been moral, but imperial." (Lens, 'The Forging of the American Empire', Pluto Press, London, 2003, p.14)

Curtis, by contrast, uncritically accepted neocon rhetoric. On the election of Reagan as president in 1980, Curtis said:

"The neoconservatives believed that they now had the chance to implement their vision of America's revolutionary destiny, to use the country's power aggressively as a force for good in an epic battle to defeat the Soviet Union. It was a vision that they shared with millions of their new religious allies." ('The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear. Part 1: "Baby, it's cold outside"', BBC2, October 20, 2004)

Curtis reiterated the point: "A small group in the Reagan White House saw... a way of achieving their vision of transforming the world." They would "bring down the Soviet Union and help spread democracy around the world. It was called the Reagan Doctrine." (Part 2, 'The Phantom Victory', October 27, 2004)

This is deeply misleading. In her seminal account of the business brainwashing of America from 1945-1960, Selling Free Enterprise, Elizabeth Fones-Wolf wrote:

"All this effort helped create a major political shift that would culminate in the election of Ronald Reagan, the subsequent tax cuts benefiting the wealthy, the elimination of regulation, and the severe cutbacks in social services." (Selling Free Enterprise - The Business Assault on Labour and Liberalism, 1945-60, University of Illinois Press, 1994, p.289)

Directly contradicting Curtis' thesis, Fones-Wolf noted that "the business community laid the ideological and institutional foundations for the nation's movement +toward+ a more individualistic ethos." (Ibid, p.289, our emphasis)

But there was nothing new in the neocon propaganda campaign:

"Indeed, perhaps Ronald Reagan best symbolises the continuity. Beginning in 1954, the future president of the United States spent eight years in the employment of General Electric, hosting a television programme and speaking to employee and local civic group audiences as part of the company's public relations and economic education programme. During that time, Reagan fine-tuned a message that he would repeat in the late seventies, warning of the threat that labour and the state pose to our 'free economy'."(Ibid)

Demolishing Democracy

Similarly, the Reaganite neocons (many still in power, now, as part of the Bush cabal) engaged in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and elsewhere. The concern was not to spread but to restrict democracy to protect US control of human and natural resources. Robert Pastor, director of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs on the National Security Council through the Carter years, explained:

"The United States... wanted Nicaraguans to act independently, except when doing so would affect US interests adversely." (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, 'Deterring Democracy', Hill And Wang, 1992, p.261)

The cover story for US intervention throughout the postwar period, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, was indeed the 'Soviet threat'. But as Harvard academic Samuel Huntington advised government planners in 1981:

"You may have to sell [US intervention] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine [of 1947]". (Ibid, p.90)

The real enemy was independent nationalism, the risk that Third World resources might fall out of US control. To select at random, a US State Department official warned prior to the 1954 US coup in Guatemala:

"Guatemala has become an increasing threat to the stability of Honduras and El Salvador. Its agrarian reform is a powerful propaganda weapon; its broad social program of aiding the workers and peasants in a victorious struggle against the upper classes and large foreign enterprises has a strong appeal to the populations of Central American neighbors where similar conditions prevail." (Quoted, Piero Gleijeses, Shattered Hope: The Guatemalan Revolution and the United States, Princeton University Press, 1991, p.365)

The CIA told the White House in April 1964:

"Cuba's experiment with almost total state socialism is being watched closely by other nations in the hemisphere, and any appearance of success there could have an extensive impact on the statist trend elsewhere in the area." (Quoted, Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America, New York: Norton, 1993, p.157)

Curtis ignored this documented historical reality. This is particularly significant as we know that Curtis +is+ aware of it. Two years ago, Media Lens challenged him following the broadcast of his BBC TV series, The Century of the Self, which purported to chart the rise of propaganda in the 20th century. In this series Curtis argued:

"Politicians and planners came to believe that Freud was right to suggest that hidden deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had lead to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again, they set out to find ways to control the hidden enemy within the human mind." (The Century of the Self - The Engineering of Consent, BBC2, March 24, 2002)

We suggested to Curtis that the real fear of politicians and planners was the existence of dangerous +rational+ desires and fears - popular desires for equity, justice and functioning democracy; popular fears that unbridled capitalism and militarism would once again lead to horrors on the scale of the two world wars. We asked him: "Do you really believe that big business was fundamentally motivated to avoid a repetition of the barbarism of Nazi Germany?" (Media Lens to Curtis, June 5, 2002)

We also asked Curtis why he had given detailed attention to Guatemalan history in that series, while failing to mention US responsibility for the 150,000 civilians killed as a result of its attack on Guatemala. On June 19, 2002, Curtis responded:

"I never said 'big business was motivated to avoid a repetition of the barbarism of nazi Germany'. I very clearly separated the early, nave reaction of politicians and social planners to psychological evidence and the lobbying of ambitious psychologists, from the cynical and corrupt use of those ideas by big business and later cold-war politicians which then followed."

Curtis continued: "I explicitly used the Guatemala story as an example of that form of corruption."

Remarkably, of this "cynical and corrupt use" of ideas by big business there was not one word in The Power Of Nightmares.

Understanding Bin Laden - Motives Behind September 11

As part of his idea of parallels linking Islamic jihadists and the US neocons, Curtis argued that both are motivated by a fear and hatred of "selfish individualism":

"The attacks on America had been planned by a small group that had come together around bin Laden in the late 90s. What united them was an idea: an extreme interpretation of Islamism developed by Ayman Zawahiri." (Part 3, 'The Shadows in the Cave', November 3, 2004)

Inspired by Sayyed Qutb, Zawahiri, who was bin Laden's mentor, came to believe that "the infection of [Western] selfish individualism had gone so deep into people's minds that they were now as corrupted as their leaders... It wasn't just leaders like Sadat who were no longer real Muslims, it was the people themselves. And Zawahiri believed that this meant that they too could legitimately be killed. But such killing, Zawahiri believed, would have a noble purpose, because of the fear and the terror that it would create in the minds of ordinary Muslims. It would shock them into seeing reality in a different way. They would then see the truth." (Part 1, 'Baby It's Cold Outside', October 20, 2004)

But in interviews, Osama bin Laden has clearly listed three political grievances as primary motives for the September 11, 2001 attacks: the oppression of Palestinians, the devastating effect of US-UK sanctions and war on Iraqi civilians, and US military bases in Saudi Arabia. The Independent's Robert Fisk wrote in 2001:

"Why do we always play politics on the hoof, making quick-fix promises to vulnerable allies of convenience after years of accepting, even creating, the injustices of the Middle East and South-west Asia? How soon before we decide - and not before time - to lift sanctions against Iraq, and allow tens of thousands of Iraqi children to live instead of die? Or promise (in return for the overthrow of Saddam) to withdraw our forces from the Arabian peninsula? After all - say this not too loudly - if we promised and fulfilled all that, every one of Osama bin Laden's demands will have been met." (Fisk, 'Promises, Promises', The Independent, October 17, 2001)

To ignore these serious political grievances and to focus instead on a fanatical hatred of Western "selfish individualism" is absurd.

In reality, the idea that the neocons and al Qaeda "shared the same fears" is a satisfyingly ironic fiction rooted in selective inattention to the facts. Both, in reality, are highly motivated by pragmatic concerns to do with the wielding and abuse of power.

Curtis's thesis is not entirely without merit. As he says, "much of this threat [of Islamic terrorism] is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media."

The 'threat' of al Qaeda clearly has been overblown by western politicians and a compliant media.

But the manufactured 'threat' of international terrorism is a fiction that distracts from a far more important truth: that Western governments are by far the most powerful and, in terms of numbers killed, most deadly agents of terrorism. This unpalatable truth was not even acknowledged by Curtis. Indeed it is hard to imagine that such a genuinely heretical and honest point could ever be made in a major BBC series.

In Hope Of Another "Crisis Of Democracy"

Curtis also claimed that, like the jihadists, the neocons despised the "selfish individualism" of the 1960s, and the 'threat' to American morals it represented. But in reality this was a rhetorical cover for an attack on a different, very real enemy - the rise of civil rights, anti-war, environmental, feminist and other grassroots movements.

A 1975 study on the "governability of democracies" by the influential Trilateral Commission warned of an "excess of democracy" in the United States that was contributing to "the reduction of governmental authority" at home and a consequent "decline in the influence of democracy abroad." This general "crisis of democracy" resulted from the efforts of previously marginalised sectors of the population attempting to involve themselves in the political process. The study urged more "moderation in democracy" to overcome the crisis. (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, Pluto Press, 1991, pp.2-3)

A top secret US Defense Department memorandum in March 1968 had earlier warned that escalating the war in Vietnam ran "great risks of provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions", including "increased defiance of the draft and growing unrest in the cities". These threats were very much on the minds of military planners as they decided whether to massively escalate the assault on Vietnam, or back off, after the Tet offensive. This naturally represented an intolerable interference in policy from the point of elites. (The Pentagon Papers, Vol. IV, p. 564, Senator Gravel Edition, Beacon, 1972)

The danger for the state is always that the public will see through the Machiavellian intrigues of political power, and refuse to acquiesce any longer in state-sponsored slaughter and corporate exploitation of the planet. Once again, the targeted enemy was not "selfish individualism" but cooperative altruism that threatened to precisely +challenge+ selfish vested interests.

By portraying the manipulation of fear as a recent development of neocon politicians, and by blanking the institutional realities of modern politics, The Power Of Nightmares contributed to the media deluge obstructing the re-emergence of another "crisis of democracy".


In his 2002 series, The Century Of The Self, Curtis claimed that politicians and planners had "set out to find ways to control the hidden enemy within the human mind" to ensure that "the unleashing of these instincts that had lead to the barbarism of Nazi Germany" could never surface again. In The Power Of Nightmares, Curtis spins more tall tales, claiming that the neocons are intent on using America's power aggressively "as a force for good" in order to "help spread democracy around the world."

The well-documented reality, of which Curtis is himself aware - that US leaders have long projected massive economic and military force in a conscious attempt to maximise profits and power, often regardless of the untold cost in human suffering - was nowhere to be seen.

Is it really such a surprise that Curtis's work is so well-received by the elite corporate media?


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 Adam Curtis, the writer and director of 'The Power of Nightmares':

Ask him why failed to address the promotion of fear and nightmares by +all+ US and UK governments in the past century. Why did he not locate the roots of neocon policies in business control of domestic and foreign societies for profit? Why did he almost entirely overlook the effects of this profit-drive in mass slaughters in Latin America and the Third World more generally? Is this very real "politics of fear" not central to an understanding of international affairs in the 20th and 21st centuries?


Write to Roly Keating, Head of BBC2:

Write to the BBC's commissioning editors, at:

You can also leave messages at:

Write to Jana Bennet, head of BBC Television

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

Posted by David Edwards @ 04:00 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, November 18, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 18, 2004


"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the public alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." (H.L. Mencken, 1923)

Introduction - Pyrrhic Applause

"Every so often a programme comes along that makes watching television not only a duty but a pleasure." So wrote Guardian TV critic Rupert Smith of the BBC2 series The Power of Nightmares by Adam Curtis. Smith's conclusion: "Documentary of the year, without a shadow of a doubt." (October 21, 2004) Writing in the same paper, Madeleine Bunting described the series as "hugely important". (October 25)

In the Times, David Chater observed: "If Curtis is even half right, The Power of Nightmares is not just the programme of the week, it is the documentary series of the year." (The Times, October 30) Chater's conclusion: "Unmissable". (The Times, October 23)

"Unmissable", agreed Kathryn Flett in The Observer (October 31, 2004) "Simply unmissable", was Thomas Sutcliffe's verdict in The Independent (October 21). For the Financial Times it was "a brilliant television essay". (Robert Shrimsley, October 22) The Evening Standard considered it "seriously brilliant". (Jim Shelley, October 26)

The adulation was all but unrelenting. We wonder if Adam Curtis felt just a little uneasy. Noam Chomsky once remarked:

"If you are not offending people who ought to be offended, you're doing something wrong."

Curtis, who wrote and directed the series, summed up his thesis at the start of each programme:

"In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this. But their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered to their people. Those dreams failed. And today, people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life. But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism... But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians." (Curtis, 'The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear', BBC2, 3-part series broadcast on October 20, 27 & November 3, 2004)

This was a superficially interesting analysis of our current predicament. But Curtis was careful not to identify exactly when politicians' power ceased to come "from the optimistic visions they offered to their people". In fact, however fraudulently, politicians do still offer optimistic visions: improved public services, enhanced employment opportunities, greater equality of opportunity and justice, and so on. And our society is still deeply in love with the idea and promise of 'progress', as exemplified by the IT and telecoms revolutions. Many people's sense of the 'manifest destiny' of the human race is such that they believe high-tech wizardry will somehow avert even the threat posed by climate change and other horrors.

The idea that past dreams "have failed" so that people "have lost faith in ideologies" is Blairite nonsense. In reality, corporate globalisation has sought to crush meaningful politics - dismissed as "ideological politics" - regardless of the wishes of the public. Opinion polls and global mass protest movements show that vast numbers of people are frustrated that politicians are little more than "managers of public life", in fact servants of corporate power. The greatest, much-reviled, political coup of recent times involved Tony Blair's demolition of British party politics, by which the Labour Party was transformed into a Tory Party with a smiley face also serving big business.

Modern mainstream political discourse in Britain has been largely reduced to a meditation on the ancient Zen koan: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The sound was silence last year, for example, after 2 million anti-war protestors marched in London only to be ignored by the two leading parties, which were seamlessly united in supporting a breathtakingly cynical war.

The Story Begins When?!

With regard to the series' main theme, Curtis declared: "The story begins in the summer of 1949" when Sayyed Qutb, an Egyptian living in Colorado, came to a grim judgement on the United States:

"American society was not going forwards; it was taking people backwards. They were becoming isolated beings, driven by primitive animal forces. Such creatures, Qutb believed, could corrode the very bonds that held society together. And he became determined that night to prevent this culture of selfish individualism taking over his own country."

At the same time, in Chicago, Curtis informed us, "there was another man who shared the same fears about the destructive force of individualism in America." This was philosopher Leo Strauss, who believed that the liberal idea of individual freedom "threatened to tear apart the shared values which held society together."

Just as Qutb came to inspire al Qaeda, so Strauss came to inspire America's neoconservatives, Curtis argued:

"The neoconservatives were idealists. Their aim was to try and stop the social disintegration they believed liberal freedoms had unleashed. They wanted to find a way of uniting the people by giving them a shared purpose."

In response, they would target the Soviet Union in a mythical battle of Good against Evil: "And by doing this, they believed that they would not only give new meaning and purpose to people's lives, but they would spread the good of democracy around the world."

You have to admire Curtis's filmmaking nous. This version of international politics was +guaranteed+ to appeal to critics' liberal and artistic sensibilities. The idea that al Qaeda and the neocons closely mirror each other - with similar ideals, similar goals, and a similar need to demonise each other as terrible threats - is wonderfully ironic. It was certain to generate a delighted 'You couldn't make it up!' response from journalists. Alas, in fact, Curtis largely +did+ make it up.

The series also contained the 'subversive' suggestion that politicians exploit non-existent threats to manipulate the public. This is obvious to anyone who has heard of "dodgy dossiers", who noted pre-war attempts to link al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, who witnessed the rash of pre-war terror alerts in Britain last year, and who knows anything about earlier Red Scares. But it is deemed a dangerously radical idea by liberal journalists who delight in believing that they are, if anything, +too+ willing to embrace radical ideas. By contrast, +genuinely+ dangerous ideas - ideas that threaten to have journalists labelled 'crusading' and 'committed' - are dismissed without a thought and never discussed.

Curtis's message was mixed with suitably 'balancing' naivety - the neoconservatives "were idealists" who "would spread the good of democracy around the world", they were intent on using American power "aggressively as a force for good". The neocons, then, are bad apples, but well-meaning bad apples. And a focus on bad apples - Nixon, Clinton, Murdoch, Maxwell - is fine from the point of view of a propaganda system which, above all, fears exposure of institutional violence and corruption: the fact that party politics is a corporate sham, that the corporate media is a sham, that the Western promotion of human rights and democracy abroad is designed to camouflage the violent control and exploitation of defenceless people.

Above all, the series was isolated from meaningful political and economic context - key words like 'business' and 'corporation' were barely mentioned. This left the public in the dark about the real interests and goals shaping modern politics, economics and international affairs.

As a result, the series sailed through the filters of the liberal propaganda system to be greeted with rapturous applause. The BBC is thus able to claim to have lived up to perennial liberal hopes that it is a genuinely independent and subversive medium both able and willing to challenge established power.

But let's take a look at just how much Curtis left out of his analysis.

'Bludgeoning' The Public With The 'Communist Menace'

As discussed, Curtis located key goals of modern US foreign policy in the beliefs of a group of myth-making "idealists" who were said to be motivated by a perceived need to counter the destructive impacts of "selfish individualism". Taking this seriously is no mean task. It requires that we ignore much political and economic reality, much recent history, and that we blindly accept state-corporate propaganda at face value.

In the real world, by the end of 1945, with the other Great Powers devastated by war, the United States had become the world's premier economic and military power. It was a state of affairs US leaders were naturally keen to entrench. George Kennan, head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, wrote in 1948:

"We have 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction." (Kennan, PPS 23,

Maintaining this preferential "pattern of relationships" would require the ruthless and costly flexing of financial and military muscle. And, as ever, some justification other than the need to fatten corporate bank accounts would have to be provided for public consumption. US Secretary of State Dean Acheson warned that it would be necessary "to bludgeon the mass mind of 'top government' with the Communist threat in order to gain approval for the planned programs of rearmament and intervention." (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Vintage, 1992, p.90)

In fact, of course, such bludgeoning would have to be directed at the entire population, if it was to be convinced of the righteousness of massive military budgets funding violent intervention. The Australian social scientist Alex Carey explained how this could best be done:

"A society or culture which is disposed to view the world in Manichean terms [i.e. good versus evil] will be more vulnerable to control by propaganda. Conversely, a society where propaganda is extensively employed as a means of social control will tend to retain a Manichean world-view, a world-view dominated by symbols and visions of the Sacred and the Satanic." (Alex Carey, Taking The Risk Out Of Democracy, UNSW Press, 1995, p.15)

The postwar assault on public opinion that followed was itself a version of earlier, business-driven propaganda campaigns. These focused on "identification of the traditional American free-enterprise system with social harmony, freedom, democracy, the family, the church, and patriotism; and identification of all government regulation of the affairs of business, and all liberals who supported such 'interference', with communism and subversion." (Carey, ibid, p.27)

Notice that this did indeed involve an attack on "selfish individualism" as a threat to the moral fabric of American society, as Curtis claims. But this was a concocted rhetorical cover for the real goal - business control of domestic society and foreign resources for the maximisation of power and profit - and was not, in itself, a genuine or motivating concern. To believe otherwise is simply to be deceived.

Noam Chomsky comments:

"Woodrow Wilson's Red Scare was the earliest and most extreme resort to state power in twentieth-century America to suppress labour, political dissidence, and independent thought." (Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, Pluto Press, 1991, p.185)

"Selfish individualism" was not the problem. Carey fills in some of the detail:

"During 1918 business's most effective weapon for the ensuing confrontation with the unions was public apprehension about the threat to American society and institutions from 'un-American' sentiment and 'un-American' radicalism among the foreign-born... In January 1920 the Great Steel Strike collapsed, with disastrous consequences for the entire labour movement. It had predictably been represented by government and business interests as a Bolshevist revolutionary challenge to American society by un-American foreign-born workers. [...] Thereafter the business leaders of the Americanisation movement could permit a level of public indifference, for they had gained control over the presidency as well as public opinion and had begun the long process of closing the American mind to critical thought." (Carey, op.cit., pp.62-63)

This closing of the American mind continued through the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In a December 1948 speech, for example, J. Warren Kinsmann, chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers' Public Relations Advisory Committee and vice president of Du Pont, reminded businessmen that "in the everlasting battle for the minds of men" the tools of public relations were the only weapons "powerful enough to arouse public opinion sufficiently to check the steady, insidious and current drift toward Socialism." (Quoted, Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise, University of Illinois Press, 1992, p.52)

But the demonising of foreign enemies did not begin with anti-communism. In 1816, echoing Curtis on al Qaeda, Thomas Jefferson wrote that Great Britain "hated and despised us beyond every earthly object." Britain was not just the enemy of the United States, but was "truly hostis humani generis," an enemy of the entire human race, in classic al Qaeda style. John Adams wrote that Britons were, "Taught from the cradles to scorn, insult and abuse" Americans, such that "Britain will never be our friend till we are her master." (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Year 501, Verso, 1993, p.25)

Similar propaganda has been used to demonise the menacing Spaniard, the Hun, the native Indian, international drug traffickers, single mothers - whoever happens to be the latest target for vilification. It is a very old and obvious theme of state propaganda, not a relatively recent neocon development, as Curtis claims.

Part 2 will follow shortly...


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

Write to Adam Curtis, the writer and director of The Power of Nightmares:

Ask him why failed to address the promotion of fear and nightmares by +all+ US and UK governments in the past century. Why did he not locate the roots of neocon policies in business control of domestic and foreign societies for profit?

Write to the BBC's commissioning editors, at:

You can also leave messages at:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

Posted by David Edwards @ 08:43 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, November 11, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 11, 2004


"We'll unleash the dogs of hell, we'll unleash 'em... They don't even know what's coming - hell is coming. If there are civilians in there, they're in the wrong place at the wrong time." (Sergeant Sam Mortimer, US marines, Channel 4 News, November 8, 2004)

The Face Of Raw Power

Sometimes media choices are beyond all rational comprehension. On November 10, the BBC's 18:00 news began with a report of Sudanese government actions against refugees in the Darfur region of the country. The conflict, the BBC reported, "is thought to have killed more than 70,000 people in a little over a year - nearly two million people have been forced from their homes into refugee camps."

BBC foreign correspondent, Feargal Keane, reported that refugee shelters had been torn down by police. Video footage showed a village elder being kicked and beaten by police, tear gas was fired at women and children, a plastic bullet was fired at the BBC team. As police attempted to forcibly move the refugees, Keane noted that this represented "a clear breach of international law".

Keane concluded:

"This was a day when the Sudanese government showed the face of raw power. When the international community was left powerless, and the most vulnerable, defenceless." (BBC 18:00 News, November 10, 2004)

This did indeed represent an appalling abuse of defenceless people. But whereas the British media and public are not morally responsible for the abuses of the Sudanese government, we +are+ responsible when our own government shows "the face of raw power" to "the most vulnerable". Can we imagine Keane, or any other BBC journalist, using similar language to describe our government's actions?

Moreover, whereas the British public can do little to influence the actions of the Sudanese government, we have a very real ability to influence our own government through elections, protest and civil disobedience. In other words, by any sane moral standard, the actions of our government represent an incomparably +more+ important focus than the actions of the Sudanese government.

And whereas 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Sudanese conflict in little more than a year, 100,000 civilians are estimated to have died as a result of our own government's invasion of Iraq since March 2003. Whereas 2 million people are said to have been displaced in the Sudan, a quarter of a million people are estimated to have been displaced from Fallujah in just the last few weeks.

There is, readers will recall, one further difference. Whereas the Sudanese police were shown tear-gassing civilians in Keane's report, US-UK forces are currently waging full-scale war on Iraqi civilian areas with main battle tanks, airburst firebombs, artillery barrages and helicopter gunships.

Which issue, then, should be prioritised in BBC news reporting?

And yet the BBC's late news on November 10 began by devoting eight minutes to the Sudan story, followed by five minutes on Fallujah.

ITV - The Three Words

Over on ITV (November 10, 18:30), it is Cartoon Time as anchors Nick Owen and Andrea Catherwood stroll down the catwalk to bring us the latest news from Fallujah. This was explained with the help of computer animation: cartoon Humvees trundled along streets and cartoon tanks blasted snipers in cartoon buildings.

An outraged friend of ours asked this simple question, a question that is all but unthinkable to the media:

"What +right+ have they got to do what they're doing to that city? What right?!"

It's an interesting question. There were no WMDs, no links to al Qaeda, the civilian population was not being massacred by Saddam Hussein in the year prior to the war. So what actually +is+ our justification for waging full-scale war on Iraqi cities? Who are we to do it? How is it that we are helping the people we are destroying?

It is indeed like a cartoon - the US and UK governments keep running in mid-air, though any pretence of legal and moral justification has long since fallen away. But they do not fall because we have no democracy, no political opposition to establishment control, and no freedom of speech.

Our friend's question does not exist for the elite media. For highly-trained, highly professional journalists the issue is more complex - there are caveats, nuances. But in truth, in their minds, this is just another campaign in the West's permanent Just War. There are different units, different campaigns, different enemies - but it's basically always the same righteous, liberating Just War.

So, for our media, Fallujah is on a par with the Battle for Normandy, it is another phase of Operation Desert Storm. We may be illegally attacking Third World residential areas housing thousands of helpless civilians, and a ragtag army of the people we came 'to liberate', but for our media it is the same Just War. Thus, anchorwoman Andrea Catherwood spoke over a map that might just as well have been of Arnhem:

"The US marines made steady progress... army chiefs say they have control of 70 percent of the city, including the strategically important Highway 10."

But why is Highway 10 strategically important? What are US forces doing there? What right do they have to be demolishing this Third World city that has never threatened America or Britain?

ITV tells us simply that this is "a prime example of urban warfare" - of the kind we often see in our endless Just War.

What other truths do we need to know about this urban war? More cartoons: "The marines can call on some of the latest technology, like The Buffalo, that can locate and destroy mines and booby troops using a robot arm."

A cartoon Buffalo is shown approaching a cartoon car, which explodes as the Buffalo's extendable arm touches it. There's more:

"They've also got the Packbot. It's a small remote-controlled robot fitted with a camera which can climb stairs and even open cupboards to search houses and other buildings for explosives."

A black and silver cartoon robot is shown climbing a block on a roof and touching it with a probe. This feels like an outtake from a programme on space exploration. But what is being explored here is a different moral universe - one inhabited by professional executives working for the ITV subsidiary of The Corporation.

Finally we are told: "Paul Davies reports on a day of urban warfare."

We see footage of a marine in action. The marine turns and growls to camera:

"We're going in, we're taking the city this time."

This is a classic moment from Hollywood versions of the Just War. This is John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Tom Hanks - we recognise this dialogue, we recognise this figure.

Davies repeats the marine's tough-guy promise, savours it, adding: "It's no idle boast, but it's been achieved the hard way." This, also, is straight out of Hollywood.

We see grainy shots of marines firing: "These remarkable images sent back over shaky video phones tell a story just about as far away from the clinical, long-range warfare the Americans would prefer to wage as it's possible to be."

Yes, how ironic for the US forces - they would surely prefer long-range combat and "clinical" killing. It's an interesting point, isn't it, as the superpower wages a war of colonial conquest on impoverished Third World streets? Davies continues:

"But the swift progress of this operation has been at a cost. Even before today's street battles, ten American soldiers had been killed, more than 40 marines and their Iraqi allies wounded. There are no accurate figures on the number of militants dead, or civilian casualties."

Throughout the whole report, these are the words we have been waiting for, and there are three of them: "or civilian casualties". Nothing more was said on the matter.

Are we to understand, then, that because there are no +accurate+ figures, the issue need not be discussed at all? Are we to understand that it is enough to drool over Buffalos, Packbots, tank attacks on Highway 10, how the marines are "going in", without discussing the fate of the innocent human beings being slaughtered in this city? Is this a human response to the assault on Fallujah? Is this even sane? Has there been any sense in TV reporting that this killing is, in fact, illegal?

After seeing ITV's earlier lunchtime news, we had written to the editor and director of the programme on the same day. This is what we sent:

Dear Nick Rabin and Jane Thompson

Paul Davies' claim on today's ITV lunchtime news that "there is no word yet of civilian casualties" in Fallujah is incorrect. The UN's IRIN agency [United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network] channelled this report from Red Crescent today:

IRAQ: Medical needs massive in Fallujah - Red Crescent

FALLUJAH, 10 November (IRIN) - Twenty doctors along with dozen of Iraqis were killed by a US air strike on a government clinic on Tuesday in the centre of Fallujah, 60 km west of Baghdad according to Dr Sami al-Jumaili, who survived the strike.

"In the early morning the US attacked the clinic, a place that we were using for treating the injured people in the city. A girl and ten-year-old boy, I really don't know if they want to tackle the insurgents or the innocent civilians from the city," al-Jumaili told IRIN.

According to the health worker, the building was one of three community clinics that had been receiving civilians wounded since the assault on the city by US and Iraqi troops to destroy insurgents began on Monday. He said that the clinic was already running out from medicines and the only ambulance that was left in the city had also been hit by US fire.

People in the town say that hundred of houses have also been destroyed and other says that they are running out water and food, adding that shops and markets have been closed and there is no place to source food. Civilians are fearful that if they go out they could be targeted by US troops, now controlling much of the north and centre of the city.

Water and electricity had also been cut off since Sunday, and doctors say that together with the chronic lack of supplies, there is not a single surgeon in the city. Without electricity medical staff cannot keep blood refrigerated. Communication has also difficult, with telephones working only sporadically."

Not a word of this, or material like it, appeared on ITV on November 10.

ITV's evening news (18:30) continued to limit itself to the three words: "or civilian casualties". The late news (22:30) included additional combat footage, but the three words remained.


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 Nick Owen:

Write to Andrea Catherwood

Write to Paul Davies

Write to ITN producer Nick Rabin:

Write to ITN news director Jane Thompson:

Write to Paul Wood

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Write to Roger Mosey, head of BBC TV news

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 02:50 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 10, 2004


Johann Hari Responds

On October 29, we sent out Part 1 of this Media Alert. We noted how Independent columnist Johann Hari had declared that his support for war in Iraq was qualified by an important caveat:

"If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people then you damn well have to carry on supporting the Iraqi people afterwards."

We presented an analysis of articles Hari had written for the Independent in 2004 containing the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi' and various key words. We found the following numbers of mentions:

Cancer - 0 mentions
Child/infant mortality - 0
Civilian/s - 1 (sanctions effect in 'weakening')
Depleted Uranium - 0
Disease - 0
Education - 0
Electricity - 0
Hospitals - 0
Iraqi civilian/s - 1 (killed by insurgents)
Landmines - 0
Malnutrition - 0
Poverty - 0
Schools - 0
Unexploded bombs/ordnance - 0
Unicef - 0
Water - 0

We had previously written to Hari mentioning these figures. We received the following reply on October 28:

Hi Davids - thanks for e-mailing.

You ask why I haven't mentioned several issues, all of
them important. Quite a few of the horrifying problems
you mention - the problems with water, electricity,
poverty and schools - are a direct result of the IMF
structural adjustment program being imposed
undemocratically on the Iraqi people. I have (by my
reckoning, using Lexis as you did) written about this
vociferously seven times in the past year. (And the
word 'electricity' does appear in them several times,
by the way)

I have also written about the horrors of forcing
Iraqis to pick up the tab for their own oppression and
torture through making them pay Saddam's debts, and
encouraged Indie readers to go to
and campaign against it. (I'm told this was quite
successful - which makes me feel I have done at least
one indisputably decent thing! No doubt your readers
will think it is the sole decent thing I've ever done.)

I have written about the desperate need to side with
and donate to the Iraqi trade unions
(, the best force right now
for a democratic Iraq), and the need to resist the
idea - popular on some parts of the anti-war movement,
including with Robert Fisk - that Arabs don't want
democracy. These are columns are what I call siding
with Iraqis.

Re: depleted uranium: I have had a piece ready for
publication for the whole of the US election campaign
about this and we haven't been able to find a slot
yet, as my editors and colleagues will confirm. I'll
e-mail it to you from the Indie server tomorrow if you
like (I'm at home now), but I'd ask you not to
distribute it on your site because it's going to be in
the Indie in some form soon. I think you'll agree it
is a very strong condemnation of the use of DU. By the
way, I also wrote an entire column about the use of
cluster bombs and DU before the war, vociferously
condemning it, as you may remember.

You're quite right though, I should have talked more
about UNICEF.

However, your implication that since I haven't raised
every single one of these issues I don't care about
them is, I'm afraid, flawed. You haven't written about
the persistent abuse of asylum seekers by our own
government (as I have). I could also mention climate
change, prison reform, drugs legalization, human
rights abuses in Colombia, higher taxes here in
Britain, rights for transsexuals, against religious
fundamentalism of all stripes, against the World Bank,
in favour of understanding and embracing despised
minorities like gypsies and paedophiles . I could go
on with issues I've written about any you haven't.

Indeed, I could present it this way:

Abuse of asylum seekers: 0
Climate change: 0
Prison reform: 0
Drugs legalization: 0
HR abuses in Colombia: 0
Higher taxes in Britain to pay for Sure Start and
means-tested higher pensions for poor people: 0
Etc etc

Or how about Iraq, where you and I have a shared
interest? From my skimming of your site (and please
correct me if I'm wrong), I could surmise you have

Supporting the democratic Iraqi trade unions: 0
Supporting those who advocate moderate reform within
Iraqi Islam: 0
Supporting Iraqi women fighting against the
possibility of shariah law: 0
Supporting the cancellation of Iraqi debt: 0

This would, of course, be a silly way of looking at
anybody's work. We all have limited resources and make
choices. I don't doubt your empathy for a second with
asylum seekers, or your horror at climate change. I'm
sure you agree with me on the issues pertaining to
Iraq I list above and write about.

You haven't written about these issues because you
were writing in an intelligent and interesting way
about other things. (Although I disagree with you on
many issues, you are never boring and never stupid,
and I never regret reading it).

I have written about what I think is crucially
important in Iraq now, and repeatedly. Most people, I
think , would agree that tehse are huge and important
issues - at least as huge as the issues you mention.

I don't impugn your integrity (although, like you,
I've gotten a little too heated in our disagreements
in the past.) - I feel a bit sad that you feel the
need to impugn mine (and that of other decent
left-wing people like George Monbiot and Nick Cohen)
on a regular basis when there are so many real
journalistic crooks out there.

Yours sincerely,


PS. If you distribute this correspondence - and feel
free to - please put it in the correct order and
distribute all of my replies, unlike the last time we corresponded.

Media Lens Response

We appreciate Johann Hari's willingness to respond, and his friendly tone. But his reply fails to engage with the serious challenge we put to him.

Hari claims that we have not written "about the persistent abuse of asylum seekers by our own government (as I have). I could also mention climate change".

In January, we published a series of four Media Alerts on climate change (January 8, 20, 23, 27 - see Media Alerts archive The Guardian reader's editor, Ian Mayes, published a column in the paper in response to the flood of complaints generated by this coverage. We published two further Media Alerts focusing heavily on climate change on April 6 and 15, and another on May 14. This gives an idea of the level of Hari's accuracy.

But, anyway, consider the irrationality of Hari's comparison. Our point is that he claims to have supported an invasion of Iraq out of compassion for the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein. And yet in this year of extreme suffering and horror under occupation - with conditions often +worse+ even than under sanctions and Saddam Hussein in the year preceding the war - Hari appears to have made no significant reference whatever to the actual conditions faced by Iraqi civilians.

Our research in late October found that he had made no attempt to draw attention to the catastrophic and rising rate of infant mortality, the appalling civilian death toll (conservatively estimated at 100,000), the shortage of even basic medicines, the catastrophic failure to invest in infrastructure as promised, the failure to provide security, and so on.

We, by contrast, have not proposed the invasion of a sovereign country out of a concern for its asylum policies or greenhouse gas emissions.

Hari writes that he has mentioned Iraqi suffering in the context of criticising International Monetary Fund policies:

"Quite a few of the horrifying problems you mention - the problems with water, electricity, poverty and schools - are a direct result of the IMF structural adjustment program being imposed undemocratically on the Iraqi people."

Here are the relevant mentions we could find:

"For those on the left, it is worrying that any Iraqi democracy will be bounded within IMF neoliberal rules. The precipitate privatisation of so many Iraqi assets has set strict limits for Iraqi democracy. Iraqis would have a very tough time if they decided to build a European-style social democracy, for example. Opposing this must be part of a wider global fight to free all developing countries from those suffocating constrictions." (Hari, 'It is time to start trusting the Iraqi people', The Independent, January 21, 2004)

There is not a word here about "the horrifying problems": the civilian deaths and lack of medicines; the water and electricity shortages and poverty. Further mentions of neoliberalism appeared later in the year:

"Yes, I felt a low sense of horror when I saw the Americans imposing on Iraq the same IMF neoliberalism they have catastrophically forced on Latin America and Russia. This is a form of capitalism far, far more extreme and destructive than domestic US market forces." (Hari, 'Suddenly, all those accumulated doubts hit me. Was I wrong about the war in Iraq?', April 14, 2004, The Independent)

Again, this is a broadbrush economic analysis - no attempt is made to draw attention to the crises devastating the civilian population. And again:

"The proposed IMF agenda for Iraq - being resisted by Iraq's trade unions - is, the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz tells me, "almost an exact repeat of Russia. It's as if they thought Russia was a major success, and the only problem is that they didn't go far enough."

"Developments in Iraq might yet focus the world's attention on the terrible damage the IMF has been doing to developing countries. Here, at last, is a poor country being closely watched by the rich. If the West is serious about Iraq becoming a successful democracy then the mass unemployment and economic vandalism of the IMF must not be imposed on the country." (Hari, 'The organisation that keeps the poor in poverty,' The Independent, April 18, 2004)

And: "true democracy would demand that the US give up the neocon plans for permanent military bases in Iraq and the International Monetary Fund's plans for a privatised, hollowed-out Iraqi economy that would make meaningful self-rule impossible." (Hari, 'Liberal despair will not help Iraq now,' June 18, 2004, The Independent)

This is also general, speculative commentary on policy - the actual "horrifying problems" +now+ are left to the reader's imagination.

Hari continues:

"I have written about the desperate need to side with
and donate to the Iraqi trade unions."

We found several mentions (often combined with criticism of the IMF):

"Yes, I felt a low sense of horror when I saw the Americans imposing on Iraq the same IMF neoliberalism they have catastrophically forced on Latin America and Russia. This is a form of capitalism far, far more extreme and destructive than domestic US market forces. So I gave as much cash as I could to the new, free Iraqi trade unions to try - pathetically - to counterbalance this." (Hari, 'Suddenly, all those accumulated doubts hit me. Was I wrong about the war in Iraq?' April 14, 2004)

Hari did mention water and electricity on one occasion. He quoted an Iraqi exile discussing the insurgency:

"'Their anger is not ideological anger,' he continues. 'It's pragmatic. It's about electricity and jobs and water.'" (Ibid)

We accept that we should have noted these references in our list of words mentioned. But this is Hari's sole mention of water and electricity shortages in Iraq this year - we are told that Iraqis are angry, but the reasons are not explored. Some might consider this a meaningful reference to the real life horror of such shortages - paralysed intensive care units, exploding gas cylinders incinerating people in their homes, children dying from cholera and hepatitis - we do not.

Hari has made other mentions of trade unions:

"Yet inside Iraq, it is trade unions - usually seen as allies of the left - who are emerging as bulwarks of a peaceful, stable Iraq, just as they did in post- war Europe." (Hari, 'Liberal despair will not help Iraq now,' June 18, 2004)

He described how trade unions had stood up to both the insurgents and the "coalition":

"The union rejected 'the two poles of terrorism in Iraq' - the armed militias and the occupying forces - and insisted on a transition to a democratic Iraq. Here we have ordinary Iraqis refusing to allow yet another war to disrupt their lives, and they are greeted with total silence from progressive Brits." (Ibid)

He concluded:

"If you support the Iraqi people, don't just wring your hands. Give money to the trade unions at" (Ibid)

Hari also mentioned that he had sent money in support of Iraqi trade unions on April 14. His generosity is admirable but, once again, there is no mention of the catastrophic conditions facing Iraqis.

And why, anyway, did Hari encourage British readers to send money to trade unions in a country overwhelmed by war, civilian casualties, chaos and superpower tyranny? The British public has essentially zero direct influence on political events in superpower-controlled Iraq. By contrast, we have potentially unlimited influence on British government policy at home. Why did Hari not, instead, call for a national campaign - perhaps supported by senior NHS doctors and aid agencies - to shame the government into sending medical help to Iraqi hospitals? How can a rich country like ours invade a country like Iraq and then allow its people to sicken and die for the lack of even basic medicines?

Through his Independent column, Hari could have generated real pressure on the government and made a genuine difference to the lives of Iraqi civilians about whose welfare he claims to be so concerned. He could have exposed the mass killing of civilians, drawing attention to leaked videos of helicopter pilots killing injured (presumed) insurgents, and bomber pilots gleefully "taking out" unarmed crowds of people in Fallujah.

Of course unions should play a role in a genuinely democratic Iraq. But the discussion is academic to the point of absurdity given that most Iraqis are engaged in a life and death struggle simply to survive. Their priority is an end to air strikes, tank attacks, artillery barrages, sniping, car bombs and roadside explosive devices. Their concern is to keep their children alive by gaining access to clean water, electricity, medicines and functioning hospitals.

Would we have concerned ourselves with the state of unions in Stalingrad, My Lai, or Kuwait under Saddam Hussein?


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 Johann Hari:

Write to Adrian Hamilton, the Independent's comment editor:

Write to Simon Kelner, the Independent's editor:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 06:06 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, November 8, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 8, 2004


Introduction - Pacifying The Population

In 1984, Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead described how "demonstration elections" are "organised and staged by a foreign power primarily to pacify a restive home population, reassuring it that ongoing interventionary processes are legitimate and appreciated by their foreign objects." (Herman and Brodhead, Demonstration Elections, South End Press, 1984, p.5)

In the case of Iraq, it is of course vital that domestic audiences in the US and UK be persuaded that their governments are killing Iraqis with the support of, even on behalf of, Iraqis themselves. The possibility that Iraqis might be dying in their tens of thousands for Western power and profit must, of course, be kept so far out of sight that it is barely even thinkable.

In this morning's ZNet commentary, Herman notes that there may be a demonstration election planned for Iraq in January:

"But meanwhile it is nominally ruled by Ayad Allawi, openly selected by US officials, but taken by the media (and Kofi Annan and the UN) as a genuine leader of Iraq. In the runup to 'saving' Fallujah, US military officials say that they are awaiting a go-ahead from the head-of-sovereign-Iraq, Mr. Allawi, for permission! Like the United States needed a go-ahead from [South Vietnamese] Generals Ky and Thieu to ravage their country with Agent Orange and napalm!" (Herman, ZNet Commentary, 'We Had To Destroy Fallujah in Order to Save It,' November 8, 2004)

The Iraqi leader's mythical go-ahead being, again, vital in providing legitimacy for an attack on a Third World city with main battle tanks and supersonic bombers.

Some Would Call It A Fiction

Today, the broadcast media announced that the long-awaited superpower assault on Fallujah - a city of 300,000 people, of whom some 30,000 are said to remain - had begun.

Remarkably, the courageous ITV News reporter, Julian Manyon, did not fall into line. On today's 12:30 Lunchtime News, Manyon said:

"We've had now, this morning, the formality - some would call it, I'm afraid, the fiction - that Iyad Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq, has given the official order to commence the operation against Fallujah. Of course in reality it is an American operation." (Manyon, ITV News, 12:30pm, November 8, 2004)

This is not the hymn sheet from which the media is supposed to be singing. Fortunately, the post-Hutton BBC is on hand to channel official propaganda with the power to reassure and bamboozle the viewing public. The BBC's lunchtime news anchor, Anna Ford, opened today's news with this solemn announcement:

"Iraq's prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has said he has given American and Iraqi forces the authority to clear Fallujah of terrorists." (Ford, BBC 1, 13:00 News, November 8, 2004)

Almost everything in this statement is false: Allawi is not the legitimate prime minister of Iraq, he is an American-installed stooge. Allawi did not give authority to US forces to attack Fallujah - +they+ are the authority in Iraq, Allawi is their mouthpiece. The US goal is not to "clear Fallujah of terrorists"; it is to crush Iraqi resistance to US control of their country.

BBC executives justify affording such high-profile coverage to Allawi's words on the grounds that he is the Iraqi leader. If similar coverage had been proposed for the Soviet-imposed rulers of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the same BBC executives would have fallen about laughing. Might, quite simply, makes right.

On the same news programme, the BBC's 'embedded' correspondent, Paul Wood, gave a report that included footage of US forces and an Iraqi commando unit storming a hospital in Fallujah. Iraqi prisoners were shown being tied up and blindfolded. Wood said:

"The insurgents here were quickly overpowered, and without a shot fired."

On ITV, Manyon had told us 30 minutes earlier that half of these hospital "insurgents" had immediately been released.

Footage followed of a speech by US marine general John Sattler to troops:

"This town's being held hostage by mugs, thugs, murderers and intimidators. All they need is for us to give them the opportunity to break the back of that intimidation."

Wood added:

"Officers from this battalion are meeting now. I think, probably, following the press conference by prime minister Allawi, they will come back to tell these marines that finally the operation is on."

Anna Ford spoke again from the studio:

"Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, said the rule of law will be imposed in Fallujah very soon."

And then to a clip of Allawi's press conference:

"We are after terrorists, we are not after anybody else. And all the Iraqi people, including people in Fallujah, they want us to go ahead and finish the terrorists, and have the rule of law prevail in Fallujah, and this is what we intend to do."

Again and again, the impression was given that Allawi was in charge, that he was giving the orders, that he was intent on bringing 'law and order', rather than US control, to Iraq. You could not guess from today's BBC lunchtime news that this is in fact a war between illegal foreign occupiers and local resistance fighters.

The impression given was that Iraqis were directing the war being waged on their own people, with Western control and goals whitewashed to invisibility. This has the effect of pacifying and disarming British public opinion, so reducing resistance, so making it easier for the West to continue killing for control and profit.

Claire Marshall then reported from Baghdad:

"He [Allawi] said that he has given his authority to the multinational and to the Iraqi forces. This does seem to be the authority which they were waiting for in order to carry out their full-scale assault, possibly into the centre of Fallujah."

Imagine how horrified we would have been to hear crude propaganda of this kind from a Soviet journalist reviewing Red Army actions in Afghanistan. Marshall continued:

"Prime minister Iyad Allawi also suggested that the fight will go on. He said that 'any place in Iraq which houses terrorists will now be cleaned'."

Thus, on seven occasions, the BBC gave the impression that Allawi was the real authority in Iraq, so promoting the lethal myth that the assault on Fallujah is essentially an Iraqi operation against "terrorists" and "mugs, thugs, murderers and intimidators", to be "cleaned" and "cleared". There were no balancing words from commentators opposed to the US waging an illegal high-tech war against city slums.

Marshall added:

"Basically the people who are still in the town of Fallujah are those who either have nowhere else to go, or those who are trying to protect their houses from looting, or those who want to join in the fight."

One other category springs to mind - those who are too young, old, sick and infirm to move at all.


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 Anna Ford

Write to Paul Wood

Write to Claire Marshall

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 06:29 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, November 6, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 6, 2004


By: David Edwards

"In thee mercy, in thee pity, in thee magnificence, in thee whatever of goodness is in any creature, are united." (Dante)

Treating Earth Like It Was Dirt

Having taken a wrong turning, become lost in a forest, and wandered though a dark tunnel - all classic metaphors of crisis and transformation - ten-year-old Chihiro and her parents stumble on a sumptuous banquet in an apparently deserted theme park in Miyazaki's animated film, Spirited Away.

Without a care in the world, or permission, the parents tuck in, declaring they will pay with cash or credit card when the absent caterers return. Theirs is the self-confidence of so many wealthy professionals who take for granted that money, and the power money brings, can fix every problem. When they were driving through the forest, Chihiro asked her father if they were lost. He replied, "Don't worry, I've got four-wheel drive." High-tech power fixes everything - even when you're going in the wrong direction.

The parents proceed to gorge themselves on the abundant feast. Despite their evident, animalistic pleasure the soundtrack leaves us in no doubt that this is very much a crisis, not a celebration. Horrified by their reckless greed, Chihiro implores her parents to stop, warning of trouble ahead - but they are too engrossed even to respond.

We quickly discover that the parents have indeed committed a grave sin - they have gatecrashed a feast for divine visitors to a spirit world bath house: "where eight million gods can rest their weary bones". Their poetic punishment? To be turned into vast, slobbering pigs penned for slaughter! It is down to little Chihiro, running off alone - bewildered and shaking with fear - to find a way to break the spell and return her parents to human form before they are eaten.

This is a wonderful set of metaphors for our modern condition. So many people are indeed enslaved to slavering, reckless greed in exactly this way - our corporate planet is collapsing under the weight of unrestrained consumption and infinitely rising profits. Who gives a damn about the future when we can pay off any damage we cause with credit cards and cash? The result, as XTC's Andy Partridge sings: "We treated Earth like it was dirt."

As epidemics of diabetes, obesity, alcoholism and other illnesses of over-consumption rage around us, we might just as well have upset the gods in the way of Chihiro's parents. We can talk in terms of consumerism offending the rules of ecological sustainability, if we like; or we can talk of offending nature's spirits. Either way, demonic storms of climate change are being summoned to smash, flatten and flood us.

And what is so wonderful is that Miyazaki dumps the symbolised version of this crisis into the symbolic lap of the apparently clueless Chihiro - all skinny legs, baggy shorts and T-shirt-clutching fear. Except that Chihiro does have +one+ clue - the one that matters.

Sympathy For A Stink God

Miyazaki goes to great lengths to indicate Chihiro's anxiety and vulnerability. She runs in blind panic from her pig-parents this way and that as looming spirits arrive for the banquet. At first, all she can do is scream and run, fall flat on her face, wish it were a dream, and sob into her hands. Is this the hero to save the day? Is this really someone with the power to break the spell of greed and pacify the anger of the gods?

Where Hollywood heroes nonchalantly wisecrack and muscle their way to salvation, Japan's Chihiro sits curled up in terror, shivering and lost. Her clarion call: "I'm afraid!"

And isn't this the fear and helplessness we all feel in contemplating the awesome problems around us, for which no sane individual could possibly feel a match? None of +us+ has the confidence or power of a Hollywood hero, either. All of us are alone, bewildered and insecure in the face of this, too.

Ernest Hemingway wrote beautifully of heroic struggles for the great cause, the great love, the great fish. But in our real lives we often don't know what the great cause +is+. We often don't know if our great love is the real thing, or just a childish infatuation. We don't know if, in facing adversity, we are being heroic or just doing what anyone would have done. In working to make the world a better place, we don't even know if we're making things worse!

Is it possible that the shivering Chihiro can somehow provide inspiration to the rest of us trembling, transient sparks of human consciousness? But what on earth could she possibly offer in response to the terrible crises facing her and us?

Throughout her many trials and tribulations it is made clear that Chihiro has both nothing and everything. She is small, physically weak, confused and afraid; and yet she has one overwhelming resource to make up for everything. Chihiro is guided by invincible love for her parents, and for the mysterious boy-God Haku, her friend and helper. Every decision she makes, every word she utters, every courageous act she attempts, is motivated by her desire to save her parents from being eaten, and Haku from dying.

First, to avoid being eaten herself - a real possibility in this spirit world - she has to demand work from Yubaba, the manager-witch of the bath house. Yubaba is duty-bound to give work to all who ask for it and, as a good business manager, is disinclined to eat her own staff!

One of Chihiro's first tasks is to bathe the dreaded Stink God - a vast muddy being with body odour that incinerates food to ashes. Knowing that work offers the only hope of rescuing her parents, Chihiro overcomes her revulsion and succeeds in hosing down the noxious divinity. Here, also, we see that she is encountering the consequences of greed. Finding a "thorn" in the side of the refreshed Stink God, she attaches a rope and pulls out what are in fact the handlebars of a dumped bicycle, followed by an emerging avalanche of scrap metal, tins and other fly-tipped rubbish. The Stink God sighs in blissful relief, "Well done!". The being, in fact, is a River God who has been polluted and gravely wounded, again, by the greed and wanton selfishness of man. The ecological message could hardly be clearer.

Chihiro's compassionate response on seeing the "thorn" was sufficient to transform the wretched Stink God into a gleaming fountain of clear water which, laughing delightedly, flies out of the bath house. Looking into her cupped hands, she finds she has been rewarded with a gift of magic food. Could this have the power to break the spell and transform her parents?

No Face - Every Place

Chihiro's most telling encounter with greed involves the spirit No Face. "Everyone", Miyazaki tells us, "has a No Face inside".

No Face is a silent, haunting figure with a voracious appetite that grows more extreme the more it is indulged. With gold magically manifesting from his hands, he buys endless praise, attention and sensual gratification. And yet he is never satisfied, declaring himself haunted by loneliness. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, reports of brain function:

"In craving, the circuitry associated with liking appears to be weakened. Because our sense of liking or enjoyment declines and our wanting increases, we want more and more and we like less and less. We must keep wanting - but we need more to enjoy it as much." (Quoted, Daniel Goleman, Destructive Emotions, Bloomsbury, 2003, p.202)

And so we can become a kind of bottomless black hole of desire, like No Face. In Buddhist terminology, No Face is an example of a "hungry ghost" - an insatiable, craving spirit ultimately tortured by its inability to love. When asked what a hungry ghost realm looks like, one Buddhist teacher replied: "America!"

The more No Face is indulged by the bath house workers, greedy for his gold, the more crazed he becomes until he eventually swallows several people whole. Again, the apparently powerless Chihiro is required to confront this symbol of greed, with No Face reflexively offering her a handful of gold. But with heart and mind immovably fixed on rescuing her loved ones, Chihiro is not interested: "I don't want any. Don't need any. I'm busy, please excuse me."

No Face is visibly deflated by this lack of grasping. Later, in sympathetic response to the monster's despair - "I'm lonely, lonely" - Chihiro offers him the magic food she received from the River God: "I was saving it for my parents, but you can have it." It is this act of generosity, this kindness, that finally satisfies No Face's hunger, which is actually of the spiritual kind. For the first time, he is being offered something out of kindness rather than out of lust for his gold. Just as the Stink God was purified by an outpouring of rubbish, so a flood of filth (and swallowed people) now pours out of No Face.

Moments later, we see him sitting calmly beside his now beloved Chihiro on a train travelling across a flooded landscape, with our diminutive heroine saying gently: "Behave yourself, okay?". On her lap, protected by her cupped hands, a rat and fly are dozing contentedly - two more former enemies who have been won over by kindness.

Miyazaki is clearly suggesting that Chihiro triumphs over all obstacles through the purity of her gentle heart. She does not slay dragons and ogres in the way of Western mythical heroes; she transforms them with love, generosity and compassion.

According to this version of the world, 'evil' is life traumatised and blocked by suffering and confusion. The solution is not to add to the suffering with hatred and revenge - like throwing dirt in the wound - but to relieve the suffering that is the underlying cause.

And so Chihiro does not need to lift weights, ride tanks, or wield mighty swords. She needs only to care about the suffering of others, and to work with all her strength and courage to relieve it.

This motivation, Miyazaki tells us, has the power to transform despair into delight, enemies into friends... and pigs into people!

(Note: This film is available in two versions: the Japanese original with subtitles, or, dubbed with American voices. I recommend the former.)

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Posted by David Edwards @ 01:09 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, November 4, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 4, 2004


By way of a splendid coincidence, Media Lens received this delayed response from the BBC on November 3:

"I am writing in response to your email to Caroline Hawley dated 13/10. Apologies for the delay in replying. The estimate for the number of people killed by Saddam Hussein is based on the figure from Human Rights Watch. They estimate that as many as 290,000 Iraqis were 'disappeared' by the Iraqi government over the past two decades, and that many of these 'disappeared' are those whose remains are now being unearthed in mass graves in Iraq.

"The investigators are working for the Iraqi Special Tribunal which was is under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi interim government.

Yours sincerely,

Jenny Baxter"

Notice the lack of scepticism about the methodology used in arriving at the figures, and about the credibility of the Iraqi Special Tribune - there are no reservations, doubts or caveats.

On October 13, we had written to BBC correspondent Caroline Hawley asking the basis for her claim that Saddam Hussein had killed 300,000 Iraqis. In her BBC News report, Hawley had also expressed no reservations about the figure.

By contrast, a BBC website review of last week's Lancet report of 100,000 excess civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion, included several balancing comments:

"UK foreign secretary Jack Straw said his government would examine the findings 'with very great care'. But he told BBC's Today that another independent estimate of civilian deaths was around 15,000." Meanwhile a "Pentagon spokesman said 'there is no accurate way to validate the estimates of civilian casualties by this or any other organisation'." ('Iraq death toll "soared post-war"', October 29, 2004)

On November 2, we received this response from Channel 4 News science reporter, Tom Clarke:

"The weakness I refered to in my piece is a direct reflection of the limitiations highlighted by the researchers themselves in the discussion of their results. These limitations were also referred to by the lancet's editor Richard Horton in his commentary that accompanied the article. I direct you [to] the entire of page six of their paper.

"Remarkably, neither the MoD nor the FCO keep a tally of civilian casuaties in Iraq, and Downing Street dismissed -- pretty much out of hand, the only attempt to do so. By pointing these facts out in my report, I hoped the viewer might draw their own conclusions. My piece reported on the best attempt so far to quantify civilian casulties in Iraq, yet would have been seriously biased, had I not made plain its significant limitations (a study with a 95% confidence interval for the final death toll rangining from 8,000 to 194,000)."

One of the report's authors, Richard Garfield, has responded to the same challenge:

"Research is more than summarizing data, it is also interpretation. If we had just visited the 32 neighborhoods without Falluja and did not look at the data or think about them, we would have reported 98000 deaths, and said the measure was so imprecise that there was a 2.5% chance that there had been less than 8,000 deaths, a 10% chance that there had been less than about 45,000 deaths,....all of those assumptions that go with normal distributions.

"But we had two other pieces of information. First, violence accounted for only 2% of deaths before the war and was the main cause of death after the invasion. That is something new, consistent with the dramatic rise in mortality and reduces the likelihood that the true number was at the lower end of the confidence range. Secondly, there is the Falluja data, which imply that there are pockets of Anbar, or other communities like Falluja, experiencing intense conflict, that have far more deaths than the rest of the country. We set aside these data in statistical analysis because the result in this cluster was such an outlier, but it tells us that the true death toll is far more likely to be on the high-side of our point estimate than on the low side." (Professor Richard Garfield, email sent to Media Lens reader, October 31, 2004)

It is important to recognise that providing 95% confidence intervals is standard in scientific analysis of data. While Clarke was correct to mention these confidence intervals, he misrepresented the limitations of the report in stating that "the study's main weakness... is that it multiplies a small sample across the whole of Iraq".

This was not, in fact, a serious weakness. In response, we repeat here the comments made by report author Dr. Gilbert Burnham, quoted in part one of this alert:

"Can one estimate national figures on the basis of a sample?

"The answer is certainly yes (the basis of all census methods), provided that the sample is national, households are randomly selected, and great precautions are taken to eliminate biases. These are all what we did. Now the precision of the results is mostly dependent on sample size. The bigger the sample, the more precise the result. We calculated this carefully, and we had the statistical power to say what we did." (Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to David Edwards, October 30, 2004)

Lancet editor, Richard Horton, emphasised these points in his editorial:

"This remarkable piece of work represents the efforts of a courageous team of scientists. To have included more clusters [of households interviewed for the survey] would have improved the precision of their findings, but at an enormous and unacceptable risk to the team of interviewers who gathered the primary data. Despite these unusual challenges, the central observation - namely, that civilian mortality since the war has risen due to the effects of aerial weaponry - is convincing". (

In addition, to reiterate, the twin facts that:

(a) violence accounted for only 2% of deaths before the war but was the main cause of death after the invasion, and
(b) the high death-rate Fallujah data was discounted in the estimated tally of 98,000 excess deaths, mean that any movement away from this figure is likely to be on the high side of the estimated range, thus +greater+ than 98,000 deaths.

The Lancet report authors candidly and correctly weighed up +all+ the possible limitations of their study. Having done so, the estimate of 98,000 deaths is, based on all the evidence and its careful interpretation, a +conservative+ estimate. The researchers also, correctly, call for verification of these results by an independent body such as the World Health Organisation. For Channel 4 news to dismiss so easily the care, courage and scientific rigour of this report is remarkable.

In a BBC Newsnight debate - the only debate we have seen on the Lancet report - Michael Clarke of the International Policy Institute challenged the Lancet's editor, Richard Horton:

"This 100,000 figure, remember, has a huge margin of error. It ranges from 8,000 - which is half what most of the rest of us think it is - to 194,000. And what they've done is split the difference and said, 'Well, we think about 98,000 with some measure of confidence,' because there is a sort of a confidence statistical factor built into that. But that really isn't, to my mind, very credible." (BBC2, Newsnight, November 2, 2004)

Horton replied:

"Well that's not true. What you just heard isn't a correct summary of the research."

Horton began explaining that the figures were higher than previous estimates because this was the first empirical research of Iraqis themselves carried out in Iraq. Newsnight anchor, Gavin Esler, then interrupted, starkly revealing his failure to understand the figures:

"But you haven't got 100,000 death certificates, you haven't got 100,000 bodies. You've got somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000 is where you've put it, and you've gone in the middle."

Horton continued his reply:

"But that again is a misunderstanding of the figures. The most likely estimate of excess deaths is 98,000. It's +not+ right to say that it's equally likely it could be between 8,000 and 194,000. The most likely figure is 98,000, and as soon as you go away from that figure, either lower or higher, it's much less likely it will be much lower or higher."

Remarkably, Clarke then instantly renounced his claim that the authors had simply "split the difference", before moving on to a second claim:

"Statistically, that's a reasonable assumption, but the numbers are too small. I mean remember, seven people - very brave people, who did a series of interviews in 33 different places - but seven people, spent a month interviewing the Iraqi families that they went to visit. And on the basis of interviews, and what Iraqi families told them, they've made these extrapolations. But the numbers are really very small. The number of confirmed deaths that they look at is 61 - not 61,000, or 610, but 61."

Of course the idea that the "numbers are too small" is +exactly+ the kind of issue that the serious scientists, peer reviewers and Lancet editors involved in producing the report would have focused on first in considering the merits of the research. According to the report's authors, it is simply not true that "the numbers are too small". Based on the chosen sample size, the 100,000 figure can be advanced "with great certainty". This is simply a matter of scientific logic.

Richard Horton concluded his comments by noting the shocking truth that "there has been no debate" on the Lancet report.

The Charnel House - A Simple Question From A Couple Of Amateurs

Ahead of the war, almost all journalists accepted that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was one vast torture chamber for the civilian population. Journalists and politicians talked often of a "charnel house", a "giant Gulag" and so on. In October 2003, Labour MP Ann Clwyd said:

"In June this year I stood on the edge of Saddam's killing fields. I saw the skeletons of men, women and children being dug up in this enormous mass grave. I do not believe, and neither do you, that we should turn a blind eye to such atrocities." (Paul Eastham, 'Blair safe as tears wash away Labour rebellion over Iraq,' Daily Mail, October 2, 2003)

In June 2003, the Telegraph's Con Coughlin wrote:

"Another day and another mass grave is unearthed in Iraq". He added: "So many of these harrowing sites have been uncovered in the two months since Saddam's overthrow that even the experts are starting to lose count of just how many atrocities were committed by the Iraqi dictator's henchmen... If this were Kosovo, the Government would be under fire for not having acted sooner to prevent the genocide."

Coughlin concluded:

"Having just returned from three weeks in post-liberation Iraq, I find it almost perverse that anyone should question the wisdom of removing Saddam from power." (Coughlin, 'So what if Saddam's deadly arsenal is never found? The war was just,' The Sunday Telegraph, June 1, 2003)

Journalists and politicians appeared to truly believe that genocide was ongoing in Iraq immediately prior to the invasion. And yet it appears not to have occurred to even one of them to check these claims against the findings of the Lancet report, which studied Iraqi deaths in periods before and after the invasion, interviewing 8,000 people around the country.

The point is that the report has produced a thorough scientific analysis of deaths for a period of time when Saddam Hussein was said to have been on a murderous rampage. It took a matter of moments for us - a couple of amateurs with virtually zero resources - to write to the report authors and ask them what they had found:

"Did your research uncover evidence of mass murder by Saddam Hussein's regime in the year prior to the invasion? There have been government and media claims of tens, even hundreds, of thousands murdered, whereas Amnesty International told me they estimated the figure to be in the hundreds. Did your research cast any light on that?" (David Edwards to Dr. Les Roberts, October 30, 2004)

The next day, we received this reply from the report's lead author, Dr. Les Roberts:

"There was one reported killing by Saddam's folks in the first days of the war (considered post-invasion) and there were a couple people who disappeared during the invasion (all adult males). We did not count disappearances as deaths. Thus, no, we have no evidence of that. That does not prove it did not happen. If it was only hundreds of deaths, our small sample probably would not have detected it." (Email to David Edwards, October 31, 2004)

Not one journalist has commented on the significance of the absence of evidence for claims that Saddam Hussein was involved in mass killing in the year prior to the invasion. Nor, in the case of reports of 300,000 alleged victims of Saddam Hussein, have there been consistent expressions of scepticism about, indeed dismissal of, 'dubious' methodology, statistical analysis and interpretation of results.

Coda - What Lester Luborsky Saw

Consider that, right up to the very eve of war last year, Tony Blair, Jack Straw and others insisted that "even now" a peaceful solution was possible. It was simple - all Saddam Hussein had to do was to comply fully with UN resolutions, cooperate with UN weapons inspectors, and give up his weapons of mass destruction. If that happened, the troops amassed in the desert would all go home - everyone would be happy. Journalists consistently reported Blair's claim that he was "going the extra mile for peace" as credible and sincere.

And yet, to our knowledge, not one journalist ever discussed what would happen in the event of a peaceful outcome. What would actually have happened if Iraq had somehow been able to comply fully by US-UK standards so that weapons inspectors were allowed to continue their work to the point where Iraq was given a clean bill of health? Would sanctions then have been lifted, leaving Saddam Hussein in power, Iraqi oil out of Western hands, and "coalition" forces wandering happily home? Would the US have been required to pick up the tab for sending a quarter of a million men around the world only to bring them straight back?

The reason no journalist ever discussed this possibility, we believe, was because they knew the US-UK governments would never permit such an eventuality. In other words, at some level, journalists +knew+ war was inevitable.

But, paradoxically, many of them also, simultaneously, +did+ believe that Blair and Straw were sincere in talking of a peaceful resolution. The intense propaganda brainwashing that persuades us of the fundamental benevolence of our leaders was in collision with the obvious realities. Media reporting reflected the propaganda but steered clear of areas of thought where the propaganda was quickly rendered absurd. And journalists were able to do all of this without knowing that they were doing it. But how on earth does this work?

In the 1960s, psychologist Lester Luborsky used a special camera to track the eye movements of subjects asked to look at a set of pictures. Subjects were asked to rate which pictures they liked and disliked. Three of the pictures were sexual in content, with one, for example, showing the outline of a woman's breast, beyond which a man could be seen reading a newspaper. The response of some subjects was remarkable. They were able to avoid letting their gaze stray even once to the sexually suggestive parts of the pictures. When later asked to describe the content of the pictures, these subjects remembered little or nothing sexually suggestive about them. Some could not even recall seeing the pictures. Psychologist Daniel Goleman explains:

"In order to avoid looking, some element of the mind must have known first what the picture contained, so that it knew what to avoid. The mind somehow grasps what is going on and rushes a protective filter into place, thus steering awareness away from what threatens." (Goleman, Vital Lies, Simple Truths - The Psychology of Self-Deception, Bloomsbury, 1997, p.107)

Like all of us, journalists need to believe they are honest, reasonable human beings. There is a problem, however - career success depends on their not finding +too+ much to criticise in the operation of elite state-corporate power. The art of successful mainstream journalism is the art of reconciling these two irreconcilables without admitting the lie to conscious awareness.

As with the individuals in Luborsky's experiments, journalists somehow understand what is going on and rush a protective filter into place, steering awareness away from what threatens. It is an awesome and intriguing phenomenon of human psychology.

The consequences are awesome, too - incinerated children, dismembered bodies, and families smashed and broken in depthless grief.


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 Labour MP Ann Clwyd

Write to Daily Telegraph reporter Con Coughlin

Write to Tom Clarke, Science Reporter, Channel 4 News

Write to Jim Gray, Channel 4 News Editor

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 12:05 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, November 2, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

November 2, 2004


The Nicest Guys You Can Imagine

In their film, The Corporation, Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan describe how in the mid-1800s the corporation was declared a "fictitious person" in law and granted the same legal rights as real individuals. So what kind of 'person' is a corporation?

The filmmakers assessed the corporate 'personality' using diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organisation and standard diagnostic tools of psychiatrists and psychologists:

"The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social 'personality': It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism... Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a 'psychopath.'"(

We, of course, live in a society dominated by these corporate psychopaths. Our media is not +controlled+ by them, as is sometimes claimed; it is comprised of them.

Unsurprisingly, then, the corporate media system consistently responds in an inhuman and callous way to even the most horrific suffering. But isn't the media made up of nice, well-educated, well-spoken journalists? Yes, absolutely, but Noam Chomsky makes the point that matters:

"When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave owner, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual. So slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny, are inherently monstrous. But the individuals participating in them may be the nicest guys you can imagine - benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves, caring about other people. I mean as individuals they may be anything. In their institutional role, they're monsters, because the institution's monstrous. And the same is true here." (Ibid)

And the same is certainly true of the media response to the US-UK assault on Iraq.

On October 29, the prestigious scientific journal, The Lancet, published a report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: 'Mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: cluster sample survey'. (

The authors estimate that 100,000 more Iraqi civilians died than would have been expected had the invasion not occurred. They write:

"Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of Coalition forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery." (Press Release, 'Iraqi Civilian Deaths Increase Dramatically After Invasion,' October 28, 2004,

Most of those killed by "coalition" forces were women and children.

The report was met with a low-key, sceptical response, or outright silence in the media. There was no horror, no outrage. No leaders were written pointing out that, in addition to the illegality, lies and public deception, our government is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 civilians.

Scepticism is reasonable enough, of course, but there have been no debates allowing the report's authors to respond to challenges. Journalists seem uninterested in establishing whether the government's dismissal of the report might be one more cynical deception. Instead they have been happy to just move on. And to just move on in response to a mass slaughter of innocents on this scale is indeed indicative of corporate psychopathy. As Chomsky says, in their institutional roles, corporate journalists really are monsters.

At time of writing (November 2), the Lancet report has not been mentioned at all by the Observer, the Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Star, the Sun and many others. The Express devoted 71 words to the report, but only in its Lancashire edition. We asked the Observer editor, Roger Alton, why his paper had failed to mention the report. He replied:

"Dear Mr Edwards,

Thanks for your note. The figures were well covered in the week, but also I find the methodology a bit doubtful..." (Email to Media Lens, November 1, 2004)

In fact, the figures were covered in two brief Guardian articles (October 29 and October 30). The second of these, entitled, 'No 10 challenges civilian death toll', focused heavily on government criticism of the report without allowing the authors to respond. The Guardian then dropped the story.

The Independent also published two articles on October 29 and 30. But these were then followed up by two articles on the subject totalling some 1,200 words in the Independent on Sunday.

The Guardian's David Aaronovitch told us:

"I have a feeling (and I could be wrong) that the report may be a dud." (Email to Media Lens, October 30, 2004)

This is the sum-total of coverage afforded by The Sunday Times:

"Tony Blair, too, may have recalled Basil Fawlty when The Lancet published an estimate that 100,000 Iraqis have died since the start of the allied invasion." (Michael Portillo, 'The Queen must not allow Germany to act like a victim,' The Sunday Times, October 31, 2004)

The Evening Standard managed two sentences:

"The emails came as a new study in The Lancet estimated 100,000 civilians had died since the conflict began. The Prime Minister's official spokesman... added that the 100,000 death toll figure could not be trusted because it was based on an extrapolation." (Paul Waugh, 'Blair "did not grasp risk to troops"', October 29, 2004)

The Times has so far restricted itself to one report on October 29. This, however, at least contradicted the growing government and media smear campaign:

"Statisticians who have analysed the data said last night that the scientists' methodology was strong and the civilian death count could well be conservative.

"They said that the work effectively disproved suggestions by US authorities that civilian bodycounts were impossible to conduct." (Sam Lister, 'Researchers claims that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in war,' The Times, October 29, 2004)

Scientific Strength - Our Data Have Been Back And Forth

The tone for the response was set on Channel 4 News (October 29, 19:00), by science reporter Tom Clarke, who spent 53 seconds of his 2 minute 15 second report challenging the methodology of the Lancet report:

"Today, Downing Street dismissed the report saying the researchers used an extrapolation technique, which they considered inappropriate, rather than a detailed body count." (Tom Clarke, Channel 4 website, October 29, 2004)

Clarke emphasised how much higher the report's estimate of civilian deaths was than previous estimates:

"The Iraq Ministry of Health has estimated 3000 civilian deaths, but they've only been counting for six months.

"Another figure - over 16 000 since the conflict began - comes from a project called Iraqbodycount. Their estimate is based on reported casualties. This latest study comes up with a very different number: nearly 100,000 extra civilian deaths since war began - possibly more."

Clarke then added:

"But without bodies, can we trust the body count? Higher than average civilian casualties in Fallujah strongly distorted this study making the nationwide average well over 100 thousand so families surveyed there were discounted from the final figure.

"The reliability of interviews must be questioned too, though four out of five families were able to produce a death certificate."

Curiously, Clarke claimed that Fallujah "strongly distorted this study". And yet, as he himself noted, "families surveyed there were discounted" - so Fallujah did +not+ in fact distort the report. But he then claimed the reliability of interviews must +also+ be questioned - ie that this was a further problem in addition to the distortion he had just discounted.

Clarke then made his most serious claim:

"But the study's main weakness, and the one highlighted by Downing Street in dismissing today's figures, is that it multiplies a small sample across the whole of Iraq. A country at war, where people are aggrieved and displaced from their homes, makes household based surveys far less accurate."

It is remarkable that a news reporter could so casually dismiss the methodology and findings of a carefully implemented study that has been rigorously peer-reviewed for one of the world's leading scientific journals.

We asked the report's authors about the large rise in numbers of estimated civilian deaths over previous estimates, and also on the ability to make a reliable body count without bodies. Dr. Gilbert Burnham responded:

"In short, we used a standard survey method that is used all over the world to estimate mortality. So bodies are not necessary to calculate mortality. In fact going to the community for household surveys on mortality is the standard method used for calculating mortality all over the world, and is probably the method used in the UK census as well, although I am not a demographer.

"Anyway, information collected in surveys always produces higher numbers than 'passive reporting' as many things never get reported. This is the easy explanation for the differences between, and our survey.

"Further a survey can find other causes of death related to public health problems such as women dying in childbirth, children dead of infectious diseases, and elderly unable to reach a source of insulin, which body counts cannot do--since they collect information from newspaper accounts of deaths (usually violent ones). Can one estimate national figures on the basis of a sample?

"The answer is certainly yes (the basis of all census methods), provided that the sample is national, households are randomly selected, and great precautions are taken to eliminate biases. These are all what we did. Now the precision of the results is mostly dependent on sample size. The bigger the sample, the more precise the result. We calculated this carefully, and we had the statistical power to say what we did. Doing a larger sample size could make the figure more precise (smaller confidence intervals) but would have entailed risks to the surveyors which we did not want to take, as they were high enough already.

"Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school (chair of Biostatistics Dept), so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!" (Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to David Edwards, October 30, 2004)

Channel 4's Tom Clarke had made a further observation:

"The definition of civilian is also unclear. The majority of violent deaths were among young men who may - or may not - have been insurgents."

The report's lead author, Dr. Les Roberts, responded to this point:

"The civilian question is fair. About 25% of the population were adult males. >70% of people who died in automobile accidents were adult males. Presumably, they died more than other demographic groups because they are out and about more. 46% of people reportedly killed by coalition forces were adult males. Thus, some of them may have been combatants, some probably were not... perhaps they were just out and about more and more likely to be in targeted areas. We reported that over half of those killed by coalition forces were women and children to point out that if there was targeting, it was not very focused. Thus, we are careful to say that about 100,000 people, perhaps far more were killed. We suspect that the vast majority were civilians, but we do not say each and every one of the approximately 100,000 was a civilian." (Email to David Edwards, October 31, 2004)

Clarke concluded his Channel 4 report with a damning statement:

"Given the worsening security situation, it'll be a long time before we have an accurate picture for civilian losses in Iraq, if ever."

This suggested that flawed methodology meant the Lancet report could safely be dismissed as failing to provide "an accurate picture for civilian losses in Iraq". It meant the researchers, the Lancet peer review team, and the Lancet editors, had produced an unreliable piece of work.

To reiterate the response of the report's authors: "we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!"

An October 29 Downing Street press release read:

"Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about a survey published today suggesting that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the war in Iraq, the PMOS [Prime Minister's Official Spokesman] said that it was important to treat the figures with caution because there were a number of concerns and doubts about the methodology that had been used. Firstly, the survey appeared to be based on an extrapolation technique rather than a detailed body count. Our worries centred on the fact that the technique in question appeared to treat Iraq as if every area was one and the same. In terms of the level of conflict, that was definitely not the case. Secondly, the survey appeared to assume that bombing had taken place throughout Iraq. Again, that was not true. It had been focussed primarily on areas such as Fallujah. Consequently, we did not believe that extrapolation was an appropriate technique to use."

We again raised these queries with the report authors. Dr. Roberts replied:

"Point 1 is true and it is not a mistake on our part. We would have had a more accurate picture if we conducted a 'stratified' sample, with some in the high violence areas and some in the low violence areas. But, that would have involved visiting far more houses and exposing the interviewers to even more risk. Secondly, we do not know how many people are in the 'high violence' areas, so this would have involved large assumptions that would now be criticized.

"Most samples are taken with the assumption that all the clusters are 'exchangeable' for purposes of analysis. The difference between them is considered in the interpretation of the data.

"Point two, assumes bombing is happening equally across Iraq. There is no such explicit assumption. There is the assumption that all individuals in Iraq had an equal opportunity to die (and if we did not, it would not be a representative sample). It happens, that the one place with a lot of bombings, Falluja, and we excluded that from our 100,000 estimate....thus if anything, assuming that there has not been any intensive bombing in Iraq.

"Finally, there were 7 clusters in the Kurdish North with no violent deaths. Of those 26 randomly picked neighborhoods visited in the South, the area that was invaded, 5 had reported deaths from Coalition air-strikes. This, I suspect that such events are more widespread than the review suggests." (Email to David Edwards, November 1, 2004)

Almost none of the above has been debated anywhere in the UK press. It is clear that the Johns Hopkins researchers, the Lancet editors, and the Lancet's peer-review team, naturally took every precaution to ensure that the methodology involved could withstand the intense scrutiny a report of this kind was bound to generate. Their results point to the mass slaughter of 100,000 civilians. The media is just not interested.

Part 2 will follow shortly...


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

Write to Observer editor, Roger Alton

Write to the Observer's foreign affairs editor, Peter Beaumont

Write to Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times

Write to Martin Newland, editor of the Daily Telegraph

Ask them why they have failed to so much as +mention+ the Lancet's report of 100,000 excess civilian deaths as a result of the US-UK invasion of Iraq.

Email Channel 4 News about their reporting:

Tom Clarke, Science Reporter, Channel 4 News

Jim Gray, Channel 4 News Editor

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:


If you would like to make a donation:

Visit the Media Lens website:

Posted by David Edwards @ 01:27 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 29, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 29, 2004


Johann Hari And The Aftermath Of Invasion

An Important Caveat

In a debate with Robert Fisk recently, the Independent's Johann Hari said of his support for the invasion of Iraq:

"So what was I supposed to do, as a progressive person who believes the job of the left is to side with oppressed people? How could I march with people like George Galloway and say, 'Give peace a chance', when I knew most Iraqis preferred this war to the alternative, never-ending war waged on them by Saddam? Wouldn't that have been a lie? Wouldn't that have been a betrayal of an oppressed people?"

Hari went on to say:

"But I would add a very important caveat to what I just said. If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people then you damn well have to carry on supporting the Iraqi people afterwards."

At the heart of Hari's argument is the assertion that he is above all concerned for the welfare and wishes of the Iraqi people - he wants to relieve their oppression and suffering, and so supported an invasion to topple Saddam's murderous tyranny.

Notice that Hari's concern is fundamentally moral - his problem was not with Saddam Hussein as such; it was with Saddam Hussein as a cause of suffering to the Iraqi people. And as Hari himself suggests, "If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people, then you damn well have to carry on" working to relieve their suffering afterwards.

It makes no difference, from Hari's moral point of view, if the oppressor is Saddam Hussein, Paul Bremer or Ayad Allawi. His support is about relief of suffering, pure and simple - he feels morally obliged to urge action (even violent action) to relieve this suffering, no matter who or what the cause. That much is clear.

The situation "afterwards", of course, is even more morally pressing for Hari because he personally supported the invasion that gave rise to these subsequent conditions. If he was concerned about the fate of Iraqis prior to invasion, then how much more this must be the case in the aftermath of a war which he helped make possible.

So what evidence is there to suggest that Hari has followed through on his commitment to "carry on supporting the Iraqi people afterwards"?

The Missing Mentions

As we reported recently, infant mortality has actually increased since the invasion, while child malnutrition has almost doubled. A report by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, published yesterday by the medical journal, The Lancet, found that deaths of Iraqis have soared to 100,000 above normal since the war mainly due to violence - many of the victims have been women and children. Eighty-four percent of the deaths were reported to be caused by the actions of "Coalition" forces and 95 percent of those deaths were due to air strikes and artillery. (

There is also an epidemic of cancers in Iraq and a shortage of vital medicines. The education system is in ruins. Endless suffering has been caused by lack of electricity, access to clean water... The list is almost endless.

On October 28, we wrote to Hari mentioning the points above, adding:

"We conducted a Lexis-Nexis search of all the articles you have written this year mentioning the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi'. This was by no means a scientific study, but it surely did provide strong clues to the focus and tone of your reporting. We found the following numbers of mentions for these words in your commentary on Iraq:

Cancer - 0 mentions
Child/infant mortality - 0
Civilian/s - 1 (sanctions effect in 'weakening', 25.8)
Depleted Uranium - 0
Disease - 0
Education - 0
Electricity - 0
Hospitals - 0
Iraqi civilian/s - 1 (killed by insurgents, 21.1)
Landmines - 0
Malnutrition - 0
Poverty - 0
Schools - 0
Unexploded bombs/ordnance - 0
Unicef - 0
Water - 0

It seems you have made no attempt to draw attention to the appalling and growing crises that surround these issues in Iraq in your Independent articles. How does this tally with your claim that you supported the war out of compassion for Iraqi suffering, and that you are determined to 'carry on supporting the Iraqi people' after the invasion?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell"

Remarkably, despite having essentially ignored the humanitarian crises in Iraq this year, we found that Hari has focused with considerable passion on several of these issues with regard to another Third World country. On April 23, Hari wrote of Sudan:

"The Janjaweed are committing pogroms on a massive scale. They are burning entire villages and systematically trashing the civilian infrastructure of schools, hospitals and irrigation systems. The UN report leaked yesterday confirms reports of mass rape, and warned that so many crops and animals are being destroyed that 'a man-made famine' is now probable.

"Mercedes Tatay, a Darfur-based physician with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, gives a glimpse into the state of a country where journalists are being denied access. 'You can drive for 100 miles and see nobody, no civilians,' she says. 'You pass through large villages, completely burned or still burning, and you see nobody.'" (Hari, 'Sudan is another Rwanda in the making', The Independent, April 23, 2004)

Hari's proposed response to this suffering, even as he blanks much of the misery of the country whose invasion he so recently promoted? Another Western invasion!:

"Will a Coalition of the Willing send troops to join the Rwandans in Darfur when the UN deadline expires at the end of this week?

"If not you can toss your tear-stained copies of Schindler's List on to a bonfire along with the people of western Sudan. All those times we muttered 'never again' will be exposed yet again as a lie." (Hari, 'If the victims of this mass murder were white, would we have acted long ago?', August 25, 2004)

We will publish Hari's reply and our response in Part 2 shortly...


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

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Posted by David Edwards @ 03:50 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, October 21, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 21, 2004


On October 5, we published a Media Alert: 'The Mythology Of Mistakes'. We challenged a claim made by Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's world affairs correspondent, that US forces merely make "mistakes" in killing Iraqi civilians. On September 30, Witchell had said on BBC news:

"As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life - either as a result of mistakes by the Americans, or, far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents." (Nicholas Witchell, BBC News, September 2004)

We received the following email from Witchell on October 7:

Dear Mr Edwards,

Can I thank you and your many subscribers for their emails. I've read them and followed the debate on your website.

I'm sorry that my words on this occasion (BBC Six O'Clock News: 30.09.04) have caused the reaction that they have among the subscribers to medialens.

Much (though I accept not all) of your complaint is founded on the Knight Ridder article of 25 September. You and your subscribers have not identified what efforts you may have made to test the assertions in that article. Maybe you have made efforts to place this particular article under your media lens. It would seem a little odd, I think, given the rigour of the scrutiny of which you and your subscribers are capable, if you have taken this article at face value without having made any effort to test/check it.

The BBC here in Baghdad has spoken at some length to a very senior official at the Iraqi Health Ministry who has indicated that they simply do not support the interpretation placed on their figures in the Knight Ridder "scoop" of 25 September, for the simple reason that the Health Ministry does not categorise WHO causes violent deaths, any more than it attempts to distinguish between Iraqis killed whilst fighting the Americans and Iraqis who could be regarded as "non-combatants".

As Knight Ridder themselves acknowledge in their 25 September report, the Health Ministry civilian figures "include an unknown number of police and Iraqi national guardsmen". I don't believe anyone is suggesting that it is the Americans who are carrying out the repeated attacks on the Iraqi police and National Guard (a further 10 to 16 of whom were reported to have been killed yesterday in an explosion in Anah).

The BBC report which has prompted this reaction was about the series of 3 car bombs in Baghdad last Thursday which killed more than 40 people, among whom were some 34 children.

There were, in total, some 35 car bomb explosions in September which took several hundred civilian lives. I don't think any reasonable person would dispute that in recent weeks there have been significantly more civilian deaths in attacks such as these than there have been civilian deaths caused by the Americans. I referred to the latter as "mistakes" because I don't believe one can reasonably assert that the Americans are sending out their aircraft/forces with the premeditated intention of causing large numbers of deaths among "non-combatant" civilians. That there have been such deaths, and that they have been in substantial numbers, is similarly beyond doubt and, for example, during the recent nightly American airstrikes on Falluja, the BBC has consistently reported the statements about civilian deaths from local doctors and hospitals. It is important that we continue to do so and we shall.

However, plainly, when there is such uncertainty and ambiguity there is is a great responsibility on all of us who are attempting to report these things fairly from Baghdad to use the utmost care in our choice of language. I can assure you that this episode has forcefully re-emphasised that need to me.

Once again, thanks for all the e-mails.


Nicholas Witchell.

Dear Nick

Many thanks for your thoughtful reply, we greatly appreciate it.

You ask what efforts we made "to test the assertions" in the Knight-Ridder report. Limited resources make it difficult for us to rapidly investigate the accuracy of stories published by major news agencies. We note, however, that the Knight-Ridder story was widely covered by leading newspapers across the United States - by the Miami Herald and the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example - which clearly found the story credible. Jonathan Steele also cited the report in his October 9 article in the Guardian, concluding:

"The greatest risk of pre-election violence in today's Iraq comes from the United States, not from the various groups of insurgents."

Steele added: "the footage of car-bombs and suicide attacks set off by insurgents, which TV cameras are able to film in central Baghdad and which we see on our screens, may give the false impression that anti-government forces are the biggest killers.

"In fact, a greater toll is mounting up, unfilmed, in Sadr City, Falluja, Samarra and other cities where the US uses airstrikes. According to the health ministry, two Iraqis are being killed by the government side for each one killed by insurgents." (Steele, 'Right now an election is the last thing Afghanistan needs,' The Guardian, October 9, 2004,,1323423,00.html)

You refer to an anonymous "very senior official" at the Iraqi Health Ministry who has indicated that ministry officials "simply do not support the interpretation placed on their figures" in the Knight-Ridder report because "the Health Ministry does not categorise WHO causes violent deaths". Why did you not name him?

The Knight-Ridder report, by contrast, quotes several named ministry officials: Dr Walid Hamed, a "member of the operations section of the health ministry which compiles the statistics", and Dr Shihab Ahmed Jassim, "another member of the ministry's operations section". Other named medical personnel are cited in support of the following claim:

"Iraqi officials said about two-thirds of the Iraqi deaths were caused by multinational forces and police; the remaining third died from insurgent attacks. The ministry began separating attacks by multinational and police forces and insurgents June 10."

In other words the ministry +does+ categorise who causes violent deaths: "From that date until Sept. 10, 1,295 Iraqis were killed in clashes with multinational forces and police versus 516 killed in terrorist operations, the ministry said." ('Iraqi civilian casualties mounting,' Nancy Youssef, Knight Ridder Newspapers, September 25, 2004

Iraqi health and hospital officials agree that the statistics represent only part of the death toll - families often bury their dead without informing government agencies or are treated at facilities that fail to do the same, suggesting the number of civilians killed may well be higher than even these figures suggest. This flatly contradicts your claim that civilians are killed as a result of US military actions, but "far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents" - perhaps your senior official should contact some of the officials cited by Knight-Ridder.

You say that much of our complaint is founded on the Knight-Ridder story. That is flatly false. We gave examples of apparently deliberate US revenge attacks targeting whole populations as cited by Jonathan Steele in the Guardian and blogger Jo Wilding. More importantly we clearly stated that we could cite "many other examples".

Like much of the media, your report heavily emphasised civilian suffering at the hands of insurgents, while excusing, or passing lightly over, the "coalition's" responsibility for vast death and destruction. By contrast, Bob Herbert wrote this week in the New York Times:

"Our troops continue to die but we can't even identify the enemy, which is why so many innocent Iraqi civilians - including women and children - are being blown away. The civilians are being killed by the thousands." (Bob Herbert, 'A War Without Reason,' The New York Times, October 18, 2004)

Ex-Marine Staff Sergeant Jimmy Massey was honourably discharged last year after 12 years as a Marine. Massey was in the main invasion force all the way to Baghdad, before his battalion was moved to Karbala. In an interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman entitled, 'Ex-US Marine: I killed civilians in Iraq', Massey said:

"It sickened me so that I had actually brought it up to my lieutenant, and I told him, I said, you know, sir, we're not going to have to worry about the Iraq - you know, we're basically committing genocide over here, mass extermination of thousands of Iraqis..."

Massey reported many shootings of civilians in cars at checkpoints and described how his own unit had machine-gunned peaceful protestors. He also described the effect of bombing:

"They had tractor-trailer beds full of bodies. It was so bad - this is because of the bombing that we did - some of them had Iraqi flags on them, representing that they were a soldier, but 80% of them didn't. We would find tractor-trailers literally full of stocked bodies."

Massey's conclusion:

"Marines are trained from day one that you go in - when you go in to boot camp you learn what the Geneva Convention is, what the rules of the Geneva Convention are, what the rules of engagement. However, Iraq violated every rule of engagement that I have ever been taught - violated every rule of the Geneva Convention that I have been taught. If you have young marines coming up you to and asking you, staff sergeant, what's going on? You know, we have got a problem."

In April, Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent:

"In revenge for the brutal killing of four American mercenaries - for that is what they were - US Marines carried out a massacre of hundreds of women and children and guerrillas in the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah." (Fisk, 'By endorsing Ariel Sharon's plan George Bush has legitimised terrorism,' The Independent, April 16, 2004)

The vengeful killing of literally hundreds of unarmed women and children through the application of massive military power against densely populated areas can hardly be considered a "mistake".

Writing on ZNet, Newstandard journalist and eyewitness in Fallujah, Dahr Jamail, reported: "As I was there, an endless stream of women and children who'd been sniped by the Americans were being raced into the dirty clinic, the cars speeding over the curb out front as their wailing family members carried them in...

"One victim of American aggression after another was brought into the clinic, nearly all of them women and children. This scene continued, off and on, into the night as the sniping continued." ('Americans slaughtering civilians in Falluja', Znet, 12 April 2004, See:

Jo Wilding ( recently posted this on the British Black Watch army website:

"I was an ambulance volunteer in Falluja during the April siege. I went because my friend Salam, a doctor, said US troops were stopping medical supplies getting in, cut off water, food, electricity and had closed down the main hospital and controlled the road to the smaller one with snipers. Salam was evacuated with bullet wounds; a missile from a US plane destroyed the ambulance in front of his. He and his crew were under fire, pinned inside the vehicle while their colleagues burned in the other one."

Many Fallujah residents trace the town's hostility towards US forces to April 2003, when American troops shot dead at least 13 protesters, who eyewitnesses claim were unarmed. There had been no fighting in the city during the US invasion. One Fallujah rebel said:

"The Americans have turned the Iraqis into cornered lions because of their attacks and detentions without reason." (

Many Iraqi people - again, eyewitnesses to the killing - believe that these 13 people were killed in a massacre that was essentially an act of revenge.

You write:

"The BBC report which has prompted this reaction was about the series of 3 car bombs in Baghdad last Thursday which killed more than 40 people, among whom were some 34 children... I don't think any reasonable person would dispute that in recent weeks there have been significantly more civilian deaths in attacks such as these than there have been civilian deaths caused by the Americans."

Your inserted caveat, "in recent weeks", is worthy of one of Blair's "dodgy dossiers". In your news report you didn't say: "As has so often been the case in recent weeks", you said: "As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life."

But even accepting your caveated argument on its own terms, your claim is disputable. You point out that your report concerned a series of car bombs in Baghdad which killed more than 40 people, among them some 34 children. On October 2, Associated Press reported of these children:

"Families of the 35 children who died... blamed American troops for the tragedy, accusing them of attracting insurgents to a ceremony where the attacks occurred."

The report added:

"Residents said that before the start of the celebration, U.S. soldiers called upon the children through loudspeakers to join the crowd, promising them sweets. There were an unusually large number around because the long school holidays were nearing an end.

"'I blame the Americans for this tragedy. They wanted to make human shields out of our children. They should have kept the children away from danger,' said Abdel-Hadi al-Badri, a cleric a the al-Mubashroun al-Ashra mosque, breaking down in tears during Friday prayers." ('Mourning Iraqis Blame US Troops for Massacre of Children,' Sameer Yacoub, Associated Press, October 2, 2004

Was this another mistake? Why do the opinions of eyewitnesses to the event - the parents of the victims - not matter in apportioning blame?

And is it merely a "mistake" that Iraqi children are continuing to be killed, mutilated and irradiated by cluster bombs, depleted uranium and discarded Iraqi ammunition. In May 2003, UNICEF reported that more than 1,000 children had already been injured by unexploded ordnance since the end of the war, including by cluster bombs (and unguarded) Iraqi munitions, and emphasised that "the coalition forces have a clear obligation under humanitarian law to remove these dangers from communities." (

Another aid organisation reported just a month into the war that a hospital, situated in one of the poorest parts of Baghdad, "had amputated more than 100 limbs of children in that one month." (The Star Online, April 18 2003,

Since Saddam was toppled in April 2003, Iraq has paid out $1.8bn to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) as reparations for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Of those payments, $37m have gone to Britain and $32.8m have gone to the United States.

By contrast, of the $18.4bn of US tax dollars allocated for Iraq's reconstruction, only $29m has been spent on water, sanitation, health, roads, bridges, and public safety combined.

Is it simply a "mistake" that the coalition has failed in its legal obligation under international law to protect the welfare of a civilian population under occupation?

Best wishes

David Edwards and David Cromwell
The Editors - Media Lens


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 Nicholas Witchell:

Write to director of BBC news, Helen Boaden:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

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This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 02:41 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 19, 2004



On February 16, 2003, Tony Blair responded to the biggest protest march in Britain's history the previous day:

"Yes, there are consequences of war. If we remove Saddam by force, people will die, and some will be innocent. ... But there are also consequences of 'stop the war'. There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule..." (Blair, 'The price of my conviction,' The Observer, February 16, 2003)

Blair was referring to the mass death of children under sanctions reported by the UN, human rights groups and aid agencies. In a Newsnight interview Blair argued, "because of the way he [Saddam] implements those sanctions [they are] actually a pretty brutal policy against the Iraqi people". (BBC2, Newsnight Special, February 6, 2003)

In the late 1980s - before sanctions were imposed in 1990, and before the 1991 Gulf War - the mortality rate for Iraqi children was about 50 per 1,000 live births. By 1994 the rate had nearly doubled, to just under 90. By 1999, it had increased again to nearly 130 - 13% of Iraqi children were dying before their fifth birthday.

In response to this catastrophe, senior UN diplomats in Iraq resigned in protest. UN humanitarian coordinator, Denis Halliday, for example, resigned describing Western sanctions policy as "genocidal".

On October 11, a new global report was published by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Roger Wright, UNICEF's representative for Iraq, said:

"Since 1990, Iraq has experienced a bigger increase in under-five mortality rates than any other country in the world and since the war there are several indications that under-five mortality has continued to rise." ('Little progress on child mortality,' Integrated Regional Information Networks, October 11, 2004

UNICEF estimates that some indications showed improvement in Iraqi child mortality between 1999 and 2002 - the death rate dropped to 125 in 2002 (from 130 in 1999). However, this trend has +reversed+ under the occupation and child mortality is actually worsening as compared to 2002 levels. Wright added:

"Since the war more children in Iraq are malnourished, fewer children are protected from immunisable diseases and there has been an increase in the incidence of diarrhoeal disease." (Email to Media Lens, UNICEF Iraq Information, October 19, 2004)

In other words, the "coalition" is now presiding over levels of Iraqi infant mortality +worse+ than those described by Blair himself as brutal. And this in the context of the "coalition" having spent just $29m of the allotted $18.4bn US tax dollars allocated for Iraq's reconstruction on water, sanitation, health, roads, bridges, and public safety. (Naomi Klein, 'Why is war-torn Iraq giving $190,000 to Toys R Us?', The Guardian, October 16, 2004)

Quoting Iraqi Ministry of Health data, UNICEF reported last month that about three out of 10 children in Iraq are chronically malnourished or stunted. This is a consequence of underlying poverty and the inadequate intake of micronutrients. Acute malnutrition among children has almost doubled since the war began, moving from 4 per cent to 7.7 percent.

On September 3, Iraq's Ministry of Health and other health professionals reported there was still "a chronic shortage of medicines in the country". Intissar al-Abadi, chief pharmacist of Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad, told IRIN:

"We had a programme in which cancer and growth hormone drugs were available to patients according to their needs. The ministry used to offer a certain quantity to us every year, so there could be controlled assistance to the patient, but now all that is gone. You cannot imagine what effect the shortage of such drugs has had on patients." ('Medicine shortage continues,' Integrated Regional Information Networks, September 3, 2004,

The first comprehensive study on the condition of schools in post-conflict Iraq shows that one-third of all primary schools in Iraq lack any water supply and almost half are without any sanitation facilities.

The survey states that since March 2003, over 700 primary schools had been damaged by bombing - a third of those in Baghdad - with more than 200 burned and over 3,000 looted. ('Iraq's schools suffering from neglect and war UN Children's Fund,' October 15, 2004

All of these horrors are a direct result of the illegal US-UK invasion, of the "coalition's" incompetence in failing to plan for the occupation, and of the minimal spending on health care and public works. Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times:

"As for the rebuilding of Iraq, forget about it... It's hard to believe that an administration that won't rebuild schools here in America will really go to bat for schoolkids in Iraq." (Herbert, 'A War Without Reason,' The New York Times, October 18, 2004)

The list of horrors goes on. Dr Thikra Najim, a specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics, reports that the number of cases of cancer in Iraq appears to be rising rapidly, especially for breast cancer. Dr Najim said:

"Now we're seeing three or four cases every week. I think the number is increasing. This is disastrous. We have to study it." ('Iraq: Cancer cases increasing, doctors say,' Integrated Regional Information Networks, September 29, 2004)

Doctors are now seeing many more cases of cancer in general. About 4,000 patients per year used to be seen at the radiation hospital in Baghdad. Dr Ahmed Abdul Jabhar, deputy director of the hospital, reports that 7,000 patients have been seen so far this year.

A September 21 Iraqi Ministry of Environment report revealed that Iraq is afflicted by widespread radioactive pollution, especially at Tuwaitha nuclear research site, south of Baghdad. Immediately following the US-UK invasion, residents of the area looted containers holding radioactive materials. The radioactive contents were dumped on the ground at the site and the containers used to carry water, milk and other household materials and foodstuffs. The survey reported:

"This site was polluted by looting and destroying research materials. We found a number of containers which had traces of radiation. We also found it in houses and villages nearby." ('Radioactive material and pollutants widespread,' Integrated Regional Information Networks , September 21, 2004,

As the occupying power, the "coalition" is accountable under international law for this looting and lawlessness. Former US Proconsul, Paul Bremer, told a conference of insurance agents that Baghdad was already in chaos by the time he arrived:

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness. We never had enough troops on the ground." (Thomas Ricks, Robin Wright, The Washington Post, October 5, 2004)

The Iraq survey also found depleted uranium in large amounts in southern Iraq, including in Hilla, the port city of Basra, and Karbala and Najaf.

Professor Doug Rokke, ex-director of the Pentagon's Depleted Uranium Project, who was tasked by the US department of defence with organising the DU clean-up of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf War, is himself ill:

"I am like many people in Southern Iraq. I have 5,000 times the recommended level of radiation in my body. The contamination was right throughout Iraq and Kuwait... What we're seeing now, respiratory problems, kidney problems, cancers, are the direct result of the use of this highly toxic material. The controversy over whether or not it's the cause is a manufactured one; my own ill-health is testament to that." (Quoted, Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, Verso, 2002, p.48)

The Media Response

So what kind of response would we expect from our media to the appalling news that an improving trend in child mortality has reversed under the Iraqi occupation, and that our government is presiding over genocidal levels of child deaths?

We recall, after all, that the Observer's Nick Cohen wrote in March 2002:

"I look forward to seeing how Noam Chomsky and John Pilger manage to oppose a war which would end the sanctions they claim have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of children who otherwise would have had happy, healthy lives in a prison state (don't fret, they'll get there)." (Cohen, 'Blair's just a Bush baby', The Observer, March 10, 2002)

The Sunday Telegraph declared, "it is the neighbourly duty of the West to liberate the Iraqis from their captivity at the hands of Saddam: the war would be just because of the suffering it would end." (Matthew d'Ancona, 'The Pope's disapproval worries Blair more than a million marchers', Sunday Telegraph, February 23, 2003)

A search using the Lexis-Nexis website shows that the UNICEF report received brief mentions in four British newspapers.

The Financial Times reported matter-of-factly:

"In 11 countries, under-five mortality has risen since 1990, the report notes. They include Cambodia, Iraq, Ivory Coast and four southern African nations - Botswana, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe - where Aids has been most rampant." (Frances Williams, 'Unicef warns on child mortality targets,' The Financial Times, October 8, 2004)

That was that! No mention of the tragedy that has befallen Iraq under the British and US occupation. Not a word of comment on the significance of the disaster for the claims that the invasion would relieve the suffering of ordinary Iraqis.

In the Guardian, Rory Carroll wrote:

"Unicef said that even... 'alarmingly slow progress' had bypassed southern Africa, Iraq and countries of the former Soviet Union... In addition to southern Africa, infants were now more likely to die in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Iraq, Cambodia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan." (Rory Carroll, 'Bucking world trends, Africa's child death rate is rising,' The Guardian, October 8, 2004)

Iraq was presented as just another item on a list. Of the fact that Britain invaded Iraq illegally and is therefore morally responsible for the mass death of children, not a word appeared in the paper.

The Independent's Jeremy Laurance noted of the report:

"It charts the drastic decline in the health of the [Iraqi] population and the catastrophic deterioration in health services during Saddam Hussein's era, one which has accelerated since the war."

Again, no attempt was made to highlight the significance of the fact that the decline in health services "has accelerated since the war".

Laurance continued:

"One third of the health centres and one in eight of the hospitals was looted of furniture, fridges and air conditioners or had equipment destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the war."

Laurance then reviewed child mortality figures in the 1990s, adding:

"Adult death rates have risen and life expectancy has fallen to below 60 for men and women. Overall, Iraq's state of health is now rated on a par with the impoverished countries of the Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan, where once it was ranked alongside Jordan and Kuwait, the report says." (Jeremy Laurance, 'Iraq: the aftermath: Iraq faces soaring toll of deadly disease,' The Independent, October 13, 2004)

Again, no conclusions were drawn on the moral status of the 'liberators' of Iraq.


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 Andrew Gowers, editor of the Financial Times

Write to Rory Carroll:

Write to Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger:

Write to Jeremy Laurance:

Write to Roger Alton, editor of the Observer:

Write to Nick Cohen:

Write to Roger Mosey, head of BBC television news

Write to David Mannion, head of ITN

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:


Visit the Media Lens website:

Posted by David Edwards @ 05:25 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 15, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 15, 2004


Sutasoma, The Brighton Bomber, And The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

"Violence is the means, as all dictators have known, whereby the few dominate and exploit the many. Non-violence is the means by which the many can reclaim their rights and advance their interests." (Jonathan Schell)

The Terror Of The World

Prince Sutasoma was renowned for his wisdom and compassion, the 4th century poet Aryasura tells us. The prince was busily distributing alms one day, as usual, when the man-eating giant, Kalmashapada, crashed through the city gates scattering the guards to the four winds. The monster was a fearsome sight to behold:

"Stinking garments hung loose around his waist, and a diadem of bark crowned his filthy, dust-covered hair, which hung matted around his face. A thick and dishevelled beard shrouded his face like darkness. His eyes were swollen with tremendous and awesome wrath, as he brandished his sword and shield." (Aryasura, The Marvelous Companion, Dharma Publishing, 1983, p.314)

It is no accident that Kalmashapada is described as "the Terror of the World" - he is clearly intended as the embodiment of all that is murderous, cynical and cruel in human nature.

Unafraid, Sutasoma called out, "Why are you tormenting these poor people? Come here!" Whereupon the monster saw and seized the prince, and carried him off to his forest lair to be roasted and eaten - the dismal fate that had already befallen 99 other princes.

The monster's stronghold was a hell-hole - it was My Lai four hours after Charlie Company had arrived; it was Latifiyah after al-Zarqawi had done his work: bones of slain men lay tossed on the stinking ground still wet with blood, the leaves of nearby trees were tinged red by the smoke of funeral pyres.

Imprisoned in this place and recalling a promised gift of charity that he would now be unable to keep, tears welled in the eyes of the altruistic prince. Noticing this apparent display of self-pity, Kalmashapada responded with the cynicism that fuelled much of his brutality:

"Stop your crying! You are renowned the world over for your many virtues, and yet as soon as you are in my power you begin to cry. How true it is: 'Constancy collapses in the face of calamity!'"

Sutasoma explained the cause of his sadness and made the extraordinary request that he be released so that he might keep his promise, after which he would certainly return for the monster to kill and eat him. The latter laughed bitterly:

"Do you expect me to believe such nonsense? It goes beyond belief! Who, once released from the jaws of Death, would willingly return there?"

Sutasoma assured him that his promise and his respect for truth certainly guaranteed his return. Assuming this to be mere artifice, Kalmashapada was, we are told, greatly irritated. But anyway, on an arrogant whim, as a kind of sport, the man-eater decided to agree to the prince's request:

"Well, then, go ahead. We will see your great truthfulness in action, we will see how you keep your promises. We will see your great righteousness."

And yet Sutasoma +did+ return, and not merely to keep his promise but in hope of actually helping the monster who "deserves only pity, who is immersed in the mire of wicked habits... and has no one left to protect him".

On catching sight of the returning prince, the ogre was so astonished that not even his cruel nature could prevent him from thinking:

"Ah! Ah! Wonder of wonders! Truly a miracle! The truthfulness of this prince exceeds the most that could be expected of gods or kings. To me, a man as cruel as Death, he returns of his own free will, without fear or anxiety. What constancy!"

Intrigued, Kalmashapada questioned Sutasoma to discover what on earth his reasoning and motives might be. He quickly discovered that Sutasoma was authentic, that he was utterly sincere in his fearless commitment to charity, truth and compassion for the benefit of all. At this realisation, Aryasura tells us, the ugliness of the monster's own conduct was suddenly revealed to him as by a "mirror of Truth" - tears welled up in his eyes, the very hairs of his body stood on end. Looking with reverence on the prince, he exclaimed:

"Beware! May evil be averted! O foremost of princes, may those who wish evil on beings such as you wilfully swallow the poison of Halahala."

I Killed Your Father

The above is far more than just a fable, it is a profound teaching, with awesome implications for our own time. It tells us that cruelty, cynicism, brutality and violence of even the most outrageous kinds really can be subdued by selfless compassion and reason, that these really do have the power to dispel the 'Terror of the World'.

Aryasura argues that altruism and concern for others have the power to "regenerate hearts burned black by the fires of hatred, transmuting them into the gold of tenderness and faith". A result that no amount of bitterness, bullets, beheadings, or B-52s could ever hope to achieve.

Some would have us believe that it is wrong to negotiate with "evil doers", that some human beings are so inherently wicked and irrational that thoughts of discussion, understanding and compassion are absurd, even treasonous. This is the philosophy of greedy manipulation and permanent war, not peace. The anarchist Emma Goldman wrote:

"The greater the mental charlatan, the more definite his insistence on the wickedness and weakness of human nature." (Quoted Howard Zinn, The Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press, 1997, p.610)

This week, twenty years after the Brighton bomb that killed five people in the Grand Hotel, the IRA man responsible, Pat Magee, and Jo Berry, the daughter of one of the victims, came together to discuss their meetings in the aftermath of the atrocity. Berry said:

"The year before I met Pat I did a lot of raging. I was ready, if it was right, to meet Pat. I wanted to hear his story. Why he planted the bomb, what had happened before and after. To meet each other as human beings." (Simon Fanshawe, 'I killed your father,' The Guardian, October 13, 2004)

Magee described to Berry the fear he felt when meeting her for the fist time:

"I certainly was scared, I'll tell you that... I had this political hat on my head... the need to explain. But then I had to confront something that I have to confront every time I meet you and perhaps more so now because of where we are and the day it is, and that is that I am sitting with someone whose father I killed. Here in Brighton. Twenty years after your father's death. I do not shirk my responsibilities for that. It was an IRA action, but whatever the political justification for it, I was part of it and I killed your father. And every time I meet you that is at the forefront of my mind. It is full of profundity and it's shattering. Quite honestly, there's no hiding to be done behind politics. The rehearsed arguments and the line might be sincere, but it's inappropriate. We were communicating as two human beings."

Berry replied:

"That political hat came off and I think, Patrick, you took your glasses off; there was a tear. And you said, 'I have never met anyone so open, with such dignity' - is that what you said? You said to me, 'I want to hear your anger, I want to hear your pain.' And that is when I knew that we were going on a journey. That this was not going to be one meeting. And as you say, we were meeting as two human beings. My need to meet you matched your need to meet me. I did not expect that because I heard from other ex-prisoners who said to me, 'Jo, you may need to meet Patrick, but he doesn't need to meet you.'"

Berry and Magee were asked what they had got out of the meetings. Berry said:

"When Pat talks about the other choices not being there, not just in Ireland but around the world, that helps me understand why people resort to violence. It makes my passion stronger to find other choices. That is what this is about. Nothing is going to bring my dad back. Caring for Pat makes it easier to get some of my humanity back."

Magee said:

"The big lesson is that if you see people as human beings, how can you possibly hurt them? Then you think of all the barriers to that simple relationship occurring - political, social, economic. When people are marginalised or excluded they are left only with their anger. So do everything to remove the blocks and let people be human with each other. That's the lesson from my meeting Jo."

The Israeli/Palestinian Conflict - Violence Or Non-Violence?

Last month, Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun magazine described how the recent formation of a non-violence campaign in Palestine had been spurred by the visit of the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, generating impassioned debate in both the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement about the effectiveness of non-violence. Tikkun presented an article by journalist Uri Avnery, 'How Are You, Non-Violence?', that discussed different sides of the argument being expressed in Palestine.

In his article, Avnery imagines a debate between two young Palestinians: Yussuf and Hassan.

Yussuf believes the armed intifada has failed.

Hassan disagrees, arguing that without armed resistance the world would long since have forgotten the Palestinian cause.

Yussuf claims that a six month lull in suicide attacks brought genuine progress - the International Court has declared the Israeli's 'security wall' illegal and the UN General Assembly has confirmed this with a huge majority. All of Europe voted in the Palestinian's favour, he says. Palestinians are winning in the arena of world public opinion, Israel may even be subject to sanctions. Hassan rejects this utterly:

"We have achieved nothing. On the contrary, the Israeli generals boast that they have defeated us with their targeted assassinations, incursions into our territories and all the other acts of oppression. And all this time they have been enlarging the settlements, putting up new 'outposts' and continuing to build the racist wall... Because of the lull in suicide attacks, the Israeli economy is reviving. Tourism to Israel, that had stopped altogether because of our actions, is starting up again. If the Israelis feel comfortable and are no longer afraid of suicide bombers, why should they talk with us? Why should they give back any territories? Why should they stop enlarging the settlements? They don't give a damn." (Avnery, 'How Are You, Non-Violence?', September 4, 2004,

Yussuf responds: "We have to win international public opinion. We can do this only by non-violence. I admire the martyrs who are ready to die for our people. I am proud that we have such heroes. But they don't get us anywhere. They only provide Sharon with pretexts to oppress us even more."

Hassan: "As if Sharon needs pretexts! He wants to break us, and world public opinion will not lift a finger for us. The treacherous Arab leaders will not do anything for us, either. Only our heroes will save us."

Avnery comments that this kind of debate is now going on everywhere in Palestinian society, perhaps in every Palestinian family. The Yussufs have no success in convincing the Hassans.

Avnery argues that Palestinian violence is the predictable result of Israel cutting off every other available option. He argues that it is possible to put an end to violence only if Palestinians are offered a non-violent way of achieving freedom and justice.

Tikkun then comments on this debate and on Avnery's article as a whole. It rejects Avnery's suggestion that "We've tried non-violence and it has failed", arguing that a demonstration is not non-violent when its participants 'only' throw rocks at the Israeli Defence Force. It may be 'less violent' but it's not non-violent. Tikkun then proposes a remarkable, strategic argument for non-violence:

"Every oppressor gets locked into their position as oppressor in part out of fear that should they remove their boot from the neck of the oppressed, the oppressed will jump up and do to the oppressor the same horrific things that they oppressor has done to the oppressed. If you want to get the oppressor to lift the boot, you must convince the oppressor that he/it/they will NOT face this reversal in which the oppressor becomes the oppressed. And that is no easy sales job, because understandably the oppressed have lots of anger, and that anger is felt by the oppressor who feels the need to strengthen their hold on the neck of the oppressed - for self-protection." ('Violence or Non-Violence Debate in Israel/Palestine,'
September 4, 2004.

The major strategic goal of the oppressed, in this case, then, must be to convince the oppressor that the oppressed have been able "to retain a sense of the humanity of the oppressor, and have decided not to return 'eye-for-eye' vengeance should they be in a position to do so". The commitment to non-violence is one of the most powerful ways to convey that message.

We recall the effect of Sutasoma's fearlessness and compassion in undermining Kalmashapada's cynicism, and in reviving his compassion and humanity.

We recall, also, the moment when Pat Magee said to Jo Berry: "I have never met anyone so open, with such dignity... I want to hear your anger, I want to hear your pain."

Tikkun point out that if conveying a humane message is the goal of non-violence, then non-violence must be total. If we want to convince an oppressor that we recognise their humanity and do not intend to wreak revenge on them, we cannot be partially or tactically non-violent: the non-violence must be persistent, determined, and principled:

"That is the kind of non-violence employed by Martin Luther King that thawed through the consciousness of racists in the South and the kind of non-violence used by Nelson Mandela in South Africa."

Rabbi Michael Lerner argues that there is an important distinction to be made: the difference between what is right and fair, on the one hand, and what is likely to achieve results, on the other. He argues that it is +not+ fair to ask an oppressed group to take on the burden of convincing the oppressor that the oppressed continue to see the oppressors as human beings deserving of respect and compassion:


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Posted by David Edwards @ 10:27 AM GMT [Link]

Thursday, October 7, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 7, 2004


October 7 - Like Them, We Cry!

On September 11 this year, the media came together in sombre reflection on the terrible events of three years ago. Journalists gathered at Ground Zero in New York and reported on ceremonies that included the reading out of the names of all who had died that day in the World Trade Centre. TV screens filled with shots of grieving relatives, of flags rippling over heads bowed in silent prayer - correspondents and news anchors fell respectfully silent.

How many names, we wonder, will be read out in commemoration of the unknown thousands of Afghan civilians who died under the campaign of American bombing that began three years ago today? How many minutes of airtime will journalists spend on the unbearable suffering of the people burned and blasted, torn limb from limb - husbands torn from wives, parents torn from children - and those they left behind? Who is there to reflect on the trauma of the literally hundreds of thousands of already desperate, starving refugees as aid convoys ground to a halt, making way for the bombing and the killing snows of winter?

Today, the Guardian had nothing whatever to say about this tragedy - it was not mentioned. The Independent, likewise, had nothing to say.

What will it take to persuade white, wealthy, Oxbridge journalists to listen to, but more importantly to +understand+, the words of this Palestinian refugee from Nablus commenting on America and the suffering of September 11:

"We also, like them, we cry! We live! We feel sad! We feel happy! And we have minds, also! I want them to use their minds and to understand what happened here."? (Through Muslim Eyes, Channel 4, September 6, 2002)

Are These People Mad?

We recently reported how the Guardian editors had declared that Blair's belated, limited 'apology' on Iraq was "a rightly well-received milestone in his fragile rehabilitation with his critics". (Leader, 'Mr Blair's speech - in place of strife,' The Guardian, September 29, 2004)

A day later, the same editors recommended that readers vote Liberal Democrat rather than Labour in the Hartlepool byelection so as to deliver "a modest but sharp message to the existing political establishment. That is the particular opportunity that has fallen to the voters of Hartlepool to deliver on our behalf today". (Leader, 'Hartlepool - sending a message', The Guardian, September 30, 2004)

The editors of the Independent had earlier declared:

"Mr Blair... must apologise. This is the only way the public will be convinced that lessons have been learnt and that similar mistakes will not be repeated. It is the first, most elementary, condition for 'moving on'." (Leader, 'The Lib Dems are right - Blair must apologise,' The Independent, September 21, 2004)

And John Kampfner, political editor of the New Statesman, wrote in the Guardian:

"Blair has belatedly to acknowledge some mistakes over Iraq. His critics should then agree, as the boss would say, to 'move on'. This would be an imperfect solution, but better than none." (Kampfner, 'Brown blew it. So stop moaning and start talking,' The Guardian August 23, 2004)

Are these people mad?

Blair manifestly lied about WMDs - for example his claim not to have known the battlefield nature of the non-existent 45-minute WMDs - and he manifestly abused/distorted/concocted the intelligence, claiming "a serious and current threat" where none had been identified.

It is clear that Blair did all of this because he had secretly agreed to Bush's pre-September 11 plan - as described by former US treasury secretary Paul O'Neill - to invade Iraq come what may. This was destined to happen entirely regardless of the unhindered Unmovic inspections, and the 'diplomacy', with a second resolution intended merely as a cosmetic 'fig leaf'.

Ignoring public opinion, international law, the UN, Blair launched an illegal war of aggression against Iraq that has destroyed tens of thousands of lives, devastated the country, and created a seething cauldron of international terror and violence.

What on earth would Blair have to do before the 'liberal' media urged that he be given something more than "a modest but sharp message"? How many people would he have to kill in illegal mass violence before they demanded his resignation or impeachment?

Imagine if the Iraqi press had responded to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait suggesting he be given "a modest but sharp message". It does not make sense.

The Purpose Of Media Lens

What we are inviting readers to do is to redefine the standards by which the media are judged. People occasionally write to us suggesting that we praise an article in the Independent, or a couple of reports by Channel 4, on the grounds that they "deserve to be mentioned in a relatively positive light when compared to the shockingly servile reporting of the situation we're getting from the BBC and the rest of the media".

But what we are suggesting is that the +entire+ corporate media is complicit in the devastation of the Third World, in the possibly terminal devastation of the environment, and in mass murder. They do not merely allow this to happen, they are +vital+ in articulating the deceit of benevolent 'normality' by which obscenity is perennially camouflaged. There could be no clearer example of this than the staggering refusal of the media to demand the resignation or impeachment of Tony Blair.

The performance of the media suggests that literally +nothing+ could persuade journalists to awaken from their establishment slumber - they are just too comfortable, too privileged, too compromised.

We must build alternative media, now, providing a rational and compassionate response to the problems facing us. We need to create a media liberated from the drive for profit, greed, egotism and power.

We also need to pressure for whatever immediate marginal improvements we can achieve in mainstream performance. Writing to journalists is an important part of this. We were sent a surprise email by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger last weekend assuring us that he reads +all+ the emails he receives from our readers. You can be sure that these are having some impact on him. Any kind of criticism gives genuine pause for thought. But polite criticism based on reasoned argument, credible evidence and compassion for suffering, has the power to fundamentally undermine the ignorance and self-deception on which much mainstream bias is based.

We believe this is an authentic Achilles heel of the propaganda system, which does +not+ rely on conscious lying and corruption. In our experience it relies on intelligent, honest, well-meaning people, who think the right thoughts, and who are therefore selected to the most influential positions. These people have often never seriously encountered dissident ideas before. They have been sheltered from the ugliest facts relating to Western crimes against humanity - this, indeed, is +why+ they believe what they believe.

We agree with Noam Chomsky that it is largely futile to "speak truth to power". The important point about most journalists, however, is that they are not "power" in this sense - they are selected to serve power, and they are often only dimly aware of the role they are playing. This means they are comparatively open to this kind of challenge.

We believe that one of the reasons the BBC met with such violent government flak last year was that we, our readers, and other internet-based media activists, had been sending flurries of emails to a wide range of BBC journalists. The then director of BBC news, Richard Sambrook - an admirably sincere individual - was seriously reading, reflecting on, and replying to, literally hundreds of critical challenges.

All of this set BBC staff thinking and helped make the BBC less biased, less dumbly patriotic, than usual - to the unbridled outrage of Downing Street. At one point, Sambrook even felt moved to send an internal memo to staff (subsequently leaked to the press) warning that they should not be overly swayed by anti-war emailers. Clearly Sambrook, at least, was concerned that internet-based activism was having too +large+ an impact on journalistic judgement.

After three years of work, generous donations have meant that one of the editors is now able to work full-time on Media Lens. This is a huge step forward for us, used, as we are, to working entirely in our spare time. We now urgently need your support so that we can fund part- or full-time work by our second editor, so that we can move forward with our planned Rapid Response Media Alert, Sun Watch, and Telegraph Watch schemes. It is simply beyond the power of one of us to do it all, alone.

If you are in financial difficulty, please do not even consider sending money. But if you are able to offer support without too much pain, you will be helping us to become far more effective and comprehensive in the vital work of challenging the mainstream media.

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The Editors - Media Lens

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Posted by David Edwards @ 05:48 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

October 5, 2004


"Criticism of foreign policies is certainly possible, and normal, but within narrow limits which show 'exceptions' to, or 'mistakes' in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence." (Mark Curtis, Web Of Deceit)

"As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life - either as a result of mistakes by the Americans, or, far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents." (Nicholas Witchell, BBC News, September 2004)

From State Occasions To Senseless Death

The BBC website notes that Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's world affairs correspondent (formerly, royal and diplomatic correspondent), was "the first journalist to broadcast the confirmed news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and provided live radio commentary from outside Westminster Abbey at her funeral". Witchell has frequently been the BBC radio commentator at "national or state occasions such as the Ceremony of Remembrance at the Cenotaph and was awarded a Radio Academy award in 2001 for his coverage of the event". (

These "national and state occasions" are, of course, unashamedly patriotic events - journalists commentating on them must be willing to set aside criticism and scepticism in respectful deference to custom, royalty and national pride. It is of exactly these events that Tolstoy wrote: "From infancy, by every possible means - class books, church services, sermons, speeches, books, papers, songs, poetry, monuments - the people is stupefied in one direction" - that of mindless patriotism.

And it is these same people that pay the price, Tolstoy noted: "before they look round, there will be no more admirals, presidents, or flags, or music; but only a damp and empty field of battle, cold, hunger, and pain; before them a murderous enemy; behind, relentless officers preventing their escape; blood, wounds, putrefying bodies, and senseless, unnecessary death." (Tolstoy, Writings On Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence, New Society, 1987, p.95)

It might seem ironic, then, that Witchell is currently reporting daily from Baghdad on our government's illegal and violent occupation of Iraq. From promoting the pomp and circumstance of "state occasions" to reporting the blood-drenched streets of Baghdad, Witchell has personally traced the path of cause and effect identified by Tolstoy.

'Winning' - The Delighted Iraqis

On the day a statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, Witchell declared of the US offensive:

"It is absolutely, without a doubt, a vindication of the strategy." (BBC News at Six, April 9, 2003)

Retired general William Odom, former head of the US National Security Agency, said this month:

"Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost. Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends." (Quoted, Sidney Blumenthal, 'Far graver than Vietnam', The Guardian, September 16, 2004)

In May of this year, Witchell contrasted the reality of US abuses of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib with the alleged unreality of the Daily Mirror's pictures of alleged British abuses:

"After the appalling +reality+ of what the Americans have been doing, the Mirror's pictures threatened to compromise the work of every British soldier." (BBC 1 News At Ten, May 14, 2004, original emphasis)

Witchell thus gave the impression that claims of British abuse and torture were unreal - an outrageous claim given Red Cross and Amnesty reports to the contrary that were widely available at the time.

On October 1, Witchell reported that a series of insurgent car bombs in Baghdad were "intended to undermine the future". (BBC1, 18:00 News, October 1, 2004)

Not to undermine the +American+ future for Iraq, but to undermine the very future itself.

On September 24 we sent the following email to Witchell:

Dear Nicholas Witchell

On last night's 22:00 BBC1 News, you said:

"Dr. Allawi may say, 'we're winning', and there may be a time soon when that claim is more obviously justifiable. If that time arrives, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be delighted."

The suggestion that the US-backed interim government has the support of the "overwhelming majority of Iraqis" is remarkable. I have seen no evidence to support this claim. Could you provide sources for this view, please?

A poll taken at the end of April found 42% of Iraqis saying they would feel safer if the Americans left their country immediately. Only 29% said they would be less safe. Another poll in mid May found the trend increasing: 55% felt life would be more secure if the Americans withdrew. ('Liberation will only come when the Americans leave - Let's hope Moqtada al-Sadr stands in the elections,' Jonathan Steele in Baghdad, The Guardian, Friday June 18, 2004) Few commentators believe the interim government would survive without US support.

A poll by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies in May showed nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers rather than peacekeepers. Other results, published in the Financial Times, include a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric. More than half of those asked - a sample of 1,600 people from Iraq's different ethnic groups - wanted coalition forces to leave Iraq, compared to 20% one year ago. ('New photos show Abu Ghraib abuse', George Wright, Thursday May 20, 2004, The Guardian)

The Guardian reported that the poll "suggests that the coalition had lost the trust of Iraqis". This lack of trust surely extends to the "coalition"-imposed interim government.


David Edwards

Witchell replied the same day:

Dear Mr Edwards,

The meaning of what I said is perfectly clear: that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be pleased if security and stability is established. It was in no way a statement which implies any endorsement of Allawi's interim government.

Nick Witchell.

We also replied on the same day:

Dear Nick

Many thanks but that's not quite correct. You said:

"Dr. Allawi may say, 'we're winning', and there may be a time soon when that claim is more obviously justifiable. If that time arrives, there is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis will be delighted."

Your comment suggested that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis would welcome specifically +Allawi's+ victory in the war against insurgents. That is very different to suggesting that the overwhelming majority would (obviously) welcome an end to the conflict. Your comment gave the impression that most Iraqis support Allawi against the insurgents. The deep Iraqi mistrust of the "coalition" and its imposed interim government, and the widespread and escalating nature of the insurgency, suggests otherwise.

Best wishes

David Edwards

On September 30, we sent the following email to Witchell in Baghdad:

Dear Nicholas Witchell

Once again your comments on tonight's report from Iraq were remarkable. You said:

"As is so often the case in this conflict it's the Iraqi civilian population which suffers the greatest loss of life - either as a result of mistakes by the Americans, or, far more frequently, of course, as a result of the bombs and the bullets of the insurgents." (Nicholas Witchell, BBC1, 18:00 News, September 30, 2004)

Earlier this week, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported that operations by US and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis - most of them civilians - as attacks by insurgents, according to statistics compiled by the Iraqi Health Ministry.

According to the ministry, the interim Iraqi government recorded 3,487 Iraqi deaths in 15 of the country's 18 provinces from April 5 - when the ministry began compiling the data - until Sept. 19. Of those, 328 were women and children. Another 13,720 Iraqis were injured, the ministry said. (Knight Ridder, Washington Bureau -

As for your astonishing claim idea that US forces merely make "mistakes" in killing civilians, Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian earlier this month:

"[I]t is not just the launch of the war which was illegal. Illegality continues today. Take the US helicopter attack on a crowd in Haifa Street, Baghdad, last Sunday, which killed 13 people and injured dozens (including a Guardian reporter). It was almost certainly a war crime.

"The pilots' unarmed victims came into the street after insurgents had destroyed an American Bradley fighting vehicle, a cross between a tank and an armoured personnel carrier. The soldiers inside it were quickly rescued by comrades and withdrew. By the time the jubilant crowd gathered to gawp at the Bradley's smouldering remains, military activity had ceased.

"Why then did the pilots shoot? The official version is that ground fire was being aimed at them. Even if true, questions remain. Why didn't the helicopters fly off to safety? Fire need not be answered, if there is a more sensible way of avoiding being hit, especially when the ground troops the helicopters were supposedly protecting had already left the scene. Secondly, did the pilots properly assess the risk to civilians from a disproportionate response? From the casualties caused, the evidence strongly suggests they did not.

"The assumption has to be that the pilots' motive was revenge. If so, the incident would not be unique. In case after case, the behaviour of US forces in Iraq appears to be degenerating into vindictive killing, decided not only at the tactical but also at command level.

"Lieutenant-general James Conway, who commanded US marines at Falluja in April, recently revealed he was unhappy with a higher-ranking decision to assault the town after four American contractors were killed and their bodies mutilated. He was against "attacking out of revenge", he now says." ('Iraqis want elections - and foreign troops to leave now. Yes, the invasion was illegal. But war crimes are still being committed,' Jonathan Steele, Friday September 17, 2004, The Guardian)

Indeed, on April 10 details emerged from aid agencies and hospital sources that fully 600 Iraqis had been killed and 1700 injured in Falluja, many of them civilians. Human rights activist and trainee lawyer, Jo Wilding, described some of the reality:

"Screaming women come in, praying, slapping their chests and faces. Maki, a consultant and acting director of the clinic, takes me to the bed where a child of about 10 is lying with a bullet wound to the head. A smaller child is being treated for a similar injury in the next bed. A US sniper hit them and their grandmother as they left their home to flee Fallujah... Snipers are causing not just carnage but also the paralysis of the ambulance and evacuation services. The biggest hospital after the main one was bombed is in US territory and cut off from the clinic by snipers. The ambulance has been repaired four times after bullet damage. Bodies are lying in the streets because nobody can go to collect them without being shot." (Wilding, 'Eyewitness in Fallujah', Sunday Herald, April 18, 2004. See also :

There are, sadly, of course, many other examples that could be cited. One might also ask if the invasion itself, described by Kofi Annan as illegal, was merely a "mistake".


David Edwards

We have as yet received no further replies.


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.

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Posted by David Edwards @ 11:52 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

September 29, 2004


The Guardian Responds To Blair's Speech

Tony Blair's speech yesterday to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton was "low-key, conversational and reasoned" the Guardian informs us (Leader, September 29, 2004). And his "long-awaited apology on Iraq, as far as it went, was a rightly well-received milestone in his fragile rehabilitation with his critics".

How nice. No matter that Blair lied about intelligence on WMD, ignored security warnings about unleashing more terrorist attacks, and deceived Parliament and the country over the nonsensical "serious and current threat" posed by a strangled Third World nation. No matter that he launched an illegal and immoral invasion and occupation that has led to tens of thousands of violent and cruel deaths, untold misery, further destabilised the Middle East, weakened the UN, and increased the threat to Britons everywhere.

Even a neutral, albeit myopic, critic might conclude that Blair's political judgement on Iraq - resulting in disaster heaped on failure heaped on disaster - was an appalling blunder, sufficient to demand his resignation. A more rational and humane critic must go further: Blair ought to be tried for war crimes.

As for The Guardian? Well, clearly, it would rather remain part of some grotesque agreement between reasonable gentlemen of the establishment. It wouldn't do for the paper to be +too+ critical.

Tens of thousands of dead, hundreds of thousands of injured and grieving - a vast illegal act of mass murder. But for our 'liberal' press a vague gesture in the direction of an apology is a "milestone" in Blair's rehabilitation. This is, itself, a milestone in moral depravity - urbane, well-heeled and well-spoken - of the most lethal kind.


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

Write to the editors below and ask them why they are not calling for Blair's resignation and trial for war crimes.

Write to Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger:

Write to Seumas Milne, Guardian comments section editor:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 02:16 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, September 23, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

September 23, 2004

An Exchange With The Guardian

Introduction - The Hall Of Mirrors

The mass media often seems reasonable, insightful, compassionate and critical of power. To read the Independent or Guardian every day is to receive a powerful impression of honesty and independence. The same may well be true when we read the Times, or even the Telegraph - compassionate, thoughtful pieces do appear; powerful interests +are+ subject to criticism. And when we move between print and broadcast media they all seem to be saying pretty much the same thing - the BBC's Newsnight and Channel 4 News seem to affirm the basic honesty of, say, the Guardian, and vice versa.

All of this is reinforced by the high-tech glamour and power of the media. When news anchors pose questions to correspondents half a world away the answer is always, "Yes, that's right...". The impression created is of a group of highly articulate, knowledgeable and experienced professionals who all pretty much agree. One result is that comments which may have us nodding in casual agreement at the time of broadcast often rapidly come to seem absurd after the broadcast. In describing US-UK policy on Sudan, ITN's Bill Neely said on August 23:

"The ultimate aim, obviously, is to end the slaughter." (ITV News, 22:30, August 23, 2004)

This comment may well have seemed innocuous at the time it was spoken. But can anything be declared "obvious" about US-UK foreign policy after last year's attack on Iraq? Is it reasonable to presume moral intent as a +given+?

Neely went on: "The aim is to read the riot act" to the government of Sudan.

But reading the riot act is what parents do to children, what teachers do to pupils, and what people in authority do to subordinates. Why are we to assume that the US and UK are superior, senior, higher than the government of Sudan? Because we are economically and militarily more powerful? Because their elites have different colour skins to our elites? Or perhaps we are morally superior.

Again, amid all the high-tech media glitz, it's easy not to notice that if such comments were made in the local pub, they would be dismissed as spectacularly nave.

Indeed, the real problem with the media, and particularly with the liberal media, becomes apparent only when we step outside this hall of mirrors. Then we find that the consensus of 'reasonable', 'compassionate' opinion is actually characterised by outrageous silences, by superficial and unfounded assumptions. Above all, we find that these massive flaws consistently favour powerful interests of which the media just happen to be a part.

Beslan - Children Make It Different

A powerful example was provided recently by the Guardian's foreign affairs specialist, Simon Tisdall. Writing prior to the bloody ending of the Beslan school siege in Southern Russia, Tisdall wrote:

"Children make it different. Like the tragedies of Columbine and Dunblane, the terror that stalks the classrooms of besieged Middle School 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia, is uniquely disturbing... When the victims are children, the sort of horror on show in Beslan, real or threatened, represents the adult world's ultimate betrayal of innocence, its final failure to nurture and protect. Here is a shared disgrace, borne of a universal grief. Here is an international crying shame, beseeching an urgent remedy." ('A terrible lesson from a classroom in Beslan, The west can no longer ignore the violence and killings in Chechnya', Simon Tisdall, September 3, 2004, The Guardian)

Who can argue with that! Tisdall is responding with real human feeling, real outrage at the suffering of innocents. We feel engaged by him, we agree with him - here is someone who wants something done about the agonising problems of our world. And he's not afraid to criticise Blair's allies in the process:

"Since plunging recklessly back into Chechnya in 1994, Putin, his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, and the once proud Red Army have caused such untold misery, such rank injustice, such fury and despair that, like the Americans in Iraq, they created a breeding ground and magnet for the religious extremists they struggle to extirpate."

And he's not afraid to criticise Blair himself:

"Again and again, campaigners have lobbied western governments to draw a diplomatic line, to sponsor a political process, to honestly recognise Chechnya for what it ever more evidently is - a threat to international peace and security, as defined by the UN. Again and again, those same governments, including Britain's, have mostly preferred to look the other way.
When Tony Blair talks of Britain's 'moral responsibility' in Darfur and Iraq; when he speaks, as most famously in Chicago in 1999, of the criteria for intervention; when he sends troops dashing off to Kabul and Freetown, where in all this is there a thought for Chechnya?"

Tisdall uses repetition to create a sense of rising moral outrage: "Again and again... Again and again... When Tony Blair talks of... when he speaks... where in all this is there a thought for Chechnya?"

Are we cheering yet? Having seen the heart-breaking torment of the adults and children of Beslan - remember this was all written even before the final massacre - we can empathise totally with Tisdall's outrage and compassion.

Well what is this, if not moral outrage in response to suffering? What is this, if not criticism of allies and indeed of our own prime minister? And it appeared in the high-profile comment section of the Guardian. Isn't this what a free press is all about? Doesn't this expose +exactly+ the wilful blindness and biased whingeing of Media Lens with our interminable carping? What +is+ our problem, actually?

Using The Word 'Genocide'

Enough hypocrisy, enough silence, enough inaction! This was the underlying message of Tisdall's high-octane commentary on Beslan. And this is what is so staggering about the liberal media, because it is precisely these passionate demands that serve to obscure Tisdall and the Guardian's +own+ breathtaking hypocrisy, silence and inaction.

Compare Tisdall's impassioned response above with his reaction to the far worse slaughter of Iraqi children as a result of Western sanctions. In an August 2000 article, Tisdall indicated that he was aware of at least some of the facts:

"A Unicef report published last year said that in many areas of Iraq mortality rates among children under five years have more than doubled since 1990. Iraq itself says 1.5 million Iraqis, young and old, have died as a result of sanctions." ('Iraqis pay price of a pointless deadlock', Simon Tisdall, August 7, 2000, The Guardian)

In May 2000, we interviewed Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, who set up the UN's oil for food programme, and who resigned in 1998 describing Western sanctions policy as "genocidal". This is what he told us:

"I've been using the word 'genocide', because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I'm afraid I have no other view at this late stage." (Interview with David Edwards, May 2000,

Halliday's successor, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest, asking: "How long should the civilian population of Iraq be exposed to such punishment for something they have never done?" (Letter of resignation, February 13, 2000)

Two days after von Sponeck's resignation, Jutta Burghardt, head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, also resigned. Burghardt said:

"It is a true humanitarian tragedy what is happening here and I believe any human being who looks at the facts and the impact of the sanctions on the population will not deny that [von Sponeck] is right." ('Sanctions on Iraq: The "Propaganda Campaign"', Anthony Arnove, ZNet Commentary, April 1, 2000)

Halliday has pointed out that protest resignations at such a senior level in the UN were all but unprecedented.

In reviewing the year in late December 2000, Tisdall mentioned sanctions again:

"Arab world hostility to the West reached new heights, a global oil price crisis loomed, and dictators like Saddam Hussein of Iraq exploited the tension to flout UN sanctions and threaten renewed regional mayhem." ('Peace on earth: not in 2000', Simon Tisdall, December 27, 2000, The Guardian)

No mention was made of the suffering, of the 1.5 million dead, that Tisdall had mentioned just four months earlier.

In a February 2001 article, Tisdall wrote:

"Iraq is the most notorious victim of all-out US-led punitive sanctions (even though the measures have been softened in recent years)." ('Powell condemns US sanctions', Simon Tisdall, February 8, 2001, The Guardian)

Again, not a word about the deaths of 500,000 children under five, for which Tisdall's own government bears responsibility. Moreover, the idea that sanctions had been "softened in recent years" starkly contradicted even his own account of just six months earlier.

Later that same month, Tisdall restricted himself to a light-hearted mention of sanctions in a mock letter to George Bush:

"US pillorying of Saddam just upsets the Arabs, who thought you were their new chum." ('Dear George...', Simon Tisdall, February 21, 2001, The Guardian)

He made another mention of the issue in July 2001, commenting: "Smart sanctions are the answer." ('Foreign policy for beginners', Simon Tisdall, July 11, 2001, The Guardian)

Again, no mention of the mass death of infants. Tisdall made another brief mention that October, saying simply: "Ten years of on-off military action and sanctions have caused enormous misery and suffering to Iraqis". ('US sets its sights on Saddam', Simon Tisdall, October 10, 2001, The Guardian)

No details were supplied. There was no passion, no outrage, no denunciation of the awesome brutality. There has been none since.

Between 2002-2004 Tisdall's newspaper, the Guardian, together with its sister paper, the Observer, has so far mentioned Iraq in 22,261 articles. Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck have been mentioned in 3 and 13 of these articles, respectively. It bears repeating. In all the endless debate on Iraq over the last three years, these whistleblowers exposing one of our country's greatest crimes against humanity have been mentioned a total of 16 times.

If the killing of hundreds of children in Beslan was "a shared disgrace" and "an international crying shame", what on earth are we to say of the killing of +hundreds of thousands+ of Iraqi children by sanctions? The answer for the mainstream British media is: not much!

If there are to be solutions, if we are to avoid more Beslans, we need answers rooted in compassion for all. To grieve only for 'our' suffering, while dismissing 'their' suffering as irrelevant, is to guarantee that we all grieve.

We raised these issues with Simon Tisdall in an email sent on September 15. We received no response and re-sent the message on September 20. We received this reply from Tisdall on the same day:

"thank you for yr note. i drew attention to the child victims of sanctions on more than one occasion, as you note. are you absolutely sure you've read everything I wrote? during the period you have reviewed, my principal job was as the guardian's foreign leader writer. so most of my work did not appear under my byline. perhaps you should read all the leaders, too. best wishes, simon tisdall"

We replied the same day:

"Thanks, Simon, I appreciate the response. A quite open and frank article on sanctions appeared under your name in August 2000. Comment on issues of this kind, including on the issue itself, then continued to appear under your byline over several years. I find it puzzling that you wrote such an impassioned piece about the suffering and potential deaths of hundreds of children at Beslan (you were writing before the bloody denouement), and yet you wrote nothing that really compares about the +actual+ deaths of hundreds of +thousands+ of Iraqi children. This is even more curious in light of the fact that, according to various credible sources, our own government bears real responsibility for this mass death. Why didn't you focus more on the appalling plight of these children?

But also I notice that your view of sanctions appeared to change. In February 2001 you wrote: "Iraq is the most notorious victim of all-out US-led punitive sanctions (even though the measures have been softened in recent years)." Didn't that conflict with what you had written 6 months earlier? What was the basis for your "softened" sanctions argument?

Best wishes


We have received no further response.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to the editors below and ask them to conduct open, public self-assessments of their reporting on Iraq.

Write to Simon Tisdall:

Copy your emails to Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:

Please consider donating to Media Lens:

Visit the Media Lens website:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 04:21 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

September 15, 2004


In Parts 1 and 2 of this alert, we asked a number of British media editors to conduct publicly available critiques investigating their failings on Iraq. We received several replies. In Part 1, we published responses from The Observer and ITN. In Part 2 we focused on the Independent on Sunday.

On 16 August, 2004, Roger Mosey, head of BBC TV news, responded:

There have actually been a number of academic studies into our coverage of the Iraq War, but the overall point I'd make is that it isn't quite as current myth would have it.

Have a look, for instance, at the Newsnight Special just before the start of the war.

But this wasn't alone: we did a whole Iraq Day across BBC1 before the conflict began which also examined the kind of issues you raise. (Email to David Cromwell)

We sent the following to Mosey on 18 August:

Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to respond - much appreciated.

Re: the Newsnight Special, we did an extensive analysis of [the Jeremy Paxman interview with Tony Blair] at Media Lens (, which I co-edit. You can see the relevant media alerts of 10 and 11 February, 2003 archived under 'media alerts' at our website. Or click directly on:

Although Jeremy Paxman valiantly tackled Tony Blair on the usual deceit that Saddam threw out the weapons inspectors in 1998 (perhaps Jeremy did so partly because he had been deluged with emails on exactly this point by Media Lens readers in advance), the interview failed dismally on a number of

For example, quoting from part one of our alert:

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
How often have [BBC viewers and listeners] seen or heard a discussion describing the extent of the success of Unscom inspections between 1991-98? [...] In fact the remarkable truth is that the 1991-98 inspections ended in almost complete success. Scott Ritter, chief UN arms inspector at the time, insists that Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" by December 1998, with 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction eliminated. Of the missing 5-10%, Ritter says: "It doesn't even constitute a weapons programme. It constitutes bits and
pieces of a weapons programme which in its totality doesn't amount to much, but which is still prohibited." (War On Iraq, Scott Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, Profile Books, 2002, p.24)

Of nuclear weapons capability, Ritter says: "When I left Iraq in 1998... the infrastructure and facilities had been 100% eliminated. There's no doubt about that. All of their instruments and facilities had been destroyed. The weapons design facility had been destroyed. The production equipment had been hunted down and destroyed. And we had in place means to monitor - both from vehicles and from the air - the gamma rays that accompany attempts to enrich uranium or plutonium. We never found anything." (ibid, p.26)

One might think that this would be vital information for interviewers like Paxman now when Blair, Straw and co are declaring war regrettably essential to enforce Iraqi disarmament. Instead, these central facts have been simply ignored by our media - as far as the public is concerned Iraq did not cooperate between 1991 and 1998. In a recent Panorama documentary, for example, Jane Corbin said merely of the 1991-98 Unscom inspectors, "their mission ended before they completed their task". (Panorama, Chasing Saddam's Weapons, BBC1, February 9, 2003)

Ritter, the most outspoken whistleblower, was not interviewed by BBC TV News or Newsnight ahead of the war. When asked why Newsnight had failed to interview such an important source, editor George Entwistle answered: "I don't particularly have an answer for that; we just haven't." (Interview with David Edwards, March 31, 2003) By contrast, Newsnight 'just had' interviewed war supporters like Ken Adelman, Richard Perle and James Rubin endlessly in the run-up to the invasion and subsequently.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

I note your Guardian article of 27 July ('The BBC was no cheerleader for war'). You emphasise that "news is an account of the world as it is and not as we want it to be". But whose account of the "world as it is"? Which perspective is given prominence? Who makes the news? Richard Sambrook replied to a Media Lens reader who had pointed out that BBC coverage accepts without question that the US and UK "coalition" is attempting to bring peace and democracy to Iraq: "We report what is said by Tony Blair and George Bush", Sambrook replied,
"because they have power and responsibility and their own sources of intelligence." (Email from Richard Sambrook to Media Lens reader, 9 July, 2003)

How ironic +that+ comment appears now, post-Hutton and post-Butler.

Also, Mr Sambrook dodged the viewer's challenge that the BBC consistently assumes and portrays US/UK foreign policy as fundamentally sincere, benign and well intentioned, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Why was it 'balanced' and 'responsible' to report and disseminate official warnings with little challenge of the supposed 'threat' posed by Iraq, day after day in the run-up to an invasion? Was this not, in fact, deeply irresponsible, given the plausibility of the contradictory view, now vindicated, and given the subsequent deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and conscript soldiers in Iraq? Where is the extensive BBC
coverage - any BBC coverage - to the Iraqi survey that the civilian death toll now exceeds 37,000? See:

Given that Bush and Blair have shown themselves to be untrustworthy and irresponsible, even ignoring or overruling the advice of their own intelligence services, should not the BBC now show extreme caution in propagating their views and pronouncements? The problem is that reporting official propaganda is not in fact reporting, as veteran US journalist David E. Hendrix observes: "Reporting a spokesman's comments is not reporting; it's becoming the spokesman's spokesman." ('Coal Mine Canaries', Hendrix, in 'Into The Buzzsaw', edited by Kristina Borjesson, Prometheus Books, 2002, p.172)

Yes, the BBC did and does "report many other views, including those of Hans Blix and Scott Ritter", as Mr Sambrook once noted. But facts, analyses and views that seriously challenge power are afforded minute amounts of coverage. Stating that "we also report other views" is a technically correct but conveniently meaningless response. Norman Solomon, Executive Director of the US-based Institute for Public Accuracy, describes how "scattered islands of independent-minded reporting are lost in oceans of the stenographic reliance on official sources". (Solomon, Target Iraq: What The News Media Didn't Tell You, New York: Context Books, 2003, p.26)

Of course, you may dismiss all of this as the ravings from one of the "wackier websites" [a reference to a dismissive comment made by Mosey in his Guardian article]. Or, on the other hand, you may wish to address the substance of the challenges made.

I hope that you will have the time and motivation to debate further and, if so, I look forward to hearing from you.
best wishes,

David Cromwell

We received this brief reply from Roger Mosey:

25 August, 2004

Hi David
Yes, I'm always happy to debate.

But I should stress our aim is impartiality. I don't entirely know what you would envisage as the way we should report President Bush or Prime Minister Blair in future, but it can't surely be on the basis of having proven themselves to be "untrustworthy and irresponsible"?

And, by the way, we interviewed Scott Ritter many many times - honest!

Roger (Email to David Cromwell)

Last year, Richard Sambrook, then BBC's director of news, told us that Ritter had been interviewed just twice: on September 29th, 2002, for Breakfast With Frost, and on March 1, 2003 for BBC News 24. The latter interview was broadcast at around 3:00am. Newsnight editor Peter Barron told us that Newsnight interviewed Scott Ritter precisely twice on the WMD issue: on August 3, 2000 and August 21, 2002. We also note that Mosey ignored our point about the deaths of 37,000 Iraqi civilians being given scant, indeed probably zero, coverage on BBC TV news.

Sadly, Mosey, and all those who responded to our challenge (or who flatly refused to engage with us, such as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger), display what psychologist Steve Pinker eloquently describes as "the ubiquitous vice of self-deception, which always manages to put the self on the side of the angels." (Pinker, 'The Blank Slate', Penguin, 2002, p.280)

News coverage, we are told, is balanced and fair; all important views are properly represented. The media did their job properly on Iraq, and we can all relax. That's the message the British public is supposed to accept. In reality, news broadcasters and the press failed in their public duty to hold power to account. Worse than that, they acted as campaign managers for an illegal and immoral war (itself, merely the latest in a long list of murderous foreign 'interventions'). All of this is unmentionable in 'respectable' circles.

Somehow highly-paid media managers, editors and star commentators remain immune from fact-based and well-informed public criticism. As for the rest of us, we should be content to consume what +they+ produce, and be satisfied with the occasional tossed scrap of carefully managed public 'feedback' and 'consultation'.

What masquerades as media 'balance' is, in fact, tacit acceptance of the status quo. In his analysis of two pre-war BBC Panorama 'phone-in' programmes, the British writer John Theobald notes that they sought "authority and democratic legitimacy by incorporating public participation and thus an aura of genuine dialogue and interaction with the public. Both reveal how what initially seem to be programmes structured with impeccable balance and plurality are in fact disguised acts of persuasion for the standpoint of the UK government, designed to contribute to the luring of sceptical viewers into support for, or acquiescence in, the US/UK government position." (Theobald, 'The media and the making of history', Ashgate, 2004, p. 182)

Indeed, one can generalise from this observation to note that the function of the mainstream media, very much including the BBC, is to lure media consumers into supporting the position of state-corporate power. Coverage of Iraq has been, and remains, a prominent and blatant example, but the pattern is long-standing and systemic.


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to the editors below and ask them to conduct publicly available critiques into their own Iraq reporting.

Write to Roger Mosey, head of BBC television news

Write to Helen Boaden, director of BBC News:

Please also send all emails to us at Media Lens:


Visit the Media Lens website:

This is a free service, intended as a compassionate response to suffering. However, financial support is vital in allowing us to focus more of our time and energy on Media Lens and less on other paid work. Currently only one of us is able to work full-time on this project. Please consider donating to Media Lens:

This media alert will shortly be archived at:

Posted by David Edwards @ 12:20 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, September 9, 2004

MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

September 9, 2004



Public Versus Power Intellectuals

The one truth that cries out to be heard as a result of everything we now know about the invasion of Iraq is this: the media failed, catastrophically, to challenge the official version of events prior to the attack. Journalists may claim that Iraq was a media one-off, that special circumstances somehow conspired to obstruct them. This is emphatically not the case.

In fact media performance on Iraq was not, properly speaking, a failure at all - it was rooted in the basic structure of the media, in the media's fundamental assumptions about its role in society. As we discussed recently, journalists take for granted that their primary role is to communicate the thoughts, intentions and actions of power (See Media Alert: 'The Bias in Balanced Journalism', July 28, 2004,

It is assumed that 'balance' means communicating the thoughts, intentions and actions of the government on one hand, and of the party political opposition on the other. Reporting the opinions of informed and credible voices that fall outside these mainstream categories is +not+ deemed the media's responsibility. Indeed, moving beyond this self-assigned role to focus on such people is perceived as 'biased', 'committed', 'crusading', 'polemical', and 'unprofessional' journalism. Thus, the New York Times on Michael Moore:

"Of course, Mr. Moore is being selective in what he chooses to include in his movie; he's a polemicist, not a journalist." (Frank Rich, New York Times, May 23, 2004)

And Oliver Robinson in the Observer:

"Since 11 September, 2001, the appetite for Noam Chomsky's polemics has rocketed." (Robinson, The Observer, May 23, 2004)

And Roy Hattersley on John Pilger:

"[He] can never end his criticisms and condemnation at the point when most people would think it reasonable to stop." (Hattersley, The Guardian, July 20, 2002)

More accurately, Edward Herman and David Peterson have distinguished between what they call "public intellectuals" and "power intellectuals":

"We believe the term 'public intellectuals' should be reserved for those strong thinkers who lack access to the public precisely because they are independent and would speak effectively to that public's concerns. Their access is blocked, and their work and ideas are rendered invisible, by vested interests who control the flow of information to the public and are able to exclude from the print media and airwaves those who challenge their interests and preferred policies. That is, effective freedom of expression - freedom of expression combined with outreach to large numbers - is limited to the 'power intellectuals'." (Edward Herman and David Peterson, 'Public Versus Power Intellectuals', Part 1, Znet, May 11, 2001)

Public intellectuals are often motivated by compassion for suffering and injustice, by a sincere urge to uncover the genuine causes of, and solutions to, the problems afflicting our world. So what motivates power intellectuals? BBC political editor Andrew Marr provides some clues in describing why he accepted the editorship of the Independent:

"So, why had I done it? There were, looking back, two crucial factors in my mind. The first was vanity. The second was greed. To be a national newspaper editor is a grand thing. Even at the poor-mouse Independent, though I didn't have a chauffeur, I was driven to and from work in a limousine, barking orders down my mobile phone. Even as the poorest-paid of my contemporary national editors, I was soon on 175,000, which was much more than I was worth. One is not supposed to admit those things matter but they do, of course.

"In the office, I was the commander. Eyes swivelled when I arrived and people at least pretended to listen when I spoke. The Indy might be small, but she was mine. It was a little like one of those naval novels, where the officer gets command of his first ship and doesn't care that it has only two masts... Outside the office, I could visit the Prime Minister, archbishops, famous actors and fellow editors. I would be watched and written about in the trade press and the media columns of other papers." (Marr, The Daily Telegraph, September 2, 2004)

Marr adds as an aside: "I am selling myself a little short. Ideals matter, too, and did then."

Marr's honesty is really admirable, but the weight and positioning he gives the factors motivating him are of real significance in understanding why the mainstream media fails us so catastrophically. Imagine Edward Herman, Milan Rai, Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Amy Goodman, Howard Zinn, Mark Curtis or Robert Jensen describing their dissident career perks before adding: "Ideals matter, too, and did then."

Or compare and contrast Marr's comments with this advice from Atisa, a much earlier dissident:

"As if they were stones on a narrow slippery path, you should clear away all ideas of gain and respect, for they are the rope of the devil. Like snot in your nose, blow out all thoughts of fame and praise, for they serve only to beguile and confuse."

If this all seems a little hard on journalists like Marr, it is because the media succeeds in obscuring an awesome truth about our world - that innocent people pay with their lives for the performance of professional journalists.

Who Are You, Really?

Mainstream media reporting is an excellent example of how professional ethics - which are not god-given but merely invented by people - regularly subordinate human ethics, rationality and compassion. The fact is that mainstream political parties represent a very narrow range of vested interests which, if we are honest, are only balanced by individuals, organisations and ideas marginalised by the mainstream political system. The professional media, in other words, provides a highly prejudiced, elite version of the world with almost zero genuine balance.

The media, however, implicitly blinkers itself to this reality. After all, if we accept that the role of the media is to report the views of officialdom, then it cannot be the role of the media to question the legitimacy and credibility of officialdom, because these are subjects that officialdom does not discuss. The media cannot challenge officialdom because officialdom does not challenge officialdom. The technical term is: Catch 22.

The result, as we have seen in Iraq, is that elite officials are freed to deceive, dissemble, obfuscate and lie to an astonishing degree with minimal public exposure. Vast abuses of military and economic power are made possible as a result.

Media professionals often appear to be sincere in holding to their sense of right and wrong. But it is hardly an accident that the bedrock assumptions of professional journalism benefit and empower the same privileged state-corporate interests of which the media is a part and on which it depends. Historically, professional media ethics, quite obviously, have evolved through a mixture of cynical design and convenient self-deception to promote the interests that dominate society.

Especially in the light of events in Iraq, an honest media response would be to accept that genuine balance beyond the sham of party political 'debate' is +vital+ if the public is to access even the most elementary truths. Instead, we find - for example in the current targeting of Iran - that the media are yet again heavily promoting the official, demonising government line +exactly+ as they did prior to the invasion of Iraq.

The reason is simple: media performance is not primarily shaped by a reasoned and compassionate response to the world; it is shaped by the requirements of power. Because these requirements remain essentially consistent and unvarying over time, media reporting likewise traces similar patterns with similar omissions, ignorance and destructiveness.

The bottom line for many journalists is that they are professionals first and human beings second. While most of us would accept that we have a clear moral responsibility to relieve suffering and save lives wherever we are able, professionals insist they 'have a job to do'. Surely one of the great tragedies of our time lies in the fact that so many are willing to define their responsibilities on the basis of an alienated conception of who they really are. Many modern individuals, in effect, stand in the middle of a school gymnasium surrounded by suffering children and refuse to act because the job description on their company badge reads 'journalist', or 'salesman', rather than 'doctor' or 'firefighter'.

These comments give an idea of the kind of thinking that informed a recent email we sent to Newsnight editor, Peter Barron, on his programme's August 26 interview with John Bolton, US under-secretary for arms control. Barron responded rapidly and graciously, and we are grateful to him. We sent the following email on August 31, 2004:

Dear Peter

Hope you're well.

In introducing a Newsnight report on August 26, Gavin Esler referred to "Iran's nuclear threat". Would Esler not have been better advised to refer to Iran's +alleged+ nuclear threat?

In the same programme, Esler interviewed John Bolton, US under-secretary for arms control. Bolton repeatedly claimed that Iran posed a threat to the West. Esler's response was not to challenge Bolton's credibility in identifying such threats, but to repeatedly ask if the US reserved the right to attack Iran. For example, Esler asked:

"Is there a deadline by which you would say: 'If the UN hasn't acted, we the United States reserve the right to take action because we are +so+ concerned about this'?"

Bolton responded:

"We don't have a deadline, but I guess I'd put the question this way: For those who are content to allow Iran to continue to pursue nuclear weapons, what are you gonna say if time goes on and time goes on, and one day Iran says, 'We now have a weapon'? What are you gonna say then?"

By failing to challenge Bolton, Esler gave the impression that he was an uncontroversial and credible source on 'threats' to the West. But in September 2002, Bolton insisted that no new international mandate was needed to launch a war against Iraq:

"You don't have to wait for a mushroom cloud before you take appropriate action." (Bolton, quoted 'Kremlin gives short shrift to US hawk over Iraq', Ian Traynor, The Guardian, September 12, 2002)

Bolton made this statement at a time when no credible commentators were proposing that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons capability.

In January 2003, Bolton said Washington had "very convincing" evidence of an extensive Iraqi programme for the production of banned weapons, which it would reveal "at an appropriate time". ('Iraq: no nuclear evidence', Julian Borger, Brian Whitaker and Richard Norton-Taylor The Guardian, January 25, 2003)

As we now know, the claim was completely fraudulent - no such evidence has ever been revealed.

In November 2002, Bolton said the "son of star wars" anti-missile programme would go ahead "as soon as possible" to "protect the US, our deployed forces, as well as friends and allies against the growing missile threat". He made clear that the "growing missile threat" he had in mind was emerging from powers such as Iraq, Libya and Iran. ('Missiles R Us takes on the world', Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 21, 2002) We now know that Iraq and Libya possessed nothing remotely resembling intercontinental missile capability of this kind.

In late 2001, Bolton accused Cuba, no less, of developing deadly biological weapons with which to threaten the world. Bolton's claims were part of a propaganda campaign "so obvious as to be comical", British historian Mark Curtis comments. (Web Of Deceit, Vintage, 2003, p.78)

Why were Bolton's earlier deceptions on 'threats' from 'rogue states' not raised by Esler when discussing Bolton's latest warnings on Iran?

Best wishes

David Edwards

Peter Barron responded on September 3:

Dear David,
Thank you for your e-mail of 31 August concerning our item on Iran's nuclear capability.
The item was built around an interview with the US under secretary for arms control John Bolton. The purpose of the interview was to try to ascertain what the response of the US administration might be, given their firm belief that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and in the context of the war on Iraq and the US government's doctrine of pre-emptive action.
The piece which preceded the interview quoted the IAEA assessment of Iran's nuclear capability and noted their concerns. It did not state that Iran has nuclear weapons, and in his interview nor did John Bolton claim that they have nuclear weapons, only that they are in a position to develop them, which is also the IAEA's view. The piece twice put forward Iran's point of view, that they have no plans to develop nuclear weapons and that Tehran says that it has cleared up all outstanding ambiguities on the nuclear question. I agree with you that we could have put this point to Mr Bolton.
I also accept the point you make about previous US claims about Iraq's capability, but this interview was designed to find out more about the US position on Iran. I believe it's hugely important to show our viewers what American thinking is on the next phase of their foreign policy. Our viewers can then make up their minds on whether or not that policy is correct.
Best wishes
Peter Barron
Editor, Newsnight


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