Acolytes, Cultists and Clones

By Simon Wood (The Daily 99.99998271%)

martinrowsonIn a revealing exchange on Twitter, the Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson vented his anger at the media analysis and criticism group Media Lens, accusing them of engaging in an ‘online culty game of celeb scalp-hunting’. I would link to this exchange but Rowson has deleted his tweets and blocked both myself the other participant in the conversation, John Hilley. Our tweets are still there on our timelines (@simonwood11 and @johnwhilley) if you have any desire to peruse them.

Martin went on to say “fuck ’em” of Media Lens, just before demanding that John Hilley show ‘respect’ to him after he politely asked Rowson to explain his choice of language and ‘crude caricaturing’ of Media Lens. After blocking his subversive assailants and deleting his own tweets, he then added more comments:

Apologies to any of you who were perverse enough to be having a giggle at my Quixotic jousting with the @medialens clones. Just deleted…

…the dialogue having blocked them in order to air the room, as it were. Anyway, the sun’s shining, so once more, fuck ’em.

And soon after, in reply to a follower:

Sorry. @Medialens themselves blocked me ages ago, but the spat with their clones was the usual game of pained paralax deflection

Still more comments were added and they can be viewed at the @MartinRowson Twitter account.

Mr. Rowson’s words and actions require no discussion here. However, his use of the word ‘clone’ is something often encountered by those espousing or defending viewpoints similar or identical to those of groups that challenge the establishment. Along with the use of terms like ‘acolyte’ and ‘cultist’, this is a particularly common method of labeling (and smearing) any individual who happens to support or defend any group, organization or individual that does not conform.

Indeed, while supporters of Media Lens and the important work they do are routinely dismissed as ‘acolytes’, the founders of the group itself – David Cromwell and David Edwards – are themselves regularly labeled as acolytes of Noam Chomsky, as Peter Beaumont demonstrates in this article for the Guardian back in 2006.

Supporters of WikiLeaks can attest to the same treatment, often dismissed as ‘acolytes’ and ‘cultists’ simply for backing a group that stands up as a far more effective alternative to a media that has proved woefully inadequate at holding the power brokers of the world to account. Supporters of Glenn Greenwald are also regularly lumped together in such a way, and even Bitcoin enthusiasts get the same treatment.

Media Lens, Noam Chomsky, WikiLeaks (and Julian Assange), Glenn Greenwald and Bitcoin: all groups, systems or individuals that present threats or challenges, of varying levels of potency, to the established order.

Labeling those who raise legitimate concerns about an issue in such a manner is not only lazy and dishonest (not to mention cowardly), it is deeply cynical – nothing less than a propaganda technique to smear establishment critics as members of a cult, blindly following and worshiping their ‘leaders’, and placing millions of intelligent individuals with completely different views and concerns in a the same box.

While Glenn Greenwald has long been one of the most outspoken supporters of WikiLeaks, he and Julian Assange have expressed radically different philosophies with regard to how leaked information should be published. Does that sound like the behavior of an acolyte? Others who admire the work of Greenwald or Assange/WikiLeaks have also expressed concerns about their actions and opinions. In the same vein, many supporters of Bitcoin have reservations about the new form of currency, just as those who broadly share the philosophy of Noam Chomsky differ on several specific issues. The same is obviously true of those who support the Media Lens project.


Interestingly, this behavior by media figures is mimicked throughout the general public on forums and comments below the line of articles, but here the use of words like ‘acolyte’ and ‘cultist’ extends also to hardcore supporters of establishment figures like Barack Obama or George Bush. One can imagine a corporate media journalist very rarely describing Obama supporters as acolytes in opinion pieces perhaps, but certainly not in any habitual way; and this is the key difference.

Highlighting these double standards is part of the work of Media Lens and groups like it. We need not look further than the recent beating of the war drums by the US over Syria and the chemical weapons attacks allegedly carried out by Assad to see why the work this group does is important and should be supported.

After the Iraq War and claims of ‘never again’ by the media figures that sold the still ongoing catastrophe there with their lies and misrepresentation, the same warmongers in the press uncritically reported the unsupported claims of John Kerry. For a time it seemed that the US and their partners in crime – the UK – would charge in with cavalry (cruise missiles) and save the day. Thanks in part to groups like Media Lens, principled journalists like Neil Clark and Jonathon Cook as well as various bloggers and analysts who aggressively challenged the default media view on all available forums, the public’s awareness of another war crime in the making was at the very least given extra impetus. Cameron’s desire to join the US adventure was duly thwarted in Parliament – just as the Obama administration was – by a massive public outcry against yet more lies, war and death.

Martin Rowson and his corporate media colleagues are obviously not some shadowy arm of a media conspiracy against all identified threats to the establishment. Chomsky and Herman argued in their seminal Manufacturing Consent that corporate ownership of the media encourages systematic self-censorship, and that even in media with a perceived liberal bias, there is systematic omission or selection of stories to present a particular view of the world as desired by the corporate owners. This leads to certain modes of behavior by journalists within the system, where they feel an unspoken obligation not to come out in defense of certain anti-establishment forces.

This can be seen most clearly in the extended smear campaign throughout the media against Julian Assange, where journalists are practically lining up to make sure the whole world knows that they do not support him, despite the fact that the allegations leveled against him are an obvious sham. This is to be expected of course – journalists, like anyone else, have to pay mortgages and bills and certainly would not want to endanger their well-paid positions. For this reason, we also very rarely see criticism by journalists of the organizations they work for.

Groups like Media Lens highlight these double standards and this can only be seen as a valuable service for our stricken democracies and the public at large. However irritating their methods might seem to some, they are obviously trying to make the world a better place, subsisting only on the donations of supporters to do so. In contrast, Rowson and his corporate media colleagues (with some honorable exceptions), however well-intentioned they may be personally, are demonstrably making the world a worse place, simply by helping to sustain a toxic media whose failure can be frankly appraised in the mass ignorance, apathy and confusion on every single major issue (society, climate change, foreign policy etc.) among the public they are supposed to inform.

[Author’s note: if you find these articles informative or useful, please help spread the word by putting them on Twitter, Facebook or other social media etc. Thank you.]

Twitter: @simonwood11

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