BY DAVID EDWARDS (MEDIA LENS)
Unsurprisingly perhaps, our search of UK newspapers for the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’, ‘Vikings’ and ‘Mayans’ delivered only one result. After all, how could they possibly be linked? Rachel Sylvesterexplained in The Times on September 1:
‘Just as the Vikings and the Mayans brought about their own extinction by destroying the environment on which their cultures depended…’
Already the heart has dropped. Is this really leading where we think it’s leading?
‘…so the Labour party is threatening its survival by abandoning electoral victory as a definition of success. If Labour chooses Jeremy Corbyn – a man who will never be elected prime minister – as leader next week, its end could be as brutal and sudden as those other once great tribes.’
This was the latest preposterously apocalyptic claim to emerge from an increasingly frantic corporate media effort to undermine Corbyn.
Sylvester’s article was titled: ‘Will a Corbyn victory be the end of Labour?’ On and on, the establishment press has attacked an obviously authentic representative of Labour values as the ultimate threat to Labour values. On and on, the alleged concern has been to save the Labour party from itself, to protect its electability, to defend democracy. Much of this ‘concern’ has been expressed by sworn enemies of the Labour party.
A glance back at US history helps clarify what is really going on.
The Need For Apathy
In 1975, The Trilateral Commission, a think tank closely linked to the US government, issued an influential report titled ‘The Crisis of Democracy’. The report’s author Samuel Huntington noted:
‘The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups.’ (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, Radical Priorities, Black Rose Books, 1981, pp.160-164)
Thus had Truman ‘been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers.’ Unfortunately, by the mid-1960s, ‘the sources of power in society had diversified tremendously’. This was a result of the fact that ‘previously passive or unorganized groups in the population,’ such as ‘blacks, Indians, Chicanos, white ethnic groups, students and women… became organized and mobilized in new ways to achieve what they considered to be their appropriate share of the action and of the rewards’.
This public mobilisation comprised a ‘crisis in democracy’; or, more accurately, an ‘excess of democracy’. The solution lay in ‘a greater degree of moderation in democracy’ and determined efforts ‘to restore the prestige and authority of central government institutions’. Demands on government had to be reduced in a way that restored ‘a more equitable relationship between government authority and popular control’.
Noam Chomsky commented on the report:
‘Its vision of “democracy” is reminiscent of the feudal system. On the one hand, we have the King and Princes (the government). On the other, the commoners. The commoners may petition and the nobility must respond to maintain order… Real participation of “society” in government is nowhere discussed, nor can there be any question of democratic control of the basic economic institutions that determine the character of social life while dominating the state as well, by virtue of their overwhelming power.’
‘This is the ideology of the liberal wing of the state capitalist ruling elite, and, it is reasonable to assume, its members who now staff the national executive in the United States.’
In 2015, ‘mainstream’ UK politics and media are responding in much the same way for much the same reasons.
As we have previously noted, the full extent of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of attacks on him as compared to those directed at the other three candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.
While the media have pored over every last detail of Corbyn’s personal and political past – what he has said, how he has voted, who he has met – in an effort to smear him, the same is certainly not true of the New Labour Tweedlethree.
Consider, for example, that Burnham and Cooper both voted for the wars that brought catastrophe to Iraq and Libya, while Kendall voted for the Libya disaster. What has been the extent of media coverage of this complicity in major crimes against humanity?
Our Lexis newspaper archive search for July and August found three articles mentioning Burnham’s vote for the Iraq war and three mentioning Cooper’s vote. Of these six mentions, five came in late August in response to Corbyn’s declaration of intent to apologise for Iraq. We found no mentions of the fact that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall all voted for the Libya disaster.
Last month, Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman – ostensibly to the ‘left’ of the political spectrum – wrote a lengthy article on her interview with Yvette Cooper. We asked Lewis on Twitter:
‘Hi @helenlewis Yvette Cooper voted for US-UK wars that wrecked two countries. Why no mention of Iraq and Libya in your piece? Not important?’
Lewis ignored us on Twitter and on email, which was unusual as she has often engaged with us in the past. But we got a response in an article by New Statesman columnist Sarah Ditum:
‘the organisation Media Lens, while claiming to criticise the biases of corporate news, is in practice largely engaged in an endless project of separating the anti-war sheep from the goats to be purged. Iraq is part of the reason for Corbyn’s breezy rise: he’s pure of war taint. The fact that his anti-war credentials have led him into associations with Holocaust deniers and other unsavoury types is of no import when he can promise an apology for the Iraq war – at last, a politician willing to say sorry for a decision he bears no responsibility for and win rectitude by blaming his predecessors. The new politics we’ve all been waiting for. Being right about Iraq is not, ultimately, a good enough foundation for political life. The longer the left behaves as though it is, the closer we get to redundancy and death.’
We, of course, have neither the power nor the desire to ‘purge’ anyone for anything. Our questions to Ditum’s deputy editor could hardly have been more reasonable or relevant. In a time of Perpetual War – yesterday, the Guardian once again called for ‘international intervention’ in Syria, ‘a no-fly zone must be on the table’ – Cooper’s voting record of course has grave implications for the near-certainty of future wars waged on more states around the world. Any reasonable commentator understands the need to pay careful attention to the candidates’ record and thinking on war.
The idea that Corbyn is associated with Holocaust deniers is merely ‘McCarthyite guilt by association’, while the idea that his willingness to apologise for Iraq is all that matters is absurd – an apology of course means very little. As journalist Peter Oborne wrote recently:
‘Corbyn is our only current hope of any serious challenge to a failed orthodoxy. Blair and Cameron have both adopted a foreign policy based on subservience rather than partnership with the United States, which has done grave damage to British interests.’
That is the point that matters.
Ditum’s piece was full of sops to the pro-war right:
‘I was right about the 2003 Iraq war. I thought it was a bad idea, and it was a bad idea. For a long time this fact was very important to me.’
What does it mean to describe an unnecessary, unprovoked war of aggression killing one million people and wrecking an entire country as ‘a bad idea’? Was the Nazi Holocaust ‘a bad idea’? Was 9/11? Would we be offended by such casual descriptions of these horrors?
‘But there was a case for war – maybe a sufficient one, maybe not, but a better one than 45 minutes. Saddam Hussein was monstrous. He killed and killed and killed. The choice was never a simple one between the good of non-intervention and the ill of intervention: doing nothing and leaving a genocidal dictator in power was an ill too, and the fact that what was done was done badly does not change that.’
In fact, by the time of the 2003 invasion, Saddam Hussein’s worst crimes were behind him. In 2002, we asked Amnesty International for broad brush statistics on Saddam’s crimes and were sent areport: ‘Human rights record in Iraq since 1979’. According to Amnesty, the crimes peaked on several occasions: thousands were killed in Halabja in 1988, with thousands more killed in the crushing of the Kurdish uprising in the north and Shia Arabs in the South following the Gulf War in 1991. As for the ten years prior to the 2003 invasion, Amnesty mostly reported ‘hundreds of people executed’ per year in the 1990s. This was bad enough but it hardly matched the lurid media claims of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of people killed in the years prior to the US-UK invasion.
The assumption behind Ditum’s ‘case for war’ is that the people seeking to be rid of the Iraqi dictator were themselves concerned about Iraqi welfare. But these were the same powers that had presided over the ‘genocidal’ sanctions regime that had claimed the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children, and that hadsupported Saddam during his worst killing, and who in fact brought him to power. In a rare honest analysis published in the New York Times in 2003, Roger Morris wrote:
‘As its instrument the C.I.A. had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the C.I.A. in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958.’
Using lists ‘provided by the CIA’, the Baathists committed mass murder: ‘the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures’. The US ‘also sent arms to the new regime’. Soon, Western corporations like Mobil, Bechtel and British Petroleum were doing business with Baghdad – ‘for American firms, their first major involvement in Iraq’.
Ditum concluded cynically on her anti-war stance:
‘I was right, and my being right helped no one, ameliorated no violence, saved no lives.’
In reality, the furious reaction to Blair’s trampling of the public’s massive anti-war opposition, bringing disaster to Iraq, clearly played a major role in terminating his political career. That, in turn, made it politically possible for Labour leader Ed Miliband to throw a spanner in the works of the US-UK war machine seeking to bomb Syria in 2013; obstruction that certainly saved lives.
When we failed to receive a reply from Helen Lewis, we tweeted her again. Padraig Reidy, formerly a news writer for the Index on Censorship, chipped in: ‘Quality medialensing here. The sense of entitlement’.
The full-stop at the beginning of our tweet meant it was also sent to our 22,000 followers on Twitter. Reidy replied: ‘@medialens love the little passive aggressive dot at the front of that tweet’.
‘Mainstream’ commentators love to send us this kind of mocking comment. We wrote back:
‘You mean sending an exchange with a high-profile challenger to our followers? It’s called social media, debate.’
At this point, US journalist Glenn Greenwald also chipped in:
‘@medialens @mePadraigReidy You asked a journalist to comment on a critique & told your followers she’s ignoring it. Monsters!’
While Reidy rapidly retreated, Greenwald continued:
‘@medialens @mePadraigReidy Journalists deserve extreme levels of respect & if you’re going to criticize them, it should be quietly & meekly’
‘@medialens As @mePadraigReidy suggests, placing a “.” before a critique of a journalist is like failing to bow to the Queen. Gauche.’
Pleasing The Wrong People
Ditum’s ostensibly anti-war piece was greeted with high praise by some notorious pro-war figures. John Rentoul, resident neocon networker at the Independent, thought it ‘brilliant’. The Times’ tireless armchair warrior, David Aaronovitch, tweeted Ditum, or ‘sd’: ‘That’s a spectacular piece, sd.’ Even more disturbing, David Frum – the ‘Dubya’ Bush speechwriter who invented the ‘axis of evil’ propaganda line – described the piece as ‘thoughtful’.
Ostensibly at the far-distant, liberal end of the media spectrum – in reality, a baby-step away – Chris Cook, policy editor of BBC Newsnight, lauded ‘a stunning piece’. Guardian columnist Marina Hyde – daughter of Sir Alastair Edgcumbe James Dudley-Williams, 2nd Baronet of the City and of the County of the City of Exeter – swooned: ‘I also thought this by @sarahditum was brilliant (and brilliantly uncomfortable)’.
We noted the tragicomic unanimity on Twitter:
‘Awful Sarah Ditum Iraq piece we RTd was “spectacular”, Aaronovitch; “stunning”, Cook, BBC Newsnight; “brilliant”, Marina Hyde, Gdn. The Club’
Guardian journalists Marina Hyde and Hadley Freeman responded by lampooning us as theconspiracy theorists we certainly are not. To the evident dismay of both journalists, Greenwald once again entered the fray:
‘@medialens Mocking you as conspiracists is how UK journalists demonstrate their in-group coolness to one another: adolescent herd behavior.’
Greenwald then offered this damning judgement on the UK press:
‘@medialens I’ve never encountered any group more driven by group-think and rank-closing cohesion than British journalists.’
He also wrote to Hyde:
‘@MarinaHyde @medialens Why not just engage them? They actually make substantive media critiques few others make, even when they’re wrong.’
It would be interesting to know when Greenwald thinks we’ve been ‘wrong’ in identifying media bias, but even this caveated support was appreciated.
This mixture of ‘liberal’ press propaganda, silence and mockery in response to rational criticism gives the lie to the title above a recent Independent column by Mark Steel writing in support of Corbyn:
‘Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be’
We and others noted the title’s outrageous whitewashing of the role of the ‘liberal’ press, notably Steel’s own newspaper, the Independent, as well as the Guardian and the BBC (all unmentioned by Steel), which have all played leading roles in attacking Corbyn. John Hilley of Zen Politics challenged Steel on the title. Steel responded:
‘AAAAAAAAAAAGH A) I don’t write the headlines B) Do you want me to write an article called “why this paper is shit”?’
‘Fine, but what’s to stop you mentioning Guardian alongside the Mail and Telegraph? Has Guardian not been awful?’
Steel ignored us, as he always has on Twitter and email. We did some research and tweeted again:
‘According to Lexis, you have criticised Guardian a total of 3 times, twice in passing, most recently 2001. Almost faultless?’
For the crime of sending three tweets and three responses that morning, Steel blocked us on Twitter. He also blocked Hilley and several others.
As we have noted many times, it turns out that the fiercest gatekeepers protecting the ‘liberal’ press, ironically, are the handful of salaried ‘dissidents’ that work for them. Revered as heroes for their truth-telling, they do not speak out honestly on the performance of their corporate employers. If they tell the truth, they risk damaging their careers. If they dilute the truth, they risk damaging their reputations as truth-tellers. The best bet is to say nothing, to ignore and block those of us speaking out, and hope we go away.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Helen Lewis, deputy editor, New Statesman:
Email: [email protected]
Write to Marina Hyde at the Guardian:
Email: [email protected]
Write to Mark Steel at the Independent:
Email: [email protected]