The article below, written by myself, was published way back in 2014, Then, as now, Brand was plastered all over the front pages and being discussed on every current affairs TV show from Newsnight to Loose Women. The mainstream coverage was overwhelmingly hostile, accusing Russell of hypocrisy because of his temerity in supporting people on a council estate in danger of losing their homes while he lived in a nice apartment and his landlord was using a tax haven, as discovered by an intrepid ‘journalist’ digging about to find anything that would undermine Brand, and so what if the people of the New Era Estate fall by the wayside. Those ever vigilant guardians of moral probity, the mainstream press, all went with the same ‘hypocrisy’ line. All of them. In lockstep. They made sure this was the topic on every commentator’s lips, on every front page, and so the important humanitarian issue Russell was trying to highlight was spun off into the shadows leaving him standing alone in the spotlight, a board scrawled with the word ‘hypocrite’ hanging around his neck.
“We would be grateful if you could confirm whether Mr Brand is able to monetise his TikTok posts, including his videos relating to the serious accusations against him, and what the platform is doing to ensure that creators are not able to use the platform to undermine the welfare of victims of inappropriate and potentially illegal behaviour.”
‘Potentially illegal’?? What we have here is a clear attempt to shut down Russell’s dissident voice before he’s even been charged, let alone convicted, of any crime. If this isn’t proof that the ‘conspiracy theory’ of a coordinated effort to mute his questioning voice is anything but, I don’t know what is. Really, listening to corporate ‘journalists’ dismiss this possibility as though it were utterly preposterous is ironic in the extreme. Dinenage also disgracefully uses the victims of the ‘potentially illegal’ behaviour as an the excuse for her interference. She doesn’t say ‘alleged victims’ but declares their victim status as though Brand is already guilty whilst, in the very same sentence, admitting no illegality has yet been established. The twisted logic being employed here would do honour to the contortionists of the Cirque de Soleil.
It’s very heartening, however, that Rumble (the platform’s boss also received a letter urging them to punish Brand) has rejected Dinenage’s ‘disturbing’ letter forcefully:
— Rumble – 🏴☠️ $RUM (@rumblevideo) September 20, 2023
I’ve seen a lot of exchanges between corporate journalists and campaigners over the years, but the one between Russell Brand and Paraic O’Brien of Channel 4 News on December 1st outside Downing St. is the only one that has ever brought me close to tears. Now, if you’re not familiar with The Propaganda Model to which our corporate media adheres, then your reaction is likely to be, ‘What! Why the hell would you have such a ridiculous reaction? Get a grip!’ But if you’re even half-awake when it comes to scrutinising the motivations of that media then you may well think me overly sentimental, but you’ll not be scratching your head quite as much.
As you may know, Russell was outside Number Ten in support of the residents of the New Era Estate who are in danger of losing their homes due to a takeover by US private equity company Westbrook. Brand recently talked to the Mayor of New York about this who was open in his condemnation of the company for their multiple violations of tenants’ rights in the city. Back in London, Lindsey Garrett, one of the New Era Estate residents, has been told that when her contract ends, her 640 pound a month rent will rocket to 2,400 pounds, more than her take-home pay as a care coordinator for the NHS:
‘Council officers have already told her what that means. As a single mother, she and eight-year-old Daisy will be moved into a homeless shelter, for anything up to four years; then it’s temporary accommodation, which could be in Manchester or Birmingham.’ (Guardian)
A homeless shelter!?? A mother and her young daughter!! What kind of society is it that would allow such an abomination?? Ours clearly. Except that I think the majority of people in this society would be horrified were they given the facts, because no-one but a psychopath could have any part of this; and the vast majority of us are not psychopathic. It’s just that we’re consistently drenched in the acid rain of a corporate media spin-machine that masquerades as objective and so normalizes the sick behaviour of the power elites who own that media.
Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, ex-New York Times journalist who gave up his glittering career with all its baubles to speak the truth about the Iraq War says, in his compelling piece, The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News:
‘…the creed of objectivity becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits; it banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice…This abject moral failing has left the growing numbers of Americans shunted aside by our corporate state without a voice. It has also, with the rise of a ruthless American oligarchy, left the traditional press on the wrong side of our growing class divide. The elitism, distrust and lack of credibility of the press—and here I speak of the dwindling institutions that attempt to report news—come directly from this steady and willful disintegration of the media’s moral core.’
It was that gaping emptiness where the ‘media’s moral core’ should be that caused me such anguish watching Russell and Paraic’s exchange. That such straightforward concern for others should be met with such cynical opportunism in service of the corporate media’s absinthian agenda was painful to observe. But what really moved me was the sheer moral force of the cause Russell was so passionately and desperately struggling to talk about; it was his obvious sincerity, the tangibility of the compassion with which he was speaking, the innocence (in the very best sense of the word) with which he was trying to help people who would be ignored if it wasn’t for his interest; it was the righteous anger with which that force of nature, Lindsey, jumped to his defence and so articulately blasted through Paraic’s smarmy/slick mendacity; it was witnessing loyalty, friendship and integrity meet the corrupt establishment head on.
Notice Russell’s expression just after he realises that Paraic is not the slightest bit interested in The New Era Estate or its residents; just before he says, ‘it’s rented’. Now, whoever thinks that pained shadow passing across his face is about concern for himself is fucking unconscious; in a state of stupid receptivity devoid of any useful critical thinking skills; in a media-induced coma.
It’s fascinating to watch how easy it is for the corporate media’s institutional bias to successfully direct the dumb gaze of the sleepwalkers to its chosen angle so that the parameters of debate are squeezed and narrowed until they include only its own perspective. In this case it’s: ‘is Russell Brand a hypocrite?’
There it is. And dutifully, the ‘mainstream’ commentariat freezes the New Era Estate out of the discussion. Everywhere you looked in non-independent broadcast or print media last week the question of Russell’s possible hypocrisy was on everyone’s lips. From LBC, with that corpulent puss-bucket Nick Ferrari, to Loose Women, where Janet-Street Porter demonstrated perfectly how an intelligent woman can still be easily manipulated, and where Ruth Langsford helpfully informed us that ‘at least’ Russell had ‘sort of’ apologised in his subsequent Trews report – notice the assumption that he has something to apologise for! It was left to the day’s guest comedian, Kevin Bridges, to mention the New Era Estate before he was quickly closed down. Even panel member Jamelia’s brave defense of Russell’s right to speak his mind was entombed in the crypt of prescribed opinion options.
This is what Chris Hedges, in the above mentioned piece, labelled ‘the narcissism of minor difference’. A fevered argument is had within confines so narrow that the real issues are disappeared, but everyone is satisfied because, well, we had strongly opposing views didn’t we? Some thought Russell was a hypocrite and some thought he wasn’t – but no-one at any point called into question the motivations of the media itself.
You see, Paraic O’ Brien knows everything that I’ve told you about the plight of the residents of the New Era Estate. He knows how these families are suffering; he knows that the attention Russell Brand is bringing them is a lifeline which could be the only chance they have of keeping their homes. And yet the Channel 4 News man’s only focus was on smearing him. Paraic’s aim was not to genuinely inquire on behalf of viewers why a group of desperate people marched to Downing St with 300,000 signatures on a petition. No, his imperative was to undermine Brand at all costs. How sad….and how utterly predictable!
Nothing has exposed the allegiance of the entire corporate media more than the squalid syncopation of attacks launched against Russell since he emerged as a person of profile prepared to expose the corruption of the corporate state. There have been some excellent articles outlining why the operation of ‘taking Brand down’ is in full flow now and why all corporate sources are complicit – from the obvious villains of the Murdoch empire to the good old BBC, to the ‘lefties’ at Channel 4 News. They all have the same agenda. All of them:
‘The corporate media system, with its fraudulent ‘spectrum’ of opinion, is a hammer that falls with a unified, resounding crash on anyone who dares to challenge elite interests. It works relentlessly to beat down human imagination, creativity and hope, to smash the awareness, love and compassion that might otherwise terminate the ‘nightmare of history.’ David Edwards (Media Lens)
‘It’s a smear-laden distraction serving to deflect minds not only from the core issues Brand is raising, but the instinctive threat liberal politicians and journalists feel and lash out against when their own inadequacies as challenging vanguards and reforming radicals are so glaringly exposed.’ John Hilley (Zen Politics)
‘While the hundreds of ‘obscure bloggers’ from the ‘dark net’ (like me) who call for radical change can be easily and safely dismissed as ‘crackpots’, dissidents with enormous popular reach like Brand are a far bigger problem and so they must be ridiculed and smeared.’ Simon Wood (The Daily 99.99998271 %)
To understand, then, why Paraic treated Brand the way he did, we must first understand the corporate media fully as part of the corporate system – not separate from it, and therefore, totally unable to challenge it(self). Its journalists must be those who can be relied upon to defend the status quo and those who won’t are weeded out long before reaching national prominence. They are marked out as ‘troublemakers’ and discarded, while the ‘winners’ are selected for obedience and are duly rewarded and promoted. Thus, you end up with ‘state stenographers’ (Media Lens quote) rather than journalists; people who need not conspire daily, at the conscious level, about how to pour scorn on anyone likely to reveal to the public the full state of corruption of the system which sustains them. No. They are already primed from years of ‘proper’ training to trust the elite sources which allow them access to power and to automatically align with and amplify their views.
The reasons for this I outlined in great detail in part III of my series, What’s Wrong With Channel 4 News? Because one thing must be understood – the problem here is not the obvious venality of The Sun, The Daily Mail, Sky or Fox News; it’s the liberal press, which does such a fine job of cloaking the corporate media in the garb of counterfeit radicalism. And why is this so dangerous? Because if the Channel 4 News team are serving their corporate masters instead of us – then who the fuck is holding power to account? We include, of course, the print media in this, and the recent effective sacking of Guardian blogger and superb journalist Nafeez Ahmed exemplifies the problem of a faux-radical liberal press. Read the details of Ahmed’s case here.
This weekend, BSN editors attended the Logan Symposium, a gathering of those committed to truly independent news-gathering and reporting. From John Pilger’s speech:
‘In the 12 years before the invasion (of Iraq), the US and British governments set in motion a holocaust by denying the civilian population of Iraq a means to live.’ Those are the words of the senior British official responsible for sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s – a medieval siege that caused the deaths of half a million children under the age of five, reported Unicef. The official’s name is Carne Ross. In the Foreign Office in London, he was known as “Mr. Iraq”. Today, he is a truth-teller of how governments deceive and how journalists willingly spread the deception. ‘We would feed journalists factoids of sanitised intelligence,’ he told me, ‘or we’d freeze them out.’
500,000 children under five dead because of deliberate UK/US policy, according to the UN. This is a fact long known by independent media, but where did you hear that discussed anywhere in the corporate media? On Question Time? On Newsnight? On Loose fucking Women? No. It simply wouldn’t happen:
‘Why has so much journalism succumbed to propaganda? Why are censorship and distortion standard practice? Why is the BBC so often a mouthpiece of rapacious power? Why do the New York Times and the Washington Post deceive their readers? Why are young journalists not taught to understand media agendas and to challenge the high claims and low purpose of fake objectivity? And why are they not taught that the essence of so much of what’s called the mainstream media is not information, but power?’ Pilger (Logan Symposium, Dec 5th 2014)
So you see, Paraic O’ Brien isn’t some maverick with a personal vendetta against Brand. No. When he ignored the plight of the New Era Estate residents he was doing exactly what he was selected to do when Channel 4 News employed him. And we bet he got a slap on the back from Ed fraser or Oliver King (Ch4N editors) when he got back to Gray’s Inn Road.
In his Trews report on the incident, Russell, as Ruth Langsford has already reminded us, seemed almost apologetic about the way he responded to Paraic’s line of questioning. ‘I’m an emotional person’ he offered, as if any kind of explanation were necessary. An enlightened philosopher (it may have been Schopenhauer) once said that when people disparage emotion, ‘they forget that empathy is an emotion; that compassion is an emotion’. And he wasn’t the only one to have pronounced on the subject.The great Brigid Brophy declared:
‘whenever people say “we mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add “we must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it.’
Albert Schweitzer described compassion as the place ‘in which all ethics must take root’; Henry Salt observed:
‘of all the mistaken notions concerning humanitarianism, the most mistaken is that which regards it as some extraneous artificial cult, forced on human nature from without; whereas in truth it is founded on an instinctive conviction from within.’
‘The great secret of morals is love…’ said Shelley. ‘….a man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own”.
And when he wrote three weeks after the Peterloo Massacre: ‘the torrent of my indignation has not yet done boiling in my veins’ I doubt an apology for such an outpouring of emotion was ever even a spark in his consciousness. Not the man who urged;
Rise like lions after slumber
In unfathomable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
That in sleep have fallen on you
Ye are many, they are few
In fact, I think I can safely claim that Shelley would have been marching with the residents of the New Era Estate were he alive today and we can only imagine what short shrift he would have given Paraic O’ Brien. The ‘torrent of (his) indignation’ would have been in full flow I am sure of that. I’ve no doubt either that he would have assured Russell that empathy must never be a source of shame.
Never be afraid to express emotion which rises in defence of the vulnerable and exploited; it is expressing the very highest principles; it fuels action which inspires change. The world needs compassion now more than ever. It needs the kind of compassion Gandhi espoused: ‘Satyagraha’, or ‘truth-force’; a compassion that is prepared to speak out, stand up and take action. The kind of compassion that led Martin Luther King, in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, to defend himself against the accusation of ‘extremist’ by quoting an honour roll of those similarly accused:
Was not Jesus an extremist for love? Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.’ And John Bunyan: ‘I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.’’ So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love?
Would Dr. King be marching with the New Era Estate residents if he were here now? Or would he be scrabbling around for ways to discredit those standing with them? Difficult one that isn’t it? Get your priorities right, people! Take the blinkers from your eyes and refuse to be spoon-fed your opinions from the poisoned source of ‘objective, mainstream’ news. Use your intelligence. Use your heart! Use both to help those struggling to be heard. Be what the Native Americans call a Rainbow Warrior – using your strength in defence of the vulnerable and forgotten. Because we are not isolated from one another, but intimately connected. Remember this, and you won’t be easily quieted when you are required to speak out for those who can’t be heard. You won’t be afraid and neither will you be ashamed of the love that drives you, because, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’’ Dr. King
Last year, my co-editor at BSN, Mike Raddie, and I were outside the BBC attending a protest about its blatantly biased reporting when who should saunter by but Paraic O’Brien. Mike was familiar with him from a few protests (Paraic wasn’t on them heaven forfend, he was ‘impartially’ reporting on them) as well as the latter’s visits to Democracy Village, the occupation of Parliament Square in 2010 of which Mike was a founding tent-pitcher. So, we chatted to him for a bit, Mike mentioning that I’d just completed my latest installment in the What’s Wrong With Channel 4 News? series. Paraic laughed genially and agreed to look at it, so Mike sent it to him there and then. We wondered if he would read it, as in our experience corporate journalists avoid like the plague any critique which dissects their role within the destructive, profit-seeking system that sustains them.
Via twitter, a short while later, we reminded Paraic about the article and asked if he’d read it? ‘Yes’ came the reply. Great. How unexpected, we thought. We might now enter into some fruitful discussion about all the issues raised. We asked him for a response to the piece, and it quickly came: ‘what can I say?’ he tweeted. Ah, we thought. What can he say – if he wants to keep his job.
The article itself delves into the cognitive dissonance corporate journalists must deal with if they are to continue reaping the benefits of their privileged position. They have a choice: they can either bring their actions into line with their values – which would mean doing what Chris Hedges and Jonathan Cook of The Guardian did and becoming independent in order to keep their integrity – or they can ease the psychological discomfort by rationalising their situation by swift dismissal of any criticism as being fueled by jealousy or ‘extreme’ political ideology. They usually choose the latter because they see everyone’s extremism but their own.
What could be more extreme than a media which failed to challenge the lies on Iraq leading to an illegal war which left a million innocent dead:
In 2003, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the distinguished American investigative journalist. We discussed the invasion of Iraq a few months earlier. I asked him, “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?” He replied that if we journalists had done our job “there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.” That’s a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question. Dan Rather, formerly of CBS, gave me the same answer. David Rose of the Observer and senior journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous, gave me the same answer.
John Pilger, Logan Symposium, Nov 2014
Paraic’s pathetic response to us – ‘what can I say?’ – sums up the cowardice and complicity of him and his fellow corporate employees with the lawless psychopaths in power. If you can’t fathom why I was nearly brought to tears by his treatment of Russell Brand then think of the half a million little children dead from lack of the essentials of life due to our sanctions – and why it wasn’t reported; dwell on the horrific images of babies born deformed from the effects of NATO’s use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium – and why it wasn’t reported; and spare a thought for a hero called Brian Haw, who kept a lonely and courageous vigil outside the Houses of Parliament, through wind and snow, for ten long years to keep those images in public view. He was worth a thousand Paraic O’Briens, Jon Snows, Krishnan Guru-Murthys, Alex Thomsons, Cathy Newmans, Lindsey Hilsums, or any other conceited corporate media whore you could name. Prostitute yourselves to Power guys. That’s the only way to get ahead:
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to
succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.” Abraham Lincoln