Feed aggregator

Enlightened Corners – The Russia 2018 World Cup

Media Lens - Fim, 21/06/2018 - 06:43

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

'Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham'

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

'I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.'

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian's sneering with his review of the World Cup's opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

'There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.'

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim 'Mr Vladimir Putin' – think Vlad the Impaler - was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin's Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

'This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world's crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.'

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

'Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he's doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.'

Ronay added:

'A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president's performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.'

Driven by an army of 'Russian bots', the 'Putin alternative reality machine' is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump's presidency, to Corbyn's rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West's alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

'To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.'

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

'Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of "Vladimir, Vladimir". When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia's involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.'

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron 'possibly expected' the Games 'to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community', having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the 'international community' that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

'Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.'

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

'There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.'

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered 'less enlightened corners of the world', given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in 'less enlightened corners', including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

'Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist's dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.' (Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, 'Thursday's best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,' The Guardian, 14 June 2018)

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in 'a human rights activist's dream'.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

'Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the "dictator" Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.'

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

'It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

'At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?'

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

'We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah's opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.'

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a 'thuggish pariah'.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

'Williams's stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn't of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull...'

As for the event:

'It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.'

Kelner's piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically: 'So nice of Robbie to say hello.'

In The Times, under the title, 'Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,' chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

'What does Russia want from this tournament?'

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was 'about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life'. (Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018)

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a 'modern, progressive approach to life' will have nodded sagely from their more 'enlightened corners of the world'.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV's senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

'One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that "Stalin had a proper 'tache". Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, "a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive."' ('Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,' Telegraph, 14 June 2018)

And:

'The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: "They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match."'

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya's oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

'Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

'"I'd be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won't," she admits. "But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that."' ('World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,' The Sun, 9 June 2018)

And then there was 'Putin's Russia with David Dimbleby', a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

'"In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here..." So begins David Dimbleby's thoughtful film in which - as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament - he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin's 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.' ('What's on TV tonight: Putin's Russia, The Fight for Women's Bodies and Beetlejuice,' Telegraph, 13 June 2018)

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 - one day after the US-UK's Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them 'smart bombs' - Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

'Isn't it in fact true that America is... by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we've seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it's beginning to look as though you're going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.' (Quoted, John Eldridge, 'Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,' Routledge, 2003, p.14)

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

Enlightened Corners – The Russia 2018 World Cup

Media Lens - Fim, 21/06/2018 - 06:43

Senior Guardian sports writer Barney Ronay indicated the basic tone of early corporate coverage of the Russia 2018 World Cup:

'Moscow is like a giant scale version of Lewisham'

Journalist Peter Oborne responded:

'I know Moscow. It is one of the great cities of the world. Barney Ronay should stick to sports reporting. He diminishes himself by trying to join in Guardian anti-Russian sneering.'

In fact, Ronay had already joined the Guardian's sneering with his review of the World Cup's opening ceremony and first match. He commented:

'There was the required grimly magisterial speech from your host for the night, Mr Vladimir Putin.'

The intended irony being, of course, that the grim 'Mr Vladimir Putin' – think Vlad the Impaler - was hosting a joyous sporting occasion. And we do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is grim about Putin's Russia (as Oborne also made clear in an excellent article he tweeted to people who responded to his criticism of Ronay); that is not our point.

For Ronay, the grimness was inescapable, as he noted in describing the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia:

'This match had been dubbed El Gasico by some, a reference to the fact these two nations host between them a quarter of the world's crude oil reserves. Perhaps something a bit darker – El Kalashniko? – might have been more apt given the distressingly tangled relations between these two energy caliphates, who are currently the best of frenemies, convivial sponsors of opposing sides in the Syrian war.'

Although Ronay is a sports writer, realpolitik was a running theme throughout his review of the opening ceremony:

'Here the power-play was on show for all to see, the stadium TV cameras cutting away mid-game to show shots of Putin and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman leaning in to swap gobbets of power gossip in the VIP cockpit. Lodged between them sat the slightly jarring figure of Gianni Infantino, the mouse who roared, an administrator who really must blink now and then and wonder what exactly he's doing here. Football does get itself into the strangest of places.'

Ronay added:

'A few weeks ago Fifa produced a film showing Putin and Infantino doing keep-ups together inside the Kremlin. Even here the dark hand of the Putin alternative reality machine was felt, with talk that the president's performance had been doctored by technicians to make his skills sicker, more convincing, less the usual middle-aged mess of toe‑pokes and shinners.'

Driven by an army of 'Russian bots', the 'Putin alternative reality machine' is supposed to be distorting everything from Brexit to Trump's presidency, to Corbyn's rise to prominence, but is mostly an excuse for the West's alternative reality machine to attack internet freedom that has left the establishment shaken, not stirred.

Finally, Ronay added:

'To squeals and roars Putin appeared at last to deliver a speech about the joys of football, not to mention peace, love and understanding, all of which are great. It was perhaps a little rambling and terse, less opening day Santa Claus, more notoriously frightening local vicar called away from his books to open the village fete.'

Chief Guardian sports writer Martha Kelner, formerly of the Daily Mail and niece of the former Independent editor Simon Kelner who was at one time deputy sports editor at the Independent, also focused on the ominous undertones:

'Just 15 minutes before kick-off the Russian president was driven in a convoy of cars with blacked out windows into an underground space beneath the 81,000-seat stadium. Large swaths of the crowd burst into a spontaneous chant of "Vladimir, Vladimir". When Russia won the right to host the World Cup eight years ago the Russian president possibly expected it to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community. The aims have changed drastically since then, with Russia's involvement in wars in Ukraine and Syria, allegations of meddling in foreign elections and one of the biggest doping scandals in sporting history.'

Perhaps in 2012, some free-thinking Guardian journalist reviewed the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, noting that David Cameron 'possibly expected' the Games 'to be an opportunity to ingratiate himself with the international community', having destroyed Libya in 2011, and having voted for the war that destroyed Iraq in 2003. In reality, of course, there was no need for Cameron to ingratiate himself – it was precisely the 'international community' that had committed these crimes.

Like all Bond villains, Putin was joined by other leaders of a lesser God:

'Putin was joined in the VIP box by a host of lesser known world leaders including Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the president of Uzbekistan, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, the president of Kyrgyzstan, and Juan Carlos Varela, the president of Panama.'

But Kelner glimpsed light in the darkness:

'There was evidence, too, of progress being made through football in the less enlightened corners of the world. Yasser, an IT engineer from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, attended the game with his wife and two primary school age daughters. They were surprise visitors, especially as women were not even allowed into football stadiums in Saudi Arabia until January this year.'

It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered 'less enlightened corners of the world', given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in 'less enlightened corners', including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.

A Guardian TV guide commented:

'Expect a fearsomely drilled opening ceremony live from Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, followed by a human rights activist's dream of an opening fixture as Russia take on Saudi Arabia.' (Catterall, Ali; Harrison, Phil; Howlett, Paul; Mueller, Andrew; Seale, Jack; et al, 'Thursday's best TV: The Trouble with Women; Fifa World Cup,' The Guardian, 14 June 2018)

We can be sure that the England team has never featured in 'a human rights activist's dream'.

The Guardian sneers were very much extended to singer Robbie Williams who performed at the opening ceremony. A piece by Mattha Busby reported:

'Robbie Williams has been accused of selling his soul to the "dictator" Vladimir Putin after it emerged he will be performing in Russia for the football World Cup.'

Busby cited Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who voted for war on Iraq and Syria:

'It is surprising and disappointing to hear that such a great British artist as Robbie Williams, who has been an ally of human rights campaigns and the LGBT+ community, has apparently agreed to be paid by Russia and Fifa to sing at the World Cup opener.

'At a time when Russian jets are bombing civilians in Syria, the Russian state is poisoning people on the streets of Britain, as well as persecuting LGBT+ people in Chechnya and elsewhere – let alone attempting to undermine our democracies – I can only assume Robbie will be speaking out on these issues alongside his performance?'

The Guardian clearly felt the point needed underlining. It also cited John Woodcock MP, who voted for war on Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Iraq:

'We all want to support the England team but Robbie Williams is handing Vladimir Putin a PR coup by performing at the thuggish pariah's opening ceremony just months after Russia carried out a chemical weapons attack on English soil.'

Nobody criticised Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield or indeed The Queen for participating in the London 2012 opening ceremony. But then nobody could think of any reasons for considering David Cameron a 'thuggish pariah'.

Former Guardian music editor, Michael Hann, observed dismissively:

'Williams's stardom has been largely confined to Europe and isn't of the wattage it once was. Still, nothing hung around long enough to get dull...'

As for the event:

'It was short, it was mostly painless. And it was completely pointless.'

Kelner's piece included a tweeted video clip from England footballer Kyle Walker showing Williams giving the middle finger to his critics, with Walker commenting sarcastically: 'So nice of Robbie to say hello.'

In The Times, under the title, 'Fans give Moscow shiny, happy feel to help Putin create image of harmony,' chief football correspondent Oliver Kay scratched his head in bewilderment, asking:

'What does Russia want from this tournament?'

Kay rejected out of hand the notion that it was 'about trying to convince the rest of the world that Russia is open to embracing what the West would regard as a modern, progressive approach to life'. (Oliver Kay, The Times, 13 June 2018)

Fellow Times journalists and other Westerners taking a 'modern, progressive approach to life' will have nodded sagely from their more 'enlightened corners of the world'.

Broadcast media were happy to join in this New Cold War fun. The Telegraph noted of ITV's senior football commentator Clive Tyldesley:

'One man who is definitely not going mushy on us is Clive Tyldesley. The great man was in fine form on commentary, getting a reducer in early doors with an anecdote about the Russian manager, Stanislav Cherchesov, having a nationally-celebrated moustache and observing that "Stalin had a proper 'tache". Somewhere, [football commentator] Andy Townsend murmured, half to himself, "a cult of personality dictator who slaughtered millions of his own citizens? Not for me, Clive."' ('Clive Tyldesley takes on Vladimir Putin as ITV kicks off World Cup with brilliant opening broadcast,' Telegraph, 14 June 2018)

And:

'The camera dutifully sought out President Putin after the opening, mildly controversial goal; the top man was shaking hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Clive: "They are doing an oil deal, nothing to do with the match."'

Discussions of ugly realpolitik do have a place in sports analysis. But did UK and US realpolitik in plundering Iraq and Libya's oil, in propping up dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Turkey, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, in supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, in obstructing action on catastrophic climate change, in subordinating Third World people to power and profit over hundreds of years, make it into sports reviews of the London Olympics, or any other UK or US sporting event?

The Sun reported of broadcaster Gabby Roslin:

'Despite her excitement, Gabby, 45, does have some reservations about being in Russia.

'"I'd be lying if I said I was completely free and easy and it will be just like a weekend Marbella, because it won't," she admits. "But you have to be open to cultural differences and not try to change it and make it fit for you. Russia are not going to do that."' ('World in motion: Your TV schedule is about to be taken over by football as 2018 World Cup kicks off in Russia,' The Sun, 9 June 2018)

And then there was 'Putin's Russia with David Dimbleby', a BBC One special. A TV guide in the Telegraph commented:

'"In a democracy if you fail to deliver on economic promises, if you surround yourself with cronies and use the law to suppress opposition, you would rightly be thrown out on your ear. But this is Russia, they do things differently here..." So begins David Dimbleby's thoughtful film in which - as the eyes of the world turn towards Moscow for the 2018 World Cup football tournament - he takes the opportunity to cast an eye over Vladimir Putin's 18 years as leader and assess the state of Russia today, especially in regard to the West.' ('What's on TV tonight: Putin's Russia, The Fight for Women's Bodies and Beetlejuice,' Telegraph, 13 June 2018)

They also do things differently at the BBC. On January 18, 1991 - one day after the US-UK's Operation Desert Storm had begun devastating Iraq with 88,500 tons of bombs, the equivalent of seven Hiroshimas, just 7 per cent of them 'smart bombs' - Dimbleby asked the US ambassador to Britain:

'Isn't it in fact true that America is... by dint of the very accuracy of the weapons we've seen, the only potential world policeman? You may have to operate under the United Nations, but it's beginning to look as though you're going to have to be in the Middle East, just as in the previous part of this century, we and the French were in the Middle East.' (Quoted, John Eldridge, 'Getting The Message: News, Truth and Power,' Routledge, 2003, p.14)

Dimbeleby retained his job as an impartial, objective public broadcaster. In fact, nobody noticed anything controversial at all.

The Syrian Observatory - Funded By The Foreign Office

Media Lens - Mán, 04/06/2018 - 12:07

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

'Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights", often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The "Observatory" says on its website that it is "not associated or linked to any political body."

'To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson's Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that "the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras." That's quite a lot, isn't it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.'

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair. (Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018)

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is 'the fast-talking director of arguably Syria's most high-profile human rights group', SOHR:

'When he isn't fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.'

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR's influence is astonishing:

'Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.'

Described by Reuters as an 'opposition group', SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

'After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

'"I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I'll return when Bashar al-Assad goes".'

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

'Most of the [Syrian] opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue ... revealing more about the opposition's weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.'

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, 'like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism', Stratfor argued: 'the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.'

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as 'a pro-opposition watchdog'. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

'"I'm between two fires. But it shows I'm being neutral if both sides complain," he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.'

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

'Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.'

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world's leading medical journal:

'Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian "rebels" and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by... the world's leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, "main street bias" and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.'

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

'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 Media Lens, October 30, 2004)

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

'And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. "At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began." This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.' (Aaronovitch, 'The great war of words,' The Times, March 18, 2006)

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

'Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.' (Helle Dale, 'Biased coverage in Iraq,' Washington Times, December 1, 2004)

As we described at the time, the 'mainstream' hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

'Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.'

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR's methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western 'intervention'. 

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of 'activists' supplying information from Syria. Claiming that 'I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights', Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: 'But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.'

Innumerable 'mainstream' reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday's front cover, which read:

'SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?'

The text beneath read:

'There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?'

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.'

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western 'silence':

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being "partners" in the killing "because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed".'

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: 'the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear'. Mood commented significantly:

'Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria... is that I should not jump to conclusions.'

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it 'could not rule out any of these possibilities': local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had 'a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators... were aligned to the Government'. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

'Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.'

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

'The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

'Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.'

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.'

The Los Angeles Times reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.'

Last February, the BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

'It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.'

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from 'rebel'-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

'All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War... The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.'

'Rebel' claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from 'areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them'.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

'In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

'However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries' far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.'

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

'The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.'

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes 'citizen journalist' investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is 'a notorious vehicle for US soft power'.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western 'humanitarian intervention'.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms 'Peter Hitchens' and 'Syrian Observatory'. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government's £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

DE

The Syrian Observatory - Funded By The Foreign Office

Media Lens - Mán, 04/06/2018 - 12:07

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

'Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights", often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The "Observatory" says on its website that it is "not associated or linked to any political body."

'To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson's Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that "the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras." That's quite a lot, isn't it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.'

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair. (Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018)

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is 'the fast-talking director of arguably Syria's most high-profile human rights group', SOHR:

'When he isn't fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.'

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR's influence is astonishing:

'Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.'

Described by Reuters as an 'opposition group', SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

'After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

'"I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I'll return when Bashar al-Assad goes".'

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

'Most of the [Syrian] opposition's more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue ... revealing more about the opposition's weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.'

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, 'like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism', Stratfor argued: 'the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.'

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as 'a pro-opposition watchdog'. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

'"I'm between two fires. But it shows I'm being neutral if both sides complain," he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.'

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

'Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.'

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world's leading medical journal:

'Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian "rebels" and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by... the world's leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, "main street bias" and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.'

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

'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 Media Lens, October 30, 2004)

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

'And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. "At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began." This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.' (Aaronovitch, 'The great war of words,' The Times, March 18, 2006)

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

'Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.' (Helle Dale, 'Biased coverage in Iraq,' Washington Times, December 1, 2004)

As we described at the time, the 'mainstream' hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

'Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.'

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR's methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western 'intervention'. 

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of 'activists' supplying information from Syria. Claiming that 'I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights', Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: 'But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.'

Innumerable 'mainstream' reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday's front cover, which read:

'SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?'

The text beneath read:

'There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?'

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.'

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western 'silence':

'The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being "partners" in the killing "because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed".'

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: 'the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear'. Mood commented significantly:

'Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria... is that I should not jump to conclusions.'

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it 'could not rule out any of these possibilities': local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had 'a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators... were aligned to the Government'. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

'Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.'

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

'The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

'Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.'

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.'

The Los Angeles Times reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.'

Last February, the BBC reported:

'The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

'It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.'

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from 'rebel'-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

'All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War... The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.'

'Rebel' claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from 'areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them'.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

'In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

'However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries' far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.'

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

'The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.'

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes 'citizen journalist' investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is 'a notorious vehicle for US soft power'.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western 'humanitarian intervention'.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms 'Peter Hitchens' and 'Syrian Observatory'. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government's £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

DE

‘Skirmishes’ – Israel’s Syria Blitz

Media Lens - Mið, 23/05/2018 - 11:57

A key 'mainstream' media theme in covering the Israeli army's repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel's military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as 'clashes'.

This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.

To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a 'clash' suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a 'clash'. There was no 'clash' in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.

Following Israel's massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, 'mainstream' coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:

'Israel retaliates after Iran "fires 20 rockets" at army in occupied Golan Heights' (Our emphasis)

For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression - they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.

The BBC reported of Israel's attacks:

'They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights.' (Our emphasis)

Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:

'Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria

'Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.' (Our emphasis)

The New York Times also reported:

'It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier.' (Our emphasis)

And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:

'Iran's rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday.' (Our emphasis)

According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.

So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:

'Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.'

Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:

'On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised - they were often shown as merely "responding" to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as "retaliating" or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).'

 

‘Skirmishes’ – Israel’s Syria Blitz

Media Lens - Mið, 23/05/2018 - 11:57

A key 'mainstream' media theme in covering the Israeli army's repeated massacres of unarmed, non-violent Palestinian civilians protesting Israel's military occupation in Gaza – killing journalists, a paramedic, the elderly and children – has been the description of these crimes as 'clashes'.

This has been a clear attempt to obfuscate the fact that while two groups of people are involved, only one group is being killed and wounded.

To the casual reader – and many readers do not venture beyond the headlines – a 'clash' suggests that both sides are armed, with both suffering casualties. One would not, for example, describe a firing squad as a 'clash'. There was no 'clash' in New York on September 11, 2001, and so on.

Following Israel's massive blitz on more than 100 targets in Syria on May 10, 'mainstream' coverage offered similarly questionable frameworks of understanding. A Guardian headline read:

'Israel retaliates after Iran "fires 20 rockets" at army in occupied Golan Heights' (Our emphasis)

For moral, legal and public relations reasons, the issue of which side started a conflict is obviously crucial. If the public recognises that the case for war is unjustified, immoral or illegal – that a country has chosen to launch a war of aggression - they will likely oppose it, sometimes in the millions, as happened in 2002 and 2003 in relation to the Iraq war. It is thus highly significant that the Guardian described Israel as retaliating.

The BBC reported of Israel's attacks:

'They came after 20 rockets were fired at Israeli military positions in the occupied Golan Heights.' (Our emphasis)

Reuters took the same line as the Guardian and BBC:

'Iran targets Israeli bases across Syrian frontier, Israel pounds Syria

'Iranian forces in Syria launched a rocket attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights early on Thursday, Israel said, prompting one of the heaviest Israeli barrages in Syria since the conflict there began in 2011.' (Our emphasis)

The New York Times also reported:

'It was a furious response to what Israel called an Iranian rocket attack launched from Syrian territory just hours earlier.' (Our emphasis)

And yet, the report buried a challenge to its own claim that Israel had retaliated in the second half of the piece:

'Iran's rocket attack against Israel came after what appeared to have been an Israeli missile strike against a village in the Syrian Golan Heights late on Wednesday.' (Our emphasis)

According to the BBC (see below), the Israeli missile strike had targeted an Iranian drone facility killing several Iranians.

So, actually, it might be said that Iran was retaliating to Israeli attacks – a more reasonable interpretation, given recent history also described by the New York Times:

'Israel has conducted scores of strikes on Iran and its allies inside Syria, rarely acknowledging them publicly.'

Nevertheless, the corporate media theme has been that Israel retaliated, part of a long-term trend in media coverage. In a 2002 report, Bad News From Israel, The Glasgow University Media Group commented:

'On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised - they were often shown as merely "responding" to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as "retaliating" or in some way responding than were the Palestinians).'

 

‘A Suffocating Groupthink’: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

Media Lens - Mið, 16/05/2018 - 08:54

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

'We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.'

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

'Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.' (Chomsky, 'Year 501', Verso, 1993, p.20)

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen's assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on 'mainstream' media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

'I've never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda [...] What we're seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.'

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

'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?'

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current 'mainstream' reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called 'failure' of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in 'Manufacturing Consent', published thirty years ago:

'The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.' (Herman and Chomsky, 'Manufacturing Consent', Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1; our emphasis)

‘A Suffocating Groupthink’: Sampling The Corporate Media On Israel, Iran, Syria And Russia

Media Lens - Mið, 16/05/2018 - 08:54

The gaping chasm between reality and unreality is exemplified by recent contrasting statements about journalism from two veteran reporters. On the one side we have Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, who enjoys a public image of principled honesty and a supposedly fierce commitment to news balance and impartiality. But, when he was challenged recently on Twitter about the blatant bias in BBC News reporting, he responded just as one would expect of a well-rewarded, high-profile employee of the national broadcaster:

'We are the best source of decent, impartial reportage anywhere in the world.'

As Noam Chomsky has observed of elite power and allied corporate journalists:

'Heaven must be full to overflowing, if the masters of self-adulation are to be taken at their word.' (Chomsky, 'Year 501', Verso, 1993, p.20)

In reality, as hundreds of media alerts, and several of our books attest, and also the work of many others, Bowen's assertion could not be further from the truth.

By contrast, consider a recent interview with renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger on 'mainstream' media coverage of Syria, Salisbury, Yemen and Korea. He said:

'I've never known journalism to be so distorted in order to serve this propaganda [...] What we're seeing is the most intense campaign of propaganda at least since the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.'

Pilger often makes a specific point of including BBC News in his scathing criticism:

'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?'

In what follows, we itemise a range of important issues where current 'mainstream' reporting is not simply poor or weak; but systematically skewed in the interests of Western state-corporate power.

It is important to grasp that this is not about the so-called 'failure' of corporate journalism. Rather, this is a reminder that corporate journalism is performing exactly as it should. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky noted when introducing their propaganda model of the media in 'Manufacturing Consent', published thirty years ago:

'The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.' (Herman and Chomsky, 'Manufacturing Consent', Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 1; our emphasis)

Douma: Part 2 - 'It Just Doesn't Ring True'

Media Lens - Fim, 26/04/2018 - 08:00

Jonathan Freedland's 'committed denialists and conspiracists', and Paul Mason's victims of Putin's 'global strategy' clutching at 'false flag theories', presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

'President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He'd had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn't ring true.

'It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there's likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there'd be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France...

'We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets - who, let's face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they're very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they're not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish - I would say: "Look, we've got to wait until there's another attack by Assad's forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they're dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we'll get the next attack from the allies...." And it is the only way they've got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.'

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

'The debate that seems to be missing from this... was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning... Don't take my word for it. Take the American military's word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom - he said to Congress the other day, "Assad has won this war, and we need to face that".

'Then you've got last week the statement by Trump - or tweet by Trump - that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

'And then suddenly you get this...'

At which point Shaw's sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

'Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?'

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

'I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.'

Only 'looking' for actual evidence?

'As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.'

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

'The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.'

Before Trump's latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

'The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons...'

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

'Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

'Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

'#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta'

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

'For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was - always - less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it's tumbling.'

Douma: Part 2 - 'It Just Doesn't Ring True'

Media Lens - Fim, 26/04/2018 - 08:00

Jonathan Freedland's 'committed denialists and conspiracists', and Paul Mason's victims of Putin's 'global strategy' clutching at 'false flag theories', presumably include Lord West, former First Sea Lord and Chief of Defence Intelligence. In an interview with the BBC, West commented:

'President Assad is in the process of winning this civil war. And he was about to take over and occupy Douma, all that area. He'd had a long, long, hard slog, slowly capturing that whole area of the city. And then, just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to have a chemical attack. It just doesn't ring true.

'It seems extraordinary, because clearly he would know that there's likely to be a response from the allies – what benefit is there for his military? Most of the rebel fighters, this disparate group of Islamists, had withdrawn; there were a few women and children left around. What benefit was there militarily in doing what he did? I find that extraordinary. Whereas we know that, in the past, some of the Islamic groups have used chemicals [see here], and of course there would be huge benefit in them labelling an attack as coming from Assad, because they would guess, quite rightly, that there'd be a response from the US, as there was last time, and possibly from the UK and France...

'We do know that the reports that came from there were from the White Helmets - who, let's face it, are not neutrals [see here]; you know, they're very much on the side of the disparate groups who are fighting Assad – and also the World Health Organisation doctors who are there. And again, those doctors are embedded in amongst the groups – doing fantastic work, I know – but they're not neutral. And I am just a little bit concerned, because as we now move to the next phase of this war, if I were advising some of the Islamist groups – many of whom are worse than Daish - I would say: "Look, we've got to wait until there's another attack by Assad's forces – particularly if they have a helicopter overhead, or something like that, and they're dropping barrel bombs – and we must set off some chlorine because we'll get the next attack from the allies...." And it is the only way they've got, actually, of stopping the inevitable victory of Assad.'

Another senior military figure, Major General Jonathan Shaw, former commander of British forces in Iraq (his responsibilities have included chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear policy), was shut down by a Sky News journalist 30 seconds after he started saying the wrong thing:

'The debate that seems to be missing from this... was what possible motive might have triggered Syria to launch a chemical attack at this time in this place? You know, the Syrians are winning... Don't take my word for it. Take the American military's word. General Vergel [sic – Votel], the head of Centcom - he said to Congress the other day, "Assad has won this war, and we need to face that".

'Then you've got last week the statement by Trump - or tweet by Trump - that America has finished with ISIL and we were going to pull out soon, very soon.

'And then suddenly you get this...'

At which point Shaw's sound was cut and the interview terminated. Peter Hitchens asked:

'Can anyone tell me what was so urgent on Sky News, which made it necessary to cut this distinguished general off in mid-sentence?'

Sky News gave their version of events here, claiming they had to take an ad break.

Also taking a more cautious view than Tisdall, Freedland, Rawnsley, Lucas, Mendoza, Monbiot, Mason and the Guardian editors (see Part 1), is James 'Mad Dog' Mattis, the US Secretary of Defence, who said:

'I believe there was a chemical attack and we are looking for the actual evidence.'

Only 'looking' for actual evidence?

'As each day goes by — as you know, it is a non-persistent gas — so it becomes more and more difficult to confirm it.'

The evidence clearly, then, had not yet been found and the claims had not yet been confirmed.

Peter Ford, former British ambassador to Syria, voiced scepticism:

'The Americans have failed to produce any evidence beyond what they call newspaper reports and social media, whereas Western journalists who have been in Douma [see below] and produced testimony from witnesses – from medics with names so they can be checked – to the effect that the Syrian version is correct.'

Before Trump's latest attack, Scott Ritter, former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, made the point that mattered:

'The bottom line, however, is that the United States is threatening to go to war in Syria over allegations of chemical weapons usage for which no factual evidence has been provided. This act is occurring even as the possibility remains that verifiable forensic investigations would, at a minimum, confirm the presence of chemical weapons...'

Even a BBC journalist managed some short-lived scepticism. Riam Dalati tweeted:

'Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.

'Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.

'#Douma #ChemicalAttack #EasternGhouta'

The tweet was quickly deleted.

Craig Murray wrote:

'For the FCO, I lived and worked in several actual dictatorships. The open bias of their media presenters and the tone of their propaganda operations was - always - less hysterical than the current output of the BBC. The facade is not crumbling, it's tumbling.'

Douma: Part 1 - Deception In Plain Sight

Media Lens - Mið, 25/04/2018 - 06:48

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the 'Enemy', while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a 'denier', 'pro-Saddam', 'pro-Gaddafi, 'pro-Assad'. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: 'Apologist... Apologist... Apologist'.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

'I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.'

The 'mainstream' responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was 'a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth'.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian's assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

'It's time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad's ability to murder Syria's citizens at will.'

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

'It means destroying Assad's combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad's and Russia's control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.'

But surely after Iraq - when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – 'we' should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump's air raids:

'When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.'

Oborne added:

'Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.'

Tisdall was having none of it:

'Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?'

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had 'the motivation' to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed 'writhing' under gas attack. Tisdall's pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

'HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED'

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper's comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

'Besides, how much evidence do we need?... To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad's guilt is clear.'

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of 'inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch'. But when we actually click Freedland's link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not in fact unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall's claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as 'denialists' and 'apologists' – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In 'mainstream' journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

'Syria has paid a terrible price for the west's disastrous policy of doing nothing'.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA's billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian 'rebels' via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian's George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

'Don't you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn't think Assad did it.'

Monbiot replied:

'Then he's a fool.'

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

'I continue to attract attacks from the "respectable" corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.'

Monbiot tweeted back:

'I'm sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.'

The idea that Murray's effort has been 'to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes' is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an 'apologist' for 'the enemy'.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term 'apologist' might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad's responsibility is 'apologism', then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as 'Trump apologists', or 'May apologists', or 'Jaysh al-Islam apologists'? The term really means little more than, 'I disagree with you' – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

'Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.'

Douma: Part 1 - Deception In Plain Sight

Media Lens - Mið, 25/04/2018 - 06:48

UK corporate media are under a curious kind of military occupation. Almost all print and broadcast media now employ a number of reporters and commentators who are relentless and determined warmongers. Despite the long, unarguable history of US-UK lying on war, and the catastrophic results, these journalists instantly confirm the veracity of atrocity claims made against Official Enemies, while having little or nothing to say about the proven crimes of the US, UK, Israel and their allies. They shriek with a level of moral outrage from which their own government is forever spared. They laud even the most obviously biased, tinpot sources blaming the 'Enemy', while dismissing out of hand the best scientific researchers, investigative journalists and academic sceptics who disagree.

Anyone who challenges this strange bias is branded a 'denier', 'pro-Saddam', 'pro-Gaddafi, 'pro-Assad'. Above all, one robotically repeated word is generated again and again: 'Apologist... Apologist... Apologist'.

Claims of a chemical weapons attack on Douma, Syria on April 7, offered yet another textbook example of this reflexive warmongering. Remarkably, the alleged attack came just days after US president Donald Trump had declared of Syria:

'I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.'

The 'mainstream' responded as one, with instant certainty, exactly as they had in response to atrocity and other casus belli claims in Houla, Ghouta, Khan Sheikhoun and many other cases in Iraq (1990), Iraq (1998), Iraq (2002-2003), Libya and Kosovo.

Once again, the Guardian editors were sure: there was no question of a repetition of the fake justifications for war to secure non-existent Iraqi WMDs, or to prevent a fictional Libyan massacre in Benghazi. Instead, this was 'a chemical gas attack, orchestrated by Bashar al-Assad, that left dead children foaming at the mouth'.

Simon Tisdall, the Guardian's assistant editor, had clearly decided that enough was enough:

'It's time for Britain and its allies to take concerted, sustained military action to curb Bashar al-Assad's ability to murder Syria's citizens at will.'

This sounded like more than another cruise missile strike. But presumably Tisdall meant something cautious and restrained to avoid the terrifying risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia:

'It means destroying Assad's combat planes, bombers, helicopters and ground facilities from the air. It means challenging Assad's and Russia's control of Syrian airspace. It means taking out Iranian military bases and batteries in Syria if they are used to prosecute the war.'

But surely after Iraq - when UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix were prevented from completing the work that would have shown that Saddam Hussein possessed no WMD – 'we' should wait for the intergovernmental Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons inspectors to investigate. After all, as journalist Peter Oborne noted of Trump's air raids:

'When the bombing started the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was actually in Damascus and preparing to travel to the area where the alleged chemical attacks took place.'

Oborne added:

'Had we wanted independent verification on this occasion in Syria surely we ourselves would have demanded the OPCW send a mission to Douma. Yet we conspicuously omitted to ask for it.'

Tisdall was having none of it:

'Calls to wait for yet another UN investigation amount to irresponsible obfuscation. Only the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have the assets and the motivation to launch such merciless attacks on civilian targets. Or did all those writhing children imagine the gas?'

The idea that only Assad and the Russians had 'the motivation' to launch a gas attack simply defied all common sense. And, as we will see, it was not certain that children had been filmed 'writhing' under gas attack. Tisdall's pro-war position was supported by just 22% of British people.

Equally gung-ho, the oligarch-owned Evening Standard, edited by veteran newspaperman and politically impartial former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, headlined this plea on the front page:

'HIT SYRIA WITHOUT A VOTE, MAY URGED'

Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, formerly the paper's comment editor, also poured scorn on the need for further evidence:

'Besides, how much evidence do we need?... To all but the most committed denialists and conspiracists, Assad's guilt is clear.'

Freedland could argue that the case for blaming Assad was clear, if he liked, but he absolutely could not argue that disagreeing was a sign of denialist delusion.

Time and again, we encounter these jaw-dropping efforts to browbeat the reader with fake certainty and selective moral outrage. In his piece, Freedland linked to the widely broadcast social media video footage from a hospital in Douma, which showed that Assad was guilty of 'inflicting a death so painful the footage is unbearable to watch'. But when we actually click Freedland's link and watch the video, we do not see anyone dying, let alone in agony, and the video is not in fact unbearable to watch. Like Tisdall's claim on motivation, Freedland was simply declaring that black is white.

But many people are so intimidated by this cocktail of certainty and indignation – by the fear that they will be shamed as 'denialists' and 'apologists' – that they doubt the evidence of their own eyes. In 'mainstream' journalism, expressions of moral outrage are offered as evidence of a fiery conviction burning within. In reality, the shrieks are mostly hot air.

In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley also deceived in plain sight by blaming the Syrian catastrophe on Western inaction:

'Syria has paid a terrible price for the west's disastrous policy of doing nothing'.

However terrible media reporting on the 2003 Iraq war, commentators did at least recognise that the US and Britain were involved. We wrote to Rawnsley, asking how he could possibly not know about the CIA's billion dollar per annum campaign to train and arm fighters, or about the 15,000 high-tech, US anti-tank missiles sent to Syrian 'rebels' via Saudi Arabia.

Rawnsley ignored us, as ever.

Just three days after the alleged attack, the Guardian's George Monbiot was asked about Douma:

'Don't you smell a set up here though? Craig Murray doesn't think Assad did it.'

Monbiot replied:

'Then he's a fool.'

Craig Murray responded rather more graciously:

'I continue to attract attacks from the "respectable" corporate and state media. I shared a platform with Monbiot once, and liked him. They plainly find the spirit of intellectual inquiry to be a personal affront.'

Monbiot tweeted back:

'I'm sorry Craig but, while you have done excellent work on some issues, your efforts to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes, despite the weight of evidence, are foolish in the extreme.'

The idea that Murray's effort has been 'to exonerate Russia and Syria of a long list of crimes' is again so completely false, so obviously not what Murray has been doing. But it fits perfectly with the corporate media theme of Cold War-style browbeating: anyone challenging the case for US-UK policy on Syria is an 'apologist' for 'the enemy'.

If Britain was facing imminent invasion across the channel from some malignant superpower, or was on the brink of nuclear annihilation, the term 'apologist' might have some merit as an emotive term attacking free speech – understandable in the circumstances. But Syria is not at war with Britain; it offers no threat whatsoever. If challenging evidence of Assad's responsibility is 'apologism', then why can we not describe people accepting that evidence as 'Trump apologists', or 'May apologists', or 'Jaysh al-Islam apologists'? The term really means little more than, 'I disagree with you' – a much more reasonable formulation.

As Jonathan Cook has previously commented:

'Monbiot has repeatedly denied that he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he then weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to any meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack.'

Killing Mosquitoes: The Latest Gaza Massacres, Pro-Israel Media Bias And The Weapon Of ‘Antisemitism’

Media Lens - Mán, 09/04/2018 - 23:31

The Palestinians have long been seen as an obstacle by Israel's leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

'Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.'

He also noted:

'The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the "Araboushim" - a term that belongs with "nigger" or "kike" - must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.' (Noam Chomsky, 'Fateful Triangle,' Pluto Press, updated edition, 1999, p.489)

Recent events encapsulate this all too well. On Friday, March 30, Israeli soldiers shot dead 14 Palestinians and wounded 1400, including 800 hit by live ammunition. By April 5, the death toll had risen to 21. During a second protest, one week later on Friday, April 7, the Israelis shot dead a further 10 Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, and more than 1300 were injured. Among those killed was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist who had been filming the protest. He had been wearing a distinctive blue protective vest marked 'PRESS' in large capital letters. The brutality, and utter brazenness with which the killings were carried out, is yet another demonstration of the apartheid state's contempt for the people it tried to ethnically cleanse in 1948, the year of Israel's founding.

On the first day of the protest, on March 30, many Palestinians had gathered in Gaza, close to the border with Israel, as part of a peaceful 'Great March of Return' protest demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. 100 Israeli snipers lay in wait, shooting at protesters, including an 18-year-old shot in the back while running away from the border. The Israel army boasted in a quickly-deleted tweet that the massacre had been planned, deliberate and premeditated:

'Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed'

BBC News and other 'mainstream' news outlets, including the Guardian, carried headlines about 'clashes' at the Gaza-Israel border 'leaving' Palestinians dead and injured. As we noted via Twitter, an honest headline would have read:

'Israeli troops kill 16 Palestinians and injure hundreds'

When the Israelis shot dead yet more Palestinians on the second Friday of protests, the BBC reported, 'Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protest'. BBC 'impartiality' meant not headlining Israeli troops as the agency responsible for the 'deadly unrest'.

Adam Johnson, writing for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, observed of news reports carrying inappropriate headlines about 'clashes':

'We do not have one party's snipers opening fire on another, unarmed party; we have "violent clashes"—a term, as FAIR has noted before, that implies symmetry of forces and is often used to launder responsibility.'

Later, the Guardian quietly removed the word 'clashes' from its headlines, while adding Israeli military spin: that the protest was a Hamas ploy to 'carry out terror attacks'; compare this early version with a later version.

On the first Friday of mass killing, we noted that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had reported the presence of Israeli snipers. We asked the public to look for any mention of this on BBC News. Around the time we made the request, the Newssniffer website picked up the first reference to 'snipers' on the BBC News website (albeit buried in a tiny mention at the bottom of a news article). Coincidence? Or were BBC editors aware that their output was under public scrutiny?

Within just one day, the BBC had relegated the news of the mass shootings in Gaza to a minor slot on its website. It considered 'news' about television personality Dec presenting Saturday Night Takeaway without Ant, and royal couple Harry and Meghan choosing wedding flowers, more important than Israel killing and wounding many hundreds of Palestinians.

When BBC News finally turned to Gaza, with a piece buried at the bottom of its World news page, it was from Israel's perspective:

'Israel warns it could strike inside Gaza'

and:

'Palestinian groups using protests as a cover to launch attacks on Israel'

This disgraceful coverage strongly suggested that Israel was the victim. As political analyst Charles Shoebridge observed:

'Editors especially at the BBC aren't stupid, they know exactly what they're doing, and the use of very many devices such as this isn't somehow repeatedly accidental. Indeed, it's a good example of how the BBC is perhaps history's most sophisticated and successful propaganda tool.'

By contrast, a powerful article in Haaretz from veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed to the reality that the mass shooting by Israeli 'Defence' Forces:

'shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.'

Killing Mosquitoes: The Latest Gaza Massacres, Pro-Israel Media Bias And The Weapon Of ‘Antisemitism’

Media Lens - Mán, 09/04/2018 - 23:31

The Palestinians have long been seen as an obstacle by Israel's leaders; an irritant to be subjugated. Noam Chomsky commented:

'Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights.'

He also noted:

'The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they [the Palestinians] must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the "Araboushim" - a term that belongs with "nigger" or "kike" - must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted.' (Noam Chomsky, 'Fateful Triangle,' Pluto Press, updated edition, 1999, p.489)

Recent events encapsulate this all too well. On Friday, March 30, Israeli soldiers shot dead 14 Palestinians and wounded 1400, including 800 hit by live ammunition. By April 5, the death toll had risen to 21. During a second protest, one week later on Friday, April 7, the Israelis shot dead a further 10 Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, and more than 1300 were injured. Among those killed was Yasser Murtaja, a journalist who had been filming the protest. He had been wearing a distinctive blue protective vest marked 'PRESS' in large capital letters. The brutality, and utter brazenness with which the killings were carried out, is yet another demonstration of the apartheid state's contempt for the people it tried to ethnically cleanse in 1948, the year of Israel's founding.

On the first day of the protest, on March 30, many Palestinians had gathered in Gaza, close to the border with Israel, as part of a peaceful 'Great March of Return' protest demanding the right to reclaim ancestral homes in Israel. 100 Israeli snipers lay in wait, shooting at protesters, including an 18-year-old shot in the back while running away from the border. The Israel army boasted in a quickly-deleted tweet that the massacre had been planned, deliberate and premeditated:

'Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed'

BBC News and other 'mainstream' news outlets, including the Guardian, carried headlines about 'clashes' at the Gaza-Israel border 'leaving' Palestinians dead and injured. As we noted via Twitter, an honest headline would have read:

'Israeli troops kill 16 Palestinians and injure hundreds'

When the Israelis shot dead yet more Palestinians on the second Friday of protests, the BBC reported, 'Deadly unrest on Gaza-Israel border as Palestinians resume protest'. BBC 'impartiality' meant not headlining Israeli troops as the agency responsible for the 'deadly unrest'.

Adam Johnson, writing for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, observed of news reports carrying inappropriate headlines about 'clashes':

'We do not have one party's snipers opening fire on another, unarmed party; we have "violent clashes"—a term, as FAIR has noted before, that implies symmetry of forces and is often used to launder responsibility.'

Later, the Guardian quietly removed the word 'clashes' from its headlines, while adding Israeli military spin: that the protest was a Hamas ploy to 'carry out terror attacks'; compare this early version with a later version.

On the first Friday of mass killing, we noted that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz had reported the presence of Israeli snipers. We asked the public to look for any mention of this on BBC News. Around the time we made the request, the Newssniffer website picked up the first reference to 'snipers' on the BBC News website (albeit buried in a tiny mention at the bottom of a news article). Coincidence? Or were BBC editors aware that their output was under public scrutiny?

Within just one day, the BBC had relegated the news of the mass shootings in Gaza to a minor slot on its website. It considered 'news' about television personality Dec presenting Saturday Night Takeaway without Ant, and royal couple Harry and Meghan choosing wedding flowers, more important than Israel killing and wounding many hundreds of Palestinians.

When BBC News finally turned to Gaza, with a piece buried at the bottom of its World news page, it was from Israel's perspective:

'Israel warns it could strike inside Gaza'

and:

'Palestinian groups using protests as a cover to launch attacks on Israel'

This disgraceful coverage strongly suggested that Israel was the victim. As political analyst Charles Shoebridge observed:

'Editors especially at the BBC aren't stupid, they know exactly what they're doing, and the use of very many devices such as this isn't somehow repeatedly accidental. Indeed, it's a good example of how the BBC is perhaps history's most sophisticated and successful propaganda tool.'

By contrast, a powerful article in Haaretz from veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy pointed to the reality that the mass shooting by Israeli 'Defence' Forces:

'shows once again that the killing of Palestinians is accepted in Israel more lightly than the killing of mosquitoes.'

Syndicate content