Media Failure

I think this article, from of all places The Sydney Morning Herald, provides a useful summary of the failure of the mainstream media since 9/11, colating as it does many reports from sources with which we may be already familiar, eg. from Riverbendblog to John Pilger, from Michael Meacher to Greg Palast, from Brian Eno to Robert Fisk ...

The truth tramplers: Media war spin on trial

By Antony Loewenstein
October 1, 2003: Sydney Morning Herald

Tim Predmore is a US soldier with the 101st Airborne Division near Mosul in Iraq. He recently wrote of the current situation in the 'liberated' country:

This looks like a modern-day crusade not to free an oppressed people or to rid the world of a demonic dictator relentless in his pursuit of conquest and domination but a crusade to control another nation's natural resource. There is only one truth: Americans are dying. There are 10 to 14 attacks on our servicemen and women daily in Iraq. I once believed that I served for a cause: To uphold and defend the constitution of the United States." Now I no longer believe that; I have lost my conviction. I can no longer justify my service for what I believe to be half-truths and bold lies. (This is an unjust war of hypocrisy)

It is a devastating piece, not written by a columnist in Sydney or a commentator or general in a Washington studio, but by a person seeing the original justification for war unravelling before his eyes. One can only imagine his anger, perhaps only matched by the immortal words of a fellow soldier during the recent visit of Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq. Asked if he wanted to ask anything of the Defence Secretary, he replied, "His resignation".

There is a growing sense of betrayal within the general public, especially in America and England. Information is emerging of a concerted campaign by the coalition of the unwilling to oust Saddam Hussein, no matter what the evidence against him.

Gerard Henderson suggested on ABC's Compass program that the Australian public are not dissatisfied with the current political situation in our country:

Well I mean you measure democracy by the number of people who support it or who oppose it. And basically all I'm saying is as far as I can see according to all the evidence there's general acceptance, otherwise there would be different outcomes. And my office is opposite the Prime Minister's office in Sydney and I don't see many people marching. There were many more marching five years ago than there are today. I'm not saying everyone in the country is happy, but I think basically people accept the system. And I don't see the alienation that other's see. And nor do I see any evidence of this in the polls. I mean if people weren't happy with the government they'd vote it out. (Power, politics and the media)

Perhaps Henderson was away from his office the day the massive anti-war protest filled the streets of Sydney earlier this year, one of the biggest of its kind in history. Does it not bother Henderson that a recent poll here suggested that up to 70% of people thought Howard misled them about Iraq? Howard's popularity may well be still sky-high, with a carping opposition barely laying a finger on the Liberal Government, but the fact still remains: honesty and transparency are no longer the core beliefs the voting public looks for in their elected leaders. A sign of a faltering democracy could not be stronger

The Howard Government has latched onto the Neo-Conservative bandwagon, unaware that public opinion would start stirring and begin asking some fundamental questions:

1) Where is the evidence proving Saddam had active WMDs before the invasion? (Pilger claims White House knew Saddam was no threat)

2) Where is the evidence proving a pre-war link of any kind between Saddam and al-Qaeda?

3) Where is the evidence proving that sites containing any remnants or materials of WMDs were secured after invasion?

4) Where is the evidence proving that multinationals, now able to own all Iraq's infrastructure, except oil, will give Iraq a more prosperous future? Should the Iraqi people not have a say in this profound policy decision? (US-backed Iraqi leadership to sell-off state assets and newbridgestrategies for the payoffs for Bush's best corporate friends)

The decision by the US to allow privatisation of Iraq's resources was reported very differently on both sides of the Atlantic. The major American press saw the decision as a victory for US companies, while the UK papers viewed the sell-off as a fire sale. (Heroes of the 9/11 era)

5) Where is the evidence that the invasion of Iraq has not caused the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis, due primarily to the lack of security by the occupying forces? (Another day in the bloody death of Iraq)

With just over a year until the US presidential elections there are moves by both Democrats and Republicans to unseat Bush from his throne. Webdiarist Brian McKinley recommends conservativesagainstbush:

Conservatives Against Bush was founded to propound the conservative principles that this administration has forsaken. This President has expanded the welfare state, saddled future generations with debt, eroded some of our basic freedoms, and waged a spurious war in Iraq that in the end did not make the U.S. any safer. We seek to reenergize conservatives, so they will press for change in this administration.

The site's editor-in-chief, Daniel J.Cragg, wrote an impassioned report which could have been written by any member of the leftist movement around the world:

But we had to go in and get Saddam because he would have given WMD to al Qaeda, right? Hardly. "The often postulated scenario of a state sponsor providing unconventional weapons to a terrorist group is unlikely to materialize," former deputy chief of the Counter terrorist Center at the CIA Paul Pillar asserts in his book, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy. "The state would lose control over the material, an uncontrolled use of it by a group would serve no plausible purpose of the state, and sophisticated unconventional agents might be more traceable to their origin than the more mundane forms of assistance that sponsors usually provide to client groups." It is likely that because of the U.S. invasion, Iraqi WMD were perhaps shipped to Syria, or even Libya.

If you were only reading the Murdoch press in Australia, however, you would rarely get an understanding of the real situation in Iraq on the ground for the average citizen. On September 22, The Australian's editorial proclaimed:

Those in the West who want to talk down the advances that have been made in Iraq should consider all that, along with the fact that 150 free newspapers now flourish in what was, until six months ago, a totalitarian dictatorship. These developments can be a model and inspiration for democratic movements elsewhere in the region, including in Iran and Saudi Arabia - neighbouring countries that, fearful of just such an outcome, are doing their worst to destabilise Iraq. Since none of the Australian media have any permanent journalists based in Iraq anymore (an appalling fact only a few months after official conflict ceased), Salam Pax, better known as the Baghdad Blogger, is in a much better position to judge these supposed new freedoms. In a recent Guardian online debate, a reader asked:

What's the media like in Iraq now? Do you feel you get a good service from the TV and print news? Salam Pax: "It is like being in a very noisy zoo actually, we need more sensible Iraqi voices and the only ones I really like are the people behind Iraq Today.The rest will sink in a couple of months I am sure. Did you know that we also have censorship [AGAIN]? It is Mullah Bremer's fatwa about inflaming hatred, can't remember the actual wording. It got a couple of newspapers shut. And they keep talking about "information control". We just got rid of a regime which was practicing too much information control.

Salam suggests US administrators have "really no idea what is happening outside, they get their views thru 'advisors' - involving more Iraqis is essential not only to help the Americans run the show but also to train Iraqis to take over the responsibilities later on." (A friend of Salam's in Baghdad, Riverbend, has also been writing a blog for many months. It's a fascinating glimpse into the life of an average Iraqi.)

Back in June, Robert Fisk of The Independent reported:

Paul Bremer now asked the legal side of the coalition provisional authority to set up the machinery of Iraqi press censorship. In other words, Iraqi newspapers are going to be censored. Controlled I think is the official word they use, but that means censorship. That is the kind of language that Saddam used. Iraqis are used to a censored press; after all, they lived with it for more than 20 years under Saddam Hussein. Now when you question the Americans about it, first of all they deny it. Then the British half accept it; then other people involved in the coalition say well it's probably true, yes, it is true. )

A discouraging sign that the occupiers are less than pleased with the explosion of media and its challenge to the views of many pro-war supporters, arrived with a recent report that al-Jazeera, amongst others, has received a short-term ban from reporting inside the country. The Iraqi Governing Council said "the ban was a warning to the stations and other broadcasters for inciting anti-United States violence." (Baghdad bans Arab TV for broadcasting 'poison').

Readers may remember similar lines by the US administration during the war itself, and the bombing of the al-Jazeera office in downtown Baghdad (and in late 2001, the bombing of al-Jazeera in Kabul). al-Jazeera provides an alternative viewpoint to the gung-ho mentality of much US media. Washington will not tolerate this kind of attitude and a reasonable explanation has never been given for the bombing of their company offices.

Back in February, Phillip Knightley, in a speech to the Evatt Foundation in Sydney, made some prescient points regarding investigative journalism not conforming to the establishment line:

If we can so successfully manage the media in wartime, why can't we do the same in peace time? There's no trouble doing so in autocratic regimes. The media tells the public what the government wants it to know. End of story. Newspapers and broadcasting stations that don't toe the line, lose their licences, or their Editors or owners go to jail. Or in extreme cases, are imprisoned or shot. This doesn't happen in democratic countries, but there are nevertheless ways open to governments to exercise some control of the media. The first and most often used is an appeal to 'the national interest'. So those in power, especially in the United States, have used the events of 11 September as an argument to deter journalists who dare to criticise or question their home country. (Reflections of a Warhorse)

An alternative viewpoint on al-Jazeera comes from Salam Pax in a recent interview I conducted with the Baghdad Blogger:

Al-Jazeera has an agenda and they're decided Iraq is the place they can play out whatever fantasies they have about occupation and resistance. But it's not like that at all. I don't want Iraq to turn into another Palestine/Israel situation, but the way they're portraying it, they're looking for trouble. Their reporting is a bit too inflammatory. It makes people think about things that never really happened. When you have al-Jazeera people moving around Iraq, they get attacked very seriously and rocks thrown at them. They push the War on Islam angle, which is not happening. They're pushing that there is Shiite and Sunni trouble, which is just not happening.

John Burns of the New York Times, in There is corruption in our business, suggests the Iraq war offered a woeful representation of what journalists and editors are (in)capable of. In a fascinating chapter for a book titled Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq, An Oral History, Burns explains how many journalists during the recent conflicts were derelict in their duty by not highlighting the barbarity of Saddam's regime, for fear of being thrown out of the country:

There were correspondents who thought it appropriate to seek the approbation of the people who governed their lives. This was the ministry of information, and particularly the director of the ministry. By taking him out for long candlelit dinners, plying him with sweet cakes, plying him with mobile phones at $600 each for members of his family, and giving bribes of thousands of dollars. Senior members of the information ministry took hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes from these television correspondents who then behaved as if they were in Belgium. They never mentioned the function of minders. Never mentioned terror.

In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's stories - mine included - specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper. (Investigations are continuing to reveal the identity of this senior journalist.)

The Washington Post doesn't escape criticism either, frequently taking government claims as fact, or burying dissenting voices deep in the news pages, according to Ari Berman in The Nation:

Walter Pincus, 70, who honed his skills and scepticism during his years reporting on Watergate and Iran/contra, blames a pack mentality and desire to please for the decision to bury his stories before the war began. 'The Post was scared,' Pincus says. 'I believe papers ought to crusade when we're on to something.' Later, he says, when things started going badly, editors were more willing to print pieces critical of the Administration. 'This is a country in which it doesn't matter what you say if you succeed,' he says. 'But if you fail, people go back and look at why.' (The Postwar Post)

Investigative journalist Greg Palast recently took NYT's supremo Thomas Friedman to task for suggesting in a recent column that "It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy." (Tragedy in New York: French Fried Friedman)

The US press largely ignored even the recent admission by Bush that Saddam and 9/11 were completely unrelated, therefore shooting down one of the central planks of pre-war propaganda. As reported in the Niagara Falls Reporter, much of the North American media conveniently forgot to mention this startling Bush acknowledgement. (Media ignores Bush admission that Saddam not involved in 9/11)

In early April, The New Yorker analysed war coverage in the US and featured a telling quote from journalist Michael Arlen during the Vietnam War. It could easily have applied to the war in Iraq:

The cumulative effect of all these three and five minute film clips, with their almost unvarying implicit deference to the importance of purely military solutionsand with their catering (in part unavoidably) to a popular democracy's insistent desire to view an unbelievably complicated a war as this one in emotional terms (our guys against their guys), is surely wide of the mark, and is bound to provide these millions of people with an excessively simple, emotional, and military-oriented view of what is, at best, a mighty unsimple solution.

Medialens provided essential coverage of the UK press before, during and after the invasion. In an email alert on August 15, the authors posited the following:

Prior to the war, for example, the key UK government claim was that the Iraqi regime had always foiled attempts to achieve peaceful disarmament so that military intervention was a tragic necessity. What was so astonishing was that in all the thousands of articles and news reports on Iraq, there were almost literally no attempts to verify the truth of this claim. How successful had the earlier inspections regimes actually been? What level of success was achieved? To what extent did the Iraqis cooperate? Why did inspections break down after so many years? Was peaceful disarmament feasible? These questions were almost never asked.

The Observer ran Brian Eno's Lessons in how to lie about Iraq in August:

In the West the calculated manipulation of public opinion to serve political and ideological interests is much more covert and therefore much more effective. Its greatest triumph is that we generally don't notice it - or laugh at the notion it even exists. We watch the democratic process taking place - heated debates in which we feel we could have a voice - and think that, because we have 'free' media, it would be hard for the Government to get away with anything very devious without someone calling them on it.

Have Australians viewed the war in a similar way and asked the hard questions? And what effects, if any, will this distortion have? Shaun Carney wrote in The Age that the Howard Government might well still suffer over its handling and involvement in the Iraq invasion. Despite numerous polls indicating that people feel mislead and even lied to, the Labor opposition appear to not be gaining ground on their rivals. This does not mean, however, that Howard could lose an election, rather than Crean winning it. Media coverage has been essential in shaping public opinion on this issue, and Carney argues the long term political effect is highly unpredictable:

Their argument [the Howard Government] is that Iraq is a dead issue, that Australia has only a limited, and diminishing, involvement in the occupation force and that it is not part of the nation-building effort. The public's sense of investment and connection in the issue is, as a consequence, small. This could well be true but the fact is that Australia does not exist in a vacuum. The news continues to flow in from London and Washington about the domestic political problems for Australia's coalition partners caused by the war. The news also continues to flow in, more sporadically but often quite horrific, from Baghdad. (Howard may yet rue this war) Also see Margo Kingston's Who will lead us out of the wilderness?

Webdiarist Scott Burchill recommends a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, talking about the current crisis within neo-conservative ranks in the US. Joshua Muravchik is a prominent thinker amongst the group, and only six months ago was heralding Bush's pre-emptive doctrine as "sentence after sentence that I agreed with and couldn't have said better myself".

Mr. Muravchik concedes that for himself and his fellow neocons, 'there's a tremendous amount on the line,' in Iraq. 'If this goes wrong, of course, we will be, to some degree, discredited. Justifiably so. We put forward these ideas and they're really being put to the test.'

At what point will leaks begin emerging from the Howard camp about this doctrine? According to Foreign Minister Downer on Lateline, Australia is still 100% behind this unilateral philosophy.

The last month has seen an explosion of new information regarding the current situation on the ground in Iraq, primarily from overseas sources. This from The London Times on September 21, by Nick Fielding:

Saddam Hussein secretly recruited a resistance army to fight a guerrilla war five years before the invasion of Iraq by British and US forces, a trusted confidant has revealed, writes Nick Fielding.

Ali Ballout, a Lebanese writer who was close to the Iraqi president for 30 years, said that Saddam realised during the late 1990s that America would never negotiate a deal that would leave him in charge. After the allied Desert Fox bombing campaign in 1998, Saddam began recruiting leaders for a network of guerrilla units who would continue to fight any occupation force and would form the nucleus of a new regime.

Less than a year before the invasion, Ballout said Saddam liquidated some of the huge financial assets he had stashed abroad through illegal sales of oil, hiding the cash throughout Iraq for use in any guerrilla war.

And this from Buzzflash on September 21':

If King George's poll numbers dip any lower, watch for "Godfather" Bush (the Father of the King) to send in Bush Cartel consiglieri, James Baker, to advise Junior that he has to push Rumsfeld or Cheney off the plank to push his poll numbers up. Ashcroft is also vulnerable, but for less immediate reasons.

BuzzFlash figures Rumsfeld will exit before Cheney, but Cheney could always be "persuaded" to resign for health reasons. (Under this scenario, Colin Powell would replace him.) The logical caveat to the Cheney resignation scenario is that since Cheney is ACTUALLY functioning as the President, it might be challenging to persuade him to step down from the Vice Presidency.

But James Baker, in true "Godfather" consiglieri fashion, may make Cheney an offer that he can't refuse. How about a guarantee of continued no-bid contracts for Halliburton and a promise to shred all the energy advisory committee documents? Well, that might be the starting point for negotiations, anyway. Dick's got bigger things in mind.

Through all this, though, it's important to remember the views of Iraqis themselves. A recent Gallop Poll offers evidence that a majority of Iraqis "say that ousting Saddam Hussein was worth the hardships they have since endured".

We in the West have the luxury to debate the lies and deceptions told us by our leaders to justify war, but let us never forget the day-to-day lives of Iraqis. Salam Pax told me, in relation to the Gallop Poll:

There's something I tell anyone who starts whining. There is something very important which has just happened, so just keep that in your mind. An era has ended and something new is starting, it's just the difficult birth phase. We have to go through this, learn from the mistakes we're making now. In four, five years, I'm sure things will be much better. I just read today a Gallop poll today that said that two thirds of people asked in Iraq thought that things will be very much better in five years from now. This was so good.

And what about Afghanistan? John Pilger recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan and Iraq and his message is despairing. Writing in The Guardian on 20 September, Pilger said:

In May last year, the Guardian published the result of an investigation by Jonathan Steele. He concluded that, in addition to up to 8,000 Afghans killed by American bombs, as many as 20,000 more may have died as an indirect consequence of Bush's invasion, including those who fled their homes and were denied emergency relief in the middle of a drought. Of all the great humanitarian crises of recent years, no country has been helped less than Afghanistan. Bosnia, with a quarter of the population, received $356 per person; Afghanistan gets $42 per person. Only 3% of all international aid spent in Afghanistan has been for reconstruction; the US-led military "coalition" accounts for 84%, the rest is emergency aid. Last March, Karzai flew to Washington to beg for more money. He was promised extra money from private US investors. Of this, $35m will finance a proposed five-star hotel. As Bush said, "The Afghan people will know the generosity of America and its allies."

As citizens of a so-called democracy, we are entitled to ask some provocative questions. What did 'we' really achieve in Afghanistan and Iraq? (Certainly Indonesia must be wondering what benefits come from being 'partners' with the US in the 'War on Terror', with the US recently refusing their requests for access to Hambali; see US Denies Indonesia Access to Hambali).

The relatively high support for the Howard Government could partly be explained by the lack of real coverage of events in recent theatres of action, such as the Middle East and Central Asia. How many people really know the real reason for invading Iraq? How many people really know the current situation in Afghanistan? How many people are aware of the role of US troops in Central Asia? How many people would still support either or both wars if they knew, as reported by Pilger last weekend, the following:

In a series of extraordinary reports, the latest published in July, Human Rights Watch has documented atrocities "committed by gunmen and warlords who were propelled into power by the United States and its coalition partners after the Taliban fell in 2001" and who have "essentially hijacked the country". The report describes army and police troops controlled by the warlords kidnapping villagers with impunity and holding them for ransom in unofficial prisons; the widespread rape of women, girls and boys; routine extortion, robbery and arbitrary murder. Girls' schools are burned down. "Because the soldiers are targeting women and girls," the report says, "many are staying indoors, making it impossible for them to attend school [or] go to work. (What Good Friends Left Behind).

Back in Iraq, even Ahmed Chalabi is starting to grumble. In an interview with the New York Times recently, Chalabi suggested the need for more control of key institutions by Iraqis, and therefore less by occupation forces. He was, however, still keen to please his Washington saviours:

"I am fighting to keep Americans in Iraq," Mr. Chalabi said before leaving Baghdad. "We are afraid that they will lose their resolve and go home if the current situation continues."

Perhaps it takes a man like Michael Meacher, former UK Environment Minister, to express what no Australian Liberal Party member has dared utter, whether out of fear, internal or external pressure, or total agreement with the Party line (This war on terror is bogus)

Webdiarest Eric Howell, however, is not one to be bluffed over suspect intelligence claims:

I picked up a book titled "Veil - The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987" written by Bob Woodward. It contains a lot of information about the US involvement in Nicaragua and Libya. At p.166 Woodward describes the methods employed to justify engagement with Gadaffi's regime and the following appears:

"Other reports showed that yellowcake was coming in [to Libya] from Niger, the other Central African to the south of Libya"

It seems old intelligence ideas never go away.

Scott Burchill has been conducting some telling analysis of pre-war and post-war spin:

* In US won't allow quick Iraq handover Condoleezza Rice was openly critical of plans to rush the transfer of power, saying it must come in "an orderly process". "The French plan, which would somehow transfer sovereignty to an unelected group of people, just isn't workable," she told reporters. (Burchill: Funny, this wasn't a problem in Afghanistan.)

* Question to Howard at the national press club on the eve of war, March 14:

Michelle Grattan, The Age: Mr Howard, if as you advocate, countries in the Security Council got behind the resolution and a miracle happened and Iraq said yes it would say the game was up and disarmed, but Saddam Hussein was still there, would this be enough for peace given the strong case you have made today for regime change in the name of the Iraqi people?

PM John Howard: Well I would have to accept that if Iraq had genuinely disarmed, I couldn't justify on its own a military invasion of Iraq to change the regime. I've never advocated that.


PM John Howard, The World Today, ABC Radio, 24 September, 2003:

Those who advocated another course have to accept that if their advice had been followed, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Iraq with all of the torture and the human rights abuses that is involved in that. You can't have it both ways, because if America and her allies had not acted then Iraq would still be run by Saddam Hussein.

Burchill: So military action to change the Government of Iraq which he couldn't justify on humanitarian grounds in March, has by September retrospectively legitimated what earlier he wouldn't defend? And if Saddam had produced his WMD (which he couldn't presumably because he didn't have any), Howard would be one of those people he now accuses of wanting to keep Saddam in power. So much for his humanitarian commitment to the people of Iraq. What did Howard say about Halabja in the Parliament? How many times did he condemn Iraq's use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran? Ditto for Downer? Now that's opportunistic!

Webdiarist Brian McKinley found an intriguing story by Al Kamen in The Washington Post on September 19 called 'Colonialism rekindled?':

"The Rashid Hotel, the favored hotel for U.S. contractors, consultants and reporters, is looking like a classic "colonial outpost," with "GIs lunching on corn dogs and Southern fried chicken, defense contractors putting golf balls on the lawn, [and] women dressed in shorts that would raise eyebrows across the river," according to a Reuters wire report.

The Iraqis also play their appropriate role at the hotel on the Tigris River, working in lesser jobs as waiters, clerks, translators and such.

Iraqi security personnel are suspect," the wire said, so the U.S. company that runs the hotel, "a subsidiary of [Vice President] Cheney's old company Halliburton, prefers Ghurkas from Nepal."

Ghurkas? The legendary fighters who carry kukris, those short, curved knives that are especially useful in decapitating enemies?

Yes indeed, the very same, though they are relying on rifles these days, said Rajiv Chandrasekaran, our colleague in Baghdad. They have been spotted guarding other places, including the presidential palace that's home to viceroy L. Paul Bremer.

The Ghurkas guard each of the hotel's 12 floors 'round the clock "at an estimated cost to the U.S taxpayer of more than $120,000 a month," Reuters reported.

With Bush's underwhelming recent performance at the UN, demanding more international help while dogmatically asserting his government's rightness in taking on Saddam, there must be some alternative remedies to the current serious predicament. Bruce Grant, former ambassador and academic, wrote in The Age on September 23:

The US stands head and shoulders above all other powers. The UN is not a rival state. It is not even an organisation or institution. It is a global system, still evolving, with a half century of valuable experience. It is the driving force behind the development recently of international criminal and humanitarian law.

No nation, even the most powerful, can run a rapidly globalising world. The UN, slow and cumbersome as it can be, nevertheless confers legitimacy on efforts to establish international law and order. (US has lost the lesson of history)

Sydney Morning Herald political correspondent Geoff Kitney issued a bold challenge to the Howard Government on September 26, suggesting that only greater engagement with our region will ultimately reduce terrorism:

Australia can pursue its interests without being anti-American. In fact, by focusing on the need to build greater trust and understanding with Indonesia, Australia will be making a much more important contribution to the war on terrorism than it did by sending troops to the war in Iraq.

To prevent this becoming a disaster, Australia needs to redouble the effort it puts into regional diplomacy. It needs to build bridges of understanding. Howard should give priority to travelling to the regional capitals, but especially to Jakarta.

As part of this, Howard must be prepared to be more critical of US policy, or at least less kneejerk in his pro-Americanism, as he was with his attack on France. It's now in Australia's interest to be a bit less pro-American and a bit more pro-Indonesian. By acting more independently we would be helping the US. (Forget France, the neighbours are restless)

The biggest story of this whole debate so far could be the upcoming report by David Kay, the weapons inspector charged to search for Iraq's supposed WMDs. Reports emerged last week that "a much-anticipated interim report by the Bush administration'swill offer no firm conclusions about the former Iraqi government's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, senior officials said yesterday." It was a startling admission, and one leaving John Howard in a decidedly defensive position (Howard in retreat on Iraq arsenal). It remains to be seen how the PM engages in these potentially explosive revelations.

On September 22 at the UN, Conzoleeza Rice more than implied that the full and final report might never be made public:

Q: When will Kay's report be public?

DR. RICE: David Kay is not going to be done with this for quite some time. And I would not count on reports. I suppose there may be interim reports. I don't know when those will be, and I don't know what the public nature of them will be. (Dr Rice Briefing on President's Visit to UN General Assembly). The White House has denied the implication, with Colin Powell attempting damage control, but the fact remains that an increasingly questioning public will want nothing less than full disclosure.

The more facts that emerge, the more it appears Bush had a domestic political agenda, while Blair and Howard felt they had little choice but to follow for supposed rewards still forthcoming.

Scott Burchill discovered this telling press conference given by Colin Powell in 2001. His future remarks, along with members of his government, fly completely in the face of his 'facts' in early 2001. The arrival of 9/11 signalled the beginnings of a belief that a fearful public would capitulate to warnings of future terrorist attacks, sly connections between Saddam and Bin Laden and imminent attack on Western cities by the Iraqi Government:

Press Remarks with Foreign Minister of Egypt Amre Moussa

Secretary Colin L. Powell

Cairo, Egypt (Ittihadiya Palace)

February 24, 2001

I received a very warm welcome from the leaders and I know there is some unhappiness as expressed in the Egyptian press. I understand that, but at the same time, with respect to the no-fly zones and the air strikes that we from time to time must conduct to defend our pilots, I just want to remind everybody that the purpose of those no-fly zones and the purpose of those occasional strikes to protect our pilots, is not to pursue an aggressive stance toward Iraq, but to defend the people that the no-fly zones are put in to defend. The people in the southern part of Iraq and the people in the northern part of

Iraq, and these zones have a purpose, and their purpose is to protect people -- protect Arabs -- not to affect anything else in the region. And we have to defend ourselves.

We will always try to consult with our friends in the region so that they are not surprised and do everything we can to explain the purpose of our responses. We had a good discussion, the Foreign Minister and I and the President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions -- the fact that the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose.

That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place, but we are always willing to review them to make sure that they are being carried out in a way that does not affect the Iraqi people but does affect the Iraqi regime's ambitions and the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we had a good conversation on this issue.

We live in a parallel universe. Pro-war supporters, like Howard, shout down opposers of the occupation as friends of Saddam. The Hutton Inquiry gave Blair the chance to avoid answering the real reasons behind his rush to war, instead focusing on the tragic surroundings around the death of Dr David Kelly. The media's role in all this mess is far from glorious, and for that reason I've included below a Medialens alert from September 25 outlining the ways in which much of the corporate media in the UK merely echo the lines of the great powers of the day.

It's time to reclaim our right for answers because Howard deserves to be challenged at every opportunity. In our rush to war, the facts were conveniently thrown out the window, and our democratic principles are grossly damaged because of it. We should demand answers. No matter what our leaders now say, human rights was NEVER the main reason behind the recent war. Saddam's crimes went unchecked in the West for over two decades. It is for these reasons that our leaders should pay the ultimate political price.


A Tragicomedy Of Media Manners

Primary Colours

Andrew Gilligan, it is reported, is on his way out of Radio 4's Today programme. The BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, told the Hutton inquiry last week that Gilligan had failed to appreciate the "nuances and subtleties" of broadcast journalism, casting his reports in "primary colours" rather than shades of grey. ('Gilligan left out in cold by BBC', Matt Wells, Richard Norton-Taylor and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, September 18, 2003)

Gilligan has fallen foul of one of the unwritten rules of media reporting: journalism that supports established power is waved through as obviously 'balanced' and 'impartial'. Journalism that challenges established power is subject to minute examination in search of the tiniest sign of 'bias'.

No one blinked an eye when Andrew Marr announced on the day that Baghdad fell that Blair "stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result". (Marr, BBC 1, News At Ten, April 9, 2003)

This was the same Marr who, during NATO's assault on Serbia, had made some similarly nuanced suggestions in the Observer:

"I want to put the Macbeth option: which is that we're so steeped in blood we should go further. If we really believe Milosevic is this bad, dangerous and destabilising figure we must ratchet this up much further. We should now be saying that we intend to put in ground troops." ('Do We Give war a chance?', The Observer, April 18, 1999)

A week later, Marr contrasted Western nations, which he claimed had been "feminised" by the Cold War, with: "The war-hardened people of Serbia, far more callous, seemingly readier to die" who were "like an alien race". (Marr, 'War is hell - but not being ready to go to war is undignified and embarrassing', The Observer, April 25, 1999)

A year after some 500 civilians had been killed by 11 weeks of NATO "surgical strikes", Marr underwent some surgery of his own prior to becoming the BBC's political editor:

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

No inquiries were launched when the Guardian's David Leigh and James Wilson described the evidence of mass death of Iraqi children under sanctions as a "statistical construct" and "atrocity propaganda". ('Counting Iraq's victims', The Guardian, October 10, 2001)

No issues of 'nuance' were raised when Thomas Friedman of the New York Times spoke last week of an Arab "bubble of terrorism", and of how, "We need to go into the heart of their world and beat their brains out, frankly, in order to burst this bubble." (Tim Russert Show, CNBC, September 13, 2003)

The BBC, of course, has a long history of using "primary colours" in its reporting. During the Falklands War, BBC executives directed that news coverage should be concerned "primarily with government statements of policy". Achieving an impartial style was deemed "an unnecessary irritation". (Quoted, John Pilger, New Statesman, August 2, 1996)

In 1997, the BBC's Newsnight editor, Peter Horrocks, told staff: "Our job should not be to quarrel with the purpose of policy, but to question its implementation." (Quoted, Robert Newman, 'Performers of the world unite', The Guardian, August 7, 2000)

More recently, a Cardiff University report found that during the latest attack on Iraq the BBC displayed the most pro-war agenda of any broadcaster.

Lack of nuance nevertheless remains strictly a dissident problem. In reviewing one of Noam Chomsky's books, the Independent's Steve Crawshaw expressed his bewilderment at the fact that, "Chomsky knows so much but seems impervious to any idea of nuance." ('Furious ideas with no room for nuance', Steve Crawshaw, The Independent, February 21, 2001)

Likewise, Joe Joseph lamented in the Times: "The world, according to Pilger, is pretty much black and white: his journalistic retina doesn't recognise shades of grey". (Joseph, The Times, March 7, 2000) Jon Snow added in the Guardian: "Some argue the ends justify [Pilger's] means, others that the world is a more subtle place than he allows." (Snow, 'Still angry after all these years', The Guardian, February 25, 2001)

In Parliamentary Brief magazine, Philip Towle judged author Mark Curtis' work "useful", but added, "a more balanced and less paranoid analysis would be more convincing".(Towle, Parliamentary Brief, November 1995)

Alas, Media Lens is cursed by the same monomania. Last year, Bill Hayton, a BBC World Service editor, advised us: "If your language was more nuanced it would get a better reception." (Email to Editors, November 16, 2002)

Of Hopeless Hacks And Horrible Hypocrisies

Reality, for much of the media, is defined by the needs of the powerful. Thus, "The BBC must sack the hopeless hack Gilligan", the Sun raged. (Editorial, September 18, 2003) The Scotsman regretted the BBC's errors: "Successful investigative journalism demands the highest standards of accuracy and precise reporting of what can be proved." (Editorial, September 18, 2003) "Gilligan's first report on the dodgy dossier ... was wrong", opined the Mirror, "And he will probably pay a heavy price for that." (Editorial, September 18, 2003)

Using familiar code words, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger wrote of Gilligan and the BBC: "How much damage and tragedy could have been avoided if the organisation had swiftly published a nuanced and careful clarification." ('If only we were as tough on ourselves as on the BBC', Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian, September 20, 2003)

And how much damage and tragedy could have been avoided in Iraq if the media had ditched red herrings of this kind and instead raised even the most elementary objections to government propaganda. If the "hopeless hack" failed "the highest standards of accuracy", what can we say of the rest of the media, which, for over a year, failed to challenge a government that was engaged in a systematic campaign of deception?

The challenges that could have been made are childishly obvious: Why attack when Unscom inspectors achieved 90-95% success in disarming Iraq peacefully? Why attack when inspectors were withdrawn from, not thrown out of, Iraq? Why attack when any retained Iraqi WMD would have long since become "harmless sludge", according to Unscom inspectors, the CIA and others? Why attack when there was no evidence whatever of links between the Iraqi regime and its mortal enemy, al-Qaeda? Why attack when Tony Blair had said almost nothing about a dire threat from Iraqi WMD between 1997-2001? Why attack when Blair had stood alongside French President Jacques Chirac in November 2001 insisting that "incontrovertible evidence" of Iraqi complicity in the September 11 attacks would be required before military action would even be considered? Why attack when in 2001, months before the September 11 attacks, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice both stated that Iraq had not rearmed and posed no threat?

Gilligan's 'offence' was to report that senior intelligence officials thought the 45-minute claim on Iraqi deployment of WMD "risible". Gilligan also dared to suggest that the government must have known that the claim was "wrong". And indeed in a taped conversation with a BBC journalist, weapons expert David Kelly had described how "lots of people" in the intelligence community were concerned, that "people at the top of the ladder didn't want to hear some of the things". ('Beyond doubt: facts amid the fiction', Vikram Dodd, Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicholas Watt, The Guardian, August 16, 2003)

Dimitris Perricos, a Greek-born nuclear expert who replaced Hans Blix in June as the top UN weapons inspector in Iraq has said:

"There is no doubt that the phrase of 'within 45 minutes' that was included in the British report did not correspond to reality. No one, of course, should go to war for a (weapons) programme if they do not know if the weapons have been created. From the inspections, no evidence was found that would justify a war." (ap September 1, 2003)

But the focus on the 45-minute claim is itself a red herring intended to draw attention away from a far bigger deception. Senator Edward Kennedy last week indicated the complete irrelevance of the discussion on the rights and wrongs of Gilligan's report:

"There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud." (Steve LeBlanc, 'Kennedy says war case a "fraud"', Associated Press, September 18, 2003)

And this whole fraud could have been exposed and possibly even stopped, but the media were busy echoing and channelling government propaganda without subtlety and without nuance.

Copyright  Â© 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.


Created By: Padraig L Henry