The Obvious Interpretation
In our July 23 alert, ‘From Blair to Brown – The Killing Will Continue,’ we described how the media were working hard to defend the status quo by attempting to distance new prime minister Gordon Brown from Tony Blair and his war crimes. ()
A good example was provided by media coverage of this week’s Bush-Brown summit in
“A very different British prime minister arrived at
The Guardian’s editors are suddenly happy to mock Blair now that the goal is to sell Brown as an enlightened liberal progressive. The paper eagerly reeled off allegedly watershed developments from recent weeks:
“While still international development secretary, Hilary Benn said in
“The obvious interpretation put on each ministerial speech has been vigorously denied by
However, the Guardian commented:
“Ironically, Mr Brown is instinctively more pro-American than Mr Blair. He has a
The alleged presence of “irony” often indicates the actual presence of fraud. It has often been declared “ironic” that the invasion of
The need for mendacious spin, however – the Guardian’s “obvious interpretation” – is very real. A YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph last week (July 27), found that 71 per cent want Brown to “ensure that
As noted above, the phrase was used by Lord Malloch Brown, the Minister for Africa,
“Lord Malloch Brown seems to have been firmly confined to his grace-and-favour box in the past fortnight. And the PM and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, have missed no opportunity to make clear that, rogue double-barrelled interviews aside, it is business as usual in the ‘special relationship’.” (Matthew d’Ancona, ibid)
D’Ancona came close to releasing the propaganda cat from the bag in describing the “PM’s quandary”:
“Electoral dynamics require that he appear to distance himself somewhat from the US in general and President Bush in particular, at least to ensure that the words ‘Yo Brown!’ are never uttered. Mr Blair was perceived by British voters as a ‘poodle’. Mr Brown cannot afford to be seen as the Scottish equivalent… The White House is well aware of this, and is quite relaxed about whatever shifts in rhetoric or tone Mr Brown believes are necessary. It is much more important to the Bush administration that the new PM takes tough security measures against jihadi networks in the UK (as he is) than that he continues to use the phrase ‘war on terror’.”
In other words, Brown can say and do what he likes in the cause of deceiving the British people –
While earnestly analysing the necessary “shifts in rhetoric or tone”, the Guardian editors omitted to mention some obvious facts challenging their “obvious interpretation”.
Just days before the
Virtually a lone voice of dissent in the Guardian, George Monbiot declared the obvious:
“Like everyone on the left in
No matter, in the very same edition of the paper, the Guardian editors continued their attempt to distance Brown from Blair’s legacy:
“As presidential compliments rained down on Mr Brown’s head, it began to emerge that the prime minister had got what he wanted. His ministerial frontrunners had established a useful sense of ambiguity, the possibility that a relationship that had been joined at the hip might eventually be severed. Mr Brown then arrives and secures a working relationship, free of sycophancy… the overall effect of this carefully calibrated operation has been to pull the clothes over to
The notion that this might be an illusion carefully orchestrated by
A day later, with breathless optimism, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland boosted the same propaganda. Brown’s words in
The differences “were even clearer on
No doubt mainstream journalists could endlessly debate the difference between Blair’s “ethical foreign policy” and Brown’s foreign “philosophy” based on “moral superiority”. Mercifully, Freedland instead provided a moment of light relief when he observed:
“A headline in yesterday’s Washington Post declared of Brown: ‘More bulldog than poodle.’ The Brown team would love to see that verdict repeated on every British front page.”
And the title of Freedland’s Guardian piece?:
“More bulldog than poodle, Brown has signalled a new special relationship.” (Freedland, ibid)
Similar messages were broadcast unfailingly across the media spectrum. A Telegraph report was titled, ‘A special relationship redefined – Brown plots own course in
Another Telegraph headline read:
‘Lots of warm words about liberty but no hiding from the cool air Andrew Gimson watches the start of a new “special” relationship.’ (Gimson, Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2007)
The prime minister is new, the “special relationship” is new. British citizens forced to choose between a pro-war ‘centre-left’ party and a pro-war ‘centre-right’ party – with all challenges to this lethal charade subject to bitter and relentless attack by a united media establishment – can therefore rest easy.
Unwilling to focus on readily available evidence indicating that policy will remain the same, journalists are forced to obsess over absurd symbols of change. The Financial Times wrote:
“But Mr Brown has ensured there are obvious contrasts with his predecessor on this, the first substantive overseas trip of his premiership. Gone is Mr Blair’s casual Camp David attire – the ‘ball-crushingly tight’ trousers described by Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the
The Mirror commented:
“One addressed ‘Gordon’, the other ‘Mr President’, the nauseating Tony & George act that served
“Brown wanted his Washington debut to look nothing like the Bush-Blair love-ins of the past, and he succeeded. Out went the groin-squeezingly tight jeans, in came the suits.” (Freedland, op. cit)
The Sunday Telegraph:
“The new Prime Minister has asked for a more ‘focused’ and ‘business-like’ atmosphere. You can be sure there will be no ‘ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys’ so memorably described by Christopher Meyer.” (Matthew d’Ancona, op.cit)
This may already seem rather weird. But consider that near-identical comments were made right across the press – we counted 14 references to Blair’s “ball-crushingly tight trousers”.
Oxfam And Iraq – Absolute Poverty
By contrast, we found six mentions in the national UK press of a July 30 Oxfam report on Iraq. This described how 8 million Iraqis – almost a third of the population – are in need of emergency aid. Forty-three per cent are living in “absolute poverty”. Children are suffering the most: malnutrition rates have risen from 19 per cent before the 2003 invasion – a time when Iraq was being crushed by a UN sanctions regime described as “genocidal” by one senior UN diplomat – to 28 per cent now. Some 92 per cent of children show learning difficulties related to psychological trauma.
The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent in 2003 to 70 per cent now. Eighty per cent of Iraqis lack effective sanitation. Most homes in Baghdad and other cities have two hours of electricity a day. (Oxfam, ‘Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq,’ Briefing Paper, July 2007;)
Health services are “generally in a catastrophic situation in the capital, in the main towns, and across the governorates”. Millions of refugees are often not able to receive treatment at all outside their home area, where they are registered. Of the 180 hospitals countrywide, 90 per cent lack key resources including basic medical and surgical supplies. MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res reports that former general hospitals, previously used to referring all but simple emergency cases, “are now performing complex emergency surgery with only the most basic equipment and drugs”. Doctors have had to ask the relatives of injured patients “to search local pharmacies for blood bags, sutures, and infusions before they can start surgery”.
One is barely able even to begin to conceive of the level of suffering indicated by this report.
Of the six press mentions, the Financial Times devoted 59 words. The Daily Mail devoted 136 words in two pieces. The Guardian devoted 50 words in an editorial, 16 words in a comment piece and 609 words in an article by Jonathan Steele. That makes a total of 870 words across all national UK newspapers. In the entire printed press, Steele’s was the only article specifically focusing on the report.
As so often in the past, we find ourselves asking: If this reaction is possible in response to a crime and a catastrophe on this scale, what are the potential limits for our liberal democracy? We have to assume that there are in fact no limits, that our governments are free to kill on any conceivable scale – our media would simply continue turning away from, obfuscating, marginalising and burying the truth.
Noam Chomsky recently responded to the argument that the guilt of Western governments is lessened by the fact that they do not intentionally set out to kill civilians in their attacks on Third World countries. Chomsky proposed a case that was “far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally”:
“Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others.
“I’ve written about this repeatedly, for example, in [the book] 9/11. And I’ve been intrigued to see how reviewers and commentators… simply cannot even see the comments, let alone comprehend them. Since it’s all pretty obvious, it reveals, again, the remarkable successes of indoctrination under freedom, and the moral depravity and corruption of the dominant intellectual culture.” (Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ July 31, 2007;)
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, for our politicians and journalists, Iraqis really are on a par with insects. Of course almost no one will accept, or believe, that they feel this way. But what else can we conclude from the depth of the silence, from the unwavering indifference year after year?
Perhaps the final truth of our media elites is that they are indifferent to the question of whether they act for good or ill, whether they are responsible for mass death. And perhaps this is the ultimately damning indictment of corporate journalism – that the logic of profit and the logic of humanity are completely divorced from one another. There is no space for compassion on the corporate bottom line – it literally has no place, no meaning, no relevance, in a system structured around the twin obsessions of profit and loss.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
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