Thursday, 8 February 2018

Presidents, Posts and liberal pandering to power

Despite some notable cases of brave, probing journalism, the liberal media has routinely evaded its duty in holding US presidents and other key elites to account.

Carrying a history of editorial incorporation, political obedience and journalistic deference, it hides its sins these days behind faux outrage against Donald Trump.

And while Trump's nocturnal tweets and 'fake news' awards seem manically scripted to by-pass and antagonise his liberal media foes, the latter's increasingly authoritarian reactions suggest much more about its own establishment-serving neurosis and obsequious relationships with presidents past.

All the President's men
Celebrity-staged journalism

Piers Morgan's set-piece interview with Trump, and liberal disapproval of it, shows how the public are being subjected to, both, a spurious 'president-as-celebrity' narrative and an even more sham liberal 'push-the-president' line. 


Despite his ignorant ramblings on climate, immigration, economics, geopolitics, racism, Islam, militarism and guns, Morgan did his dutiful best in this contrived exchange to sanitise and 're-package' Trump.

While Morgan got Trump to apologise over his 'erroneous' Britain First retweet, and 'pressed' him on being potentially snubbed over a royal wedding, the main purpose here was to 're-package' him for "my (Morgan's) country". The 'past Apprentice', no doubt, paying due respect to his 'old boss'.

But Morgan's interview wasn't just a fawning celebrity reluctant to engage Trump on his presidential record. It was a refusal to interrogate him on US crimes at large. 

Conveniently for Trump, there were no big, awkward questions from Morgan on the continuing misconduct of his country: nothing about the ongoing US wars and destabilisation of the Middle East, no mention of America's deepening alliance with the Saudi regime, and total silence on Washington's latest backing for the apartheid state of Israel.

For all his 'counter-establishment' posturing, Morgan is no less a service man to presidents and power in helping to divert public attention from America's unrelenting crimes.

However, it's the backlash to Morgan that's even more illuminating here.

Inevitably, Morgan came under fire from much of the liberal media over his handling of Trump.

The BBC's high-titled World Affairs Editor, and 'in-house sage', John Simpson handed down this lofty 'advice':
The art of the political interview, Piers, is to push your interviewee hard - not let them spout self-evident tosh. That's just showbiz.
Here we see the liberal media using Morgan to 'elevate' its own self-proclaimed 'authority'; an indignant rebuttal, and reminder of its 'hard-won status' as the 'only real examiner' of, and 'check' on, presidential misconduct. 

Yet, there was no specific criticism here from Simpson about Morgan's unwillingness to push Trump on all those major and continuing US crimes. That's because the liberal media itself is even more complicit than Morgan in failing to press presidents and other elites on such key issues.   


Aside from his own self-cultivated persona, and nodding to the powerful, Simpson might, more usefully, have directed his attention to fellow BBC 'security correspondent' Gordon Corera and his servile interview with CIA head, Mike Pompeo


It's as though the seemingly star-struck Corera was trying to contain his excitement at being invited into the hallowed foyer of US spookdom. Not a seriously challenging word was offered in response to Pompeo's bombastic claims of 'Russian and Chinese threats, or his pledge that the CIA will steal every secret it can. 


If Morgan's interview with Trump was about caressing a presidential image, the BBC has been no less deferential. While acolytes like Morgan are using their celebrity platforms to protect, exonerate and whitewash Trump, the liberal media has shown itself even more culpable in the celebrity-styled treatment of its preferred presidents and elite figures.     


All the previous President's men and women

Celebrity-hagiographic liberal journalism

It's worth reflecting here on how the BBC, Guardian and wide UK/US liberal media helped consecrate past president Obama as the 'new shining light on the Hill'.

Dutifully displacing any awkward spotlight on his drone killings, war extensions and lifeboat billions to Wall Street, they helped create the perfect showbiz president.

And, as Media Lens remind us, there's been no more gushing hagiographer of Obama than John Simpson. In a piece relating his meeting with Obama, Simpson is almost genuflecting to the president, waxing mystically over his many virtues, and approving America's "active, effective" role as world policeman.
One of Sopel's Twitter headers
As Media Lens also note, Simpson's colleague, North America correspondent Jon Sopel, has been another senior BBC man standing in awe of Obama, helping, in one memorable case, to deny the president's war criminality by reporting that the US bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan had been a "mistaken" act.

Now, as the liberal media rage against Trump, Obama is celebrated as a special post-presidential celebrity, from kite-surfing with Richard Branson to being feted at gala celebrity charity functions.

Besides fawning over Obama, liberal deflection is now so entrenched that many Democrats are even expressing their admiration for George W Bush.

As RT comment:
Loathsome as Trump may be, his sins thus far don’t come close to the list of atrocities committed by Bush. In fact, Trump’s sins haven’t even come close to those committed by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, whose “humanitarian” bombing, to take one example, helped to utterly destroy Libya — once the richest country in Africa, now a failed state and a haven for the slave trade.
And, while the liberal media croon over Obama's economic performanceSarah Abdallah offers her own 'due praise':
Obama also deserves credit for bombing Libya back to the stone age and transforming it into a wasteland where jihadists now sell black Africans in open slave markets.
All the liberal womens' would-be President
Liberal-feminist journalism

The same liberal media and celebrities that helped deify Obama also elevated Hillary Clinton as his 'high moral' replacement, again ignoring her own extensive war crimes, corruption and service to corporate power.

Now they laud Hillary advocates like Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey as 'role models' and potential presidents.

Some more admirable leftist women who resisted the Hillary hype, like Susan Sarandon and the Green Party's Jill Stein - now being smeared as a 'Kremlin agent' - are still feeling the liberal-establishment backlash.

Meanwhile, Cambridge professor Mary Beard has been engaged in admiring liberal feminist conversation with Clinton, all eagerly hosted by the Guardian. As with the Guardian's careful election filtering of 'President Hillary', Beard had nothing to say about Clinton's part in destroying Libya.

Bonnie Greer, another Hillary-praising liberal feminist, has kept the same dutiful silence. Indeed, more intrigued by the 'body language', Greer opted to watch the Trump-Clinton TV debate with the sound down, knowing that:
Nothing that Hillary Clinton could say would make me feel that she was not qualified and able from Day One to become Commander-in-Chief of the largest and most powerful military on earth...
Greer and trusting others have also kept the sound down on Clinton's warmongering and hawk relationships, including her long, close association with notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger.

One sometimes wonders just what it might take for liberal feminists to distance themselves from figures like Clinton, who refuse to distance themselves from figures like Kissinger.

One also wonders how they can turn a blind eye to the leading roles of both Mr and Mrs Clinton in the immense suffering of Iraq. Or, to invoke, Madeline Albright, another criminal Clinton associate, do they think the price is worth it?

All the President's mockers
Liberal 'satire' journalism
"Trump’s hair blew and Twitter liberals have been going crazy all day."
With Trump now seeming like fair game for every form of media ridicule, Hillary Clinton has now assumed a starring role in the great liberal mockery.

While Clinton and assorted liberal stars trot-out lines from Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's titillating tales of Trump's vanities, fantasies and indiscretions, high-ranking Democrats must also be sniggering more quietly at the gullibility of the 'Resistance' in letting them off the hook.

Helpfully, real critical comic observers like Jimmy Dore can still see the whole liberal-centrist playbook.

How readily the liberal media have embraced a caricature version of Trump 'criticism', failing, as Glenn Greenwald shows, to focus its most critical attention on Obama, the Clintons and the DNC machine.

While the whole Trump persona comes as a media gift, liberal satire snuggles in its own conceited cocoon, safely lampooning a monstrous product of the system rather than savaging and subverting the system itself.   

A good example of this can be seen in a recent episode of the BBC's The Mash Report, 'taking apart' Piers Morgan and his Trump interview with its "quick guide to the difference between hard-hitting journalism and a celebrity puff-piece." John Simpson was, of course, held up as a model of the former.

Morgan was, reportedly, unhappy over the piece's crude depictions of himself and Trump. But the BBC seemed willing to take the 'flak', helping to raise its 'street-edge' image and showcase its 'risk-taking' output.

Laughably, this is about as 'subversive' as it gets at the liberal-smug, boundary-pinching BBC.

All the Presidents Club men

Liberal identity journalism 

Alongside other celebrity exposures, the highlighting of Trump's ugly statements and behaviour towards women has helped generate wide discussion on male power.


Some of the debate here is to be welcomed, as a way of encouraging all human beings to treat each other with care and respect.

Yet, the fallout from Trump and other such events has also given rise to an increasingly strident liberal identity politics, which, perversely, has the effect of undermining any more radical politics, thus constraining how we contextualise, expose and challenge power.

Here's a related example. The recent Financial Times revelations over an exclusive Presidents Club dinner offered damning insights on the organised degradation of women. Yet, here was a class-based cabal of corporate elites, political cronies and sundry power climbers indulging their pleasures behind the facade of liberal charity. Why didn't the FT run with that kind of extended context?

There's a much more comprehensive story here, not just about the 'abuse' of power, but the very construction of power as a form of abuse. And the absence of such context shows how media like the FT, and its corporate worldview, form part of the very same system of power and exploitation that's keeping us all, female and male, locked in neoliberal servitude.

One might also ask, in this regard, why the heroic undercover acts of other women are never accorded such attention, such as the courageous mother-to-be who walked on stage and challenged a gathering of black-tie elites at a corporate arms trade dinner.

Here was a young woman trying to highlight and disrupt warmongers and merchants of death, as they sat at their privileged tables. Why are these kind of morally-acting women, or men, never given such wide and approving media coverage?

The ongoing veneration of Hillary Clinton reflects a similar problem with liberal feminist journalism, largely encapsulated in the same false raising of 'identity politics' above real, radical examination and resistance to power.

With Clinton now being questioned over her relevance as a #MeToo advocate, Sarah Abdallah comments on her pledge to keep fighting for the rights and participation of women and girls:
Says the woman who empowered jihadists that enslave women and girls in Syria and Libya, and makes excuses for sexual predators.
It's no accident that so many top female journalists, politicians and celebrities laud such figures. So often, we're urged to celebrate and idolise women, like Clinton, who 'manage to make it' in the corporate and political world, rather than applaud women, and men, who help challenge and resist the brutal ideology of market individualism and cut-throat power politics that's keeping us all from moving towards a truly equal society of compassion and inclusion.

From US Presidents to Presidents Club, what does this all say about the effectiveness of identity politics? Again, that it's part of the vital protective liberal barrier helping to safeguard establishment power.

All the President's Men
Hollywood liberal journalism

The liberal version of 'speaking truth to power' also finds vital projection through Hollywood.

Alan J Pakula's atmospheric film, All the President's Men, is a landmark account of the Watergate affair, and the resilient Washington Post journalists who sought to expose Nixon. But it has also been used as a mythical marker of America's 'free and fearless' press.

Steven Spielberg's current working of that lofty ideal is The Post, a coy liberal interpretation of an embattled press in the lead up to Watergate.

As Spielberg confirmed in an intimate, liberal-laced exchange with the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, The Post was rushed out as an 'urgent response' to Trump's attacks on the 'free media'.

In its cautious depiction of RAND Corporation employee Daniel Ellsberg's brave leaking of the Pentagon Files, and the Post's belated efforts to publish them, The Post plays on all the key liberal tropes: taking on a power-abusing president, upholding the First Amendment, and invoking the Supreme Court as last defenders of free speech.

There's a nominal account here of the lies and cover-up over Vietnam, but Spielberg is deferentially careful not to overstate the villainy of JFK, LBJ, or the deep extent of defence secretary Robert McNamara's deceptions. The dark, cold-war agenda of RAND is barely touched upon.

As iconic Hollywood liberals, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep seem naturally cast as the conflicted, yet noble, voices of the liberal crusading media. Post editor Ben Bradlee's (Hanks) close relationship with Kennedy is suitably glossed over, as is the society friendship between Post owner Katharine Graham (Streep) and McNamara. (At one point, some of the cinema audience around me started applauding Streep, illustrating the power of this film as major liberal propaganda.)

It's no spoiler to say that the Spielberg interpretation of 'speaking media truth to power' emerges as the victor here - sending that all-important message of 'liberal defiance' to Trump.

Nor should we be surprised that there was no end caption noting Ellsberg's continuing anti-war campaigning, or his consistent support for Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.

Imagine Spielberg rushing out an epic about their bravery in standing up to power, and harsh treatment for releasing damning documents to the public.

There's also the damning irony of the Washington Post, which helped publish Snowden's leaked NSA documents, now rejecting calls for him to be pardoned. As Glenn Greenwald notes:
In doing so, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source.
Nor, with current Post owner Jeff Bezoz now on-track to be the wealthiest person in modern history, should we forget that most crucial 'first right' of the 'free press': the right of corporate control.

Rather than The Post, suggests Assange, viewers might more usefully watch The Most Dangerous Man in America, a much more illuminating film, providing deeper insights into Ellsberg the man, his admirable journey from RAND career to moral whistleblower, and all the key political background to Vietnam and the state lies he helped expose.


Zinn, Ellsberg, Chomsky.
May Day anti-Vietnam war protest, 1971
At one point in this fine film, there's a remarkable still photo of Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, all grouped together in a landmark anti-Vietnam protest. A snapshot of three great figures, who, between them, have exposed more political deceit, chronicled more radical history, and challenged more state-corporate propaganda than the entire US liberal media could ever contemplate.

Again, as The Post is hailed at the Oscars, when might we see Hollywood look to the work of these kind of major independent figures as subject matter and sources for stories on America's vast global crimes?

All the Presidents' men and women - not
Real, critical journalism

One of the 'upsides' of Trump's election is that it has helped draw into the open the real authoritarian face of McCarthyite Democrats and liberals, while giving greater, and much-needed, voice to authentic, radical journalism.

As one such exponent, Caitlin Johnstone, warns:
Look at the worldview of the average person who identifies as a liberal and you'll find adoration of psychopathic authoritarian intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI, a significantly warmed opinion of George W Bush and the neocons he ushered into power, a total apathy toward the US war machine and Orwellian surveillance network, a seething hatred of all things Russia and a hysterical McCarthyite beef with anyone who fails to fall in line with approved establishment narratives.
And, as Glenn Greenwald shows, while Trump's release of the, still unsubstantiated, 'Nunes memo' is intended to deflect attention from the potentially damaging, and even more spurious, Mueller investigation, liberal media hysteria over both cases betrays a compliant service to big power and Deep State agencies.

For Amir Amini:

We now have reached a point where liberals praise the Deep State as the pillars of honesty and integrity, think whistleblowers should be executed, foreign media banned and the Cold War revived. All because they couldn’t even beat Donald Trump after rigging their own primaries.
Also bringing welcome, sober analysis to the whole 'Russiagate' panto is The Real News Network's Aaron Maté, who provides a particular service here in taking apart the spurious work of liberal Guardian journalist Luke Harding.

For another sharp insight into what constitutes true, independent journalism, there's a fine testimonial on the great, recently-departed Robert Parry, listing his heroic battles with multiple past presidents and their press protectors.

The article, written by Parry's son, also charts the Washington Post's complicity in using a spurious 'fake news' agenda to smear and blacklist Parry's excellent Consortiumnews, noting how the Post gave approving cover to PropOrNot, a reactionary organisation set up to smear 200 leftist sites.

Like others noted here, the work of admirable figures like Robert Parry reminds us that the best radical journalism lies not just in keeping safe moral distance from venal presidents and corporate elites, but in remaining critically independent from their liberal-media servers.   

Friday, 26 January 2018

The common world of 'defence' chiefs, 'defence' journalists and 'defence' politicians

General Sir Nick Carter, the British Army's Chief of General Staff, has been on the propaganda circuit, talking-up the 'Russian threat', promoting the UK's latest imperialist ambitions, and, of course, lobbying for more public money.

Delivered from the lofty Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Carter's speech is the latest top-brass military display of rhetorical weaponry and stealth evasion of the UK's own vast war crimes. 

The General's script is so riddled with scare memes, hyperbolic claims and cold war sophistry, it seems barely credible that any serious observer could fail to see through it.


That, alas, isn't how it works for our servile media and deferential political class.

Primed and briefed, the BBC duly reported Carter's speech below their Pravda-pitched headline:

Army chief warns British forces would struggle against Russia
Without the slightest journalistic shame, the BBC's Jonathan Beale openly approved Carter's message:
Coherent, detailed and impressive speech by tonight making the case for investment in . CDS in waiting ?
As noted by Media Lens:
This is how the impartial defence correspondent responded to the UK army chief's propaganda speech on : 'Coherent, detailed and impressive'.
In a subsequent Twitter thread, Beale crudely dismissed objections that he had amplified Carter's message without any critical challenge.

Not to be outdone, the establishment-serving Guardian also gave Carter top-billing:
UK warned that Russian threat requires increased defence spending 
Chief of general staff, Sir Nick Carter, will say Britain needs to keep up with adversaries to avoid being exposed to unorthodox, hybrid warfare
And:
Russia is biggest threat to UK since cold war, says head of British army  
Gen Sir Nick Carter gives stark warning of ‘complex and capable security challenge’ for Nato  
The default 'defence' line here is often, 'we are only reporting the news'. Yet, as noted by Ian Sinclair, consider how the above Guardian headline contrasts with that of the Morning Star:
Britain's army chief accused of alarmist hyperbole over Russian threats
Why couldn't the Guardian say it likewise? It might also, quite reasonably, have added:
Gen Sir Nick Carter makes deeply questionable claims about ‘complex and capable security challenge’ for Nato
Deborah Haynes, senior defence correspondent at the Times, also trotted-out approving repetitions of Carter's speech:  
. says his motivation for speaking out is to help generate debate, to get people talking about the security of the nation
And:
UK looks to keep military footprint in Germany, @ArmyCGS reveals as he spells out "clear and present danger" posed by Russia. This is not just a plea for £. It's an explanation of modern war and threats http://bit.ly/2E1Dgt8
An avid militarist and forces-supporting voice, Haynes is also a relentless purveyor of the great fake 'fake news' hysteria:
Better late than never and details still sketchy, but UK reveals plans to combat & deter fake news & other forms of information warfare deployed by states such as Russia to influence/disrupt/manipulate
There was also much party political indulgence of General Carter's fear-laden talk. Lamentably, this included the SNP's defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald, who tweeted this message urging consideration of Carter's claims and warnings:
Worth listening to this speech by General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff. It doesn't pull any punches and should make uncomfortable viewing for the government.
McDonald affects an anti-government motivation here. But his primary nod is to Carter's 'serious defence concerns'.

Ex-SNP MP, and McDonald colleague, John Nicolson also worries that:

The UK is badly underdefended - Scotland especially so. Labour and the Tories sacrifice vital defence needs for Trident shibboleth.
Is the UK really "badly underdefended - Scotland especially so"? Here, again, we see a posturing form of 'opposition', in this case disingenuously using Trident to argue for more militarist spending to counter 'all those other external threats'.

In speaking for Scotland's main independence party, one might expect from McDonald some critical reaction to General Carter and his 'security' agenda for the British state. Seemingly not. McDonald now appears deeply smitten by such 'prestigious' figures and organisations, not least Nato, the West's leading warmongering machine, which McDonald wants to see hosted in Scotland.


McDonald's other apparent mission is to 'sort out' an "MoD in chaos". He laments 'big-ticket' spending on vanity projects like HMS Queen Elizabeth, at the 'expense' of 'conventional forces', and calls out MoD ministers for the 'shambles' over a stalled 'defence review', but offers no meaningful challenge to the military establishment at large. There's no renunciation of the political-military-corporate network behind it all. There's no argument for much wider UK disarmament. There's nothing here on the actual murderous menace of British militarism, as currently seen in Yemen. There's not a hostile word against Nato.


It's also worth noting, in these same regards, that one of McDonald's most favoured and oft-cited 'defence' correspondents is the above-mentioned Deborah Haynes.


Many of those trying to steer Labour away from their party's Blairite nightmare have been expressing deep disquiet over the imperialist-toned and pro-Israel utterances of foreign affairs spokesperson, Emily Thornberry. Serious leftists and progressives within the SNP and wider indy movement should be paying similar close attention to McDonald's own disturbing militarist and Israel-friendly positions.

The dutiful headlining, repeated claims and approving reaction to Carter's 'pulls-no-punches' speech illustrates the insidious relationships between 'defence' correspondents, 'defence' politicians and 'defence' chiefs.

It's sobering to think of the respect accorded to figures like Carter who, from Iraq to Afghanistan, has led this country's forces in illegal invasions, ruinous occupations and the mass elimination of life. Dripping in establishment honours (KCB CBE DSO ADC), it seems the more death and destruction such people deliver, the greater elevation and higher platform they receive, particularly from our liberal politicians and media.

It's also remarkable that Carter's host, RUSI, a military-minded 'think tank' founded by the Duke of Wellington and figure-headed by the Queen, can be so liberal-approved and cited by the BBC as somehow 'neutral'. Again, we see how elite militarism flourishes through liberal deference.      


The excellent historian and journalist Mark Curtis has just launched Declassified. Alongside Curtis's regular output charting the UK's current political-military criminality around the world, it's a most valuable resource, chronicling Britain's dark historic warmongering, proxy coups, human rights atrocities and other past crimes.

Rather than indulging drum-beating hawks like Carter, politicians, journalists and anyone else really concerned with understanding and challenging British militarism might find in such places much more useful information and critical direction. 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Demonising Russia and RT - the dark effects of liberal authoritarianism


The current political and media assault on Russia, fearmongering over Russian 'bots', and McCarthyite outing of  'Russia apologists' casts revealing light not only on the usual right-wing foghorns, but the more crucial role liberals play in upholding, reproducing and naturalising the dominant order.

Such is the rising liberal antagonism against Russia that leftist writer Glenn Greenwald has had to dismiss countless facile tweets casting him as a Kremlin stooge, while pointing out that Western liberal charges against Russia are now so hysterical and distorted that it's left even liberals in Russia itself perplexed and isolated.

As Greenwald notes, spurious claims of Russian subterfuge are now spreading like wildfire. Having helped de-bunk so many false and unsubstantiated charges, he asserts that:
an incredibly reckless, anything-goes climate prevails when it comes to claims about Russia. Media outlets will publish literally any official assertion as Truth without the slightest regard for evidentiary standards. Seeing Putin lurking behind and masterminding every western problem is now religious dogma – it explains otherwise-confounding developments, provides certainty to a complex world, and alleviates numerous factions of responsibility – so media outlets and their journalists are lavishly rewarded any time they publish accusatory stories about Russia (especially ones involving the U.S. election), even if they end up being debunked.
Every other standard-bearing Guardian liberal now seems enthused to join in the anti-Russia frenzy. From 'robbing Hillary' of the White House, to 'bot-shaping' the Great British Public over Brexit, it all links back to that most damnable Putin-Kremlin 'interference in our affairs'.

Conveniently, this dispenses with any serious need to examine the crisis of neoliberalism that has given rise to Trump and Brexit. Likewise, there's no need to detain ourselves with the crucial part our liberal class has played in entrenching that neoliberal 'reality', leading to the populist reactions and eruptions we're now seeing. Instead, we're all enjoined to rage against Trump, bewail the 'Brexit apocalypse' and point an all-indicting finger at those scheming Russians.

Caught up in her own political crisis, Theresa May saw the obvious distracting opportunity to denounce Russia and Putin. It should have been equally obvious even to the Westminster bubble media what she was up to. Instead, true to form, the BBC dutifully headlined all her contrived charges.

Yet, BBC journalists need no automatic cue from imposters like May when it comes to pious evasion. They're already BBC-primed. And there's no more ready target for BBC worthies than that odious media usurper, Russia Today.

Whatever the limitations of RT, it provides an important counterpoint to much loaded Western media. For Jonathan Cook:
RT is far from a perfect source of news – no state or corporate media is – but it is a vital voice to have online. It has become a sanctuary for many seeking alternative, and often far more honest, critiques both of western domestic policy and of western interference in far-off lands. It has its own political agenda, of course, but, despite the assumption of many western liberals, it provides a far more accurate picture of the world than the western corporate media on a vast range of issues.
The level of anti-Russia liberal chatter was raised again after ex-First Minister for Scotland Alex Salmond launched his new chat show on RT. Seemingly appalled by the move, the BBC's Nick Robinson used his 'impartial' BBC Twitter account to insist that our open democratic broadcaster cannot be compared with their closed authoritarian pretender. For Robinson:
The question is not whether is making Kremlin propaganda. It is whether he’s lending his credibility & that of his guests to Kremlin propaganda
It most likely doesn't occur to Robinson that he is only able to say such things as an elevated correspondent from the BBC because his very own words are so establishment-tuned. That's a form of managed denial, institutional conditioning and state control that Russia and RT are never likely to match.

Readers might also like to recall here Robinson's own display of liberal tolerance, as he smashed up an anti-war placard outside Westminster.

Yet, in a field of serious competitors, one might struggle to find a more brazen platform for state propaganda than the BBC's This Week. Even beyond the system-serving output of Robinson, Marr, Kuenssberg, Humphrys and trusted BBC others - one wonders quite how the openly-reactionary Andrew Neil still manages to maintain such a commanding - and highly-remunerated - presence at our 'public service' broadcaster.

In his latest set piece, Neil, aided by nodding accomplices Michael Portillo and Ed Balls, launched a searing attack on RT presenter Afshin Rattansi - who, of course, had been given his own 'take of the week' just to show how 'open and balanced' the BBC really are.

Repeatedly labelling RT "Roubles Today", Neil laid out a long list of alleged Russian and RT villainy, from unleashing 'bot armies' to peddling every form of conspiracy theory. At one point, Neil's rambling charge sheet on Russian interference lapsed into emotional blather, pleading to understand from Rattansi just why RT is trying everything in its power "to divide us":
"The whole point of Russia Today and the election meddling done on social media is all focused to undermine our faith in our democratic institutions and to divide us....Why do you want to be a part of that?"
Neil's touching urging to 'leave our democracy alone' was met with a look of bemused incredulity from Rattansi.

Joining the anti-RT chorus at BBC Radio Scotland's Shereen show, ex-MP and enduring Blairite Tom Harris also castigated Salmond for ending his career in such an "undignified" way, by "selling your soul for Kremlin gold". He also rubbished anyone who would dare equate RT and the BBC, calling it an "appalling comparison."

One might recall that, unlike an unrepentant Harris, Salmond didn't vote to bomb Iraq, resulting in the deaths of a million souls and untold, ongoing carnage. As with similar appearances by other media-hopping warmongers like Alastair Campbell, none of this studio ensemble seemed able to contemplate the significance of Harris's political crimes, or mention the dark irony of his own shameless resort to late career-washing. The idea of the BBC acting as a major medium of state propaganda was, of course, ignored by all as no less risible. 

Alas, the noble liberal crusade against Russia and RT has also spread to further parts of the liberal-left commentariat. In a tortured Bella Caledonia article, From Russia With LOLs, editor Mike Small repeated all the same liberal-based charges, declaring that:
The deluge of evidence about the actions of Russia to effect the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the US election will continue, and as they do it will become not just increasingly absurd to call Russia a democracy, it will become increasingly offensive to do so.
In a piece that could have been lifted straight from the Guardian, Small even used the notorious US-funded, CIA-fronted Freedom House as a 'valid source' in pointing-up Russia's lowly 'democracy rating'. To many critical responses, Small again objected that "Russia is not a functioning democracy."

How readily faux leftist commentators adopt this spurious liberal box-placing narrative, no less facile than the 'our model democracy' gushings from Neil.

And this fits a pattern of mutual liberal approval and encouragement. The BBC/Guardian liberal fixation on Russia and RT provides a leading, 'moral' narrative for others on the soft liberal left to follow. Thus did much of the SNP leadership feel 'upright' in openly distancing themselves from Salmond's RT show.

The default defence here, of course, is 'liberal consistency'; in essence, 'we won't turn a blind-eye to Russia's human rights abuses, homophobia or state interference'.

Much of this indulges in conformist notions of a still-benign and enlightened West. In geopolitical terms, it's manifested, typically, in liberal denunciations of Russia's 'aggression' over Ukraine/Crimea, rather than actual recognition of the Western-backed neo-fascist coup carried out there, or the wider realpolitik of Russia protecting its territorial interests from an expansionist Nato and EU.

Nor is such vilification of Russia ever comparatively consistent. Where are the similar liberal denunciations of Saudi Arabia, and the armed support it receives from the UK in annihilating Yemen? Where, indeed, are any of the multiple crimes committed by Britain and the US around the globe so scathingly denounced? Where are all the liberal political and media calls to impose sanctions on the outlaw state of Israel, as it continues its brutal 60-year occupation and persecution of Palestinians?

This 'liberal consistency' also involves an often unctuous, virtue-signalling identity politics in attacking Russia. It's right, of course, to denounce the persecution of any vulnerable community anywhere in the world. Nor do we need deny the criminal capacities of the Russian state, just as we understand the criminal capacities of most others. Yet, liberal voices have elevated such concerns to a much more Manichean, 'Free World' level, suggesting capacities for repression that are somehow endemic or particular to Russia. The main ideological beneficiaries of this shouldn't be hard to fathom.    

What's so dismally absent here is any critical context on why Russia is so vilified, and what propagandist purpose it serves. It evades all the real power issues: notably, how, as a serious capitalist contender, Russia refuses to conform to the West's 'consensual' demands, or allow its economy to be appropriated; and how the omnipresent 'Russian threat' is needed to help sustain a whole militarist, war-waging, corporate arms economy in the West. There's an entire historical background on Russia defending its borders and resources against Western aggression and interference that seemingly doesn't even occur to the crusading liberal mindset. 

 And, as Chomsky so neatly reminds us on all those claims of 'Russian interference':
"Half the world is cracking up in laughter. The United States doesn’t just interfere in elections. It overthrows governments it doesn’t like, institutes military dictatorships."
We can, indeed, but laugh at the indignant liberal charge that Russia is 'meddling with our democracy'.

Yet, the darker implications of such repeated tropes are now becoming apparent. The liberal baying against Russia has raised the stakes for a more punishing turn to online control and censorship.

Twitter has banned RT and Sputnik adverts. Facebook is under increasing pressure to 'police' 'fake' Russian content. An RT affiliate has been forced to register as a "foreign agent" under US 'anti-propaganda' laws. And, in true Orwellian-speak, Google has announced that it will now "de-rank" RT and Sputnik. As reported at RT:
Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, says the company will “engineer” specific algorithms for RT and Sputnik to make their articles less prominent on the search engine’s news delivery services. “We are working on detecting and de-ranking those kinds of sites – it’s basically RT and Sputnik,”Schmidt said...The Alphabet chief, who has been referred to by Hillary Clinton as a “longtime friend,” added that the experience of “the last year” showed that audiences could not be trusted to distinguish fake and real news for themselves. (Italics original.)
The task of hegemony - as in how to build legitimacy and maintain popular consent - requires an ever-inventive mobilisation of class forces, political interests and cultural ideas to help insulate, validate and sustain power. And it's here that a liberal network, notably its media arm, plays such a vital role: in normalising the political and economic order; in moderating dissent and radical options; in managing neoliberalism and upholding corporate rule as still the only game in town; in repeating the same elite-based narratives and arguments over issues like Brexit; in castigating Trump as a crazy outlier, rather than the symptom of a crazy system; in keeping the truth of climate emergency and corporate culpability safely detached; in cheering and mitigating Western warmongering; and in amplifying the establishment's cast of international villains.

In so many ways, liberal agencies help ensure system continuity. Their spreading of official enemy narratives has been key in helping to popularise the fake meme 'fake news', a corporate-serving contrivance that disguises the real manipulation of news and information.

And this is giving impetus to more sinister openings. Seizing the 'fake news' moment, a concerted corporate purge is now underway to take out not only media like RT but multiple other leftist platforms, with barely a liberal murmur. As Cook warns:
They [RT] and progressive sites are being gradually silenced and blacklisted, herding us back into the arms of the corporate propagandists. Few liberals have been prepared to raise their voices on behalf of RT, forgetting warnings from history, such as Martin Niemoller’s anti-Nazi poem “First they came for the socialists”.
Rania Khalek also notes how the feeding of anti-Russia hysteria has much slippier consequences:
Google will pick and choose what ppl see and don’t see all bc of anti-Russia hysteria pushed by the US govt. the media ppl cheering this on need to understand that this is a slippery slope to their outlets being censored 
And Adam Johnson reinforces the point:
leftists & liberals shld ask themselves: which is more of a threat to the left: (1) state-run TV channel whose avg program is watched by less than 30K ppl/day (2) the world's second-largest corporation making ad hoc calls about what is & isn't "propaganda" and "misinformation"
So, will those lofty liberals start to realise what kind of service to power they provide? Will all those liberal 'champions of free and equal speech' now stand up for RT? Will they acknowledge their complicit part in stoking the fear agenda that allows governments and corporate monoliths to collude in closing down awkward viewpoints? As the 'halt Russia' and 'fake news' purge plays out against more selected leftist sites, will they reflect on their own liberal authoritarianism as the most perverse threat to real independent media and democratic expression?

Friday, 15 September 2017

Questioning BBC militarist-speak: an exchange with the Executive Complaints Unit

Following prior correspondence with the BBC over its coverage of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, an exchange with the BBC's Executive Complaints Unit.

(Sent 3 September 2017)
Ref: CAS-4541173-LC5LL7

Dear ECU

Further to my recent complaint, I wish to register my dissatisfaction with two BBC response pieces, and to request that the ECU now consider the four specific points raised in my original letter.

On point 1, please provide a detailed response to my question, and specify precisely why, according to Sean Moss, this requested information is "not a service we [the BBC] provide". 

On point 2, please tell me why the BBC failed to offer any counterview to Admiral Philip Jones and other military/political/public figures in its live report pieces on HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

On point 3, please tell me why, with reference to the BBC's Charter requirements for 'impartiality' and 'due weight',  no such alternative view can be discerned either here or over the BBC's wider output.

On point 4, please show me where the BBC's coverage of HMS QE, and other similar events, have been specifically contextualised and explored in relation to Britain's aggressive militarism, arms supplies to tyrant regimes, and particular part in the bombing of Yemen. Also, given its highly approving coverage of HMS QE, please explain why the BBC offer no similar level of coverage to describe and question the scale, cost and devastating human impact of such weaponry?          

All correspondence on this matter can be read, in sequence, via these links:

Drool Britannia: complaint to BBC over naked militarist propaganda

BBC naval gazing and coverage of British militarism: a further exchange

BBC all on deck, lauding 'benign' state militarism: a further exchange

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards
John Hilley
------------------------------

Reply from ECU Complaints Director Colin Tregear:

14 September 2017

Dear Mr Hilley

Your complaint about BBC News

Thank you for your email of 3 September regarding the BBC News coverage of the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth.

As you know, the BBC Complaints Team has informed you it does not intend to respond further to your complaint. It now falls to the Executive Complaints Unit to decide whether you were given a reasonable response to your original complaint and whether the BBC Complaints Team was correct in deciding that further investigation of your complaint wasn’t justified. This is in line with the Interim BBC Complaints Framework and Procedures1 which sets out the process for handling complaints.

I understand you think the coverage amounted to “state media propaganda” and the BBC took “an obviously strong and partisan position in upholding, praising and celebrating… British state militarism”. You are, of course, entitled to your view but I think the responses you received from Emma Duff on 24 August and Sean Moss on 29 August were reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances, addressed the specific concerns you raised and explained how the requirements of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines for due impartiality were met. I therefore think the decision not to engage in further correspondence on the matter was justified.

I should clarify you can make a Freedom of Information request for the information you requested in Point 1 of your email of 3 September. Details of how to do so can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/foi/requesting-information.

There’s no provision for further appeal against this decision within the BBC. However, you can contact the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, if you believe your complaint has identified a breach of the Ofcom Code (which can be seen at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-andon-demand/broadcast-codes/broadcast-code), though of course it would be for Ofcom itself to decide whether to consider your complaint. Information about lodging a complaint with 1

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/accountability/consultations/complaints_fram ework.pdf 2

Ofcom can be found at https://www.ofcom.org.uk/tv-radio-and-on-demand/how-to-report-acomplaint. Ofcom acknowledges all complaints received, but will not normally write back to individual complainants with the outcome of its considerations.

Yours sincerely
Colin Tregear
Complaints Director

-----------------------

Dear Mr Tregear

Thanks for your reply. It is clear from your cursory and patrician-like response that no serious or detailed consideration of my original questions was ever forthcoming.

You are also, of course, entitled to your view on such matters, the substantive difference being that the ideological basis of the opinion you so openly express here duly fits with the BBC's own establishment worldview.

Or, as Noam Chomsky once reminded Andrew Marr, if you held any radically different views, you wouldn't be sitting where you are (1).  

You call the responses to my questions on such matters "reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances." How very BBC. Is it unreasonable or inappropriate to ask why the BBC are such ready exponents of expanding British militarism, yet such feeble voices on its appalling human impact?   

In routinely lauding Britain's power-projecting warships, killer planes (2) and state-of-the-art laser missiles (3), the BBC are acting as an effective public relations arm of the MoD and its corporate partners.     

As with its dutiful silence on the state-corporate villains (4) trading this past week at the DSEI arms fair (5) - and that dark organisation's hosting of Michael Fallon's monstrous sales pitch (6) - the BBC's failure to cover, question and expose Britain's relentless warmongering, wicked weapons economy and supporting culture of militarism renders it a complicit party to mass UK crimes around the world.

I trust that readers of this and my preceding correspondence with the BBC over its HMS QE coverage will, at least, have gained some further insight into the power-serving nature of British state media, the editorial framing of its militarist narratives, the lamentable absence of alternative views, and the Orwellian layers of mitigation and denial helping to keep public objections to all such propaganda safely marginalised.

Perhaps, one day, some of those same 'journalists', editors and gatekeepers may come to reflect more internally on the BBC's key part in helping to sell aggressive militarism and whitewash UK/Western war policy, all serving to increase and perpetuate vast human suffering.  

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=GjENnyQupow
(2) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38510344
(3) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/technology-30145680/flying-the-nintendo-fighter-jet
(4) https://www.caat.org.uk/issues/arms-fairs/dsei
(5) https://www.dsei.co.uk/#/
(6) https://twitter.com/markcurtis30/status/908259508992049154

Sincerely
John Hilley