Thursday, 4 February 2016

Removal of Herald journalists highlights need for real corporate-free media

The Herald newspaper group has been subject to widespread criticism after its editor-in-chief, Magnus Llewellin, 'lost' one of its most notable journalists and sacked a recently-arrived other.

The removal (or technical resignation) of prominent sports writer Graham Spiers followed a threat of litigation by Rangers Football Club after Spiers had written a Herald column alleging ongoing bigotry at the Glasgow club, and that one of its directors had approved the singing of a notoriously sectarian song.

Angela Haggerty, editor at the online forum CommonSpace, and a recently-appointed columnist at the Sunday Herald, was fired after tweeting a message of support for Spiers:
Solidarity with @GrahamSpiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths
Haggerty's subsequent thoughts on the issue were freely published at the Bella Caledonia site.

Attracting wider attention, the Guardian's Roy Greenslade provided further insight on the story, citing defensive comment from Llewellin on the Herald's position.

In short, Llewellin asks us to believe that, facing an 'indefensible' defamation, crippling legal costs and potential job losses, he was in a legal bind and forced to sacrifice the two journalists.

The first question here is why Llewellin didn't have enough faith in the long-experienced Spiers to defend his account of the issue. Greenslade also asks why any defamation costs would have been borne by the Herald's editorial budget rather than Newsquest/Gannett, its corporate owners.

Secondly, why was it then necessary to sack Haggerty, either for expressing support for Spiers, or for insisting that there's continued bigotry at Rangers? Whether true or not, that's Haggerty's view. Why was her particular opinion deemed beyond the pale? Why was her statement and journalistic reading of the affair seen as an 'undermining of Llewellin', a failure "to act within the spirit of [the Herald's] apology" to Rangers?

A letter to the Herald from Common Weal (which hosts CommonSpace) charts the disturbing history of how Haggerty has been pursued by forces around Rangers, condemns her dismissal and warns that it sends out a "chilling message" to other journalists.

In another probing commentary, political writer Gerry Hassan notes how "[m]ore fundamentally it touched upon the legacy of the Herald as one of the traditional bastions of unionist establishment Scotland, and the continued toxic issue of Rangers FC."

Alongside Haggerty's honourable backing of Spiers, and Bella's solid support for Haggerty, due appreciation should also be given to Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay for his laudable intervention in trying to keep Haggerty at the paper, and for his own tweeted message distancing himself from the decision:
Important: the decision to remove @AngelaHaggerty as Sunday Herald columnist was not taken by me but by the editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin.
Following former Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker, Mackay has sought to build the paper's pro-independence and 'leftist' profile. Of course, the extent of that 'radicalism' shouldn't be overstated - it still, after all, has militarist-approving Trevor Royle as a senior correspondent. But, with Mackay at the helm, pushing the Yes agenda, the Sunday Herald is viewed with deep disfavour by a range of establishment and Unionist forces.     

In the wake of so much 'succulent lamb journalism', this latest imbroglio reminds us of the cloying relationships, intimidations and pacifications that still shape much of the media environment in Scotland.

The Herald's "cowardice", says CommonSpace writer James McEnaney, has only "emboldened those who would employ intimidatory tactics". One hopes that Llewellin's lamentable bowing to such elements helps illuminate that truth even more.

But there's a more fundamental problem here: corporate control.

As Haggerty states in her Bella article:
And that’s the key thing here, you have to ask who the winner out of this is. In this episode, it’s Rangers Football Club, but on a wider level it exposes the influence of corporate interests in our media. In the current financial landscape, that influence is ever more prominent. Take a look at the alleged influence of HSBC bank on the Telegraph’s editorial content, for example. [Italics added.] 
True. Yet, consider, as a sharper example, given its claim as a 'leading liberal voice', not the Telegraph, but the Guardian's kowtowing to HSBC, its collaboration with Unilever, its pandering to Apple, and much other cloaked subservience to corporate demands (h/t Media Lens).

Wherever the paper, however left-liberal its face, whatever the permitted editorial remit, the imperatives of corporate compliance still prevail: profit-seeking, placation of major advertisers, careful cultivation of high business interests. 

Recently founded, The National, also formerly edited by Richard Walker, stands rather bravely as Scotland's sole daily pro-independence newspaper. But, while a most valued presence amid a hostile Unionist press, who would safely claim that its same Newquest owners have anything other than a primary commercial motive here? With the surge in SNP support after the independence referendum, Newsquest "sensed an earner", a 'sure thing'. Owned, in turn, by US media giant Gannett, it funded The National at minimal cost and with limited commitment. Kept afloat by dedicated staff and readers, it continues as a thankful check on a virulent establishment press. Yet, while free to publish much welcome pro-indy and progressive comment, The National's editors and journalists are no more assured of true ultimate control over the paper's existence and development than any other corporate-owned title.

In an open exchange at The National over the Herald-Haggerty issue, one of its writers, Michael Gray (also writing at CommonSpace) asserts: 
A starting point is to admit that corporate media is in crisis. There isn’t a free press. And there isn’t equality before the law. In the short-term, this is likely to get worse not better. We can’t continue the hypocrisy of claiming we have a free media system to defend. It is a self-serving mythology. Journalism often lacks freedom and the resources to scrutinise those with real power. That those with heavy wallets can force pressure down, so that protecting stories, journalists and media integrity becomes “complicated”, is a disgrace. What will we, as citizens of a new Scotland, do about it? We can support this paper and the many good journalists across the industry. We can support many online alternatives. We can support defamation reform, the rights of journalists and freedom of expression in wider society. [Italics added.]
Responding to Gray, editor Callum Baird accepts the reality that there's no such thing as a free press, pointing out the many constraints on journalists and editors, most notably, as in this case, the need for papers to protect themselves from legal action over stories that can't be defended with real evidence.

This is a laudable exchange of views, and credit is due to Baird for running it. Yet even this kind of open discussion elides the deeper truth that corporate media - including The National - can never act as a truly disinterested platform for challenging and exposing that very same corporate media. Thus, alongside his guarded mitigations on Llewellin's actions, the vital part of Gray's comment asserting that the "corporate media is in crisis" isn't up for further examination by the editor. Core boundaries still have to be observed.

That doesn't mean deserting The National or Sunday Herald, still valued repositories of Yes-progressive politics - indeed, CommonSpace are now working even closer with The National on key stories. But there's a need to understand the inherent limitations of such papers, and the reinforcing impressions of 'unbound media' their presence helps convey.

While defending The National, Gray makes the case for creating more alternative media - with the seeming approval of Sunday Herald environment editor Rob Edwards. While the debate here is still cursory, it's a promising indication of how the new tension between corporate and social media is being appraised. Hopefully this issue and its fallout will encourage more journalists, editors and wider observers to see with clearer eyes not just the industry-defined constraints on 'free journalism' but the major structural controls.
 
So, while the removal of Spiers and Haggerty by the Herald hierarchy takes us again to a particular dark side of Scottish media culture, the bigger context here is still the need for real corporate-free media. That wouldn't change the likelihood of wealthy elites using the courts to threaten writers and purge alternative media platforms. But, as with Haggerty's freedom to relate her full account of this issue at Bella, it suggests a much more liberating space, seriously protective of critical journalists. However, true progression of such alternatives involves not just a more palatable version of liberal corporate media, but conscious resistance to corporate forces at large.  

Monday, 25 January 2016

Making welcome sense of the Scottish 'blog war'

As many observers of the Scottish independence scene will know, a small 'war of words' has broken out on social media between some of its key sites.

Yet, while many will regard this as an unfortunate deterioration of Yes politics, it can be seen, more readily, as a healthy outpouring and illuminating debate.

Readers can get up to speed with the issues and arguments via these pieces:

GA Ponsonby, Newsnet: Battle for the ‘list’ vote: why backing RISE won’t help independence

Stuart Campbell, Wings Over Scotland: AMS for lazy people

Mike Small, Bella Caledonia: Shsh for Indy

James Kelly, Scot Goes Pop: EXCLUSIVE: Read the article on "tactical voting" that Bella Caledonia refused to publish

Mike Small: A reply to James Kelly

James Kelly: Response to Mike Small's Facebook post  

Angela Haggerty, CommonSpace: Why a hectoring online fringe is putting the achievements of the Yes movement at risk

After a short lull, Mike Small has also now restated his case in this Sunday Herald piece: Shouting down those who don't share your narrow vision is about as far from the spirit of the Yes movement as you can get
 
Small laments an apparent shift from the "joyous chaos" of referendum engagement to a now more censorious party politics and stifling containment:  
What seemed best about the Yes movement's openness, diversity and free thinking now seems to be being corralled into a stupefying dead certainty. An air of negativity hangs over much of the remnant movement.
Valid observation. But the fact that we're having this very debate highlights the still considerable capacity within the broad Yes movement for mature self-examination.   

Hard as it is, amid the hubris and rancour on display here, it helps to distil all these issues and exchanges down to three relatively distinct questions.

1. Should Yes movement people be taking a quiet line with regard to SNP policies and positions - should we be prepared to 'Shsh for Indy'?

Surely not. We shouldn't be keeping quiet or acting passively at this vital point. On the contrary, this should be viewed as a most crucial time for open, constructive and challenging discussion, a new flowering of views. The 'let's get to indy first' argument, advanced by GA Ponsonby and others, is neither practical nor desirable in promoting a still-maturing indy project. The beauty and inspiration of the independence movement is still about real civil participation, not quiescent parties and dormant politics.        
 
It's also misguided to think this in any way harms the SNP. The key point of such criticism is to encourage more progressive thinking and leftist policy within the SNP as the leading indy party. That, in every sense, is a work in progress, just as independence is a process, not an ending. It's not just about saying it's better to travel than to arrive. It's about living and learning from the journey itself, in better anticipation of what's to come.

One needn't adopt particular defences of the respective sites in these exchanges. There's merit in all the arguments, giving that same vital food for independent thought. Nor should we indulge the 'oh, let's all just stop this divisive spat and concentrate on indy and the real enemy' line. There's a great big valid discussion to be had here, even if it would be enhanced by a serious curtailing of some ugly invective.

As a blog with distinct positions on these matters, Bella are within their rights to pitch their own perspectives, and even to exclude that which conflicts with those core views. Bella editor Mike Small had no obligation, in this regard, to publish James Kelly's response piece. However, Bella can't, at the same time, claim to be some completely open forum. For all his efforts in mediating the Bella case for hosting diverse voices, Mike Small erred in his editorial handling of the proposed Kelly piece for Bella. Either say up-front that you won't publish such material in honest protection of your own space, or publish it without qualification (allowing for reasonable presentation) as part of an agreed format for dialogue. Again, though, this should be treated as part of the same generous learning curve rather than the subject of rival recrimination.

Likewise, while GA Ponsonby and Wings Over Scotland have a similar right to protect their own blogs from questioning commentary, they've chosen to attack Bella and Rise in an over-barbed manner. The impressive James Kelly blog has also resorted to some caustic denunciations of Bella and Rise in the course of his otherwise laudable argument over the problems of tactical voting.

It's a lamentable irony that the very social media we hope to see as a growing and serious alternative to ego-driven corporate media should be acting in such hostile and territorial ways. While the actual debate around all these issues has been energising, any endeavour towards a true alternative media comes with the need for more humble acceptance of one's own 'status' and positioning.

2. Is it desirable to have other left/green indy-promoting parties sharing the Holyrood parliamentary space?

Yes. So long as there's a working SNP majority to spearhead and advance the indy project, there should be nothing to fear from the participation of other left, indy-supporting voices. They/we are a core part of the movement, and were vital in helping to build the '45'. In this regard, Bella are making a legitimate case in promoting Rise as part of that same dynamic politics. Whatever people think about the standing and viability of such parties - Rise, Greens or Solidarity - there's no persuasive evidence that the presence of any other progressive-minded, indy-supporting MSPs would be detrimental to the SNP, the Yes cause or political atmosphere at large. For left-thinking SNP supporters, it should be a welcome enhancement of their own political agenda.

3. On the coming Holyrood election, is voting SNP (constituency) and left/Green (list) a rational tactic or an irrational gamble?

This is by far the hardest question to address. The above two answers favouring fair criticism/encouragement of the SNP, and the case for other left/Green representation, should lead naturally to support for a 'split' vote.  However, both James Kelly and Stuart Campbell have made impressive cases showing that there is, indeed, a substantial element of risk under d'Hondt, or the Additional Member System (AMS) for Scottish elections.

Various exchanges between Kelly and Rise have ensued, with Rise's Craig Paterson outlining the party's case via Bella. Taking-up Stuart Campbell's repeated warnings on the gamble of a 'tactical' vote, further useful debate can be viewed here. Angela Haggerty and James Kelly also engage the issues in good constructive manner in this Bateman Broadcasting podcast.

All that can be said with reasonable certainty is that there is no certain formulation to adopt here.  So, on this particular question, voters will have to think very carefully about their options.

Paul Kavanagh, aka Wee Ginger Dug, resolves his dilemma, to a certain extent, by returning to the case for voting according to conscience and localised factors. I'm broadly with that view. But, in the final analysis, people will have to weigh a number of speculative issues relating to the strength and worthiness of candidates, together with their assessment of how well the SNP are likely to fare at given constituency levels, whether they think this might deliver or threaten a safe enough SNP majority, and whether such numbers call for 'safety first' or offer room for an alternative choice on the list. Hopefully, closer statistical projections will become available as the election approaches, helping to shed further light on how best to proceed. Good luck to voters with all of those deliberations.

But, whatever the difficulties, none of this should be seen as an unwelcome task. Unlike the archaic Westminster system and blatantly undemocratic FPTP, we, at least, have scope here for a more imaginative use of the franchise. Like the need to embrace reasoned criticism and common left-indy participation, any 'calculation' here, however flawed, should be regarded as an educational experience.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Media Lens expose Kuennsberg, Daily Politics and more deep BBC bias

"Nobody with a questioning mind seriously expects impartiality from BBC News."
That may seem an outlandish assertion to many who still cling to the BBC's self-proclaimed values of 'impartiality' and 'objectivity'. But this opening line from the latest Media Lens Alert‘Our Only Fear Was That He Might Pull His Punches’ – BBC Caught Manipulating The News - relates a fundamental truth about the now blatant bias of British state media. 

Media Lens detail how the BBC's chief political editor Laura Kuenssberg, along with producers and other presenters at the Daily Politics show, sought to stage-manage the resignation of a front-bench Labour MP as part of a sustained effort to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and his new left politics. 

It also assesses why an unusually frank BBC blog piece detailing these orchestrations at the Daily Politics was swiftly deleted by BBC managers, and subsequently declared fit only for "internal" purpose. 

Please read and share this timely indictment from Media Lens.      

For a little more evidence of the BBC's particular capacity for institutional denial and lofty dismissal of a questioning public, here's my own complaint, and the BBC's response:
(8 January 2016) 
I wish to complain about the biased conduct of presenters and producers at the Daily Politics in contriving to have Labour MP Stephen Doughty resign on their show over the Corbyn cabinet reshuffle. In particular, I would like the conduct of presenters Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg and producer Andrew Alexander to be investigated. Is it the job of the Daily Politics and BBC to influence the news rather than report the news? Please see the following:
https://tompride.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/bbc-producer-deletes-blog-where-he-admits-political-manipulation-before-pm-questions/
 
This is a clear breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality. It's also part of a more consistent bias in reports and presentations by Laura Kuenssberg and Andrew Neil against Corbyn.
 
Also, I would like a specific answer as to why producer Andrew Alexander's BBC blog article relating details of this affair was removed.
 
Regards
John Hilley
The BBC's template reply:
(13 January 2016) 
Dear Mr  Hilley  
Thank you for contacting us about the resignation of Stephen Doughty MP from the front bench of the Labour Party on BBC Two’s ‘Daily Politics’, and a subsequent blog written about the matter on the BBC Academy website.

As you may be aware, the BBC’s editor of Live Political Programmes, Robbie Gibb, has responded to the Labour Party about this matter. We believe Mr Gibb’s response below addresses the number of issues being raised. That said, we have received a wide range of feedback about this subject and are sorry in advance if this reply doesn’t address your specific concerns. Robbie Gibb’s email response to Seumas Milne, Director of Strategy and Communications at the Labour Party, was as follows:

“Dear Mr Milne

Many thanks for your email of the 8th January following the Daily Politics on the 6th January.

I would like to reassure you that we are committed to producing impartial journalism and programme content that treats all political parties fairly. I would like to respond to the specific concerns raised in your email.

Firstly, I reject your suggestion that we orchestrated and stage-managed the resignation of Stephen Doughty. As he himself confirmed on Friday, Mr Doughty had decided to resign his front-bench position on Wednesday morning, before speaking to any journalists. He subsequently spoke to Laura Kuenssberg who asked if he would explain his reasons in an interview on the Daily Politics later that morning. Neither the programme production team, nor Laura, played any part in his decision to resign.

As you know it is a long standing tradition that political programmes on the BBC, along with all other news outlets, seek to break stories. It is true that we seek to make maximum impact with our journalism which is entirely consistent with the BBC's Editorial Guidelines and values.

Your letter suggests that our decision to interview Mr Doughty in the run up to Prime Minister's Questions was designed to "promote a particular political narrative". This is simply not the case. The Daily Politics does not come on air until 11:30am on Wednesdays and the BBC's Political Editor always appears live on the programme in the build up to the start of PMQs. As the confirmation of Mr Doughty’s resignation was Laura Kuenssberg's story, we felt it appropriate for her to introduce the item. Again I do not accept, in anyway, the programme has breached its duty of impartiality and independence.

The programme this week provided a balanced account of the shadow cabinet reshuffle. Lisa Nandy was interviewed at length on Wednesday while Cat Smith discussed the issue in detail the day before.

You also made reference in your email to the deleted blog. It might be helpful for me to explain the background to this. Following the media reaction to Mr Doughty's resignation and appearance on the programme the BBC's training department, the BBC Academy, contacted me asking for an article explaining what goes on behind the scenes when a politician resigns live on air. I had assumed (wrongly) that the article was for internal purposes only. When it became apparent that it had been published more widely, we decided to delete it as the piece was written in a tone that was only suitable for an internal audience. No other inference should be drawn from our decision to delete the blog.

I would just like to finish by underlining our commitment to ensuring our coverage of the Labour Party is fair, accurate and impartial.

I hope we can look forward to working constructively together over the coming months.”

We hope this addresses your concerns, thanks again for taking the time to contact us.


Kind Regards
BBC Complaints
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints
Here, again, we see the BBC in classic damage limitation mode. And, as the Media Lens take-down shows, the Daily Politics manipulations are only part of the BBC's continuing efforts to smear and damage Corbyn - all in the face of mounting approval of his policies and positions among party members.

Of the deleted blog, the BBC say:
When it became apparent that it had been published more widely, we decided to delete it as the piece was written in a tone that was only suitable for an internal audience. No other inference should be drawn from our decision to delete the blog.
'Internal audience' and 'suitable tone'. Doesn't that say it all about the BBC's coveted club, its self-selecting language, and the kind of information it considers appropriate for the 'know your limitations' rest of us?

As intimated in the first line of the Media Lens article, it's likely that increasing numbers of questioning readers will be drawing more specific inferences here: of patronising dismissal and feeble mitigation, of a hasty, embarrassed cover-up, and another damningly exposed claim of BBC impartiality.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

American gun law and the real Wild West

Imagine walking down your street or into your local bar and seeing shoppers, neighbours and random others carrying real live guns in side holsters. The stuff of fanciful Hollywood Westerns? Not if you live in Texas, where, for the first time since 1871, the open wearing of holstered pistols will now be permitted.

The ruling comes as Obama ponders unilateral measures to bring about "common sense gun laws". Reportedly frustrated by his inability to deal with routine mass shootings, Obama:
said he would seek to use his executive powers as president because the US Congress had failed to address the problem. Analysts say there will be a backlash from gun activists and Republicans. But Mr Obama told Americans that he had received too many letters from parents, and teachers, and children, to sit around and do nothing. "We know that we can't stop every act of violence," the president said. "But what if we tried to stop even one? What if Congress did something - anything - to protect our kids from gun violence?"
Images come to mind here of Obama as the impossibly-tasked black Sheriff Bart trying to bring law and order in the comedy Western Blazing Saddles. Incredibly, though, this is America 2016, and its latest 'serious' efforts at gun law, not 1874 and the rollicking fiction of Rock Ridge.


This is a country where the National Rifle Association  - "Freedom's safest place" - and Republican-backed gun lobby still effectively define the law at political gunpoint.

As the NRA load up for another 'right to bear arms' brawl with Obama, it all evokes romanticised notions of saloon bar duels, blazing guns and lawless frontier life.

Yet, as historical research shows, this is "a widely shared misunderstanding of the Wild West":
Frontier towns - places like Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge - actually had the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation. In fact, many of those same cities have far less burdensome gun control today then they did back in the 1800s. [...] A visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, "Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check." [...] When Dodge City residents organized their municipal government, do you know what the very first law they passed was? A gun control law. They declared that "any person or persons found carrying concealed weapons in the city of Dodge or violating the laws of the State shall be dealt with according to law." Many frontier towns, including Tombstone, Arizona - the site of the infamous "Shootout at the OK Corral" - also barred the carrying of guns openly.

Today in Tombstone, you don't even need a permit to carry around a firearm. Gun rights advocates are pushing lawmakers in state after state to do away with nearly all limits on the ability of people to have guns in public.
In response, much of the liberal media are hyping Obama's 'executive intervention' as a 'High Noon' moment. Yet his 'last stance at the Congressional corral' looks more like a fairground shot at improving background checks on gun ownership:
A source familiar with the administration’s efforts said Obama is expected to take executive action next week that would set a “reasonable threshold” for when sellers have to seek a background check [...] Going into his final year in office, Obama said his New Year’s resolution is to move forward on unfinished business.
While a service media report all this as Obama's 'great showdown', and attempt at a 'last hero legacy', there's no discussion of what might constitute any “reasonable threshold” regarding America's own suitability to wield arms, both at home and around the world. There's few serious "background checks" here on what Obama and prior administrations have done in the name of protecting their own or any other townspeople.

As ever, like those matinee Westerns, the propaganda posters keep us straight on the good guys and the bad guys, who gets to do the shooting, who gets to be taken, dead or alive.

While US authorities and media were in a rush to display the recent killings in San Bernardino as another jihadist terror attack, the actions of right wing "sovereign citizens", like the organised militia attack in Oregon, are treated as some wayward resistance to federal government. Rather than terrorist subversion, this was reported as 'gun-bearing invocation of the constitution'. As Bonnie Greer tweeted:
Can we please get 1 Muslim to join the right-wing terrorist militia in Oregon so our media can cover it?
But the problems of citizen guns and enforcement links much deeper into America's culture of violence. The causal connection between guns on US streets and higher US homicide rates, as set against other countries, has been ably mapped. Yet this is rarely viewed in relation to the extensive list of global US militarism, invasion and violence.

While Obama gets to be cast as the exasperated marshal trying to clean up the town, domestic gun culture is a reflection of America's wider self-proclaimed right to wield arms. Founded on Wild West violence against its indigenous people, the US acts as Top Gun and leading sharpshooter in spreading the West's own wild violence around the globe. And, as we see in Syria, Britain and France stand dutifully alongside as deputy marshals, a righteous Western posse enforcing their own violent law and disorder on Muslim lands

Where do we find 'mainstream' reporting or political discussion of US domestic gun violence framed as an issue of American exceptionalism, the state's 'exclusive right' to violence at home and abroad?

Obama has spoken in the past of the need for restrained violence in foreign policy:
"our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.  Instead [...] our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Yet, America's dark record of mass murder has continued with Obama's own unrestrained killing of foreign others. While he promises to curb gun violence on the streets of US cities, he presides over a drone policy which has seen around 2500 people (January 2015) cut down in streets and villages across the Middle East:
And the covert Obama strikes, the first of which hit Pakistan just three days after his inauguration, have killed almost six times more people and twice as many civilians than those ordered in the Bush years, the data shows.
Though there's nominal reporting of this 'controversial policy', the deep extent of Obama's assassination program has been poorly disseminated to the public. Now, a new whistleblowing source has provided vital insights to The Intercept as part of its Drone Papers series:
The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong,” the source said.
While Obama weeps for the families of domestic gun victims, the families of those slaughtered by US ordnance in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and other places of American "restraint" have received no such empathy. To the American public, it's all presented as 'proactive security' in preventing 'terrorist Deadwood'. For foreign others, it's Tombstone exported.

As holstered and bolstered Texans walk the' tumbleweed' streets of 1871 again, imagine if the media were to talk about Obama's 'executive interventions' and his call for "common sense gun laws" in these more searching and damning terms.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Farewell to the Media Lens message board

Time has been called, alas, at the Media Lens message board. Postings will end on 4 January 2016.

The page will be sadly missed by contributors and visitors alike. Over the last 14 years, the board's valiant editors have hosted a dynamic and fast-flowing space for comment, links and discussion. I've been around the site since 2004, and, like others, have gained enormously from it as a source of news, information and opinion. It's been a deeply educational and inspiring place. Amid daily threads exposing our corporate and service media, it's been an immediate go-to resource, with vibrant engagement on every notable issue, conflict and event, from the invasion of Iraq to the bombings of Gaza, from the crisis of climate change to the rise of alternative media.

Lately, the editors have felt unable to cope with the volume, intensity and liability of board correspondence as they endeavour to write their hallmark Alert articles and manage ML's other major online output. Their concern and decision to close the board, in these regards, is understandable.

Along with many other contributors, I'd like to thank them for their great dedication, patience and humour in running the board, and wish them well in their efforts to strengthen the ML project. I hope people will continue to follow ML's vital output at the main ML page, via Twitter and Facebook - problematic, yet still valuable forms of media outreach - and through ML's many fine books. The editors have intimated that they may maintain an abbreviated board for their own messages, comments and links. I particularly hope so, given the important familiarity of the site for so many visitors.

Most of the board's regular and long-time contributors have now taken 'residence' at (the temporary-titled) Lifeboat News. I wish them and arriving others well in their/our founding efforts to develop a similar ML-minded community, offering stimulating information and respectful discussion.

Best wishes and a Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Donald Trump, just the mad haircut of deeper fascist America

So, Donald Trump is now fully revealed by liberal critics as a fascistic crazy. All to the good. But, besides relating an elementary truth, does this denunciation of Trump also suggest something more troubling about the blindness and evasions of such critics with regard to deeper fascistic power in America? 

Laurie Penny provides a vivid witness account of Trump's ugly rallying:
Trump has already promised to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, who he says are “rapists”, and to force all Muslims to register to prove that they are not terrorists; he gleefully mocks black people, women and, most of all, the mainstream press that hangs on his every outrageous statement.  His followers love him not in spite of his cartoonish fat-cat persona but because of it. His platform is nationalist, militaristic and soaked in the language of big business. The usually cautious American liberal media has called him a fascist. I’m here to see if they are right.
Then, as Penny records, comes that infamous declaration:
“Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Thunderous applause.
For Penny, Trump:
may or may not believe the xenophobic race-baiting he peddles, but his audiences certainly do. This campaign is giving hundreds of thousands of Americans permission to be nakedly racist and unabashedly xenophobic. It’s not about truth. It’s about power.
So, take good note, she concludes, it's:
too late for laughter. Trump is selling fascism with a cartoon face. It’s the only type of fascism that was ever going to sell in America.
And, sell it does, certainly to a core populist right and worryingly wider audience. But does such deconstruction of Trump also help sell, by default, other easy notions of our 'more respectable' leaders, and the 'benign liberal democracy' Trump seems to be 'subverting'?    

Perversely, Trump is the best thing around right now for crusading liberals and, more particularly, crusading liberal interventionists. It gives them great moral cover. 'Look', they can all shake their heads, 'see what a nasty, racist xenophobe he is. Let's all denounce him', while the liberal missionary West gets on with bombing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and all those other troublesome Muslim lands they're busy delivering democracy to (liberal coda for invading). So, while Trump wants to ban Muslims, Obama, Cameron, Hollande and their apologists are content to bomb them. While a hypothetical curtailing of Muslims gets roundly denounced, actual killing of Muslim people gets soundly approved.

Of course, in this latest case, most Muslims and others are to be 'dutifully protected', as it's 'only' the bombing of Islamic State that's been approved. And, not just quietly approved, but cheered ecstatically by all those sturdy Tories and Labour 'rebels'. Never mind the need for basic solemnity in approving a war that will see so many more Syrians and others killed. Wasn't it so telling of our 'noble parliament' that the cry to bomb human beings could be made so gleefully? And reported in the same way. Alas, spoiling it all, with his usual lack of deference, Jeremy Corbyn had the temerity to denounce the cheering of Hilary Benn's forth-to-war speech as "jingoism".  

While a lofty liberal media rail against Trump's fascistic spiel, Benn has been venerated for equating the fight against fascist Franco with the liberal crusade against Islamic State. What was more preposterous: Trump's fascist rhetoric to advance his own narcissistic campaign, or Benn's spurious invocation of the left's anti-fascism to help sell another fascistic war in the Middle East?     

Stop the War's highlighting of such hypocrisy and Benn's fabrications could have been hailed by our media. Instead, note Media Lens, it was wilfully used to denounce them, all as a pretext for more smearing of Corbyn.

Should it actually require having to say that Donald Trump is a racist, a bigot, a corporate megalomaniac, a fascist? Sure, Trump's a crazy in all these regards - though quite an intelligent one, if measured by the capacity for calculated PR. But is he more crazy than those engaged in the actual mass murdering of Muslims? Is he more crazy than those behind the US plan - divulged by ex-General Wesley Clark - to pick-off a top list of Muslim lands? Is he as crazy as those now still actively pursuing that agenda through more bombing and destabilisation?   

How did we ever get to such a state of crazy selectivity where rhetorical racism is deemed much worse than wilful, racist killing? Yes, let's be alert to what Trump might do in office. But let's see, more immediately, the carnage caused by those already in-office suits, Obama, Cameron and Hollande.      

There could be a case for banning certain Muslims, like the Saudi elite, as they fly into US, UK and French arms fairs in search of weapons to carry out mass murder in Yemen. But there's been little media scrutiny of these ugly appeasements, and how their economy of death imperils even more Muslim lives. 

Without even having to mention Trump, Chris Hedges relates how "the creeping villainy of American politics" at large has now ravaged US civil society through the infection of hate speech and vilification of Muslims.  

In truth, people like Trump are able to say what they do because they feed from that state of political villainy. And with that political protection comes corporate-cultural approval. Trump has also got away with so much for so long because of his celebrity-corporate status and media-led fascination with star billionaires. Thus, the acceptable personalisation of corporate monsters. Piers Morgan, for example, still counts Trump as a friend, an honourable man, and seems perplexed by his latest racist outpourings. Of course, this says much more about Morgan himself who, as a notable media liberal, has nothing to say about the more dangerous truths behind US Inc. 

Thus strides the corporate behemoth, giving seemingly safe cover to other 'prudent associations', many now awkwardly undone after Trump's outing. Note, for instance, Alex Salmond, who openly courted Trump in the name of 'economic development', leaving a lot of displaced people and ruined land in the lamentable process. A little lesson learned, hopefully, about dark company regrettably kept.

Not so, when it comes to the 'liberal media's burden'. While America has Trump, we have his kindred spirit, Boris Johnson. Here's a man who does already hold significant political office, and, incredibly, may become prime minister. While keeping safe political distance from Trump, this is another mad-haired populist who speaks reverentially of 'our higher right' to kill, in this case crowing about Britain's "martial spirit" in having invaded 176 of the world's nearly 200 countries. Johnson's Etonian bombast may make him sound, to some, like the "rogueish swordsman" of the Flashman novels. In fact, he's peddling a neo-fascistic doctrine of imperialist exceptionalism, the exclusive right to invade and murder. Yet, unlike the response to Trump, Johnson's misty-eyed reflections on Britain's mass violence around the world seems to endear him even more to our liberal quisling media.

As Trump's own campaign claims become evermore shrill, how convenient to hold him up as a demonic stink to 'Western civilization', allowing rising approval of the 'politically fragrant' Hillary Clinton. And here we come to the real beneficiary of Trump's crass soundings, all played-up by a Hillary-adoring media.

Here's what Clinton tweeted in response to Trump's 'ban all Muslims' call:
This is reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive. @RealDonaldTrump, you don't get it. This makes us less safe. -H
A brazen piece of self-denial, when one considers Clinton's own wilful promotion of conflict, division and negation of human safety around the globe.

Recall her support for invading Iraq and extending troop numbers in Afghanistan. Remember her cackling "We came, we saw, he died" hysterics over Gaddafi. Recall her taking care to 'stand by her man', as husband Bill carried out a sanctions policy that saw half a million deaths in pre-invasion Iraq. Think of her support for fascist coup forces in Ukraine.  Reflect on her relentless defending of Israel's brutal occupation and mass killings in Gaza, and her steadfast support for Israel against Iran. And don't forget her urgings to arm the 'moderate' jihadists in Syria in pursuit of regime change. By a clear distance, Clinton's insatiable militarism and promotion of corporate warmongering is much more of a threat to Muslims than any of Trump's wild invective.

Many left-leaning observers are issuing emergency warnings about Trump, and America's dark slide into fascism, without apparently even seeing the extent of Clinton's own militarist-fascistic politics. A seemingly well-intentioned piece by Mike Small at (the often illuminating) Bella Caledonia is a good case in point:
Clinton’s challenge is to present herself as a future-facing candidate rather than a figure from the past. She will be, possibly even more than Sanders, a lightning rod for the right-wing media and Fox culture of America’s shock-jocks and online frenzy. Whoever wins the nomination it will be the most politically-charged and divergent race in decades. The stakes couldn’t be higher. With the world in a state of heightened tension, with multiple points of conflict, Putin at the helm in Russia and crucial climate commitments being brokered, the prospects of Trump gaining power in America are terrifying.
Here, we're being asked to consider Clinton's problem - the "challenge" of new presentation and dealing with Fox-jocks, rather than the problem with Clinton. As Putin, the standard liberal bogeyman, looms large in this troubled scenario, we can, at least, rest easier knowing that:
If the unthinkable happens, and [Trump] becomes the Republican candidate he will at last be under the glare of some proper media scrutiny. Head to head with any of the Democratic candidates he will be taken apart.
 And which part of that "proper media" will be there to scrutinise Clinton, or dare to take apart the sham process of those taking Trump apart?  

All those foretelling the terror of Trump should be ringing much louder alarm bells over the coming calamity of Clinton.

As writer Roqayah Chamseddine more concisely notes, Clinton has used Trump's racist eruptions as an opportunistic veil, a capacity for duplicitous positioning seen in her past lauding of George W Bush's 'reassuring' words after 9/11, when he declared:
“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens" [and then] went on to torture and extrajudicially execute Muslims and deprive countless Muslims of their civil liberties.
The same dark calculus continues with Clinton, an arch warmonger with a past record which those emoting fear over Trump rarely address:  
Anti-Muslim animus goes far beyond ornamented stenographers to power obsessing over the statements of Donald Trump. It is systematic, and often cloaked in the language of humanitarian hyper-militarism and even inclusion. Despite Hillary Clinton’s sentimental rhetoric, her policies and political affiliations are concrete and show that she has never been a friend to Muslims, nor will her administration be one.
So, Clinton or Trump, who is the real political psychopath, the more fascistic figure? It's a mark of the liberal media's service propaganda that very little of this deeper issue about fascist America will feature in the next 'great presidential race'. Many more millions of dollars will be spent before we know which faction of the US corporate elite has managed to buy the election. Whichever it is, we can be sure that the same shared business and political interests will prevail. 

Yet, wasn't it always so about the US? Noting Mussolini's dictum that "fascism should rightly be called corporatism as it is a merge of state and corporate power", the late, great American historian Howard Zinn said that, while there are shades of democratic engagement in the United States:
We've had a union of the governing and corporate power ever since the formation of this country. There's an element of fascism in that. 
More recently, the ever-acute John Pilger wrote of "America's modern fascism": 
Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations - 69 countries - have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America's modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as "sanctions". The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed.
For Pilger:
Uniting fascism old and new is the cult of superiority. "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being," said Obama, evoking declarations of national fetishism from the 1930s. As the historian Alfred W. McCoy has pointed out, it was the Hitler devotee, Carl Schmitt, who said, "The sovereign is he who decides the exception." This sums up Americanism, the world's dominant ideology. That it remains unrecognised as a predatory ideology is the achievement of an equally unrecognised brainwashing. Insidious, undeclared, presented wittily as enlightenment on the march, its conceit insinuates western culture.
In railing against Trump, rather than exposing these deeper fascistic forces, media liberals are playing a key part in that twisted conceit.