Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Endangered spies and other daily claims - must be true, it was on the news

So, what's in the news today?

Oh, the usual. Britain has had to move lots of its agents after the Russians and Chinese managed to hack the files stolen by fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Britain's youngest ever suicide bomber has blown himself up in Iraq. Hillary has made her first big presidential campaign speech promising progressive policies...

And so, indeed, it goes on. Just another 'news' day. Just another round of establishment-serving stories. Just more examples of clone-safe 'journalism', which a propaganda-coshed public, disinclined to look elsewhere for deeper context, explanation and actual truth behind the headlines, simply consume as fact.  

Scathingly, Glenn Greenwald said this about the Sunday Times' 'revelations' and all those who unquestioningly repeated them:
Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting. We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.”[...T]he entire report is a self-negating joke. It reads like a parody I might quickly whip up in order to illustrate the core sickness of western journalism.
But who, many people will ask, is Glenn Greenwald? And, anyway, why should his particular 'viewpoint' count against 'the news'? Herein lies the problem of making great journalism more reachable.  

Those who were part of the Snowden story, and others 'in the know' about such intelligence matters, also helped expose the gross distortion and mendacious motives behind it. You can find many more fine take-downs of Tom Harper's Sunday Times article, his cringing defence, the 'anonymous' briefings of UK intelligence and the stenography journalism that allowed this crass piece to be elevated as 'news'.  

Yet, beyond a vibrant alternative media and superb independent journalism, we still confront the sobering truth of the establishment's power to propagate great 'news' untruths.   

Even without substantive evidence, the BBC's security correspondent, Gordon Corera managed to give serious weight to the claims:
The phrases "neither confirm nor deny" and "no comment on intelligence matters" is being used by government to respond to Sunday Times' story. But my understanding from conversations over an extended period is that since he fled two years ago, British intelligence have worked on the assumption that Russian and Chinese spies might have access to his full cache of secrets. Snowden has always maintained that there is no way that other states could do this but the spies are likely to have thought it too risky to take the chance. In turn, this may have led to undercover agents being moved as a precaution. [My italics.] 
Adopting the same "reasonable to assume" line that Snowden may have taken documents to Moscow, and that Putin may really have such data, the BBC's Justin Webb, in incredulous tone, also asked Greenwald:
I mean you are not suggesting that President Putin's government is on a par in its support of democracy and human rights with the United States or Britain, or are you?
Having exposed Webb's failure as a journalist to deal in evidence rather than power-serving supposition over the documents, Greenwald responds perfectly:
[I'm]pretty sure that it wasn't Russia that invaded and destroyed a country of 26 million people called Iraq, or set up a wold-wide torture regime around the world to torture people in secret, or put people in indefinite detention camps in the middle of the ocean called Guantanamo.
Nor has the BBC's inclusion of other counter-views provided serious balance or meaningful context. Trying to maintain the usual pretence of impartiality, it allowed some safe comment from Liberty spokesperson Shami Chakrabarti. As Harper's piece and UK intelligence claims were further undermined, it also permitted a few more moderately questioning voices.     
But it's still the HEADLINE story that most vitally registers amongst most of the public. The story passes, ably discredited by people like Greenwald. But the message and mitigations around it remain.

Thus, the implicit, intended message in this headline case still prevails: Britain, its key intelligence services, its trusty agents and its war on terrorism have all been compromised by the irresponsible actions of a deluded, enemy-serving traitor. 

The youngest suicide bomber story is another case in point. How many will be prompted by the BBC's headline to ask why suicide bombers now proliferate in Iraq, Syria and other such broken places?

This story led on the shocked reaction of Talma Asmal's family, and their insistence that Isis does not speak in their, or Islam's, name. But where was the crucial context on how the West's invasion of Iraq, mass destabilisation of a region and proxy approval of Isis has helped create such reactions?

Nowhere. In its place, we got what routinely passes for 'analysis' from BBC home affairs correspondent, Tom Symonds
The flow of young men and women to warzones in Syria and Iraq continues to be the biggest challenge to Britain's counter-terrorism effort. Senior officers estimate more than 700 British citizens have now made the journey, some taking on the name "al-Britani" to signify their origins. Half have come back to the UK, posing the risk that they might plan attacks. BBC research suggests more than 30 are still in the warzones, and possibly as many as 50. However its estimated a third are not known to police and the security services, making their job of tracking extremists and prioritising those posing the greatest risk much harder. [My italics.]  
This is an example of 'news as analysis' so synchronised with official language, so attuned to the vernacular of state propaganda and the "counter-terrorism effort", that Symonds, like most of his peers, probably doesn't even realise the difference himself.   

On last night's BBC News at Ten, presenter Sophie Raworth asked: "What can be done to stop young Britons joining the extremists?" One might more reasonably ask: "What can be done to stop young Britons joining the West's miltarist extremists?" A perfectly rational question given the latter's massively greater record of murder and mayhem. Yet, it's one that could never be remotely considered on a BBC news programme.   

Still, we always have the Guardian on hand to provide real, penetrating news. Except, we don't. Indeed, the very idea of the Guardian as a counter to other establishment-serving news is the best establishment-serving fiction of all.  

Take the Guardian's headline and major 'news report' on Hillary Clinton's campaign speech
Hillary Clinton rally puts spotlight on inequality and progressive causes
After two months of quiet campaigning, Hillary Clinton took the podium on Roosevelt Island on Saturday seeking to answer one key question: why should American voters elect her president? Against a backdrop of the East River and the Manhattan skyline, addressing thousands of supporters who braved sweltering summer heat, Clinton portrayed herself as a fighter and champion of progressive causes as she laid out the themes that will define her second bid for the White House.
As did the Guardian on her behalf, in glowing repetition of Clinton's lofty 'ideals' and 'progressive aims'. Her leading parts in the carnage of Libya, Iraq and other murderous warmongering wasn't deemed worthy of a single mention here - or, more likely, was routinely avoided. 
Inclusion of such, these journalists will say, would be to 'stray' towards 'comment' rather than 'informed reportage', which this adulating piece, like so much other Guardian 'political correspondence', affects to be.  

And that's what matters most immediately in shaping the public's generalised worldview: the delivery of what's valued as 'primary news', rather than 'secondary opinion'. The latter - such as the Guardian's own latest grovelling editorial on resisting Islamic State - provides a key, supporting role, most often as establishment-safe, liberal 'perspective' - all serving the hegemonic notion that we partake in a free media and vibrant democracy.

But it's 'the news' that's more-readily consumed and absorbed as 'authoritative' statement, 'here-and-now fact', almost sacrosanct information deemed higher than 'mere opinion'.

It's within headline 'news' that the greatest scope for propagandist conditioning prevails. Thus, you're still more likely to hear someone 'confirm' the 'authenticity' of an issue or establishment claim by saying, 'oh, yes, it's true, I heard it on the news' - typically citing a BBC headline - rather than 'yes, that's true, I read it in a Daily Mail column'.

Again, that's certainly not to understate the malign influence of the latter in shaping and polluting minds on behalf of established interests, particularly in keeping people frightened and hateful of others.

But it's the much more 'respectable' daily dose of loaded, framed and subliminally-received 'news' that those elite interests most count on in keeping the population dulled and obedient.

From 'immigration floods' to 'benefit cheats', 'electoral choices' to 'benign interventions', it all comes in easy, 'grab-and-go' news form: digest quickly, absorb the message and move passively on.     

The merging of news with official-line 'analysis' gives added 'gravitas' to the deceptive diet. Who, after all, are we to question the 'expertise' and position of those 'esteemed' BBC correspondents?      

Even the 'register' of news in its selective enunciation gives it a commanding status. As Tom Leonard's liberating poem The Six O'clock News so brilliantly evokes, the very 'voice of the news' is there to colonise minds, marginalise the cultural other and exclude "yoo scruff".

Encouragingly, we're seeing the subverting of that dominant media narrative - finding notable impetus in Scotland with the rise of the independence movement. Yet, as one useful commentary reminds us, while a 'new media' there is producing worthy, radical analysis and critical output, it still faces tough challenges in how to build collective and popular-reaching 'news portals'.

Recalling the harsh lesson of how the establishment deployed its 'news' machine to prevent a Yes outcome, there's a pressing need, at large, to think more strategically about that task. It's an imperative that won't come as 'news' to many already engaged in alternative media-building, but it's worth considering how best to convey that process in itself as real and valued news.        


Jackie said...

Excellent, thought provoking and illuminating piece Mr. Hilley. Thank you.

John Hilley said...

Many thanks for you kind words, Jackie.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Here is a helpful graphic to illustrate Hillary's principled stance on the TPP and Fast Track (amongst many things).