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Updated: November 6, 2012 10:55 IST

The improbability of truth

Arvind Sivaramakrishnan
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Why are we the good guys? Author: David Cromwell
Why are we the good guys? Author: David Cromwell

The corporate media reinforce the positions, the language, and the symbolism of established power

David Cromwell has, often in collaboration with David Edwards, become an authoritative analyst of the Anglophone mass media; his latest book will strike a chord with many who think about the corporate media’s content and methods, not least millions worldwide who have found that if they question an established order the media largely suppress or exclude their voices.

Cromwell discovered this early. At junior school, he voted Communist in a mock election, but his teacher said Labour had won anyway, and she would not count the Communist vote. Later, a secondary school physics lecturer stunned the young Cromwell by saying British security forces used targeted assassinations against Republicans in Northern Ireland. Asked how he knew, the teacher replied, “I lived in Northern Ireland for several years. These things were simply well known locally.” The British government’s shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland was later confirmed during the Stalker Inquiry. On starting work, Cromwell found that a Shell personnel officer who accepted his and other colleagues’ refusal to work in apartheid South Africa was particularly angry because the young scientists had reached a collective decision.

As for the corporate media, without conspiring they actively reinforce the positions, the language, and the symbolism of established power. The Marshall Plan, usually described as help for post-war Europe, was part of a United States strategy to counter Soviet influence; Washington even threatened to withdraw aid to the United Kingdom if the latter expanded its successful post-war social democracy any further.

A more recent example of collusion between governments and the press was the 1991 murder of over 100,000 fleeing Iraqi soldiers — mainly Kurdish and Shia conscripts buried alive by U.S. bulldozers. That war crime was barely reported; nobody is likely to be prosecuted either.

Deception

Over the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, major media bodies disgraced themselves. The New York Times admits that it amplified the U.S. government viewpoint before the invasion; a former employee, Chris Hedges, says it “enthusiastically served as a propaganda machine.” The BBC’s current affairs superstar Jeremy Paxman says he was “hoodwinked” by Tony Blair; he also believed everything the then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in his now infamous U.N. Security Council speech in February 2003.

Furthermore, the BBC and even anti-invasion papers like the Guardian and the Independent gave vastly more coverage to invasion supporters than to senior U.N. staff like Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, who resigned their posts, or to the former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who knew Iraq had no WMDs. Halliday and von Sponeck cited the violation of several U.N. conventions, adding that the previous decade’s sanctions had caused genocide. And Ritter was telling the truth.

The collusion seems endless. Japan had started negotiating surrender through the Soviet Union six months before the atom bomb was used against it — nine days before the date Stalin had given Truman for a planned Soviet attack on Japan. Truman already knew that Japan knew it was beaten; his aide James Byrnes falsified his own papers to compound the deception.

Some journalists are critical. Dan Rather says the corporate media are stenographers to power; Rageh Omaar, who reported the Iraq invasion, has said the BBC coverage was an echo chamber for military propaganda. Others, however, like Helen Boaden of the publicly-funded BBC, change their email address to avoid questioners; some respond with crude abuse, but Cromwell remains unfailingly polite.

Global warming

The worst silences are over global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is under “immense pressure” from the energy, chemical, and automobile industries; the corporate media have stopped covering it. Things are very different inside politics; the U.K.’s chief scientific adviser Sir David King told the Guardian in 2009 that the Iraq invasion was the first of a series of resource wars, but the paper did not press him over his previous silence. James Hansen is one of the few scientists still speaking openly about the environment. Furthermore, the 2011 United Nations climate summit in Durban was almost universally reported with complacent approval, when it produced only a licence to continue polluting until at least 2020.

The same holds for the financial crash. The Financial Times’ Martin Wolf, writing in 2008 that there had been 100 “significant” banking crises, with four bailouts for the U.S. financial system, in the previous 30 years, said, “No industry has a comparable talent for privatising gains and socialising costs”.

Wolf’s greatest fear though, was that the market would lose its political legitimacy — but he did not ask why this unstable, globally destructive system should not be exposed. On all the other evidence therefore, the corporate media will not change soon. We should not be afraid, but very, very afraid.

WHY ARE WE THE GOOD GUYS?: — Reclaiming Your Mind from the Delusions of Propaganda: David Cromwell;

Zero Books, Laurel House, Station Approach, Alresford SO24 9JH, Hampshire, U.K.

£. 15.99

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