Video credit: Scenes Of Reason
This exclusive investigation by Nafeez Ahmed is part of our series of posts on Media Democracy which people wrote in response to our invitation to reflect on how best to secure media democracy in the run up to our Media Democracy Festival.
By Nafeez Ahmed
John Pilger once wrote that journalism is the first casualty of war.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, as governments push forward with new legislation on mass surveillance and anti-terror powers, as the drumbeat for more war in Syria intensifies, the need for journalism that operates in the public interest cannot be underestimated.
But we are far from that lofty goal.
Last week, I reported on mounting evidence that Turkey, a NATO partner and ally, has funded and armed the ‘Islamic State’ to the tune of over a billion dollars in oil sales and millions of dollars at least of military supplies. Despite intelligence on this state-sponsorship of ISIS being available to Western intelligence officials, NATO has inexplicably acted to cover-up this complicity.
Even after Turkey shot down a Russian jet for allegedly violating its airspace, the story of ISIS being harboured in the heart of NATO has yet to be acknowledged by any mainstream media publication.
How could the free press be so derelict on reporting on such a critical issue, that undermines so much of what Western governments propose to do in response to the Paris attacks?
Because the press is not free. A new report released last month has exposed exactly how unfree the British press is, documenting shocking levels of concentration in media ownership that would make any budding Stalinist proud.
Britain’s propaganda merchants
The Media Reform Coalition (MRC), steered out of Goldsmiths University’s Leverhulme Media Research Centre, found that 71% of UK national newspapers are owned by just three giant corporations, while 80% of local newspapers are owned by a mere six five companies.
Two billionaires – Rupert Murdoch and Jonathan Harmsworth – own over half of Britain’s national newspapers.
“This kind of concentration creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass huge political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests and personal views,” the report concludes.
Adding insult to injury, and proving its point, the report received zero coverage from Britain’s ‘free press’ – except, to its credit, a solitary article in the Guardian by the paper’s media business correspondent, Mark Sweney.
“If we want to see elections and referenda, as well as economic debates and military interventions, covered in a way that does not favour the most powerful voices or the status quo,” finds the MRC report, “then we need to change media ownership rules.”
Unfortunately, the powerful have no inclination to encourage a change in media ownership rules, which could challenge a status quo that perpetuates their interests.
Much the same situation exists across the Atlantic.
America’s propaganda merchants
In the US, six huge transnational conglomerates own and control the entirety of the mass media, including newspapers, magazines, publishers, TV networks, cable channels, Hollywood studios, music labels and popular websites: Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., CBS Corporation and NBC Universal.
On a global scale, the world’s largest media owners are increasingly digital. A 2014 report by ZenithOptimedia finds that: “Power in the digital advertising market is concentrated in the hands of a few large platforms, and is becoming even more concentrated.”
Today, “the world’s largest media owner” is Google, followed by Walt Disney, Comcast, 21st Century Fox and the CBS Corporation.
These corporations thus control the bulk of what we read, watch and hear, including online. They define our understanding of the world and even ourselves.
But they represent the world’s most powerful elites. The directors and shareholders of these media conglomerates interlock with one another thanks to the logic of capital accumulation, forming part of what one study in the journal PLoS One describes as a “network of global corporate control.”
Examining the ties between 43,000 transnational corporations, the study by a team of systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that they are dominated by a core of 1318 companies. In turn, the web of ownership behind these core power-brokers track back to what the study described as a “super-entity” of 147 firms.
In many cases, senior executives of some of the largest global media conglomerates have simultaneously sat on the boards of defence industry giants, while interfacing with government.
World’s largest media conglomerate seeded by the NSA. Really.
Consider Google – now, extraordinarily, the largest media owner in the world. In January 2015, I broke an exclusive story on the founding and evolution of Google under the wing of the US intelligence community.
My report uncovered documentation proving that during his development of the fundamental software behind the Google search engine as a Stanford University postgraduate student, Brin had received seed funding from a secretive intelligence community programme administered by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
In an on-the-record interview with a former US defence contractor in charge of the programme, I received stunning confirmation that from inception to completion to Google’s incorporation, Brin met regularly with a senior CIA official at the programme, Rick Steinheiser.
Over the next decade, Google continued to be nurtured by various government agencies, private sector conglomerates and global financiers, especially through a nebulous Pentagon think-tank known as the Highlands Forum, where such networks convene regularly to this day.
The mainstream media’s response to this story is instructive.
It was totally blacked out in the English-language media: except being recommended by the leading US tech news site Gigaom, which mentioned the story in the context of another report on Wikileaks and Google. David Meyer, a senior writer at Gigaom, described the investigation as: “An interesting, if extremely dense, account of Google’s longstanding interactions with US military and intelligence was published on Medium last week.”
The story was also picked up by a few mainstream foreign outlets. A senior Forbes editor covered my story, but it was only available in Czech. The German daily Frankfurter Rundschau also reported my findings prominently, along with the Hungarian newspaper Novilist.
But that was it. Consider the implications.
The inside story of Google’s seed-funding and founding by the CIA and NSA breaks into the open – but not a single English-language newspaper wants to cover the story, or even explore its implications.
Yet what could be bigger news, than one of the world’s biggest ‘news-facilitators’ being so closely aligned with the US intelligence community?
The lack of interest is not the result of a conspiracy, but of a highly centralised institutional structure that perpetuates a culture of slavish obedience to power.
This month, Google’s senior counsel for public policy, Juniper Downs, along with Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube (also owned by Google), met with Israel’s notorious deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely to “enhance their cooperation… to prevent the online distribution of material inciting to violence.”
Hotovely, who earlier this year told Israeli diplomats that “This land is ours. All of it is ours”, told the Google chiefs that “the use of social media by Palestinians” is the cause of “Palestinian youth taking to the streets with knives in their hands and hate in their hearts.”
Nothing to do with the fact that Netanyahu had made absolutely clear during his election campaign that he had no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian state to emerge on his watch, or to do with Hotovely’s extremist belief that Arabs have quite literally no right to inhabit their own homes in the Occupied Territories.
The prospect of Google, the largest media conglomerate in the world, facilitating social media censorship on the Palestinian question precisely as Palestinans of all ages, gender and political affiliations are coming together to mobilise a ‘third intifada’ against Netanyahu’s far-right settler-colonial project, is deeply concerning.
As we move beyond Google, the same incestuous ownership patterns and social networks persist.
Consider William Kennard. He previously served on the board of the New York Times and became chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission. But he then joined the massive defence and technology investment firm, the Carlyle Group, as Managing Director, where he led investments in telecommunications and media. Caryle Group also happens to be a major defence contractor, which majority-owns Booz Allen Hamilton, the notorious corporate giant managing several NSA mass surveillance programmes.
Kenard went on to become US Ambassador to the EU under Obama, in which capacity he played a key role in driving the highly secretive, pro-corporate Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.
Or Douglas Warner III. A former senior banker who was chairman of the board of JP Morgan Chase & Co., he sits on the board of General Electric, which owns the US media corporation NBC. He has also served as a director of French mobile phone company Motorola Inc., and sits on the board of counselors of the Bechtel Group, a major defence contractor for the US and UK governments.
According to Corporate Watch, a fellow Bechtel board member George Schultz “used his political connections to lobby on behalf of a military invasion of Iraq. Bechtel received a request to bid on the reconstruction of Iraq before the invasion even began in a secret, undemocratic process.”
Or John Bryson, who served as Obama’s Secretary of Commerce until 2012. Prior to that he sat on the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company for about a decade, which of course owns the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). He was also on the board of directors at giant US defence contractor Boeing.
Despite resigning from both positions after his administration appointment, government disclosure filings revealed that his Disney stock and option assets totaled about $951,660, in addition to a deferred-compensation plan worth more than $1 million; while at Boeing he was owed between $1 and $5 million under a deferred-compensation package, plus owning Boeing stock options worth between $250,000 and $500,000.
Disney has heavily lobbied the Obama administration, particularly on the pro-corporate Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
Or Alwyn Lewis, another Walt Disney Company director who simultaneously has been a longtime director at Halliburton, one of the largest transnational oil services firms formerly run by Dick Cheney. A Halliburton subsidiary, Houston-based KBR Inc., received $39.5 billion in Iraq related contracts over the last decade – many of which were no-bid deals.
Or Douglas McCorkindale, who has been a director of the giant media conglomerate Gannett for decades, and is President of two Gannet subsidiary spin-offs, Central Newspaper Inc. and Gannett Satellite Information Network.
Gannett is the largest US newspaper publisher measured by daily circulation, and also owns major US TV stations, regional cable news networks, and radio stations.
McCorkindale has also served as a director at the US defence giant, Lockhead Martin, for about a decade, resigning only this April. He has also been, during this period, a director of the Associated Press and of various investment companies in Prudential Mutual Funds.
Consider, then, the fact that these individuals simultaneously hold senior positions in global media conglomerates and giant defence contractors, profiting directly from the dividends of ‘reconstruction’ in devastated war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, on the back of wars enabled by their own propaganda.
Consider that by some estimates as many as 4 million people have been killed as a consequence of decades of Western military invasions and occupations in Iraq alone.
Consider that the vast majority of the public have no clue about the scale of this violence because most of the mainstream media promote the lowest possible figures, despite the legion conflicts of interest and scientific fallacies around the entity that endorses those figures, Iraq Body Count.
Is this a free press, devoid of censorship?
The new Stalinism
These examples demonstrate the nature of the networks that dominate the global corporate media: an interlocking nexus of private defence contractors, banks, investment firms, and corporate giants with a vested interest in perpetuating the power and privilege of their own class: no matter the implications for the loss of life of millions of people.
That is why there is a stark correlation between the activities of, say, the US government, the self-serving interests of giant transnational corporations, the constant drumbeat for war and surveillance, and the mass media. In terms of power structures, this interfacing of state and corporate power, coupled with a propensity for tremendous violence, closely resembles fascism – distinguished largely by its efforts to legitimise itself as representing the ‘will of the people’ through the formal but coopted mechanisms of representative revolving door democracy.
For this very reason, among the biggest threats to the neo-fascist media-military-industrial complex is the prospect of the emergence of a meaningful, viable alternative media capable of informing and empowering citizens.
An informed and empowered citizenry, cognisant of the systemic crises driving the news of the day, would be enabled to resist the propaganda of the media-military-industrial complex, and translate that resistance into concrete, positive grassroots actions for systemic change, and social transformation.
That is why the media moguls are on the offensive to shut down this prospect, and maintain their hegemony. Sadly, in these desperate times when media revenues are in decline, there is no shortage of willing tools eager to capitulate to
In a blog for Little Atoms, James Bloodworth – former editor of the self-styled “left-wing” political blog Left Foot Forward – rails against what he sees as “alternative media’s useful idiots.”
Alternative news, he says, “serves sinister agendas.”
Alternative media’s popularity is driven by the fact that there “is an internet,” says Bloodworth profoundly, as well as by “exploits of swashbuckling journalists like Hunter S. Thompson and Christopher Hitchens” which has created a “glut of graduates aspiring to be journalists.”
For Bloodworth (who appears to be describing himself as opposed to anyone else), the problem with the media boils down only to the “boringly decorous consensus of so much of the mainstream media.”
He chooses not to explore how or why this “decorous consensus” comes about, nor to acknowledge that he himself is an unabashed party to parroting the “decorous consensus,” before he proceeds to lump together and attack six “alternative” news sites:
These sites, despite “superficial differences”, function simply to reliably spout “the opposite line to one’s own government in the manner of a sullen teenager churlishly contradicting his parents… This is useful idiocy of an order that would not have been out of place in an organ of a western communist party during high Stalinism.”
Bloodworth’s preferred ‘journalism,’ it seems, would simply be for journalists to parrot official narratives endorsed by Western governments before the facts can be decisively distinguished from fiction.
Asking questions? No. Journalists mustn’t ask questions. Bloodworth labels those who operate outside the mainstream media’s “decorous consensus” as “self-styled internet dissidents [who] lack a blueprint for utopia and thus espouse something closer to nihilism than socialism – they despise their own societies like a convict despises his jailer, and as a consequence are willing to exculpate from wrongdoing anyone who professes to hate their societies too.”
Westerners who prefer to criticise their own societies and government, then, are complicit in the crimes of anti-Western dictators and associated official enemies.
Unsurprisingly, then, Bloodworth expresses outrage at Corbyn’s appointment of Guardian associate editor Seumas Milne, a well-known left-wing journalist, to head up Labour’s communications strategy. Milne, according to Bloodworth, is an apologist for Stalin because he tried to whitewash the Soviet dictator’s genocidal crimes.
Undoubtedly, the historical consensus today converges on the conclusion that at the very least, Stalin killed 20 million people – a figure estimated by historian Robert Conquest. Most likely, Stalin killed countless millions more than that, as genocide expert R. J. Rummel points out. Personally, I tend to accept and cite these figures.
But Milne wrote his Guardian piece in March 1990, before the collapse of the USSR, when the Soviet archives had not yet been opened. His argument cited the majority view of the time among Soviet historians:
“Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: ‘the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.’”
Were those Soviet historians all Stalinists and apologists for Stalin simply because they, at the time, believed the lower death toll figures?
What about Yale historian Timothy Snyder? In the New York Review of Books, Professor Snyder writes:
“Today, after two decades of access to Eastern European archives, and thanks to the work of German, Russian, Israeli, and other scholars, we can resolve the question of numbers. The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans – about 11 million – is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did.”
According to Snyder: “The total figure for the entire Stalinist period is likely between two million and three million. The Great Terror and other shooting actions killed no more than a million people, probably a bit fewer. The largest human catastrophe of Stalinism was the famine of 1930–1933, in which more than five million people died.”
That’s a total of around 9 million people. This is devastating enough.
Is Snyder a Stalinist? Hardly. But unlike Bloodworth, he is a serious historian whose purpose in exploring death toll data is not to engage in neocon political point-scoring, but to get at what actually happened, as Milne had tried to do in 1990, albeit incorrectly in hindsight.
If Bloodworth was even slightly concerned with the devastating crimes of Stalin and Hitler, he might have noted that among the factors in Stalin’s genocidal impunity included the West’s shifting, self-serving geopolitical alliances. Snyder writes:
By the end of 1941, after the Germans had attacked the Soviet Union and Japan the United States, Moscow in effect had traded Berlin for Washington. By 1949, the alliances had switched again, with the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany together in NATO, facing off against the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies, including the smaller German Democratic Republic. During the cold war, it was sometimes hard for Americans to see clearly the particular evils of Nazis and Soviets. Hitler had brought about a Holocaust: but Germans were now our allies. Stalin too had killed millions of people: but some of the worst episodes, taking place as they had before the war, had already been downplayed in wartime US propaganda, when we were on the same side.
We formed an alliance with Stalin right at the end of the most murderous years of Stalinism, and then allied with a West German state a few years after the Holocaust. It was perhaps not surprising that in this intellectual environment a certain compromise position about the evils of Hitler and Stalin – that both, in effect, were worse – emerged and became the conventional wisdom.
But for Bloodworth, the deaths in this period are merely political capital that can be used to defame those critical of Western foreign policies today.
Bloodworth likes to fashion himself as a fighter against dictatorships and historical revisionism, but his concern for history extends only to lambasting the West’s official enemies, rather than recognising the grim reality of how US and British governments have variably appeased the perpetrators of such colossal violence, in the service of realpolitik.
Having tried to subsume ‘alternative’ media under the label of “high Stalinism,” Bloodworth bravely proceeds to list his main objections. Here, I focus on the four more well-known websites, namely, AlterNet, FAIR, Media Lens and Jacobin magazine.
Bloodworth is rightly critical of sites like Global Research, which increasingly function simply as a repository of all sorts of ‘alternative’ information sourced from across the web. The articles include reprints from mainstream news sources, other alternative sources, as well as contributions from non-mainstream authors. The result is a heady mix of valid news intermingled with heavy doses of hyperventilating, and often outright nonsense.
But the idea that AlterNet, FAIR, Media Lens and Jacobin should be lumped together with Global Research is truly bizarre.
Fact and fiction: FAIR
Bloodworth: “Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and Media Lens both tried to exculpate the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad for the massacre in Houla and for the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta.”
This is a strange characterisation of what was simply a critical review of the way journalists reported the events at the time despite all the facts not being available. The FAIR article concluded:
“… it is hard to tell what’s true when it comes to Syria; independent reporters or observers are not able to operate freely, and have been endangered by both sides. It is fair to assume by many accounts that the Syrian government is likely responsible for a lion’s share of the violence. It is also fair to assume that various rebel factions have acted with brutality. So, yes, a healthy skepticism is required–preferably before publication—of tendentious, one-sided stories that cannot be confirmed independently. The cost of getting things wrong can be enormous. We still don’t know with certainty what happened in Houla on May 25.”
Around the same time, I wrote a feature for Prospect magazine in the UK on Syria which, like FAIR, cited reports in the mainstream German press offering different accounts of the Houla massacre. Later, in the wake of the UN inquiry, it became clear that the perpetrators were, indeed, acting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad.
Bloodworth should, therefore, probably add Prospect to his list of questionable alternative media outlets.
Fact and fiction: Media Lens
Bloodworth: “Media Lens supported denial of genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda.”
Bloodworth’s link goes to a lengthy dissection of claims by Times columnist Oliver Kamm that Media Lens denies the genocide at Srebrenica. Notably, throughout Kamm’s claims, he is unable to cite a single quotation from Media Lens substantiating this quite serious charge.
There is no mention of Rwanda.
Instead, we find the following clarifying paragraph by Media Lens from the link:
“Kamm’s claims on Srebrenica may also come as a surprise to longtime readers. According to our archive, since 2001, we have published 2,777 pages of media alerts totalling some 1,026,606 words of material. Apart from affirming that a massacre did take place, we have written virtually nothing about Srebrenica. Our most significant discussion appeared in two media alerts published in late 2005 defending Noam Chomsky against the Guardian’s claim that he had denied there had been a massacre in Srebrenica.”
Chomsky had not denied the genocide in Srebrenica. Long before the misleading Guardian interview used by Kamm and other neocons to justify their claim (which was retracted due to its inaccuracies), Chomsky told Counterpunch in 2004:
So take for example the invasion of Fallujah, which is one of the it’s a major war crime, it’s very similar to the Russian destruction of Grozny 10 years earlier, a city of approximately the same size, bombed to rubble, people driven out.
Alam: They herded all the males, I think, they didn’t let them escape the corridor.
Chomsky: Which incidentally is very much like Srebrenica which is universally condemned as genocide — Srebrenica was an enclave, lightly protected by UN forces, which was being used as a base for attacking nearby Serb villages. It was known that there’s going to be retaliation. When there was a retaliation, it was vicious. They trucked out all the women and children, they kept the men inside, and apparently slaughtered them. The estimates are thousands of people slaughtered.
Well, with Fallujah, the US didn’t truck out the women and children, it bombed them out. There was about a month of bombing, bombed out of the city, if they could get out somehow, a couple hundred thousand people fled, or somehow got out, and as you say men were kept in and we don’t know what happened after that, we don’t estimate.
Chomsky’s crime, and that of Media Lens, was simply to note the hypocrisy in condemning the Srebrenicia genocide while denying Western culpability for comparable war crimes in Iraq.
Fact and fiction: Jacobin
Then there is Jacobin, a respected left-leaning literary magazine based in New York.
Bloodworth: “Jacobin has vigorously defended the government of Bashar al Assad.”
In fact, the Jacobin piece by Patrick Higgins merely cited facts contradicting claims that Western-backed rebels are saintly heroes, while acknowledging the repressive nature of Assad’s regime in the context of covert US, Gulf state and Turkish efforts to provoke and exploit violence:
The protests began in the southern city of Dara’a, where anger stirred against the local head of security (a relative of Assad’s) following the arrest of children writing anti-government graffiti. In response to the abuses extending from the state’s harsh security response to protests, the Syrian Communist Party backed calls for investigations into the state’s harsh crackdowns on protestors and called for reforms to reverse ‘the trend toward economic liberalization,’ such as the full nationalization of several industries to prevent further infiltration of ‘private monopoly capital.’
In the case of both Syrian Communist Parties, historically victims of state repression in Syria, there was a call to oppose imperialist machinations against Syria, to oppose civil war, and for the implementation of economic and political reform.
Does this sound like a vigorous defence of Assad?
Higgins also approvingly quoted a statement from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), an opposition group independent of Western control and, unlike the exile Syria National Coalition (SNC), based in Syria, whose members included left-wing Syrian activists jailed by Assad.
“In addition to blaming the government for fomenting sectarian violence and declaring solidarity with Syrian Kurds,” explained Higgins, “the statement emphasized that the FSA was not subject to checks within the opposition, betraying opposition groups and declaring itself sole representative of the opposition; that it destabilized the country with violence, opening up space for sectarianism; allowed for infiltration of foreign and jihadist groups; opened itself up to splintering and factionalism; and lacked the power to carry out its fight, allowing it to be easily co-opted.”
In hindsight, the NCC’s position was principled and prescient. But for Bloodworth, any criticism of the West’s role in Syria, even by Syrians, equates simply to “defending” the Assad regime.
There’s also the inconvenient fact that Bloodworth himself, who appears to have a short memory, wrote for Jacobin himself in 2011.
Fact and fiction: AlterNet
AlterNet committed the cardinal sins of investigating the use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta massacre in Syria… and quoting me: “AlterNet has hosted articles denying Ghouta and cited 9/11 truther Nafeez Ahmed to argue that Israel is controlling American policy on Syria.”
But lets take Bloodworth’s words and see if they match the actual AlterNet articles they link to.
First, Bloodworth’s link to AlterNet goes to their reprint of an article by award-winning British war correspondent Patrick Cockburn, who writes for the Independent, the respected British daily broadsheet. Cockburn’s piece does not “deny” Ghouta, but raised legitimate questions at the time while conceding that the evidence does seem “compelling” – Cockburn’s overall message was simply to urge caution due to ongoing propaganda from different sides in Syria.
So, Bloodworth should add both Prospect and the Independent to his list of alternative “Stalinist” publications. Or perhaps he didn’t want to, afraid he might burn his bridges with the newspaper for criticising it on such spurious grounds.
Bloodworth’s next link goes to an AlterNet piece, which makes cursory mention of me only in the editorial. The article is by the investigative reporter Max Blumenthal, son of Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – hardly the trappings of an anti-Semite spouting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. The editorial reads as follows:
Max Blumenthal below argues that Israel’s military intelligence and political leadership are forcing the issue [of military intervention in Syria], and a recent New York Times article described the Israel lobby as a powerful presence in the White House’s deliberations. Other journalists, like the Guardian‘s Nafeez Ahmed have suggested that the impetus for attacking Syria is part of a larger regional multi-year project to sustain control over the production of oil and gas by Western oil companies.
Clearly, the article didn’t even mention my work to prove a point about Israel, but to provide context on an entirely separate subject, namely, the role of energy interests in driving the Syria conflict.
Far from arguing that Israel “controls” US policy on Syria, as Bloodworth claims, Blumenthal’s article is far more nuanced: “While the Israelis are far from the only force in bringing the US to the brink of war – obviously Assad’s own actions are the driving factor – their dubious intelligence assessments have proven pivotal.”
Notably, the editorial mentions the New York Times in relation to existence of an Israel lobby. I guess NYT should join Bloodworth’s list of alternative shame, alongside Prospect and the Independent.
In other words, Bloodworth’s depiction of the AlterNet piece is an outright fabrication.
Left foot up its own behind
Why would Bloodworth stoop to such embarrassing lengths of anti-dissent propaganda in the name of ‘journalism’? His antipathy toward “alternative” media is at first glance perplexing, especially given how he proudly describes himself as the former editor of an “independent left-wing blog.”
Despite those pretensions, Bloodworth himself is no “progressive,” routinely promoting the wonders of drone strikes and military intervention in Pakistan and Afghanistan; calling for more war in Iraq; and in Syria; endorsing fracking regardless of its environmental consequences; and most recently, allying himself with the white supremacists at the Henry Jackson Society despite having criticised HJS for its associate director’s obsession with the “skin colour” of Londoners (whom he shared a platform with last year at a HJS event).
In 2012, Bloodworth was interviewed by the late Professor Norman Geras, the author of the pseudo-left 2006 Euston Manifesto published in the New Statesman.
The mutual admiration between Geras and Bloodworth is notable given that Geras’ manifesto sought to reconfigure ‘the left’ in opposition to antiwar sentiment that had grown widespread after the disastrous and self-serving Iraq invasion:
We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people… It is vitally important for the future of progressive politics that people of liberal, egalitarian and internationalist outlook should now speak clearly. We must define ourselves against those for whom the entire progressive-democratic agenda has been subordinated to a blanket and simplistic ‘anti-imperialism’ and/or hostility to the current US administration.
So the “left” must define itself in opposition to ‘anti-imperialism’ and criticisms of neoconservative warmongers in the US.
Signatories to the manifesto included well-known ‘liberal’ commentators who, however, also happen to be closely aligned with neoconservative principles, and fanatically supportive of military interventionism in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider ‘War on Terror’: such as Nick Cohen, now at the Guardian; Oliver Kamm, a Times columnist; Francis Wheen, BBC Radio 4 broadcaster; Neil Denny, host and producer of the radio podcast and magazine, Little Atoms – where Bloodworth published his screed against ‘alternative media’; Richard Sanderson, also of Little Atoms; Harry Hatchet and David T., of right-wing blog Harry’s Place; and Labour MP Gisela Stuart, a political council member of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society (HJS), who also chaired its parliamentary group on transatlantic security until the House of Commons standards watchdog demanded the group disclose its funding sources.
Left Foot Forward was founded in 2009 by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw, who served as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair. Despite his apparent misgivings, Jack Straw played a key role in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, before becoming Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice under Gordon Brown until 2010.
During that period, Jack Straw’s son, Will, landed a job as a senior policy adviser in HM Treasury under Brown, starting in 2003 shortly after the invasion of Iraq, and remaining there for four years.
Recently, Will Straw has tried to distance himself from his father’s support for the Iraq War. But the Evening Standard notes that Will was in fact a staunch defender of the war in private, despite claiming he resents Blair for pursuing regime change: “At university, he was well-liked for his rebelliousness though also known — more, insist former colleagues, than he would care to admit — for defending his dad’s Iraq war policy.”
It is widely believed that Straw is no longer affiliated with Left Foot Forward. This is incorrect.
Company records show that Will Straw has been a Director of Left Foot Forward Ltd. since 2009 until today.
Will Straw later went on to join the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), once dubbed “Tony Blair’s favourite think-tank”, which was recently criticised by the Charity Commission for behaving like it “supported the development of Labour Party policy.”
This summer, Will Straw was appointed executive director of the formal pro-EU cross-party organisation, Britain Stronger in Europe.
Straw’s colleagues in the campaign group, funded largely by Labour Party donor and Tony Blair’s close friend billionaire Lord Sainsbury, include Lord Andrew Cooper, David Cameron’s former Director of Strategy in No. 10; Lord Michael Heseltine, former Conservative Secretary of Defence; former Labour Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandleson; Damian Green, former police and criminal justice minister under Cameron; General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of the General Staff of the British Army from 2010 to 2014, who had previously overseen UK military operations in Iraq, including responsibility for security in Basra; and Ryan Coatzee, a former advisor to the Liberal Democrats on their election strategy.
Also on Left Foot Forward Ltd.’s board of directors is Marcus Alexander Roberts, a former field director for Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign and director of Zentrum Consulting, which describes itself as a “political consultancy”, i.e. a lobbying firm. Roberts also spent time in the US where he worked on the Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama presidential campaigns. Since May, he has been campaign manager for Labour MP Sadiq Khan’s mayoral campaign.
Zentrum was hired by the Labour Party in 2011 to run the ‘refounding Labour’ campaign at the behest of Lord Peter Hain, another Cabinet minister under Blair. According to Dan Hodges, citing “senior party officials,” Zentrum was “being used to effectively bypass the party.”
“Someone is refounding Labour,” concluded Hodges. “But who?”
At the time, Zentrum Consulting was co-managed by Frank Spring, a US-based political campaign consultant. Spring is a Political Partner at the Truman National Security Project, a think-tank made-up of pundits and national security wonks associated with the incumbent Democrat Party. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Truman Project, among others, represented a movement of “fledgling neocons of the left.”
“This new crop of liberal hawks calls for expanding the existing war against terrorism, beefing up the military and promoting democracy around the globe,” observed the Times. “They want, in essence, to return to the beliefs that originally brought the neocons to prominence, the beliefs that motivated old-fashioned Cold War liberals such as Democratic Sen. Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson.”
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader obviously threw a huge spanner in the works for the entire effort to ‘refound Labour’ along the model of the neocon hawks in the Obama administration.
So Left Foot Forward is not, by any means, an “alternative”, “independent” or “non-aligned blog.” It is directed by people who represent the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, two of whom – Will Straw and Marcus Roberts – remain active in Labour and cross-party political campaigning, who attempted (and ultimately failed) to reconstitute Labour as a revitalised Blairite outpost, and who are closely associated with a range of senior political figures, most of whom lean toward the extreme militaristic right of the faux liberal spectrum.
It comes as little surprise, then, to observe that out of all the “independent” commentary on Labour Party politics at Left Foot Forward, the vast bulk of posts concerning Jeremy Corbyn are vehemently negative.
“Just because Jeremy Corbyn is our leader, it does not mean Labour has become a party of peaceniks,” Marcus Roberts told Politico in mid-November. “There is a strong history of liberal interventionism and Dan Jarvis is giving a voice to that,” he continued, referring to the statements of another Labour MP urging Britain to use “all means at our disposal: military, diplomatic, economic and cultural” to defeat ISIS.
“Just as it was wrong to say the whole party was in favour of the Iraq war under Tony Blair, it is equally wrong to say everyone opposes Syrian intervention under Corbyn,” said Roberts.
In August 2015, Bloodworth wrote what he called a “left-wing case against Comrade Corbyn” for International Business Times, describing Corbyn’s Labour as willing to “sacrifice the very people it ought to stick up for – the world’s democrats, secularists, Jews, gays and women – on the ideological alter of anti-Americanism.” Corbyn, therefore, is “persona non grata for any principled person of the left.”
However, as Hugh Lovatt of the European Council on Foreign Relations showed, such anti-Corbyn spin does little more than echo the “scaremongering and disinformation” of the Tory government and pro-Tory media.
One won’t find Bloodworth taking such righteous aim at his own benefactors amongst the neocon Blairites in the Labour Party, many of whom now find themselves aligning with their Tory opponents in their desire to impose a Labour ‘regime change’ to rid the party of its most popular leader in decades.
He prefers, like his purported nemesis Stalin, to witchhunt the dissidents – most Labour Party members – who reject the Blairite “consensus.”
Defending the unfree press
Little Atoms, Bloodworth’s publication of choice for his attack on alternative media, also has a fascinating history with surprising implications for understanding the degradation of the British media landscape today.
Little Atoms is published by 89up, a communications company that provides PR services to private clients.
Among those clients, according to 89up’s website, is the Telegraph Media Group.
What service did 89up provide to the Telegraph?
In October, 89up released a report commissioned by the Telegraph’s corporate owners, calling for the scrapping of new legislation designed to regulate the press, based on the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.
Leveson had uncovered disturbing evidence of newspapers routinely fabricating stories, hounding ordinary citizens, covert surveillance, and even whipping up racism, xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, largely without accountability.
The inquiry thus recommended the establishment of a new independent, self-regulatory body, that would function independent of MPs and the government, but whose powers would be underpinned by statute and the creation of a Royal Charter – and therefore enforceable by law.
Membership of the regulatory body would remain voluntary, but failure to join would mean being policed instead by the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom.
The 89up report, Levesons Illiberal Legacy, was financed not just by the Telegraph Media Group, but also by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK – whose CEO is Rebekah Brooks (and which publishes The Sun and The Times) – and DMG Media, publishers of that wonderful newspaper of repute, the Daily Mail.
Among its co-authors is Padraig Reidy, editor of Little Atoms – which published Bloodworth’s screed – and Editorial Director at 89up, Little Atoms’ publisher.
Amazingly, the Telegraph trumpeted the new 89up report as an “independent” publication under the alarmist headline that new press regulation would stop investigative journalism “dead in tracks.”
Even veteran reporter Roy Greenslade, journalism professor at City University, expressed scepticism about the report’s grandiose claims, noting that “evidence of the press being less free today than it was prior to Leveson is, to be frank, non-existent.”
As the International Forum for Responsible Media observed: “What other national press has been shown to behave like the British press? What other press has been guilty not only of institutional and serial illegality and abuse of the general public which it is tasked to serve, but then has engaged in obfuscation, mendacity, threats and intimidation to cover that wrongdoing up?”
An extensive study of media coverage of press reform issues after Leveson by the Media Standards Trust found, damningly, that newspapers were overwhelmingly biased, and failed to reflect public opinion which was largely in favour of new regulation.
Despite “very frequent” references to the “threat to press freedoms” posed by Leveson and the cross-party charter, the study found: “The claim that press freedom was being threatened was often presented with no supporting evidence, no counter-argument, and without a quote by an identified source.”
The study found that “a consistent 50-70% of the public wanted a system similar to the one Leveson recommended, and on average only 10-25% trusted newspapers to set up an adequate alternative on their own.” As for newspaper readerships, “on average 50-60% wanted their newspaper to join the Cross-Party Royal Charter system, as opposed to around 10% who did not.” The report thus concludes:
Most national newspapers therefore pursued a strong editorial agenda in their news and comment pieces about press regulation that corresponded with their own interests and that did not fairly represent the views of their readers or the broader public. It is difficult not to conclude that coverage of the Leveson report and its aftermath did not live up to the democratic ideal of a diverse range of voices representing the views of the British public.
Who exactly were Little Atoms editor Padreig Reidy and his colleagues at 89up defending with their courageous “independent” report, funded by the very newspaper moguls being investigated for phone-hacking, bribes, political corruption, and other serial law-breaking?
The public interest? Clearly not, given that the public overwhelmingly supports the need for a new vehicle of self-regulation underpinned by statute.
Reidy and his cohorts, it seems, for all their glorious lip-service to freedom of speech, believe that the corporate-dominated press know far better than the public the press is supposed to serve. Money talks. Much louder than people.
Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who broke the hacking affair at News of the World, put it well:
… all that high-octane coverage in the Sun and the Mail about [Leveson’s] report ‘imposing a government leash on papers’ and threatening ‘state regulation of Britain’s free press’ has proved to be no more than froth on the lips of propagandists…
There is a nightmare here, but it is for the old guard of Fleet Street. To lose control of the regulator is to lose their licence to do exactly as they please… the real problem, of course, is in the power of the beast. This debate is not about to be settled with facts and reasoned argument. It will be conducted under the same old rules – of falsehood, distortion and bullying. Will any government stand up to it? That’s where the real nightmare may lie.
We hate Stalinist dictators (except when their Ours)
It is perhaps worth recalling that most of the 89up authors of the Levesons Illiberal Legacy report were linked to Index on Censorship, including Reidy, 89up director Mike Harris, and Helen Anthony.
The roots of the Index are in a little-known CIA front operation to put out anti-Soviet propaganda. In 1950, the CIA set up the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) “as the CIA’s major cultural offensive during the Cold War.” The CCF “funded a string of prestigious magazines and information services”, including a magazine called simply Censorship.
In 1978, a Washington Post staffer Russell Warren Howe provided a candid firsthand account of the role of Meir Mindlin in the CCF: “In 1965, the Congress gave Mindlin funds to start another enterprise, a quarterly magazine called Censorship which investigated overt and covert limitations on free expression around the world. Although most of the articles concerned communist and other authoritarian regimes, these were carefully balanced by pieces on thought control in Japan, or on press taboos in America or Western Europe.”
The Congress was headed-up by Michael Josselon in Paris. “According to informed sources,” Howe reported, “Josselson, who died recently in Geneva, was a CIA staff officer at the time.”
In her book Who Paid the Piper? CIA and the Cultural Cold War, British historian Frances Stonor Saunders notes that “Censorship was the model for Index on Censorship, founded in 1972 by Stephen Spender, with a substantial grant from the Ford Foundation.”
At this time, however, the Ford Foundation was working closely with the CIA to fund anti-Soviet publications.
Even former CIA officials Thomas Troy praises Saunders for doing a “fine job in recounting the intriguing story of how the CIA worked with existing institutions, such as the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and established numerous ‘bogus’ foundations to ‘hide’ its funding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and its other covert activities.”
During this period, as Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, the CIA used the Index’s prime seed-funder, the Ford Foundation, to counter leftwing democratic movements in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
In Chile, this meant overthrowing and demonising the democratically elected government of Salvadore Allende, and sanitising the brutal rule of Western favourite, Augusto Pinochet. In Indonesia, it meant facilitating the genocidal coup that brought down the nationalist government of Sukarno, replacing it with the brutal Suharto dictatorship. The CIA was complicit in Suharto’s ensuing massacres, killing over 500,000 people, and sending 750,000 more to be tortured and detained in concentration camps.
The legacy of this ignominious history lives on at the Index on Censorship today, perhaps not directly, but certainly it seems in a self-soothing liberal culture that specialises in dutifully condemning non-Western dictatorships, while doing very little to counter the institutionalised self-censorship of the increasingly concentrated media autocracy in the UK and US.
If Padraig Reidy really wants to get uppity about state-interference in media, he might want to look into the murky history of his own government.
The Index was, indeed, curiously silent when the Guardian unilaterally terminated my contract for writing about the role of Gaza’s offshore gas reserves in motivating Israel’s military interventions. Of course, that has nothing to do with the fact that the Guardian is a sponsor of the Index’s annual Freedom of Expression Awards.
In this context, it is hardly a surprise that Little Atoms – aligned with Britain’s corporate-dominated gutter press, its staffers schooled in the Eurocentric bubble of the legacy of a Cold War CIA front operation – wants to defend the “decorous consensus” of the broken mainstream media.