Media Lies

Thursday, November 25, 2004

And clueless as ever...

It's that time of year again. Yes, the calendar points towards the advent of yet more hype to shift shoddy produce and in the political echo chamber this of course means a starring role for the angel of death; yes folks, it's she of the shredders: the Right Dishonourable Ann Clwyd, that familiar fixture on these pages who means ever so well, we're sure, although she never quite gets it together unless kicked up the arse.

So here she was on her hind legs a couple of weeks back, serving up a sitter for the Vicar to smash, straight outta Hansard:

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab):
"May I ask my right hon. Friend to look urgently at reports that some civilians caught up in the fighting in Falluja are not able to access urgent medical treatment? May I ask him again to say that surely the main objective now must be to ensure that as much of Iraq as possible is made safe so that free and fair elections can take place next year and the people of Iraq can choose their own elected representatives?"

So whaddya make of that Mr. Smart Arse? It's the lady with the lamp in dark places and the sainted Annie Nightingale ain't afraid to scratch from the wrong hymn sheet, although she's turned her back on all that heavy metal of course. One has to fit in after all, isn't that right Mr. Principles? We don't take no shit from that Dorothy Perkins, now does we Schquealer McBliar? I simply say to you. Etcetera, etcetera...

The Prime Minister:
"The points that my hon. Friend makes are absolutely right. We are doing our best to get supplies, especially medical supplies, through to people in Falluja, but the current problem is that some of the terrorists and insurgents are trying to kill those who are bringing the supplies through. As Prime Minister Allawi made it clear, the Iraqi Government are going to redouble their efforts to achieve that. My hon. Friend's point is absolutely correct, because if the terrorism stopped, many things could happen in Iraq. The reconstruction could proceed more easily and investment in Iraq could be there. The elections - locally and nationally - could take place properly. That is why it is important that whatever the difficulties and people's views on the conflict in Iraq, we stand firm and see this through, because that is in the interests not only of the Iraqi people, but of the wider world."

Hmm. Now this isn't the sort of thing I care to heed normally, much as it irks me to have to watch The Other Side instead. But Ms. Clwyd did me the honour of replying to one of my letters this afternoon, albeit the best part of a month late. Here, in all its glory, is her devotion to the cause:

Dear [Raoul]

Thank you for your email of 30 October, which is receiving attention.

Yours sincerely,

Ann Clwyd MP

Cor blimey! An' I only asked 'er this:

Subject: The Lancet and the liberal conscience
Date: October 30, 2004 19:29:04 BST

Dear Ms. Clwyd,

Please read [this] and let me know how many Iraqis will have to die before you demand a withdrawal of British troops.

I find it increasingly difficult to comprehend the meaning of your job title; what is a special envoy on human rights in Iraq supposed to do if not uphold the right of Iraqi civilians not to be slaughtered?

Yours sincerely,


Now, I ummed and I ahhed. The poor dear must have felt obliged or something and it was clearly going to be of marginal benefit to force her to admit what this meant, so I seized the opportunity, jawohl:

Dear Ann,

Thank you for your reply. Does this mean I can look forward to your public call for the investigation of war crimes committed by the Coalition of the Illegal in Falluja? You have thusfar been conspicuous in your silence regarding the

- deliberate severance of water and electricity supplies
- bombing and occupation of hospitals
- denial of access to aid workers
- use of force to prevent civilians from fleeing combat zones

although you asked Tony Blair on 10 November "to look urgently at reports that some civilians caught up in the fighting in Falluja are not able to access urgent medical treatment".

Perhaps you could point me to the Prime Minister's commitment to do something about it; his Parliamentary answer to your request blamed it all on "the terrorists", rather than the U.S. forces which killed at least 800 civilians, according to the Red Cross.

How many more cities will be destroyed to save Iraq for Western interests?

Yours sincerely,


Now by my reckoning, it's only a month of shopping Sundays until we meet again. I'll be wearing a seasonal stocking mask: Merry Sisyphus, you spineless wretches.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Revenge of The News Tiger

Another day at the office

The FT's John Lloyd, like Martin Kettle of The Guardian, thinks journalists have gone too far.

So let's unsheath our swords of truth and follow the fearless Mr. Lloyd through the square window of the media elite and into the lap of leadership, where style trumps substance whenever possible. All the better to deceive you with, my dears:

"Olivia's little description of Malvolio is a brilliant encapsulation of one of the deepest springs of journalistic action. 'I want bad': I want a disaster to happen near me, with no other journalists present; I want things to go spectacularly wrong, and for someone to tell me the inside story of it to me only; I want, at least, violent personality clashes which can be presented as explanations for public policy. And when I have this nugget, which no one else has or no one else has as fast, I wish it to be a cannon ball, blasting its way into the attention of a distracted audience."

Are journalists the new Shakespeares?

Posted by Philip Challinor on November 13, 2004, 6:53 pm, in reply to "Pontifications journalistic"

"Is Blair the new Thatcher? Is Howard the new Blair? Is Kennedy New Labour? Is style the new substance? Is Marr the new Dimblebooby? Is Media Guardian the new Pseuds Corner? Is Bush the new Bush? Is pro-war the new anti-war? Is ennit the new innit? Is "the new" the new "the new"?"

A swift perusal of these pages will soon disabuse the unconvinced of the notion that such a question could be answered. No sir, we stand for mutually antagonistic friendships everywhere and a firm balance of power with the powerless. In which case we have little use for Mr. Lloyd's homilies, since they neglect to address the elephant in the room: that news editors decide what to print. "The problem is you," he ought to have told his audience, in order that they might reveal its truth to him.

Change the record, I hear you say; very well, let us rewind to my days in the service of The Baron: the spiritual home of The Gurgling Ulcer, and even Mr Lloyd, although his literary pretensions guided him above the salami slicing at the news agency coalface:

"Reuters, which endows this lecture, has still the greatest concentration of foreign correspondents in the world: I know, from my years in Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, that they have some of the bravest. My present colleagues - indeed, my present editor - often served their time before one or other of Reuters' masts: it often took guts, and not the kind of guts you get from eating too many lunches."


The News Tiger
Another day at the office

26 July, 2000

“He was just eight years old. He was the envy of his friends. All because of this holiday he was going on. He’d been looking forward to it for weeks. He was getting to ride on Concorde then taking this super deluxe cruise to go and watch whales in Ecuador…
“That’s the story – there were only three kids on this plane after all. Don’t let me down.”

Michael Kahle melted to death with his parents and 110 others yesterday when one of Air France’s mythical Concorde airliners plunged out of the Paris sky in a ball of fire.

How close can you get without getting burned?

Like the five other affluent couples from Moenchengladbach’s rural suburbia who’d been their companions on a string of similar trips, Kurt and Marion Kahle had opted for a special $1,500 flight to give their dream holiday added spice.

Apart from the post-World War Two arrival of a NATO base and Britain’s Rhineland army headquarters, the city’s concrete chimera hasn’t warranted too much international attention.

But its streets are now full of cameras; its phone lines jammed by preying hacks. And you have to swoop. Everyone is chasing a bite of the big story. But who can spray their scent most indelibly over its human roots?

You want to write a small section of tomorrow’s papers. Death was yesterday’s news. The only hope now is to out-trump it by diving through the one window of opportunity to personify the mutilation.

The staff who’ve loyally served local businessman Harald Ruch’s family firm for decades have been sworn to silence about their generous boss and his wife Silvia.

A starkly simple sign in Werner Tellmann’s furniture shop explaining its sudden shutdown has already been plastered across German TV screens.

And the deserted industrial-estate banality of the business school Kurt Kahle’s grandfather founded in 1947 is just the start of your search.

The phone book lists 10 Kahles. But it’s already 3:30 p.m. and the TV crews are no longer anywhere to be seen. Nor the British newspapermen who’ve flown in specially to camp outside the city-centre offices of the Rheinische Post, hoping to scrounge a few scraps from its regional editor with his superior local knowledge.

Hang on though. You’ve heard Wilhelm Kahle passed on the school to his son Albert Wilhelm before Kurt took over in 1983. And you know your slim hopes rest on the tortured memories of Albert Wilhelm’s eight-year-old grandson.

There’s only one A.W. in the directory. Granddad lives just around the corner.

Never mind the gnawing guilt; forget the chance of being wrong.

The squat semi-detached house with its row of satellite dishes has a wreath on its door to ward you off. But, like the war reporter heroes whose status you crave, you’re here to tell the world.

Aren’t you?

Squashing a fag butt with the boots you polished for an occasion just like this, you wonder how to be grave but receptive as you make your apologies in a foreign language. You really want to show you care. But you don’t – you wouldn’t be reaching for the door-bell if you did. News, you tell your wavering conviction. The shattered lives behind the gruesome statistics.

A cowering white-haired woman who can only be Michael’s grandmother peers round the door that seals off her mourning family, restraining a docile dog as she squints up at you with a look of tender hostility.

“How does it feel to have two generations of your closest descendants charred to death in a shimmering inferno en route to the Caribbean?” you stop yourself from asking.

Her broken features fight back the tears as she whispers: “I’m sorry. I can’t…”

And your charade collapses under the iron glares into which other family members mould their misery at your tentative efforts to intrude on the grief they’ve come to share. With each other, not some overdressed voyeur with hollow promises of redemption under his byline and the leering gaze of readers scattered across six continents.

“I want my five minutes of glory which might never even make the world’s press. So please unfurl your pain at half mast, preferably in golden-quote soundbites and without breaking down completely before I leave.”

That’s me. Trying frantically to re-heat your limp misery with The Sun’s tabloid rays piercing through my emotive magnifying glass. Offering the world a “there but for the grace of God…” tale it never believes anyway.

Tossing aside the comforting cape of the Emperor’s news agency of record as I trudge away to string together a few stale comments from the local paper, I want to know why I wanted to know what you already knew.

You is I is me. Innit.

Which is why I was there.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Observer and the Lancet study.

A week late, the Observer has managed to finally cover the deaths of 100,000 Iraqi civilians . Unfortunately, they have managed to get it ruinously wrong, so I've written them a letter:


Your report on the Lancet study contains the following peculiar sentence:

"The report's authors admit it drew heavily on the rebel stronghold of Falluja, which has been plagued by fierce fighting. Strip out Falluja, as the study itself acknowledged, and the mor tality rate is reduced dramatically."

In fact, Falluja was specifically excluded from the final figure of 98,000 as is explained both in the report itself and by Gilbert Burnham, one of the report's authors, speaking to The New Republic Online. It is surprising that a quality newspaper like the Observer should not only cover the story a week late, but should also miss one of the most glaringly apparent facts about it.


Indeed, it is hard to see how this could have been missed, given that it was mentioned in countless media reports about the results, and not just in the report itself. Is it possible that the Jamie Doward somehow neglected to scan the material he was reporting on? If so, what does this say about the import that the Observer attaches to the lives of Iraqi civilians about whom they were so impassioned only 18 months ago?

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Fallujah: the coming cataclysm.

Some months before the bombing of Iraq became an invasion, Slavoj Zizek suggested that the bellicose and often extreme language of the hawks could have a secondary ideological function of disarming opposition. The idea was that the rhetoric would build up such a climate of apprehension about what destruction awaited Iraq that the world would breathe an immense sigh of relief, and even express gratitude in the event of relatively small casualties and a stable occupation. If that was the strategy, it certainly worked in the short term - until, that is, the occupation degenerated into so much of the 'stuff' that, as Donald Rumsfeld so laconically put it, 'happens'. The casualties mounted into the thousands, tens of thousands, and now - at a conservative estimate - 100,000. The power of nightmares in this case was their ability to irupt into reality.

Now, Fallujah is being pounded with 'preparatory' bombing in the build-up to an invasion by 10,000 US troops and a small contingent of trained Iraqi confederates. Of 285,000 residents, about 235,000 have fled to surrounding areas. They were urged to leave by US troops through loudspeakers, leaflets and a hard rain of artillery. 50,000 residents are said to remain, either because they have no choice or because they are readying themselves to fight the invaders. Only 1,200 of these are said to be hardcore insurgents. The fears of residents of Fallujah are justified; last time there was an attack on Fallujah a single day of bombing produced 400 deaths, and over a single week at least 600 were killed, mostly women and children. Iyad Allawi explains that this latest assault will 'liberate' the Fallujans, even though he blames the city for not handing over al-Zarqawi, who is alleged without evidence to be hiding there. A US soldier, appearing on BBC News 24 this morning, explained in his charmingly homespun way, that if he had a country house near Fallujah he wouldn't hang around. He might have added that anyone hooked up to a drip-feed in a hospital could clear off as well, since a hospital for women and children was precisely one of the targets bombed last night according to residents.

Kofi Annan has protested the bombing on the grounds that it will alienate the Iraqis and reinforce the perception that there is an occupation under way. He is right. There is nothing quite like tanks, airjets and armed troops blasting into a nearby city to induce suspicions that one is indeed under occupation.

Ironies abound at the expense of 'coalition' rhetoric. Fallujah is, we are told, beholden to Ba'athist remnants, foreign fighters and extremists. The residents, so we hear, are nostalgic for the old regime. If so, we have to wonder what the occupiers can have done to change so many hearts and minds. Consider: when Hussein's regime fell, Fallujah was one of the most peaceful areas of Iraq. The leader chosen by local tribes, Taha Bidaywi, was staunchly pro-US. Looting was, unlike elsewhere in Iraq, minimal. In fact, one of the first things the US did to offend local residents was to enter set themselves up in local Ba'ath party headquarters. A Fallujah Protection Force was set up by the Coalition and issued US-style camo fatigues.

However, when in April 2003 a small crowd of demonstrators decided to congregate outside the government building to protest the presence of troops, the crowd was fired upon and fifteen civilians killed. US troops alleged that gunmen had opened fire from the crowd, a tale which would be much more convincing if there were any corroborative evidence and if any of those killed or wounded had been dressed in US military fatigues. "[N]umerous patrols and raids on houses", the Scotsman reports , contributed to widespread dissatisfaction with the occupation. Resistance cells developed and, so we are told, foreign fighters crossed the Syrian border to join the fun. The lynching and mutilating of four 'security contractors' working on behalf of the occupation was notorious not just for its extremity, but for the fact that approximately 1,000 insurgents and residents took part in it. US forces took this as their cue to launch the calamitously named Operation Vigilant Resolve, a month long assault on the city that claimed anything between 600 and 800 lives. At the start of the assault, a power plant was bombed so that households, workplaces and hospitals were deprived of electricity for long spells. Civilians were bombed indiscriminately . Snipers shot at civilians indiscriminately, although as Rahul Mahajan notes, "One thing that snipers were very discriminating about - every single ambulance I saw had bullet holes in it". Sunnis and Shi'ites united from across Iraq to bring assistance to the beseiged Fallujans. On May 1st, 2004, the US gave up and handed control to Major General Muhammad Latif and a brigade including many of the insurgents who had been fighting the US. Banners appeared all over the city, celebrating the ouster of the troops.

They might have won that battle, but there was no way the ceasefire was permanent. Nir Rosen writes in Socialist Review :

Referring to Iraq's Highway 10, a former US Marine currently working very closely in a civilian capacity with the Marine commanders in Fallujah explained to me, 'Fallujah sits on a major artery between Baghdad and the rest of the world. There is no fucking way we will let them stand in our path. We're trying to rebuild the country. Fallujah is in the way. We will be moving massive amounts of people and material in the region. We would have been using the western route a lot more if it was safe.'

So, unsurprisingly, a narrative has been constructed in which Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, responsible for a fraction of attacks in Iraq (six out of three thousand), has been elevated to the status of terrorist mastermind, evildoer, Bond villain and much else besides. If he is in Iraq, he remains the petty anti-Shi'ite thug he was when he was working in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the occupiers are certain that he is at the centre of the resistance and firmly ensconced in Fallujah, and it doesn't do to request evidence. There have been sporadic air attacks on Fallujah since the truce, in which approximately 60 people have died according to US military sources. In the last few weeks, although resistance activities ceased because negotiations were ongoing over the status of Fallujah, the city has been repeatedly bombed. There have as yet been no estimates as to what the cost of the latest campaign has been.

Speaking to the Fallujan Chief of Police, Nir Rosen asked what it was the insurgents wanted:

[H]is answer was typical of what I have been hearing in Iraq for the past 13 months. 'We want a national government that represents the Iraqi people,' he said.

A letter to Kofi Annan , signed by the shura council, tribal leaders and trade unions, says:

Many times the people of Fallujah have asked that if anyone sees al-Zarqawi they should kill him. We know now that he is nothing but a phantom created by the US.

Our representatives have repeatedly denounced kidnapping and killing of civilians. We have nothing to do with any group that acts in an inhumane manner.

We call on you and the leaders of the world to exert the greatest pressure on the Bush administration to end its crimes against Fallujah and pull its army back from the city.

When they left a while ago, the city had peace and tranquillity. There was no disorder in the city. The civil administration here functioned well, despite the lack of resources.

Our “offence” is simply that we did not welcome the forces of occupation.

This is our right according to UN Charter, according to international law and according to the norms of humanity.

It is very urgent that you, along with other world leaders, intervene immediately to prevent another massacre.

Annan, begged to roar, has squeaked. He is ignored or dismissed. Iyad Allawi has described Annan's pleas as 'confused'. The only interventionist force left is the antiwar movement . Only immediate and jarring protest has any hope of preventing this planned atrocity. Fallujah in need of defending from a double injury, then: they shouldn't have to bear the brunt of the US's desire to expand its geopolitical hegemony, and they certainly shouldn't have to hear that it is all their own fault, or it is being done for their own good.

Through the glory hole

The money shot

Zero-tolerance policing may have cleaned up Times Square but the tawdry peep-show around the corner on West 43rd Street still likes to treat freedom to a daily golden shower.

[Pictures by Smacked Face]

Mind you they’re so pissed off this morning in Manhattan that the shame was enough to make a shy bald Yogi reflect and scream:

"Contemplating (seriously) moving to Canada. I hate the bastard. And I will never forget the half of the country that put the son of a bitch back in office. Sad sad times here..."

Even the editorial typesetters of The New York Times were moved to remember that Dick is a killer.

"In his speech yesterday, Mr. Cheney stressed the president's mandate. Given the way Mr. Cheney behaved during the first term, it's unnerving to imagine what he may have in mind now."

Ms. Liberties, Maureen Dowd, is terrified by the split cleaving the left down the same moral axis as the rest of the country: sadomasochistic fetishism versus anything goes.

"W. doesn't see division as a danger. He sees it as a wingman.

"The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule. He doesn't want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagree to heel. ...with this crowd, it's hard to imagine what would constitute overreaching. Invading France?"

Gazing at his navel, Gary Hart swears off self-abuse with the fantasy that if we all pull together all the icky stuff will just come and go. British public schoolboys are still stuck on that one, which is how they manage to disguise their paternalistic proclivities when preaching to the downtrodden. Hence the Independent column by a lonely Hart.

"When the American people recover their egalitarian impulses and their sense that we are all in this together, the Democrats will be there. When they become secure enough to embrace cultural diversity and difference, we will also be there. And when our people look for leadership and genuine strength based on mature thought and experienced wisdom, we will once more be there."

Thomas Friedman, the High Priest of bombing and anti-Islamofascism, suddenly admitted that his chickenhawks had dicks:

"We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is."

Even an alumnus of the Nixon White House was worried:

"The atrophy of the usual checks and balances requires a certain internal restraint."

What? From the media? Ah, well, perhaps that explains the conclusion of today’s Times editorial:

"[Bush] could be the uniter he promised to be, then failed to become, four years ago. He could put an end to a period in national history when too many people go to the polls on Election Day convinced that victory for the other side would mean disaster for the nation. A lot of voters felt that way on Tuesday, and now Mr. Bush has the chance to show them they were wrong.

Hello? Houston, we have a problem. Earth to the liberal conscience, do you read me? The vaporization of Falluja beckons. Are we allowed an opinion, or are there limits to free speech between the Bloomingdales adverts?

I wonder why poor people vote Republican.

"They have come to the conclusion that they are going to be screwed regardless of which party is in power, and they prefer to be screwed by a group that doesn't appear to hold them in contempt. Indeed, you get the impression that their hatred is so great that they are taunting the liberal attempts at policy solutions to their problems, almost saying we hate your contempt for us so much we'll prove it by voting against our own interests."

Others are less charitable.

"At the moment - as an expat who fled what I see as intolerable stupidity in American pop culture - I'm not inclined to be so generous to Archie Bunker and Friends. At least not any more generous to them than most Germans are toward their grandparents on the issue of how they voted in 1932. Bush isn't Hitler, but that's about the best thing I can say at the moment for America's 'silent majority'."

Here on the sub side of the special relationship's dominatrix, it's just as bad, with a cleavage like you haven't seen since the days of the miners' strike. The wolf in sheep’s clothing act only works if there’s something to whip out at the right moment.

Unfortunately for democracy, Bliarism is all mouth and no trousers when it counts. The figleaf might be endearing, but it’s not very liberating, especially not with tribal wars blinding us to our common humanity:

"Cristina Odone, the departing deputy editor of the New Statesman, has accused 'neo-left' plotters of subjecting her to a campaign of 'very personal vitriol' during her time at the weekly political magazine."

"I was never on the left. I was very much taken by Tony Blair's Christian socialist credentials, but I soon became disillusioned. What really got to me is how vicious this neo-left division could be. Because it's a very tribalist group they suspected me of being an interloper and a foreigner."

Has the left lost its voice? At each others throats and not a lovebite in sight.

"I hope those who supported a mealy-mouthed kowtowing to the Democrat machine have seen the error of their ways. The lesser evilism will always cause a drift to the right. Once agreed on economic policy, and the Republicrats are, you give up rational choices for the electorate. Then you are only left with appeals to voter prejudice, the Gagg tactic.

So, shout from the hip and outfox the bastards. Don’t blame those fooled by the three-card trick, stop pulling it and stand up for what you believe in. Lay off the intellectual masturbation and have a good poke more often. Preferably unspun and above the fold.

Maybe then there really might be a third-way alternative to Anyone But Bush and his theosophic Republicrats. For British voyeurs, this translates into PR polling and some honest P.R., instead of the Torygraf’s take on current affairs. Or are you waiting for the Return of the King too?

Got issues? Tell us about 'em, before it's too late.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Iraqi National Foundation Congress statement

James at Dead Men Left carries a statement from the Iraqi National Foundation Congress on the upcoming elections in Iraq, which Bush has probably already won (maybe Greg Palast has some news on this):

Here is a condensed translation of the statement entitled “Free and fair elections with impartial supervision by international, Arab and Islamic reputable bodies is what the people demand.” It is dated 27 October2004, and published as pictures of a hand-signed leaflet on on 3d November 04.

Political developments have validated the INFC stance of refusing to take part in the Iraqi Governing Council, the current Interim Government and the National Assembly. All these proved to be mere instruments of foreign occupation.
We have always demanded free and fair elections with impartial international supervision so that an elected government can be formed by the popular will, rather than by the occupiers. This stance was consistent with those of many other patriotic forces and religious authorities.

And now that the occupation and its Interim government are claiming they are preparing for elections in January next year, the question arises as to the requirements for it to be free and fair. Our consultations within the Congress and sister groups lead us to formulate these requirements as follows...

Read more about the INFC here . I somehow expect that this will escape the attention of Harry's Place, Johann Hari, Christopher Hitchens, Norman Geras and all the other charming exponents of occupation.