In 1987, the Australian sociologist Alex Carey,
a second Orwell in his prophesies, wrote "Managing Public Opinion: The
Corporate Offensive." He described how in the United States "great
progress [had been] made toward the ideal of a propaganda-managed democracy,"
whose principal aim was to identify a rapacious business state "with every
cherished human value." The power and meaning of true democracy, of the
franchise itself, would be "transferred" to the propaganda of advertising,
public relations, and corporate-run news. This "model of ideological control,"
he predicted, would be adopted by other countries, such as Britain.
To many who work conscientiously in the media in developed societies, this will
sound alarmist; it is not like that in Britain, they will say. Ask them about
censorship by omission or the promotion of business ideology and war propaganda
as news, a promotion both subtle and crude, and their defensive response will
be that no one ever instructed them to follow any line: no one ever said not
to question the prime minister about the horror he had helped to inflict on
Iraq: his epic criminality. "Blair always enjoys his interviews with Paxo,"
says Roger Mosey, the head of BBC Television News, without a hint of irony.
Blair should enjoy them; he is always spared the imperious bombast of Jeremy
Paxman, the BBC's political "interrogator," whose work is now a pastiche
and kept mostly for official demons. "Watch George Galloway clash with
Jeremy Paxman," says the BBC News homepage like a circus barker. Once under
the big top of the BBC's Newsnight you get the usual setup: a nonsensical
question about whether or not Galloway, who, representing the antiwar party
Respect, defeated the Labour member of a safe seat in east London, was "proud
of having got rid of one of the few black women in parliament," followed
by mockery of the very idea that his opponent, an unabashed Blairite warmonger,
should account for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.
Seven years ago, when Denis Halliday, one of the United Nations' most respected
humanitarian aid directors, resigned from his post in Iraq in protest at the Anglo-American-led
embargo, calling it "an act of genocide," he was given the Paxo treatment.
"Aren't you just an apologist for Saddam Hussein?" he was mock-asked.
The following year, UNICEF revealed that the embargo had killed half a million
Iraqi children. As for East Timor, a triumph of the British arms trade and Robin
Cook's "ethical" foreign policy, the presence of British Hawk jets was
"not proved," declared Paxo, parroting a Foreign Office lie. (A few
months later, Cook came clean.) Today, napalm is used in Iraq, but the armed forces
minister is allowed to pretend that it isn't. Israel's weapons of mass destruction
are "dangerous in the extreme," says the former head of the US Strategic
Command, but that is a permanent taboo.
In the London Guardian of May 9, famous journalists and their executives
were asked to reflect on the election campaign. Almost all agreed that it had
been "boring" and "lacked passion" and "never really
caught fire." Mosey complained that "it was difficult to reach out
to people who are disengaged." Again, irony was absent, as if the BBC's
obsequiousness to the "consensus of propaganda," as Alex Carey called
it, had nothing to do with people's disengagement or with the duty of journalists
to engage the public, let alone tell them things they had a right to know.
It is this right-to-know that is being lost behind a willful illusion. Since the
cry "freedom of the press" was first heard roughly 500 years ago, when
Wynkyn de Worde set up Caxton's printing press in the yard of St. Bride's Church,
off Fleet Street in London, there has never been more information or media in
the "mainstream," yet most of it is now repetitive and profoundly ideological:
captive of the insidious system Carey described.
Omission is how it principally works. Between April 1-15, the Media Tenor Institute
analyzed the content of television evening news. Foreign politics, including
Iraq, accounted for less than two percent. Search the postelection comments
of the most important people in journalism for anything about the greatest political
scandal in memory the unprovoked bloodbath in Iraq and you will find nothing.
The Goldsmith affair, in which the attorney general advice to Blair that the
invasion was illegal, was an aberration forced on to the election agenda not
by a journalist but by an insider; and no connection was then made with the
suffering and grief in Iraq.
In the middle of the election campaign, Dr. Les Roberts gave a special lecture
at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London. It was all but ignored.
Yet this is the extraordinary man who led an American-Iraqi research team in
the first comprehensive investigation of civilian deaths in Iraq. Published
in the Lancet, the most highly regarded medical journal in the world
with the tightest peer-review procedures, the study found that "at least"
100,000 civilians had died violently, the great majority of them at the hands
of the "coalition": women, children, the elderly. He also described
how American military doctors had found that 14 percent of soldiers and 28 percent
of Marines had killed a civilian: a huge, unreported massacre.
This great crime, together with the destruction of the city of Fallujah and the
40 known victims of torture and unlawful killings at the hands of the British
army, and the biggest demonstration by Iraqis demanding the invaders get out,
was not allowed to intrude on a campaign that "never really caught fire."
The airbrushing requires no conspiracy. "The thought," wrote Arthur
Miller, "that the state has lost its mind and is punishing so many innocent
people is intolerable, and so the evidence has to be internally denied."
In its ideological crusade, the Blair regime has bombed and killed and abused
human rights directly or by proxy, from Iraq to Colombia, from tsunami-stricken
Aceh to the 14 most impoverished countries in Africa where the sale of British
weapons have fanned internal conflict. When I asked a television executive why
none of this was glimpsed in the election "coverage," he seemed nonplussed.
"It was not relevant to the news," he said. What is relevant in the
wake of the election is a propaganda consensus promoting the potential greatness
of the Chancellor Gordon Brown, as the greatness of the now embarrassing Blair
was once promoted. ("My God, he will be a hard act to follow. My God, Labour
will miss him when he has gone," wrote Blair's most devoted promoter, Martin
Kettle, in the Guardian, skipping over his crimes.)
That Brown is the same ideologue as Blair is of no concern, neither is his commitment,
not to ending poverty in the world, but to the rehabilitation of imperialism.
"We should be proud
of the empire," he said last September.
"The days of Britain having to apologize for its colonial history are over,"
he told the Daily Mail. These views touch the nostalgic heart of the
British establishment, which, under Thatcher and Blair, has recovered from its
long disorientation after Hitler gave all imperial plunderers a bad name. This
and the appeasement of British imperialists is rarely mentioned in the endless
anniversaries of the Second World War, whose triumphalism in politics and popular
culture has bred imperial wars, like Iraq.
Thus, Blair's foreign policy adviser Robert Cooper caused little controversy
when he wrote a pamphlet calling for "a new kind kind of imperialism, one
acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan views." This is
conquest redefined as liberation, evoking the same moral claims that were not
questioned until Hitler. "Imperialism and the global expansion of the western
powers, wrote Frank Furedi in The New Ideology of Imperialism, were represented
in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilization."
That imperialism was and is racist, violent, and a cause of suffering across
the world witness the ruthless expulsion of the people of Diego Garcia
as recent as the 1970s is "not relevant to the news." Observe
instead the BBC swoon at Gordon Brown's 19th-century speeches about ending African
poverty on condition that business can exploit and arm Africa's poorest.
All this chimes in Washington, where Bush's drivel of "democracy and liberty
on the march" is swallowed by leading journalists on both sides of the
Atlantic. A vintage imperialist campaign is under way against strategic and
resource-rich Arab nations: indeed, against all Muslim peoples. It is the "clash
of civilizations" of Samuel Huntington's delusions. The Arabs being Semites,
it is one of the West's greatest anti-Semitic crusades.
That, you might say, is well discussed. Perhaps. What is not discussed is a
worldwide threat similar to that of Germany in the 1930s: certainly the greatest
threat in the lifetime of most people. This is not news. Consider the unreported
demise of the "war on terror." In his inaugural speech in January,
Bush pointedly said not a word about that which he had made his signature. No
terrorism. No Osama. No Iraq. No axis of evil. Instead, he warned that America's
new targets were those living in whole regions of the world which "simmer
in resentment and tyranny" and where "violence will gather, and multiply
in destructive power, and cross the most defended powers, and raise a mortal
The monumental paranoia is almost beside the point. Bush was lowering the threshold.
The American military can go anywhere, attack anything, use any kind of weapon
in pursuit of is latest, most dangerous illusion: the "simmering resentment"
and the "gathering violence." Unreported is the military coup that
has taken place in America; the Pentagon and its civilian militarists now control
"policy." Diplomacy is "finished
dead," as one of
them put it. Andrew Bacevich, soldier, conservative, and professor of American
military strategy at Boston University, says that Bush has "committed the
United States to waging an open-ended war on a global scale."
Britain, with its profound understanding of imperialism, is a pioneer of this
new danger. In 1998, the Blair government's Strategic Defense Review stated
that the country's military priority would be "force projection" and
that "in the post-Cold War world we must be prepared to go the crisis rather
than have the crisis come to us." In 2002, Geoff Hoon became the first
defense secretary to declare that British nuclear weapons could be used against
non-nuclear nations. In December 2003, a defense white paper, "Delivering
Security in a Changing World," called for "expeditionary operations"
in "a range of environments across the world." Military force was
no longer "a separate element in crisis resolution." Almost a third
of public spending on research now goes to the military: far more than is spent
on the National Health Service.
On Aug. 6, it will be the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima
which, with the destruction of Nagasaki, stands as one of the greatest crimes.
There is now a nuclear renaissance, led by the nuclear "haves," with
America and Britain upgrading their "battlefield" nuclear weapons.
The very real danger is, or should be clear to all of us. The Guardian
says Blair, having won his "historic" third term, ought to be "humble."
It is truly humbling that only 20 percent of eligible voters voted for him,
the lowest figure in modern times, and that he has no true mandate. No, it is
journalists who ought to be humble and do their job.