Archive for the ‘Media’ Category
How an evidence-free CIA finding alleging Russian interference in the US election was turned into an indisputable ‘truth’
December 17, 2016
Updated December 18, 2016
By Stephen Gowans
Only a few days ago the New York Times acknowledged that the CIA finding that the Kremlin hacked the Democratic National Convention’s computers with the intention of influencing the US presidential election was based, not on evidence, but conjecture. Today, the newspaper’s reporters have forgotten their earlier caveats and have begun to treat the intelligence agency’s guess-work as an established truth.
Emblematic of the newspaper’s approach of acknowledging the uncertainty of many intelligence assessments only to quickly throw caution to the wind to embrace them as certain facts, was a December 15 report by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo in which the two reporters wrote that the “hack influenced the course, if not the outcome, of a presidential campaign.”  The sentence is astonishing for not only stripping the CIA finding of its immanent uncertainty, but in venturing well beyond the intelligence agency’s judgement to aver what no one could possibly know, namely, whether the release of DNC e-mails influenced the presidential campaign.
That it did, and at Clinton’s expense, is, of course, the conclusion the Democrats, if not a faction of the US ruling class associated with the Clintons, would like the US public to arrive at. In this, the New York Times has provided signal assistance as the unofficial propaganda arm of the US ruling class’s Democratic Party wing. Yet, we don’t even know if the DNC e-mails were hacked let alone by agents of the Russian government. One alternative explanation is that the e-mails were leaked by someone inside the DNC. Nevertheless, Goldman and Apuzzo claim to know far more than anyone could possibly know: that the CIA’s analysis is true despite the agency’s own admission of uncertainty and that, additionally, the Russian government intended to influence the outcome of the campaign and that its efforts bore fruit.
New York Times reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger were slightly more circumspect than the omniscient Goldman and Apuzzo, but nevertheless wrote of “Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election,” as if this is not a matter of conjecture but established fact. They also mentioned Trump’s refusal “to accept Moscow’s culpability,” as if Moscow’s culpability is indisputable.  Sanger is a member of the Wall Street-directed foreign policy think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, of which most members of the Obama cabinet are also members, as were occupants of the most significant offices of the US state, going back to at least the Carter administration.  The CFR is likely the body through which the anti-Trump faction of the US ruling class organizes itself.
Let’s recall how much uncertainty underlies the CIA finding which the New York Times now accepts as fact, in the same way the newspaper quickly accepted as fact an equally tentative, and evidence-free US intelligence finding that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in its war against Al Qaeda and the Islamist group’s allies, offshoots and auxiliaries. Today, “Assad’s use of chemical weapons” is bandied about in the Western media as if it were an incontrovertible fact, belying the reality that the US intelligence finding on the matter was based on belief, not evidence, and that there was, by Washington’s own admission, no “smoking gun.” What’s more, the idea that the Syrian military would use chemical weapons, which are less effective than conventional arms, when doing so would have crossed a redline drawn by Washington, and invited a more muscular US intervention in Syria, never made sense.
The US newspaper of record reported that “two Russian hacking groups” were “found at work inside the D.N.C. network,” “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” Cozy Bear, according to the newspaper, “may or may not be associated with the F.S.B., the main successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B” (emphasis added.) Fancy Bear, it turns out, also may or may not be associated with the Russian government, in this case, “the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency.” Nevertheless, the New York Times revealed that both groups are “believed” by Washington to be Russian government operations (though they may or may not be.) 
How was this belief arrived at? Through a process the New York Times describes as attribution, “the skill of identifying a cyberattacker.” This is a fancy way of describing conjecture. Attribution is “more art than science,” the newspaper concedes, while acknowledging that it “is often impossible to name an attacker with absolute certainty.”  Finding water with a divining rod, and predicting the future with a Ouija board, are also more art than science, and both involve the process of attribution, the skill of identifying hidden water and hidden events, though it is often impossible to find water, and foretell the future, with absolute certainty. Divination and CIA analyses apparently have much in common.
Given that the CIA analysis appears to be more art than science, and more conjecture than evidence, how do we get from the multiple agnostic claims that a) the Russian government may or may not have initiated a cyberattack against the DNC; b) it’s impossible to say with certainty that it did; and c) it’s all guess work, to a definite declaration, as appeared in the New York Times on December 13? “Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.”
The FBI began investigating the allegation that Russia meddled in the election over the summer.  The bureau doubted “the CIA had a basis for coming to (its) conclusions.”  As a consequence, the organization refused to “sign on to the public statement attributing the hacking to Russia.” 
The reasons for the FBI scepticism were outlined by the New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau on December 11. The reporters wrote that the CIA’s conclusion “is based on “circumstantial evidence…that others,” namely, the FBI and the CIA’s sister intelligence organizations “feel does not support firm judgments.”  “People familiar with the hacking investigation long have said that…it would be difficult to prove in court,” added the Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris.  Intelligence “findings are more grounded in analysis” wrote Harris, as opposed to “the evidentiary standards the FBI typically uses.”  One of the “core realities of intelligence analysis,” reported Mazzetti and Lichtblau, is that they “are often made in a fog of uncertainty…based on putting together shards of a mosaic that do not reveal a full picture, and can always be affected by human biases.”  Echoing this, Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous wrote that officials “are frequently looking at information that is fragmentary. They also face issues…that (make) it hard – if not impossible – to conclusively detect the Kremlin’s elusive fingerprints.”  (Note that in this sentence the truth of what is to be proved in already assumed, namely, that the Kremlin’s fingerprints are present—it’s just difficult to detect them.)
In short, the FBI “wants facts and tangible evidence.” The CIA “is more comfortable drawing inferences.” The FBI thinks “in terms of…can we prove this.” The CIA makes “judgment calls.” High confidence for the CIA “doesn’t mean they can prove it.” 
Other intelligence agencies, apart from the FBI, also doubted the CIA’s judgment call.
The CIA analysis “fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies,” reported the Washington Post, owing to “disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment.”  One disagreement related to the absence of “specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin” directing the hacking. It seemed that the people the CIA suspected of carrying out the hack were not employees of the Russian government. 
This called into question an earlier, October 7, finding from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In a joint declaration, the US intelligence czars said they were “confident that the Russian Government directed the … compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” But the intelligence community’s confidence didn’t rest on direct evidence. Nothing tied the suspected hackers to the Kremlin. The finding was, instead, based on a belief—“that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities” and that “the alleged hacked e-mails … are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”  In other words, the intelligence community had no proof.
The October 7 statement also referred to the hacked e-mails as “alleged,” suggesting that despite its claimed confidence, Washington wasn’t even sure the DNC servers were hacked. The e-mails could have been leaked from within.
It is a reality of everyday life that decisions are made in the face of uncertainty. We can’t always defer action until evidence accumulates. For this reason, the US intelligence community’s efforts to arrive at a judgment based on fragmentary evidence and analysis is perfectly reasonable. But once decisions that are, in effect, working hypotheses become received doctrine—when “the DNC servers may or may not have been hacked, and the Kremlin may or may not be the perpetrator” becomes — “Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S,” as the New York Times put it— the process degenerates into propaganda.
None of this is to acknowledge the sheer hypocrisy of the US government accusing the Kremlin of interfering in the US election when no other country has as extensively meddled in the electoral outcomes of foreign countries as has the United States. The New York Times offered a token admission of US culpability. “The United States, too, has carried out cyberattacks, and in decades past the C.I.A. tried to subvert foreign elections,” wrote Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane.  A few days later, Sanger expanded on US subversion of foreign elections. It “is worth remembering that trying to manipulate elections is a well-honed American art form,” Sanger noted.
The C.I.A. got its start trying to influence the outcome of Italy’s elections in 1948, as the author Tim Weiner documented in his book “Legacy of Ashes,” in an effort to keep Communists from taking power. Five years later, the C.I.A. engineered a coup against Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s democratically elected leader, when the United States and Britain installed the Shah.
“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” the agency concluded in one of its own reports, declassified around the 60th anniversary of those events, which were engineered in large part by Kermit Roosevelt Jr., a grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.
There were similar interferences over the years in Guatemala, Chile and even in Japan, hailed as a model of post-World War II democracy, where the Liberal Democratic Party owes its early grip on power in the 1950s and 1960s to millions of dollars in covert C.I.A. support. 
Since World War II, Washington has grossly interfered in the elections of 30 foreign countries. Over the same period, the US government has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments and attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders–different means to accomplish the same end, namely, interfering in the politics of foreign countries. 
And while in decades past it may have been that the “CIA tried to subvert foreign elections,” as the New York Times acknowledges, what isn’t mentioned is that in recent decades foreign election meddling has been transferred to the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy. The organization’s first president acknowledged that the NED’s role is to carry out overtly the task of influencing foreign elections that the CIA had once done covertly. The NED has been active in attempts to influence electoral outcomes in Serbia, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. The NED interferes in the elections of countries in which the sitting government has refused to fall in behind the United States as self-appointed leader of the international order, preferring self-determination and sovereignty. So Washington has manoeuvred to install biddable governments in these countries that are amenable to acquiescing to US leadership, which is to say, submitting to the international dictatorship of the United States.
None of the foregoing is to suggest that Washington is getting its comeuppance. On the contrary, there’s no evidence that Russia intervened in the US election, much less that the DNC servers were hacked. (A group of former US intelligence officers believe the e-mails were leaked. )
The incident should remind us that the US government often makes allegations on the basis of nothing more than conjecture, which “can always be affected by human biases,” as the New York Times concedes,  or political pressure, as the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq affirms. No less worthy of our attention is the reality that the mass news media have agendas which comport with the interests of their owners, that their owners belong to the economic elite, and that the economic and political elites are intertwined. This explains why the mass media act as conduits of propaganda through which evidence-free intelligence findings are regularly disseminated to the public to manufacture consent for, or at least acquiescence to, elite agendas; Iraq’s non-existent WMD are emblematic of a fiction attributed to an intelligence “failure” that was used as a casus belli to rally support for war.
One can only guess—like the CIA guessing at who leaked the DNC e-mails and why—that there is a struggle within the US ruling class over the outcome of the US election, with the faction to which the Clintons belong resolved to prevent Trump from becoming president, or, at least, undermining his presidency. The reasons are likely due to intolerance of Trump’s promised departures from core US foreign policy tenets, especially his professed desire to treat Russia as a partner rather than adversary, his repudiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and other heterodoxies.
1. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, “U.S. faces tall hurdles in detaining or deterring Russian hackers,” The New York Times, December 15, 2016
2. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and David E. Sanger, “Obama says U.S. will retaliate for Russia’s election meddling,” The New York Times, December 15, 2016
3. Laurence H.Shoup. Wall Street’s Think Tank: The Council on Foreign Relations and the Empire of Neoliberal Geopolitics, 1976-2014, Monthly Review Press, 2015
4. Eric Lipton, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane, “The perfect weapon: How Russian cyberpower invaded the U.S.,” The New York Times, December 13, 2016
6. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau, “C.I.A. judgement on Russia built on swell of evidence,” The New York Times, December 11, 2016
7. Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers in Russia’s motives un 2016 hacks,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2016
8. Shane Harris, “Donald Trump fuels rift with CIA over Russian hack,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2016
9. Mark and Lichtblau
10. Shane Harris, “Donald Trump fuels rift with CIA over Russian hack,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2016
11. Harris, December 11, 2016
12. Mazzetti and Lichtblau
13. Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers in Russia’s motives un 2016 hacks,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2016
15. Adam Entous, Ellen Nakaskis, and Greg Miller, “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House,” The Washington Post, December 9, 2016
17. “Joint Statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security,” October 7, 2016
18. Lipton, Sanger and Shane
19. David E. Sanger, “Obama confronts complexity of using a mighty cyberarsenal against Russia,” The New York Times, December 17, 2016
20. William Blum, “The Anti-Empire Report,” No. 146, November 6, 2016
21. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, “US Intel Vets Dispute Russia Hacking Claims,” Common Dreams, December 15, 2016
22. Mazzetti and Lichtblau
By Stephen Gowans
The New York Times ran an article on May 12 suggesting that the Syrian government has held back some of its chemical weapons and is using them against rebel fighters. Significantly, the allegation was backed by no evidence, yet the newspaper chose to run the story anyway.
In their story (“Inspectors in Syria find traces of banned military chemicals”) reporters Somini Sengupta, Marlise Simons and Anne Barnard cited a conclusion drawn by an anonymous Western diplomat who was briefed on findings by inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The inspectors had reportedly found traces of toxic nerve agents in Syria. The diplomat was quoted as saying that there’s a “strong suspicion” that the Syrians “are retaining stockpiles which are being held back.”
However, a close reading of the article showed that there was not one whit of evidence to back up the diplomat’s suspicion. Indeed, at various points in the article, the story’s lead was challenged by the journalists themselves.
• “[S]mall amounts of banned agents [have been found. But these findings] do not necessarily indicate a lingering weapons program.”
• “[T]here was no clear evidence of new use or production of forbidden chemicals.”
• “There is no evidence that banned materials were used in weapons after Syria signed the treaty, or that Syria possesses sufficient quantities to use in future weapons.”
A fitting headline would have read “Western diplomat accuses Syrian government of hiding chemical weapons, on no evidence.”
In the same article the reporters refer to “mounting evidence that Mr. Assad’s forces had violated the terms of the international treaty banning use of chemical weapons … by dropping jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas.” The mounting evidence turned out to be the testimony of witnesses who say the bombs have been dropped from government helicopters.
However, the quality of the evidence is untested, and virtually useless. There’s no way to determine whether the witnesses are authentic or simply opponents of the Syrian government who have an interest in spreading false allegations.
What’s more, there’s a compelling reason to believe that Syrian forces have not engaged in the action they’re accused of. Jerry-built chlorine bombs are capable only of briefly incapacitating a few fighters. Conventional bombs—which the Syrians have in abundance—permanently eliminate many more. Why, then, would Syrian forces risk worldwide condemnation to use an ineffective weapon, when they have more effective weapons at their disposable which world opinion does not condemn?
Sensing that their source’s allegation may be treated with suspicion, the New York Times journalists acknowledge that “Evidence of chemical weapons remains a fraught issue for global public opinion more than a decade after false claims of an Iraqi chemical weapons program were used to justify the American invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.”
No less fraught is the complicity of Western media in propagating similarly baseless allegations to serve an obvious political agenda.
By Stephen Gowans
He has cracked down harshly on protestors who object to his autocratic style. He calls his opponents terrorists and says there’s a foreign plot to topple his government. He says the opposition is infiltrated with foreigners from all parts of the world.
No. This is Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to The New York Times. 
The Times fails to mention that Erdogan has killed his own people, both Kurds, whose struggle for autonomy the Turkish state has waged war to annihilate, and demonstrators, who have protested without arms against the Turkish prime minister’s autocratic ways.
Which makes one wonder why the United States, and its satellites, the UK and France, justify their support for the head-barbecuing, organ-eating religious fanatics who are trying to topple the anti-sectarian, secular Arab nationalist state in Damascus by pointing to the same behavior on Assad’s part that they’re perfectly willing to tolerate on Erdogan’s.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that “The Central Intelligence Agency has been training rebels in Jordan under a covert program.” 
So why isn’t the CIA training rebels to bring down the popular uprising-crushing, kill-his-own-people Erdogan, or to topple the brutal, royal dictators in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE? These monarchical tyrants have no more patience for demonstrators than Erdogan has—indeed, considerably less. Bahrain’s crowned dictator crushed a popular uprising in blood with the help of tanks dispatched by the misogynistic, democracy-abominating, Saudi family dictatorship next door.
But Assad is different. He has used chemical weapons. At least, that’s what my local newspaper tells me. Accepting the White House at its word, Ottawa Citizen reporters Jason Fekete and Jordan Press, write that “chemical weapons have been used by the Assad regime.”  Not are alleged to have been used. Not the White House claims they have been used. But, they have been used. Period.
Parenthetically, on the same day the Citizen reporters were playing Charlie McCarthy to the White House’s Edgar Bergen, the Wall Street Journal ran a headline that read: “West to Press Iran on Nukes.”  Iran doesn’t have nukes, but the Western media every once in a while like to tell us they do, presumably to keep the fear-level high enough to justify the United States and European Union carrying out their sub-critical anti-Iran war of economy-crippling sanctions, cyberattacks, and assassinations. After all, who wants a mad Ayatollah running around with nukes? On the other hand, Israel’s estimated 400 nukes, its nuke-launching submarines, nuke-delivering long-range bombers, and nuke-tipped long-range missiles, are rarely mentioned, if ever. “West to Press Israel on Nukes” is a headline you’ll never see—except in a really good alternative history where the world turns out as it should. Who wants crazed Zionists running around with nukes?
One might have thought that after the Bush administration’s phony Iraq weapons of mass destruction frame-up, that the two Ottawa Citizen reporters would have exercised a good deal more caution when reporting on Washington’s self-declared reasons for intervening in the affairs of other countries. At minimum, they might have noted that the White House chemical weapons claim is just that—a claim. And that Washington’s record on these matters is not what you’d call confidence-inspiring.
What’s more, if the Iraq WMD deception wasn’t enough to galvanize Fekete and Press to greet the White House’s announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism, the text accompanying US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’ announcement that the US intelligence community had assessed that Syrian forces had used chemical agents should surely have set alarm bells ringing. Rhodes said that the evidence does not “tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible.”  In other words, we’ve assessed that Assad did it, but our evidence doesn’t tell us he did it.
Even if Washington, itself, had not qualified its own claim, the reporters’ unqualified assertion that chemical weapons have been used by Syrian forces would have been unwarranted, and hardly up to the standards of journalism that journalists are supposed to practice, but rarely do. It’s doubly unwarranted given that Washington acknowledges that its own evidence is, well, not really evidence at all, but “shreds and shards of information that could be possibly linked to chemical weapons,”  but used by whom, we’re not really sure.
Given all this, could one really be blamed for arriving at the conclusion that Fekete and Press are not journalists at all, but Western chauvinist stenographers, whose total absence of scepticism about the motives of Western states, serves well the cause of duping the public into going along with Western interventions to topple official enemies?
Back to Erdogan. As part of the alliance of US lackeys seeking to topple the non-lackey Syrian government by giving arms and training to Islamist fanatics with a taste for human liver, Erdogan can be assured that Washington won’t be coming after him, no matter how autocratic or deadly his behaviour. As for what the press will report about him, well, that largely depends on what the White House will have to say about its ally.
1. Tim Arango, Sebnem Arsu and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Turkey expands violent reaction to street unrest,” The New York Times, June 16, 2013.
2. Michael R. Gordon and Thom Shanker, “U.S. to keep warplanes in Jordan, pressing Syria”, The New York Times, June 15, 2013.
3. Jason Fekete and Jordan Press, “PM won’t arm Syrian rebels”, The Ottawa Citizen, June 17, 2013.
4. Jay Solomon and Farnaz Fassihi, “West to press Iran on nukes”, The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2013.
5. Statement by Ben Rhodes, the US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, on chemical weapons. The Guardian (UK), June 13, 2013.
6. This is how US officials described the evidence two months ago, before the rebels suffered a major military set-back, and when Washington was resisting pressure to step up its intervention. Jay Solomon, “Obama cools opposition’s hopes in Syria”, The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2013.
By Stephen Gowans
“There have been,” write Julian E. Barnes and Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2012), “a series of provocations by Iran in recent years. US officials say Iran has been responsible for a series of cyberattacks this year on US banks. There have also been incidents in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian fast boats have threatened US and British warships.”
Barnes and Solomon make no mention of the more frequent and menacing provocations aimed at Iran by the United States and its Middle East partner in aggression, Israel:
• Washington virtually declaring war on Iran when it designated the country a member of an “axis of evil.”
• Cyberattacks on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
• Assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
• Penetration of Iranian airspace by US drones.
• Massing of US and British warships in the Persian Gulf.
• US deployment of anti-missile systems to its Gulf allies (what an aggressor preparing for an attack does to protect its allies from retaliation.)
• Innumerable threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
• Economic warfare of crippling trade sanctions and financial isolation which is destroying Iran’s economy and its ability to provide medical care to its population.
The United States bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, only 150 miles from Iran. It has an aircraft carrier-led battle group in the Persian Gulf. Its warplanes and thousands of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Qatar. In terms of provocation, this is roughly equivalent to the Chinese basing a naval fleet in Havana, a battle group in the Caribbean, warplanes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and troops in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We needn’t ask whether Washington would denounce China’s massive deployment of military force close to US borders as provocative, doubly so were this accompanied by Beijing branding the United States part of an axis of evil and declaring that in its dealings with Washington all options are on the table.
And this tells only part of the story. China is no match militarily for the United States, but US military capabilities overwhelmingly outclass Iran’s. The hypothetical aggressive deployment of Chinese military force to US borders isn’t a tenth as provocative as Washington’s actual deployment of massive military force to the Persian Gulf.
So it is that no one with a rudimentary grasp of current international relations could possibly conceive of the relationship between the United States and Iran as one of Iran provoking the former, rather than the other way around. Since it’s fair to assume that the journalists Barnes and Solomon are not without a rudimentary grasp of the subject, it can only be concluded that they write propaganda for the US state despite working for a private organization—and that the propaganda is every bit as much chauvinist and congenial to US foreign policy goals as the bilge pumped out of Washington’s official propaganda agency, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
So how does the Journal reporters’ selective-references to provocation aid US foreign policy? In this way: There is a pattern of aggressive powers—from imperial Britain to Nazi Germany to the United States—justifying their military interventions as necessary responses to “provocation.” If cruise missiles are to smash into Iran, it will be helpful to justify Washington’s unleashing of its military force as a response to Iranian provocations, since a legitimate casus belli doesn’t exist. Even a case for war that public relations specialists could falsely invest with the appearance of legitimacy—namely, eliminating an Iranian nuclear weapons program—has become impossible ever since the US intelligence community declared that there is no credible evidence Iran has one. This led George W. Bush to lament in his memoirs, “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons?”(1)—a question that doubtlessly troubles his successor. Iranian “provocations,” then, become a useful pretext for the use of military force in the absence of a legitimate case for war.
That Barnes and Solomon should act as imperialist-friendly propagandists is hardly surprising, since any dispassionate analysis of the mass media’s multiple linkages to the state through the corporate ruling class inevitably leads to the conclusion that the mainstream media’s take on foreign affairs will portray US foreign policy as admirable, virtuous and right, while the intended victims of the profit-driven quest to extend US hegemony will be depicted as democracy-hating, terrorist-promoting, economy-mismanaging, human rights-abusing, provocateurs (which, come to think of it, is a fairly apt description of the US government itself.)
(1) David Morrison, “George Bush was ‘angry’ when US intelligence said Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/iran-bush-on-nie.htm . Morrison has written a number of trenchant and beautifully crafted analyses, available on his website http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/.
By Stephen Gowans
An article by reporter Rory Carroll in last Sunday’s Observer titled “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” has set off a storm of controversy among Chomsky and Chavez supporters.
Some, angry at the leftist intellectual for criticizing the Venezuelan president, demanded an explanation. Chomsky replied that Carroll’s article was “dishonest” and “deceptive.”
But a transcript of the interview—which Chomsky told one blogger did not exist—suggests it is Chomsky, not Carroll, who is dishonest and deceptive.
“Let’s begin with the headline: complete deception,” Chomsky replies to one blogger.
Here’s what Chomsky told the Observer reporter.
Carroll. Finally, professor, the concerns about the concentration of executive power in Venezuela: to what extent might that be undermining democracy in Venezuela?
Chomsky: Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary, and for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two, it’s an assault on democracy (my emphasis).
Carroll: And so in the case of Venezuela is that what’s happening or at risk of happening?
Chomsky: As I said you can debate whether circumstances require it—both internal circumstances and the external threat of attack and so on, so that’s a legitimate debate—but my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.
Earlier in the interview Chomsky told Carroll that, “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure but I think perhaps it is” (my emphasis).
So, Chomsky tells Carroll that concentration of executive power is an assault on democracy, that there’s a tendency toward concentration in Venezuela, and that in his judgment the circumstances don’t require it.
So how is it that the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” is deceptive and dishonest? Granted, Chavez might not be an old friend, at least not in the literal sense, but the Observer headline hardly seems to misrepresent Chomsky’s words.
Now, we can go around in circles about whether Carroll fairly or dishonestly recounted his conversation with Chomsky (though it looks like the dishonesty here isn’t Carroll’s), but anyone who insists that Chomsky didn’t criticize Chavez is going to have to do a fair amount of straw clutching. Yes, the leftist intellectual did criticize Washington in his interview with Carroll, and he did point out all the good that has happened in Venezuela (which Carroll acknowledges in his article.) But so what? That doesn’t negate Chomsky’s open criticism of Chavez — which is what a number of Chavez partisans are agitated about.
The occasion for the interview was Chomsky’s open letter criticizing the detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Affiuni. Affiuni had freed banker Eligio Cedeno in 2009. Cedeno, who had faced corruption charges, immediately fled the country. Chavez denounced the judge as a criminal and demanded that she be jailed for 30 years.
We can debate whether Chavez’s treatment of Affiuni is heavy-handed, but it doesn’t take a high-profile intellectual of Chomsky’s caliber to figure out that the establishment press will use all the ammunition it can lay its hands on to vilify Chavez, and the best ammunition of all is that which comes from the Left. It’s one thing for a US state official to raise concerns about Chavez. You expect it. It’s quite another for a leftist intellectual to do the same.
It might be said that Chomsky didn’t know the Observer would use his criticism to blacken Chavez’s reputation, but that would be dishonest and deceptive. It’s hard to swallow the canard that poor old Noam–whose understanding of the media is second to none–blindly stumbled into an ambush. “I should know by now that I should insist on a transcript with the Guardian, unless it’s a writer I know and trust,” Chomsky lamented.
Media Lens, springing to Chomsky’s defense, noted perspicaciously that ‘the Guardian (the Observer’s sister newspaper) is normally happy to ignore (Chomsky) and his views. But when Chomsky expresses criticism of an official enemy of the West, he suddenly does exist and matter for the Guardian.”
But hadn’t the co-author of Manufacturing Consent figured this out long ago?
I think it would be fair to suppose he has. That he went ahead anyway, and allowed the press to add his criticisms of Chavez to what he himself calls the “vicious, unremitting attack by the United States and the west generally” on Venezuela, could mean one of two things.
Either Chomsky is a press-hound.
Or he’s not as much of a friend of Chavez as Carroll–and a good number of leftists-think.
By Stephen Gowans
The NATO bombing mission in Libya is so obviously about bringing another oil-rich country under Western domination that in attempting to cover up its true aim the mainstream media simply clarify the alliance’s objectives.
Consider Michael Birnbaum’s and Joby Warrick’s ham-handed attempt to sanitize the bombing campaign in the May 10 Washington Post. The reporters write: “NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths.”
Except they preceded that sentence with this one: “Several alliance members…have been pushing NATO to be more aggressive in striking Gaddafi’s center of power, despite concerns about possible civilian casualties.”
So what appeared was: “Several alliance members…have been pushing NATO to be more aggressive in striking Gaddafi’s center of power, despite concerns about possible civilian casualties. NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths.”
We could quibble with the duo failing to point out that NATO only says its mission is to prevent civilian deaths, contrary to the standard Western media practice of treating all Libyan government statements as possibly untrue.
For example, we might be told that a Libya government spokesman said NATO air strikes killed three civilians, rather than: NATO air strikes killed three civilians. The “said” part implies that maybe the civilians weren’t killed and that the Libyans are making it up. There’s nothing wrong with this. The Libyans could be making it up.
But the standard is applied unevenly. Apparently, Birnbaum and Warrick never considered that NATO could be making it up too. Or perhaps they did, but chose not to acknowledge it.
Whatever the mechanism that produces this double standard, the double standard exists, and that it exists helps to make the case for NATO’s bombing mission. NATO is protecting civilians. Civilians may have been killed, or not. We only know what the Libyans are telling us.
But there is a bigger problem than double standards. The obvious inconsistency in NATO’s claim that it is protecting civilians while killing them isn’t even remarked upon by the two journalists, even though they’ve made the inconsistency clear enough.
It’s as if the pair wrote: Several members of the medical team have been pushing for a more aggressive intervention, despite concerns it could possibly block blood flow to the patient’s left leg that would require its amputation. The team’s goal is to save the patient’s right leg.
And we can speculate that had the two journalists been around at the time they may have felt no unease at Japan’s justification for its East Asian wars of aggression during the first half of the 20th century. They may have written: Several top members of the government pushed for more invasions, followed by occupations to bring all of East Asia under Japanese control. Japan’s mission is to liberate the region from Western imperialism.
It’s strange that The Washington Post should promote the fiction that NATO’s mission in Libya is to prevent civilian deaths, considering the newspaper and other media have offered ample coverage of the unapologetic acknowledgements of NATO leaders that their mission is to drive Gaddafi from power.
Obama, March 29: “We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gadhafi leaves power.”
The New York Times, March 28: “The strategy for White House officials …is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.”
Hilary Clinton, April 11: “There needs to be a transition that reflects the will of the Libyan people and the departure of Qaddafi from power and from Libya.”
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, April 11: “The future of Libya should include the departure of Qaddafi.”
More could be added, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s and British prime minister David Cameron’s admissions that a NATO objective is to topple Gaddafi.
It’s clear then that the goal of NATO countries is to oust the Libyan leader. In fact, as Richard Lance Keeble pointed out in a Media Lens piece, they’ve been at it for some time. But with the desired goal still distant, some alliance members are prepared to step up the attacks, even if it means more civilian casualties. The lie that the bombing campaign is somehow divorced from the larger goal of regime change, and is limited to protecting civilians, is punctured.
By any measure, except that of sanitizing the naked pursuit of regime change in Libya on behalf of the investor interests The Washington Post represents, the newspaper follows a curious standard of logic and evidence in declaring as fact that NATO’s mission is humanitarian.
The standard is, however, one any employee of a top-flight PR firm understands implicitly.
By Stephen Gowans
One of the many ways in which establishment media bias is evidenced is in the selection of the perspectives journalists adopt to relate the events they’re reporting on. This shouldn’t be surprising. As Canadian journalist and author Linda McQuaig points out, we would expect a newspaper owned by environmentalists to have an environmentalist point of view. We would expect a labor newspaper to report on the world from the perspective of labor. For the same reason, we should expect newspapers owned by US corporations with connections to the US foreign policy elite to present the world from perspectives congenial to corporate and US foreign policy interests.
In major US media, US foreign affairs are always presented from Washington’s perspective. This happens because the least expensive and most “patriotic” way to cover US foreign affairs is to assign reporters to the White House, State Department and Pentagon to record what US state officials say. In this way, what happens outside the United States is presented through the prism of official US state interests. Corporate-funded think-tanks make their “impartial experts” readily available to major media to hold forth on a variety of foreign policy topics. Accordingly, corporate perspectives—which almost always align with official US state perspectives-help define media coverage of foreign events.
In establishment media, the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is overwhelmingly presented from the perspective of Israel (a US client and key apparatus of US foreign policy in Western Asia and North Africa.) Many people in the West sympathize with Israel’s point of view, because it’s the one they’re exposed to most often.
Coverage of the conflict in Libya between loyalist Tripoli (not a US client) and rebel Benghazi (on whose behalf the United States, France, Britain, Canada and Qatar have provided an air force) is presented from the rebel’s vantage point. Rarely are the motivations, thinking, and perceptions of the Libyan government explored in any kind of non-judgmental way, although government pronouncements, especially those of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, are presented if they serve the purpose of backing up Washington’s claim that he is insane, brutal and “a creature”. And depiction of Gaddafi in unfavorable terms, offers a popular justification for military intervention in the country.
On the other hand, Libyan rebels are presented in a favorable light. This is true too of Islamists who have fought against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are now taking part in the rebellion against Tripoli. That Islamic fighters can be demonized in one instance, and lionized in another, shows that what counts in major media coverage is whether Islamists fight for, or against, the United States. When they’re fighting against the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan they’re insurgents, illegal combatants and terrorists. When they’re fighting on the US side in Afghanistan against the Soviets, in Bosnia against the Serbs, and now in Libya against Gaddafi, they’re freedom fighters, rebels, and pro-democracy activists.
With questions being raised about Bahrain’s brutal crackdown on its own pro-democracy movement, and Washington’s silence, the New York Times’ Ethan Bronner has weighed in on Washington’s side with an article from the Khalifa regime’s perspective: “Crackdown Was Only Option, Bahrain Sunnis Say” (March 20, 2011). As far as I know neither the New York Times, nor any other Western newspaper, has run an article with a headline like “Crackdown Was Only Option, Libyan Government Says”.
Lest anyone get it into their head that Bahrain’s deadly Saudi and UAE-assisted suppression of the Gulf state’s pro-democracy movement is deplorable, Bronner — acting as de facto PR representative of the Khalifa monarchy — explains:
“To many around the world, the events of the past week — the arrival of 2,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and other neighbors, the declaration of martial law, the forceful clearing out of Pearl Square, the military takeover of the main hospital and then the spiteful tearing down of the Pearl monument itself — seem like the brutal work of a desperate autocracy.
“But for Sunnis, who make up about a third of the country’s citizenry but hold the main levers of power, it was the only choice of a country facing a rising tide of chaos that imperiled its livelihood and future.”
Bronner personalizes the story through Atif Abdulmalik, a US-educated investment banker who was initially supportive of the pro-democracy movement, but changed his mind when the “mainly Shiite demonstrators moved beyond Pearl Square, taking over areas leading to the financial and diplomatic districts of the capital.” Abdulmalik said he sympathized “with many of the demands of the demonstrators. But no country would allow the takeover of its financial district. The economic future of the country was at stake.”
Bronner allows Abdulmalik to conclude with the article’s apparent take-away message: “What happened this week, as sad as it is, is good.”
To be sure, Bronner’s article isn’t a blatant pro-Bahraini puff piece. There’s a lot in it that is critical of the Bahraini government. But that it provides some evidence of balance is what makes it effective. A Bahraini supportive of his government’s position is allowed to tell his story in a way that treats his views as legitimate and rational. In Bronner’s hands, the views of Atif Abdulmalik—which are really the views of the Khalifa family–are easy to sympathize with.
A former TV journalist once told me that the way to present your own views under the guise of impartially reporting the facts is to find someone who agrees with you, and then build a story around that person’s point of view. That way you can craft a story to meet your own agenda, while maintaining the illusion that you don’t have one.
Bronner’s defenders will say the reporter is only presenting the facts. But there is always an infinitude of facts a reporter can present, and only a very limited space in which to present them. Distortion, which self-respecting journalists rarely do, isn’t half as important as selection, which self-respecting journalists always do. The facts that Bronner chooses to relate, and the ones he chooses to ignore, speak volumes about his political position and that of the newspaper he writes for. It is a bias the newspaper’s ownership structure, and its connections to the US foreign policy elite, mandate.
It is little wonder, then, that Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet, and source of considerable wealth for the US corporate and financial elite, should get more favorable treatment in the United States’ newspaper of record than Libya, which is neither a site for the US military nor particularly accommodating to US bankers and corporate interests.