Tag Archives: Mainstream Media

And the award for ‘Best channeling of government propaganda during wartime’ goes to…

Here is a double-page spread published in the Sun on 20 March 2003, a day after the start of the US-UK invasion of Iraq.

Sun and Iraq 3

 

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Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined

Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
4 April 2015

“We don’t do body counts”, US General Tommy Franks, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, infamously stated in 2002.

Depressingly, much of the mainstream media’s (lack of) coverage of the post 9/11 wars has broadly mirrored Western Government’s disinterest in those killed by their aggressive foreign policy.

This failure of journalism has had a predictable effect on US and UK public understanding of the Iraq War. A 2007 Ipsos poll of US public opinion included a question about how many Iraqis the interviewee thought had died in the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation. The median answer given was 9,890, with 72 percent of respondents believing under 50,000 Iraqis had died. Similarly, a 2013 ComRes survey found 74 per cent of Britons estimated that less than 50,000 Iraqi combatants and civilians had died as a consequence of the war, with 59 per cent estimating that less than 10,000 Iraqis had died. Only 6 per cent of the poll’s respondents estimated the death toll to be over 500,000 Iraqis.

It is this ginormous gap between public knowledge and reality that makes the new report from the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR) so important. Titled ‘Body Count’, the paper investigates the total number of deaths caused by the so-called War on Terror. PSR estimates the war “directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million.” Though they believe this shocking figure to be a conservative estimate, PSR note it is “approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.”

The report is particularly good on the relative merits of the different mortality surveys conducted in Iraq, comparing Iraq Body Count (IBC) with the 2006 Lancet survey. IBC, which recorded approximately 110,000 dead Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2011, is repeatedly cited by the media. In contrast, the Lancet study’s estimate of 655,000 Iraqi dead was quickly attacked and rejected by politicians and many journalists.

Of course, the differing responses can be explained by how the respective results fit with Western Governments’ self-serving narrative of the war. This conclusion is inescapable when one considers an earlier mortality study on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used similar methods to the Lancet study, had been uncritically accepted by Western governments. In addition the Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Advisor noted the Lancet study’s design was “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ in this area”. As one of the report’s chapter headings says: the Lancet’s methodology is “barely disputed among experts”.

In contrast, the report explains how the IBC’s passive counting of Iraqi civilian deaths using Western media outlets and registered deaths by hospitals and morgues severely underestimates the total number of dead. The gaping flaws in their methodology are numerous and serious: Western media reports were often based on US military or Iraqi government sources, both of whom had a vested interest in downplaying the number of civilian dead; the Baghdad-based Western media’s coverage of provincial Iraq was patchy at best; as the level of violence rises in a particular area there is a corresponding reduction in media coverage; Western occupation forces often blocked journalists from investigating instances of civilian deaths; Iraqi government statistics from morgues were deliberately downplayed for political purposes.

There is a lot of hard evidence for the IBC’s gross underestimation. For example, in 2007 Najaf governorate’s spokesperson said they had buried 40,000 non-identified corpses since the start of the war. The IBC database records only 1,354 victims in Najaf. IBC recorded no violent deaths in Anbar province in June 2006, despite it being a stronghold of violent resistance to the occupation at the time.

Since the report was released on 19 March 2015, there has been zero coverage in the supposedly free and questioning British media. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this omission has huge ramifications for democracy and foreign policy: How can the British general public make informed decisions about foreign policy if they are not aware of the consequences of military action carried out by the UK and its allies?  T

his mass ignorance is no coincidence. Rather it is advantageous to the US and UK Governments. “The figure of 655,000 deaths in the first three war years alone… clearly points to a crime against humanity approaching genocide”, notes the PSR report about the 2006 Lancet survey. “Had this been understood and recognized by the public at large, the Iraq policy of the US and its European allies would not have been tenable for long.”

*Please note my article reproduces a couple of small factual errors from the original PRS report. Please read the comments below for more details.

“Baa! Reluctant warrior! Baa!”: Professional journalists fall in with the flock

“Baa! Reluctant warrior! Baa!”: Professional journalists fall in with the herd
by Ian Sinclair
1 October 2014

Journalists are “awash in countless highly ideological assumptions that are anything but objective”, noted Glenn Greenwald in 2012. “These assumptions are almost always unacknowledged as such and are usually unexamined, which means that often the journalists themselves are not even consciously aware that they have embraced them.”

Like Andrew Marr, corporate journalists who see themselves and their colleagues as latter day Woodwards and Bernsteins will find this description of their profession hard to swallow.

However, Greenwald’s perceptive comments are particularly relevant to the ongoing media coverage of the US bombing of Iraq and now Syria. Take the following examples of the common description of President Obama’s stance on Iraq and Syria:

  • Cathy Newman, Channel 4 News Snowmail, 10 August 2014: “The US president, a notoriously reluctant warrior, has been forced to reconsider his hands-off, softly-softly approach to foreign policy.”
  • Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian, 3 September 2014: “Barack Obama is the reluctant interventionist.”
  • Title of editorial, Independent, 11 September 2014: “The reluctant warrior: Barack Obama came to power after opposing the Iraq War. To salvage his second term, he has to write its postscript’.
  • Peter Foster, The Telegraph blog, 23 September 2014: “Barack Obama has justifiably been tagged the reluctant warrior during his six years in office.”
  • John Sopel, BBC News, 24 September 2014: “Perhaps the most significant thing this reluctant warrior has done is assemble a broad-based coalition.”

Compare these herd-like statements with the simple fact Obama has now bombed seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria. (The Brooking Institution says Obama has also bombed The Philippines, though this has been denied).

On what planet, then, can all of these supposedly free-thinking, often highly educated journalists describe Obama as a “reluctant warrior?” Perhaps the journalists are comparing him to other world leaders? If so, which leader has bombed more countries than Obama? Or perhaps the journalists are comparing him to other US presidents? If so, which ones do they have in mind?

More likely (and more frightening) is that the journalists in question are, as Greenwald points out, blindly repeating “highly ideological assumptions… not even consciously aware that they have embraced them.” Less All The President’s Men then, and more Manufacturing Consent.

‘It Never Happened’ – US Intervention in Syria

‘It Never Happened’ – US Intervention in Syria
by Ian Sinclair
Huffington Post
23 September 2014

Though it’s rarely mentioned in polite company, Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech continues to resonate nearly ten years later.

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest”, Pinter explained about the death and destruction caused by the United States across the globe. He went on: “The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.”

How can something not happen even while it was happening, you ask? Let me explain.

In June 2012 the New York Times, published a report headed ‘CIA Said To Aid In Steering Arms To Syrian Opposition.’ According to the report “a small number of CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey” coordinating the delivery of arms to rebels in Syria, including “automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons.” In March 2013 the New York Times published another report, titled ‘Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From CIA’. This report noted the arms deliveries had “grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes”. According to the New York Times the size of the arms transfers were such they “correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria’s army from territory by the middle of last year.”

So, to summarise, in mid-2012 the most influential newspaper in the world reported the US was helping to arm the rebels – a fact confirmed by subsequent stories in the New York Times itself aswell as numerous reports in other mainstream news outlets around the world.

Contrast this publicly available, easily accessed information with these summaries from the mainstream media of the ongoing US role in Syria:

The Telegraph, 21 April 2013: “While Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both known to be
channeling arms to the rebels, there was no indication that the United States, Britain or other western allies might follow suit.”

New York Times, 4 May 2013: “President [Obama] seems to be moving closer to providing
lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months
ago.”

The Guardian, 8 May 2013: “The US, which has outlawed al-Nusra as a terrorist group, has
hesitated to arm the FSA [Free Syrian Army]…”

The Guardian, 23 July 2013: “Obama, who has been reluctant to engage too deeply in the
Syrian conflict, changed [his] position on arming opponents of Assad’s regime last month”.

New York Times, 9 September 2014: “Mr Obama has resisted military engagement in
Syria for more than three years, out of fear early on that arming the rebels who oppose Mr
Assad would fail to alter the balance in the civil war.”

BBC Today Programme, 11 September 2014, Presenter Mishal Husein to US
Ambassador: “If you [the US] had helped the moderate Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian
Army, three years ago, even two years ago, we might well not be in the position that we are
now. President Obama’s reluctance to intervene and to take action on Syria has contributed
to what we are seeing now.” (1 hour 52 minutes in)

As Pinter said, “Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening”.

Why are all of these professional journalists – supposedly a profession made up of stroppy, questioning cynics – incapable of stating the most basic of facts about the US role in Syria?

The recent admission of former senior Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall may provide the answer. Describing Reuters’s Iraq coverage as “pretty useless”, the ex-Baghdad Bureau Chief explained “there is a certain discourse that becomes normalized, in which certain views are acceptable and others not.” In this atmosphere, if you make obvious factual statements “you are often marginalised as some sort of looney figure”, he notes. “It is through this process that the mainstream media basically becomes a tool of misinforming people, rather than informing people.”

Another reason is alluded to in a September 2013 New York Times article that noted “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria”. The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia is covert, the report explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab Governments… do not want their support publicly known”.

By refusing to inform their readers that the US has been arming the rebels in Syria since 2012 the mainstream liberal media have done exactly what best suits the US and UK governments. And by so closely following the US and UK Governments’ preferred narrative, the media continues to minimise the US’s responsibility for the on-going carnage in Syria and the rise of Islamic State.