Monday, February 25, 2008

This weekend I got my copy of Flat Earth News. The publisher was either brave to send me one, or just did not know of my reputation as a scathing reviewer. Chatto & Windus need not be worried though, this is going to be one paen of praise to a very good writer. Nick Davies has ploughed his pen at the Guardian and other papers, so he is able to give us a glimpse into what happens in the newsroom. It's as if a reporter went undercover to cover reporters.
To those of you in the hemp movement, the story of Hearst and his dishonest methods will be no surprise, there is no need to enter at large upon that here. There is a need, however, to look at what is happening in the press today. Davies' book, published this month in London, is shaking up Fleet Street. It has already sold out twice, and there are a number of hacks already trying to downplay its significance. They like to out others, but boy oh boy do they whinge when the light is shone upon themselves! The Pharisees never cried so loud.
It starts off with a view of a non-event, the New Years Eve party in 1999, when so many journalists wasted their time waiting for the 2000 bug to wipe out civilisation. It never did. But for months, these guys had been scaring the public by reprinting PR releases from firms that were making a mint out of 2000 bug scare stories. It was an industry which used the press to its own advantage; not, however, a unique scenario, Davies points out that this is a ubiquitous practice.
In the 2nd chapter we get a look at the newsroom and the art of 'churnalism', which is a mix of robot-like plagiarism and failure to check facts. Reuters, Associated Press and the Press Association (in the UK) feed the local hacks a mix of news and propaganda, which is then fed to the massses to suck up. He quotes a character on the Simpsons: "Journalists used to question the reasons for war and expose abuse of power. Now, like toothless babies, they suckle on the sugary treat of misinformation and poop it into the diaper we call the six 0'clock news."
There are less journalists in the local rags to cover more news these days, some writing, or plagiarising, 10 articles a day. In some cases, real stories get overlooked because they require too much work, or the victim is black, or the story is too controversial. This becomes more apparent in the 3rd chapter, which talks about the suppliers, or, as they are called, 'grocers'. He notes (p. 85) that there are signs of a surge in secretly organised propaganda which has occured since the terrorist attacks of 11 Sep 2001. "The common element is the ease with which clever outsiders can manipulate the now vulnerable media", he asserts, and how correct he is! This thought it well backed up, Davies quotes no less an authority than Edward Bernays, the founding father of PR: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who pull the wires which control the public mind."
Contrasting all this, Davies notes examples of journalists who tried to commit journalism. Some of them are now dead, e.g., Gary Webb and Anna Politkovskaya. One who tried to run a story about US troops murdering hundreds of civilians got pushed out of the ranks. Both Webb and Politkovskaya had written about their governments' complicity in crime. Little wonder, then, that I have had the phone go dead after calling the Independent and other papers with leads on such information. At that paper in particular, I have had strange experiences, especially in dealing with them on the US extradition story. At one point they insisted they 'guaranteed an interest' in an interview with Ian Norris, who committed no crimes in his tenure at Morgan Crucible, yet was under threat of extradition to the US for acts which were completely legal. Much as I felt that the paper was trying to get the story only to kill it at the behest of US intel agencies, I agreed to set up the interview. It ran rather well, and then, for no reason at all, it was killed. They have for two years now refused to run it, much to the sorrow of all parties involved, including their own reporter, Genevieve Roberts, who has since quit.
Roberts, like thousands of very qualified writers, has joined the ranks of ex-journalists. The situation looks bleak, and there are specific reasons which are well worth noting, not just for the body of reporters now out-of-work, but for the public in general. Not only are they getting important stories suppressed, and the US extradition issue is a top concern - certainly of greater interest than the Naomi Campbell story that the Independent gave space to the week of the Norris interview - they are getting lied to by conmen and intel agents. As a case in point of the former, Davies recounts how Rupert Murdoch was made to look the fool after a certain Mr Josephs bilked him out of his dosh with a fairy tale about who killed Jimmy Hoffa. Even when Murdoch was shown that it was a hoax, he published it, much to his damnation. Of the latter, there is copious evidence in the public domain, yet Davies manages to top it with his own story about the Sunday Times being pushed to suppress a story about Kim Philby and his real role in MI6. In another cloak-and-dagger tale we are given the inside scoop on Mordechai Vanunu, who was taken to London by the Sunday Times only to be kidnapped right out from under them by Mossad, which set the honey trap for him here in London whilst he was a guest of that paper's famous, but now defunct, Insight Team. Murdoch finally got rid of this crew, which was famous for taking months on a caper and diligently checking facts.
Due diligence is seldom to be found in today's press, but utter lies get in all the time. Not surprising then that we have such a barrage of misinformation, some of it complete garbage and plagiarism about global warming. The aforementioned Independent is a leader in this field, and little wonder as it has been so duped - Davies recounts that their Washington bureau had one simple rule: no phone calls! That means no checking, and PR firms can run rough shod over them and other papers who are not diligent. One of the leading voices in that paper for climate change is Johann Hari, whose bitchy rants at times make good reading, but are more to be respected as fiction. Not only do they not do phone calls, they do not do much spell checking, and one of Hari's recent diatribes was an embarrassment to journalism as he could not even spell the name of his subject correctly, when writing of Lady Michele Renouf.
Given the fact that Davies worked for the Guardian (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?), it is no surprising that there is little criticism of that paper; nor is one too surprised to read much of their sister paper, the Observer. Those of us in the UK might recall that recently Alan Rusbridger, editor at the former, was involved in helping his rival Roger Alton, editor at the latter, to pack his bags. However, Alton and crew were badly in need of a course titled journalism 101. It was this Observer editor who blindly put Kamal Ahmed in as political correspondent to Whitehall; Ahmed was like a babe among the wolves there, and they used him mercilessly to plant ridiculous stories. It was he who was so much a part of the suppression of the story that was secretly passed to Yvonne Ridley by an anonymous informant at GCHQ about the NSA bugging UN delegates before the vote on the occupation of Iraq.
Credit does go to the Guardian, however, in their having made some attempt to question the barrage of stories about al-Zarqawi, who the US was trying to make out to be the next bin Laden. The US efforts were ridiculous, and at this point the book becomes light-hearted comedy' except, of course, for the citizens of Iraq who are suffering as a consequence.
But do any in the Fourth Estate really worry about the victims of their lies and distortions? Not often, but at times they themselves are the victims, as when Times reporters tried to get to the truth about the SAS shootings of suspected IRA terrorists; MI6 would plant stories with the editors, and the reporters would have their stories changed so as to suit the MI6 version of events. The reporters complained and insisted on seeing copy before printing, but even this was denied them in a dishonest manner. Davies notes the fact that there was an overall demise at the Times after Murdoch acquired it in 1981, which he bought at a knock-down price after mysterious striked at the paper. The former owner, Lord Thomson, was a lion who stood up to the intel agencies and governemnt, especially in the Philby affair.
This is quite a tome; it could, I am sure, go on for hundreds more pages, and for those of us working in the hemp movement, we could add quite a few of our own chapters. One issue I might have with Davies is his omission of any mentions of William Rodriguez, the hero of 9/11; after all, we did invite the Guardian to come and hear him many times in London, but maybe ther never got to his desk. He may well also be honestly ignorant of the fact that the BBC ran a broadcast on 11 Sep. 2001 at 5pm EST about Building 7 having just fallen. It did indeed fall that day, but not until some 20 minutes later. The journalist, Jane Standley, did not so much as turn her head to see if the story was true, maybe she was trained at the Indepedent and remembered the 'no phone calls' rule; it is one of the weirdest broadcasts of all time. When I asked Richard Porter of the BBC here in London why it happened, and why the archival footage of it mysteriously disappeared, he had no answer, and said it would not be wire to put Standley forward to answer for any of it. When asked where he got such information in advance, and why the Standley report was full of deliberate misinformation about the building's fall and the structure of it, he was quick to beg off. Did the CIA supply this story? We may not have an answer to that one, but we do now have in hand a highly important book that points to other cases of CIA/MI6 involvement in the press.
Well done Davies, you are rocking the boat and making waves. I recommend to everyone that they buy this book, read it, and then put pressure on papers like the Independent to get their heads out of the sand.

Flat Earth News, London, Chatto & Windus, 2008. ISBN 978-0-701-18145-1. 408 pp., printed on Forest Stewardship Council approved paper (but still not hemp!)

1 comment:

Bug said...

The Guardian is not what it used to be...sold out to car dealers and cotton merchants,not to mention foreign spies, like the ones working at El Diario/La Prensa. Lots of these jerks in the press, and Mother Russia loves the Guardian.