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“Most toxic affair in football history”? – Or most toxic media coverage? March 31, 2012

Posted by dissident93 in Censored, Media Criticism, Racism.
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100+ Guardian articles on Suarez story

This is off-topic for me. But when a newspaper publishes over 100 articles on a story without mentioning certain key facts – and censors a comment which does mention these facts – I’m inclined to write about it. Particularly as the deleted comment was mine.

With charges of racial abuse, it’s crucial that reporters get the facts right and not resort to conjecture. Sadly, this wasn’t the case with the Guardian on the Suarez-Evra story.

I don’t want to rehash the details (the background, regarding media failures, has already been provided in two incisive articles from @NewsFrames) – but to address the responses from journalists. Many people complained about the Guardian’s coverage of the Suarez case. The Guardian’s “Readers’ editor”, Chris Elliott, eventually responded to complaints in an ‘Open Door’ article. Elliott’s first two paragraphs frame the issue – with all the subtlety of a large shovel – in terms of irrational fan loyalty. He then replies directly to just one complaint:

I think it is entirely reasonable to use the word “findings” when describing the commission’s outcome. The independent regulatory commission was properly constituted, acting within clear parameters that were clearly explained in an exhaustive report. The dictionary definition of findings is conclusions reached following an inquiry. (Chris Elliott, Guardian, 15/1/12)

An unsatisfactory reply. The complaint (which is quoted in Elliott’s article) had been about the Guardian’s misleading statement, that Suarez “was found to have used the word ‘negro’ or ‘negros’ seven times”. (Variations on this claim were printed in several Guardian articles). Regardless of dictionary definitions of “findings”, a responsible newspaper would have informed readers that there was no evidence for this “seven times” claim (the FA commission’s “findings” included uncorroborated allegations). The Guardian failed to inform readers of this crucial point in every instance.

Elliott’s article concludes with this paragraph:

Re-reading the complaints made me think that what the readers – who were very open about their allegiance – really wanted to do was argue with the findings of the commission and they expected the Guardian to do the same. The report is based on the balance of probabilities and the commission’s members have gone out of their way to explain in minute detail how they reached their decision. (Chris Elliott, Guardian, 15/1/12)

There are two problems with this. First, the complaint which Elliott quotes is not asking the Guardian to “argue” anything, but to inform readers of certain crucial facts, so they are not misled with a partial account of the report’s findings. Second, the “minute detail” merely reveals that the commission’s decision was based on a lack of direct evidence. The “balance of probabilities” rule requires strong evidence in serious cases such as this – a point acknowledged in paragraphs 76, 79 & 80 of the FA commission’s report (but ignored in over 100 Guardian articles):

80. The FA accepts that the Charge against Mr Suarez is serious, as do we. It is for this reason that we have reminded ourselves that a greater burden of evidence is required to prove the Charge against Mr Suarez.
(FA commission’s report)

Toxic hyperbole

Ian Prior (Guardian Sports Editor) wrote of the Suarez affair that it was “possibly the most toxic affair in the history of English football. It deserves every inch it gets and more”. He added that “Every escalation that has fuelled this story has come from Liverpool or the FA investigation”.

Let’s be charitable for a moment, and assume this isn’t just an editor being defensive over the Guardian’s tabloidesque coverage. Perhaps Prior really believes, for example, that Liverpool players wearing T-shirts (with a picture of Suarez) represents a toxic “escalation” in itself, without the Guardian interpreting it for us, running a series of articles about it, raising it to the status of “news” by collating the outraged opinions of a small handful of blogger-tweeters (whilst ignoring the views of those who thought it was about as newsworthy as the Pope wearing a funny hat).

The implication of Ian Prior’s remarks is, of course, that the events themselves were toxic – not the media circus. But, subtract the media spectacle (eg over 100 Guardian articles – I stopped counting after I got to 120) and what bare facts are we left with? Here are perhaps the most crucial ones, which – tellingly – were not mentioned anywhere in the Guardian’s remarkably voluminous coverage:

  • There was no direct evidence or witnesses of Suarez making the alleged racial remarks.
  • Evra changed his allegation of what was said (“n***er” to “negro”), and the number of times it was said.
  • The FA’s language experts said that Suarez’s account of his use of the word “negro” (Spanish) “would not be offensive. Indeed, it is possible that the term was intended as an attempt at conciliation and/or to establish rapport”. (FA panel’s report, paragraph 190)

The Guardian’s hyperbole (“shameful“, “beyond the pale, pigheaded, etc) was aimed largely at the reactions by Liverpool to the FA ruling (eg the statements and T-shirts supporting Suarez). But these reactions stem from an honourable stance:- namely, the right to question a questionable verdict (ie one based on no direct evidence) – and/or to support a person you believe to be innocent. In most cases, the Guardian – supposedly a “liberal” newspaper – would actively support such a basic right.

Presumably Guardian editors and writers – and anti-racism campaigners given space by the Guardian – can tell the difference, if pressed, between supporting someone accused of an offense, and condoning the offense itself. At least I hope they can.

Sadly, the illiberal reasoning applied by the Guardian to the Suarez case seems widespread. Thus, Ian Prior quotes Garth Crooks (speaking at the Guardian Open Weekend):  “there was an acceptance in football media that racism wasn’t as important as other matters … we are now in danger of returning to that, with complaints of too much coverage for Suarez or Terry affairs”.

The implication of such “logic” is pretty chilling: whatever valid reasons you may have for criticising such media coverage (and there are many), you’d better shut up, because some people might infer that you aren’t taking racism seriously enough. It’s an insidious and counterproductive form of reasoning. Bad logic will not help the fight against racism.

Update

Ian Prior (Guardian Sports Editor) appears to have read the above – he writes that my piece is “loaded” with “bad logic”. Ian, if you’d like to provide some examples of where you think my logic is at fault – rather than hiding behind 140-character Twitter assertions – you can contact me here.

Update #2 (3/4/12): It seems Ian’s not up to the challenge of backing up his own assertions. He tweets that “life’s too short” – although it’s apparently not too short for him (as Guardian Sports Editor) to publish over 100 articles on the Suarez case.

“Dangerous cult” – Jonathan Cook attacks George Monbiot October 3, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.
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Jonathan Cook attacks George MonbiotCounterpunch recently published a piece called: The Dangerous Cult of the Guardian. With a title like that, you might think it was written by a rightwing crank. “Cult”, of course, denotes group-allegiance to a belief; but the Guardian’s writers/editors have pretty diverse views – not cult-like at all. The article also refers to the Guardian as “the left’s thought police”. What are these strange notions doing in Counterpunch?

Jonathan Cook, the article’s author, is no rightwing nut – so what examples does he provide to support his claims? He cites a handful of Guardian pieces that he objects to for various reasons, but spends most time* on a George Monbiot column (which happens to criticise a book by Edward Herman and David Peterson).

Monbiot, of course, isn’t “voice of the Guardian”. Nor is he its chief policeman or cult leader. He’s one writer among many. The Guardian has an editorial position and “structural” constraints, but those aren’t what Cook is arguing against when he goes into the details of his disagreement with Monbiot. (Cook wrote, for example: “Monbiot['s] treatment of Herman and Peterson’s work was so slipshod and cavalier it is hard to believe that he was the one analysing their books.”)

The handful of examples provided by Cook prove next-to-nothing about “The Guardian” in general (a newspaper which publishes thousands of articles by hundreds of writers), so, in order to make his article seem coherent, Cook has to pull a killer rabbit out of his rhetorical hat. What he conjures up is identity politics.

Monbiot is thus portrayed by Cook not just in terms of disagreements on an issue, but as someone aligned with the “wrong” side. Cook seems to identify himself with the “true” dissident left – Chomsky, Herman, Pilger, etc. That’s the “right” side. Notice how Cook characterises Monbiot’s behaviour towards Pilger and Chomsky (my bold emphasis):

“Monbiot also laid into journalist John Pilger for endorsing the book.”

“Monbiot also ensnared Chomsky in his criticism, castigating him for writing a foreword to one of the books.”

Hundreds of Counterpunch readers will get the idea that Monbiot “laid into”, “ensnared” and “castigated” their political heroes. Now compare what Monbiot actually wrote:

‘But here’s where it gets really weird. The cover carries the following endorsement by John Pilger [Pilger's blurb]. The foreword was written by Noam Chomsky. He doesn’t mention the specific claims the book makes, but the fact that he wrote it surely looks like an endorsement of the contents.’

That’s all Monbiot has to say about Pilger and Chomsky. Merely a statement of fact: that they endorsed Herman and Peterson’s book, plus a subjective judgment about this being “weird” (because the book promotes “genocide denial”, Monbiot argues).

Cook claims that Monbiot was interested in “creating an intellectual no-go zone from which critical thinkers and researchers were barred – a sacred genocide”. But, far from creating a “no-go zone”, the publication of Monbiot’s article stimulated a large amount of open debate (on a topic which had previously been of interest mostly to specialists in the field).

It should also be noted that prior to Monbiot’s article, Herman and Peterson’s book had been reviewed unfavourably by an internationally recognised authority on genocide and genocide prevention, Professor Gerald Caplan. Herman and Peterson’s response to this critical review was to label Professor Caplan a “genocide denier” and “genocide facilitator” – quite gratuitously and without justification, in an odd tit-for-tat outburst. Jonathan Cook says nothing about this revealing context.

Jonathan Cook replies to me

I emailed Jonathan Cook (on 29/9/11). To keep it brief I asked him one thing only – to justify his “laid into” wording. Cook’s first email ignored my question and instead asked me why Monbiot would use the word “weird”. When I pressed him further, he replied that he would take my point seriously only if I “offered some indication” that I shared his concerns over what he described as Monbiot’s act of “real intellectual violence” (ie Monbiot’s claim of “genocide denial” with regard to Herman and Peterson).

After my third attempt to get Cook to answer the question, he provided an answer of sorts, mostly bad-faith presumptions about George Monbiot. Monbiot was “being sly” in using the word “weird”, Cook claimed; Monbiot was “insinuating” that Pilger had endorsed genocide denial; Monbiot “didn’t say it forthrightly” because he didn’t want to “alienate Pilger’s fans”. (Emails received from Jonathan Cook, 29/9/11).

* Bizarrely, after this blog piece was published, Cook complained to me by email that I was wrong to say that he spent “most time” on the Monbiot column. I replied with a word-count showing that he did indeed spend most time on the Monbiot section (by a long way). He replied that his section on Monbiot includes a digression about Chomsky, which, when subtracted, leaves the Monbiot section with a slightly lower word-count than the Assange section!

Lancet publishes IBC study September 4, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
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The Lancet journal has published an IBC-based paper co-authored by IBC’s founders: Casualties in civilians and coalition soldiers from suicide bombings in Iraq, 2003—10…

(Reading the full text requires free registration at the Lancet website. If you don’t want the hassle, but would like more info on the study, see Iraq Body Count’s summary).

News Frames August 28, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.
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Here’s a new website that looks very promising: News Frames (“How the news is framed, and how it affects your brain…”).

From their ‘About’ page:

News Frames attempts to decode the headlines – in terms of frames and metaphors.

Frequent (often daily) updates, emphasis on UK newspapers.

Why? To quote George Lakoff:

‘Beyond the political work is the cognitive work – working with your own mind. This requires changing your brain, thinking in ways you have never thought before, understanding what you have not previously understood…’

Feedback – Pilger’s “leaked” emails August 16, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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I received this comment on my previous entry, from someone posting under the name ‘William’:

I like how you conveniently left out the events leading up to the publication of Pilger’s email. Pilger isn’t the one being “divisive”.Monbiot branded Herman and Peterson “genocide deniers” , and then attacked Chomsky, Pilger and Media lens. ML was right to publish the email and its arguments are obvious in the context of the alert.
(William, 15/8/2011)

Thanks, William. Most of my readers are probably familiar with the preceding “events”, and I provided links for those who aren’t.

My point was straightforward:- reasonable discourse isn’t served by quoting emailed personal attacks which are devoid of argument – even if the emails are from respected figures such as Pilger.

You’ll note that Chomsky’s emails on this topic weren’t quoted – because he strongly disapproves of his emails being used in this way (Pilger should know better). I recently corresponded with Prof Chomsky (one fairly long discussion, plus one brief one). It’s clear that whatever disagreements he has with George Monbiot (and another Guardian journalist), he doesn’t want them aired in public in the form of published correspondence.

[UPDATE: In fact, the Monbiot-Chomsky correspondence was eventually published – and it doesn’t present Chomsky in a good light. Some background plus excerpts of the correspondence are given here, whilst the full correspondence was originally published here, as supporting material for Monbiot’s Guardian piece).

John Pilger’s “leaked” emails August 10, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.
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[Updated, Feb 2012 - Pilger has
again attacked Monbiot: see below]

I presume John Pilger allowed these email excerpts to be published. I like to think he originally intended them to be private, because slagging off people like George Monbiot – with non-specific (and thus unanswerable) assertions – achieves nothing useful in the public domain.

Here’s what Pilger’s (widely circulated) email is quoted as saying:

Chef Monbiot is a curiously sad figure. All those years of noble green crusading now dashed by his Damascene conversion to nuclear power’s poisonous devastations and his demonstrable need for establishment recognition – a recognition which, ironically, he already enjoyed.’ (Email from Pilger, 29/6/2011)

George Monbiot’s recent articles on nuclear power have sparked off a useful debate, with some reasonable challenges – but also with many knee-jerk misrepresentations of what he has written. Pilger’s assertion (that Monbiot had a “Damascene conversion to nuclear power’s poisonous devastations”) is clearly among the gratuitous misrepresentations.

The second part of Pilger’s remark – that Monbiot has a “demonstrable need for establishment recognition” – is the kind of unpleasant personal attack which usually indicates something other than a rational case. Pilger states that Monbiot’s “need” is “demonstrable” – but no demonstration is provided by Pilger.

Update (Feb 2, 2012)

I note that Pilger has once again attacked Monbiot (in another “leaked” email):

‘Since George Monbiot completed his Damascene conversion and decided the likes of Fukushima were good for the planet, and that smearing those who challenged other orthodoxies might be fun, he has barely drawn breath.’ (Pilger, email 24/12/2012)

This is, as noted above, a gross misrepresentation of what Monbiot wrote about Fukushima. Pilger goes on (in the same email) to attack Monbiot for not criticising the Guardian for having “supported and apologised for” the slaughter in Iraq:

‘Not a word reminds us of how the greatest, wanton slaughter of the new century – in Iraq – was so often subtly (and not so subtly) supported and apologised for in the pages of his own newspaper.’ (Pilger, email 24/12/2012)

This is remarkably hypocritical of Pilger, who, in a previous article, had praised the Guardian (along with the Mirror and Independent) for its Iraq coverage. Furthermore, pretty much all of what Pilger accuses Monbiot of omitting (over Iraq, including criticism of the Guardian/Observer, Andrew Gilligan’s claims etc) was covered by Monbiot back in 2004, in a Guardian article titled The Lies of the Press.

Note that both emails from Pilger were solicited (and “leaked” – presumably with Pilger’s permission) by a website called Medialens. For a decade, the editors of Medialens have waged what looks like a smear campaign against Monbiot. They claim that it’s “rational analysis”, but it looks more like a personal grudge. Back in 2002, Monbiot had written that Medialens were “narrow”, “not analytical, but ideological”. More recently, he described how Medialens launches an attack on him “every few months”. (I think Monbiot is being charitable here. Having read Medialens’s website and discussion forum for years, I’d estimate that on average they launch an attack on Monbiot every few weeks).

“Genocide”: a semantic quiz August 9, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Uncategorized.
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In today’s episode of Spot the Double Standard,
we quiz our readers over “genocide denial” & “smears”…

Semantic Quiz

1. Gerald Caplan, George Monbiot (and others) describe Herman & Peterson as “genocide deniers”. Is this a “smear”?

2. Herman & Peterson retaliated by calling Gerald Caplan a “genocide denier” and “genocide facilitator”. Is this a “smear”?

3. Monbiot says Medialens gives “support” to “genocide denial”. Is this a “smear”?

4. Medialens says the British media (specifically including Andrew Buncombe) has “systematically denied” genocide (and/or British “complicity” in it). Is this a “smear”?

5. Medialens disciple Gabriele Zamparini accused Antiwar.com of “hiding” the “Iraq genocide”. Is this a “smear”?

6. David Peterson coined the term “Bosnia Genocide Lobby” to refer to some of his critics? Is this a “smear”?

7. David Peterson says he’s doing “genocide reallocation”. Is he “smearing” himself?

8. Noam Chomsky has reportedly stated “unequivocally” that “he presumes standard accounts of what happened at Srebrenica to be accurate”. Is Prof Chomsky “smearing” himself, or is he “smearing” Herman, Peterson & Medialens?

How did you do?

• If you answered correctly, try saying “smear” less often to avoid being an “asshole”.* (This applies also to me, except when I say the word in irony).
• If you answered any question incorrectly, shame on you.
• If you laughed at any point, double shame on you.
• Bonus points if you have any idea who David Peterson is.

* In the same way that Herman & Peterson put the term “Rwanda genocide” in inverted commas (supposedly to indicate that they are denying “only” the “standard model” of the genocide), I’m putting the word “asshole” in inverted commas, to distinguish it from the standard insult.

How NOT to meditate July 24, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Meditation.
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I’ve meditated regularly since my early 20s – something I’ve always been slightly embarrassed to admit. The last book I read was The art of meditation, by Matthieu Ricard (a buddhist monk and dabbler in science). Although it’s a “mainstream” effort (it has approving blurbs by the Sunday Times, etc), it has some decent bits, eg a basic primer on mindfulness. It also contains some meditations that I would NOT recommend, eg this:

Meditation Two: Compassion
Now imagine that someone dear to you has been the victim of a terrible accident. It is night time, and she is lying covered with blood on the roadside, suffering from terrible pain [...] You feel this person’s suffering intensely [...] At this moment, let yourself go into an immense feeling of love towards this person [...] Imagine that each atom of her suffering is replaced by an atom of love… [etc, etc] (The art of meditation, p110; Matthieu Ricard)

No doubt there’s a good idea behind this somewhere, but consider the script: Basically, you, a kind of Saintly Being, arrive on the scene to save someone with the power of your love. What’s the probability that any “good” achieved by this meditation will be undermined by a subtle sense of superiority? Or worse, that it functions almost like an “unconscious” revenge fantasy (I mean, “victim of a terrible accident”!). Without getting too cod-psychological about it, I recall Nietzsche’s warning about the hidden revenge motive within “altruistic” philosophies: Sklavenmoral, the ethics of the powerless, or, in modern clinical parlance, “passive aggressive”.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few “Buddhist” meditations like this. But we can return to the Sanskrit originals (before the humour was lost in translation) for inspiration. Here’s my loose translation of an early text (recently recovered Pārāyanavagga commentary):

Meditation Alternative
Imagine that you’ve just awakened to the realisation that you’ve wasted your life in chronic masturbation. This has left you with weakened mental faculties, resulting in over-dependence on beliefs and ideology. As you lie there in a feeble, mediocre state, someone symbolising everything you oppose (eg Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Rusbridger, etc), walks in. They look at you with hatred. But as they notice your pitiful state, this turns to pity, and then a brief moment of compassion towards you. Imagine that this compassion expands to fill the universe, becoming luminous, replacing all pity, hate, suffering [etc]. Briefly contemplate the cosmic irony. Then cease thinking altogether for 20 minutes (if you can do that, you’re illuminated – contact me immediately for a certificate).
RS

The Big Fear – the small reframing May 5, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in economics.
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Update: the new website is now online:
The Big Fear – the small reframing

Earlier this week, with the help of colleagues and friends, I launched a “campaign”, The Big Fear – the small reframing, in the Guardian newspaper. I’ve been working on a “tagline” – something which sums it up in an easily replicable “meme”. The wording I decided on may not seem “clever” at first glance, but it ticks all the boxes (please post it widely in various forms – the website URL isn’t yet included – it will follow when live [update: here it is]. This blog isn’t the place).

It’s a very modest globe-spanning thing, with no delusions of grandeur – an audience of one is sufficient; self-promotion isn’t the name of the game. With that in mind, I’d like to thank the following for their advice (and their kind words regarding the final “meme”): Fredric Jameson, Noam Chomsky, Paul Krassner, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Paris Review (“Oui oui!”), and Franz Kafka II (for the graphics). For further info, please contact me via the “About” page.

The Big Fear - the small reframing

For a larger image (printable size, over 3000 pixels wide), click here.

Fu Manchu now biggest threat? May 3, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.
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Fu Manchu now the biggest threat to the WestWith the confirmed death of evil genius, Osama bin Laden, it seems that the biggest threat now facing the West is Dr Fu Manchu. This notorious master criminal has a PhD, making him more credible than bin Laden.

Meanwhile, the ‘radical’ blogosphere seems to be reacting to the corporate media’s obession with bin Laden… by obsessing over media coverage of bin Laden. The evil genius apparently knew how to make himself the focus of global attention, which is probably what real “power” boils down to.

“I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people – and the West in general – into an unbearable hell and a choking life.” – Osama bin Laden, CNN, February 5, 2002

Turning to Chernobyl

Which evil criminal (or systemic state/corporate abstraction) was responsible for the “million” deaths “caused” by the Chernobyl disaster (eg as a result of alcohol poisoning, etc, which may or may not have been caused, presumably indirectly, by the radiation from Chernobyl)? Hmm – approximately one million deaths alleged in a supposedly “prestigious” “scientific” report, and a messenger (George Monbiot) who gets attacked for revealing that this “prestigious” report has serious flaws, and isn’t even peer-reviewed. Throw in the inadequacies of epidemiology* to quantify mortality resulting from the disaster – and I get a major attack of déjà vu.

* “Greenpeace notes, ‘It is widely acknowledged that neither the available data nor current epidemiological methodology allows holistic and robust estimations of the death toll caused by the Chernobyl accident’. This is an important point. During my 40 year career in radiation protection I have observed fierce arguments (mainly related to differences of opinion on the magnitude of radiation risks) which have turned out in the fullness of time to be merely reflections of the large uncertainties inherent in the data.” (Monty Charles, review of Yablokov report, in Radiation Protection Dosimetry)

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