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Medialens, Monbiot, Wilby, Milne November 28, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism, Medialens.
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[Update: George Monbiot’s reply to Medialens
concerning this blog post – Robert Shone]

Medialens stress that journalists should “subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism” (see footnote 1). They’ve attacked Guardian columnist George Monbiot for not being more critical of the Guardian.(2) Yet, in a single Guardian article (The Lies of the Press), Monbiot wrote more words criticising the Guardian than Medialens wrote criticising the New Statesman (NS) in their entire run of NS columns.(3)

A striking example of Medialens’s double standards occurred in early 2005.The NS published a special “Iraq” edition to coincide with the “first” “democratic” elections in Iraq. Its general tone was establishment-friendly, eg:

“The democracy the Iraqis are about to get will be infinitely preferable to Saddam’s odious tyranny.”

“The first democratic elections in Iraq’s history ought to be an occasion for celebration…”

“If they get a measure of democracy, at least something will have been salvaged. Why begrudge them that?”

(Leader, New Statesman, 31 January 2005)

This seemed a good opportunity for Medialens to practise what they preached. They’d already criticised the media (but not the New Statesman) for being “almost unanimous in describing the elections as democratic and free” (NS, 24/1/05). Now they could use their NS column to criticise the magazine and its editor, Peter Wilby.

In fact, Medialens went uncharacteristically quiet at this point. No criticism of the NS in their remaining NS columns (and no “alerts” prompting readers to complain to Wilby). The Medialens editors were asked (on their message board) why they didn’t devote a column to criticising the NS on this matter. They responded:

The New Statesman column is a tiny window of opportunity (600 words every 3 to 4 weeks, at £60 a time, by the way) for us to raise important media issues […] one might get away with the kind of full-frontal assault you’re suggesting once, but probably not more than once. (Medialens editors, Medialens message board post, February 2005)

In other words, Medialens were concerned about holding onto their column. Direct “full-frontal” criticism of the NS would endanger that. Their concern was understandable, although they’d previously asked George Monbiot if he’d considered resigning as Guardian columnist in protest at the Guardian’s performance over Iraq (Alert, 2/12/02). Presumably it didn’t occur to the Medialens editors to ditch their own column over the NS’s performance.

There’s a further twist to this “remarkable” hypocrisy. The Guardian’s comment editor, Seumas Milne, put the NS to shame by writing perhaps the only UK mainstream piece which portrayed the Iraqi “democratic” elections as a sham. You’d think Medialens would’ve approved, but Milne’s article committed the sin of not criticising the Guardian. David Edwards (Medialens co-editor) promptly wrote a letter to the Guardian complaining about it, and then criticised Milne in his NS column:

The Guardian comment editor, Seumas Milne, has even had the gall to complain that the elections “are routinely described by the BBC as Iraq’s first free and democratic elections”.

How convenient to take a free shot at the media’s favourite punchbag, when not just Milne’s own paper, but his entire industry, is pumping out exactly the same crass propaganda. (Medialens editors, New Statesman, 24 January, 2005)

This was just one week before the NS “Iraq” special edition which “pumped out” more of this “crass propaganda” – at which point the Medialens editors apparently decided to be less vocal on the issue. One of Medialens’s rationalisations for not criticising the NS was as follows:

But the NS really is small beer, we’ve generally used our precious 600 words every 3 or 4 weeks to take on much bigger media and issues. (Medialens editors, Medialens message board post, February 2005)

So, Seumas Milne was judged by Medialens to be higher than the NS in the hierarchy of “serious wrongdoers worthy of Medialens’s criticism”? It’s curious that apart from a different emphasis on criticising the media, Medialens’s NS column (24 Jan 2005) is very similar to Milne’s Guardian column (13 Jan 2005) – the same Tony Blair quote in the opening paragraph, exactly the same points about elections conducted by puppet regimes, the Fallujah refugees unable to vote, government crackdowns on al-Jazeera and press, the absence of monitoring by election observers, etc.

One wonders why Medialens were so hostile towards Milne [the Medialens editors continued their rant on their message board, accusing Milne of taking “risk-free swipes” at the BBC, and of having a “superficial” output compared to John Pilger’s, etc(4)]. Even allowing for Medialens’s particular focus on “failings of the liberal media” it seems a strange overreaction.


1. The exact wording from their Alert (3/5/03) is: “The astonishing result is that we know of not one journalist writing in the mainstream willing to subject their host media to serious and sustained criticism”. Elsewhere, they’ve written: “What we’ve said is that we think dissident journalists can and should do more to draw attention to the failings of their host media in those media and outside.” (Medialens message board, February 2005) – note added 7/12/2008

2. For example, the Medialens editors accuse Monbiot of being “unwilling to criticise the Guardian’s role in limiting public understanding of our government’s responsibility for crimes against humanity” [Alert, 10/12/02]. Recently, they’ve written that Monbiot “continues to be used as a fig leaf to cover the Guardian’s failure to challenge power” [Alert, 26/11/08]

3. I found only two cases (27/10/03, 23/2/04) of Medialens criticising the NS in their run of NS columns. Both very brief (total word-count of criticisms = 108). Monbiot’s criticism of the Guardian in his Guardian article is 116 words long.

4. The Medialens editors wrote: “You can’t possibly compare Milne’s occasional, superficial comments on the media with [Pilger’s] body of really excellent work challenging the system.” (Medialens message board post, 21 January 2005)

Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 7) – betraying Monbiot November 15, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens.
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In 2003 George Monbiot wrote privately to the editors of Medialens about his colleagues at the Guardian. The Medialens editors decided to broadcast this to the world (“In private, Monbiot has talked very differently of a cell of hardcore reactionaries on the Guardian…”). Monbiot wasn’t pleased, and responded:

Finally, you ask me “what is your view of the Guardian’s reporting on Iraq?” Last time I gave you my opinion on the Guardian’s coverage, I asked you to treat it in confidence. You betrayed that confidence. (George Monbiot, email to Medialens, October 14 2003)

Spanish Inquisition

The reply, in turn, from Medialens to Monbiot sounds almost comical in a Pythonesque way:

Your silence in response to our question about your views on the performance of the Guardian is remarkable. You say we betrayed your confidence. Even if true, that would hardly justify not speaking out honestly now on such an important issue. (Medialens alert, 28 October 2003)

A poster to the Medialens message board probably best summed up this embarrassing episode:

Monbiot spoke candidly in private with the Daves [Medialens editors Edwards & Cromwell] about his own working environment on the understanding that they would respect his confidence. But they ratted on him instead, paraphrasing his remarks about his employers on the internet, although there was no value whatsoever to publishing the source of remarks of that kind, except to their own attempt to batter him [Monbiot] into a recantation and the barely disguised slightly sadistic satisfaction of hurting him personally and claiming to be doing so for the public good. They had, they said, not only the moral right but the moral obligation to trick Monbiot in this low down dirty way, in disregard of the consequences to him, because clearly George Monbiot has no right to decide for himself what he wished to say in public – the editors, who are divinely inspired, will make those decisions for themselves and for everyone else… (Molly, Medialens message board, 3 February 2005)

Misrepresenting “science” November 8, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens, Project Censored.
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“Over One Million Iraqi Deaths Caused by US Occupation” (Project Censored)

“I don’t believe there is any consensus that the number is that high” (David A. Marker, chair of the American Statistical Association’s Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee, and author of the ‘Methodological Review’ [of the Lancet 2006 study])*

Anyone who consults the available research will recognise that there’s no scientific consensus supporting the “one million deaths” claim, but several influential websites (Project Censored, Just Foreign Policy, Medialens, etc) present it as if there is a supporting consensus.

Medialens, for example, write that “1.2 Million Iraqis Have Been Murdered” (subheading in their 18/9/07 alert) – although in a later article, they deny promoting the figure as if it were factual:

But who has asserted the 1 million figure as “a fact”? Certainly we at Media Lens haven’t. We have simply reported the most credible scientific advice on the most credible numbers. And as you know, science is not about offering certainty… [Medialens, email to John Rentoul, 4 April 2008]

Of course, this is disingenuous. Medialens have not “simply reported the most credible scientific advice”. They’ve reported one peer-reviewed study (and one unrefereed poll)** and ignored (or overlooked) at least five peer-reviewed studies (plus several critical reviews by leading researchers).*** And all the research they’ve ignored (or overlooked) coincidentally does not support their statement that “1.2 Million Iraqis Have Been Murdered”.

Curiously, Medialens also write: “It seems clear that the Lancet figure of 655,000 deaths, although now a year out of date, was accurate”. Clear to whom? Few “credible” scientific researchers share Medialens’s “certainty” over the accuracy of this figure. Most in fact are honest enough to admit they are unclear over the real number of deaths.

* Email from David Marker to me (6/11/08). I’d asked him if he was aware of any scientific consensus supporting the “over one million deaths” claim.
** Medialens cite the Lancet 2006 study (peer-reviewed) and the ORB poll (which isn’t peer-reviewed science).
*** For example see Leading researchers disagree with Project Censored.

Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 6) November 4, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens.
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—Offending the wrong people—

Medialens’s fourth “alert” attacking Iraq Body Count begins as follows:

Noam Chomsky once observed: “If you are not offending people who ought to be offended, you’re doing something wrong.”

One indication that the Iraq Body Count (IBC) project is doing something wrong is that it is deemed, not merely inoffensive, but is eagerly embraced by people who really ought to be offended…

Medialens used the same Chomsky quote to attack BBC’s Adam Curtis (whose series, Power of Nightmares, had been widely praised). It’s notable that Medialens don’t apply the same logic (that if you receive establishment praise, you’re doing something wrong) to themselves. In fact, Medialens tend to boast about the establishment praise they receive. For example, even though they believe that BBC2’s Newsnight is “complicit in war crimes”, they never tire of telling readers that Newsnight editor Peter Barron said something flattering about them. Here’s what Barron said:

David Cromwell and David Edwards, who run the [Medialens] site, are unfailingly polite, their points are well-argued and sometimes they’re plain right. (Peter Barron, BBC2 Newsnight editor, Nov 2005)

Perhaps Medialens should work harder to live up to the Chomsky quotes with which they attempt to ridicule others. They’re certainly offending a lot of people (eg George Monbiot, Nick Davies, Stephen Soldz), but not the ones who really “ought” to be offended. The Observer’s foreign affairs editor (who opposed the war) described Medialens’s campaign against IBC as “deeply vicious”.


Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 5) November 3, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens.
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Medialens prompts its readers to send emails to journalists and others. The Medialens editors then copy the “best” of these emails to their message board, partly to show how rational, coherent, informed and polite their readers are. (They once wrote that their readers’ emails were “awesomely polite”).

An example is given below. It was an email sent to Iraq Body Count (in response to a Medialens “alert” on IBC). It’s fairly typical, and carries the seal of approval of the Medialens editors (who posted it).

It’s also so incoherent and irate that I’ve added a brief translation, to save you the strain of extracting meaning from the static.

First, here’s the email:

Dear Sirs,

I must say I am shocked after reading the Media Lens investigation into your reported figures, not so much by their apparent inaccuracy, but by the fact that you are not fighting your corner! I would expect you to loudly and angrily protest that your figures are indeed accurate and explain why. If you cannot do this then should be utterly ashamed of yourselves. Instead you are mumbling about changing things in the future. Why are you even bothering? If you can’t (or more likely won’t) produce even approximately accurate figures, what is point of continuing? To put it bluntly, you’ve been rumbled, but instead of closing down the site, or updating and explaining the gross inaccuracy of your figures, you’re just carrying on as normal. History doesn’t record what the Emperor did when it was obvious he was naked, but I bet he didn’t carry on with the procession.

Shame on you.

Martin Gibbons
(Posted by Medialens editors to the Medialens message board, 14/3/06)

Here’s my condensed translation:

Dear Sirs,

Your figures are apparently inaccurate.
I would expect you to loudly and angrily protest that your figures are indeed accurate and explain why.
Instead of explaining the gross inaccuracy of your figures, you’re just carrying on as normal.

Shame on you.

Mr Gibbons provides no examples of any figures, so it’s difficult to judge their accuracy or inaccuracy.* But as the Medialens editors explained, it’s really remarkably shameful that IBC didn’t interrupt their work on Iraqi deaths to provide a full response to Mr Gibbons’s “rational questions”.

*None of the studies on Iraqi deaths provide “accurate” estimates of the total killed. Unlike Medialens and their followers, most experts in the field have no problem with IBC’s figures, or the way they’re presented (as an incomplete count). For example, Beth Osborne Daponte (the renowned demographer), writes that “Perhaps the best that the public can be given is exactly what IBC provides – a running tally of deaths derived from knowledge about incidents.”

Medialens’s embarrassing archive (part 4) November 1, 2008

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality, Medialens.
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“There is no ‘campaign’, Bob”

Medialens have always denied running a campaign against Iraq Body Count (IBC). After several months of this “not-a-campaign”, a Medialens reader suggested it should be ended. The Medialens editors replied:

There is no “campaign”, Bob – certainly not one owned or directed by us. (Medialens editors, Medialens message board, 30 May 2006)

Then a Medialens supporter replied, with some understatement:

Editors, I’m afraid I’d have to disagree […] – it very much does seem that you’re waging some sort of campaign against IBC and their volunteer staff. (SueC, Medialens message board, 30 May 2006)

I listed (17/10/06, PoV site) some of the elements of this not-a-campaign, mostly from the Medialens message board. (Some are documented by IBC [eg p36-38]). For examples/sources of the others, please contact me):-

  • [The multiple Medialens “alerts” targeting IBC].
  • The vicious smears about IBC “aiding and abetting in war crimes”, etc.
  • The insinuations that IBC don’t “care” about the suffering of Iraqis.
  • The slurs that they “bask in the glow of war apologists”, etc.
  • The discrediting of [IBC’s John] Sloboda by digging up old pieces quoted out of context.
  • The suggestions that IBC “shut down”.
  • The insinuations that they were behaving in a “suspicious” way.
  • The claims that they were “deliberately” letting their work be “misused”.
  • The accusations of “complicity” in mass slaughter.
  • The nasty personal insults (examples available on demand).
  • The unsupported claims that IBC are “cosy with” military/intelligence.
  • The claims that IBC were “assisting the US government”.
  • The moral sermonising “the honourable thing to do…”.
  • The accusation that IBC “undermined” the work of others.
  • The insinuations about careerism (while Roberts ran for Congress).*
  • The endless parade of misinformed falsehoods and distortions.**
  • The guilt-by-association bullshit.
  • The endless stuff about “you’ve been rumbled”, etc.
  • The claims that IBC “actively endorsed” misquotes of their work.
  • The errors (admitted, too late in the day, by Les Roberts).***
  • The absurd credentialism (“he’s only a guitarist”).
  • The personal character assassinations of John Sloboda.
  • The smears about propaganda for war criminals.
  • The surreal insistence of peer-review for IBC’s defense of itself against against the above.

By April 2006, there was no doubt that we were witnessing a full-blown smear campaign – prompted, directed and encouraged by the Medialens editors. A few dissenting posts to the Medialens message board expressed it well:

Any passing martian who drops in on this board must, by now, be under the impression that IBC declared war on Iraq, invaded the country and now occupy it since more venom has been directed at [IBC’s] John Sloboda and his team than at those who are responsible for the disaster there. (SueC, Medialens message board, 9 April 2006)

And another:

…as I watch the [Medialens] editors in a thread above trying to apply the moral screws on their opponent [IBC] again, I don’t think that’s [conciliatory gestures] going to happen any time soon. (finn mccool, Medialens message board, 30 May 2006)

Others have been critical of Medialens’s campaign. Peter Beaumont of the Observer described it as “deeply vicious”. Robin Beste, of Stop The War coalition, wrote of his impression “that IBC was being excessively hounded” (in an email cc’d to me, 28/3/06).