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“Shameful” double standards: Medialens on Monbiot & Pilger October 29, 2009

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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“the Mirror, along with the other anti-war daily newspaper in Britain, the Independent, was vindicated”John Pilger (on Iraq coverage)

Medialens... Edwards and Cromwell

Medialens’s David Edwards & David Cromwell – the Bono & Edge of web-based media criticism?

George Monbiot writes in the Guardian that Tony Blair is a “mass murderer”, “contemptuous of democracy” who “greases up to wealth and power and lets the poor go to hell”. Medialens responded by criticising Monbiot: “This type of dissent is one of the bars on our prison cell”. When John Pilger (a friend of the Medialens editors) writes similar things in the corporate media about Blair, Medialens praise him (endlessly).

Medialens have done us a favour by encapsulating much of the idiocy (and double standards) of their own approach in a brief few paragraphs. Let’s see if we can peel away their rhetoric to reveal the illogic. On the subject of George Monbiot, Naomi Klein and Mark Thomas appearing in the Guardian, they write:

Their appearances stifle the idea that there is a need to turn elsewhere, to develop new forms of media. The more dramatic the better, from the media’s perspective – arrest Blair! Marvellous! This is just what they want to see – tiny doses of high-profile dissent keeping us all in our corporate media consumer boxes. This is actually a disaster for progressive change. (Medialens editors, 27/10/09)

So, their appearances “stifle” ideas? How does that work? Monbiot writes in the Guardian that Blair is a mass murderer, and this “stifles” the idea that “new forms of media” are necessary? But new forms of media are already here, and readers are probably using them to access Monbiot’s article (since most will probably read it on the web, where it’ll be posted and linked to in innumerable forums, message boards, alternative media sites, etc).

Greg Palast attacked by the Mirror

The Mirror attacks Greg Palast, July 1998. Why relevant to Pilger/Monbiot? Keep reading…

When Pilger writes in the mass media that Blair is a war criminal, Medialens celebrate his dissent as hard-hitting and uncompromising – an important and necessary piece of truth among the lies. But when Monbiot writes that Blair is a mass murderer, Medialens want us to see it as a “tiny dose” of “high-profile dissent” that’s cynically used by the media to keep us all in our “corporate media consumer boxes”.

So what is the difference here between Monbiot and Pilger? (Apart from the presumably irrelevant fact that Monbiot has criticised Medialens, whereas Pilger has praised them to such a degree that you might suspect nepotism). Is it that Monbiot’s dissent in the Guardian comes in “tiny doses”, whereas Pilger’s dissent in corporate newspapers is more extensive?

Actually, no. Monbiot’s anti-corporate dissent appears regularly in the Guardian; Pilger’s appears in tinier (or less frequent) doses in various newspapers. Is Pilger’s language more uncompromising than Monbiot’s? Again, no. Monbiot, to repeat, writes that Blair is “one of the two greatest living mass murderers on earth”. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how “hard-hitting” Monbiot is – he can’t win when measured against Medialens’s double standards. The standard applied to Monbiot is: “The more dramatic the better, from the media’s perspective – arrest Blair! Marvellous!” That’s certainly not the standard they apply to Pilger when he uses dramatic language to denounce Blair in the “liberal” media. The first few lines of one of Medialens’s “alerts” provide a typical example of how dramatic language apparently “matters” when it’s Pilger talking:

Writing in the New Statesman last month, John Pilger made the point that matters:

“By voting for Blair, you will walk over the corpses of at least 100,000 people, most of them innocent women and children and the elderly, slaughtered by rapacious forces sent by Blair and Bush…” (Medialens Alert, 3/5/05)

We could compare Pilger and Monbiot on the volume of their criticism specifically of corporate media, but why would we want to conduct such a pointless academic exercise when we could be spending our time exposing, say, the ostensibly respectable Daily Mail framing which spreads hate-filled bigotry like a virus to millions every day? The answer of course is that Medialens’s followers prefer to point the finger of blame at dissenters like Monbiot. One of them, for example, writes: “as the Editors say, Monbiot has nothing to say about the complicity of the mainstream media”. This kind of ignorant claim has been refuted several times on the Medialens message board. One poster to the board provided a long list of examples of Monbiot criticising the media (only to find himself immediately – but no doubt coincidentally – prevented by the Medialens editors from posting anything further. See footnote for further details*).

Although the Medialens editors claim that the appearance of dissenters in the ‘liberal’ press “stifles” the idea that we need something better (ie non-corporate), this didn’t stop them from making an appearance in the mainstream:

We, ourselves, write an occasional column for the New Statesman. We do so on the condition, agreed with the editor, that we are free to criticise the press generally and his magazine in particular. And there is much to criticise. (Medialens Alert, 25/6/03)

Indeed there was “much to criticise” in the New Statesman. Alas, the Medialens editors “bent the rules” (their description, referring to their own “rules”) and wrote fewer words criticising the NS in their entire run of columns than Monbiot wrote criticising the Guardian in a single Guardian article. I’ve written about this at length in a previous post. Medialens’s response was to argue that the NS was only “small beer”, that they had “bigger” targets – in contradiction to their previously stated intention (see quote above) that they wanted the freedom to criticise the New Statesman “in particular”. (It’s worth noting that Medialens wrote more words criticising me – a mere nobody – in one of their ‘Alerts‘ than they wrote criticising the NS in their entire run of columns).

Given Medialens’s hypocritical performance with regard to their NS column, they’re in no position to be taking score here. Nor are they in a position to lecture Monbiot about unwittingly supporting the Guardian’s “propaganda system for power” role (as Medialens put it), when their own idea of a shining example, John Pilger, openly praised the Mirror, Independent and (to a lesser extent) Guardian for not promoting establishment propaganda over Iraq.

The quote from Pilger at the top of this blog entry is from Pilger’s own website, johnpilger.com [Nov 2010 note: link is to an archived version of the original Pilger site, as it moved away from its ITV host a year after this blog entry was written]. Actually, it’s not clear if this is really Pilger’s own site or an ITV site – each html page title begins “ITV”, and there appears to be an ITV logo on every page. (An interesting sidenote here: Medialens once publicly emailed Naomi Klein to interrogate – sorry, politely question – her about the Guardian logo on her own website).

Where does ITV fit into Medialens’s theology? Angel or demon? Well, it’s obviously part of the same “propaganda system for power” that Monbiot is allegedly supporting via his dramatic anti-Blair dissent in the Guardian.

If Pilger’s own website is hosted by corporate power and advertises corporate power (which it seems to), where does Pilger fit into Medialens’s suggested scheme for non-corporate “new media”? Could Pilger not move his website somewhere else? [As of Nov 2010, it appears he has – perhaps he eventually took the hint]. Somewhere less associated with the bloody mass slaughter of millions? Have Medialens publicly queried Pilger about this (in the same way that they queried Naomi Klein)? Not to my knowledge.


As you may have guessed by now, I’m subjecting Medialens’s approach to the absurdio** treatment. Where does their “logic” take us when applied (consistently) to John Pilger?

As well as praising the Mirror and Independent (and Guardian to a lesser extent) over their Iraq coverage, Pilger has described the Independent as an “anti-war” paper. And, of course, he has written for each of these papers – he’s provided “tiny doses” of dramatic dissent (just what the “propaganda system for power” requires, according to Medialens). Medialens are in fact aware of this. They’ve written:

we reported how two honest commentators with the power to expose the destructiveness of corporate domination – Noam Chomsky and John Pilger – have been treated by The Guardian and The Observer. Again, they have both appeared in your papers, giving the superficial appearance that the Guardian is a friend of freedom. (Medialens Alert, 6/8/02)

But as Medialens put it here, the problem is the way Chomsky and Pilger have been “treated by” the media. It’s not their fault that their dissent is being cynically used to present a “superficial appearance”. But it’s the fault of Monbiot when it happens to him. Otherwise why would the Medialens editors repeatedly and very publicly challenge him over his Guardian “appearances” (even to the extent of asking if he’d considered resigning from his column over the Guardian’s Iraq coverage. Medialens, it should be noted, didn’t ditch their own NS column over the NS’s “shameful” Iraq coverage).

Why read anything but the Mirror? After all, Pilger wrote headline antiwar pieces in it and heaped praise on its (then) editor, Piers Morgan. Does that not “stifle” any idea that “there is a need to turn elsewhere” for the truth?

Piers Morgan was editor of the Mirror when it published a front-page picture of Greg Palast, under the headline “THE LIAR” (see picture above). Presumably this was a favour from Morgan to someone in the New Labour government (Palast’s investigative journalism at this time, published, ironically, in the Observer, was damaging and humiliating for Blair, Brown and Mandelson). Let’s apply one of Medialens’s favourite rhetorical devices here: imagine if. Imagine if the Mirror had done to Chomsky what it did to Palast. Would Pilger have later bathed Piers Morgan and the Mirror in praise (as he did here)?

There’s really no way around it. Here’s the email that the Medialens editors haven’t yet sent to John Pilger:

Dear John,

You know how much we respect you and admire your work. We must, however, put the following to you, as we’ve been making similar (and very public) criticisms of George Monbiot and others for similar reasons for a long time now. We personally prefer your work to Monbiot’s in many ways, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, many of the criticisms we make of Monbiot could equally apply to you… (snipped)


David & David

Write to the Medialens editors to ask them why they apply double standards when it comes to Monbiot and Pilger.
Email: editor@medialens.org

* Ken Farrell from mediahell.org posted a long list of examples of Monbiot criticising the mainstream media (including the Guardian). He was stopped by the Medialens editors from posting any further. Someone on the Medialens board queried the Medialens editors about it. It took them 9 hours to reply with some BS about Farrell still being a “registered user” (they didn’t say whether he could post or not). It turned out (from someone who knew how these boardhost boards work), that what Medialens had done was prevent Farrell from posting by changing his password, while leaving him still a “registered user”. But the game was up by the next morning and the Medialens editors (as if to reinforce their previous misleading version of events) said they were now deregistering him.

** “Reductio ad absurdum treatment” would sound a bit pompous.
# This post, though making a few serious points, is intended as a tongue-in-cheek parody of a Medialens ‘Alert’.

Evidence-based BS October 18, 2009

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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BS stands for Belief System(s). Ideologues often claim that their BS is based on evidence, and it usually is. With enough ingenuity you can find evidence to support even the most absurd claims. But the real test is in addressing the evidence against a given claim. That’s where ideologues show themselves to be little more than BS-merchants.

Take my favourite example, Medialens. They assert that “professional rigour” in the Western media “does not exist”. And in their writings they provide evidence in support of this claim – eg cases where “professional” journalism has been “biased in favour of powerful vested interests” (to quote Medialens). So far, so good. But what about the cases which do appear to meet reasonable standards of “professional rigour”? Well, in the Medialens universe such cases don’t really exist – they only appear to. You see, the “Western” media excels at creating “appearances” which serve power interests, and any evidence which seems to refute Medialens’s claim is just such an appearance. This is the kind of BS which is “logically” set up so that it cannot be refuted. It’s closed BS, circular reasoning – ie worthless in a “scientific” sense.

Still, Medialens are big on “evidence”. In a response to criticism by Steven Poole (author of Unspeak), they wrote:

So we don’t just “bathe everything” in mad polemic. We recognise exactly how extreme these claims may seem and invite readers to consider serious evidence that they can be justified. (Medialens editors, 10/10/09)

The “extreme”-sounding claims (which Poole had criticised) were from Medialens’s book, Newspeak in the 21st Century:

the BBC is part of a system of thought control complicit in the deaths of millions of people abroad, in severe political oppression at home, and in the possible termination of human life on this planet

How would you “justify” these claims with “serious evidence”? Well, you’d first have to understand how a “system of thought control” can be “complicit” in anything. We’ve got a “war on terror” – perhaps we’ll soon have juries finding “systems” guilty of crimes against humanity?

If the BBC is part of a “system of thought control”, what do we mean by BBC? Do we mean each and every BBC employee, or are we referring to a more abstract BBC “culture”? If the former, does a BBC employee remain complicit in “the possible termination of human life” at weekends? And if the latter, are we talking of an institutional culture which is part of a larger system which is in some way complicit in crimes against humanity? Could we be any more abstract in our claims? Is there anyone on the planet who isn’t a part of this “system of thought control” in some sense, and if so, how would we know for sure? How would I, or David Edwards or David Cromwell or Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha or Noam Chomsky go about demonstrating, with serious evidence, that we’re not, on some level, part of the system which is “complicit” in the deaths of millions?

Steven Poole found Medialens’s response to his criticism “ridiculous“.

“Childishly apocalyptic polemic” October 7, 2009

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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Steven Poole (author of Unspeak) criticises Medialens’s book, Newspeak, in his Non-fiction review roundup for the Guardian:

[Medialens] claim that “the BBC is part of a system of thought control complicit in the deaths of millions of people abroad, in severe political oppression at home, and in the possible termination of human life on this planet”. So runs their counterproductive tendency to bathe everything in childishly apocalyptic polemic; they also affect to know what is going on “unconsciously” in journalists’ minds, and seem unaware that their own preferred descriptions of events are often just as rhetorically framed as the versions of the “psychopathic corporate media” (on which they nonetheless rely for factual reference).

Who knows what Medialens’s disciples will make of that. Perhaps they’ll see Poole as an unwitting “servant of Power”, or something. Anything but allow that he might have a point. I’ve read Poole’s book, Unspeak – it’s full of useful observations, and although it owes something to George Lakoff’s approach, it struck me as being original and “radical”. Which is more than can be said of Medialens’s output.

Poole is smart enough to immediately home in on Medialens’s own special “rhetorical framing”, which creates its own forms of “newspeak” and “thoughtcrime”. I imagine Orwell spinning in his grave over Medialens’s inappropriate and/or unintentionally ironic book title.

Postscript: other reviews

In addition to Steven Poole’s Guardian piece (see above), there are a couple of other reviews of Newspeak that I found perceptive:

Through a lens darkly, by Phil Chamberlain – for Tribune magazine
Attack of the Clones, by Max Dunbar – for 3:AM magazine