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Chomsky rubbishes Medialens? September 19, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.
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Professor Chomsky has written a few kind blurbs for his loyal fans, the editors of Medialens. However, in one of these endorsements, Chomsky adds the careful qualification, “Its work, what I’ve seen of it…”. (My emphasis – RS)

I think that explains a lot. Prof Chomsky informed me (email correspondence, Nov 2007) that he didn’t follow Medialens closely. (For example, he said he didn’t recall seeing their criticisms of IBC – email, 19/11/07). Update: I recently asked Prof Chomsky if he’d put something on the record about a particular issue regarding Medialens. His response was to distance himself from them: “I know almost nothing about medialens, their positions, or their reasons.” (email, Chomsky to Shone, 18/06/2011).

I strongly suspect that if he were more familiar with their output, he’d be wary of endorsing them – particularly in light of the way Medialens use an ostensibly Chomskyite approach (sometimes peppered with out-of-context Chomsky quotes) to attack people such as George Monbiot and Nick Davies.

Rumbles over Flat Earth News

I wonder, for example, if Prof Chomsky was aware of Medialens’s intentions when they solicited his opinion on Nick Davies’s analysis (Chomsky hadn’t read Davies’s book, Flat Earth News). Chomsky replied (on the basis of one Davies article that Medialens linked to) that Davies’s approach was “complementary” to Medialens’s, adding, “I don’t really see any conflict. Just different topics”. He seemed unaware that Davies in fact wrote (in his book) some substantial (and original) material on media misreporting over Iraq. I wonder what Chomsky would make of Medialens’s later outbursts against Davies (they wrote of his book: “It’s not something to be praised; it should be exposed. It’s this stuff that finally kills people”). I also wonder what John Pilger would make of it, since he wrote the following kind blurb for Davies:

This brilliant book by Nick Davies, unrelenting in its research, ruthless in its honesty, is a landmark expose by a courageous insider. All those interested in truth – outsiders and insiders – should read it.
(John Pilger on Flat Earth News)

Chomsky has been generous in his endorsements of the work of fans, former students, etc. He even once wrote a nice blurb for a weird/witty cartoon book of iconic UFOs (Bill Barker’s Schwa). And, of course, he’s provided blurbs for Steven Pinker’s books, even though some of Pinker’s reactionary political views would normally be the type of thing to make Chomsky deliver a lecture about popular intellectuals unwittingly upholding western imperialism.

In some ways, Chomsky seems more sensible, pragmatic – less dogmatic – than many of his own biggest fans. For example, he’s “endorsed” (in a limited voting sense) democratic candidates such as John Kerry. (He’s been quoted as saying “Choosing the lesser of two evils isn’t a bad thing. The cliché makes it sound bad, but it’s a good thing. You get less evil”).

“Media Lens is very misleading on this occasion”.

Unfortunately, due to a confidentiality request, I can’t confirm that someone of the stature of Professor Chomsky wrote the above statement (or something very similar) to me in an email reply, after I asked the following question:

Media Lens has written that “professional rigour” in the Western media “does not exist”. They appear to derive this notion from [the] statement (in Deterring Democracy, p79), “The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist” – which they also quote in the same piece. What do you make of the logic here? Of deriving (if that’s what they’re doing) these ultra-dogmatic nonsenses from a statement which can at least be supported with evidence?

What’s the point of publicising opinions which are anonymous (due to confidentiality requests, etc), and which therefore cannot be checked or investigated (as to context, etc)? For the answer to this question, you might want to ask the editors of Medialens, since they’re the experts on publishing anonymous smears. See, for example, their recent alert – see if you can determine the source of their “very misleading exercise” smear of IBC. Clue: you won’t be able to, since both the source and the source’s “colleague” (who apparently forwarded the anonymous smear to Medialens) are never named. It might as well be made up.

Patrick Ball rubbishes Lancet study September 19, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Iraq mortality.
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Patrick Ball is one of the “experts” whose work (on Guatemala) has often been cited in support of the Lancet 2006 study on Iraqi deaths (even though it has little relevance to the situation in Iraq). He was even quoted in some PR for the Lancet study.

But… apparently the various criticisms of the Lancet study (by AAPOR, several peer-reviewed studies, etc) have filtered through, as Ball recently wrote:

First, I want to be clear that I have no interest in defending the Burnham et al. [Lancet 2006] estimates. The flaws in that study are now well known. (Patrick Ball, 28/4/10)

(Incidentally, I recommend the comments thread from which this is taken. Patrick Ball is critical of Iraq Body Count as well as the Lancet 2006 study, and his research on Guatemala is often cited by critics of IBC. But it’s very limited, based on small samples of press reporting specific to Guatemala – a handful of newspapers only; no news wires or anything comparable to IBC’s coverage, or to the situation in Iraq. I think the comment from Josh Dougherty completely demolishes Patrick Ball’s over-generalisations with regard to media coverage in Iraq, and media bias generally).

Note: the title of this blog entry uses the term “rubbishes” in a special sense. I’ve adopted this from my friends at Medialens who use it to characterise any criticism, substantial or trivial, real, implied or imagined, of the Lancet/ORB Iraq studies. (Recent example: a Medialens follower wrote that a piece I’d written “rubbished” the Lancet/ORB studies, when I’d merely listed peer-reviewed studies critical of those studies.

Medialens’s “silent” hypocrisy September 5, 2010

Posted by dissident93 in Medialens.
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A search of Medialens’s writings reveals that part of their MO is to accuse people of being “silent” over various matters. It’s a rhetorical device – in most cases the accused isn’t literally “silent”, but has responded in a way that Medialens finds inadequate (see examples below).

Curiously (and trivially), Medialens seemed very much affronted when Channel 4’s Alex Thomson wrote of their “total silence” in response to a question he’d asked. (Medialens weren’t literally silent; Thomson thought they’d “totally evaded” his question). Medialens said this was a “baseless smear” that was “particularly wretched“. But Thomson had simply used a word (“silence”) in the same way that Medialens has often used it – as the following examples indicate:


Medialens wrote the following to George Monbiot (28 Oct 03):

“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.”

Had Monbiot really been “silent” in response to Medialens’s question? Negative. In fact he’d responded with the following:

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.

That doesn’t sound like “remarkable silence” to me.

One of Medialens’s articles (a petty, spiteful, error-riddled attack on Iraq Body Count) was titled: “IRAQ BODY COUNT REFUSES TO RESPOND” (their upper case). Of course, IBC hadn’t “refused to respond” – they just hadn’t responded in the way that Medialens wanted.

Sometimes Medialens’s accusations of “silence” apply to the media as a whole. In an article titled “IRAQ CIVILIAN SUFFERING – THE MEDIA SILENCE” (their upper case), Medialens wrote:

Silence also surrounds the plight of Iraq’s children who are dying in hospitals for lack of the most elementary equipment. Save the Children estimate that 59 in 1,000 newborn babies are dying in Iraq, one of the highest mortality rates in the world. Up to 260,000 children may have died since the 2003 invasion.

Where do these figures come from? Medialens helpfully provides the source, which is none other than the Independent newspaper, one of those newspapers that’s so “silent” on these issues. It’s surprising how often Medialens relies on facts that manifest out of “media silence”.

Medialens has also written (1st March 05) that:

The notion of government and big business perpetrating climate crimes against humanity is simply off the news agenda. A collective madness of suffocating silence pervades the media, afflicting even those editors and journalists that we are supposed to regard as the best. (My bold emphasis – RS)

That sounds like an example of what Steven Poole (author of Unspeak) referred to as Medialens’s “childishly apocalyptic polemic“. But the point is that their claim of media “silence” on this issue is obviously false. The coverage may arguably be inadequate in various ways (of quality and quantity), but it’s hardly non-existent.

That’s just a handful of examples – there are plenty more. Medialens even wrote (in an article titled “SILENCE IS GREEN…“) that the “Green movement” is “silent” over the “disaster” that the corporate media system “represents”! Classic Medialens overgeneralising bullshit-rhetoric.

So, to conclude –

Alex Thomson evidently wasn’t guilty of a “particularly wretched” “baseless smear”. That’s just Medialens’s hysterical (and hypocritical) take on it. Nothing nettles them more, it seems, than being subjected to their own favourite rhetorical tricks (they even wrote a complaint to journalism.co.uk about Thomson’s remarks).

POSTSCRIPT (17 Oct 2010)
Just over a month after they accused Alex Thomson of “smearing” them, Medialens issued another article with the theme of media “silence” (titled: “DEATHLY SILENCE, OBAMA’S LETTER, NETANYAHU’S REJECTION AND THE MEDIA’S NON-RESPONSE” – their upper case). Lower down in the article, Medialens notes that the issue on which they claim the media was “deathly silent” was in fact mentioned more than once by the Guardian, and also by the Telegraph – and they’re not sure whether or not it was mentioned by the BBC. So, not exactly “silent”, then.