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

Posted by dissident93 in Media Criticism.

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!