Thursday, 16 December 2010

Pay no attention to the man behind the screen

One of the most frustrating things to me is the absolute inability, or is it unwillingness, of journalists to recognise what the story they report is about. This is the theme of this blog: I try to encourage people to seek out information and always question what is being told, i.e. "what basis is there for these claims?" Unfortunately people are easily misled, and information presented by journalists is inherently unreliable. The most recent example of what is wrong with our ability to ascertain the facts is the publication by Wikileaks of documents that are embarrasing to the US. As usual the incompetent and obfuscating characteristics of the media, that are supposed to adequately inform us, engage in their typical method of protecting those in power.

As always, the intrepid reporter notices those juicy bits about Julian Assange's life. Which, regardless of the topic, generate more stories than the initial disclosure of fraudulent, criminal or misleading behaviour by the powerful. Commenting on the media's interest in diverting attention with ad hominems Greenwald remarked:
... what I do know -- as John Cole notes -- is this:  as soon as Scott Ritter began telling the truth about Iraqi WMDs, he was publicly smeared with allegations of sexual improprieties.  As soon as Eliot Spitzer began posing a real threat to Wall Street criminals, a massive and strange federal investigation was launched over nothing more than routine acts of consensual adult prostitution, ending his career (and the threat he posed to oligarchs).  And now, the day after Julian Assange is responsible for one of the largest leaks in history, an arrest warrant issues that sharply curtails his movement and makes his detention highly likely.
While all this titellating stuff is unfolding The New York Times is still unable to call torture torture. As Greenwald reports that:
the NYT in its article on brutal detainee abuse steadfastly avoids using the word "torture" to describe what was done, consistent with its U.S.-Government-serving formal policy of refusing to use that word where U.S. policy is involved.  By stark contrast, virtually every other media account uses that term to describe the heinous abuse of detainees chronicled by this leak, the only term that accurately applies:  see The Guardian ("American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes"); BBC (US "ignored Iraq torture"); Politico ("a devastating portrait of apparent U.S. indifference to a pattern of murder and torture by the Iraqi army").  BoingBoing appropriately mocks the NYT's increasingly humiliating no-"torture" policy by creating a euphemism-generator.
The role of the media as defender of the powerful is evidenced by the reaction to these documents. Greenwald compares it to the response by Nixon to the Pentagon Papers and notes:
Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health -- all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks.  But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media.  As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter:  "When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon's henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job."
And commenting on statements by Howard Kurtz maligning Assange:
You will never, ever hear people like Kurtz, or John Burns, using these kinds of disparaging insults for any American political or military official with actual power -- not even (especially not) the ones whose "delusions" about Saddam's nuclear clouds and team of mad chemical scientists and alliances with Al Qaeda caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings, the displacement of millions more, and human suffering and misery on an unimaginable scale.  As Burns explained, with those people:  "You build up a kind of trust. It's not explicit, it's just there. And my feeling is that it’s the responsibility of the reporter to judge in those circumstances what is fairly reportable, and what is not, and to go beyond that, what it is necessary to report."
In what I consider a surreal reaction The Guardian reports that:
A Fox News contributor and former state department adviser has accused WikiLeaks of conducting "political warfare against the US" and called for those behind the whistleblowing website to be declared "enemy combatants" so they can be subjected to "non-judicial actions".
Apparently free speech applies only to those in power. Then there is the article The Washington Post and WikiLeaks, by Scott Horton, which details some significant revelations such as:
... the disclosure of a Fragmentary Order (“Frago”) authorizing soldiers not to investigate cases of torture that do not involve coalition forces is extremely important. It counts as evidence of high-level policy to countenance war crimes and violations of the prohibition on torture, which requires not only investigation but also intervention. Recall this astonishing exchange that occurred between Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace at a DOD press conference in November 2005. Pace stated “it is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it…” Rumsfeld interrupted and contradicted him, but Pace stood his ground. He was reciting well anchored military doctrine. He was also overruled by Rumsfeld.
Responding to the "blood on his hands"-meme, Horton said:
When pressed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates was forced to admit that these claims were hyperbole—“the leak… did not disclose any sensitive intelligence sources or methods.” Gates went on to acknowledge that there was no evidence of any informant being killed or threatened or even requesting protection as a result of the WikiLeaks publications. Why then has the Post editorial page decided to ape agitprop that the Pentagon itself has all but retracted? Maybe they don’t read their own paper.
He continues:
After looking through the latest WikiLeaks document dump, she writes that she is now persuaded that “top American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world.” Tellingly, her piece appears not in the Post but in the Daily Beast, and she’s supplemented it with a detailed review of the documents involved at Foreign Policy.
The possible benefits of what we have learned so far are summarised by Kevin Jon Heller, while Johann Hari stresses its importance. In light of that consider the response to evidence of possible war crimes, or the destruction of evidence regarding the torture regime. For some very important reason investigating, let alone prosecuting, those involved did not generate the amount of zeal we now experience towards Assange whose alleged crime constitutes of fascilitation of publishing information detrimental to those used to being beyond (judicial) scrutiny. Wikileaks has brought the ever present propaganda into the sunlight. That, of course, cannot stand. Hence the hysterical legal and rhetorical response. Interestingly, those opposing Wikileaks face the Gordian knot of how to prosecute Assange without criminalising journalism alltogether.

The game of politics, as evidenced above, is comparable to, and dependent on, the anti-science movement. For both accurate and factual information is anathema to their ideological and egocentric position. Once the spread of misinformation, if not lies, is exposed like magicians they lose their lure. It should therefore come as no surprise that both groups abhor transparancy and reject accountability. Since the main stream media no longer adhere to what Lord Northcliffe said:
"News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
any organisation exposing those that take advantage of us, by insisting we should stay uninformed and vehemently try to convince us we should ignore the man behind the curtain, has my support.

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