March 10, 2008
THE WATCHER: Dec 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
The year of the monkey…
It was an annus horribilis for an increasingly isolated and beleaguered Republican president under attack from a scathing media and irresolute Democrats in Congress. Each day’s news appeared more dreadful than the last; a constant stream of casualties and poor generalship and setbacks.
Even the president’s attempts to honour the nation’s war dead was sharply condemned. The Chicago Times said he ‘misstated the cause for which they had died’. In other words, he had lied. And, they added, ‘the cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dish-watery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States’.
Pretty harsh words. They were to be expected, though, from pundits and cartoonists who frequently questioned the president’s intelligence and who had regularly drawn him as a chimpanzee. Abraham Lincoln would have been happy to give 1863 a miss entirely. But then 1862 hadn’t been a banner year, either. At Antietam, Union forces suffered over twelve thousand casualties, the South nearly fourteen thousand; many more would fall in the year ahead at Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor.
One of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim political landscape was that Congressional Democrats were severely split. The so-called ‘War Democrats’ were all for it, but squabbled over every battlefield disaster, of which there was no shortage. If that wasn’t enough, the War Dems also accused Lincoln of being a tyrant – packing the Supreme Court with cronies that would do his bidding to destroy civil liberties.
On the other side of the Democratic divide were the ‘Peace Democrats’, who had bitterly attacked Lincoln’s Emancipation Declaration on job protection and racist grounds – proof, they wailed, that he had lied all along about the real aims of the war he had foisted upon the nation. They demanded that the war, which was being ‘fought on a lie’, be ended at once, even if the Confederacy was allowed to secede.
Even some Republicans voiced their doubts. Covetous European powers were encouraged.
Today, the Democratic and media chorus sings the same tune: ‘Chimpy lied and thousands died’. George Bush, from the beginning of his presidency portrayed as having apelike characteristics, has been accused of lying the nation into war the war in Iraq.
While the Big Lie charge has always focused on WMD, it has morphed through three distinct ‘lies’, each charge itself a lie. The first version of the lie, in the immediate aftermath of the war, went something like this: Bush lied when he claimed that Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the national security of the United States.
Of course, Bush had never argued that Iraq posed an imminent threat. He had clearly argued that in a post-September 11 world, preventative action was justified to prevent gathering threats from metastasizing to the point where it was too late to act.
In a major pre-war speech, Bush said: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.”
Bush argued, in accordance with international law that threatened nations need not wait for an “armed attack” or even an “imminent” threat before responding with force. Rather, as the distinguished diplomat, presidential adviser, and Yale Law School Dean, the late Eugene Rostow, maintained: ‘the target of an illegal use of force need not wait before defending itself until it is too late to do so. International law, after all, is not a suicide pact’.
It is past ironic that Bush – who was and still is scolded for his doctrine of early preemption (i.e., preventive or anticipatory self-defence) against gathering threats – was attacked for not meeting a standard which he explicitly rejected.
The second Big Lie invention that has been peddled is that Bush argued that the war in Iraq was, in the words of California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, ‘all about WMD, full stop’. Boxer made this outburst during Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice’s confirmation hearing earlier this year. It would be generous to accept that Boxer simply forgot what she had voted for in authorising military force against Iraq:
“Whereas Iraq persists in violating resolution of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait...
“The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to:
“(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
“(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq”.
Or as Bush stated in October 2002:
“America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor; self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, Shi’a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin”.
The third Big Lie furphy, re-heated lately by Chimpler critics the New York Times and Democratic Chairman Howard (‘Yeeeeeaaaahhhh!’) Dean, is that the Bush Administration twisted and lied about pre-war WMD intelligence. Congress and every other intelligence service in the world, including those of nations which were against enforcing the UN Security Council’s resolutions – chiefly France and Russia –had access to the same intelligence and agreed the threat that Saddam posed was real. The Mesopotamian miscreant’s record spoke well enough for itself: four wars, genocide, WMD use and support for terrorists.
To this Dean et al now claim bizarrely that Bush had a secret stash of heretofore uncovered intelligence that showed Saddam had uncovered all of his WMD. Again, it would be charitable to suggest that such charges are based on an innocent overlooking of extensive bipartisan and independent investigations in the US and Britain that showed intelligence had not been cooked up to stage a war.
If the Bush administration could be criticised for anything, it would be for indulging the doubters in the first place. It was never for the UN or the US to prove that Saddam still had WMD; rather, it was always for him to prove that he did not. This he failed to do, or even attempt in good faith to do, and the message and precedent was made clear by Bush’s response.
Nevertheless, Bush has hit back at his critics:
While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs.
Bush was up-front about his war aims. While Lincoln planned the Emancipation Declaration in secret, after the war had begun, Bush at least outlined all of his goals before the first shot was fired. But like the Civil War, the war in Iraq was always about much more than the primary stated aim.
While the Civil War was fought, initially, to save the Union, in the end it was and had to be about freedom. The denial of freedom was, after all, what had led to secession and war. Likewise, the absence of freedom in Iraq, and in the Middle East generally, was the proximate cause for terrorism and the spread and use of WMD. For it is a simple fact of the modern world that democracies not only do not repress and terrorise their own people, they do not terrorise or otherwise attack other democracies. It is why, so long ago, the Great Emancipator’s work remained unfinished.
Lest it descend into the Planet of the Apes.
THE WATCHER: July 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Media Watch pays homage to Phillip Adams
Australian perceptions of the media are incredibly poor. According to a Roy Morgan poll conducted last September for The Reader, only 18 percent of Australians believe the media is doing an unbiased job reporting on controversial issues; nearly 70 percent believe newspapers do not accurately and fairly report the news. No Australian media organisation escaped a mention.
With such consumer discontent evident one might expect a program like ABC Television’s Media Watch to make the most of what appears to be a target-rich environment. Yet the vista – or at least one side of it – from Media Watch’s studio appears sparse. Such is the state of the state-owned broadcaster’s optics.
While Fairfax (with the exception of conservative columnist Miranda Devine) and the ABC itself never get hit with anything firmer than Paul Keating’s famous piece of wet lettuce, the so-called ‘Murdoch press’ and its conservative columnists remain the show’s perennial target. True, The Australian’s most conspicuous lefty, Phillip Adams, has felt the romaine and radicchio lash, but only just. And the attention he once received was only a convenient artifice to launch another attack on Media Watch’s favourite right wing target, columnist and now ABC board member Janet Albrechtsen.
Weblogger ‘Professor Bunyip’ (http://bunyip. blogspot.com), as he is known, imagined former Media Watch Host David Marr stitching the program up with Adams: ‘We’ll pretend that the item is about you, but what we’ll really present is another attack on Janet Jackboots.’ And, on that occasion, when Media Watch bothered to take any notice of the sins committed by a fellow traveler, the case was weakly presented and was indeed used to attack Albrechtsen (who now has a Media Watch hat-trick to her credit).
In a 1997 speech to the International Documentary Conference in Brisbane, Adams said paying homage was merely a posh term for plagiarism.
What animates Adams’ critics so much is not that he has borrowed a phrase or two now and then; it is that he is seen to be habitually ‘paying homage’. And even when Adams is caught out, he re-offends.
If you like to read the fortnightly New York Review of Books (NYROB), at A$6.00 a copy on the street in New York (far more in Oz), in addition to plenty of time, you have an expensive reading habit. So here’s a tip: affluent Adams reads the NYROB, too – though I expect his copy is paid for by the ABC Radio where he hosts Late Night. Fortunately, you can get theReader’s Digest version in his Australian column.
Evidently, the ABC gets just one copy of the NYROB and Adams permanently absconds with it as he leaves his Radio National studio to write his column, and the ABC, with its beggar budget of $750 million, apparently can’t afford a second copy for Media Watch. Just as well for Adams, lest it fall into Media Watch executive producer Peter McEvoy’s deft hands.
But something tells me it’s not lack of resources that keeps Media Watch from focusing on filching Phil; rather, it is the ABC’s institutional bias and lack of regard for journalistic standards and the ABC’s code of practice which is to blame. How else to explain the rubber glove and cavity search treatment reserved for conservative columnists like Albrechsen or Miranda Devine?
When shown the goods on Adams, McEvoy finds reasons to look the other way. On one occasion he defended Adams by lamely claiming he had ‘sufficiently re-written’ the work (a 2003 NYROB piece) he was alleged to have lifted and that he had cited the work with the words ‘history tells us’.
When Adams is not technically committing plagiarism, even those who share his worldview should feel cheated. Adams is not overworked (he puts in four hours a week on air at the ABC in addition to his newspaper column). Yet his work product is either fundamentally dishonest (i.e., pilfered), or it looks as though it has been.
Here’s one example, provided by the aforementioned Bunyip, involving a piece by Michael Massing in the 29 May 2003 edition of the NYROB, followed by Adams, six weeks later in the Australian. In this case, Adams lets on that he has read Massing’s piece, but he then either paraphrases or copies Massing verbatim:
Massing: The Coalition Media Center is managed by Jim Wilkinson, a fresh-faced, thirty-two-year-old Texan and a protégé of Bush’s adviser Karen Hughes. Wilkinson made his mark during the 2000 presidential election when he spoke on behalf of GOP activists protesting the Florida ballot recount. To run the media center in Doha, Wilkinson, a member of the naval reserve, appeared in the same beige fatigues as the career officers working under him.
Adams: The centre was managed by Jim Wilkinson, a 32-year-old Texan and protégé of the brothers Bush. When last seen, Wilkinson had been speaking on behalf of Republican activists protesting against the Florida ballot recount...In Doha, the Bush activist was repackaged as a member of the Naval Reserve, appearing in beige fatigues identical to the career officers working beneath him.
Adams goes on like this for paragraphs, until near then end when he finally puts quotes around a few of Massing’s words – leading readers to believe everything else Adams has written is his own:
Massing: CNN International bore more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic edition -– a difference that showed just how market-driven were the tone and content of the broadcasts. For the most part, US news organizations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see.
Adams: CNN’s international service was repackaged, bearing more resemblance to the BBC than to its domestic – and domesticated – edition. Massing emphasises how market driven was the tone and content of the broadcast. ‘For the most part US news organisations gave Americans the war they thought Americans wanted to see,’ he says.
Adams’ column is, at the very least, an abject embarrassment to The Australian. That is, unless you subscribe to the Adams school of conspiracy. In which case, Rupert Murdoch has taken a page out of Karl Rove’s play book and instructed The Australian’s editors to keep Adams right where he is in order to discredit the left.
And what of Media Watch? Professional review is one thing, but there is something odious about a state-owned broadcaster sitting in judgment of private news broadcasters and newspapers. Sure, the ABC is not the same thing as the government swinging the billy club. But the ABC is a state habitat, populated overwhelmingly by leftists and funded by taxpayers, and Media Watch uses its resources to advance elite left-wing biases in a shrill, predictable and boring way which no commercial broadcaster would dare do.
Media Watch’s supporters would say that’s precisely why state-owned broadcasting is necessary. Well, no, actually. The ABC enjoys its budget, free of commercial constraints, not so it can fill the airwaves with ‘soft lefty’ attitudes masquerading as upholding professional standards. It is required to be fair. Entertaining would be okay, too.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
At the time of this writing, The Australian published another Adams piece, which looks … well, over to you Media Watch. On 4 May, retired U.S. Army Colonel David Hackworth died. Hackworth, who became a trenchant Pentagon critic, lived for a time in Australia, where he apparently befriended Adams. Six weeks after Last Post was played for his buddy ‘Hack’, Adams finally got around to eulogizing him. That was a cinch, because Hackworth’s obit writers at the Toledo (Ohio) Blade had done Adams’ homework for him...
Toledo Blade, 7 May 2005
As a 15-year-old orphan in Southern California, Mr. Hackworth joined the Army at the end of World War II, surviving four battle wounds in Korea. His heroics earned him a Silver Star, a battlefield commission to second lieutenant, and his own commando unit.
Colonel Hackworth, then a major, was promoted out of Vietnam in June, 1966 – 11 months before the unit’s first documented war crime. From May to November, 1967, some soldiers turned their rifles on hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children in what became the longest-known string of war crimes by a battle unit in Vietnam.During his fourth tour of duty in Vietnam, he spoke out against the war in June, 1971, prompting an Army investigation of his background.
He and his supporters portrayed the probe as retaliation against a whistleblower, but investigators uncovered widespread rule-breaking, including operating a gambling house and a brothel for his troops.
He defended both, arguing that it kept his soldiers disease-free, and the profits helped buy supplies for his men and local schoolchildren.
However, investigators concluded that the colonel enlisted his men in a black-market currency scheme that netted him tens of thousands of dollars. He would admit only that the men smuggled $100,000 of his poker winnings out of the country.
The Secretary of the Army allowed the colonel to retire to Australia, where he made millions in a restaurant business and duck farm.
Phillip Adams, The Australian, 18 June 2005
Born and orphaned in 1930, Hack was raised by a grandmother whose bedtime stories were about the family’s military history, going back to the American Revolutionary War. Faking ID papers, Hackworth joined the army in 1946, aged 15. He served in Korea and by Vietnam was regarded as one of the United States’ most brilliant commanding officers.
During his fourth tour of duty he went public with criticisms of the Pentagon. The army tried to discredit him, threatening him with a court martial for operating a gambling house and brothel for his men. Hack’s defence? The brothel had saved his men from disease, while profits from the little casino were used to buy supplies for the troops and local schoolkids.
Nonetheless, there was evidence of smuggling $200,000 out of the country.
To avoid scandal, the Secretary of the Army allowed Hack to retire to Australia where he continued his winning ways, making millions out of a restaurant and, of all things, a duck farm…
With Desert Storm, Hack once more became a Pentagon critic. Describing the war as ‘a raging atrocity’, David fought for ‘the young soldiers that our country sends to bleed and die on our behalf’…
It seemed that a unit called Tiger Force, established in 1965, had committed escalating atrocities – including turning their guns on more than 100 unarmed civilians…
THE WATCHER: June 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
In paranormal news…
On the north Welsh coast there is the little village of Abergele, where locals claim a ghost ship, the Gwennon Gorn, appears from time to time. According to legend, the Welsh Prince Madoc sailed her to America in the 6th Century – nine centuries before Columbus – and ventured inland as far as present day Kentucky. Show me a bottle of Welsh bourbon and I’ll believe it.
Another mythical ship was sighted recently in the UK during the election there – the MV Tampa. British voters probably hadn’t been thinking much about Norwegian container ships, at least not until a raft of Australian Labor Party has-beens and wannabes washed up in the pages of the UK press. Beware, they cautioned, of sinister antipodean political assassins – namely former Liberal campaign director Lynton Crosby and pollster Mark Textor.
In opinion pieces, which coincidentally appeared on the same day, Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan (in the Independent), and Cheryl Kernot (in the Guardian) – remember her? – lashed out at their nemeses. Swan, feeling ‘an overwhelming sense of déjà vu’, claimed the British Conservatives were mimicking the themes of ‘Crosby’s 2001 Australian election campaign [which] was perhaps the most despicable waged in Australian political history’. The Australians, Swan said, were ‘deadly to progressive parties’ by ‘exploiting fear and race’.
If Kernot was to be believed, the presence of the Aussie duo in the UK election posed more of a threat to Her Majesty’s Realm than Guy Fawkes: ‘Crosby’s tactics represent a truly serious threat to… British democracy’, she forewarned. And even worse, the subversive Aussie would go after the media: ‘BBC, take note!’ Crosby would, she warned darkly, ‘conduct a war of attrition’ against the British broadcaster and accuse it of ‘bias and unbalanced coverage’.
Oddly enough, only three days before Kernot’s dire ‘predictions’ the London Telegraph reported that the Beeb had been ‘plunged into a damaging… row after it admitted equipping three hecklers with microphones’ and sending them into a Conservative campaign meeting being addressed by party leader Michael Howard.
In her familiar understated way, Kernot even went so far as to imply that she was herself a refugee, due to the insidious tactics of Messrs Crosby and Textor. ‘[B]ut thanks to [her] Scottish grandparents, [she’s] been fortunate to have lived and worked in the UK for two years now.’ Well, at least we now know where Kernot lives, because it sure looked as though she wasn’t living in her own home-away-from-home Dickson electorate when she lost it in 2001.
After digesting Kernot’s theories, I suspect most Brits agreed with the Crosby-Textor Conservative slogan, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ And I also suspect most – even Guardian reading, tofu-chomping Volvo drivers – were more concerned about another potential British debacle – the forthcoming Ashes series – than the 1000-year edifice of Westminster democracy being swept away by a couple of sinister Aussie political operatives.
Sounding like Looney Tunes’ hapless duck, former prime minister Paul Keating waddled ashore in the last week of the campaign, also warning Guardian readers that, ‘Prime Minister John Howard had run a despicable election campaign against asylum seekers’ and to expect the same. Australia’s ‘moral compass now lacks the equilibrium it had and the underlying compassion has been compromised,’ the failed piggery owner lamented.
This from the former head of a government that in 1992 stated that ‘rejected asylum-seekers have no claim to remain in Australia…’; won a unanimous High Court backing for Labor’s mandatory detention policy (the Migration Reform Act 1992); and, from the Coalition Opposition, enjoyed support for “the right of the Government… to determine who shall and who shall not enter Australia”. (Sound familiar?)
In its last year, the Keating Government cut off immigration intake at 82,500 places. This year the Howard Government will allow into Australia between 110,00 and 120,000 new immigrants, including a doubling of refugees – a 45 per cent increase from when Keating stood on the welcome mat. In 2004, the top countries of origin for resettled refugees our morally diminished country accepted included Sudan, Ethiopia, Iran, Congo and Somalia. And, on a per capita basis Australia now has one of the most generous refugee programs on the planet. Not exactly a record you’d expect from a government that was accused in 2001 by its detractors in the New York Times of playing the ‘race card’.
If Keating wanted to measure compassion in dollar terms, he need look no further than the $1 billion donated by the Howard government in the days after the Boxing Day Tsunami. And, at one point after the disaster, Australians were donating privately at a rate of $750,000 an hour. Total private giving topped $200 million. Speaking of the generosity of the Australian people, Howard said: ‘Our home is this region and we are saying to the people of our nearest neighbour that we are here to help you in your hour of need.’
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley had every opportunity to insulate himself from the Tampa factor in 2001. But he failed to appreciate that most Australians were offended by the negative fainéant and continuous media reprimands of self-appointed custodians of national morality. Changing chameleon-like as he did on refugees and border security, Beazley’s voice was indiscernible from the white noise of the sniggering intelligentsia – whom have shown about as much responsibility and constructive alternative thinking on these issues as a bunch of garden gnomes.
So why would ALP figures want to dig up all these old ghosts now? It was hardly to lend a hand to their Labour brethren, whom they happily jettisoned over Iraq; rather, perpetuating the Tampa myth serves to reassure the Labor party’s base that they were robbed in 2001. That is, were it not for Howard’s base appeal, the Coalition would have been beaten senseless by Beazley’s ‘noodle nation’. The Tampa is the ALP’s Potempkin legend, which must be repeated, mantra-like, at every opportunity. And foreign media and their less Aussie-savvy readers are an easy mark for a reprint run, which will – and did – get a nice little run back in the Australian media.
This legerdemain, kept alive by ALP, the left’s leadership caste and some segments in the domestic media, may keep the home fires burning for the Labor rusted-on. And it certainly sustains the indulgences of the far left, upon which Labor has prostrated itself over terrorism, border security, the environment and industrial relations, to name but a few. But it has little currency where it counts: among the electorate at large, particularly among swing-voters, who aren’t buying.
It’s a hard sell that insults large swathes of the Australian electorate, with whom the ALP must make its peace if it is ever to regain power. Keating, who referred to Australians as ‘yobs with cans in their hands’ in urgent need of cultural re-education and thinks that Australia, with its current form of government, is the ‘arse end of the earth’, probably doesn’t advance that goal very far, whatever he’s shilling.
Sustaining the myth, with the help of an indulgent media, also prevents the party from tackling internal party reform. Remember the post-2001 ALP reform fight? Does the party look, act or sound any different today than it did in the 2001 election? Spotting the difference is like playing ‘Where’s Wally?’ without Wally. The ghost ship in the piece is the Labor party itself; adrift, without any sense of what it’s about or where it’s going. Until the ALP stops believing its own media stories, every election will, in the immortal words of American baseball legend Yogi Berra, be ‘déjà vu all over again’.
THE WATCHER: May 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Of screaming plastic turkeys and fish wrap
Afew weeks back, it was reported that the BBC had tried to book an interview with Bob Marley. I don’t mean Robert Marley, Dean of Engineering at Montana State University. No, the dear old Beeb wanted to chat with the very late ganja-worshiping Rastafarian musician, Bob Marley.
The British broadcaster admitted to being ‘red-faced’ over the attempted séance – a Freudian slip no doubt. And there are apparently no plans afoot at Broadcasting House – home to the BBC – to set up a dead rockers occult interview network, featuring such legends as Hendrix, Joplin and Elvis (oh, wait, he’s still alive).
You couldn’t be faulted for wondering how a network with billions of pounds at its disposal in the form of compulsory licence fees could make such a blunder. But alas, worse mistakes have been made by one of the MSM’s most influential global media establishments.
(‘MSM’, by the by, is not a trendy new 24-hour music video channel, nor is it an unwanted ingredient found in your take-away chow mein that jacks up your blood pressure – though it might do that anyway. MSM stands for mainstream media. Television, radio and newspapers: collectively they are the MSM. News and views on the Internet, though also an MSM medium – as in the singular of media and not as in spirit conduit – is also the domain of what is not mainstream: web diaries and blogs.)
It’s a definition based on scale and means, though not necessarily one based on content or viewpoint. It alludes to the Goliath-like resources network TV and major publishing mastheads bring to newsgathering. That world, with its foreign bureaus, editors, sub-editors and huge circulation numbers, stands in stark contrast to the legions of solitary, keyboard bashing, sleep-impaired Davids inhabiting the so-called blogosphere.
But, despite their comparatively meager resources and typical amateur status, bloggers have made their mark on the MSM. The early retirement in the US of CBS anchor Dan Rather last October, and more recently the resignation of CNN president Eason Jordan, were both attributed to the role played by bloggers.
Those resignations have prompted some mainstreamers to hit back. One former CBS executive complained on Fox News that ‘these bloggers have no checks and balances…. You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances and a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas writing.’
Fair enough. But so far it’s bloggers in pyjamas, 2; television executives in Armani, nil.
To a good many of the pyjama brigade – in both America and Australia – ‘mainstream’ is a glaring misnomer. In the view of these midnight warriors, the mistakes of the MSM demonstrate all too clearly that the traditional media is anything but mainstream and that its values and motivations are at odds with the beats they cover.
As the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Marr admitted, ‘The natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft-left inquiry skeptical of authority [sic]. I mean, that’s just the world out of which journalists come. If they don’t come out of that world, they really can’t be reporters. I mean, if you’re not skeptical of authority, find another job. You know, just find another job. And that is the kind of soft-leftie kind of culture.’
The irony, apparently lost on Marr, is that the inquiries of bloggers, themselves skeptical of MSM authority, have forced some ‘soft-leftie’ journalists to rethink their own career choices.
Bloggers and their contributors provide a refreshingly democratic, and highly efficient, alternative. They can get to the bottom of an issue at lightning speed. Bloggers exposed CBS’s journalistic malpractice in days, not weeks or months.
Tim Blair agrees that blogs are providing a watchful eye on the media. Blair is uniquely situated to judge. Since 2001, he’s been writing one of Australia’s most-read blogs (http://timblair.net), which also has a big world-wide following. When not in his pyjamas, he’s a standard-bearer for the MSM, as the Bulletin’s deputy editor. ‘The impact [of blogs] on the traditional media is big and getting bigger’, says Blair.
I asked Blair if he thought there was any conflict between his two roles? ‘All the time’, he quips. ‘Seriously, though, I find having a hand in the blog world helps me in my role as editor. It’s another check. It help keep me grounded.’
Was Blair surprised by some of the attacks leveled at bloggers?
‘I’m always amazed by the sheer preciousness of those working in the news media. They’re happy to make fun of everyone else, but have wafer-thin skin – you couldn’t measure it with an electron microscope – when the finger is pointed back at them’, says Blair.
But Blair believes that most Australian journalists see value in blogs, though some, notably Peter McEvoy, executive producer of ABC’s Media Watch, ‘are dismissive or hostile.’
‘His loss’, adds Blair. ‘That show could do with some blog-like scope and attention to detail.’
Until recently, unless you had a lot of information at your fingertips – like a news clipping service and a vast reference archive as well as a staff to search it for you – you could never compete with traditional news outlets. They really had an effective monopoly on information. News consumers were at their mercy.
Reporters could much more easily slither out of their own words from one news cycle to the next. As Blair says, ‘there was a time, basically before Google, when yesterday’s mistakes were today’s fish wrapper’. No longer.
Blair points to the Iyad Allawi ‘executioner’ story as a good example – an unfounded rumour that Iraq’s interim president had personally executed prisoners. Blair says the story had been quickly and thoroughly discredited thanks to bloggers in Iraq and elsewhere.
‘By the time [the Herald’s] Paul McGeough latched onto the Baghdad urban myth, bloggers were ready to pounce’, says Blair.
The ‘Dean scream’ is another excellent case. There was something about former US democratic presidential challenger Howard Dean that said, Maybe having this guy’s finger on the nuclear button isn’t the best idea. But when Dean made his unsettling primal scream, the Washington correspondent for the Age and the Herald, Marian Wilkinson, didn’t file.
It was the scream heard round the world, ending Dean’s presidential hopes, and Wilkinson didn’t think it rated a mention in dispatches. Bloggers everywhere heard it and knew what it meant. Somebody else – who didn’t yelp like a wounded animal – was going to be the Democratic presidential nominee.
‘Good old-fashioned reporting sense said Dean’s scream was newsworthy. Look, it’s not necessarily a left-right thing. Look at the way the media stuffed it up on [Mark] Latham. It wasn’t only left-leaning journalists that hadn’t cottoned on that Latham was going to crater’, says Blair.
But Blair admits despite blogdom’s best efforts some stories, no matter how wrong, are repeated over and over again as if true. Blair points to the mythical plastic Thanksgiving Day turkey Bush is
alleged to have served to the troops in Iraq. ‘Even though that story has been shown to be bogus, some reporters and columnists won’t – or can’t – let go of it’, Blair laments.
On further reflection, Blair admits that he’d be disappointed if the plastic turkey faded away altogether. ‘It’s been around so long, I think many bloggers, myself included, have become attached to it. That turkey has become part of the lore of the early days of the revolution now sweeping the media’, Blair says somewhat wistfully.
THE WATCHER: Nov 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Rudd and the ALP may be having a meltdown – even if glaciers aren’t
National security is too important to tolerate the fundamental misrepresentation of the truth’, shadow foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd solemnly intoned in the Australian a few weeks back. Actually, I always thought it was important not to be too parochial about the truth when your country’s vital national interests are on the line, hence the old aphorism that ‘a diplomat is an honest man sent to abroad to lie for the good of his country’.
Though Rudd is no longer a diplomat, he still gives the profession a bad name. The former China envoy customarily struggles to come to the point, thrashing about in endless pedantry, from arcanum to minutia, from caveat to irresolute, usually petering out somewhere in an elliptical orbit somewhere between meaningless and dull.
Nevertheless, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have some sympathy for Rudd when his former dummy-spitting boss (now dummy-spitting suburban hausfrau) Mark Latham rolled him on Richard Glover’s radio show when he blurted out infamously that he’d have had Australian troops out of Iraq by last Christmas. We have since learned from the so-called Diaries that Latham also thought it would be excellent to ditch Australia’s national security keystone – the US alliance.
When confronted with Latham’s cut-and-run Iraq ‘policy’, Rudd suddenly had some fundamental truths to face. After all, Latham’s ABC radio outburst was not as impulsive as it first may have appeared. Latham had already publicly shown plenty of form on the matter. Moreover, Rudd confessed that he previously had a ‘pretty basic and at times brutal conversation’ about the US alliance with Latham (to little effect; apparently he was not ‘brutal’ enough).
Although Labor opposed Iraq’s liberation – after months of opinion poll-driven shilly-shallying – Rudd consistently pestered the Howard Government over its responsibilities as an occupying power in post-Saddam Iraq. Rudd whipped out the ol’ Fourth Geneva Convention (the one just after the Third and before the Fifth Geneva Conventions) in a Monash University speech:
‘Australia today is conjointly responsible for ensuring the security, health, food, shelter and clothing for 20 million Iraqis. That’s what occupying powers do. Put simply, if you invade a country, you get to run it afterwards until an Iraqi government takes over. And that is a long way off…’
Just in case Prime Minister John Howard wasn’t in the audience, Rudd popped a memo into the PM’s suggestion box in mid-November 2003, urging increased Australian troop strength in Iraq: ‘I understand DOD currently has staff in country assisting with the development of the army. It would be useful’, Rudd helpfully recommended, ‘for the Government to investigate whether this training capacity could be increased’.
Latham was in charge of the show weeks later. Three months later in March 2004, in true populist ‘Goughic’ fashion, without so much as a nod to the trivial – parliamentary convention and shadow cabinet responsibility – Latham yanked the pin out on Australia’s Iraq commitment and with it the rug from under Rudd’s feet. Faced with Latham’s rash move, Rudd had two choices: do the Right Honourable thing and resign on principle or ‘jump in de conga line’.
We didn’t have to wait long for the answer – cue Harry Belafonte.
Rudd’s initial tactic: feign senile dementia, as evidenced by this Lateline interview with Tony Jones:
JONES: So you knew several weeks ago that Mark Latham planned to come out and say ‘troops home by Christmas’, did you?
RUDD: I can’t pinpoint any particular time as far as that’s concerned, all I know is Mark and I had been discussing it for some time.
JONES: The very line we’re talking about ‘troops home by Christmas’ you knew about that?
RUDD: We’d been discussing it for some time.
JONES: Did you know about it when we last spoke to you?
RUDD: I can’t quite recall the chronology.
Rudd and Latham also argued, breathtakingly, that Latham’s
security policy incontinence accorded with Labor’s pre-war no-war position: because Labor decided to side with the French and Chinese at the UN and leave Saddam running his Mesopotamian shop of horrors, Latham’s troops out by Christmas statement had been, well, pre-endorsed, shall we say, by shadow cabinet. That was hooey.
Notwithstanding Rudd’s notably acute memory lapses (all the more remarkable given his amazing ability to remember the Fourth Geneva Convention), it was devastatingly evident that Latham had been caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak, of violating the principle of shadow cabinet solidarity on a matter of vital national interest, i.e., the war on terror and alliance relations with the US. But Rudd, for reasons he has yet to explain, kept up the pretence of unity. And when caught out on one principle, he repeatedly fell back on
another: the confidentiality of shadow cabinet deliberations.
Recently Rudd was given a friendly chance to come clean. Asked by Kerry O’Brien on the ABC’s 7:30 Report if he’d been ‘caught on the hop’ by Latham’s Christmas pullout announcement last year, dissembling, Rudd activated the principle shield again:
RUDD: You know as well as I do, Kerry, when you’re dealing with complex questions of national security and you have a shadow cabinet that is functioning, a range of views are going to be put. There’s an outcome and the leader had a view.
O’BRIEN: And I think you were caught on the hop.
RUDD: I am not about to breach that principle [of confidentiality].
But still, no admission – at least not one according to the ABC transcript. But oddly, Rudd’s complete remarks are missing. What Rudd actually said, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat, in reply to O’Brien, who was having trouble containing his own amusement, was: ‘And you can draw your own conclusion. I am not about to breach that principle’. Who says the ABC can’t do good comedy?
That’s about as close to an admission by Rudd as you are going to get. But it’ll do. As to why Rudd’s words were dropped from the transcript, well, keeping in mind that the ABC has in the past demonstrated a tendency to be creative with such things, you can draw your own conclusions. Indeed, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to why Rudd has been let off so lightly by the media on such an important matter.
It contrasts rather remarkably with the bollocking given to health minister Tony Abbott earlier in the year when cabinet revised its Medicare safety net calculation, despite Abbott’s pre-election ‘ironclad commitment’. Rudd’s kid-glove treatment also contrasts sharply to much of the media’s shrill ‘we wuz lied to’ over children overboard, Bali terror warnings and supposedly ‘sexed-up’ Iraq intelligence briefings.
And why has not a single journalist, to my knowledge, asked Rudd why he didn’t consider resigning? Why wasn’t Rudd asked why, for example, he hadn’t followed Daryl Melham’s example when shadow cabinet rolled him over aboriginal land claims in 2000? As Melham said then: ‘I did so because as a matter of principle for me, I was unable to support the Shadow Cabinet decision on Queensland native title.’ Carmen Lawrence and Lindsay Tanner, for different reasons, did likewise. But not Rudd. Why not?
Westminster parliamentary tradition holds that should a minister or shadow minister find himself unable in good conscience to abide by the policies adopted by their cabinet, they should find themselves a backbench to warm. It is an obligation that does not arise simply from a sense of honour, though that reason is not to be dismissed. It serves a very important check on cabinet government.
But that check on executive power is only effective so long as each member of cabinet, particularly those holding the key offices of state, has the strength of character to resign when the chips are down. It’s a test of leadership that British Labour politician Hugh Dalton speculated of future Prime Minister James Callaghan: ‘Has he got a resignation in him?’ Callaghan did (in 1967 over the devaluation of the Pound), but it could not be more apparent that Rudd doesn’t have a resignation in him.If Rudd had resigned, he would have alerted the Australian public to the terrible risk Latham posed. But instead, Rudd and his Labor colleagues tried to cover up the dangerous mess that Labor’s shadow cabinet had become under Latham. Fortunately the Australian electorate saw through it.
And now for the weather...
This just in: ‘There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production–with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now…if climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic.
‘“A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale”, warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences…’
Worried? Don’t care? Heard it all before? Actually, you may have – in 1975. The article, appearing in the April 28th edition of Newsweek, went on to warn that unless something was done, we were doomed.
But that was then. This is now, baby. And the media has been in, well, a meltdown when it was reported recently that Nanook’s land values would decline (actually, according to sound economic principles, they would increase because there would be less of it) and the Panama Canal would lose its monopoly cache. Why the hullabaloo? The Arctic ice was reported to be melting. Must be due to the gaseous, hurricane-making ways of President George W. Bush, all agreed.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) sent out the alarm with a media release titled: ‘The Summer Arctic sea ice falls far below average for fourth year, winter ice sees sharp decline, spring melt starts earlier.’ Far below average, eh? Over how many years? How long have they been measuring sea ice accurately?
Well, not for very long as it turns out. These days – and I do mean days – they’ve been doing it with satellites. And as even the New York Times noted, ‘before 1979, scientists estimated the size of the ice cap based on reports from ships and airplanes’.
The key word is estimated. The Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years; the polar ice caps, about 50 million. On that timeline, Kitty Hawk happened in the geologic equivalent of less time than the half-life of gnat flatulence. As for ships keeping an adequate record of arctic ice movements, I can only imagine that the RMS Titanic’s Captain EJ Smith and others wished it had been more science than art or chance.
THE WATCHER: Sep 05, AU Edition
ALAN RM JONES
Recalling Abu Ghraib
The late 19th, early 20th Century French philosopher Henri Bergson contended that there were two types of memory. On the one hand, there is what he termed ‘habit-memory’, which was what we relied upon in daily life. It serves as our auto-pilot, allowing us to fulfill many daily tasks – which bus to take to get to work, where the sugar bowl is kept and so on. Contrasted to habit-memory was true or ‘recall-memory’. Recall-memory, according to Bergson, serves as our archive of experiences. It’s our hard drive of what we are about – the essence of who we are as a civilisation.Another Frenchman – as it happens – former L’Express editor and distinguished essayist, Jean-Francois Revel, argued that Bergson’s memory ‘duality’ was analogous to modern Western liberal civilization. In the bad old days of the Cold War, in the West, communism’s past was located in habit-memory, while capitalism’s was found in recall-memory.
‘As things are now,’ Revel lamented in his survival manual for the Cold War, How Democracies Perish, ‘it seems only the West’s failures, crimes and weaknesses deserve to be recorded by history.’ The Great Depression, domestic anti-communist excesses (even legitimate action against subversion is recalled as McCarthyism) or the overthrow of Salvatore Allende (‘the other September 11’), for example, are each
recalled as an ‘indelible stain’ upon liberal democratic capitalism generally, and the US in particular. No Western enterprise, however just and heroic, escapes this snare. (Only last week, I involuntarily spat my morning coffee all over a story about my local mayor, Peter Macdonald, who took it upon himself to apologise on behalf of Manly residents for the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima – a brutal and unnecessary act he claimed.)
Meanwhile, the deaths of tens of millions of innocent people at the hands of Soviet Communist dictators barely registered in the West’s hazy historical consciousness. Revel maintained that liberal capitalism’s memory ‘duality’ not only accustomed the West to accept profoundly desperate approaches toward human economic development and political freedom; it cloaked communism’s crimes while maintaining the West under a kind of perpetual indictment.
The West won the Cold War despite Revel’s grave concerns. But have we learned? Two current examples demonstrate that we have not.
I watched a recent CNN report from Iraq highlighting the bravery and increasing effectiveness of US Marines in coping with so-called roadside IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), planted by Saddamite holdouts and their terrorist blow-in allies. The Marine platoon, followed by CNN correspondent Alex Quade, had improvised their own counter-IED tactics to protect themselves and to kill those that planted them. But plenty of guts were still required to get the job done.
Over the previous two weeks, Gunnery Sergeant Jeff Von Daggenheart and his comrades had hit 22 IEDs. ‘I took some shrapnel in the leg, and thank God for gear, because I took a piece here, then in my holster and then I got shrapnel across my leg. It’s healing up now. It’s all good. My helmet, you can see my helmet, my eyes through here’, he said nonchalantly.
On one patrol, Daggenheart’s platoon encountered an abandoned car by the side of the road, which bore all the hallmarks of an IED. Believing the car to possibly contain a bomb, a marine gingerly attempted to push it off the road using his armour plated Humvee, when the car exploded. The Humvee was a write-off, but the Marine emerged a little shaken but unscathed.
The report was a welcome, if uncommon, counter to the daily dirge of coalition and civilian casualty reports, often cued with graphic enemy supplied home movies with the familiar pre-detonation ‘Allah Akbar’ whispered voiceover. For a moment, it seemed, the media were clueing in to the public’s demand for an end to negative, biased reporting.
But my budding optimism was itself detonated at the end of the story when the reporter signed-off from ‘near Abu Ghraib prison’. Near Abu Ghraib prison? I was confused. Where exactly is Abu Ghraib prison?
Call me ignorant if you want because I don’t have a clue where the infamous prison of American sado-sexual depravity and stupidity is. Oh sure, I knew it was in Iraq, and somewhere near Baghdad. Well, if you’re not exactly sure yourself, I’ve since checked. It’s about 30 kilometres west of Baghdad – roughly equivalent to Sydney’s outer west.
If the CNN reporter had merely said ‘near Baghdad’, would you have been less informed? The answer is no, and you wouldn’t have been left wondering. But as it was left, one could have no doubt what purpose the infamous landmark reference was intended to serve.
Still not sure? Peter Cosgrove’s recent news-making interview with Andrew Denton, on ABC Television’s Enough Rope should make it clear. Denton wastes no time cutting to the chase with the retired defence force chief.
DENTON: You became Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces in 2002. And big issues started landing on your desk. We’re talking Iraq, we’re talking Abu Ghraib, the US alliance. You’d trained all your life as a solider, now this was a political game...Were you ready for it?
Cosgrove merely points out that, the mission which made him most famous, East Timor – skipped over in Denton’s rush to the juicier end-of-career highlights – gave him a first class honours education in political soldiering. Not satisfied, Denton circles back again to... Abu Ghraib.
DENTON: Of course with these other issues, like the US alliance and Abu Ghraib, highly politicised issues within Australia. Not the same thing and you had to step through that minefield.
Cosgrove expressed his regret but said the low point for him was the Sea King tragedy, during the Tsunami relief effort, when 9 Australian service men and women lost their lives. In fact, Abu Ghraib didn’t begin making headlines until mid 2004 – the third and last year of Cosgrove’s command, and it had virtually nothing to do with the Australian Defence Force. To say, as Denton did, that it was one of the ‘big issues’ that ‘started landing’ on Cosgrove’s desk is a bit of a stretch.
Denton, for whom I have a lot of time (about an hour or so Monday nights on ABC), might have remembered that not only did the Tsunami relief effort factor huge in Cosgrove’s responsibilities, politically and otherwise – as compared to the sadistic and apparently bored buffoons running the night shift at Abu Ghraib – but there was that other minor event still ongoing when Cosgrove took command: the liberation and democratisation of Afghanistan.
Australian SAS and other troops were still in action (having deployed in December 2001) when SAS Sergeant Andrew Russell was killed in action only three months earlier, in February. And, in March, the SAS was involved in rescuing downed US Special Forces from behind enemy lines, in Operation Anaconda. But hey, the ABC can blame the Howard Government for that oversight. How much research can you expect on a meagre $750 million budget?
Having obtained Cosgrove’s agreement that Abu Ghraib was a ‘low point’ in the war on terror, Denton goes for the ‘T’ word – and no I don’t mean ‘Terror’, banned by public broadcasters the world over.
DENTON: In war, is torture a legitimate...
PETER COSGROVE: No, absolutely not.
ANDREW DENTON: Never?
PETER COSGROVE: No, you don’t descend to that level…
Well, good thing Denton cleared that up. Because, you know, most Australians, no doubt, were probably wondering if Cosgrove and the Australian military brass condoned torture. The sexual
humiliation – much of it not much worse than what passes for ‘entertainment’ on New York public access television – at Abu Ghraib was outrageous, but the drumbeat of the Left and its media champions is irrational and disproportionate.
You won’t hear much in the media about what went on in Saddam’s ‘prisons’ before Iraq was liberated. Abu Ghraib held tens of thousands of Saddam’s political prisoners. They were subject to torture, many were used as guinea pigs in Saddam’s WMD programs and perhaps as many as 4,000 were executed (not including the 300,000 uncovered in mass graves throughout Iraq. But that is ancient history. What does it matter? Who can remember what happened at Abu Ghraib under previous management?)
Abu Ghraib – the ‘Animal House’ version – will be repeated ad nauseam in the media in one form or another long after those responsible have been investigated, prosecuted and punished, to remind us that the West is inherently culpable for all that is bad or in bad taste. It has been hard wired into the West’s recall-memory; what happened there before and the bravery, innovation and tenacity of Sgt.Von
Daggenheart’s Marine platoon, to habit-memory, which sadly is to say, to oblivion. In that sense, no matter what the US and its coalition partners ultimately achieve, the dateline will always be, ‘somewhere near Abu Ghraib’.