Friday, 29 July 2011

Come dine with me - politicians, police and the media

Senator Geary: "I despise the way you pose yourself. You and your whole f****** family."
Michael Corleone: "We're both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family."  (Godfather 2)
After Rupert Murdoch's admission to the recent parliamentary committee of special ties to successive political leaders comes the now acrimonious fallouts from their mutually-sustaining relationships.

From Thatcher to Blair, Brown to Cameron, Rupert Murdoch, his family and select executives like Rebekah Brooks have been feted and courted by prime ministers and party leaders like no other part of the media.

The hospitality has been duly returned.  Only weeks before the Milly Dowler hacking revelation and crisis exposures for Murdoch, every major political name, from David Cameron to Ed Miliband, was still being wined and dined by News International.

But the 'come dine with me' intimacy extended even further, with revelations that now-resigned Metropolitan Police head Sir Paul Stephenson hosted a dinner at Scotland Yard with Ed Llewellyn, Cameron's chief of staff , and Neil Wallis, ex-News of the World deputy editor turned Met media advisor, in attendance.  

Stephenson may claim that it was 'only a dinner', but this and multiple other instances of cosy patronage between the Met, Downing Street and News International illustrates the 'three course menu' of power, corruption and lies at the heart of the establishment.  

In his evidence to the committee, Sir Paul made an earnest plea for his critics to understand that he had to be intimate with News International in order to promote the best public image possible for the police.  In effect, the country's highest-ranking policeman claims he was compelled to attend all those expensive dinners and spa-hotel vacations to win favour with Murdoch's executives.

Assistant Metropolitan Commissioner, John Yates, also now resigned, told the committee that having self-sacrificed his position, so should "others" - meaning News International elites - now do likewise.

Unsurprisingly, the recriminations have only intensified the rush to more self-indulgent evasion of the truth.

And none in more sanctimonious voice than Gordon Brown, a man who, as Ian Bell notes, was still able to eat dinner at Rebekah Brooks's wedding all the while knowing that the Sun had invaded his family life.  For Bell:
"What’s baffling is that Gordon Brown, once a Chancellor who could certainly have given the Murdoch empire’s tax returns a second look, has only now realised that he was supping with the devil."
But who is the biggest devil here?  John Pilger sees little difference between Murdoch, Brown and all the other eager diners who sit at the News Corp table:
"Murdoch may be more extreme in his methods, but he is no different in kind from many of those now lining up to condemn him who are his beneficiaries, mimics, collaborators, apologists. As former prime minister Gordon Brown turns on his former master, accusing him of running a “criminal-media nexus”, watch the palpable discomfort in the new, cosy parliamentary-media consensus. “We must not be backward-looking,” said one Labour MP. Those parliamentarians caught last year with both hands in the Westminster till, who did nothing to stop the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and stood and cheered the war criminal responsible, are now “united” behind the “calm” figure of opposition leader Ed Miliband. There is an acrid smell of business as usual."
Meanwhile, the BBC, Guardian and other 'mind-food media' seek to occupy the high moral table, effecting a safe distance from the 'fast-food' Murdoch outlets.  It's a smug posture, saying nothing about the biggest crimes of the day or the failure of liberal journalists and editors to self-examine their own part in the distortion.  Pilger again: 
"The truth is, Britain’s system of elite monopoly control of the media rests not on Murdoch’s News International alone, but on the Mail and the Guardian and the BBC, perhaps the most influential of all. All share a corporate monoculture that sets the agenda of the “news”, defines acceptable politics as maintaining the fiction of distinctive parties, normalises unpopular wars and guards the limits of “free speech”. This will only be strengthened by the allusion that a “bad apple” has been “rooted out”."
 If only the Guardian and BBC would permit serious reflection on that kind of media consumption. 

As the latest Media Lens Alert notes, much of the 'interrogation' of Murdoch and his lieutenants concerns illegality around phone hacking and other such subterfuge.  But where have we seen any parliamentary examination, or criticism from people like Brown, of Murdoch's crucial role as a propagandist for Britain's and the West's wars?  Where, indeed, among the Guardian exposures, has this - "Murdoch's other moral crimes" - featured as an issue?

The absence of such within our media and parliamentary village should come as little surprise.  After all, it was Brown and his accomplices who helped organise the mass killings in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the BBC, Guardian and other liberal outlets serve to rationalise those very same war policies.   

Such are the ways in which the establishment manages its 'mistakes' and internal crises. It's a complicity that involves not just Rupert Murdoch but all corners of politics, the police and the media. 

The above-noted quote from Corleone might, more aptly, be Murdoch himself saying: 

"We're both part of the same hypocrisy, Prime Minister, but never think it applies just to my family."


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Rusbridger's alert to Cameron - Guardian whispers 'truth' to power

As the Guardian proudly proclaims its investigative lead on the News of the World scandal, other 'industry' reporters have been busy commending its writers - most notably, Nick Davies - for drawing-out the micro-evidence of tabloid hacking, payments to corrupt policemen, and political connections to Murdoch's organisation.
It's a 'model case', some, like the Sunday Herald's Paul Hutcheon, say, of 'good practice' journalism serving to expose 'bad practice hacks', disproving, he asserts, spurious claims of a generalised malaise within a differentiated media:
"The truth is that there is no ethics crisis in the press, far less "the media". Any problem that exists relates to the News of the World (now deceased) and a small number of reporters on other papers who peddle the toxic brew of commercial prurience and mawkishness that poses as journalism." ('Not all journalists are hacks', Sunday Herald, 10 July 2011.)
Noting the actual "mundane and tedious" reality of his own working day, Hutcheon also urges caution over the political blackening of the press as a whole:
"...don't believe the spin from Westminster that the phone-hacking scandal is a black day for the press, when in fact the reverse is true. It was not politicians, civil servants or police officers who exposed the News of the World's criminality, but investigative journalists at the Guardian."
It's an informative and sincere statement of self-belief in 'the profession' of journalism. But one that, in its very adherence to that 'professional ethic', finds itself unable to countenance, or possibly even comprehend, the more systematic function of our media, particularly its liberal outlets, in maintaining the key structures of power.
'We are, in our daily efforts to expose the powerful', say such journalists, 'proving that we are a free and guardian media'.
Such is the power of this most cherished media message within the media itself. Indeed, beyond, or beside, their devious methods, many tabloid hacks will also proclaim, quite proudly, the same 'ethical' beliefs.
Yet, while non-hacking 'good guys' like Davies and Hutcheon may claim as their only daily duty the exposure of malpracticing elites and public-deceiving institutions, the real journalistic test is how-readily they would scrutinise their own host employers and editorial actions.
Here's a useful case in point.
On Newsnight, the Guardian's Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger told Kirsty Wark that he had helped warn David Cameron about employing Andy Coulson as his Head of Communications.
Rusbridger added that he had also informed Nick Clegg about Coulson.
"A national newspaper editor has disclosed how he warned David Cameron not to take former News of the World editor Andy Coulson with him into Downing Street.
The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said that before last year's general election - when Mr Coulson was the Conservatives' director of communications - he passed a message to Mr Cameron through one of his aides urging him to 'beware'.
'We knew that there was this big murder trial coming which involved one of the investigators that Coulson had used, who had been in jail for seven years,' he told BBC2's Newsnight. 'It seemed reasonable to try and warn Cameron, before he took Coulson into 10 Downing Street, he should just ask some inquiries about this. I know I am not the only figure Fleet Street who got this warning through to Cameron to say 'beware'.'
His comments last night appeared to refer to the case of private detective Jonathan Rees, who earlier this year was cleared with two other men of murdering his business partner Daniel Morgan, who was found with an axe in his head. Scotland Yard admitted that the first inquiry into the 1987 killing in Sydenham, South London, had been hampered by police corruption." 
All very intriguing.  Yet, precisely why did it "[seem] reasonable to try and warn Cameron, before he took Coulson into 10 Downing Street"?
Is it the role of this country's 'leading liberal' newspaper to act as a 'vetting agent' for top politicians?

Shouldn't it have been a basic priority of the Guardian and its editor to publicly expose Cameron over his association with Coulson, rather than offer him private alerts?

So, while Wark was laying-into Ed Miliband for cosying-up to Murdoch, she had nothing to say to Rusbridger about his intimacy with Cameron.  Nor has any other BBC presenter.   Nor has Davies or anyone else at the Guardian.  Nor have 'straight' reporters like Hutcheon.  Nor has the Daily Mail, who seemingly wrote the above copy in order to question Cameron's judgement and castigate Coulson, but not, it seems, to challenge Rusbridger in offering cover to Cameron. 

The media may appear ever-ready to dish-the-dirt on errant politicians.  Yet, from the tabloids to the 'quality' press, mutual 'understandings' beween editors and leaders help contain the systematic impact of such exposures.   

While the Guardian may, to many in the media industry, be a heroic check on political malfeasance and tabloid excess, its own propaganda function as a 'sensible liberal guardian' is vital in maintaining the fiction that 'our leaders', while often 'mistaken', are, essentially, decent and true.

Rusbridger's view of Cameron is, thus, basically that of 'decent successor' to Blair, a continuation of the Guardian's war apologetics and the dutiful protection its editor always reserved for Blair and New Labour.

Thus, can the Guardian's latest editorial on the case (made by Human Rights Watch) for indicting Bush, Cheney and other US leaders for war crimes conveniently omit any call for similar action against 'our' war criminal politicians, past and present.

As Britain continues its sanctimonious warmongering in Libya, Rusbridger's open protection of David Cameron is actually more questionable than Cameron's awkward defence of Rebekah Brooks.

Among the ranks of dutiful Guardian columnists berating Murdoch, you'll read nothing on Rusbridger's own relationships to power - or any examination of the power liberal-establishment people like Rusbridger hold as 'moral watchdog' for the system.

For example, Guardian favourite George Monbiot's sweeping denunciation of an 'infected' media - from the grubby tabloids to the BBC's now-slavish devotion to big business (wasn't it always so?) - contains not a syllable criticising the Guardian or its editor's genuflection to corporate and political power.

Monbiot calls in his article for a 'Hippocratic oath' for journalists.  The word 'hypocritic' comes more immediately to mind.  What better place for him to include, at least, a mention of the Guardian's myriad culpabilities on war, carbon-promoting adverts and other corporate-driven priorities?

Monbiot might also have found a line to mention the paper's various efforts to smear Chomsky, or, in even braver form, his own apparent supplication to the Guardian editor in falsely castigating Media Lens.  Alas, nothing.   

Further 'high-ground' Guardian comment from Peter Preston laments the prospect of more press regulation, while Roy Greenslade records a tearless obituary on Murdoch's deceased tabloid.  But, again, like Monbiot, neither have any apparent space for discussion of their own in-house faults or hypocrisies.
As Jonathan Cook concludes (in emailed comments to the Media Lens message board):
"[These articles] really should blow the illusion that the Guardian represents any kind of interests separate from those of Murdoch and the Mail."  
There's a broadly-accepted belief amongst most mainstream journalists that, despite its flaws and corruptions, we still have a mostly-free-and-moral media striving to expose corporate rogues, make politicians accountable and uphold 'democratic order'.

The current 'exorcising' of the 'blatantly bad' media by the 'liberal good' gives enormous legitimacy to that system-sustaining myth.
It also means that friend-in-need editors like Alan Rusbridger can, with seeming impunity, send protective whispers to culpable politicians like David Cameron, a telling illustration of how liberal communications and accommodations to power escape the critical radar of all those 'investigative' journalists.  

*Update: more here from Media Lens on these issues. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

News of the World scandal disguises 'ethical' media others

The 'horror dungeons' at the News of the World are now giving-up their darkest secrets, despicable revelations that threaten not only to break Murdoch's ugly tabloid but to expose a much more systematic level of corrupt practices and criminal relationships.

But the hacking scandal now engulfing Murdoch's empire is also allowing false reverence for the BBC and other 'respectable' media as it preens itself on upholding 'journalistic morality'.

Hacking the victims   

Now-available records confirm that NotW spook-investigator Glenn Mulcaire listened-in on murder victim Milly Dowler's phone as a criminal investigation was under way into her abduction.  He also deleted messages on her phone to free-up space, giving the Dowler family false cause to believe she may have still been alive.  Many other notable victims are now coming to light.

However, it's increasingly clear that Mulcaire was not acting as a lone rogue.  Phone hacking and other such invasions are widespread across the tabloid media.  Ex-NotW reporter Paul McMullen has also confirmed that his paper paid large sums of money on a regular basis to police officers in exchange for confidential information.   

Awareness of such actions goes right to the top of the Murdoch organisation.  It reaches higher even than then NotW editor-in-chief and present News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, who, as a Channel 4 News investigation has now shown, was acutely aware of such subterfuge, having also been party to a meeting with the Metropolitan Police over the NotW's surveillance of a detective investigating the case of a murdered journalist.

Only now are the really uncomfortable questions being asked. Why didn't Brooks declare her knowledge of all this hacking and surveillance?  Why didn't the police themselves mention the meeting they'd had with Brooks?  Why has there been no police investigation or, indeed, serious media examination, before now into the cash payments made to police officers by NotW? 

The NotW is now facing a serious backlash, with public boycott sentiment and companies like Ford and Sainsbury pulling their advertising from the paper, a reaction threatening to ruin one of Murdoch's most lucrative Wapping brands.

All of which puts key politicians in the spotlight over their own carefully-cultivated relationships with the Murdoch empire, not least David Cameron who has close links with Brooks and employed her successor at NotW, Andy Coulson, as his communications chief.

Coulson now faces a potential perjury charge for testifying during the recent Tommy Sheridan perjury trial that he didn't know about NotW hacking and payments to corrupt police officers.

In the admirable course of unlocking NotW/police deceptions, Labour MP Tom Watson has now openly declared the Sheridan verdict "unsound" as a consequence of Coulson's allegedly false statements.  The gathering revelations of Murdoch-police accommodations also throws a confirming light on why the Crown Office decided to pursue a criminal prosecution against Sheridan in the first place.

Meanwhile, Cameron has issued all the customary words denouncing NotW and promising an independent inquiry, a likely whitewash and stalling exercise while he tries to smooth-manage the Murdoch relationship and BSkyB deal.  Labour leader Ed Miliband has, in turn, sought to maximise Cameron's embarrassment, carefully neglecting his own party's prostitution to Murdoch.
Liberal media's 'shock'

But the hypocrisy doesn't end at Downing Street or Parliament. It has also been 'righteous-judgement' time among the wider media as more 'respectable' journalists savage the NotW and Murdoch's mercenary practices.

Some have expressed their deepest shock over NotW methods, such as ITN's Daisy McAndrew who tweeted:
"There are v few stories I remember that elicited genuine shock &amp [sic]; disgust around the newsroom. Milly Dowler's phone being hacked is one." 
The BBC's big-act business editor Robert Peston has also given his standard drama delivery on News International's gathering problems, exorting on how the political pressure could impact on parent company News Corp's BSkyB bid.

Yet, while people will rightly boycott the NotW and condemn Murdoch, Brooks, Mulcaire and their ghoulish operations, the public outrage also encourages false notions of corporate and media angels. 

Just as 'good businesses' like Ford see the expedient need to distance themseves from 'bad business apples' like NotW, so do many journalists revel in setting themselves apart from Murdoch's 'bad apple' papers.

The sanctimonious tendency of an establishment-liberal media to seek ethical 'status' in such cases has never been so prominent.

Thus, could Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman ask a NotW feature writer if he was in any way "ashamed" to be associated with Murdoch's paper.

It wouldn't, of course, occur to Paxman or his BBC colleagues to reflect on their own shame in being part of an organisation which has done so much to defend and rationalise Britain's aggressive war policies or failed to report Israel's oppression of occupied Palestinians.    

While legitimate to decry the deep distress Mulcaire and NotW have caused their unwitting victims,  why can't such journalists and editors apply relevant and proportionate language to much higher state crimes?
What, in particular, could they, should they, be saying about the calculating politicians who have inflicted mass death and suffering in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere?

More self-critically, what could they, should they, be saying about the failure of their own 'vanguard' media to expose and pursue the executive directors of such slaughter?

Thus, BBC, Guardian and other liberal journalists can castigate Mulcaire et al as evil pariahs while treating high-ranking war criminals like Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Geoff Hoon as respectable figures of authority.

So, while Mulcaire has gone to ground, Campbell enjoys multiple media invites to plug his memoirs and appear as a role-model figure on Jamie Oliver's show about education. 

Here's Campbell himself blogging on NotW illegality and media morality:
"The central issue – illegal activity by the media – has not changed. But the public and political reaction almost certainly has. I have argued for some time that this is an issue that just won’t go away."
Indeed, it won't.  Nor will the truth of Campbell's own infamous media manipulations and complicity in mass murder. 

With still-murkier truths to emerge from the NotW issue - spawning, no doubt, another 'national debate' on 'media standards' and calls for a 'better-regulated' press - we can be reasonably sure that no critical spotlight will fall on the BBC or its liberal accomplices over their shameful failure to challenge and expose powerful politicians, corporate tyrants and criminal warmongers.

Running with public feeling over the NotW scandal, liberal media animosity towards Murdoch and his voracious empire may have found new and confident expression.  Now may, indeed, be an optimum moment to strike the wounded beast.  But that won't deal with the deeper corporate priorities and institutional propaganda that drives the wider media, not just Murdoch's sizeable chunk of it.

From the scabrous tabloid red-tops to the liberal-stylish pretensions of the Guardian, the same problems of media conformity to power remain, with little evidence that those journalists 'appalled' by the NotW can remotely see their own functional part in the much bigger deception.  


Update at 17.27:  
James Murdoch has just caved-in and announced the closure this weekend of the NotW. It's a tactical, damage-limitation exercise, of course, with an eye on keeping the BSkyB bid safe, but indicates, still, the potential effect of people power to challenge even Murdoch's 'untouchable' empire.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

To Tom Harris, MP, on UK detention of Sheikh Raed Salah

5 July 2011

Dear Tom Harris

As one of your constituents, I'd like to have your views on the recent arrest and detention of Sheikh Raed Salah and for you to forward my concerns to the Home Office for reply.

A deeply-respected advocate for the Arab-Palestinian community inside Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah - often called the "Gandhi of Palestine" - has committed no crime in denouncing Israel's illegal occupation and apartheid practices or in coming to the UK to speak about such oppressions.

It's a disturbing irony that this peaceful man is facing deportation while the UK authorities - seemingly influenced by an active Israeli lobby and hatemongering tabloid media - protect and fail to arrest incoming Israeli politicians/military figures deeply implicated in war crimes, notably in Gaza. 

Deep concern over Sheikh Raed Salah's arrest has been expressed by many human rights groups, academics and others, including this statement from Noam Chomsky in a letter to the Guardian:  
Double standards over Salah's arrest
Monday 4 July 2011

I was deeply disturbed to learn Sheikh Raed Salah is under threat of deportation on grounds that this action would be "conducive to the public good" (Inquiry after banned Palestinian enters UK, 30 June). On the contrary, it would be very harmful to the public good, at least if the public good is construed as encouraging free and open discussion of issues of great significance. Sheikh Salah, former mayor of the most important Arab town in Israel, Umm al Fahm, has played a very important role as a representative of the Arab community, domestically and internationally. He has been a respected voice advocating rights and justice, a voice that most definitely should be heard in the west. I trust that this decision of the government will be rescinded, that he will be released from detention without delay, and that he will be able to continue with his talks and discussions in Britain.

Noam Chomsky
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Please also see this sober and illuminating account from Jonathan Cook on the campaign of vilification against Sheikh Raed Salah.

As an uncomfortable voice for truth and justice, one can see Israel's dark rationale for spreading malicious lies about Sheikh Raed Salah.  But the Home Office's own prohibitive actions also, in effect, constitute incitement to hatred.

Is the continued detention and smearing of this man legal and legitimate in your view?

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards

John Hilley