Snowden Turf War Tears off Media Mask

The latest, astute Media Lens alert examines the astounding regurgitation – entirely unfiltered – by the Sunday Times and the BBC of British state propaganda against Edward Snowden.

The misinformation campaign – alleging, without a shred of evidence, that the Russians and Chinese have cracked Snowden’s encrypted files, placing secret agents in harm’s way – was designed both to discredit Snowden and smooth the way for Britain to subject us to new, even more draconian surveillance.

In Britain, the only major media organisation to come out of this affair smelling of roses is the Guardian, which questioned the credibility of the allegations. Media Lens observe that kicking back against the Sunday Times / BBC “revelations” offered “an opportunity for liberal journalists to attack the corporate competition in the form of a Murdoch newspaper and make themselves look good”.

This is certainly true, but I think we can see additional reasons the Guardian took their stance in defence of Snowden.

The main one is actually territorial. The Snowden files are the Guardian’s story. He’s their “product” – they even won a Pulitzer Prize for publishing his leaks. They therefore have every interest in defending him from attacks, because such attacks discredit them too. Had the Guardian conceded the turf war to the Sunday Times, the implication would have been that they, like Snowden, had “blood on their hands”.

Further, most Guardian staff are genuine liberals. While they are usually simple-minded in accepting British and western propaganda, especially on foreign policy matters – just think of their Ukraine and Syria coverage – they are, like many of us, truly frightened as individuals of the surveillance powers western states are seeking to secure for themselves over their own citizenry. That is why the Guardian’s senior editors went along – however fearfully – with their reporter of the time, Glenn Greenwald, in adopting Snowden as a cause.

Snowden did a very sensible thing in choosing Greenwald and the Guardian as his “guardians”.

When the BBC and Sunday Times repeated official British propaganda against Snowden, they probably did so reflexively – in the same spirit of craven stenography the media commit to most of the time. What they overlooked was that Greenwald would come out fists flying, his impeccable logic exposing their own charlatanism, and that liberal media with a vested interest in backing Snowden – especially the Guardian, but others too – would add their voice.

The Sunday Times was left exposed, as the BBC partially backtracked to stay within the media consensus.

This incident, to my mind, is interesting chiefly because it reveals quite how routine and unthinking the repetition of state propaganda by the media is most of the time. On the rare occasions when news outlets find their stenography seriously challenged by a rival, they look as dumb as Sunday Times reporter Tom Harper did in his CNN interview, protesting: “We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government.” Or put even more truthfully: “We just publish what we’re told to.”

The point is that a quick-witted, independent, well-informed journalist like Greenwald could make most of the reporters practising access journalism – in fields such as politics, defence, business and crime – look like a Tom Harper most days of the week were they given the chance to do so.

Briefly a turf war tore off the mask from the charade that is the corporate media. The mask has been quickly put back on. Normal service has resumed.


And just proving that the Sunday Times are, by royal appointment, stenographers to the British establishment, Media Lens have publicised the following response from Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens to criticism of their article by Craig Murray:

I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.