“That Is Actually Bollocks”: 20 Propaganda Horrors From 20 Years of Media Lens (Part 2)


11. The BBC On The Saintly Motives For Waging War On Iraq And Libya

In focusing on the grim future in April, US vice president, Kamala Harris, surely revealed far more than she intended about the grim past:

‘For years and generations, wars have been fought over oil. In a short matter of time, they will be fought over water.’

A remarkable statement. Our search of the ProQuest media database found no mention of it in any UK corporate newspaper.

Four months before the invasion of Iraq, the minutes of a meeting at the Foreign Office on 6 November 2002 began thus:

‘Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there.’1

Iraq, said BP’s Richard Paniguian, was ‘vitally important – more important than anything we’ve seen for a long time’. (p. 24)

In an earlier meeting with oil company executives on 31 October 2002, Minister of Trade Baroness Symons said:

‘…it would be difficult to justify British companies losing out in Iraq… if the UK had itself been a conspicuous supporter of the US government throughout the crisis’. (p. 24)

Difficult, unless the invasion supported so conspicuously by Britain resulted in a calamity that consumed the lives of one million Iraqis. That would presumably make it easy to justify British companies ‘losing out’.

In the event, as noted in Part 1, Rumaila oilfield, currently operated by BP, is the largest oilfield in Iraq and the third largest in the world. It produces about 1.5 million barrels a day, 40 per cent of Iraq’s output. US oil giant ExxonMobil operates Iraq’s West Qurna I oilfield.

In 2005, oil bosses must have chuckled when the BBC’s Paul Wood read from the Downing Street/White House script on the News at Ten:

‘The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights.’ (22 December 2005)

Similarly ‘naive’ conceits informed John Humphrys’ question on the BBC when he asked of NATO’s catastrophic 2011 war on Libya:

‘What apart from a sort of moral glow… have we got out of it?’2

It may well be that obviously crucial questions like ‘Who got Libya’s oil?’ and ‘Who got Iraq’s oil?’ have never been asked by any US or UK journalist. Certainly, we have never seen a serious discussion. Occasional glimpses of the truth are available, though. In 2018, Bloomberg reported:

‘In another sign the sector is stabilizing, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc have agreed to annual deals to buy Libyan crude.’

Also in 2018, Frank Baker, UK Ambassador to Libya, penned an article titled: ‘Libya: UK leads the way as Libya re-opens for business’. Baker commented of a Libyan British Business Council [LBBC] event:

‘The LBBC event – themed, “Building Bridges Together” – brought together over 60 representatives of the UK oil and gas industry to meet more than 120 of their Libyan business counterparts. I am delighted to hear some of the leading British oil companies are gradually resuming their work in Libya to support the NOC’s [the Libyan National Oil Company] goal of increasing oil production to 2 million barrels a day by 2020… In 2017, trade between the UK and Libya more than doubled (up 138%).’

In April 2019, the Telegraph reported a hyena-like tussle between two of the NATO states responsible for overthrowing Gaddafi:

‘Italy and France are at daggers drawn, pitted on opposite sides in an escalating battle for control of Libya and the oilfields of the upper Sahara.’

At stake: the African continent’s largest oil reserves, worth billions of dollars a year. Not quite the picture painted by our completely free and impartial media trapped in their corporate worldview. In 2011, Simon Tisdall, for example, commented in the Guardian viewspaper:

‘The risky western intervention had worked. And Libya was liberated at last.’

12. Helen Boaden’s ‘Proof’ Of US-UK Benevolence

When the BBC’s director of news, Helen Boaden, was asked if she thought Paul Wood’s benevolent version of US-UK intent in Iraq perhaps compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, her answer was deeply embarrassing:

‘Paul Wood’s analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many speeches and remarks made by both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.’ 3

So, they claimed benevolent intent, therefore it was fine for a BBC reporter to assert the claim as fact (rather than as claimed fact) on national TV! Digging deeper, not in a good way, Boaden actually sent us six pages of quotes from Bush and Blair as ‘proof’.

Presumably realising she had made a complete fool of herself, Boaden dodged further embarrassment by changing her email address and never communicating with us again.

13. Emma Brockes’ ‘Scurrilous’ Comments on Chomsky on Srebrenica

On 31 October 2005, the Guardian published an interview with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes, titled ‘The greatest intellectual?’

The article was ostensibly in response to the fact that Chomsky had just been voted the world’s top public intellectual by Prospect magazine. The headline introduction to the article was:

‘Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?

‘A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.’

Remarkably, this answer attributed to Chomsky was actually in response to a different question posed during the interview. In a letter to the editor published in the Guardian on November 2, Chomsky explained:

‘I did express my regret: namely, that I did not support Diana Johnstone’s right to publish strongly enough when her book was withdrawn by the publisher after dishonest press attacks, which I reviewed in an open letter that any reporter could have easily discovered. The remainder of Brockes’ report continues in the same vein. Even when the words attributed to me have some resemblance to accuracy, I take no responsibility for them, because of the invented contexts in which they appear.

‘As for her personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes quite clear she does not understand. Noam Chomsky.’ (‘Falling out over Srebrenica,’ The Guardian, 2 November 2005)

The discussion in Brockes’ article made a nonsense of the headline:

‘Does he [Chomsky] regret signing it [a letter in support of Johnstone‘s work]?

‘“No,” he says indignantly. “It is outstanding. My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough. It may be wrong; but it is very careful and outstanding work.”’

As far as we can tell, this scandal had no impact whatever on Brockes’ career. Some 16 years later, she remains a high-profile Guardian commentator.

14. Mark Urban On US-UK Invaders Turning ‘The Tide Of Violence’

On the 14 May 2007 edition of Newsnight, the BBC’s Mark Urban reported from Iraq that the US troop ‘surge’ was an attempt to ‘turn the tide of violence’ in Baghdad. This was a fascinating, weasel-worded work of propaganda art.

Urban did not mean that the US was attempting to turn the tide of violence in America’s favour against its enemies. He meant that the imperial power that had blasted its way into the country and smashed any attempts at resistance with great brutality was trying to end violence per se and bring peace. As if the illegal invasion and occupation were not themselves structurally violent, maintained by fear and violence. Urban was rehearsing the media myth that the Americans were fighting for ‘security‘, ’stability’ and ‘peace’, rather than for control and oil (prohibited as a crazed conspiracy theory, then and now).

Urban made his opinion clear, referring to ‘Baghdad’s sectarian nightmare’ and to the ‘American struggle to stop its [Baghdad’s] descent into mayhem’. Imagine arguing, after the fall of France in June 1940, as Nazi forces battled the French resistance, that there was a German struggle to prevent a ‘descent into mayhem’. Quite obviously, the US invasion was itself the ultimate ‘descent into mayhem’!

15. The BBC’s Jon Sopel – The ‘Mistaken’ Bombing

On the night of 3 October 2015, a United States Air Force AC-130 gunship repeatedly attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Forty-two people were killed and dozens wounded. The US gunship had conducted five strafing runs over the course of more than an hour despite MSF pleas to Afghan, US and Nato officials to call off the attack.

As we reported, MSF were unequivocal in their condemnation of the American raid. The hospital was ‘intentionally targeted’ in ‘a premeditated massacre’; it was a ‘war crime’.

On BBC News at Ten on 15 October 2015, BBC North America correspondent Jon Sopel told viewers over footage of the ravaged Kunduz hospital that it had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’. BBC News were thereby adopting the Pentagon perspective presented by General John Campbell, the US senior commander in Afghanistan, when he claimed that:

‘A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility’.

Our repeated challenges on Twitter to Sopel and his BBC News editor Paul Royall were ignored. However, one of our readers emailed Sopel and did extract this extraordinary response from him on 17 October 2015:

‘At this stage whether the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz was deliberate or accidental is the subject of an investigation – and I know there are doubts about the independence of the inquiry – but what it most certainly WAS was [sic] mistaken. Given the outrage the bombing has provoked, the humiliating apology it has forced the US into, the PR disaster it has undoubtedly been, how can anyone describe it as anything other than mistaken? If I had used the word accidentally you might have had a point.’ (our emphasis)

Like Andrew Marr’s attempted whitewash (see point 10, in Part 1), this was actually bollocks. Everyone hearing Sopel saying that the hospital had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’, would have understood that he meant the Americans had not intended to bomb the hospital, rather than that the bombing of the hospital was a really bad idea.

16. Channel 4’s Jonathan Rugman On ‘Strongman’ Chavez

On Channel 4 News, a film by Jonathan Rugman showed footage of Hugo Chávez with Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Qadaffi. The film repeatedly depicted Chávez as a dictatorial menace, referring to his ‘personality cult’ and to factories run as ‘Soviet-style collectives’. Rugman asked:

‘Is Chávez on the way to becoming a dictator?’

If so, what species of monster might we be contemplating?

‘He’s no Saddam, but what’s happening here does feel eerily familiar. A strongman buoyed up by oil defying the United States, using oil wealth to rearm and consolidate his own power. Setting off alarm bells in Washington where securing energy is a key foreign policy goal. A petro-state heading for a showdown with its northern neighbour.’

In reality, the Venezuelan ‘strongman’ and his programme of change had been ratified by the Venezuelan electorate in no less than eight elections and referenda. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting noted that, notwithstanding the fact that recent polls had indicated Chávez’s domestic approval rating was above 70 per cent, ‘almost all [US] commentaries about Venezuela represent the views of a small minority of the country, led by a traditional economic elite that has repeatedly attempted to overthrow the government in clearly anti-democratic ways’.

Similarly, in Britain, the Independent smeared ‘the Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Chávez’ (Rupert Cornwell, ‘The 5-minute briefing: South America’s struggle towards democracy,’ 4  and The Financial Times wrote of how ‘the populist militaristic strongman has irked Washington with his anti-US rhetoric’. (Andy Webb-Vidal, ‘US softens its stance on Venezuela in belief Chávez will hang on to power,’ 5

John Pilger sent a letter to Channel 4 News complaining of Rugman’s report:

‘This was a piece seemingly written by the US State Department, although Channel 4’s Washington correspondent, Jonathan Rugman, appeared on screen. It was one of the worst, most distorted pieces of journalism I have ever seen, qualifying as crude propaganda. I have been in Venezuela lately and almost nothing in Rugman’s rant coincides with reality. Factories are like “Soviet collectives”; a dictatorship is on the rise; Chávez is like Hitler (Rumsfeld); and the media is under government attack.

‘The inversion of the truth throughout this travesty is demonstrated in the “coverage” of a cowed media. Venezuela is a country in which 95 per cent of the press and TV and radio are owned by the far-right, who mount unrelenting daily attacks on the government unhindered. The Latin American Murdoch, Cisneros, unfettered, controls much of it. Indeed, it is probably the most concentrated, reactionary media on earth – but that was not worthy of a single word from Rugman.’ 6

17. The Guardian – ‘Free From Commercial And Political Influence’?

When Trump triumphed in the US election in November 2016, Lee Glendinning, the editor of Guardian US, hit the panic button and pleaded to readers:

‘Never has the world needed independent journalism more. […] Now is the time to support journalism that is both fearless and free.’

Glendinning held up a sublime vision:

‘Because the Guardian is not beholden to profit-seeking shareholders or a billionaire owner, we can pursue stories without fear of where they might take us, free from commercial and political influence.’

As we have shown in thousands of examples over 20 years, this is fringepuddle fancy.

Just last week, blithely ignoring the US devastation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the long list of tyrants armed and protected by the US, a Guardian leader observed:

‘Mr Biden is looking for allies in his mission to ensure that the world remains conducive to a liberal, democratic way of life.’

Ignoring the awesome chaos inflicted on the world by US wars, by US pedal-to-the-metal capitalism, and by crazed US resistance to meaningful action on climate change, the Guardian continued:

‘The world does not govern itself, and leading powers cannot abdicate their role in shaping international institutions – and mobilising others to defend them. If the world’s democracies were to turn away, then either others would step in or the world risks a descent into chaos as it did in the 1930s.’

This is pretty standard for the profit-maximising company that calls itself the Guardian Media Group (GMG). Four days before the illegal invasion of Iraq, a leader in the Observer commented:

‘Mr Blair’s doughty battle to keep pressure focused on Saddam Hussein and to ensure that any action taken has the widest support possible is the correct stance. He is risking his premiership on his vision of an international order that is just and legitimate… Even his critics should acknowledge the remarkable leadership he is exhibiting.’7

At the end of the Guardian’s latest empire-friendly propaganda, the paper added:

‘… we have a small favour to ask. Through these turbulent and challenging times, millions rely on the Guardian for independent journalism that stands for truth and integrity…

‘Support the Guardian from as little as £1 – it only takes a minute.’

There is not a trace of truth or integrity, nor of independent journalism, in the claim that Biden is seeking ‘to ensure that the world remains conducive to a liberal, democratic way of life’. Nobody should be paying, much less donating, for this empire-friendly, ‘White Man’s Burden’ obfuscation.

18. Ignoring Oborne

On March 18, journalist Peter Oborne commented on his essential book, ‘The Assault On Truth’, exposing Boris Johnson’s mendacity aided and abetted by the corporate media:

‘Six weeks on from publication day and still no review of Assault on Truth from Murdoch Press, Associated Newspapers or Telegraph Group. So a big thank you to Media Lens!

Three months later, Oborne tells us: ‘Still nothing from Murdoch, Associated, Telegraph.’ (Oborne, direct message, Twitter, 9 June 2021)

We include this example because, increasingly, it is a fate shared by books containing dangerous truth. Such books are mostly accepted in the first place by small, radical publishers (as a high-profile media insider, Oborne is an exception). These publishers find it almost impossible to find space in the few large bookshop chains. Even if they make it, the books are not reviewed by corporate media. As the Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko once said:

‘When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.’

19. Another Goat On A Trampoline

Despite appearances, corporate journalism doesn’t and can’t do depth. They can talk Brexit, but not the real motivations of the people who founded the European Union in the first place. They can talk electoral interference, but not the implications for their own, billionaire-owned role in reporting elections. When you’re defending an exploitative system founded on illusions, you’d do well to keep it superficial, to skate across the surface and hope people don’t notice the absence of substance in what you’re saying.

No surprise, then, that the corporate media’s understanding of spiritual issues extends as far as the idea that religion is about believing in, or rejecting, the idea of a Cosmic Father Figure (CFF) – a rather obvious human projection – which should be tolerated up to the point it becomes dangerous.

In fact, obsession with a CFF is a red herring, a corruption of what Erich Fromm called ‘power religion’. ‘Humanistic religion’ is not concerned with the CFF at all. Rather, it is concerned with the discovery that human awareness cluttered with thought is inherently miserable, while human awareness uncluttered with thought is limitlessly blissful and unconditionally loving.

What we in the West call ‘meditation’ is not meditation at all; it is a relaxed redirecting of attention away from thinking (from following chains of thought) to sense perceptions and feelings. This attentional shift causes thought to subside, which allows the innate bliss and love of awareness to be felt as the obscuring clouds of thought dissipate. This inner bliss is like a subtle music; thinking is like a roaring jet engine. Countless millions of meditators have experienced this phenomenon over many millennia.

For corporate journalism, this experience, certainly the most important discovery in human history, does not exist. Indicatively, in the Guardian, political reporter Simon Hoggart wrote:

‘all religion is bonkers and irrational. If it wasn’t bonkers and irrational, everyone in the world would believe it, and it would be called common sense’.8

The comment was itself bonkers and irrational on many levels.

In arguing for his thesis that ‘most people, deep down, are pretty decent’, historian and author Rutger Bregman writes in his book, Humankind:

‘To be honest, I gave meditating a shot, but it hasn’t been a huge success so far. For some reason there’s always another email, another tweet or another video of a goat on a trampoline demanding immediate attention.’9

It certainly was honest. It tells us that, like most other intellectuals, Bregman is so addicted to thinking that he is unable to experiment with the one tried-and-tested method for clearing the head of thoughts and revealing the inherently blissful, loving nature of human being.

20. The ‘Mystery’ Of BBC Silence on the Corporate Dismantling of the NHS

On 20 March, 2012, MPs passed the Health and Social Care Bill (commonly called ‘the NHS bill’) into law. Fundamentally, the new Act removed the formal commitment of the Secretary of State for Health to provide healthcare for every man, woman and child in England (so far, at least, it does not apply elsewhere in the UK). In effect, this removed the founding principle of the NHS, set up in 1948. It meant that one of the finest health services anywhere, created by the British people in the wake of WW2, had just been primed to be carved open for exploitation by private interests.

Virtually every major professional medical body had fought against it, and there were numerous public protests. But the opposition was given scant media coverage. In 2012, science writer Marcus Chown highlighted a shocking email that he received from a BBC employee. The email read:

‘The BBC under/non-reporting of the opposition to the bill is even more of a mystery after I’ve read over the BBC news briefs myself (I don’t work in news, but anyone can see the news briefs). There are pages and pages of text on the opposition to the bill. Someone, or some people have clearly gone to a great deal of effort enumerating the objections, documents that have existed for over a month, and there is a long and comprehensive (and regularly updated list) outlining the latest views of all the professional bodies.  All the fact checking and detail anyone needs to run a detailed story on the opposition to the bill is there, and there are no official restrictions on reporting it, but somehow it still isn’t happening. I can’t make sense of it.’10

We emailed Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, on 17 April 2012. He had previously written to us to say he was investigating ‘BBC impartiality’ on related issues. We reminded him of this and asked:

‘Presumably, then, you will examine the evidence that the BBC failed to report impartially on the Health and Social Care Bill?

‘There are many serious and reputable sources that you could ask, not least the 27 professional medical bodies in this country who opposed the Bill, such as the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nurses.

‘You could also approach Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University. She has challenged the BBC about its supposed “extensive coverage” of the NHS bill. She describes “a remarkable disconnect between what was being reported on BBC News outlets and what was concerning many members of the public”.

‘Or Liz Panton, a speech and language therapist who has worked for the NHS for over 30 years, who says:

‘“The BBC seems completely out of touch with the general mood of public opinion and widespread fear and anxiety about the changes to our way of life as a result of the NHS Bill.”

‘And what about apparent conflicts of interest at the BBC? Will you investigate the evidence?

‘For example:

‘“BBC chief Lord Patten of Barnes, Bridgepoint and the Conflicts of Interest”

‘“Why did the BBC ignore the NHS Bill?”

‘When you have a moment, could you possibly give us your response, please? Many thanks.’

As so often, we received the familiar BBC response of no-response.

Part 1 is available here.

  1. Quoted Greg Muttitt, Fuel On The Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, Vintage, 2012, e-book version, p. 24. []
  2. BBC Radio 4 Today, 21 October 2011. []
  3. Email, 5 January 2006. []
  4. The Independent, 22 April 2005. []
  5. Financial Times, 6 August 2004. []
  6. Email to Channel 4 News, copied to Media Lens, 27 March 2006. []
  7. Leader, ‘Diplomacy is still the best weapon – UN unity can still be achieved’, The Observer, 16 March 2003. []
  8. Hoggart, ‘Bad karma from Vlad the Impaler,’ Guardian, 2 February 1999. []
  9. Bregman, ‘Humankind – A Hopeful History’, Bloomsbury, 2019, p. 2 and p. 388. []
  10. Email to Marcus Chown, Twitter, 23 March 2012. []
Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The second Media Lens book, Newspeak: In the 21st Century by David Edwards and David Cromwell, was published in 2009 by Pluto Press. Read other articles by Media Lens, or visit Media Lens's website.