SETTING THE LIMITS OF INVASION JOURNALISM
By John Pilger
On 14 November, Bridget Ash wrote to the BBC’s Today programme asking why the invasion of Iraq was described merely as “a conflict”. She could not recall other bloody invasions reduced to “a conflict”. She received this reply:
Dear Bridget You may well disagree, but I think there’s a big difference between the aggressive “invasions” of dictators like Hitler and Saddam and the “occupation”, however badly planned and executed, of a country for positive ends, as in the Coalition effort in Iraq. Yours faithfully, Roger Hermiston Assistant Editor, Today
In demonstrating how censorship works in free societies and the double standard that props up the facade of “objectivity” and “impartiality”, Roger Hermiston’s polite profanity offers a valuable exhibit. An invasion is not an invasion if “we” do it, regardless of the lies that justified it and the contempt shown for international law. An occupation is not an occupation if “we” run it, no matter that the means to our “positive ends” require the violent deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and an unnecessary sectarian tragedy.
Those who euphemise these crimes are those Arthur Miller had in mind when he wrote: “The thought that the state . . . is punishing so many innocent people is intolerable. And so the evidence has to be internally denied.” Miller might have been less charitable had he referred directly to those whose job it was to keep the record straight.
The ubiquity of Hermiston’s view was illuminated the day before Bridget Ash wrote her letter. Buried at the bottom of page seven in the Guardian’s media section was a report on an unprecedented study by the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds on the reporting leading up to and during the invasion of Iraq. This concluded that more than 80 per cent of the media unerringly followed “the government line” and less than 12 per cent challenged it. This unusual, and revealing, research is in the tradition of Daniel Hallin at the University of California, whose pioneering work on the reporting of Vietnam, The Uncensored War, saw off the myth that the supposedly liberal American media had undermined the war effort.
Read it here.