Saturday, December 17, 2005

New Matilda

By: Antony Loewenstein
Wednesday 7 December 2005


Peter Hartcher is political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. His Friday columns are usually filled with insider 'news' or fence-sitting arguments searching for an opinion. Take his column of November 25: 'It is good time to ask who is winning [the war on terror]', he wrote. The half-page article quoted any number of surveys and polls that indicated support for the US was falling across the world due to the war in Iraq. Support for al-Qaeda and bin Laden had also fallen in countries with a Muslim majority. Hartcher concluded that both sides are losing the wider battle and 'success will turn on which side is better able to adjust its tactics.'

Hartcher's column typifies the inherent problems with mainstream punditry. Rather than focusing on the effect of US policies in, say, Iraq, or the reasons behind the rising insurgency, or even the suffering of civilians living under occupation and random daily violence, Hartcher seemed to imply that if the US and her allies would fight the War On Whatever with more sense, 'we' would be winning.

Hartcher is typical of journalists who spend far too much time reading and speaking to think-tanks (he is a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute) and not enough time in the field listening to the people who are directly affected by his 'insider' mates.

Thanks to Scratch



The Minnesota Daily commented recently that, 'insider' journalism 'should be discarded and discredited as journalistic practice.' Such practices allowed the media 'to be played like a Gameboy.'

The paper was on the right track, but if they took this advice, mainstream journalists the world over would suddenly have few sources for tomorrow's papers.

Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, recently in Margo Kingston's Webdiary described the problem of insider journalism as an 'intoxication of power:'

Whereas in the past, the independence and integrity of journalists could be measured by the extent to which they upset the men of power, popularity amongst the political elite is widely seen as a badge of honour for contemporary commentators. In fact, it is sometimes craved, as if old-fashioned research and hack-work can be replaced by official drip feeds and PR handouts. Government spin is assessed for its success or failure instead of being evaluated for its impact on democratic processes. Serving power, traditionally the vocation of State intellectuals and the commissar class, is an aspiration for too many in the Fourth Estate.

Our elite media is failing us like never before. I, for one, can no longer rely on the newspaper for my daily fix of world affairs. An insurrection against establishment media is underway. 'In trying to make sense of a dangerous world', wrote John Pilger in the New Statesman in late November, 'millions of people are turning away from the traditional sources of news and information and to the World Wide Web, convinced that mainstream journalism is the voice of rampant power.'

So what are Australian readers missing if they only read the 'serious' broadsheets? The following is just a small selection of recent news and views that were either ignored, featured and not followed up, or relegated to positions of insignificance by the Australian corporate media.

America's finest reporter, Seymour Hersh, examined the future of the Iraq conflict in the New Yorker in late November. Hersh painted George W Bush as a man led by religious conviction, removed from reality and ignoring the wishes of his military commanders:

A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by US warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

Once again, America has learnt nothing from Vietnam. The insurgency will grow and the US will, in time, exit in defeat. I saw no mention of Hersh's startling report in the local media.

Afghanistan is a supposed success in the 'war on terror.' Mainstream media propaganda pushes this misconception. So what of this news, published in Asia Times Online on November 22:

Reports emerged in the Pakistani media at the weekend that the US had contacted the Taliban leadership with the aim of establishing a truce in Afghanistan.

The report didn't mention the Australian troops in the country but revealed defeating the Taliban was a virtual impossibility because

...from the very beginning, the Taliban movement was inextricably linked to tribal bonds, especially as the Taliban brand of Islam dovetails with Pakhtoon Wali (Afghan tribal values). Tribes are the ultimate social order in Afghanistan, and nobody will ever wash that away.

The February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri caused a political earthquake in the country. Syria was immediately blamed for the murder and the UN appointed Detlev Mehlis to investigate. Syria was a likely culprit, due to that country's long-standing meddling in Lebanon, but what if the reality was different? Syrian television featured an interview in late November with a leading Syrian intelligence officer who claimed that Lebanese officials, including the son of Hariri, had forced him to testify falsely to the UN and accuse Syria. The report is impossible to verify, but it's an intriguing comment.

Thanks to Scratch

More credible, perhaps, is a recent report by Middle East commentator Trish Schuh (link here ) She claims that the Lebanese opposition parties, aligned against Syria and towards 'independence', are in fact 'backed by American and Israeli neocons, [and] a Christian Lebanese Likud is proxying Israel's second invasion.' This may sound far-fetched but America and Israel have been applying pressure on Syria since the assassination and may use the findings of Mehlis to justify military action or sanctions against the country.

The failure of the mainstream media hit me recently during the visit of former US weapon's inspector, Scott Ritter. His brief stay was only reported on ABC Radio. I saw him speak at Sydney University where he explained to a capacity crowd that the current quagmire in Iraq was not just about the current Bush Administration, but was in fact a continuation of policy started by George W's father. Regime change had always been the US ideal and sanctions and weapons inspections were little more than a way to make the policy more palatable to a pliable public and media.

Start exploring other sources of information, such as:

Information Clearing House, Counterpunch, AntiWar.com, The New Standard and Electronic Intifada

The revolution will not be televised (nor its repression reported on in the Australian mainstream press). It will all happen via the new electronic information highway.


About the Author


Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist and author. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney's Sun-Herald, The Bulletin, Znet, Counterpunch and others.

He is currently writing a book on the Israel/Palestine conflict for Melbourne University Publishing, due July 2006. Random House will publish his next book, on the Australian media, in 2007.

He blogs at www.antonyloewenstein.com/
 

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