Thursday, 19 January 2023 — Media Lens
If we were to choose a hill to die on, it would probably not be in defence of a British prince.
In truth, we don’t need to like or support – and may even abhor – the targets of media bias highlighted in our analyses. Our goal is simply to provide examples that most clearly expose the propaganda function of ‘mainstream’ media. Inevitably, that involves our focusing on thorns in the Establishment’s side.
It should be no surprise that there is actually much that divides us from, say, the fiercely patriotic and pro-war (as opposed to pacifistic) former US Marine and weapons inspector Scott Ritter; from Guardian-partnering celebrity guru and Hollywood actor Russell Brand; from classic, tongue-biting Labour Party state executive Jeremy Corbyn.
And if we have deep problems with the modern state as such – with its toxic mix of militant nationalism, fake religion and climate-trashing industrial ‘growth’ – what to say of states run as authoritarian, militarised oligarchies by the likes of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin and other Official Enemies of the West?
We rarely emphasise our visceral opposition to these systems of power, not because we are ‘quislings’ or ‘apologists’ – or because ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ – but because doing so feeds propaganda enabling the far more lethal militarised oligarchy that is the imperial United States. As Noam Chomsky observed:
‘So when American dissidents criticize the atrocities of some enemy state like Cuba or Vietnam, it’s no secret what the effects of that criticism are going to be: it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the Cuban regime, for example, but certainly will help the torturers in Washington and Miami to keep inflicting their campaign of suffering on the Cuban population [i.e. through the US-led embargo]. Well, that is something I do not think a moral person would want to contribute to.’ (Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, New Press, 2002, pp.287-88)
Our personal feelings about the examples we cite are irrelevant to the case we are making for the bias of the state-corporate Medium. So when our critics insist it is absurd for us to ‘defend’ Harry, or ‘apologism’ for us to expose media bias on Putin, the criticism is irrelevant at best and, in the case of Putin, an exact reversal of the truth.
While the question of royalty might seem trivial, the vast extent of press coverage indicates that this is not the view of established power.
Royalty is not just about tourism and distracting the public; it is the issue where nationalism, class control, inequality, militarism, organised religious fakery and biocidal corporate profit-maximising meet. Church, state, military, media, business and royalty are all mutually-supportive. It is revealing to see how these centres of power spring to each other’s defence against perceived threats.
Whatever we think of the Harry and Meghan Markle saga, it matters when the son of the current king and the brother of the future king writes in his new book, ‘Spare’:
‘Does the Crown generate tourism income that benefits all? Of course. Does it also rest upon lands obtained and secured when the system was unjust and wealth was generated by exploited workers and thuggery, annexation and enslaved people? Can anyone deny it?’ (Harry, ‘Spare’, Penguin, e-book version, 2023, p.322)
Harry’s book arguably merits some attention, if only for his comments on the war in Afghanistan in which he was a combatant:
‘Some commanders often said, publicly and privately, that they feared every Taliban killed would create three more, so they were extra cautious. At times we felt the commanders were right: we were creating more Taliban.’ (p.183)
‘Afghanistan was a war of mistakes, a war of enormous collateral damage – thousands of innocents killed and maimed, and that always haunted us.’
This is a significant confession from a member of the UK’s 3 Regiment Army Air Corp who is also fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.
The British press made great play of Harry’s confessed tally of ‘enemy combatants’ killed. He wrote:
‘So, my number: Twenty-five. It wasn’t a number that gave me any satisfaction. But neither was it a number that made me feel ashamed. Naturally, I’d have preferred not to have that number on my military CV, on my mind, but by the same token I’d have preferred to live in a world in which there was no Taliban, a world without war.’ (p.184)
In reporting this, the BBC brazenly reversed the truth of Harry’s intended meaning:
‘In his memoir, the Duke of Sussex describes killing 25 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan as “chess pieces taken off the board”.
‘Ex-colonel Tim Collins said that was “not how you behave in the army”.’
In what must be a first, the BBC actually cited the Taliban in support of its smear:
‘Responding to the prince’s comments, a senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani tweeted: “Mr Harry! The ones you killed were not chess pieces, they were humans; they had families who were waiting for their return…
‘“I don’t expect that the (International Criminal Court) will summon you or the human rights activists will condemn you, because they are deaf and blind for you.”’
The BBC cited Collins again:
‘He has badly let the side down. We don’t do notches on the rifle butt. We never did.’
In fact, on the same page that he revealed he had killed 25 people in Afghanistan, Harry wrote:
‘So my goal from the day I arrived was never to go to bed doubting that I’d done the right thing, that my targets had been correct, that I was firing on Taliban and only Taliban, no civilians nearby. I wanted to return to Britain with all my limbs, but more, I wanted to go home with my conscience intact. Which meant being aware of what I was doing, and why I was doing it, at all times.’ (p.184)
Harry emphasised that he had been trained to dehumanise enemy fighters as ‘chess pieces’ precisely because it would otherwise have been impossible for him to kill people viewed as ordinary human beings. In other words, whatever we think of Harry and his ugly role in this catastrophic war, these are not the words of someone who is coldly bragging about collecting victims as ‘notches on the rifle butt’. Significantly, the death toll is the only aspect of Harry’s discussion of Afghanistan that we have seen discussed in reviews and commentary.
To his credit, Harry pours scorn on ‘media barons’, primarily Murdoch, but also ‘the impossibly Dickensian-sounding Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere’, controlling shareholder of the Daily Mail and General Trust, a media conglomerate that includes the Daily Mail. Harry writes:
‘It was around this time that I began to think Murdoch was evil. No, strike that. I began to know that he was. First-hand. Once you’ve been chased by someone’s henchmen through the streets of a busy modern city you lose all doubt about where they stand on the Great Moral Continuum. All my life I’d heard jokes about the links between royal misbehaviour and centuries of inbreeding, but it was then that I realised: Lack of genetic diversity was nothing compared to press gaslighting. Marrying your cousin is far less dicey than becoming a profit centre for Murdoch Inc.
‘Of course I didn’t care for Murdoch’s politics, which were just to the right of the Taliban’s. And I didn’t like the harm he did each and every day to Truth, his wanton desecration of objective facts. Indeed, I couldn’t think of a single human being in the 300,000-year history of the species who’d done more damage to our collective sense of reality.’ (p.169)
Harry excoriates ‘the ravages and depredations of the press’ (p.201):
‘For generations Britons had said with a wry laugh: Ah, well, of course our newspapers are shit – but what can you do?’ (p.143)
This isn’t Noam Chomsky, or even Owen Jones, but these are meaningful comments reaching a mass audience from a high-profile figure. If nothing else, they provide well-intentioned reporters and journalists with an excuse for highlighting these crucial issues. Alas, as we will see, such journalism is in short supply.
Propaganda doesn’t do nuance. It must be delivered with complete certainty and high moral outrage. Thus, on his Talk TV show, Piers Morgan said:
‘There’s one thing to do with this book. Rather than buy it and feather his greedy little nest, do what I’m gonna do now – take “Spare” and chuck it where it belongs, in the bin.’
Whereupon Morgan threw the book into a bin.
Harry has been branded a ‘traitor’. From the moral high ground, Daily Mail consultant editor, Andrew Pierce, opined:
‘Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. This bloke has betrayed the Queen, his brother, his father, the future Queen Consort, for tens of millions of pounds. It’s all about money. His sense of entitlement is staggering.’
Happily, the Daily Mail has no grubby financial motive for endlessly covering Harry’s story; as is true of its reporting, commentary and ‘sidebar of shame’ more generally.
Times columnist Giles Coren, whose career has doubtless not benefited from the fact that his father was the much-loved journalist, humourist and BBC TV personality, Alan Coren, commented:
‘Harry is a very, very stupid man. A man with a barely functioning IQ in the sort of middle 90s, who in real life wouldn’t be able to get a job, or to have a family, or do anything.’
Also projecting freely, Nigel Farage, GB News presenter and founder of the Brexit Party, raged:
‘It is ghastly at every level. Can you imagine trashing your own family, trashing your own country, trashing the commonwealth, trashing your grandmother’s legacy… and doing it all for money? I think the whole thing, frankly, is despicable.’
Businessman and ‘activist’ Adam Brooks lightened the mood:
‘[Harry’s] a whingeing, woke, cry-baby… I actually – it’s quite a strong word – but I think I hate, I hate Harry for what he’s doing to the UK.’
Journalist A.N. Wilson even played the Hitler Card:
‘I’m not suggesting he’s as bad as Hitler, but it is like reading Mein Kampf, in that Hitler thinks he’s a hero and you put the book down with absolute disgust. And you do put this book down with total disgust.’
BBC viewers will recall how Jennie Bond worked as the BBC’s cautious and deferential royal correspondent for 14 years. In response to Harry’s book, we saw a different Bond:
‘Do you know, can we maybe think that his brain is so addled by, well, by the trauma of his life – because he is traumatised – um, and by the many, many drugs he’s taken?’
When Female ‘Left-Liberal’ Columnists Attack
It is no surprise that the female columnists of the liberal press were lined up to pour scorn on this male target of Establishment ire, much as they had been lined up to pour scorn on Julian Assange, Jeremy Corbyn, Russell Brand and others.
In the Observer, Rachel Cooke declared herself bewildered by ‘a book that must rank as one of the most bizarre I’ve ever read’. It was the product of ‘A myopic, self-obsessed, non-empathic kind of person’.
With sexual ridicule to the fore, Cooke mocked Harry’s mention of his ‘todger’, his ‘thing’, and how he revealed he had once ‘peed his pants’. Cooke indicated that Harry had certainly failed the Observer test on ‘feminism’.
In the Guardian, Marina Hyde also focused on the ‘circumcision/frostbitten penis status of princes that might as well have been subheaded It’s A Royal Cockout’.
Hyde at least managed to mention Afghanistan:
‘during the conflict in Afghanistan he killed 25 Taliban fighters out of his $50m helicopter, a form of warfare which even the most committed Taliban-loathers among us always had to admit was a bit asymmetric’.
This was a typically callous reference from Hyde to the barely comprehensible carnage inflicted by the West on Afghanistan for two decades. Would we describe the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as ‘a bit asymmetric’? How about the Nazis’ crushing of the Warsaw ghetto? Hyde added:
‘Then again, the Taliban won in the end…’
Again, an ugly, flippant comment. Can anyone in Afghanistan be said to have ‘won’ at the end of the West’s devastating invasion and occupation?
In the Independent, Lucy Pavia also commented repeatedly on ‘todgers’, on how Harry’s description of the state of ‘his frostbitten penis after a trip to the North Pole culminates in an odd admission that he covered it in Elizabeth Arden and thought of his mother, who once used the cream’. Perhaps it is the implied interpretation that is ‘odd’.
From the comfort of her corporate office chair, Pavia wrote:
‘Passages about army exploits and travels to Africa are worthy but a little bloated.’
Clearly not ‘worthy’ enough for Pavia to make any mention of Harry’s comments on the war in Afghanistan.
Supposedly further to the right on the media ‘spectrum’, former long-time Guardian columnist, Hadley Freeman, now writing for The Times, dismissed this ‘strange, petty, self-inflicted seeping wound of a book’, an effort that is ‘like so much in Harry’s self-centred but utterly unself-aware life’. Ironic comments from someone who contributed to some of the Guardian’s worst propaganda excesses, and who has ascended even higher up the selfless, self-aware moral stairway to become, as Harry might say, ‘a profit centre for Murdoch Inc’.
The book, said Freeman, is ‘comic and pathetic. Hamlet was the aspiration, the Fool is, heartbreakingly, the result’.
Yet again, sexual ridicule was a theme: ‘Spare’ has earned Harry ‘general mockery, headlines about dead Afghans and his frostbitten penis’. Freeman noted that the book resolves the issue of ‘whether Harry and his brother are circumcised’; she wonders out loud to Harry whether he’s aware the book ‘makes you sound a bit of a tosser.’
If these commentators struggled to find ammunition to fully humiliate their subject, it is for the reason described by Anita Singh in her rather more balanced review in the right-wing Telegraph. Writing like a normal human being, rather than a hater, Singh noted of Harry:
‘His ghostwriter, JR Moehringer, has done a very good job here of making his subject seem like the sane one in the story…
‘Spare is well-constructed and fluently written. Harry would be the first to admit that Moehringer has done the hard graft here, and perhaps deployed some artistic licence.’
Indeed, Moehringer was the writer behind Andre Agassi’s stunning autobiography, ‘Open’, so this should be no surprise. Harry, then, at least deserves credit for choosing a ghostwriter with the talent to make his book more difficult to smear than it might otherwise have been.
Do You Love The Limelight?
Inevitably, Harry has been diagnosed as suffering from ‘narcissism’. In the Express, Leo McKinstry commented:
‘But his descent into American psychobabble has patently only fed his jealousy, rage, egomania and sense of grievance. Rather than making him more balanced, therapy appears to have been a catalyst for his rampant narcissism.’
Alexander Larman, the books editor for Spectator World, wrote of:
‘The unbelievable narcissism of Harry and Meghan’s Netflix documentary’
Before Christmas, amid ongoing rail strikes, renowned therapist Piers Morgan sensed that Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, was afflicted by the same disorder:
‘Mick “The Grinch” Lynch is beginning to believe his own over-hyped bullish*t. Loves being a media star, so has zero incentive to resolve the strikes as that would deprive him of the TV oxygen he craves.’
The BBC featured two near-identical headlines on its home page on the same day. The first:
‘The union firebrand accused of stealing Christmas’
The second, with a different picture:
‘The firebrand accused of stealing Christmas’
Matt Frei of Channel 4 News asked Lynch: ‘Do you love the limelight?’
‘No, I’ve been put here by circumstances, not by my own choice… I just want to get on with my job and carry on running our union.’
We asked Frei:
‘Do *you* love the limelight, @mattfrei? You’ve been hogging it for decades. You look very comfortable; you must enjoy these moments. Are you indulging your craving for attention?’
Frei ignored us, of course.
In 2019, the Daily Mail devoted four pages to Julian Assange, reporting the ‘downfall of a narcissist’ who had been removed from ‘inside his fetid lair’ to finally ‘face justice’.
Even when arguing against Assange’s extradition to the US, former BBC political presenter Andrew Neil wrote in the Daily Mail last June:
‘Assange is no crusader in shining armour. He is reckless, cavalier with people’s lives, narcissistic, a “sexual predator”. Careless of his personal hygiene, he is often his own worst enemy. He lets down his friends and repels his allies.’
If we pay attention, we’ll find that establishment enemies are smeared in essentially the same way. Thus, in the Sunday Times, Katie Glass described patently harmless hippy, Russell Brand, as ‘an exhibitionistic narcissist obsessed with celebrity’. (Katie Glass, ‘The ultimate Marmite Brand,’ Sunday Times, 22 September 2013)
Thus, in The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin condemned courageous whistle-blower Edward Snowden as ‘a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison’. Bob Schieffer of CBS commented:
‘I think what we have in Edward Snowden is just a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us.’
Glenn Greenwald who, unlike most of the critics, has met Snowden and worked closely with him, put this in perspective with his usual élan:
‘One of the most darkly hilarious things to watch is how government apologists and media servants are driven by total herd behavior: they all mindlessly adopt the same script and then just keep repeating it because they see others doing so and, like parrots, just mimic what they hear… Hordes of people who had no idea what “narcissism” even means – and who did not know the first thing about Snowden – kept repeating this word over and over because that became the cliche used to demonize him.’
Caution, however, is advised. The Daily Banter blog noted:
‘Glenn Greenwald has been looking to take down Obama and feed his own depthless narcissism for years now. He just managed to accomplish one of these goals in spades…’
On one level, all of this is absurd. But there is a serious point – whenever any individual or group, anywhere, threatens powerful interests in any way, the corporate media can be relied upon to unleash a flood of toxic abuse to promote public hostility and so neutralise the threat. This is not a conspiracy: the system selects for senior managers and junior cogs who just ‘understand’ who needs to be served, placated and reviled, if profit is to be maximised.
In truth, it is a kind of runaway smear machine, functioning almost automatically. The bad news, of course, in the age of looming climate collapse, is that this machine is doing a superb job of neutralising the voices of expert climate scientists desperately trying to warn of impending disaster. The same confident, jokey, worldly, abusive, casual dismissals are preventing scientists from being heard and the public from taking them seriously. It is up to all of us, both inside and outside the system, to do whatever we can to undermine this lethal propaganda.