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Trump happened – and put the left’s priorities to the test
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Fox News/YouTube
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Photo: Fox News/YouTube

There’s been a new public fracturing of the intellectual left, typified by an essay last week from Nathan J Robinson, editor of the small, independent, socialist magazine Current Affairs, accusing Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi of bolstering the right’s arguments. He is the more reasonable face of what seems to be a new industry arguing that Greenwald is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, setting the right’s agenda for it.

Under the title “How to end up serving the right”, Robinson claims that Greenwald and Taibbi, once his intellectual heroes, are – inadvertently or otherwise – shoring up the right’s positions and weakening the left. He accuses them of reckless indifference to the consequences of criticising a “liberal” establishment and making common cause with the right’s similar agenda. Both writers, argues Robinson, have ignored the fact that the right wields the greatest power in our societies.

This appears to be a continuation of a fight Robinson picked last year with Krystal Ball, the leftwing, former co-host of a popular online politics show called The Rising. Robinson attacked her for sharing her platform with the conservative pundit Saagar Enjeti. Ball and Enjeti have since struck out on their own, recently launching a show called Breaking Points.

Notably, Greenwald invited Robinson on to his own YouTube channel to discuss these criticisms of Ball when Robinson first made them. In my opinion, Robinson emerged from that exchange looking more than a little bruised.

As with his clash with Ball, there are problems with Robinson’s fuzzy political definitions.

Somewhat ludicrously in his earlier tussle, he lumped together Enjeti, a thoughtful rightwing populist, with figures like Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, both of them narcissists and authoritarians (of varying degrees of competence) that have donned the garb of populism, as authoritarians tend to do.

Similarly, Robinson’s current disagreements with Greenwald and Taibbi stem in part from a vague formulation – one he seems partially to concede – of what constitutes the “left”. Greenwald has always struck me more as a progressive libertarian than a clearcut socialist like Robinson. Differences of political emphasis and priorities are inevitable. They are also healthy.

And much of Robinson’s essay is dedicated to cherrypicking a handful tweets from Greenwald and Taibbi to make his case. Greenwald, in particular, is a prolific tweeter. And given the combative and polarising arena of Twitter, it would be quite astonishing had he not occasionally advanced his arguments without the nuance demanded by Robinson.

Overall, Robinson’s case against both Greenwald and Taibbi is far less persuasive than he appears to imagine.

Stifling coverage

But the reason I think it worth examining his essay is because it demonstrates a more fundamental split on what – for the sake of convenience – I shall treat as a broader intellectual left that includes Robinson, Greenwald and Taibbi.

Robinson tries to prop up his argument that Greenwald, in particular, is betraying the left and legitimising the right with an argument from authority, citing some of the left’s biggest icons.

Two, Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill, are former journalist colleagues of Greenwald’s at the Intercept, the billionaire-financed online news publication that he co-founded and eventually split from after it broke an editorial promise not to censor his articles.

Greenwald fell out with the editors in spectacularly public fashion late last year after they stifled his attempts to write about the way Silicon Valley and liberal corporate media outlets – not unlike the Intercept – were colluding to stifle negative coverage of Joe Biden in the run-up to the presidential election, in a desperate bid to ensure he beat Trump.

Greenwald’s public statements about his reasons for leaving the Intercept exposed what were effectively institutional failings there – and implicated those like Scahill and Klein who had actively or passively colluded in the editorial censorship of its co-founder. Klein and Scahill are hardly dispassionate commentators on Greenwald when they accuse him of “losing the plot” and “promoting smears”. They have skin in the game.

But Robinson may think his trump (sic) card is an even bigger left icon, Noam Chomsky, who is quoted saying of Greenwald: “He’s a friend, has done wonderful things, I don’t understand what is happening now… I hope it will pass.”

The problem with this way of presenting Greenwald is that the tables can be easily turned. Over the past few years, my feeds – and I am sure others’ – have been filled with followers asking versions of “What happened to Chomsky?” or “What happened to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now?”

The answer to these very reductive questions – what happened to Greenwald and what happened to Chomsky – is the same. Trump happened. And their different responses are illustrative of the way the left polarised during the Trump presidency and how it continues to divide in the post-Trump era.

Authoritarian thinking

Robinson treats the Trump factor – what we might term Post-Traumatic Trump Disorder – as though it is irrelevant to his analysis of Greenwald and Taibbi. And yet it lies at the heart of the current tensions on the left. In its simplest terms, the split boils down to the question of how dangerous Trump really was and is, and what that means for the left in terms of its political responses.

Unlike Robinson, I don’t think it is helpful to personalise this. Instead, we should try to understand what has happened to left politics more generally in the Trump and post-Trump era.

Parts of the left joined liberals in becoming fixated on Trump as a uniquely evil and dangerous presence in US politics. Robinson notes that Trump posed an especial and immediate threat to our species’ survival through his denial of climate change, and on these grounds alone every effort had to be made to remove him.

Others on the left recoil from this approach. They warn that, by fixating on Trump, elements of the left have drifted into worryingly authoritarian ways of thinking – sometimes openly, more often implicitly – as a bulwark against the return of Trump or anyone like him.

The apotheosis of such tendencies was the obsession, shared alike by liberals and some on the left, with Russiagate. This supposed scandal highlighted in stark fashion the extreme dangers of focusing on a single figure, in Trump, rather than addressing the wider, corrupt political structures that produced him.

It was not just the massive waste of time and energy that went into trying to prove the unprovable claims of Trump’s collusion with the Kremlin – resources that would have been far better invested in addressing Trump’s real crimes, which were being committed out in the open.

 

A year ago, the idea that Covid-19 leaked from a lab in Wuhan – a short distance from the wet market that is usually claimed to be the source of the virus – was dismissed as a crackpot theory, supported only by Donald Trump, QAnon and hawks on the right looking to escalate tensions dangerously with China.

Now, after what has been effectively a year-long blackout of the lab-leak theory by the corporate media and the scientific establishment, President Joe Biden has announced an investigation to assess its credibility. And as a consequence, what was treated until a few weeks ago as an unhinged, rightwing conspiracy is suddenly being widely aired and seriously considered by liberals.

Every media outlet is running prominent stories wondering whether a pandemic that has killed so many people and destroyed the lives of so many more can be blamed on human hubris and meddling rather than on a natural cause.

For many years, scientists at labs like Wuhan’s have conducted Frankenstein-type experiments on viruses. They have modified naturally occurring infective agents – often found in animals such as bats – to try to predict the worst-case scenarios for how viruses, especially coronaviruses, might evolve. The claimed purpose has been to ensure humankind gets a head start on any new pandemic, preparing strategies and vaccines in advance to cope.

Viruses are known to have escaped from labs like Wuhan’s many times before. And there are now reports, rejected by China , that several staff at Wuhan got sick in late 2019, shortly before Covid-19 exploded on to the world stage. Did a human-manipulated novel coronavirus escape from the lab and spread around the world?

No interest in truth

Here we get to the tricky bit. Because nobody in a position to answer that question appears to have any interest in finding out the truth – or at least, they have no interest in the rest of us learning the truth. Not China. Not US policy-makers. Not the World Health Organisation. And not the corporate media.

The only thing we can state with certainty is this: our understanding of the origins of Covid has been narratively managed over the past 15 months and is still being narratively managed. We are being told only what suits powerful political, scientific and commercial interests.

We now know that we were misdirected a year ago into believing that a lab leak was either fanciful nonsense or evidence of Sinophobia – when it was very obviously neither. And we should understand now, even though the story has switched 180 degrees, that we are still being misdirected. Nothing that the US administration or the corporate media have told us, or are now telling us, about the origins of the virus can be trusted.

No one in power truly wants to get to the bottom of this story. In fact, quite the reverse. Were we to truly understand its implications, this story might have the potential not only to hugely discredit western political, media and scientific elites but even to challenge the whole ideological basis on which their power rests.

Which is why what we are seeing is not an effort to grapple with the truth of the past year, but a desperate bid by those same elites to continue controlling our understanding of it. Western publics are being subjected to a continuous psy-op by their own officials.

Virus experiments

Last year, the safest story for the western political and scientific establishments to promote was the idea that a wild animal like a bat introduced Covid-19 to the human population. In other words, no one was to blame. The alternative was to hold China responsible for a lab leak, as Trump tried to do.

But there was a very good reason why most US policy-makers did not want to go down that latter path. And it had little to do with a concern either to refrain from conspiracy theories or to avoid provoking unnecessary tension with a nuclear-armed China.

Nicholas Wade, a former New York Times science writer, set out in May, in an in-depth investigation, why the case for a lab leak was scientifically strong, citing some of the world’s leading virologists.

But Wade also highlighted a much deeper problem for US elites: just before the first outbreak of Covid, the Wuhan lab was, it seems, cooperating with the US scientific establishment and WHO officials on its virus experiments – what is known, in scientific parlance, as “gain-of-function” research.

Gain-of-function experiments had been paused during the second Obama administration, precisely because of concerns about the danger of a human-engineered virus mutation escaping and creating a pandemic. But under Trump, US officials restarted the programme and were reportedly funding work at the Wuhan lab through a US-based medical organisation called the EcoHealth Alliance.

The US official who pushed this agenda hardest is reported to have been Dr Anthony Fauci – yes, the US President’s chief medical adviser and the official widely credited with curbing Trump’s reckless approach to the pandemic. If the lab leak theory is right, the pandemic’s saviour in the US might actually have been one of its chief instigators.

And to top it off, senior officials at the WHO have been implicated too, for being closely involved with gain-of-function research through groups like EcoHealth.

Colluding in deceit

This seems to be the real reason why the lab-leak theory was quashed so aggressively last year by western political, medical and media establishments without any effort to seriously assess the claims or investigate them. Not out of any sense of obligation towards the truth or concern about racist incitement against the Chinese. It was done out of naked self-interest.

If anyone doubts that, consider this: the WHO appointed Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, the very group that reportedly funded gain-of-function research at Wuhan on behalf of the US, to investigate the lab-leak theory and effectively become the WHO’s spokesman on the matter. To say that Daszak had a conflict of interest is to massively understate the problem.

He, of course, has loudly discounted any possibility of a leak and, perhaps not surprisingly, continues to direct the media’s attention to Wuhan’s wet market.

The extent to which major media are not only negligently failing to cover the story with any seriousness but are also actively continuing to collude in deceiving their audiences – and sweeping these egregious conflicts of interest under the carpet – is illustrated by this article published by the BBC at the weekend.

The BBC ostensibly weighs the two possible narratives about Covid’s origins. But it mentions none of Wade’s explosive findings, including the potential US role in funding gain-of-function research at Wuhan. Both Fauci and Daszak are cited as trusted and dispassionate commentators rather than as figures who have the most to lose from a serious investigation into what happened at the Wuhan lab.

 

Here is something that can be said with great confidence. It is racist – antisemitic, if you prefer – to hold Jews, individually or collectively, accountable for Israel’s crimes. Jews are not responsible for Israel’s war crimes, even if the Israeli state presumes to implicate Jews in its crimes by falsely declaring it represents all Jews in the world.

Very obviously, it is not the fault of Jews that Israel commits war crimes, or that Israel uses Jews collectively as a political shield, exploiting sensitivities about the historical suffering of Jews at the hands of non-Jews to immunise itself from international opprobrium.

But here is something that can be said with equal certainty. Israel’s apologists – whether Jews or non-Jews – cannot deny all responsibility for Israel’s war crimes when they actively aid and abet Israel in committing those crimes, or when they seek to demonise and silence Israel’s critics so that those war crimes can be pursued in a more favourable political climate.

Such apologists – which sadly seems to include many of the community organisations in Britain claiming to represent Jews – want to have their cake and eat it.

They cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticises them for doing so of being an antisemite.

But this is exactly what has been going on. And it is only getting worse.

Upsurge in antisemitism?

As a ceasefire was implemented yesterday, bringing a temporary let-up in the bombing of Gaza by Israel, pro-Israel Jewish groups in the UK were once again warning of an upsurge of antisemitism they attributed to a rapid growth in the number of protests against Israel.

These groups have the usual powerful allies echoing their claims. British prime minister Boris Johnson met community leaders in Downing Street on Thursday pledging, as Jewish News reported, “to continue to support the community in the face of rising antisemitism attacks”.

Those Jewish leaders included Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a supporter of Johnson who played a part in helping him win the 2019 election by renewing the evidence-free antisemitism smears against the Labour party days before voting. It also included the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which was founded specifically to whitewash Israel’s crimes during its 2014 bombardment of Gaza and has ever since been vilifying all Palestinian solidarity activism as antisemitism.

In attendance too was the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella organisation for Britain’s main Jewish community groups. In an article in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper on this supposed rise in antisemitism in the UK, the JLC’s vice-president, Daniel Korski, set out the ridiculous, self-serving narrative these community groups are trying to peddle, with seemingly ever greater success among the political and media elite.

Popular outrage over Gaza

Korski expressed grave concern about the proliferation of demonstrations in the UK designed to halt Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. During 11 days of attacks, more than 260 Palestinians were killed, including at least 66 children. Israel’s precision air strikes targeted more than a dozen hospitals, including the only Covid clinic in Gaza, dozens of schools, several media centres, and left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.

The sense of popular outrage at the Israeli onslaught was only heightened by the fact that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had clearly engineered a confrontation with Hamas at the outset to serve his immediate personal interests: preventing Israeli opposition parties from uniting to oust him from power.

In his naked personal calculations, Palestinian civilians were sacrificed to help Netanyahu hold on to power and improve his chances of evading jail as he stands trial on corruption charges.

But for Korski and the other community leaders attending the meeting with Johnson, the passionate demonstrations in solidarity with Palestinians are their main evidence for a rise in antisemitism.

‘Free Palestine’ chants

These community organisations cite a few incidents that undoubtedly qualify as antisemitism – some serious, some less so. They include shouting “Free Palestine” at individuals because they are identifiable as Jews, something presumably happening mostly to the religious ultra-Orthodox.

But these Jewish leaders’ chief concern, they make clear, is the growing public support for Palestinians in the face of intensifying Israeli aggression.

Quoting David Rich, of the Community Security Trust, another Jewish organisation hosted by Johnson, the Haaretz newspaper reports that “what has really shaken the Jewish community … ‘is that demos are being held all over the country every day about this issue’ [Israel’s bombardment of Gaza].”

Revealingly, it seems that when Jewish community leaders watch TV screens showing demonstrators chant “Free Palestine”, they feel it as a personal attack – as though they themselves are being accosted in the street.

One doesn’t need to be a Freudian analyst to wonder whether this reveals something troubling about their inner emotional life: they identify so completely with Israel that even when someone calls for Palestinians to have equal rights with Israelis they perceive it as a collective attack on Jews, as antisemitism.

Exception for Israel

Then Korski gets to the crux of the argument: “As Jews we are proud of our heritage and at the same time in no way responsible for the actions of a government thousands of miles away, no matter our feelings or connection to it.”

But the logic of that position is simply untenable. You cannot tie your identity intimately to a state that systematically commits war crimes, you cannot vilify demonstrations against those war crimes as antisemitism, you cannot use your position as a “Jewish community leader” to make such allegations more credible, and you cannot exploit your influence with world leaders to try to silence protests against Israel and then say you are “in no way responsible” for the actions of that government.

If you use your position to prevent Israel from being subjected to scrutiny over allegations of war crimes, if you seek to manipulate the public discourse with claims of antisemitism to create a more favourable environment in which those war crimes can be committed, then some of the blame for those war crimes rubs off on you.

That is how responsibility works in every other sphere of life. What Israel’s apologists are demanding is an exception for Israel and for themselves.

Lobby with the UK’s ear

 

No one should be surprised that Britain’s rightwing prime minister, Boris Johnson, has had barely anything to say about Israel’s pummelling of Gaza, with nearly 200 Palestinians reported to have been killed by airstrikes and many hundreds more seriously wounded.

Nor should we be surprised that Johnson has had nothing to say about the fact that Israel is using British weapons to bombard Gaza, killing families and blowing up media centres.

Johnson has had nothing to say either about Israel’s recent efforts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem – the very obvious trigger, along with its attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque, for this latest round of so-called “clashes” between Israel and Hamas.

ORDER IT NOW

And like most of his predecessors, Johnson has had remarkably little to say about the much longer-term ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that was always at the core of mainstream Zionism’s mission and was officially sponsored by Britain through its 1917 Balfour Declaration.

But if Johnson’s performance at this critically important moment has been predictably dismal, what about the leader of the opposition Labour party, Sir Keir Starmer? Presumably he is picking up the slack, making clear that Israel is committing war crimes and that there must be harsh consequences, such as sanctions and an arms embargo.

Except Starmer is strangely quiet too.

Moral cowardice

Over the past week, Starmer has tweeted three times on matters related to events in Israel-Palestine. The first two were nearly a week ago, before Israel had begun unleashing the full might of its arsenal on Gaza. Starmer joined others in mealy-mouthed calls to “de-escalate tensions”, as though this was a slightly-too-noisy row between a bickering couple rather than serial wife-beating that has been going on for decades, aided by Britain.

As the death toll in Gaza has mounted, and the both-sidism favoured by western leaders is exposed ever more starkly as moral cowardice, Starmer has uttered not a word on the events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Complete quiet.

That was until Sunday, when Starmer took time out from his day of rest to comment on a small convoy of cars – driven from Bradford and Oldham, according to a Jewish News report – that had passed through an area of London where many Jews live, waving Palestinian flags and shouting antisemitic curses.

Starmer commented: “Utterly disgusting. Antisemitism, misogyny and hate have no place on our streets or in our society. There must be consequences.”

And sure enough, there were immediate consequences. The police arrested four people under hate-crime laws.

Pain and insult

In referring to Bradford and Oldham, the Jewish News report was suggesting – probably correctly – that the occupants of the cars were drawn from the large Muslim populations that live in those cities.

This is a pattern we have seen before. When Israel starts attacking Palestinians, many of whom are Muslim and whose lands include important Islamic holy sites under constant threat from Israel, Muslims are likely to feel the pain and insult far more deeply and personally than most other British populations.

Their outrage is likely to peak when Israel desecrates a holy site under occupation such as al-Aqsa in Jerusalem – which is also a powerful symbol of the Palestinians’ aspiration towards political sovereignty in their historic homeland – during the holy month of Ramadan.

Many Muslims feel Israel’s reckless bombardment of Gaza and its civilian population, as well as the invasion of al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli soldiers, as very personal attacks on their dignity, their identity and their values.

“White” Britons struggling to understand such emotions might try to recall how incensed they felt at an attack by Islamic extremists on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris back in 2015. That led to a march through the French capital by world leaders, including Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, upholding free speech, most especially the right to offend Muslims’ religious sensitivities, as a supreme – and inviolable – value. (That is the same Paris that at the weekend used water cannon and baton charges against Palestinian solidarity activists, many of them Muslims, trying to exercise their free speech rights to denounce Israel’s attacks on Gaza.)

Many “white” Europeans felt the attack on Charlie Hebdo as a threat to Enlightenment values and as an assault on “western civilisation”. Similarly, many Muslims feel Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and on the sanctity of Islamic holy sites, largely indulged by western politicians and the western media, as no less grave a threat.

Dangerous conflation

And just as it is common for many “white” Europeans – including western politicians – to confuse Muslims and Islam with Islamic extremism, blaming a religion for the flaws of its more extreme adherents, so a portion of Muslims wrongly associate Jews in general with the crimes committed by Israel.

Israel does nothing to dispel this dangerous conflation. In fact, it actively encourages it. It declares itself the state of the entire Jewish people, disdaining the presence and rights of 1.8 million second-class Palestinian citizens. Or as Netanyahu observed two years ago, shortly after enshrining institutionalised racism in Israeli law, Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people”. When Israel speaks and acts, its leaders claim, it speaks and acts on behalf of all Jews worldwide.

Some prominent western Jews – including Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland – add to the confusion. They appear to agree with Netanyahu by avowing that Israel is at the core of their identity and that attacks on Israel are an attack on who they are. This line of argument was widely weaponised against former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, suggesting he was engaging in antisemitism, or at least indulging it, by being such a trenchant critic of Israel.

So, however wrong it was for the occupants of those cars at the weekend to be shouting antisemitic profanities, and however right it is for the police to be investigating this incident, it is not something difficult to explain. Manufactured confusion over the distinctions between Jews, Judaism, Israel and Zionism are as common as manufactured confusion over Muslims, Islam, various Islamic states and jihadism.

But there is a more important point to make that relates directly to Starmer – and most other western politicians. He may claim the moral high ground in his public denunciations of the antisemitic curses from the convoy of cars in London at the weekend. But he must take a considerable chunk of the blame for them.

 

My talk at the International Festival of Whistleblowing, Dissent and Accountability on May 8. Transcript below.

I wanted to use this opportunity to talk about my experiences over the past two decades working with new technology as an independent freelance journalist, one who abandoned – or maybe more accurately, was abandoned by – what we usually call the “mainstream” media.

I wanted to use this opportunity to talk about my experiences over the past two decades working with new technology as an independent freelance journalist, one who abandoned – or maybe more accurately, was abandoned by – what we usually call the “mainstream” media.

Looking back over that period, I have come to appreciate that I was among the first generation of journalists to break free of the corporate media – in my case, the Guardian – and ride this wave of new technology. In doing so, we liberated ourselves from the narrow editorial restrictions such media imposes on us as journalists and were still able to find an audience, even if a diminished one.

More and more journalists are following a similar path today – a few out of choice, and more out of necessity as corporate media becomes increasingly unprofitable. But as journalists seek to liberate themselves from the strictures of the old corporate media, that same corporate media is working very hard to characterise the new technology as a threat to media freedoms.

This self-serving argument should be treated with a great deal of scepticism. I want to use my own experiences to argue that quite the reverse is true. And that the real danger is allowing the corporate media to reassert its monopoly over narrating the world to us.

‘Mainstream’ consensus

I left my job at the Guardian newspaper group in 2001. Had I tried to become an independent journalist 10 years earlier than I did, it would have been professional suicide. In fact, it would have been a complete non-starter. I certainly would not be here telling you what it was like to have spent 20 years challenging the “mainstream” western consensus on Israel-Palestine.

Before the Noughties, without a platform provided by a corporate media outlet, journalists had no way to reach an audience, let alone create one. We were entirely beholden to our editors, and they in turn were dependent on billionaire owners – or in a few cases like the BBC’s, a government – and on advertisers.

When I arrived in Nazareth as a freelance journalist, though one with continuing connections to the Guardian, I quickly found myself faced with a stark choice.

Newspapers would accept relatively superficial articles from me, ones that accorded with a decades-old, western, colonial mindset about Israel-Palestine. Had I contributed such pieces for long enough, I would probably have managed to reassure one of the papers that I was an obliging and safe pair of hands. Eventually, when a position fell vacant, I might have landed myself a well-paid correspondent’s job.

Instead I preferred to write authentically – for myself, reporting what I observed on the ground, rather than what was expected of me by my editors. That meant antagonising and gradually burning bridges with the western media.

Even in a digital era of new journalistic possibilities, there were few places to publish. I had to rely on a couple of what were then newly emerging websites that were prepared to publish very different narratives on Israel-Palestine from the western corporate media’s.

Level playing field

The most prominent at the time, which became the first proper home for my journalism, was Al-Ahram Weekly, an English-language sister publication of the famous Cairo daily newspaper. Few probably remember or read Al-Ahram Weekly today, because it was soon overshadowed by other websites. But at the time it was a rare online refuge for dissident voices, and included a regular column from the great public intellectual Edward Said.

It is worth pausing to think about how foreign correspondents operated in the pre-digital world. They not only enjoyed a widely read, if tightly controlled, platform in an establishment media outlet, but they had behind them a vitally important support structure.

Their newspaper provided an archive and library service so that they could easily research historical and newsworthy events in their region. There were local staff who could help with locating sources and offering translations. They had photographers who contributed visuals to their pieces. And they had satellite phones to file breaking news from remote locations.

None of this came cheap. A freelance journalist could never have afforded any of this kind of support.

All that changed with the new technology, which rapidly levelled the playing field. A Google search soon became more comprehensive than even the best newspaper library. Mobile phones made it easy to track down and speak to people who were potential sources for stories. Digital cameras, and then the same mobile phones, meant it was possible to visually record events without needing a photographer alongside you. And email meant it was easy to file copy from anywhere in the world, to anywhere, virtually free.

Documentary evidence

The independent journalism I and others were developing in the early Noughties was assisted by a new kind of political activist who was using similarly novel digital tools.

After I arrived in Nazareth, I had little use for the traditional “access journalism” my corporate colleagues chiefly relied on. Israeli politicians and military generals dissembled to protect Israel’s image. Far more interesting to me were the young western activists who had begun embedding – before that term got corrupted by the behaviour of corporate journalists – in Palestinian communities.

Today we remember names like Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, Brian Avery, Vittorio Arrigoni and many others for the fact that in the early Noughties they were either killed or wounded by Israeli soldiers. But they were part of a new movement of political activists and citizen journalists – many of them with the International Solidarity Movement – who were offering a different kind of access.

They used digital cameras to record and protest the Israeli army’s abuses and war crimes from up close inside Palestinian communities – crimes that had previously had gone unrecorded for western audiences. They then sent their documentary evidence and their eye-witness accounts to journalists by email or published them on “alternative” websites. For independent journalists like me, their work was gold-dust. We could challenge Israel’s implausible accounts with clear-cut evidence.

Sadly most corporate journalists paid little attention to the work of these activists. In any case, their role was quickly snuffed out. That was partly because Israel learnt that shooting a few of them served as a very effective deterrent, warning others to keep away.

But it was also because as technology became cheaper and more accessible – eventually ending up in mobile phones that everyone was expected to have – Palestinians could record their own suffering more immediately and without mediation.

 

Britain’s corporate media are suddenly awash with stories wondering whether, or to what extent, the UK’s prime minister is dishonest. Predictably in the midst of this, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg is still doing her determined best to act as media bodyguard to Boris Johnson.

In a lengthy article on the BBC’s website over the weekend, she presents a series of soothing alternatives to avoid conceding the self-evident: that Johnson is a serial liar. According to Kuenssberg, or at least those she chooses to quote (those, let us remember, who give her unfettered “access” to the corridors of power), he is a well-intentioned, unpredictable, sometimes hapless, “untamed political animal”. A rough diamond.

In Kuenssberg’s telling, Johnson’s increasingly obvious flaws are actually his strengths:

Yet what’s suggested time and again is that the prime minister’s attitude to the truth and facts is not based on what is real and what is not, but is driven by what he wants to achieve in that moment – what he desires, rather than what he believes. And there is no question, that approach, coupled with an intense force of personality can be enormously effective.

In his political career, Boris Johnson has time and again overturned the odds, and that’s a huge part of the reason why.

The way Kuenssberg tells it, Johnson sounds exactly like someone you would want in your corner in a time of crisis. Not the narcissist creator of those crises, but the Nietzschean “Superman” who can solve them for you through sheer force of will and personality.

Lies piling up

Slightly less enamoured with Johnson than the BBC has been the liberal Guardian, Britain’s supposedly chief “opposition” newspaper to the ruling Conservative government. But the Guardian has been surprisingly late to this party too. Typical of its newly aggressive approach to Johnson was a piece published on Saturday by its columnist Jonathan Freedland, titled “Scandal upon scandal: the charge sheet that should have felled Johnson years ago”.

As this article rightly documents, Johnson is an inveterate dissembler, and one whose lies have been visibly piling up since he entered 10 Downing Street. His propensity to lie is not new. It was well-know to anyone who worked with him in his earlier career in journalism or when he was an aspiring politician. It is not the “scandals” that are new, it’s the media’s interest in documenting them that is.

And when the liar-in-chef is also the prime minister, those lies invariably end up masking high-level corruption, the kind of corruption that has the capacity to destroy lives – many lives.

So why are Johnson’s well-known deceptions only becoming a “mainstream” issue now – and why, in particular, is a liberal outlet like the Guardian picking up the baton on this matter so late in the day? As Freedland rightly observes, these scandals have been around for many years, so why wasn’t the Guardian on Johnson’s case from the outset, setting the agenda?

Or put another way, why has the drive to expose Johnson been led not by liberal journalists like Freedland but chiefly by a disillusioned old-school conservative worried about the damage Johnson is doing to his political tradition? Freedland is riding on the coat-tails of former Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne, who wrote a recent book on Johnson’s fabrications, The Assault on Truth. Further, Johnson’s deceptions have gone viral not because of the efforts of the Guardian but because of a video compilation on social media of some of Johnson’s biggest whoppers by lawyer and independent journalist Peter Stefanovic.

Politics rigged

Part of the answer, of course, is that until recently the Guardian, along with the rest of the corporate media, had a much more pressing task than holding Britain’s prime minister to account for lies – and the corruption they obscure – that have drained the Treasury of the nation’s wealth, redirecting it towards a bunch of Tory donors, and subsequently contributed to at least a proportion of Covid-19 deaths.

The Guardian was preoccupied with making sure that Johnson was not replaced by an opposition leader who spoke, for the first time in more than a generation, about the need for wealth redistribution and a fairer society.

On the political scales weighing what was most beneficial for the country, it was far more important to the Guardian to keep then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his democratic socialist agenda out of Downing Street than make sure Britain was run in accordance with the rule of law, let alone according to the principles of fairness and decency.

Now with Corbyn long gone, the political conditions to take on Johnson are more favourable. Covid-19 cases in the UK have plummeted, freeing up a little space on front pages for other matters. And Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has used the past year to prove over and over again to the media that he has been scrupulous about purging socialism from the Labour party.

We are back to the familiar and reassuring days of having two main parties that will not threaten the establishment. One, the Labour party, will leave the establishment’s power and wealth untouched, but do so in a way that makes Britain once again look like a properly run country, conferring greater legitimacy on UK Plc. The other, the Conservative party, will do even better by the establishment, further enriching it with an unapologetic crony capitalism, even if that risks over the longer term provoking a popular backlash that may prove harder to defuse than the Corbyn one did.

For the time being at least, the elite prospers either way. The bottom line, for the establishment, is that the political system is once again rigged in its favour, whoever wins the next election. The establishment can risk making Johnson vulnerable only because the establishment interests he represents are no longer vulnerable.

Blame the voters

But for liberal media like the Guardian, the campaign to hold Johnson to account is potentially treacherous. Once the prime minister’s serial lying is exposed and the people informed of what is going on, according to traditional liberal thinking, his popularity should wane. Once the people understand he is a conman, they will want to be rid of him. That should be all the more inevitable, if, as the Guardian contends, Starmer is an obviously safer and more honest pair of hands.

But the problem for the Guardian is that Johnson’s polling figures are remarkably buoyant, despite the growing media criticism of him. He continues to outpoll Starmer. His Midas touch needs explaining. And the Guardian is growing ever more explicit about where the fault is to be found. With us.

Or as Freedland observes:

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Boris Johnson, Britain 

Back in the 1880s, the mathematician and theologian Edwin Abbott tried to help us better understand our world by describing a very different one he called Flatland.

Imagine a world that is not a sphere moving through space like our own planet, but more like a vast sheet of paper inhabited by conscious, flat geometric shapes. These shape-people can move forwards and backwards, and they can turn left and right. But they have no sense of up or down. The very idea of a tree, or a well, or a mountain makes no sense to them because they lack the concepts and experiences of height and depth. They cannot imagine, let alone describe, objects familiar to us.

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In this two-dimensional world, the closest scientists can come to comprehending a third dimension are the baffling gaps in measurements that register on their most sophisticated equipment. They sense the shadows cast by a larger universe outside Flatland. The best brains infer that there must be more to the universe than can be observed but they have no way of knowing what it is they don’t know.

This sense of the the unknowable, the ineffable has been with humans since our earliest ancestors became self-conscious. They inhabited a world of immediate, cataclysmic events – storms, droughts, volcanoes and earthquakes – caused by forces they could not explain. But they also lived with a larger, permanent wonder at the mysteries of nature itself: the change from day to night, and the cycle of the seasons; the pin-pricks of light in the night sky, and their continual movement; the rising and falling of the seas; and the inevitability of life and death.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our ancestors tended to attribute common cause to these mysterious events, whether of the catastrophic or the cyclical variety, whether of chaos or order. They ascribed them to another world or dimension – to the spiritual realm, to the divine.

Paradox and mystery

Science has sought to shrink the realm of the inexplicable. We now understand – at least approximately – the laws of nature that govern the weather and catastrophic events like an earthquake. Telescopes and rocket-ships have also allowed us to probe deeper into the heavens to make a little more sense of the universe outside our tiny corner of it.

But the more we investigate the universe the more rigid appear the limits to our knowledge. Like the shape-people of Flatland, our ability to understand is constrained by the dimensions we can observe and experience: in our case, the three dimensions of space and the additional one of time. Influential “string theory” posits another six dimensions, though we would be unlikely to ever sense them in any more detail than the shadows almost-detected by the scientists of Flatland.

The deeper we peer into the big universe of the night sky and our cosmic past, and the deeper we peer into the small universe inside the atom and our personal past, the greater the sense of mystery and wonder.

At the sub-atomic level, the normal laws of physics break down. Quantum mechanics is a best-guess attempt to explain the mysteries of movement of the tiniest particles we can observe, which appear to be operating, at least in part, in a dimension we cannot observe directly.

And most cosmologists, looking outwards rather inwards, have long known that there are questions we are unlikely ever to answer: not least what exists outside our universe – or expressed another way, what existed before the Big Bang. For some time, dark matter and black holes have baffled the best minds. This month scientists conceded to the New York Times that there are forms of matter and energy unknown to science but which can be inferred because they disrupt the known laws of physics.

Inside and outside the atom, our world is full of paradox and mystery.

Conceit and humility

Despite our science-venerating culture, we have arrived at a similar moment to our forebears, who gazed at the night sky in awe. We have been forced to acknowledge the boundaries of knowledge.

There is a difference, however. Our ancestors feared the unknowable, and therefore preferred to show caution and humility in the face of what could not be understood. They treated the ineffable with respect and reverence. Our culture encourages precisely the opposite approach. We show only conceit and arrogance. We seek to defeat, ignore or trivialise that which we cannot explain or understand.

The greatest scientists do not make this mistake. As an avid viewer of science programmes like the BBC’s Horizon, I am always struck by the number of cosmologists who openly speak of their religious belief. Carl Sagan, the most famous cosmologist, never lost his sense of awestruck wonder as he examined the universe. Outside the lab, his was not the language of hard, cold, calculating science. He described the universe in the language of poetry. He understood the necessary limits of science. Rather than being threatened by the universe’s mysteries and paradoxes, he celebrated them.

When in 1990, for example, space probe Voyager 1 showed us for the first time our planet from 6 billion km away, Sagan did not mistake himself or his fellow NASA scientists for gods. He saw “a pale blue dot” and marvelled at a planet reduced to a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. Humility was his response to the vast scale of the universe, our fleeting place within it, and our struggle to grapple with “the great enveloping cosmic dark”.

Mind and matter

Sadly, Sagan’s approach is not the one that dominates the western tradition. All too often, we behave as if we are gods. Foolishly, we have made a religion of science. We have forgotten that in a world of unknowables, the application of science is necessarily tentative and ideological. It is a tool, one of many that we can use to understand our place in the universe, and one that is easily appropriated by the corrupt, by the vain, by those who seek power over others, by those who worship money.

Until relatively recently, science, philosophy and theology sought to investigate the same mysteries and answer the same existential questions. Through much of history, they were seen as complementary, not in competition. Abbott, remember, was a mathematician and theologian, and Flatland was his attempt to explain the nature of faith. Similarly, the man who has perhaps most shaped the paradigm within which much western science still operates was a French philosopher using the scientific methods of the time to prove the existence of God.

Today, Rene Descartes is best remembered for his famous – if rarely understood – dictum: “I think, therefore I am.” Four hundred years ago, he believed he could prove God’s existence through his argument that mind and matter are separate. Just as human bodies were distinct from souls, so God was separate and distinct from humans. Descartes believed knowledge was innate, and therefore our idea of a perfect being, of God, could only derive from something that was perfect and objectively real outside us.

Weak and self-serving as many of his arguments sound today, Descartes’ lasting ideological influence on western science was profound. Not least so-called Cartesian dualism – the treatment of mind and matter as separate realms – has encouraged and perpetuated a mechanistic view of the world around us.

We can briefly grasp how strong the continuing grip of his thinking is on us when we are confronted with more ancient cultures that have resisted the west’s extreme rationalist discourse – in part, we should note, because they were exposed to it in hostile, oppressive ways that served only to alienate them from the western canon.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Conspiracy Theories, Vaccines 

A few lessons to be learnt from the wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death in the British media:

1. There is absolutely no commercial reason for the media to be dedicating so much time and space to the Prince’s death. The main commercial channel, ITV, which needs eyeballs on its programmes to generate income from advertising, saw a 60 per cent drop in viewing figures after it decided to broadcast endless forelock-tugging. Audiences presumably deserted to Netflix and Youtube, where the mood of “national mourning” was not being enforced. Many viewers, particularly younger ones, have no interest in the fact that a very old man just died, even if he did have lots of titles.

The BBC, the state broadcaster, similarly ignored the wishes of its audiences, commandeering all of its many channels to manufacture and enforce the supposedly national mood of grief. That even went so far as placing banners on the CBBC channel for children encouraging them to forgo their cartoons and switch to the BBC’s main channel paying endless, contrived tributes to Philip. The resulting outpouring of anger was so great the BBC was forced to open a dedicated complaints form on its website. It then had to hurriedly remove it when the establishment threw a wobbly about viewers being given a chance to object to the BBC’s coverage.

2. The BBC is reported to have heavily invested in coverage of Philip’s death for fear that otherwise it would face a barrage of criticism from Britain’s rightwing press for demonstrating insufficient patriotism and revealing a supposed “leftwing bias”. That was what apparently happened when the BBC failed to grovel sufficiently to the royal family over the Queen Mother’s death in 2002. But if that is the case, doesn’t it simply underscore quite how vulnerable the supposedly “neutral” state broadcaster is to pressure from the rightwing billionaire owners of the establishment media?

If Rupert Murdoch and company can force the BBC into alienating and antagonising many of its own viewers with endless homilies to a royal little loved by large sections of the population, how else is the BBC’s coverage being skewed for fear of the potential backlash from corporate media tycoons? Is the fear of such repercussions also responsible for the BBC’s complicity in the recent, evidence-free smearing of a socialist Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, or the BBC’s consistent failures in reporting honestly on countries like Syria, Libya, Iraq and Venezuela – all of them in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East and Latin America that the United States and the west demand control over?

If the BBC makes its editorial decisions based on what rightwing and far-right newspaper tycoons think is good both for the country and for the world, then how is the BBC not equally rightwing?

3. The BBC is also reportedly afraid that, if it is not seen to be deferential enough to the royal family, it risks being punished by the ruling Conservative party, which regards the institution of the monarchy as sacrosanct. The BBC’s licence fee and wider funding – which need government approval – might be in jeopardy as a result.

But that is no less troubling than that the BBC is kowtowing to billionaire media magnates. Because if the ruling Conservative party can wield a stick sufficiently big to dictate to the BBC how and to what extent it covers Philip’s death, why can the government not also bully the BBC into giving it an easy ride on its failures to deal with Covid and its cronyism in awarding Covid-related contracts?

Similarly, if the BBC is quite so craven, why can the ruling party not also intimidate it into ignoring the current biggest assault on journalism: Washington’s relentless efforts to imprison for life Wikileaks founder Julian Assange after he exposed US war crimes?

And what would there be to stop Tory leader Boris Johnson from arm-twisting the BBC into ignoring the rampant racism documented in his own party and pressuring the state broadcaster instead into presenting the Labour party as riddled with antisemitism, even though figures show that Labour has less of a problem with racism than wider British society and the Tories?

And there is the rub. Because that is exactly what the BBC has been doing, serving as little more than a propaganda channel for the right.

That same fear of the ruling Conservative party might explain why the BBC keeps filling its top posts, and its most influential editorial jobs, with stalwarts of the right. Most egregiously that includes the BBC’s new chairman, Richard Sharp, who is not only one of the Tory party’s biggest donors but helped to fund a firm accused of “human warehousing” – stuffing benefit recipients into “rabbit hutch” flats – to profit from a Conservative government scheme.

It would also explain the appointment in 2013 as head of BBC news of James Harding, a Murdoch loyalist and former Times editor who vowed that he and his newspaper were unabashedly “pro-Israel”. It would explain too why Sarah Sands, editor of the unapologetically rightwing Evening Standard, was seen as suitable to serve as editor of the Radio 4’s morning news programme, Today.

4. The truth is that these factors and more have played a part in ensuring there have been only wall-to-wall tributes to Prince Philip. Corporate media is not there simply to make quick profits. Sometimes, it is seen by its billionaire owners as a loss-leader. It is there to generate a favourable political and social climate to help corporations accrete ever greater power and profits.

Manufacturing the pretence of patriotic solidarity in a time of supposed national loss or calamity; cultivating a reverence for tradition; promoting unquestioning respect for socially constructed authority figures; reinforcing social hierarchies that normalise grossly offensive wealth disparities is exactly what establishment media is there to do.

The corporate media, from the rightwing Daily Mail to the supposedly liberal BBC and Guardian, is there to make the patently insane – mourning an entitled man most of us knew little about and what little we did know made us care even less for him – seem not only natural but obligatory. To refuse to submit to compulsory grieving, to state that Philip’s death from old age is less important than the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the UK who lost their lives early from the pandemic, is not rudeness, or heartlessness, or a lack of patriotism. It is to cling to our humanity, to prize our ability to think and feel for ourselves, and to refuse to be swept up in a carnival of hollow emotion.

And most important of all, it is to sense – however briefly – that the wall-to-wall propaganda we are being subjected to on the death of a royal may look exceptional but is in fact entirely routine. It is simply that in normal times the propaganda is better masked, wrapped in the illusion of choice and variety.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: American Media, BBC, Britain 

Welcome to the age of fear. Nothing is more corrosive of the democratic impulse than fear. Left unaddressed, it festers, eating away at our confidence and empathy.

We are now firmly in a time of fear – not only of the virus, but of each other. Fear destroys solidarity. Fear forces us to turn inwards to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Fear refuses to understand or identify with the concerns of others.

In fear societies, basic rights become a luxury. They are viewed as a threat, as recklessness, as a distraction that cannot be afforded in this moment of crisis.

Once fear takes hold, populations risk agreeing to hand back rights, won over decades or centuries, that were the sole, meagre limit on the power of elites to ransack the common wealth. In calculations based on fear, freedoms must make way for other priorities: being responsible, keeping safe, averting danger.

Worse, rights are surrendered with our consent because we are persuaded that the rights themselves are a threat to social solidarity, to security, to our health.

‘Too noisy’ protests

It is therefore far from surprising that the UK’s draconian new Police and Crime Bill – concentrating yet more powers in the police – has arrived at this moment. It means that the police can prevent non-violent protest that is likely to be too noisy or might create “unease” in bystanders. Protesters risk being charged with a crime if they cause “nuisance” or set up protest encampments in public places, as the Occupy movement did a decade ago.

And damaging memorials – totems especially prized in a time of fear for their power to ward off danger – could land protesters, like those who toppled a statue to notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last summer, a 10-year jail sentence.

In other words, this is a bill designed to outlaw the right to conduct any demonstration beyond the most feeble and ineffective kind. It makes permanent current, supposedly extraordinary limitations on protest that were designed, or so it was said, to protect the public from the immediate threat of disease.

Protest that demands meaningful change is always noisy and disruptive. Would the suffragettes have won women the vote without causing inconvenience and without offending vested interests that wanted them silent?

What constitutes too much noise or public nuisance? In a time of permanent pandemic, it is whatever detracts from the all-consuming effort to extinguish our fear and insecurity. When we are afraid, why should the police not be able to snatch someone off the street for causing “unease”?

The UK bill is far from unusual. Similar legislation – against noisy, inconvenient and disruptive protest – is being passed in states across the United States. Just as free speech is being shut down on the grounds that we must not offend, so protest is being shut down on the grounds that we must not disturb.

From the outbreak of the virus, there were those who warned that the pandemic would soon serve as a pretext to take away basic rights and make our societies less free. Those warnings soon got submerged in, or drowned out by, much wilder claims, such as that the virus was a hoax or that it was similar to flu, or by the libertarian clamour against lockdowns and mask-wearing.

Binary choices

What was notable was the readiness of the political and media establishments to intentionally conflate and confuse reasonable and unreasonable arguments to discredit all dissent and lay the groundwork for legislation of this kind.

The purpose has been to force on us unwelcome binary choices. We are either in favour of all lockdowns or indifferent to the virus’ unchecked spread. We are either supporters of enforced vaccinations or insensitive to the threat the virus poses to the vulnerable. We are either responsible citizens upholding the rules without question or selfish oafs who are putting everyone else at risk.

A central fracture line has opened up – in part a generational one – between those who are most afraid of the virus and those who are most afraid of losing their jobs, of isolation and loneliness, of the damage being done to their children’s development, of the end of a way of life they valued, or of the erasure of rights they hold inviolable.

The establishment has been sticking its crowbar into that split, trying to prise it open and turn us against each other.

‘Kill the Bill’

Where this heads was only too visible in the UK at the weekend when protesters took to the streets of major cities. They did so – in another illustration of binary choices that now dominate our lives – in violation of emergency Covid regulations banning protests. There was a large march through central London, while another demonstration ended in clashes between protesters and police in Bristol.

What are the protesters – most peaceful, a few not – trying to achieve? In the media, all protest at the moment is misleadingly lumped together as “anti-lockdown”, appealing to the wider public’s fear of contagion spread. But that is more misdirection: in the current, ever-more repressive climate, all protest must first be “anti-lockdown” before it can be protest.

The truth is that the demonstrators are out on the streets for a wide variety of reasons, including to protest against the oppressive new Police and Crime Bill, under the slogan “Kill the Bill”.

There are lots of well-founded reasons for people to be angry or worried at the moment. But the threat to that most cherished of all social freedoms – the right to protest – deserves to be at the top of the list.

If free speech ensures we have some agency over our own minds, protest allows us to mobilise collectively once we have been persuaded of the need and urgency to act. Protest is the chance we have to alert others to the strength of our feelings and arguments, to challenge a consensus that may exist only because it has been manufactured by political and media elites, and to bring attention to neglected or intentionally obscured issues.

Speech and protest are intimately connected. Free speech in one’s own home – like free speech in a prison cell – is a very stunted kind of freedom. It is not enough simply to know that something is unjust. In democratic societies, we must have the right to do our best to fix injustice.

Cast out as heretics

Not so long ago, none of this would have needed stating. It would have been blindingly obvious. No longer. Large sections of the population are happy to see speech rights stripped from those they don’t like or fear. They are equally fine, it seems, with locking up people who cause a “nuisance” or are “too noisy” in advancing a cause with which they have no sympathy – especially so long as fear of the pandemic takes precedence.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Britain, Civil Liberties, Coronavirus 

This is an extraordinary – and dangerous – five minutes of “mainstream” TV. It is five minutes of a black women’s rights activist trashing Piers Morgan to his face and on his own show, Good Morning Britain, as he tries to defend the Royal Family from the fallout of the Meghan and Harry interview.

Shola Mos-Shogbamimu hurls a barrage of unprecedented invective against Morgan, calling him a “liar and disgrace”, “disgusting”, a “racist and misogynist” and all but tells him to shut up. This treatment doubtless paved the way to his walk-out a day later and his departure from the show.

Even though I agree with pretty much everything Mos-Shogbamimu says, especially the parts of about the Royal Family and Britain’s racist, colonial past, the interview nonetheless made me feel almost – but only almost – sorry for Piers Morgan, one of the most thoroughly obnoxious narcissists on TV.

I strongly urge everyone to watch this clip, but only after you have inoculated yourself from its powerful narcoleptic effects by reading my health warning below.

The segment is a masterclass in how the corporate media so capably and thoroughly manipulates us that we end up willing our own hypnotisation into a political trance.

Every moment of Mos-Shogbamimu’s attack on Morgan is being stage-managed – though not by her, she’s simply the unwitting medium through which the deception is perpetrated. View it as a sophisticated lullaby, masquerading as fearless honesty, singing us deeper into sleep.

In fact, this bedtime song has three verses, intended to transform us each time into a zombie cheerleader for a different cause: first, either for Meghan or the Royals; then, for Morgan or Mos-Shogbamimu; and thirdly, for Morgan or the Good Morning Britain execs who are really pulling the strings.

This is a trilogy of corporate media-managed celebrity drama designed to prevent us from thinking about what’s really going on in our societies, societies run by and for psychopathic corporations like Good Morning Britain’s broadcaster, ITV.

Thought experiment

To fully understand how confected and bogus this segment is from start to finish, I suggest you carry out a small thought experiment.

Imagine for a moment this same scene playing out but not between Morgan and Mos-Shogbamimu feuding over Meghan’s personal, celebrity agonies. Imagine it taking place instead two years ago between Morgan and an equally outspoken supporter of the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Imagine this isn’t about the issue of whether a mix-race boy will be allowed to call himself “prince”, or whether Meghan has felt depressed and isolated by her treatment from the Royals, but about much larger matters of political and public urgency: say, the antisemitism smears used to demonise Corbyn and his party, or the sinister corporate media campaign against him.

Then imagine that, like Mos-Shogbamimu, Corbyn’s ally is given five minutes to berate Morgan, calling him a liar, a racist, a misogynist, and telling him to his face to keep quiet and listen.

Imagine further, if you can, that the Corbyn supporter not only feels bold enough to say all these things on Morgan’s own show but is allowed to get away with it. Not only does Morgan fight back with one arm very visibly tied behind his back, but his own GMB execs let the segment run and run, preventing him from shutting down the interview, either verbally or by turning off the video connection.

Can’t imagine it? Of course, you can’t. Because it would never be allowed to happen. No ally of Corbyn’s would ever be given five minutes to trash Piers Morgan while upholding the rights of working people or criticising the rigged nature of the corporate media.

Car-crash TV moment

Which means, of course, that Mos-Shogbamimu got to bad-mouth Morgan at length – however justifiably – only because GMB execs wanted her to.

They used her to send a message to Morgan that he was on the way out, which is why he sits and takes the tirade sheepishly (for him). They used her to wash their corporate hands of any taint that they might condone racism. They used her to persuade viewers that GMB and other corporate media are able to hold themselves up to fearless scrutiny. And most important of all, they used her to engineer a car-crash TV moment that has dominated headlines across the media and will gain them a larger audience and bigger profits.

And all of that happened at no meaningful political cost to corporate Britain. The same racist, corrupt, war-mongering system will carry on as before.

Piers Morgan was set up, first with this confrontation with Mos-Shogbamimu and then the following day in a more restrained clash with his own weather presenter, Alex Beresford. Morgan got the message loud and clear. He was being played by the programme he fronts.

Sadly, too many of us still don’t understand that we are being played too. And unlike Piers Morgan, we have everything to lose and nothing to gain from this cynical corporate power game.

 
• Category: Culture/Society, Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Blacks, Britain, Racism