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Wednesday, September 26, 2007 3:43 PM
MEDIA ALERT: I, (FASCIST) ROBOT – THE BBC’S GAVIN ESLER LETS RIP
MEDIA ALERT: I, (FASCIST) ROBOT – THE BBC’S GAVIN ESLER LETS RIP
MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media
September 26, 2007
In response to our September 18 alert, ‘The Media Ignore Credible Poll Revealing 1.2 Million Violent Deaths In Iraq,’ BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler sent one Media Lens reader the following response:
The polite and thoughtful email that elicited this response was sent by James, a masters student at Durham University. You can read it here: www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2611
The email contains several points that we did not even make in our media alert.
The irony of Esler’s focus on our alleged fascistic tendencies is that it has become very much the reflexive response of irate journalists over the last six years. In his enthusiasm for the war that has since demolished Iraq, the Observer’s Nick Cohen wrote to us on March 15, 2002:
The Independent on Sunday’s deputy editor Michael Williams described Media Lens emailers – who were challenging the paper’s hypocrisy in ’saving the planet’ while banking the loot from fossil fuel adverts – as “a curmudgeonly lot of puritans, miseries, killjoys, Stalinists and glooms”. (Williams, ‘A bottle of bubbly for the best way to fly,’ Independent on Sunday, January 22, 2006)
Peter Beaumont of the Observer cringed with disgust as he told readers how Media Lens was “a closed and distorting little world”, part of “a curious willy-waving exercise… Think a train spotters’ club run by Uncle Joe Stalin.” (Beaumont, ‘Microscope on Medialens,’ The Observer, June 18, 2006; observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1800328,00.html)
The Stalinist zombies were also very much on the march in the mind of BBC producer Adam Curtis, who interpreted our analysis of his series The Century Of The Self as us “stamping [our] little feet” and “trying to whip up an attack of the clones”. (Email to Editors, June 18, 2002)
The “clones”, Esler’s “robotic” respondents, are members of the public who care enough about the devastating impact of corporate media bias to take time out of their day to write to journalists. This in a society that endlessly seeks to persuade us to care only about our immediate self-gratification and our immediate families, while the environment collapses around us, while 2 million people lie dead in Iraq from twelve years of sanctions and four years of illegal occupation.
The Observer editor, Roger Alton, composed this response to one (also) extremely polite emailer:
It could just be that Alton was also the “senior journalist” who anonymously described us to a BBC reporter as “poisonous c*nts”. (Posted by BBC journalist David Fuller, Media Lens website, May 15, 2006)
Esler clarified his outrage to another reader (who complained in response to the Nuremberg rally email):
“The reason no one takes media lens seriously is not the substance of your complaints. It is the robotic, identikit, narcissistic manner in which they are expressed. I know you will not understand this, but your complaint below is precisely what I had in mind. I made a comparison with the fascistic habit of mind which seeks to intimidate through numbers of people unthinkingly doing the same thing. Hilariously, you and a handful of other people have done precisely that. Berthold Brecht explains the fascistic habit of mind and its lack of self-awareness when he pointed out that ‘Furz hat keine Nase.’ [‘Fart has no nose‘]
Esler wrote to yet another reader:
In fact there is no “orchestrated and robotic campaign”. One of our readers – Miriam Cotton, co-editor of Ireland’s excellent Mediabite website (www.mediabite.org/)- made the point in an email to Esler:
We write analysis of media performance and invite anyone who happens to read it to write to journalists (and to us) in comment. To be sure, this is not always pleasant for journalists – no-one likes to be criticised – but it is not Stalinism, Nazism, fascism, or any other form of totalitarianism. It is vigorous public participation in political debate, which is supposed to be what democracy is all about.
Another reader made a related point:
A further irony is that Esler is a stereotypical corporate journalist – a highly polished media performer, but one who often presents the benevolent claims of power as Truth. In 2004, Esler commented on the death of Ronald Reagan:
Reagan was, Esler insisted, “a man who was loved even by his political opponents in this country [America] and abroad”.
This will have come as news to the survivors of Reagan’s covert wars in Central America. Thomas Carothers, a former Reagan State Department official, observed that the human cost of the US war in Nicaragua alone “in per capita terms was significantly higher than the number of US persons killed in the US Civil War and all the wars of the twentieth century +combined+”. (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, ‘Hegemony or Survival’, Hamish Hamilton, p.98) For details, see:
Esler, by contrast, explored Reagan‘s spiritual qualities, quoting Nancy Reagan to the effect that her husband “had absolutely no ego”. In the Daily Mail, he went further: “above all, Ronald Wilson Reagan embodied the best of the American spirit – the optimistic belief that problems can and will be solved, that tomorrow will be better than today, and that our children will be wealthier and happier than we are.” (Esler, ‘The Great Communicator,’ Daily Mail, June 7, 2004)
The child survivors of Reagan’s ferocious war in Guatemala struggled to share this optimism. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported that the percentage of the Guatemalan population living in extreme poverty increased rapidly from 45% in 1985 to 76% in 1988 (Reagan was president from 1981-89). Other studies estimated that 20,000 Guatemalans were dying of hunger every year at that time, and that more than 1,000 children died of measles alone in the first four months of 1990. (Quoted, Noam Chomsky, ‘The Victors,’ Z Magazine, November 1990; January, 1991; and April, 1991)
Esler did manage to mention the Iran-Contra affair: “The scandal blighted the last two years of an otherwise extraordinarily successful presidency…”.
As we noted in our Media Alerts on June 10 and June 15, 2004, Esler’s views on Reagan coincided with most mainstream commentary across the media spectrum. As in almost all reporting, Reagan’s enormous and truly horrendous crimes were out of sight. Esler‘s, then, might well be described as a “robotic response”.
Two months later, Esler noted that US crimes at Abu Ghraib prison had produced: “Images that shamed America’s mission in Iraq.” (Newsnight, 24 August, 2004) Imagine what Western journalists would have made of a Soviet media claim in the 1980s suggesting that photographs of crimes in Kabul were “Images that shamed the Soviet mission in Afghanistan.” The Soviet invasion was a vast war crime, not a “mission” that could subsequently be “shamed”.
More independence of thought was manifested on August 26, 2004, when Esler referred to “Iran’s nuclear threat” – a threat that existed then, as now, only in the minds of US-UK government officials and mainstream journalists.
Esler again echoed government claims in discussion with Lancet editor, Richard Horton, on the subject of the 2004 Lancet report. Esler commented:
It was a misunderstanding, but not uniquely Esler’s – the claim has been repeated robotically by journalists right across the media.
On April 12, 2007, Esler interviewed Nicholas Burns, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs,
Again, Esler had apparently accepted the government line that the “surge” was about guaranteeing “the safety of the people”, rather than about defeating the insurgency and securing Iraq’s oil billions for US power.
Conclusion – The Party Political Spinbots
Once again we see the double standard journalists employ when dealing with ’real’ people – senior government and corporate managers with power and influence – and “unpeople”, including members of the public. Esler would not dream of referring to the Nuremberg rallies in condemning the pre-programmed answers he so often receives from party political spinbots on Newsnight. And yet the most obvious and tedious theme of mainstream political discourse is that ministers and members of parliament are forever “on message”, refusing to even minutely depart from their carefully prepared scripts.
If Esler compared this genuine capitulation to Group Think with the behaviour of genocidal fascists responsible for the mass murder of millions, his position would quickly become untenable. Such a grave insult to people with power and influence – and to the memory of the victims of Nazism – would be deemed so serious, so outrageous, that the heavens would pretty much fall on Esler‘s head. But when it comes to us and our readers – anything goes!
Meanwhile, the journalists who so casually berate thinking members of the public for their lack of independent thought, are all too willing, themselves, to conform to the strict demands of a corporate system that tolerates little dissent.
Our goal is to encourage reasoned debate. This seems unlikely to result from writing to Gavin Esler. We are therefore not recommending that readers write to him at this time.
This media alert will shortly be archived here:
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