Saturday, April 24, 2004

Everyone's noticing the decline of The Spectator Magazine. Peter Cuthbertson wrote a post about it about a week ago; Melanie Phillips yesterday quoted Denis Boyles in NRO extensively and approvingly about the Speccie's decline. Samizdata had a go a bit further back; and I've thought it for months. Evidently I was far from alone.

The Speccie, in an uncoincidental echo of the BBC, today often mistakes triteness for opinion. Most of the BBC output is half-baked intellectually, intended mainly to massage or manipulate public opinion (often at a quite sophisticated level) and set the media agenda. It's almost wholly politicised and makes little appeal to the intellect. The wider British media has to realise that, party-political affiliations aside, you can't introduce trite and politicised ideas into the 'news' without devaluing the whole news output of an organisation. That's what the Spectator magazine has been doing too often under the guise of 'balance', the worst examples probably being serial shallow thinkers like Gilligan (who could ever forget him?) and Liddle, who have often been known to match their shallowness with dishonesty.

I'm sure everyone has also noticed where the fault lies, but no-one wants to put the boot into cuddly Boris Johnson, hoping that someone else will do it instead.

Punch and Counterpunch. There's a media war out there that's as important, if not more important, as events on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. While in those places the US and allies are dominant, outpowering and outnumbering their opponents, in the media the positive voices are probably outnumbered by the negative ones.
I happen to believe that the positive, pro-Iraq war, pro-active voices have a more powerful ring, and a more comprehensive message. As an observer, I watch the battle between the two wax and wane, and of course the outcome of the media war is felt in the opinion polls, expressed as the waxing and waning of the political fortunes of the anti-war candidate, John Kerry, and the pro-war candidate, John Kerry, er, George W. Bush.
Each time I see the media negativity rise, I see the positivity rise to meet it, and repel it. What's interesting is whether the negative voices gradually realign their negativity to cater for a public that finds the positive voices more convincing, and whether the positive voices get more positive still (or, of course, vice cersa).

Then of course, from my perspective, there are two fronts- the UK and the US- and the fortunes of 'war' differ in each.
That's why two positive articles by Victor Davis Hanson in NRO and William Shawcross in the Spectator strike me as significant indicators. Hanson's article is quite simply the finest I think I've read about the WoT in the couse of exploring the slice of the media that has crossed my path. It shows, I think, the right kind of strategic grasp of the whole situation, especially in the Middle East.
Shawcross' article, meanwhile, shows how the British media battle is lagging behind the US one, but that the lines are holding to some extent. He may not be able to give us a lot of cheer about, but he does do a good job of discrediting the shallow and opportunistic opponents of the Iraq war.

A couple of highlights from Hanson:

'All U.S. construction is subject to open audit and assessment. A zealous media has not yet found any signs of endemic or secret corruption. There really is a giant scandal surrounding Iraq, but it involves (1) the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, in which U.N. officials and Saddam Hussein, hand-in-glove with European and Russian oil companies, robbed revenues from the Iraqi people; and (2) French petroleum interests that strong-armed a tottering dictator to sign over his country's national treasure to Parisian profiteers under conditions that no consensual government would ever agree to. The only legitimate accusation of Iraqi profiteering does not involve Dick Cheney or Halliburton, but rather Kofi Annan's negligence and his son Kojo's probable malfeasance. '

'The Palestinians will, in fact, get their de facto state, though one that may be now cut off entirely from Israeli commerce and cultural intercourse. This is an apparently terrifying thought: Palestinian men can no longer blow up Jews on Monday, seek dialysis from them on Tuesday, get an Israeli paycheck on Wednesday, demonstrate to CNN cameras about the injustice of it all on Thursday — and then go back to tunneling under Gaza and three-hour, all-male, conspiracy-mongering sessions in coffee-houses on Friday. Beware of getting what you bomb for. '

This kind of argument is forceful and accurate- just what is needed to win the media battle. (thanks to messrs Reynolds and Pollard. Please let me know if there are any problems with links- use the comments if you like).

Friday, April 23, 2004

Like the Curate's Egg, this Telegraph commentary on UNscam is good in parts. Michael Morris and others have commented on The Telegraph's ambivalence towards the Iraq war, and this article penned by the Foreign Editor Alan Philips manages to look both ways too. For instance, we are told that The oil-for-food programme, as implemented by the UN, made war inevitable, since it provided Saddam with a steady revenue to pay his security forces and build his palaces, which sounds authoritative enough. It's reasonable to point out that the deal cut with Saddam was wrong in principle since it was founded on his authority to administer money to his fellow Iraqis. Even had the deal been reasonably policed by the UN it would have given Saddam breathing space. UNscam goes much further than that though. It suggests that the UN connived with Saddam to secure his position at the helm of Iraq.

The Telegraph goes into its own la-la land when it suggests that boosted by his illegal revenues Saddam was 'able to drift comfortably off into a fantasy world'. This flies in the face of the evidence that Saddam was scheming with contacts at high levels in sympathetic countries to circumvent the US/UK opposition to his regime. This was a plan, not a fantasy- as, incidentally, was the bolstering of Fallujah and the wasting of Basra- and the UN where it was corrupt was not just inept, but criminal. So, the Telegraph dismisses the UN as a 'Ship of Fools', which I would dispute, and actually lets it off the responsibility for its actions. It's a fairly shallow analysis with some good flourishes, relying more on a world-weary cynicism than examination of detail, which is a shame for one of the few newspapers with the pedigree (and the circulation) to give a mature public lead on this issue.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Daily Ablution Presents a Good Summary of the British press response to Koffigate, and a commenter cuts to the quick. You might add a few qualifications, but this is about right:

'This is an important story. If the UN folks pushing a diplomatic/inspections solution with Iraq were bought and paid for there is a significant argument the Bush side can make that the 'multilateral' system was hopelessly corrupt. Note that we could never hope to know the extent of the corruption sans invasion. Most of the evidence coming to light has been Iraqi documents. '

Are the BBC biased? (no sniggering at the back there, please) Let me put the question another way. Is Mark Steyn a bit to the right of centre, in most people's opinion? Mmmm. Well, this article here by Paul Wood places the diametric opposite emphasis to Steyn's article I pointed out below. So if Steyn is right of centre, what's Wood?

Steyn says 'Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, issued a stern warning to the BBC: a US invasion of Iraq would "threaten the whole stability of the Middle East." As I wrote at the time, "He's missing the point: that's the reason it's such a great idea." '

Wood says 'America's Arab allies do not just feel angry. They feel wounded, humiliated and threatened.' - the poor darlings. Note that Wood does not blush when describing them as 'Allies', even though the Arab world has been unanimous in condemning the US policy in Iraq and over Israel.

The great strength of Steyn's analysis is that it doesn't idealise the Arab world. There is more nuance about Steyn's analysis, distinguishing Jordan from Egypt from Syria from Saudi, than there is in Wood's emotionalised bleating from frankly very imperfect origins.

Whoaaa!I had to mention this. (The BBC have begun to get real about Unscam.)

Cribbing from Glenn, I'm just going to point out I've put the newly started UNScam website, 'Friends of Saddam' in my links under 'News'. I also came across this Mark Steyn JP article which Glenn got to before me. It's one of the best I've read of his, with an incisiveness about the Mid-East to make to make woolly BBC journalists cringe:

'the Israelis are building their wall, and what's left over on the other side will either be a new state, the present decayed Arafatist squat, or an ever more frustrated self-detonation academy. But it will be up to the Palestinians to choose because they'll be the ones living with the consequences.'

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

At the Kurdistan Regional Government's website I found this article by William Safire, which depressed me a bit. Yes I knew that France and Russia would try to prevent an investigation going forward since they were the origin of so many of the commercial interests that Saddam chose to deal with, but to read Safire quoting the Russians as saying

"We understand the reputation of the secretariat is in question, but we do not think it is possible to adopt a resolution on the basis of mass media reports"

is so outrageous you can only assume they're very confident of blocking their way out of this.

Maybe the reason they're so confident is because, as Safire says 'Our (US) State Department, eager for U.N. help in Iraq, wants no revelations of U.N. ineptitude and corruption.'

Which will suit Koffi & Son. And the BBC, whose coverage has been very unfriendly to the notion of any substantial scandal.

I suppose things can only get better under Michael Grade. Sadly things are too bad at the BBC to be solvable by the cigar-sucking smoothie, formerly you-know-what, 'pornographer-in-chief' at Channel Four. Melanie Philips, rarely one to understate things, says that 'bias is too inadequate a word to express the systematic collapse in our public service broadcaster of any understanding of what objectivity actually is', which sounds about right.

She highlights a Michael Gove column in the Times which made what I considered a striking point:

'The Middle East peace process is treated as an entity, almost like the Virgin Mary, which is beyond reproach.'

So that would mean that rationalisation would be out of the window, UN resolutions would be scattered against Israel like Hail Marys, and the purity of the basic Palestinian cause rather like the Immaculate Conception. Sounds a good analogy to me.

That's why of course the BBC's (to change the metaphor) sacred cows must be argued with knowledgably, just as the reformation people did to the superstitious priesthood over the status of Mary. Norm Geras gives us this example, and it's only fair I should link it here (you could find it through Melanie's, at BBBC, and probably other places, but it's a good one.)

On the subject of knowledge, this is a site everyone who is interested in the functioning or non-functioning of one the BBC's objects of devotion, the UN, should become familiar with. It's the website of the Kurdistan Regional Government and it publishes many articles relating to the Oil-for-Food scandal. This is about Iraqis pursuing the injustices that were facilitated against them by the supine, greedy or complicit administration of the UN. I suppose I should thank Max for this source- it's invaluable.

'UN Darfur mission 'within days' ', say BBC. What a relief! If only the Darfur Sudanese can receive some of the tender care that was administered by the UN in Iraq and Rwanda I am sure they will be ok.

The article also says 'The UN has launched a $115m appeal for humanitarian aid for Darfur.'

Again I say, what a relief!

The article also says 'New figures show that the humanitarian crisis to be much worse than previously thought.', which is a surprise.

Oil-For-Food Saddam-UN-scam? ABC enters the fray (via Andrew Sullivan)

It's common enough to observe that the BBC is pro-EU in its coverage. I'm not trying to prove it here though. I am just pointing out that pro-EU bias goes hand in hand with anti-American bias.
Marc at USS Neverdock has given a good fisking to a report by Paul Reynolds, whose sense of history sometimes seems to have come from reading anti-US graffitti on toilet doors in some dingy banlieue of Paris.

BTW, I watched some of the Prime Minister's Questions on the Daily Politics this lunchtime, and it was clear to me the BBC were on best behaviour. This programme was always a flagship with a right-of-centre host, Andrew Neil, to win back the legions of disaffected viewers who felt the BBC too one-sided. Today's programme was without Neil, but it had the most balanced journalist (see Nicholas Vance's 'Report Card') they have, Mark Mardell, and a commentariat that included Matthew Parris and a UKIP man, as well as a Green Party representative. In other words, this was a very carefully composed programme on the basis that the BBC must be seen beginning this referendum (still a long, long way away) process on the right foot.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

While mentioning Oil-for-Food-for-Terror earlier, I omitted to link to Claudia Rosett's more in-depth work on the subject. I've read this through several times now, and it's beginning to sink in that the programme was an illegitimate kind of child that turned into a seriously wayward adult- thanks to the kind of parental care only the UN at the highest levels can offer. Rosett really gets warmed up towards the end (hint: that's an incentive to read all the way):

'The UN Secretariat, in its well-paid arrogance, set out to administer virtually the entire economy of Iraq. Under its eye, all legitimate trading privileges became the franchise of a tyrant who laid first claim to every barrel of oil and every dollar (or euro) of proceeds. How could Oil-for-Food not help consolidate Saddam’s grip on power? '

Good Stuff.

The Debate Gets Underway, and I'm watching the BBC closely. The pro-Europeans are not impressed with the platform that they're working from, so the initial press, even from the BBC has been fairly negative, as far as I have seen. The Guardian is particularly sulky that they're going to be running uphill for the next 18 months until the referendum on the EU Constitution takes place:

'Hemmed in by failure abroad and by difficulty at home, beset by falling ratings, party revolts and increasingly independent colleagues - to say nothing of an increasingly aggressive press - Blair has shown little appetite for a demarche on Europe until now. If yesterday's Sun/YouGov poll is a reliable guide, it is easy to see why: only 16% of the nation currently says they will vote yes. There is no polling evidence of any significance that suggests this is likely to change significantly.'

What they scarcely begin to look at is the fact that a reasonable showing for Blair in the Euro-elections and a victory in the General Election might create the exact kind of momentum that is needed to get a result for the Euro Constitution. If you don't like the idea of the Constitution they can afford to let you enjoy Blair's discomfort and this moment when the Euro-project seems almost within your power to reverse. They can afford it because it's all part of the cost-benefits calculation that their dear Leader has swallowed his pride to make.

In speaking of Oil-for-Food-For-Terror we are not far away from the whiff of Gallic cynicism. Today Samizdata makes a contribution to this debate with a link to an article scrutinising the writings of Dimminique de Villepin. As both poet and internationalist poseur, De Villepin does not make an inspiring case for trying to bring politics and poetry together. The author of this article, Amir Taheri, essentially accuses de Villepin of being verbose, unclear and illogical, or at east denying commonsense. Taheri never condemns, but his analysis is damning in itself.

On a related note, Tony Blair has been doing a good imitation of giving people what they want- a referendum on the European Constitution that might enable people like De Villepin even more legroom to flex their Gallic muscles. Melanie Philips thinks that it's something of a tactical victory for Blair, which sceptics will need to counter. It's crunch time for sceptics really- a serious game they didn't anticipate having to play; Melanie makes the point that they have erred in attacking Blair over his refusal to have a referendum 'when the main argument should have been that it would be unconscionable for the British Parliament to vote for the end of British self-government'

Monday, April 19, 2004

This is so important. Everyone who is in touch with the blogosphere will know about the Oil-for-Food scandal that's unfolding, and most will know that there is an investigation under way that is even now striving to grow teeth (against the grinding opposition of at least one of the You-Know-Who powers) through attaining the status of a Resolution-backed enquiry, as Roger Simon chronicles. The first link however is to an article by Claudia Rosett, who has pioneered a lot of the journalism that has brought the matter to the amount of light it has so far seen. Her latest work demonstrates how much more light we need to bring it to. It must be scrutinised by the public through the internet. It must be raised again and again until big media, especially august big media such as the BBC, cannot avoid some transparent coverage. I, and as many people who consider they have a stake in this, must become expert in the detail of the UN-Oil-for-Food-for-Terror? scandal, so as to curtail the complicity with terrorism that exists in high places.

I am reminded of a passage of Wretchard's which put things into perspective:
America is potentially the most powerful media power on earth but it is not at war in Iraq, except with itself. The real tragedy in Iraq is not so much that men die but that we as a society have left them to die without even naming those with whom we are at war.

Most of this via that Dumbledore, alright, Blogfather of the Internet, Glenn Instapundit Reynolds.

Barbara Amiel is always beautiful but today she very elegantly covers all the bases in this Telegraph article on the killings of Rantissi and Yassin. She says that mourners for Rantissi appear somewhat sick:

'One would be relieved if the Independent or Robin Cook were shedding crocodile tears but their weeping seems perfectly sincere. '

The folly of these people is that they are taking their lead straight from the Palestinian mob, and the two parties are mutually sustaining. As Nicholas Vance says,

'there is something deeply disturbed and destructive about a people who react in such a manner to the killing of the leader of an utterly racist organisation'

Poetical Monday Morning- thanks to Daniel. Though there may be many critical events and issues out there, take a moment or two to enjoy this retrospective view of the Gilligan affair, as Dyke's disaster meets that stirring account of a dark day for the British Empire, the Charge of the Light Brigade. (you can compare to the original here)

Half a truth, half a lie,
Half an editorial onward,

All to defame 10 Downing
Rode Dear Leader Dyke's six hundred.

"Forward, BBC!
"Charge for the guns!" Dyke said,

All to defame 10 Downing
Rode Dear Leader Dyke's six hundred.

"Forward, BBC!"
Was there a presenter dismay'd?
Not tho' the denier knew
Gilligan had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to lie and lie:

All to defame 10 Downing
Rode Dear Leader Dyke's six hundred.

Labour to right of them,
Only Castro to left of them,
Lord Hutton in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;

Drown'd by every skeptical swell,
Boldly they did dissemble and well
Into the jaws of ignominy
Into the mouth of license fee Hell
Rode Dear Leader Dyke's six hundred.

Flash'd all their disreputable reportorial wares
Flash'd as they turn'd despite incredulous stares
Disabling their foes with snug self-righteous snares
Defaming 10 Downing, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the media smoke they'd stoke'd
Right thro' late Mr. Kelly they broke;
Truth and Integrity
Reel'd from every mendacious stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.

Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Labour to right of them,
Only Castro to left of them,
Lord Hutton in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Drowned by every skeptical swell,
While Gilligan and Dear Leader fell,
They that had denied so well

Came thro' the jaws of ignominy
Back from the mouth of license fee hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of Dear Leader Dyke's six hundred.

When will their infamy fade?
O the wild charges they made!
All the world wondered.
Dishonor the charges they made,
Dishonor Dear Leader's Brigade,
Ignoble six hundred.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Wretchard gives the lowdown on US casualties along the Syrian border. The BBC has given us the whitewash already:
'Syrians watch events unfold across the border', apparently.

Sorry no posts today- I had some trouble with Blogger making a meal out of the musings I tried to post. The basic gist was that the killing of Rantissi was a good thing and that Israel is lucky to have a leader as committed and shrewd as Ariel Sharon. My feeling about Sharon's actions over a long period are that he's realistic in almost every way. He accepts the need for Israel to draw its horns in (behind a good defendable shell). He accepts that the Palestinians need to make progress towards their own state. Above all though he understands that the leadership of people like Rantissi and Yassin has chosen terrorism as a lifestyle, and that Yasser Arafat has always been able to rely on people to take the real choices off his shoulders. The BBC's Wyre Davies' comments that

'Anyone who dared hope that the killing had ended after Ariel Sharon's breakthrough meeting with President Bush in Washington last week, would have been severely disappointed.'
'Abdel Aziz Rantissi was a devout Muslim and hard-line political figure who firmly believed that Palestinians were justified in fighting to defeat the Israeli government in order achieve their political goals. '

betray two things. One, that the BBC refuse to understand that killing is the game that terrorists like Rantissi and Yassin were intent on playing, and death is the way the Palestinian playingfield tilts, and that what you must do is change the political geography, the lines on the playing field, so to speak. Even then enthusiasts of the first game wouldn't abandon it for another- but the hangers-on just might. They've lost two star players, which should be a reality check as to whether the spectacle is really all that wonderful after all. The BBC, however, would prefer to see those who repose confidence in Sharon as hopelessly naive. Well, whether naive or not they are certainly revenged against the architects of terror- but I wouldn't concede that Davies is right. Two, that what Rantissi was not doing was fighting the Israeli government: he, and others like him, were pursuing Jihad and blowing up children and women to satisfy religious, cultural and racial hatred.

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