Saturday, May 29, 2004


Not surprised to find this morning that the BBC's top story was Mordecai Vanunu's claim that in betraying Israel's nuclear secrets he had wanted to avert a 'holocaust'. In a way Vanunu is 'their man' through his association with their documentary maker (and recent detainee of Israeli security services) Hounam. Vanunu's actual phrase was 'nuclear holocaust', but the BBC didn't bother about that in their headline. I found it needlessly provocative- rather like the Bush-Hitler comparison popular amongst extremist Democrats.

From news that is needless- just a play on words from a BBC buzz-story- to information that is profound in its implications: here's a timely re-appraisal of evidence linking Saddam with Al Qaeda from Stephen Hayes. Don't forget Mohammed Atta, but the name Ahmed Hikmat Shakir ought to become better known, as should the extent the Clinton administration believed in the relationship between Bin Laden and Baghdad.

More about Oil-for-Food in this extract from Kenneth Timmerman's latest book (via Friends of Saddam). Timmerman takes you on a whistlestop tour of mainly French oil and government connections with Saddam's regime via the UN's 'relief' programme. Timmerman says:

'In a data base I compiled of 2,858 separate export requests submitted to the 661 committee, 1,646 were put on hold because of objections by one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council... In not one single case – not one! – was the hold placed on an export at the request of France.'

Friday, May 28, 2004

Backing Kerry

How do you make Kerry look solid on foreign policy? That must be the question Kerry campaigners are asking as they seek to exploit the quagmire hype about Iraq that is damaging GWB.

The BBC of course has been leading the pack as far as 'quagmire' hype goes: they tenaciously hung onto that word through the dark days following Saddam's arrest. The BBC then should know how to make Kerry look solid, just as they have shown themselves expert in making Bush look insecure.

How to do it then? Well, when the Democrats pitch for the middle ground you might take them at face value and produce an analysis saying there's little to choose between Kerry and Bush on security and the WoT (or 'so-called WoT'). That's what wavering Bushies and 'Bush Democrats' have been saying they are looking for, so why not play along, like this:

'Senator Kerry said that his number one priority would be to prevent terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Hard to see George W Bush having much problem with that.

The senator also said the US should remain the paramount military power in the world.

We've definitely heard that before from the White House.'

But wait a minute, wasn't this supposed to be an analysis? Ahh, yes, it is an analysis of how 'most US voters would be hard pressed to find much difference between the challenger and the incumbent George W Bush' -in other words, tell them what they're going to think and then rehearse the argument for them. Silly me thinking the BBC's remit was to educate and inform.

According to the BBC's Rob Watson, the differences are 'a matter of emphasis'. Yet we learn that 'On Iraq Senator Kerry said not a lot'. That sounds like a pretty big difference of 'emphasis' to me, since GWB gave a whole speech over to discussing Iraq, relating it to the WoT, the other evening.

This difference is the key one Watson ignores, preferring to discuss how not mentioning Iraq fits into the Democrat strategy. The way he reads this is instructive. Kerry, he says, wants GWB to 'stew in his own juices'. There is another way of looking at it though. It could be that Kerry doesn't have any positive ideas and the ideas he does have he's frightened to present to the people of America until he's set fair on his way into the Whitehouse.

Watson mentions that Kerry (somewhat ambiguously) was an 'early supporter' of the Iraq war, but doesn't get to the crux and ask if Kerry would have initiated it, which is, in the light of Kerry's on the record positions on Iraq, very dubious to say the least.

He doesn't ask if Kerry would act pre-emptively to defend US security, using the military option, or if instead he would rely on the multilateral agreements which were in fact 'repeatedly' the emphasis of the speech.

Those, I am sure, are the kind of emphases that the American people would regard as substantive, and on which they will make their choice later in the year.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Now, to turn to the news that could legally be explored, and explains vastly more about world politics over the last ten years than Israeli nukes, yet which has been ignored by the BBC except to report the protestations of those implicated, I refer you to Claudia Rosett's latest piece on the five paralysed fingers of investigation that are reaching out to prise open the clam-tight workings of the UN's Oil-for-Food debacle.

A search of the BBC site using the terms 'UN Oil Food' brings back less than ten relevant searches, which include such peachy titles as 'I am victim of smear campaign' (guess who) and 'UN chief hits out at fraud claims'. Such drama, and all on the side of powerful people accused of fleecing the little guy to give to the big fat despot. I mean, even if you were just concerned to report the news, five investigations into the biggest financial transaction in UN history would merit, say, just a little of the Enron treatment (search 'Enron scandal' and you get, well, hundreds of relevant hits). Even more if you thought a cover up was taking place.

On the subject of arrests, this looks to be a good one. As usual though, the BBC are obsessed with the US death penalty (rather than with what Hamza has been doing while incubated by his generous British hosts) - which somehow seems a distant prospect in the case of Abu Hamza, despite the tough words of John Ashcroft.

To Dabble Or Not To Dabble?

In politics I mean (hat-tip to Max).

Today the media's attention has been drawn by the arrest and possible release of Peter Hounam, Times journalist and friend of Mordechai Vanunu.

Key to Hounam's arrest is that he's been employed by the BBC to quiz Vanunu for a two hour documentary that would be quite a scoop- possibly an echo of the original scoop by the Times in 1986 which Hounam was party to and which confirmed Israel's status as a nuclear power. Unfortunately for Hounam and maybe Vanunu, this contravened a condition of Vanunu's release: not to talk to foreigners.

What's clear from the episode is that the BBC has little respect for Israel's right to its own legal processes (not to mention its security). It's said that the BBC went to the trouble of renting a luxury apartment to facilitate the interview.

Of course now the talk will be about how Israel suppresses journalistic freedom. Actually it would appear that Israel is concerned about its security and cares to enforce its laws. There's so much that journalists could learn legally that they can't be bothered to deal with, they instead resort to tawdry methods that promise more presentable 'dirt'.

Seems likely the BBC think that the big problem in the region is that Israel has nukes whereas underdogs like the Palestinians and Syrians don't- and that international 'outrage' over this imbalance may force change on Israel. This brings to mind the comment of a French MEP, who in 2001 called for Arab Countries to be armed with nukes to balance things out so that Israel 'cannot do simply whatever what it wants'.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The General Slant of BBC News remains consistent. Today the BBCOnline top slot was devoted to Amnesty International's fanciful condemnation of the "WoT" (big double quotes there) for provoking so much more human rights abuse. It's fanciful, when you consider the end of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's regime as two of the WoT's (no quotes at Talking Hoarsely) considerable fruits, but it does coincide with the BBC's belief, and that's BIG NEWS for us all.

So, just another day of bad news for Bush, sigh. That's on top of Abu Grayib (whatever the spelling I'm tired of writing it), Wedding bombings and that damaged Mosque in Najaf.

Now, ignoring for a moment the bogus wedding, what about that damaged Mosque? The BBC reported that it was damaged in clashes between 'the Americans' and followers of Al Sadr. Aside from wondering why the Americans come first in this scenario, I am also wondering why, when BBC correspondents talk of Shia 'outrage', it is automatically assumed that it is the US that must defend itself, which it is duly reported as having done.

Of course the next thing we hear about the attack in the report (after we have dutifully read about the overnight 'civilian' casualties in Najaf and Kufa, presuming them as reliable as the figures for Falluja or the "wedding bombing" where so many children died, ahem) is when Al Sadr reportedly comes to inspect the site 'amid chanting from crowds'. Whether they were chanting 'go home you idiot' is not made clear.

It is not until two thirds of the way down the report that we hear

'A representative of militant cleric, Ahmed Shebani, said five or six missiles had hit the building.

It was not clear who fired the missiles.

but when the US Brig. Gen. Kimmitt (who seems to me to be a quite inspired spokesman) claims that the US had "no involvement" you can be sure that double-quotemarking it is not designed to inspire confidence.

So, I guess it will be up to The Scotsman to tell us that a senior Shia (far more senior than Al-Sadr, the whippersnapper) under the patronage of Al-Sistani believes that Al-Sadr's men were responsible for the damage to the Mosque.

They do, though, find time to report elsewhere (alongside the 'good news' of Al-Sadr's Lieutenant's capture) a remark made to Reuters by someone called al-Khazali that

"This is part of the US military escalation against the Shia. We've lost hope in negotiations. What is happening is a liquidation of Shia, especially the Sadr movement." ,

which is just plain ridiculous (trying to recall the actionas of Saddam against the Shia) and unworthy of any reputable News Agency, but from Reuters it comes to us via the BBC. It's obvious that this is emotional blackmail from a deceitful loser, and therefore right up the BBC's street.

We Can Do It If We Work Together.

That ought to be the motto for Iraq, but as we know 'united' is not a word we associate -or are allowed to associate- with GWB's administration. It's far more noticeable that the anti-war forces, who have remained bitterly united, believe in the value of togetherness.

To an unprepared spectator there seems an unbroken stream of military men and administration figures coming forward to express unhappiness with one aspect or another of the WoT. That's not to mention the non-governmental side of things.

One of the reasons for the revelatory effect in these cases is that the media manage sources with an eye on the political agenda (and of course for the sources there is often a similar interest). To tell us much about these sources and their motivations would spoil the political effect. I was fascinated in January when Gavyn Davies, chairman of the BBC (until Hutton!) talked of the need to 'manage the news'.

Thus, due to the Media's overwhelming desire to 'make a difference' by 'managing the news', even when we are switched on things slip past.

Reading happily through the entries at David'sMedienKritik I saw a name I recognised:

Gen. Joseph Hoare, who is readily Googled using the terms 'absolutely brink failure abyss', finally made his way into the German media as a 'source' for their latest bout of quagmire editorialising.

What you don't read, and what you didn't read when the BBC used him as a source in a recent article in which they reported more Abu Ghraib piccies as part of mounting bad news for the Coalition, is that Gen. Hoare was a considerable supporter of Dr. Howard Dean, back when the not-yet-screaming Vermonster stood roughly at Ketchup Kerry's shoulder in the Democratic Nomination race. The connotations for Hoare's long-term views on the Iraq war are fairly clear.

I am sure the BBC's Justin Webb, Washington Correspondent, just has a poor memory for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Trying to Work an Angle.

It's something I've noticed while examining the media: there'll be a concerted attempt to force spokespeople, usually of Governments, to concede an angle on a story that can then be exploited. In the case of Iraq this has generally been far from fair. Godspeed then to this guy who's laid down the gauntlet to the Big Media over their twist of a press conference questioning session from one General Mattis that dealt in passing with the 'Wedding Party' (personally I remain sure that it was an insurgency waystation and safehouse that they bombed).

The media are looking to talk up the notion of failure at the expense of success, and here to infer that the US mainly took out civilians- if they took out insurgents at all. Thus they elided without acknowledgement the words that General Mattis used about Falluja so that they appeared to refer to the so-called 'wedding bombing'. They did this more or less en bloc, hunting as a pack, with strongly anti-war papers like the Independent to the fore.

A Great Speech. Perhaps, as a non-American, I am less aware of the week by week, month by month ebb and flow of opinion polls and media opinion about an incumbent President like George W. Bush- but I thought it was a great speech W. gave last night. Not a B+, as Andrew Sullivan and Roger Simon gave it, but a straight A.

I can't say I was able to hear it live, but I've seen the video and read the transcript and it's a balanced, logical, detailed and serious piece of work that still manages to flourish a patriotic flag occasionally and look at the wider picture. One speech can only do so much but the impressive thing about it was the logic and the grasp of detail that Bush has so often been accused of lacking

A measure of a speech's success is whether it makes opponents pause for thought. The BBC's analysis from Bush-disliking Nick Childs was fairly low on the stinging sarcasm that's been the normal reaction to W's efforts (I doubt this will be the case in the TV reports- but more detail is required, and more authenticity, when the medium is the written word). Yes, there's the usual sort of spiel that the President 'ditches' plans (as opposed to adapting to unfolding situations) whereas bodies like the UN are merely 'sceptical' (as opposed to fussy and contrary)- the typical rhetorical contrasts- but overall you sense that the critic is a little becalmed. Even unfair critics have to be when an effective performance forestalls their usual criticisms.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Looking away from the Beeb for a moment, Andrew Sullivan has this analysis (originally in London Times) of the US domestic political situation and the Iraq situation in tandem. I like his guarded optimism:

'There is, in other words, no panic among senior officials. There is a deep sense that neither the war nor the election is lost; and that victory against the nexus of terror and tyranny in the Arab-Muslim world is still still within reach. In the president's words: don't mis-underestimate him. The gloomsters have overplayed their hand before; and they may well be doing so again.'

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