The Dangers of “Patriotic Journalism”

by Naomi Colvin

Two recent examples being selective with the facts – and their likely impact.

1. The Patriotic Narrative of the New York Times – Why are people protesting in Iraq?

Tim Arango, NYT bureau chief sounds incredibly peeved in his response to Dan Hind’s weekend blog post, so much so that he completely forgets to address the issue at hand.

The eagerness of the NYT to comply to the PR directives of the US Government has become increasingly evident in recent months. The paper’s response to the Raymond Davis affair was a particularly egregious example and this isn’t all that impressive either:

2. The British broadcast media response to the release of the Guantánamo Files: stay afraid

From Craig Murray’s blog:

I have just witnessed the most remarkable operation in orchestration of propaganda in the UK in my lifetime. As I posted yesterday, the leaked Guantanamo files revealed a remarkable amount – that most detainees were completely innocent, that many were plainly fitted up by informants for cash, that people will say anything under torture, that ludicrous assertions were made by the US military, eg the possession of a watch was a clear indicator of bomb-making, and above all that nothing whatsoever could be proved against the vast majority of those held.

Today, with a quite amazing unanimity the mainstream British broadcast media have decided that none of the above analyses exist and the only thing worth reporting in the files is the assertion that 35 suspects received terror training in the UK. Both the BBC and Sky News were leading their broadcasts with the assertion of this highly dubious fact: here it is in Rupert Murdoch’s super soaraway Sun.

Given that the much more obvious lesson from the files is that this kind of information is untrue and from torture, informants, ridiculous deductions and prejudice, it really is an extraordinary thing that the entire British mainstream media today decided on this absolutely uniform presentation of the information. Nor has any of the outlets gone on to point out that not a single one of these 35 has actually been convicted of anything, and that many of them, like Moazzam Begg and the Tipton Three are demonstrably innocent, and that the British government is going to be paying quite a few of them compensation.

This potentially scary but substance-free non-story was touched on by Clive Stafford Smith in his Guardian webchat yesterday, which I have covered elsewhere on this blog. Stafford Smith was here criticising the Telegraph, for covering this angle (and to a lesser extent the Guardian for this)  – but at least this was just one of a number of tacks each paper took in what was rather extensive coverage of the released information in both cases.

Of course, had you been watching how the story had been developing online – and maybe taken the opportunity to dip into the primary material yourself – you would have been able to develop an even more comprehensive view of what had been going on in Cuba for almost 10 years. I’m guessing that, given an insight into just how dismal the quality of evidence presented in the reports is, and how heavily based on the unreliable testimony of a very few detainee informants and others extracted by torture, most online news consumers wouldn’t have taken the allegations of terror training facilities in London all that seriously. I’d also guess that those relying on TV, radio and – to a lesser extent – print media for their information might have been less able to make this judgement.

The British media landscape today consists of three distinct communities of information (broadcast, press, internet) – and at least one of them is seriously impoverished.

Update

Coverage of what happened in Bristol last Thursday also appears to be a fine example of the mainstream media in the UK making a ‘useful’ story out of events on the ground – although, in this case, it’s probably the case that (like most of us) they hadn’t much idea about what was actually going on.

Update II

There is now a very interesting discussion of protest in Iraq and the reporting thereof going on here.

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