Less than an hour after sending an alert to my previous post, targeting the implicit racism of Gladstonian assumptions of Western moral superiority and its attendant right – nay, duty – to bomb and starve mainly brown skinned peoples halfway across the globe, another beautifully crafted and closely argued post by the two Davids at Media Lens popped up in my inbox.
‘The Dwindling Band Of Iraq Obsessives’ – Endless War And Media Complicity
The 20th anniversary of the illegal US/UK-led invasion of Iraq has demonstrated once again the subservience of state and corporate media to Western power. Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s international editor, veered as close to the truth as BBC News allows in an online piece as well as a segment of its flagship News at Ten on BBC1.
‘The invasion of March 2003 was’, wrote Bowen, ‘a catastrophe for Iraq and its people.’ He noted that:
‘George Bush and Tony Blair embarked on a war of choice that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The justifications for the invasion were soon shown to be untrue. The weapons of mass destruction that Tony Blair insisted, eloquently, made Saddam a clear and present danger, turned out not to exist. It was a failure not just of intelligence but of leadership.’
Bowen added a further observation on the death toll:
‘No-one knows exactly how many Iraqis have died as a result of the 2003 invasion. Estimates are all in the hundreds of thousands.’
But this was false. A reliable estimate is that at least one million Iraqis died as a result of the invasion.
On BBC News at Ten, Bowen did not even mention Blair or Bush; far less label them as ‘war criminals’ in the eyes of many viewers and expert commentators. Indeed, BBC ‘balance’ meant that salient facts were not mentioned; the usual insidious phenomenon of state-corporate ‘propaganda by omission’:
- not mentioning that the UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s resulted in an estimated death toll of 1.5 million, including over half a million children under five. The sanctions were described as ‘genocidal’ by senior UN officials Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck. Bowen said merely that the sanctions had ‘made a lot of people suffer’.
Bowen is, of course, not alone in the state-corporate media for never stating these essential facts about the Iraq war, and the awful impact of criminal UN sanctions that preceded it. As Noam Chomsky said in an MSNBC interview with Mehdi Hasan:
‘It’s a very striking fact that in twenty years you cannot find – at least, I have not found – a single statement, one sentence, anywhere near the mainstream that says the most elementary truth: it [the invasion of Iraq] was the supreme international crime of aggression.’
‘In fact, war has been refashioned in liberal commentary as a kind of mercy mission to rescue suffering Iraqis from an evil dictator.’
When Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s Firdos Square was brought down by US Marines using an M88 armoured recovery vehicle on 9 April 2003, Andrew Marr, then BBC political editor, delivered a career-defining speech to the nation from outside 10 Downing Street:
‘Frankly, the main mood [in Downing Street] is of unbridled relief. I’ve been watching ministers wander around with smiles like split watermelons.’
(BBC News At Ten, 9 April, 2003)
So, what was the significance of this moment for Prime Minister Tony Blair? Marr explained:
‘It gives him a new freedom and a new self-confidence. He confronted many critics. I don’t think anybody after this is going to be able to say of Tony Blair that he’s somebody who is driven by the drift of public opinion, or focus groups, or opinion polls. He took all of those on. He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.’
This piece of political ‘analysis’ was no blip. It is, in fact, typical of the Washington-Downing Street narrative that is the very cornerstone of BBC ‘impartiality’.
Now, twenty years later, Andrew Marr says his 2003 broadcast was ‘terribly badly misjudged’. It was the most pathetic of mea culpas. There was no acknowledgement of his or the BBC’s role in selling a war that has had such appalling repercussions for millions of people in Iraq, elsewhere in the Middle East and the wider world.
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