|Martin Davies. www.daviesart.com
‘A growing proportion of the media are behaving as propagandists, not as journalists.’ Margo Kingston, in HQ Magazine. ‘And Margo would know.’ Amanda Meade, inducting Margo into The Australian’s Media Diary ‘Talking Turkeys’ hall of ignomy, November 20. Welcome to a Jack Robertson Meeja Watch special.
�A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Lenin
�The Great Teacher.� Rupert Murdoch�s description of Lenin while a student at Oxford University, where he also kept a bust of Lenin on his dresser.
�A growing proportion of the media are behaving as propagandists, not as journalists.� Margo Kingston, in HQ Magazine.
�And Margo would know.� Amanda Meade, inducting Margo into The Australian�s Media Diary �Talking Turkeys� hall of ignomy. November 20.
Well now. At the risk of us all disappearing up our own bums in a frenzy of postmodern media introspection, let�s just see if Meeja Watch can expand, for Ms Meade�s benefit, what Saint Margo of the Sisterhood of Serious Independent Journalism was on about. Margo, of course, was far too well-bred to name names in her quote, but since Rupe�s information war foot-soldiers have sprung into defensive action � and you�d have to say there�s just a hint of protesteth-too-much in Amanda�s dig � we here at Meeja Watch feel moved to do likewise.
Regular Webdiary readers know me: always with the icky urge to go on the attack when Our Great Leader is professionally-slighted. Don�t be alarmed, Margo, I swear I�m not the obsessive weirdo type. And I know you�re busy with a book just now, but it�s just that Uncle Rupert�s Luddite snipers are starting to piss me off. The humungous puffs for Paul Sheehan�s �Electronic Whorehouse� assault on all of us meeja amateurs here in cyberspace were bad enough, but this latest little direct attack means all-out information war, mate!
From: Jack Robertson, Webdiary Meeja Watch
To: Rupert Murdoch (via Tom Switzer, Opinion Editor, The Australian)
Date: 20 November 2003
Subject: The �missing link� between Rupert Murdoch and the neo-con propagandists?
Hiya mate. My name is Jack Robertson, Electronic Whore Supreme – I write an amateur media-watch column for Margo Kingston�s on-line Webdiary. I�ve written an analysis of The Australian�s Monday feature extracted from the Stephen F. Hayes Weekly Standard piece, which was on the supposed �proof� recently revealed, via the leaked Doug Feith memo, of operational links between Saddam and al-Qaeda. I�ve attached my piece, which as you can see also includes this �embedded� email to you, and although she�s busy with a book just now, I hope Margo�ll run it in the next day or so. I�m not after a reply myself, Tom � like Amanda Meade, I�m just a lowly foot-soldier in the information war, too – but I�m sure Margo will give you Luddite Murdochians all the Electronic Whorehouse right-of-reply space you may desire.
As you can see if you wade through my analysis, it�s my assertion that your editorial team ran the Monday extract � a whopping two page spread � knowing full well that the US Department of Defence had issued a vigorous rejection of the Hayes conclusions on the same day it appeared in Washington (Saturday 15 November); that is, a couple of days before you republished it �almost� unqualified.
My own conclusion is that this is quintessential Murdoch modern propagandising-in-action, probably in content but more importantly in methodology, too: namely, re-publishing from another Murdoch source what was originally (and remains) at best loaded, agenda-driven speculation, and doing so in the guise of factual reporting, solely to add to the retrospective global misinformation mix �justifying� the invasion, which of course almost every News Corps outlet famously supported.
You�ll obviously disagree, but my �counter-propaganda� is all here if you care to read it, anyway. Maybe you could pass it on to Chris Mitchell your Editor-in-Chief, or better still, Rupes himself. (Also, can you chuck it over to Amanda at Media if you�ve got time? Third Millennium Propaganda 101, lesson one, if you like. Ta.)
You may of course be disinclined to actually read the whole thing yourself, because it�s hellish long, I know you�re busy, and of course as a feature the Hayes extract may have been outside your Op Editor orbit. On the other hand, you�re a regular at the editorial eleven o�clocker, so below are some briefer questions which should give you the thrust of my analysis, and which maybe you could put to whoever did shot-gun the Hayes thing to Oz re-fruition.
Yeah, yeah, I know I�m coming on like a presumptuous little tosser, not to mention a wannabe Dandy Marr, but I�m happy to risk making a nong of myself publicly in order to stop people like Chris Mitchell propagating bulldust about this �war on terror�.
You could say I�ve got a vested family interest in nailing those who insist on telling lies about where the Islamofascist threat really festers, Tom. Whatever the links between Saddam and Osama do eventually turn out to have been, Iraq was never remotely close to being his most important �state sponsor�, and you know it. It pains me to see any public muddying of the waters as to where our true �war on terror� enemies hang out, and I�ve been particularly interested in querying Australians who tell fibs about these links ever since I heard the PM doing just that on 3AW back in March.
On the other hand, my spin on Hayes may well be completely wrong, too – it has been known to happen before! So as part of the joint Luddite-Cyber �Information Revolution� process of finding out either way, maybe you could put the following specific questions to Rupert via Chris and/or whoever made the call to run this piece of still-speculative junk as it appeared in nation-wide hard-copy on Monday?
1. Was The Australian aware, prior to its re-publication of the Hayes piece on 17 November, of the US Department of Defence Press Release of 15 November describing as �inaccurate� the key claims he makes in it?
2. If so, why did The Australian decide to describe the piece as a �report� without any mention of the DoD denials, especially given the stark divergence of the Hayes description of �much of� the memo annex �evidence� as �detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources�, and the DoD counter-description of the same (whole) annex as �not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions�? Was it a reasonable editorial call to describe the Hayes piece as a �report�? Was it at least worth mentioning the DoD rejection somewhere? As I read things, it was in the public domain the same day as the article.
3. If you were unaware of the DoD denial, why then did The Australian editorial team decide to soften small but crucial presentational elements of what was, copy-wise, a completely-unambiguous piece? Why place the word �proof� in the article headline in those safety-buffer �quotation marks�, and frame the front-page teaser as a question? Why the need for this tiny but significant editorial �distance� from the Hayes thesis, since he himself finishes the piece on that resolute �no longer any serious argument� line? Was it your editorial intention to present the Feature to unknowing Oz readers as a news report, opinion, or a sly, hazy, propagandising little mixture of both?
4. Will The Australian be giving equal prominence in future editions to, or indeed including ANY antipodean coverage of, that DoD Press Release and the debate in Washington that the Hayes feature kicked off? It�s now Thursday, Hayes�s means and thesis has been (at least) seriously discredited in Washington, and The Oz has not said another word about it. Not one, mate. Nada.
Thanks, Tom. Look forward to reading your boss�s response in Webdiary. And Amanda�s riposte in next week�s parish pumper, too! Maybe that �Saint Margo of the Sisters of Serious Independent Journalism� line of mine is a starter for Talking Turkeys? Or maybe it, like her HQ quote, is not so very wide of the mark after all.
Onward to the Whorehouse Information Revolution, Comrade! Isn�t the Internet just the cutest little media-watching thang you ever did see?
Jack Robertson BALMAIN NSW 2041 02 9810 6816
MEEJA WATCH: NAUGHTY �LENIN LIES� IN THE LUDDITE WHOREHOUSE?
Monday�s Australian ran a long feature on the on-going saga of the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. It was stunning in detail, depth, intricacy, scope and plausibility. Complete bullshit, too, or at very best cynical and disingenuous in its Australian presentation. In fact, it just might be a magnificent reprised example of how Rupert helped spruik up the invasion of Iraq in the first place. Here�s the opening few grafs:
US �Proof� of Saddam�s al-Qaeda link � The Australian, 17 November 2003
Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks and Iraqi financial support for al-Qa’ida � perhaps even for September 11 lead hijacker Mohammed Atta � according to a top-secret US government memorandum. The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from the US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, Douglas Feith, to senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, who head the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into pre-war intelligence claims made by the Bush administration.
Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, the Defence Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al-Qa’ida terrorists and Iraqi officials. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of the US’s most determined and dangerous enemies. According to the memo � which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points � Iraq/al-Qa’ida contacts began in 1990 and continued through to mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq war began.
The feature goes on to cite and expand grandiloquently on dozens of those 50 numbered points; specific meetings between Saddam�s men and al-Qaeda, specific interactions, specific training links, specific planning and funding links, specific statements by captured al-Qaeda and Saddam personnel, and so on. It is the concreteness and precision of these citations that make the writer�s own authorial expansions of them, his interspersed cross-references to other media reports and Administration statements over the last few years, and especially his overall conclusions, so compelling. That author is Stephen F. Hayes, an American who titled the original from which this Oz article is extracted �Case Closed�, and who leaves us in no doubt of what he meant by that, with this unambiguous finishing flourish:
Critics of the Bush administration have complained that Iraq-al-Qa’ida connections are a fantasy created by White House warmongers to fit their preconceived notions about international terror. Yet one of the most interesting things to note about Feith’s memo is that it covers only a fraction of the evidence that will eventually be available to document the relationship between Iraq and al-Qa’ida. For one thing, both Hussein and bin Laden were desperate to keep their co-operation secret. Feith’s memo is best viewed as an outline of the relationship. It contains the highlights, but it is far from exhaustive. But there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Hussein’s Iraq worked with bin Laden and al-Qa’ida to plot against Americans.
Now, it�s not remotely possible to Fisk the thing, because the source document is top secret and each citation impossible for a terrorist-intelligence nebbish like me to check factually. It may one day turn out that some, or even many, of the individual bits and pieces Hayes stitches together into his grand narrative are indeed solid fact. But Hayes presents them all as already-established solid fact, leaving me the layman reader no room to do anything but a) accept the whole piece at face value, or b) ditch the whole thing as just more Rupert propaganda. For various reasons, including Rupert�s past record on the Iraq/al-Qaeda �link�, my natural scepticism, and external reasons that will soon become crystal clear, I�m not remotely inclined to extend Stephen Hayes the journalistic courtesy of the former option.
But fortunately, I don�t need to simply flounce darkly about in an ill-defined, anti-Rupert conspiracy huff either, because the US Department of Defence has already come to our assistance, issuing a Press Releaseon the same day of the original Hayes publication in Washington (last Saturday, 15 November), advising me the layman reader why he might best at this stage treat this entire piece as � well, Hayes himself said it perfectly: yes, a �fantasy created by White House warmongers to fit their preconceived notions about international terror�. The bold is mine.
DoD Statement on news reports of al-Qaida and Iraq connections � 15 November 2003
News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al-Qaida and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate. A letter was sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 27, 2003 from Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in response to follow-up questions from his July 10 testimony. One of the questions posed by the committee asked the Department to provide the reports from the Intelligence Community to which he referred in his testimony before the Committee. These reports dealt with the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida.
The letter to the committee included a classified annex containing a list and description of the requested reports, so that the Committee could obtain the reports from the relevant members of the Intelligence Community. The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the NSA, or, in one case, the DIA. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the Intelligence Community. The selection of the documents was made by DOD to respond to the Committee�s question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions. Individuals who leak or purport to leak classified information are doing serious harm to national security; such activity is deplorable and may be illegal.
Just to be crystal clear, then: Stephen Hayes writes of the DoD Annex information: �Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive and corroborated by multiple sources�. The DoD, which wrote and compiled the annex, counter-describes it thus: The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaida, and it drew no conclusions.
OK, so perhaps Stephen F. Hayes is just an outright fantasist-on-the-written-record. Briefly, here�s what�s happened so far: Douglas Feith, one of the key neo-conservative architects and champions of the invasion, testified before the Senate committee, making reference in his testimony to many reports regarding the so-called links between Saddam and al-Qaeda. The committee afterwards wrote to him asking for a list of those reports. The DoD compiled the list, presumably at Feith�s direction. Feith wrote his memo, attached that list of reports, and sent it back.
Someone � and it�s hard not to suspect Feithian neo-con allies, or maybe even Feith himself � then leaked that memo to Stephen Hayes. Hayes then bodged the various specific bits of intelligence date on that raw annex list of reports up into a thesis that represented the whole thing as a �top secret government memo� proving that the links between Saddam and al-Qaeda were, according to the Department of Defence (and the FBI, CIA, DIA and NSA, et al) now a matter of �case closed�.
Ten out of ten for chutzpah, the cheeky little grub.
However, what�s more relevant for us down under is The Australian�s decision to re-publish this dubious-from-day-of-publication piece without so much as a squeak about the DoD denials. That Press Release was put out two days before re-publication down here. And, if at best the time zone/deadlines were against them for Monday�s issue, why hasn�t The Australian given equal prominence to the DoD rebuff in later issues this week? It�s hard to be sure from this distance, but the Hayes thesis seems to have been killed off in Washington almost straight away. Will that two-page screamer of a scoop as it was translated by Uncle Rupert-Lenin down under � Is this the �PROOF�!? � simply now be dropped quietly, and thus allowed to fester away out in reader-land as �kind of�, �sort of�, yeah-OK-case closed?
If so, then to me this is a perfect example of how Rupert Murdoch and his neo-conservative patrons-cum-beneficiaries use each other in the global misinformation relay to help prosecute their mutually-advantageous agendas. Since Hayes, The Weekly Standard and The Australian were all routinely right at the centre of the pre-war propaganda too, let�s deconstruct exactly how this modern version of Lenin�s Game of Repeated Lies works, to remind ourselves of how, together, these guys sold the world the invasion. It�s always most illuminating to nail propaganda in real time if you possibly can.
1. Who are all these naughty little boys?
Firstly, we need to check out the principle players. The Australian�s article is an edited version of the Stephen F. Hayes original, written for the US Weekly Standard. Here�s how The Oz leads into their reprint (my bold):
�Under the headline �Case Closed�, US news magazine The Weekly Standard reported yesterday that the Bush Administration has conclusive proof of links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Following is an edited version of the report by Stephen Hayes.�
At the very end of the edited extract, the Oz editorial team advises us that �Stephen Hayes is a staff writer on The Weekly Standard�.
A couple of things need to be said, here. For starters, to describe The Weekly Standard as a US news magazine is like describing Fox News as a US news television station. The Weekly Standard is in fact (or rather, in my subjective opinion) a purpose-built Murdoch propaganda rag with a small but highly-influential Washington political readership. It was launched in 1995 and reportedly runs at a loss, if so one Rupes appears happy enough to bear to give himself a voice at the Executive heart of US politics. Everyone in the Washington Beltway (= our �Canberra Bubble�) from Dick Cheney down reads the Standard, apparently.
To give you a better idea of how �straight newsy� this �news magazine� is, co-founder and editor William Kristol also just happens to be the Chairman of the Project for the New American Century, the spiritual and intellectual driving force behind the Bush Pre-emptive Revolution; co-founder and Executive editor Fred Barnes has been a political commentator on Fox News since 1995; and the list of contributing editors includes many important neo-conservative/Murdochian power-pundits � Max Boot, Robert Kagan, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, Irwin Stelzer, Tod Lindberg and more. When us wacky feral conspiracy-theorists prattle on about naughty cabals of neo-cons in Washington, these are some of the guys we�re talking about, and this type of Weekly Standard �misinformation episode� is exactly what we mean.
And as for the article�s writer, as well as being a Standard staffer Stephen F. Hayes is currently a Lincoln Fellow at The Claremont Institute. Again, nothing at all sinister about this. However, we as readers of his extracted Oz �report� do need to factor in the knowledge that the Claremont Institute is � yawn – yet another one of those tedious, quasi-academic, conservative/neo-conservative �think tanks� whose sole raison d�etre is apparently to churn out the reams of updated Cold/Terror War tripe about �re-embracing American values� and the �looming totalitarian menace� that now masquerades as scholastic primary research in so much contemporary American debate. Check out some of their kookier �projects�. (I particularly like �Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership�.) Now, the intellectual sludge all these wannabe Beltway pundits and dewy-eyed post-grads produce in think-tanks like this, as a kind of Republican junior-apprenticeship, gives you a good idea where the West�s modern-day lurch back to the social conservative hard Right gets its supposed intellectual momentum from.
Oh yes; every Miranda Devine column rabbiting on about a �new American study� that �proves� how much kids need book religion or corporal discipline or family values hard lovin� in their precious formative years very probably has its �academic� origins in a yabber-shop like Claremont.
So the key post-modern point is that this Hayes article on Saddam and al-Qaeda was NOT originally written by a news reporter, based on his independent investigative research and then published in a �news magazine�. It was carefully-crafted by a neo-conservative Republican fellow-traveller with a strategic agenda based on a leaked memorandum written and compiled by a neo-conservative Republican Administration heavyweight with a very strategic agenda and published in a neo-conservative Republican magazine with a very, very strategic agenda.
The original article�s text and especially its conclusions were thus a mixture of a) writerly fiction � that is, the authorial construction of a loaded �grand narrative� involving Saddam and al-Qaeda; and b) selective and deeply-misleading citations of specific bits of harder information from that Feith memo�s DoD-compiled annex. Those bits of harder information, gaily plucked from the annex like Christmas decorations for the as-yet threadbare Hayes tree-thesis, remain never-the-less still highly-ambiguous, according to those who compiled it.
All those hard numbered bits that look so precise and factual to us in The Oz re-print way down here are in fact simply taken from a list of reports, chips and chunks of unanalysed intelligence community data of unknown and doubtless wildly-varying provenance, value and pedigree, the sum total from which the DoD officially said – two days before Oz re-publication – that no conclusion at all had been drawn.
And yet that combination of fictional fantasy plus bits and pieces of unqualified specifics was published in hard journalistic copy in the Weekly Standard and duly republished in hard journalistic copy in The Australian� the former a mag read by everyone who�s anyone in at least Washington, the latter a national broadsheet read by everyone who�s anyone, everywhere in Australia. The subject matter of the fantasy was the operational terrorism link between Osama and Saddam, and the thrust and twice-propagated title was �Case Closed�.
In other words, Lenin�s Lie is written down for the first time somewhere, in very elegant, plausible and convincing detail, and then almost immediately written down again elsewhere practically-verbatim (that is, merely edited-down), despite having been already categorically denied by the originating source of the piece�s definitive contents.
And a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Don�t forget it. Rupert sure hasn�t, apparently.
2. The propaganda leverage of Rupert�s satellite publications.
Now if the original Hayes piece of itself had just come out, been blown away, and then died, there�d be nothing much wrong with it. Everyone who reads the Weekly Standard knows where it�s �coming from� only too well, and everyone in Washington is well aware that there is a serious information war going on just now between the Bushies and much of the US Professional Intelligence Establishment.
I�ve said before that I support a full removal of all media ownership laws, an �opening up� of the media floodgates to allow the �information level playing field� to prevail as it will. Free speech must be just that, and thus I cheerfully concede that Stephen F. Hayes has every right to bodge up his big picture view of the world however he sees fit, and if he can get it re-published in Rupie�s grander newspapers worldwide as �fact�, then good luck to him.
Furthermore, for all I really care, he can chuck as �fact� into his big picture view quotes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the collected speeches of Princess Diana and all the lyrics from Steely Dan�s Greatest Hits too, if he really wants. Indeed, what I am doing right now and right here is no less than what Hayes himself did � giving my view of the Way Things Trooly Are. Maybe Tom Switzer or Chris Mitchell will tear my analysis of what they did with the Hayes piece to bits even more effectively than I�m trying to monster their methodologies. In a battle of information, which is basically words versus words, there�s no way any raw ammunition can be �illegitimate� as such. It�s the means and leverage of the information delivery that constitute the propagandistic element, and here is where Rupes is King.
As Lenin�s quote implicitly tells us, a lie is just a (harmless) lie. But a lie repeated ad nauseam can easily become something else altogether. At this stage in the battle for �Saddam/al-Qaeda link� word-spin supremacy, in my arsenal I�ve got that US DoD Press Release, truth, logic and scepticism (I reckon), and my little glass-fronted cubicle in Margo Kingston�s Electronic Whorehouse from which to flash my wordy wares.
The Australian push has Stephen F. Hayes�s elegant source fairytale, other PNAC & Co types and indeed all the rest of Murdoch�s global outlets on theirs. We�re both using what we�ve got to fight as best we can, in the hope that our analyses prevail in the long run. It�s no conspiracy. It�s just words, information and the way both work their way out into the real world of human beings.
Still, down this way, given Rupert�s unchallenged Luddite media firepower here, the dice are loaded far more heavily in his favour than they are in Washington, since the diversity of mainstream assets in the US means that the counter-propagandists can better counter-attack against such probing sallies as what I shall hereby call that Weekly Standard �Lenin Lie�.
For example, the Washington Post and others noted DoD denials, along with bit of disapproving Op Ed chatter. No-one has really run with the story; there�s a fair bit of on-line yabbering, but strictly along partisan blog lines. Maybe no-one�s sure what to make of Hayes�s thing yet. Maybe they all think he�s too hopelessly-compromised to bother with. The latter is certainly my stance, but again, it�s less about Hayes than how The Australian received him.
Because of course it�s a very different Luddite landscape here than it is in Washington, just in terms of outlet numbers for starters. Furthermore – local neo-cons, US politics junkies and Net addicts aside – the arcane subtleties of Beltway internecine warfare and the dodgy �news magazine� pedigree of The Weekly Standard are hardly common knowledge down here. The Australian is our single national broadsheet, and highly-credible. So the re-publishing of this article as a feature �report�, with no real qualification except some crucial minor stuff we�ll come to in a moment, coupled with no follow-up coverage of the DoD denials, makes it very influential.
And this is what truly makes running the piece rank propaganda down here, rather than just plain old fibs and/or misinformation. As the DoD and I have shown, Lenin�s Lie is in itself easily identified and defused at source, and in the US duly appears to have been, just so. Only when Lenin�s Lie is told again elsewhere (isolated from that source), and only then in a way that disguises the nature of that source, can it really begin to work its black magic. And in the Hayes case, that�s exactly what�s happened.
The original Lenin Lie was on-published faraway from Washington and the DoD rebuttal not as a �speculative neo-con fantasy�, or even as an �opinion piece from a pro-invasion writer extracted from a pro-invasion magazine�, but simply as a �report� from a �news magazine�. And it was on-published in this way even though we know that the on-publisher � The Australian – knows that it is not a �report� at all. And how do we know this? Well, the giveaways lie in the two tiny editorial escape routes Mitchell and Co leave themselves.
Firstly, The Australian puts those �quotation marks� around the word �proof� in the main headline. It also runs a front page tease-line to the article that asks: �Is this the evidence of collusion between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein?�
Since the article originally carried the title �Case closed�, and nothing in the �report� from the faraway �news magazine� indicates the tiniest doubt in the �reporter�s� mind about his unambiguous conclusions, there�s absolutely no reason for this ambiguity � unless, of course, Mitchell was re-publishing that �report� in very bad faith, having got wind of an external cause for such editorial caution. Er, like that DoD Press Release, say. Or, er, his knowledge of what the Weekly Standard really is, which is not a �US news magazine�, but an unapologetic Murdochian and neo-conservative Lenin Lie factory. In my subjective opinion. But go and have a Google for yourself.
And yet crucially, apart from those two telling editorial fudges, everything else about The Oz re-print, from the verbatim (albeit edited-down) running of all Hayes�s most concrete and eye-catching conclusions; to the pictorial essays-in-linkage that The Oz (independently) bodged up to accompany it (huge pictures of Saddam and Osama side-by-side, and intricate little pictorial terrorist-webs); to the �hard fact� stand-out quotes with which The Oz (independently) chose to pepper those two Feature pages; and indeed to the very act of The Oz (independently) deciding to dedicate two national broadsheet Feature pages to the article in the first place – everything else Chris Mitchell�s �newspaper� team has done with that original Lenin Lie, save those two little editorial safety valves, screams:
This is NEWS. And this is TRUE, TRUE, TRUE! BELIEVE IT. BELIEVE IT!
That�s why it�s rank propaganda � the critical leverage that is given to Hayes by the global Murdochian process of repeating the first Lenin Lie as, essentially, truth. Why does Mitchell bother with those two little editorial give-away fudges at all, then?
Well, a number of reasons: he�s a newspaperman running an allegedly respectable mainstream newspaper, and even an old McCarthyite Lefty-basher like him doubtless baulked at stripping away the last of his self-delusions regarding his own media professionalism.
Also, this is a free speech democracy, the internet is available to all of us, and you always need those safety escapes when tedious dandy-pedants like David Marr are sniffing about.
But you can just about imagine the edit head-shed sitting around the News Corps editorial table at eleven clock on Sunday (or whatever), deciding what to do with this piece. Let�s be uber-generous, and presume General Chris Mitchell and his assembled Staff Officers really were blindsided at a late stage. It�s all slotted in for Monday, ready to go, just say. Then some dopey News Corps sub-editor who�s usually more at home cruising porn on the internet comes in flapping that hard-core Department of Defence rejection, hot off the Whorehouse cyber-presses. What do you do? Well, you bung a �quotation� around that �PROOF� and a �?� on the front page link. And then you fire-and-forget. You publish the Lenin Lie as vague newsy-truth and plan to say nothing more about it (unless the source-story rolls on overseas), knowing full well that the majority of your readers will take it all on board as pretty much just that � news and/or truth. With three little grammatical inserts, end of potential editorial credibility problem. If you get nailed, you just point out that you made it �perfectly� �clear� that �it� was �not necessarily� either �news� or �truth� at all. Did you misinterpet�?� Oh dear.
How will Chris Mitchell respond to this email, then, this Electronic Whorehouse piece of mine trying to ping him? Ignore it completely, I�d say. Why would you waste and/or risk your time engaging with a pipsqueak who might have a point? Maybe if something new turns up in Washington on this episode, The Oz might pick Hayes up again, maybe even use said new information to flame my sorry amateur ass.
But I doubt that, too. The first rule of any war, and especially an information one, is never to engage on any ground but that of your own choosing. You can see this in the way The Oz handled the Albrechsten matter.
Rather than fight it out on the doomed quagmire (for his newspaper) of the key issue, which was that one of his highest-profile columnists grossly and knowingly misquoted � lied about – foreign academic research to make it �support� her infamous Muslim rape column, Oz daily editor Mike Stutchbury instead unleashed the full offensive force of his Luddite information assets.
These included the very-heavy artillery of his own personal by-line AND The Oz�s own in-house Media-watch forum, and he used both and more in an information counter-blitzkreig designed solely to skew that unwinnable tactical fight onto strategic ground on which The Oz at least stood some vague chance of not losing. (Namely, a bit of standard News Corps lefty/elitist-bashing.)
Rupes and his Luddite Generals know all too well that truly engaging with your critics, and especially your nobody cyber-guerrilla critics, is unwise. You just never know where it might end up leading your whole damned information army!
So where does that leave us on the Hayes thesis? Well, the Hayes thesis is not really the point here. Whether or not parts or even all of the original Lenin Lie are eventually confirmed as true is largely irrelevant to this analysis, which is less about content and more about its propaganda mode of delivery. The conclusion: as best I can ascertain in good faith (mostly from internet surfing) as to where things now stand in Washington with the original Hayes piece, The Australian�s treatment of it on Monday, especially its failure to mention the DoD response then and its utter silence on the whole Feature since, can surely only be described as fundamentally dishonest, anti-journalistic, propagandistic.
Maybe I�m being harshly anti-Rupes, but I personally have little doubt that The Oz team recognised, well before re-publication, the thoroughly-disingenuous nature of the Hayes piece, knew exactly what they were doing when they went ahead and ran it as they did anyway, but simply didn�t then and don�t now give a blind journalistic shit about lying to every last one of their own readers.
And thus, Amanda Meade, there is simply no other word for what the neo-conservatives and Murdoch�s Australian engaged in here but �propaganda�, I�m afraid. The Macquarie Dictionary says it best:
a. The systematic propagation of a given doctrine. b. The particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement. c. Dissemination of ideas, information or rumour for the purpose of injuring or helping an institution, a cause or a person. d. Doctrines, arguments, facts spread by deliberate effort through any medium in order to further one�s cause or damage an opposing cause. e. A public action or display aimed at furthering or hindering a cause.
Which makes my piece here equally propaganda, note. Which leaves you all left to choose whichever doctrine, cause, organisation, movement, institution or person you prefer to embrace: those my Hayes propaganda is promoting, or those Rupert�s Hayes spin would have you support.
3. Pedantic, tedious, moot, smart-arsey – but this MUST be worth doing.
Right throughout this Iraq debate, then, Stephen F. Hayes, the Weekly Standard and all of Rupert Murdoch�s other global media assets have repeatedly pushed and hyped and circulated lying words in exactly this way � in this example, accusations of links between Saddam and al-Qaeda they know to be at best still speculation disingenuously dressed up as news, reportage, fact, truth.
Even though they got their invasion, they continue to push the same lines and lies in the same way, now. Me, I suspect they are growing evermore desperate to retrospectively �justify� their war, as the fruits of it grow more tragic, disastrous and perhaps even strategically-catastrophic for America.
It�s pretty clear now that serious WMD are never going to turn up in Iraq, and not even Rupert can spin up a convincing lie about something as concrete as 5,000 gallons of VX or a dozen nuclear warheads �suddenly discovered just outside Baghdad�.
But links to terrorism are a far more abstract and malleable proposition, and so perhaps this is why we are now seeing the other half of the neo-con �Iraqi terror nexus� Lenin Lie intensify instead: Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and al-Qaeda were operationally linked. Saddam and Osama. Osama and Saddam. Saddam and Osama.
Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. All over the Murdochian world.
But if we let this go on without getting right up in their faces and challenging them in every way we can, loudly and aggressively and repeatedly, then the words they insist on misusing like this will gradually cease to mean anything real at all. Intelligent, nuanced human interactions based on the give-and-take exchange of shared language and meaning will become impossible. Our public discourses will deteriorate into just these kinds of long, tedious, �information war� stand-offs. My occasional cyber pot-shots fired back at Rupert�s continuous Luddite barrage, as here-in – but to what end if each side just keeps ducking the others�, before going on firing the same unchanging shots, over and over again?
Endless Fisking, cyber-sniping at Luddite journos, lofty Luddite disdain for us cyber-nobodies, blogland rants, mainstream Op Ed warfare of the current Sheehan-Manne kind, the infinite introspection of �media-watch� self-analysis, Boomer opinion writing as both on-going vanity publishing and retrospective reputation defence � all this is not the way of the public debate future.
It can�t be. It�s dull, time-consuming, moot, an interminable �he-said-she-said� chatter-fest that can�t possible do any of us who care about ideas-as-interactive-evolution, whether Professional Luddite High Class Escort or Amateur Electronic Whore, the slightest bit of human good.
Who�ll win such an information war? Well, undoubtedly the sheer Luddite firepower of a dude like Rupert gives him a short-term advantage. But more and more people are jumping on the Net and chasing their own preferred and isolating �news niches� every day. Don�t like Rupert�s spin on Hayes? Fine, stick to Margo�s Webdiary and mine. Think I�m a hysterical anti-Rupe Margolian? Read Tim Blair or Professor Bunyip exclusively, instead.
None of this self-selectivity can possibly be healthy in the long human run, because as an information-consuming community that never-the-less will always live in the concrete world, we rely for social stability and workability on all of us embracing certain abstract, but mutually-conceded, information benchmarks. One plus one equals two. Black is black, not white. This is called an �apple�. A weapon of mass destruction is just that: a weapon � a nuclear missile, a VX artillery shell, a drone-borne anthrax spore delivery system. NOT a �WMD program�, a �terror nexus threat�, a �Hitleresque bogeyman�, or a tossed-off Madison Avenue marketing riff.
And an operational terrorism link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda means exactly what those words describe, too. In literal fact, in spirit, in good faith, in mutually-understood and thus usable meaning. It�s called sentient human communication, and at this transitory juncture in the information revolution, I�d say we�re all in danger of overlooking just how buggered we human animals are if we forget how it�s supposed to work.
And besides, if our public debates do become no more than exercises in post-modern �competing narrative� warfare, then the first and biggest losers won�t be shit-stirring Whorehouse anarchists like me, but those mainstream Luddite journalists � men like Tom Switzer and Chris Mitchell, in fact � who still rely absolutely on the principle that written words can be trusted to describe what happened yesterday, in a cheap, accessible and universal forum where many different readers can and WILL happily meet on common readership ground.
In an information world in which any one of us out here can bodge up a Stephen Hayes-ish �Lenin Lie� single-handedly, and then spruik it to the farthest ends of the blogosphere by doing no more than hijacking comments boxes and chat rooms, the definitive essence of a newspaper like The Australian, which should be its editorial credibility, becomes all the more precious.
These Murdochians are supposed to be the professional wordsmiths, right? All the rest of us are just mucking about cheekily in cyberspace. Me, I�d trade my Meeja Watch opportunities for a regular hard-copy column in a flash. Well, maybe not, but those Luddite writers who misuse their niches � two whole Oz Feature pages for that piece of speculative junk, dammit – break my envious heart, anyway.
Lenin said that all you had to do to make a lie become truth was to repeat it often enough. What he forgot to mention was that if you performed this ugly, brute-force feat of industrial word-engineering with real world success too many times, sooner or later the word-tools you used to do so would crumble, wear and break into useless pieces.
When he was at Oxford, Rupert Murdoch, who without usable word-tools can maintain no global empire at all, used to call Lenin �The Great Teacher�, anyway.
At first glance, perhaps both master and pupil � both the great Communist propagandist and his prot�g� the great Corporatist propagandist – would be proud of the work Chris Mitchell and The Australian have done with the Stephen Hayes piece this week. At second glance, maybe not.
And perhaps Amanda Meade � another professional wordsmith for whom life without usable words would be grim – might like to urge Chris Mitchell to explain to Webdiary where exactly he thinks he is taking this country�s solitary, and once impressively credible and nationally uniting, national broadsheet.
As she implied, when it comes to the long-term dangers of propaganda-as-journalism, Margo would know. But does your Editor-in-Chief, Amanda?