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Archive for June 2009

Spiked Online – The rohypnol of web-based news and comment

with 22 comments

*See also my response to Rob Lyons: Climate change “scepticism” and Spiked Online*

Naomi and Gimpy have written a couple of good things today about the arch-libertarians over at Spiked Online. Spiked is an odd phenomenon, founded a few years ago by a group of ex-members of the “Revolutionary Communist Party”. Despite adopting many of the trappings of the left, Spiked takes a staunchly pro-corporate/pro-authoritarian-government line on a wide range of issues, including climate change, breastfeeding, smoking, obesity, gun control, human rights in China, corruption in Africa, and international justice.

On climate change, the position seems to swing between a) the standard denialist belief that global warming is a self-hating, anti-working-class, group fantasy (or perhaps even a conspiracy) among lefty bourgeois enviro-scientists and b) the slightly more nuanced, if no less bewildering, line that yes, maybe something is happening to the climate, and yes, maybe scientists are predicting that millions of people will die because of it, but science alone cannot tell us whether or not this is a bad thing.

As seems pretty clear in the two articles picked apart by Naomi and Gimpy, the arguments on Spiked are often so tortured that it’s difficult to believe that the author genuinely holds to what they’re saying.

Which of course begs the question why… Contrarianism clearly seems to be a part of it. As I learned at my sisters’ expense when I was growing up, disagreeing with other people for the sake of it can be both fun and entertaining, especially when you can see that people are getting really annoyed by it – and Spiked clearly do have a talent for winding everyone up.

But while Spiked’s editor, Brendan O’ Neill, often makes light of claims that he and his outfit take  ‘cash for copy’, it’s difficult to ignore the galaxy of corporates listed as associates on page 10 of the Spiked Online “Brand Manager’s pack”.These include Bloomberg, BT, Cadbury Schweppes, the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, IBM, INFORM (“INFORM is an IDFA initiative set up on behalf of UK infant formula manufacturers, namely SMA Nutrition, Cow & Gate, Milupa and Farley/Heinz…”), the International Policy Network (a corporate lobby group funded by the Exxon oil company among others), Luther Pendragon (another PR firm), the Mobile Operators Association, Orange, O2, Pfizer, and the Society of Chemical Industry.

Hill and Knowlton in particular stand out because of their unparalleled, 50-year track record in creating and disseminating pro-corporate disinformation using cutting-edge PR techniques. During the 1950s, as recounted in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, H&K pioneered the concept of “manufactured controversy” to defend the tobacco industry, muddying the water around the link between smoking and cancer, and successfully staving off regulation, long after a clear consensus had emerged among scientists.

During the 1990s, H&K cleverly exploited the technique of “Astroturfing” – creating a fake ‘grassroots’ organisation – to set up “Citizens for a Free Kuwait”, a group covertly funded by the Kuwaiti government, to campaign for US intervention following the Iraqi invasion in 1990. H&K famously coached a 14-year-old Kuwaiti girl, “Nurse Nayirah”, before an appearance in Congress in which she claimed to have seen Iraqi soldiers looting incubators from a Kuwaiti hospital, and leaving babies “to die on the cold stone floor”. It only emerged later that Nayirah was the daughter of Kuwait’s Ambassador to the United States, and that she had never worked at the hospital. The incident she described was never substantiated – but her testimony has been credited with swinging Congressional support in favour of war at a time when opinion was still wavering.

H&K also represented the Chinese authorities after the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Indonesian government during their notorious occupation of East Timor. In the early 1990s, an un-named H&K executive was quoted as saying that “we’d represent Satan if he paid”.

Sourcewatch report that over half of Spiked Online’s public events in recent years have been held at H&K’s London offices.

Written by Richard Wilson

June 21, 2009 at 4:58 pm