Posts Tagged ‘Undisclosed affiliations’
We all know that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the press , or hear on the news, don’t we? What’s the definition of lying? Inventing stories, misappropriating the truth, lies of omission, spin?
Richard Wilson’s Don’t Get Fooled Again is an illuminating compilation of methods and examples from both the 20th and 21st centuries in which governments and the general public have been duped by flawed thinking:
a) Pseudo-science – 30 million deaths in China as a result of adopting Lysenko’s agricultural reforms (already the cause of millions of deaths in Stalin’s Russia!).
b) Relativism – the uncounted number of deaths in Africa as a result of the success of those denying the existence of HIV and AIDS.
c) The power of vested interests and commercial journalism – the decade-long controvery over whether smoking was bad for your health.
d) Groupthink – spiralling terrorism leading inevitability to the second Iraq war and the excesses at Abu Ghraib.
Wilson doesn’t just detail the facts in his examples. He explains the underlying psychologies. It’s only by understanding these that we, as individuals, can choose not to get fooled again. He offers the following toolkit for spotting manipulation:
1) The antidotes to delusion are logic and evidence, preferably from multiple sources.
2) Remember – it’s not all relative!
3) Spot the false sceptic. Remarkably credulous about facts which support their viewpoint but always demanding more evidence for those which do not.
4) Beware of groupthink.
I haven’t read a newspaper in years because of the underlying – and manipulative – bias of the writing. I think I might just revisit that policy. Armed with the above, it will be an interesting exercise.
The Daily Mirror has picked up on a story that’s been doing the rounds in Rochdale for a while – the revelations about dubious links between the veteran Liberal MP (now retired) Cyril Smith and the asbestos manufacturer, Turner and Newall. Documents recently obtained by local campaigners show that during the early 1980s, as public health concerns over asbestos grew, Smith wrote to the company – whose factory was based in his constituency – asking them to write him a speech which he would then read out in Parliament, passing it off as his own independent view. In the speech, Smith claimed that “the public at large is not at risk”, but failed to reveal that he was simply parroting the industry’s line. The following year it was disclosed that Smith owned 1,300 shares in Turner and Newall. Smith was unrepentant when questioned recently about the case by the Mirror: “Of course the speech was extremely useful to me because it made it sound as if I could speak intelligently on a subject I knew little about”.
There must be potential for a good few PhD theses in examining the role played by the Catholic Church in recent efforts to shield Uganda’s “Lord’s Resistance Army” rebels from prosecution by the International Criminal Court. When arrest warrants were first issued in 2005, the move was immediately condemned as a threat to peace by senior Catholic clergy in Uganda, and the church has been active in opposing it ever since.
“The entire Acholi population has said, ‘Let us forgive for the sake of peace,’“, announced Father Matthew Ojara earlier this year. “We do not believe in punishment in the sense of imprisoning someone. Once reconciliation is done, you have to walk free and live with your brothers and sisters. There are no prison cells or house arrest. That’s a Western practice.”
But this view contrasts sharply with that we hear from other sources. In August last year the International Center for Transitional Justice released the results of a survey of 2,875 adults from the regions most affected by LRA violence.
According to allafrica.com: “Most respondents wanted those responsible for war crimes and violations of human rights to be held accountable. They distinguished between LRA leaders and lower-ranking LRA members, who, in many cases, had themselves been abducted as civilians. Only a minority (17%) said that the rank-and-file should face trial and/or punishment. Many wanted to see LRA leaders face trials and/or punishment such as imprisonment or death (41%), although many others (52%) also indicated that they favored options including forgiveness, reconciliation, and reintegration into communities.”
One particularly salient issue, it seems to me, is the extent to which religious leaders have sought to speak on behalf of “The entire Acholi population”.
International media coverage on this issue often seems to take at face value claims made by the likes of Ojara about the views of victims, and the inherently forgiving nature of ‘Acholi culture’.
Neither has there been much comment on the irony that many of those most vehemently rejecting the ICC as a ‘western’ imposition – and urging adherence to what they say traditional Acholic culture demands – are fully signed-up members of the single largest ‘western’ religion, Roman Catholicism.
Internationally, one of the organisations most active in lobbying for the ICC warrants to be suspended – and calling, in more or less euphemistic terms, for the LRA to be offered financial payoffs – has been the US-based “Uganda Conflict Action Network”.
Since Uganda-CAN was established in mid-2005, the organisation’s founders, Peter Quaranto and Michael Poffenberger, have made dozens of media interventions portraying the ICC indictments as an obstacle to peace, urging that the US, as a non-signatory, intervenes to “impact the talks in ways that European countries cannot“, highlighting LRA demands for guarantees of their “physical and financial security”, and suggesting that “creative inducements” could persuade the LRA leader to sign a peace deal.
Uganda-CAN – which was launched just months before the ICC issued its arrest warrants for the LRA leaders (and was relaunched recently under the name “Resolve Uganda”) – is itself an initiative of the Washington-based “African Faith and Justice Network“, which – according to its website – was founded by three Catholic missionary congregations in 1983, and whose “support base is primarily built on the Catholic missionary community”.
But the Resolve Uganda website now makes very little of its religious affiliations, listing AFJN as only one among a number of ‘partners’, and presenting itself as a ‘grassroots’ organisation founded and run by students. It’s only when we dig a bit deeper that we learn that one of those “students”, Resolve Uganda’s head honcho Michael Poffenberger, was formerly “Associate Director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network”.
Wikipedia has a little more on the Uganda-CAN phenomenon – along with a handy definition of the PR tactic commonly known as “astroturfing”.
Writing in today’s Comment is Free, Dan Gillmore details how, in the early stages of the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, the TV channel ABC News ran a series of sensational stories claiming to have compelling evidence linking the Iraqi regime to the ‘anthrax attacks’ of September and October 2001.
“A substantially false story that helps make the case for war by raising fears about enemies abroad attacking the US is released into public debate because of faulty reporting done by ABC News”, Gillmore writes. “How that happened and who was responsible is itself a major story of public interest”.
Gillmore argues that anonymous sources who lie and mislead journalists have lost their right to have their anonymity respected. He challenges ABC news to ‘out’ the “four well-placed and separate sources” who fed them bogus claims about the source of the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks.
“It allows the Government to have more air time and get its message across to people” – Telegraph exposes covert UK government funding of TV documentaries on controversial political issues
In “Don’t Get Fooled Again” I highlight the case of Armstrong Williams, the US columnist, who was reportedly paid $240,000 by the Bush administration to promote its education policies, with thousands also being channeled to journalists Michael Macmanus and Maggie Gallaher.
Now the Telegraph has revealed that the UK government has so far paid nearly £2 million for a series of TV documentaries – at least eight in the last five years, several covering controversial government policies – without viewers being made aware that the government itself had paid for the coverage.
The Telegraph reports that:
Beat: Life on the Street, which was supported with £800,000 of funding by the Home Office for its first two series, portrayed PCSOs as dedicated, helpful and an effective adjunct to the police — despite the controversy about their role.
One Whitehall source admitted of the documentary: “It allows the Government to have more air time and get its message across to people.”
Ministers are so pleased with the way the series, which drew in audiences of three million people on ITV and changed the public’s perception of the officers, that they commissioned a third series, to be broadcast next year.
*UPDATE – Interestingly, today’s revelation by the Telegraph isn’t entirely new – back in 2006, the Times ran a story about “Beat”, reporting that the show was being funded through the Home Office’s only-slightly-chillingly-named ‘Central Office for Information’… According to the COI’s website, it is actually responsible for the whole government, and is managed not through the Home Office but through the ministerial Cabinet Office. More on the COI shortly…*
I’m currently re-reading Nick Davies’s excellent book, “Flat Earth News“, a detailed investigation of distortion, manipulation and in some cases corruption within the media.
One acute issue is the extent to which TV and radio news channels routinely run interviews with people presented as an “analyst” or “consultant” on some issue or another, without any mention of the fact that this person has a direct vested interest. The classic example – and one that I look at in “Don’t Get Fooled Again” – would be the interviewing of a supposedly unbiased scientific expert about the health risks of smoking, without the public being told that he or she takes a regular “retainer” from the tobacco industry.
Since the early days of PR the use of this tactic has grown exponentially, most especially with the build-up to the Iraq war, and its aftermath. One mild example was the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme’s interview a few months back with the mysterious Canon Andrew White, an Anglican clergyman based in Iraq, who gave a rosy account of the situation there and bemoaned what he said was an overly negative view often presented in the media. No mention was made of the fact that the organisation Canon White founded – the “Foundation for Reconcilation and Relief in the Middle East” (FRRME) – has been heavily funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and various branches of the US government, along with the Orwellian “Iraqi Institute of Peace“, which the FRRME manages.
But this pales into insignificance alongside the exposé from the New York Times – highlighted on the Flat Earth News website – of the lengths the Pentagon has taken to co-opt retired US military officers as unofficial spokesmen for the administration, all the while presenting them as apparently neutral “military analysts” commenting on US policy in Iraq. A further corrupting factor was that many of these former high-ranking army officers had gone on to work for companies bidding for US government contracts for “reconstruction” in Iraq. Retired Lt Col Timur J Eads was one of a number who told the New York Times that they had often held their tongue when interviewed on air, fearing that “some four-star could call up and say ‘Kill that contract'”. Yet rarely, it seems, did the big US TV networks give the public any inkling that these “military analysts” had a clear financial stake in supporting the official US government line.