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Speaking of media bias

Drip, drip, drip

Evan Jones

Why was Australia in Iraq? Prime Minister John Howard joined the 'Coalition of the Willing' after George Dubya's phone call. There was no parliamentary debate or vote (probably a godsend for the moral pygmies on both sides of the House). Has the colonial cringe ever been as base as at this moment?

White Australia's character was nurtured on the teat of Mother England. Its constitution was passed by the British parliament. The military was for long an arm of the British forces. Australia's foreign policy was essentially derivative from Britain until a Washington embassy was established in 1940. The post-World War II Labor government's attempts to nationalise the commercial banks was ultimately decided in the British Privy Council, a judicial lineage not abolished until 1975. A republic is still on the back-burner.

The Cold War was not a propitious time to forge independence, and so it proved, especially with the Yanks going bananas over Mao's victory in 1949. The Menzies government sent troops to Korea. A month later the government obtained the first of a series of dollar loans from the World Bank. The massive Snowy Mountains Scheme project brought in the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and behind the USBR came the American contractors. Procurement of capital and industrial and military equipment was dislodged from the previously intimate British connections.

And so Australia replaced one imperial elder with another (albeit for a period kowtowing to both of them). Australia agreed not to recognise 'Red' China. During the Vietnam War it was 'all the way with LBJ'. In the 1960s, three intelligence bases were placed on Australian soil (North West Cape, Pine Gap and Nurrungar), of enormous significance for snooping on the Eastern Hemisphere. Bolshie labour leaders were the subject of special attention by US attachés.

The 1972 Whitlam Labor government looked dangerously independent in spirit, and so the Yanks sent in the enforcer Marshall Green as ambassador, fresh from keeping the lid on subversion in Indonesia. After Whitlam was sacked in 1975, things quietened down in the Antipodes. Small beginnings towards a less dependent and Asian-focused foreign and military policy were developing in the 1980s, but this was snuffed out with the election of the Howard government in 1996. The 1997 White Paper, In the National Interest, provided an immediate pointer to the Coalition's shift to the American embrace.

This altered course was right on cue for lap-dog support of regime change in the Middle East. In this thrust John Howard has been ably assisted by the media.

We are not well served by the two companies that dominate the Australian print media. Murdoch is Murdoch, the prince of media darkness. The Canadian Conrad Black had his hands on Fairfax for a period and the taint has survived. Combine Black's residual ideological thrust and Hilmer's cost-cutting and the Fairfax press can only get worse. If you can wade through the lifestyle focus of the broadsheets, reporting on political and world affairs is competent, sometimes outstanding. We can be thankful for the 'Friday Review' section of the Australian Financial Review. We can also be thankful for the letters pages and the cartoons.

But the opinion pages on international affairs are wretched. Is it by accident or on purpose? The independent voices are generally 'old guard', the likes of whom aren't being replaced. The only paper detached from the call to arms is the Canberra Times. Howard has called the Times the 'Fyshwick Pravda', redolent of an earlier attack by a paranoid American administration on the Washington Post as the 'Pravda on the Potomac'.

But Fairfax and Murdoch dominate readership, and the repository of toadyism is deep - Gerard Henderson, Miranda Devine and Paul Sheehan of Fairfax, and Greg Sheridan and Janet Albrechtsen of The Australian front the broadsheet shock troops of conformity. The enemy is out there, and moral virtue (read the West) is under siege. The voluminous history of empire and its corruptions is proscribed reading. How is it possible for these luminaries to have completely missed the contribution of successive Western imperial powers to the catastrophe that is the contemporary Middle East?

Henderson reads widely but discerns nothing but his own prejudices. Henderson has a clerk's imagination, product of parish anti-communism. The certitude leaks into his columns and a quarterly snitch sheet that keeps tabs on heresy. He has lectured both Church leadership and the New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, for having the temerity to have an independent position on Iraq. Henderson is right out of the Spanish Inquisition.

Devine, master of the reactionary sound-bite, appears to have read nothing on international affairs. Her promotion from the tabloids brings a rancid tabloid character to the Sydney Morning Herald. Her language ('moral relativism') highlights that she's on the American drip, but whether there's any mental processing at this end is another matter.

Sheridan appears to read only the dispatches from Head Office. His paper's website portentously describes him as 'the most influential foreign affairs analyst in Australian journalism'. Sheridan's copy is as predictable as the dawning of the day.

On September 5, Sheridan quotes Michael Hirsch approvingly - 'American power is now the linchpin of stability in every region'. Evidently a mutual short attention span. On March 19, Sheridan urges war, with Iraq's profound threat to regional and global security. On March 28, Sheridan offers a slavish profile of Ehud Barak, visiting Australia. Barak 'has a secure place in history' because of his Camp David offer to the Palestinians. On April 10, Sheridan is pushing the neo-conservative line on Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On April 21, he is pushing the neo-con line on Syria. And so on.

Backing up the in-house teams, there are regular representations from associates of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, on the indubitable justice of Israel's holy war against the infidel. The AIJAC, a vigilant defender of domestic multi-racial tolerance, can find no room for a critical examination of Israeli colonialism. Colin Rubinstein extols the Camp David offer, attacks Arafat, and claims that Palestinian casualties are overwhelmingly armed gunmen (April 18 2002 Australian Financial Review). Rubinstein denies that Israel is in breach of any UN Security Council resolutions, that there are no problems with Israel's nuclear capacity, and that Israel is committed to regional peace and co-existence with its neighbours (October 11 AFR). As long as they're not occupying desirable real estate, that is. Rubinstein attacks the road map, the Europeans and Arafat ad infinitum (April 30 AFR). It is rare to see an alternative opinion piece published on the fundamental moral dilemma of the age - a piece by Joseph Wakim (Australian Arabic Council), matching Rubinstein's April 18 2002 piece, was one such rarity.

Tellingly, the reproduction of foreign correspondents is monopolised by the establishment media of Anglo-America. The Bush Administration and its lackies, it appears, thinks for the thinking world. Chomsky appears only as an object of abuse. Fisk doesn't exist. Pilger, the despised expatriate, is off the spectrum of consciousness. There is no representation of opinion from Continental Europe, the Middle East or Asia. There is no such thing as a dissident Israeli. Recently the Sydney Morning Herald has started reproducing selective minutiae from the world press - a contrition for past provinciality?

The New York Times' Thomas Friedman appears regularly in the Fairfax broadsheets. His attempts at humour are repulsive. His tourist touchdown in Iraq (May 22 Herald) omits the Western contribution to Iraqi misery. His April 16 NYT bombast (anything that the French Foreign Minister is for, he's against) was reproduced in the Melbourne Age (April 19). I emailed the general editor of the Age to inquire why his paper aired this flunky for American power. He replied to the effect that Friedman is 'one of the best foreign affairs writers around, vastly experienced, balanced'.

Balanced? Well yes. Friedman occasionally has a limp-wristed mention of the Jewish settlements and the wall, harmless within a pro-Israeli agenda. Good copy for sensitive editors. Nobody will pay any attention to the qualifications, though they are more concessional than the hysterical Yossi Halevi. Halevi attacks the road map, which 'reinforc[es] a false moral symmetry', and the Palestinian Authority for inciting a 'routine dehumanisation of Jews' (May 1 Age).

The Australian media was fielding multiple attacks on the road map by the Israel lobby before we had been privy to an explanation of its substance. William Safire, who I thought had died with the Cold War, blames Arafat for Palestinian misery (May 2 Herald). Coincidentally, a map of the Jewish settlements in the territories, dense and encircling, was published in the body of the Herald on the same day. The map provides striking visual evidence that Palestinian misery lies elsewhere. Safire claims that the closing the 'half-dozen illegal settlements' will sort the problem out. Half-dozen? And the legality of the rest?

We also have regular lashings from Charles Krauthammer. As Tariq Ali notes, there is no bullshit camouflage on the Krauthammer battle dress. Greg Sheridan calls Krauthammer 'brilliant'. If you're going to adulate this tyrant, the language has to be tyrannised. Krauthammer anchors the 'Washington Post Writers Group' regularly inflicted on readers of the Australian Financial Review. Conrad Black introduced this mob to AFR readers and they still flourish.

Krauthammer rants against Powell being soft on Iraq (January 14). Krauthammer rants against the Clinton years of 'inaction' against the enemy (February 19). Krauthammer rants against France (March 3). Krauthammer rants against the UN Security Council (March 14). Krauthammer rants against the totalitarianism of the Baa'thists, without mentioning their origins in American support (April 11). That any respectable paper would reproduce the execrable Krauthammer defies reason, unless there is unreasonable intent.

Robert Samuelson, another WPWG member, fulminates on world politics - 'America is not an imperial nation. It lacks both the will and the ability to govern the world through political or military commands' (March 27). George Will has a raving denunciation of the UN Security Council (March 17), with no mention of his own country's long-term abuse of that body. At least Will (April 1) offers his classic Conservative caution against Neo-Con triumphalism.

But then we have Stephen Rosen, Professor of strategic studies at Harvard (April 7 AFR). Rosen is angling for a 'competent imperialism', for an Iraqi government that is not hostile to the US. Generosity incarnate. He quotes a 1940 publication noting that the Marine Corps had been involved in 180 interventions in 37 countries without learning the tricks of peace enforcement. We have to learn how to enforce the peace, he says. He doesn't ask what the Marine Corps were doing in these 37 countries in the first place. Ah yes, these Harvard professors give atypical insight into the troubles of imperial peaceniks. We naïve Australians think that a Harvard academic is the smartest of the smart. We don't confront that Harvard academics are doing a job, in the loop.

Also in the loop is the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced (sic) International Studies (just across the border from Washington DC), whose academics are trotted out as models of detachment and veracity. An Australian-born Fellow at Johns Hopkins, Stephen Morris, generates the usual twisted logic to claim that 'the allied invasion of Iraq will be an essential and just one' (March 19 Herald). This is a familiar story. Get the bright Colonials to the Big Smoke, schmooze them with the line, and spray the organised consensus back to the unwashed on the frontiers.

Then there is Johns Hopkins' big name, Francis Fukuyama. How could anybody take Fukuyama seriously after his 'end of history' debacle? Western modernism marches on against superstitious primitivism and extremism. Fukuyama can't confront the American mid-wifery of Islamic extremism or the messianic primitivism of his own Washington Neo-Conservative cohorts. The rightwing Centre for Independent Studies invited Fukuyama to Australia in mid 2002, along with Daniel Pipes - the soft and hard versions of the American Imperium. They do the rounds of the media and are respectfully interviewed as if they are experts on something.

Listen to an interview of Pipes by Stephen Crittenden of the Religion Report (September 11 2002) on the government-owned ABC Radio (this is the network that the Right claim is run by mad left-wingers):

Pipes: as Robert Kagan puts it, Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. And I am not all that original in thinking that we should look elsewhere. In Europe, by the way, our growing buddies are the East Europeans ... and then you mentioned Turkey as well, India, these are robust states that see the world, in American terms, as it is. I'm not quite sure where Australia fits, I think it's ...

Crittenden: we're with America very definitely, don't worry.

And the more the likes of Pipes arrive on paid junkets to Australian shores, the less Steve Crittenden has to worry.

Crittenden can sleep easier these days. Early in the year, our embattled Opposition leader, Simon Crean, expressed some mild concern about American ambitions in Iraq. Backbencher Mark Latham reasonably labeled George Dubya 'the most incompetent and dangerous President in living memory'. This aroused the ire of the American Ambassador, Tom Schieffer, who most undiplomatically told the Labor Party that it was stepping out of line (shades of Marshall Green in the Whitlam days).

Now Murdoch's Australian is pushing to get Crean out of the leadership. The Labor Party is being destabilised to ensure that it remains loyal to the US and its Middle East mate, Israel. Toadies Henderson (April 29 Herald) and Sheridan (May 1 Australian) transparently shaft Crean on this front. Sheridan praises the local junta's preferred Labor leader, the previous failed leader Kim Beazley, for having 'the ticker' to visit Israel - presumably to source his foreign policy. Crean will be displaced, and not even a whiff of concern for 'our' side's contribution to Middle East barbarism will emanate from official circles.

Drip, drip, drip. We are witness to the stalagmitic stupefaction of the Australian political psyche.


Evan Jones teaches political economy at Sydney University. This article was first published on Workers Online.


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