*memory hole*. Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables: "It
never happened. *...*
How Truth Slips Down the Memory Hole
by John Pilger
Antiwar.com, CA July 26, 2007
One of the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling for the release of
the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian news cameraman, Imad
Ghanem. On 5 July, he was shot by Israeli soldiers as he filmed them
invading Gaza. A Reuters video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay
on the ground. An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked. The
Israelis described him as a "legitimate target." The International
Federation of Journalists called the shooting "a vicious and brutal
example of deliberate targeting of a journalist." At the age of 21, he
has had both legs amputated.
Dr. David Halpin, a British trauma surgeon who works with Palestinian
children, emailed the BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. "The BBC
should report the alleged details about the shooting," he wrote. "It
should honor Alan [Johnston] as a journalist by reporting the facts,
uncomfortable as they might be to Israel."
He received no reply.
The atrocity was reported in two sentences on the BBC online. Along with
11 Palestinian civilians killed by the Israelis on the same day, Alan
Johnston's now legless champion slipped into what George Orwell in
Nineteen Eighty-Four called the memory hole. (It was Winston Smith's job
at the Ministry of Truth to make disappear all facts embarrassing to Big
While Alan Johnston was being held, I was asked by the BBC World Service
if I would say a few words of support for him. I readily agreed, and
suggested I also mention the thousands of Palestinians abducted and held
hostage. The answer was a polite no; and all the other hostages remained
in the memory hole. Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables:
"It never happened. Nothing ever happened... It didn't matter. It was of
The media wailing over the BBC's royal photo-shoot fiasco and assorted
misdemeanors provide the perfect straw man. They complement a
self-serving BBC internal inquiry into news bias, which dutifully
supplied the right-wing Daily Mail with hoary grist that the corporation
is a left-wing plot. Such shenanigans would be funny were it not for the
true story behind the facade of elite propaganda that presents humanity
as useful or expendable, worthy or unworthy, and the Middle East as the
Anglo-American crime that never happened, didn't matter, was of no interest.
The other day, I turned on the BBC's Radio 4 and heard a cut-glass voice
announce a program about Iraqi interpreters working for "the British
coalition forces" and warning that "listeners might find certain
descriptions of violence disturbing." Not a word referred to those of
"us" directly and ultimately responsible for the violence. The program
was called Face the Facts. Is satire that dead? Not yet. The Murdoch
columnist David Aaronovitch, a warmonger, is to interview Blair in the
BBC's "major retrospective" of the sociopath's rule.
everything we see, hear and read now. The invaders and destroyers are
"the British coalition forces," surely as benign as that British
institution, St. John Ambulance, who are "bringing democracy" to Iraq.
BBC television describes Israel as having "two hostile Palestinian
entities on its borders," neatly inverting the truth that Israel is
actually inside Palestinian borders. A study by Glasgow University says
that young British viewers of TV news believe Israelis illegally
colonizing Palestinian land are Palestinians: the victims are the invaders.
"The great crimes against most of humanity," wrote the American cultural
critic James Petras, "are justified by a corrosive debasement of
language and thought... [that] have fabricated a linguistic world of
terror, of demons and saviors, of axes of good and evil, of euphemisms"
designed to disguise a state terror that is "a gross perversion" of
democracy, liberation, reform, justice. In his reinauguration speech,
George Bush mentioned all these words, whose meaning, for him, is the
It is 80 years since Edward Bernays, the father of public relations,
predicted a pervasive "invisible government" of corporate spin,
suppression and silence as the true ruling power in the United States.
That is true today on both sides of the Atlantic. How else could America
and Britain go on such a spree of death and mayhem on the basis of
stupendous lies about nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, even a
"mushroom cloud over New York"? When the BBC radio reporter Andrew
Gilligan reported the truth, he was pilloried and sacked along with the
BBC's director general, while Blair, the proven liar, was protected by
the liberal wing of the media and given a standing ovation in parliament.
The same is happening again over Iran, distracted, it is hoped, by spin
that the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband is a "skeptic" about the
crime in Iraq when, in fact, he has been an accomplice, and by unctuous
Kennedy-quoting Foreign Office propaganda about Miliband's "new world
"What do you think of Iran's complicity in attacks on British soldiers
in Basra?" Miliband was asked by the Financial Times.
Miliband: "Well, I think that any evidence of Iranian engagement there
is to be deplored. I think that we need regional players to be
supporting stability, not fomenting discord, never mind death..."
FT: "Just to be clear, there is evidence?"
Miliband: "Well no, I chose my words carefully..."
The coming war on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack,
has already begun as a war by journalism. Count the number of times
"nuclear weapons program" and "nuclear threat" are spoken and written,
yet neither exists, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. On 21
June, the New York Times went further and advertised an "urgent" poll,
headed: "Should we bomb Iran?" The questions beneath referred to Iran
being "a greater threat than Saddam Hussein" and asked: "Who should
undertake military action against Iran first... ?" The choice was "US.
Israel. Neither country."
So tick your favorite bombers.
The last British war to be fought without censorship and "embedded"
journalists was the Crimea a century and a half ago. The bloodbath of
the First World War and the Cold War might never have happened without
their unpaid (and paid) propagandists. Today's invisible government is
no less served, especially by those who censor by omission.
However, there are major differences. Official disinformation now is
often aimed at a critical public intelligence, a growing awareness in
spite of the media. This "threat" from a public often held in contempt
has been met by the insidious transfer of much of journalism to public
relations. Some years ago, PR Week estimated that the amount of
"PR-generated material" in the media is "50 per cent in a broadsheet
newspaper in every section apart from sport. In the local press and the
mid-market and tabloid nationals, the figure would undoubtedly be
higher. Music and fashion journalists and PRs work hand in hand in the
editorial process... PRs provide fodder, but the clever high-powered
ones do a lot of the journalists' thinking for them."
This is known today as "perception management." The most powerful are
not the Max Cliffords but huge corporations such as Hill & Knowlton,
which "sold" the slaughter known as the first Gulf war, and the Sawyer
Miller Group, which sold hated, pro-Washington regimes in Colombia and
Bolivia and whose operatives included Mark Malloch Brown, the new
Foreign Office minister, currently being spun as anti-Washington.
Hundreds of millions of dollars go to corporations spinning the carnage
in Iraq as a sectarian war and covering up the truth: that an atrocious
invasion is pinned down by a successful resistance while the oil is looted.
The other major difference today is the abdication of cultural forces
that once provided dissent outside journalism. Their silence has been
devastating. "For almost the first time in two centuries," wrote the
literary and cultural critic Terry Eagleton, "there is no eminent
British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the
foundations of the western way of life." The lone, honorable exception
is Harold Pinter. Eagleton listed writers and playwrights who once
promised dissent and satire and instead became rich celebrities, ending
the legacy of Shelley and Blake, Carlyle and Ruskin, Morris and Wilde,
Wells and Shaw.
He singled out Martin Amis, a writer given tombstones of column inches
in which to air his pretensions, along with his attacks on Muslims. The
following is from a recent article by Amis:
Tony strolled over [to me] and said, "What have you been up to today?"
"I've been feeling protective of my prime minister, since you ask." For
some reason our acquaintanceship, at least on my part, is becoming
mildly but deplorably flirtatious.
What these elite, embedded voices share is their participation in an
essentially class war, the long war of the rich against the poor. That
they play their part in a broadcasting studio or in the clubbable pages
of the review sections and that they think of themselves as liberals or
conservatives is neither here nor there. They belong to the same
crusade, waging the same battle for their enduring privilege.
In The Serpent, Marc Karlin's dreamlike film about Rupert Murdoch, the
narrator describes how easily Murdochism came to dominate the media and
coerce the industry's liberal elite. There are clips from a keynote
address that Murdoch gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The
camera pans across the audience of TV executives, who listen in
respectful silence as Murdoch flagellates them for suppressing the true
voice of the people. They then applaud him. "This is the silence of the
democrats," says the voice-over, "and the Dark Prince could bathe in
/John Pilger <http://www.johnpilger.com/> was born and educated in
Sydney, Australia./ He has been a war correspondent, film-maker and
playwright. Based in London, he has written from many countries and has
twice won British journalism's highest award, that of "Journalist of the
Year," for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia