Collective-selective amnesia By William Bowles

20 December 2003

Oil and Empire, the euro, the dollar, Saddam as ‘ally’, Saddam as enemy, 9/11, convicted felons in charge of a nation…. Hey I could go on. The critical issue is not how long the list is but how could a nation’s media ignore the obvious for so long? How do they get away with it? Is it something I said?

As the saying goes, you’d think they ‘have no shame’ and clearly ‘they’ don’t when it comes to challenging the lies and deception of the ruling elite. And who are the ‘they’ that I speak of? Well of course the nation’s journalists and their paymasters, the corporate owners, who claim to have an objective ear to the ground. Who pour scorn on the idea for example, that oil could be the fundamental motive for the invasion of Iraq and who with one breath talk of the American empire yet at the same time ridicule the idea that the empire could have anything but the highest of motives (aside that is from the ‘honest’ pursuit of filthy lucre). Yet good sense and a cursory look at history shows that empires are intrinsically bad simply because they’re so powerful and consequently have too much to lose to let go of it without a fight. If ever challenged to identify a benign empire, could anyone of these university educated monkeys name one?

Okay, so Noam Chomsky et al, write reams from their ivory towers about propaganda, indeed it’s a business all in its own write but who reads Noam Chomsky for Christ’s sake and who understands what he has to say anyway? There’s no shortage of ‘deconstructivists’ willing and able to supply us with the syntax and the grammar of the dominant culture’s power. Yet of course, the illusion persists like the stain of red wine on a white cloth. No amount of bleaching or boiling is able to remove it.

For the last twenty years or so, I have been involved in either debunking propaganda or conversely writing it, I’ll make no bones about it. I believe in right and wrong, justice and injustice. I believe I’m an honest person (deluded maybe), that’s why I couldn’t rationalise writing bullshit for a living (and maybe why I’m broke). Yet tens of thousands of otherwise (no doubt) decent people do it every day. They write the bullshit and then go home to their families and socialise (no doubt) with others of their kind who also write bullshit for a living. Okay, so it’s literate bullshit, sometimes even verging on the literary but it’s still bullshit.

Self-censorship? Yes sometimes. A shared worldview? Yes sometimes. Heavy debts? More likely. Self-delusion? Even more likely. Amnesia? Absolutely necessary. A collective and selective amnesia, for without it how could the illusion be maintained?

First of all, this not about facts. Facts abound, in fact we’re drowning in them. It’s what you make of them and what you do with them that counts.

Western anthropologists often describe the culture of so-called primitive tribes and their relationship to the natural world as being defined by the act of naming something; a tree, a flower, an animal. By naming something, it is from that point on imbued with power, a mystical power that gives the possessor of the name power over the object, and in turn, the object has power over the namer.

Well, we’re no different in spite of all our learning (and that’s why anthropologists are on my list along with journalists). When we name someone, for example evil and if we do it often enough, then that person is imbued with a power that no amount of rationalising can remove. So forever and a day, Saddam will be a swear word, the bogeyman to frighten your children with.

And perhaps the problem with being honest, is because it’s difficult for me to take the name George Bush or Tony Blair and imbue it with evil, yet more than Saddam they deserve to be named as evil if only because they’re such rank hypocrites; who can one day sell Saddam the wherewithal to kill and then hunt him down like an animal the next.

But I veer (somewhat) off my chosen course. What’s remarkable about the media in so-called civilised societies is the ability to name without shame. So a journalist who otherwise has no problem recognising the hypocrisy of a George Bush or a Donald Rumsfeld in their dealings with Saddam, will disconnect George Bush from the evil but not Saddam Hussein.

It is assumed for example, that Bush or Blair operate for some opportunistic motive or even out of some ‘misguided’ notion of the ‘greater good’ but never because they are intrinsically evil. But of course, this is pure self-deception on the part of the journalist. Moreover, this view of the world is absolutely necessary if the propaganda is to maintain the illusion. To do otherwise would expose the mirrors, levers, false doors or whatever, needed to perform the trick. It’s not the kind of the process that can be exposed once and then be forgotten. What magician would ever reveal the secret of his trick and then expect you to come back for more?

Three card monte
The entire sleight of hand is performed in a greasy palming of the cards. There is no doubt more than an element of racist ideology involved in the trick of self-deception on the part of the journalist. After all, George Bush and Tony Blair are both white males, which gives them a distinct advantage in the propaganda war. They wear low-key suits, they don’t even smoke cigars with two fingers, let alone four and a thumb. They’re not ostentatious, after all they don’t need to be. They are the perfect illusion unlike Saddam, who as the journos continually remind us, had a violent upbringing, a decidedly a ‘lower class’ kind of fellow. Not the kind of person you’d invite over for Christmas dinner, unless of course he’s going to buy 3 or 4 billion dollars-worth of whatever killing machines you have on offer.

So how is the magician’s trick performed? One could go back, as we are want to do and quote Josef Goebbels which is all well and good but it’s all abstract stuff (repeat a lie often enough…every effective piece of propaganda has an element of truth in it etc). But in the real world, how does this manifest itself?

WMDs is of course a mantra, and like saying a thousand Hail Mary’s, it ceases to be Weapons of Mass Destruction but instead it becomes a synonym for evil. Link WMDs to Saddam Hussein and he becomes the actual manifestation of the evil. In the beginning was the word…and the word was WMD.

Now as far as I know, there are only handful of countries who actually possess real WMDs: the US, the UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, Pakistan and India (and possibly North Korea but that might just be a bluff). And out of them, it’s only the US and Russia who have the capability to actually mass destruct us all but let’s not split atoms over whose dick is the biggest.

What’s important is the process and how the media in collusion with the organs of the state dealt with the unfolding story of WMDs. So let us cast our minds back to the year 2002 and the steadily mounting hysteria of Saddam and his alleged WMDs (a story of course that actually started the day after 9/11, where the seeds were sown).

The government puts out a document, the ukdossier[1] released on September 24 2002. Very authoritative looking, complete with images and ‘statistics’ and lots of assertions, the key ones of which were complete fabrications. The rest was just packing and for appearances only. In other words, the packing gave substance and credence to the lies. The media of course, schooled as it is in the art of deception, went along with it. After all, it is the government speaking and we all know they never lie. We are after all, dealing not with a former client and business partner, but an evil man, Saddam Hussein and his WMDs.

In early March 2003, the UN’s atomic watchdog agency released an analysis of one of the key pieces of ‘evidence’ in the UK Dossier and exposed it as a fraud and forgery – the Niger Yellowcake documents. Now this is where it gets interesting. The Independent carried this news on its front page, not as a headline but referred to it merely in passing. And indeed, until the Gilligan/Kelly fiasco broke, it barely got mentioned again. Now why? Who chose not to make it a headline? After all, it was one of the two key pieces of ‘evidence’ that supported going to war. It’s not like we were buying a lemon at the local second car dealer.

Then we have the 45-minute claim (uttered no less than five times in the UK Dossier). Now this claim had been floating around so to speak since early 2002 and even its source had been alluded to in public (the Iraqi National Congress but more than likely it was done through Mossad, which makes sense given the close ties between Ahmed Chalabi and the Israelis).

Again, until the Gilligan/Kelly fiasco became the ‘news’ (rather than the lies themselves), any one of the mass media outlets could have availed themselves of the facts. After all, I did and I’m not a rocket scientist or a ‘spook’.

Conscious choices were made by the media, not only not to give major exposure to the lies, but moreover when they were referred to, it’s not as lies put out by a lying and duplicitous government in order to rationalise going to war, but the media entered into a Faustian bargain with the state and put it down to ‘bad intelligence’. The blame was shifted to the civil servants. Moreover, to compound the lie, the state continued, with the complicity of the media (and not very consistently at that) to push the idea that the civil service is ‘neutral’. So not only do we have the lies about the WMDs, we have lies about how the state actually works. Wheels within wheels — lies embedded in lies.

There was no question of even a single media outlet daring to question the truthfulness of the state’s assertions. In fact, the media went as far as to question the patriotism of anybody who dared suggest that Tony Blah, Jack “the lights are on but nobody’s home” Straw, or John Reid or any of New Labour’s cronies who were rolled out, actually lied to the public. And to this day (the 231st since the invasion), no trace of WMDs has been found.

Now of course, any sensible person should have a healthy mistrust of the state, any state. Indeed, such mistrust should be regarded as a real expression of one’s patriotic duty (patria; father), if you needed one. To behave otherwise would be pure foolishness and an act of gross self-deception, a dereliction of duty to one’s self and to your fellow humans.

Now of course, we have to ask why the media is complicit in the process of deception. There are several answers to this. One answer of course is intimately involved with the preservation of the status quo. It’s one thing to disagree with decisions the state makes but it’s quite another to challenge the basic assumptions that underpin why decisions are made. Disconnecting cause from effect, history from events is central to this process.

The second reason is a little more complicated and it’s related to the overall projection of the state as something that should be believed in and which the media is an intimate partner in projecting as a system of belief. It’s the Emperor’s Clothes, the magician’s tricks. Even revealing a hint that the Emperor is indeed stark naked or that the trick is done with mirrors and the rot sets in. There’s no turning back.

Should for example, the BBC or the Independent or The Times, come out and say, ‘You lying, scummy bastards! You’ve deceived the nation into going to war!’ the entire house of cards would come crashing down. Simply, it’s not permissible because once the citizen realises he or she she has been deceived so grossly, the system of belief upon which the entire, rotten edifice rocks along would no longer be tenable. The media has as much of a vested interest in maintaining the status quo as the state does, they are after all, married to each other and totally dependent on the preservation of each others estates.

Of course, on occasion, the big lie is revealed and under such circumstances rapid damage control is needed, hence for example the BBC sideshow, and it’s instructive to note that the BBC was quite happy to go along with the farce, thus demonstrating the relationship between ‘hooker and john’, though in the case of a real hooker and her customer, a good deal more honesty is displayed (as well as, one hopes, satisfaction of a job well done). Quite how the lie got exposed is the subject of much speculation, but suffice to say, it was a complete disaster, not only on the part of the state but also on the part of the BBC.

Whether Dr Kelly’s disinformation ploy backfired, or whether his masters just got it all wrong and screwed up big time, we’ll probably never know. But again, any close observation of the media since that fateful morning reveals a decided sense of dread on the part of both the state and the media that the good citizen had lost all faith in the government that even the Hutton inquiry has not been able to restore.

The symbiosis between the media and the state is revealed in such critical times, when much is riding on creating the appearance of an independent media ‘doing its job’ when the reality is that of a complicit media going through the motions. It’s noticeable that following the Gilligan screwup, BBC coverage changed completely. Gone was its ‘penetrating’ journalism that questioned the issue of whether or not the government had a produced a valid reason for going to war. Voices opposed to the war effectively disappeared from the airwaves. John Pilger’s article “The BBC And Iraq: Myth and Reality” reveals the true nature:

“The second-worst case of denying access to anti-war voices was ABC in the United States, which allowed them a mere 7 per cent of its overall coverage. The worst case was the BBC, which gave just 2 per cent of its coverage to opposition views — views that represented those of the majority of the British people. A separate study by Cardiff University came to the same conclusion. The BBC, it said, had “displayed the most pro-war agenda of any [British] broadcaster.”

The BBC has, through judicious presentation of the ‘news’ and ‘current affairs’ created the illusion of objectivity and it does it by qualifying what it reports through the use of language that gives all the appearance of objectivity but which carries a constant sub-text that reinforces the status quo. Not for the Beeb the ‘crass’ coverage of Murdoch’s network or Disney/Microsoft’s ABC TV. And amazingly, as I sit here, I’m hearing in the background a BBC ‘pundit’ referring to the Gilligan affair and saying that “maybe the government overhyped” the issue of WMDs but prefaced this observation to make the point that there’s no way that the government actually lied. Yet what is the basis for this statement that is actually pure assumption as the government did lie and it lied over and over again and it continues to lie.

It’s a club where there is an unwritten rule not to step over an invisible ‘magician’s’ line, a line that Gilligan inadvertently crossed. Indeed, there is no doubt that Gilligan would not be working for the BBC as a political journalist unless he was considered ‘reliable’. The Gilligan/Kelly affair is an instructive lesson, as it revealed as though X-rayed, just how the two institutions are locked together in an deadly embrace. But maintaining the fiction of independence is fraught with difficulties. As any junkie will tell you, lies have a habit of coming back to haunt you and the more convoluted the lies, the more difficult it is to maintain the fiction.



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