Keeping the Rabble in Line

Banging on about representation: The would be media lens

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Guess who's coming to dinner? Guardian's pathetic Leader page

I normally try to avoid analysis of print media as it is not my specialism. However, this and in particular, this just screamed at me...so I felt compelled to write.

As mentioned yesterday the approach by the BBC to the brutal killing of innocent civilians in Pakistan was, at best abject and at worst complicit with state terrorism. However, the Guardian has proved to be no better. Firstly, the illegal attack merits only a single paragraph on the front page...buried at the bottom. This surely merits a front page banner headline doesn't it?...or am I confusing the "liberal media" with an institution that cares! We then turn to page 18 to see the headline "Pakistanis vent fury over US attack" [emphasis mine]. The identification of the *Pakistani/Iraqi/Iranian/Palestinian* delete as appropriate - as only capable of "venting fury" is not new. Of course the right to fury at this brutal, murderous act is understandable but the headline [on page 18] implores the reader to focus attention on the reaction of the "furious" villagers as opposed to the terrorist act of the American war machine. In order to underpin this representation further, we are told in paragraph two that "up to 10,000 people reportedly protested in the largest city, Karachi...many chanted 'death to America'" So the image of a 10,000 strong "mob" furious and filled with an *irrational* hatred of America is the dominant one. The US authorities have apparently remained "tight lipped" on the action. No indignation at this "tight lipped" position. The "bounty of $25 million" is mentioned again with all its wild west connotations. Now let's turn to the Leader page.

It is necessary to quote at length here:

"It is hard to say how many people would have mourned Ayman al-Zawahiri if he had indeed been killed on Friday by the US missiles that hit a Pashtun area near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. That was apparently the intention of CIA officers when they dispatched a remotely piloted Predator aircraft to execute the deadly hi-tech mission. Eliminating Zawahiri would have been a significant coup for the US in its "war on terror".

This then is not signified as an illegal and immoral act but as a "high tech mission" with all the connotations that high tech implies [enlightenment ideals of technology and progress]. It is an attempted "elimination", not murder - and no I am not sure I would mourn his passing, but that is surely not the point. Again, no discussion of the ethics of this policy, in fact it is endorsed by the phrase: "eliminating Zawahiri would have been a significant coup" well, not much room for ethics and principles here.

It gets worse:

"The incident shows, not for the first time since 9/11, that intelligence is a dangerously imprecise business. Zawahiri was believed to be coming to dinner in a mud-brick house in Damadola village. Yet at least 17 dead, including women and children, were found in the rubble. Pakistani sources claimed that several of the victims were "militants" and US officials spoke of taking DNA samples to ascertain the identity of the dead, but an Arab TV channel reported that Zawahiri is alive and well.

The death toll is a grim reminder of the fact that, legal and moral considerations aside, operations of this kind - like the "targeted assassinations" carried out by Israel against its Palestinian enemies - are rarely cost-free. The "collateral damage" of killing innocent people risks recruiting others to the jihadi cause, not least in the teeming madrassas that are so often identified as breeding grounds for extremism."

"Intelligence is a dangerously imprecise business" so it's only its imprecision that is problematic, not the principle. And he was due to be "coming to dinner in a mud-brick house" signifying the primitive conditions in which these poor savages live. Yes yes I know "they" may live in mud-brick houses, but its inclusion here serves no purpose other than to expose the fact of their primitive [uneducated, technophobic] living, I can see no other reason for its inclusion in this context. The death toll is only a "grim reminder" and not, as one might expect, an act of murderous[Imperialist] aggression. The beauty really is in the detail though, for the following words "...legal and moral considerations aside" are particularly instructive. WHAT? What do you mean, legal and moral considerations aside? This is a pathetic and abject approach. Why must we put these considerations to one side? I cannot imagine this being uttered had the attack [as mentioned yesterday] happened in a Sussex village. Also these attacks are "rarely cost free" disgustingly evoking an economic analogy - perhaps ten pesky Muslims would be, if not cost free, then perhaps cost effective. Maybe this is unfair, but, the killing of innocent people by the most powerful war machine in the world must, at least be correctly administered. This is akin to being against the death penalty because "too many innocent people get killed"...not because state sanctioned murder is disgusting and immoral, but that the incorrect application of the process might kill the wrong persons. Finally, the unethical, immoral and illegal hurdles cleared [in the heads of the policy makers at least] we should still be wary of "recruiting others to the jihadi cause"...I barely need to finish the sentance do I? Once again, not that the US/UK Imperial alliance are in any way just plain murderously wrong in this particular instance, but that we risk recruiting for the *opposition* No ethics...just self preservation. This position surely locks us into eternal conflict. This from the "leading liberal newspaper" in Britain.

17 Comments:

  • At 8:16 AM, Blogger Tjerk said…

    I agree. A larger point is indeed that using economic terms (like you cite) in the description of death toll or other dramatic scenes is an effective way of blurring peoples eyes (and hearts).

    It is important that there are more sites like medialens, because that will make the argument that medialens is just a pressure or lobby group in stead of a loose connection of people who think in a like minded way bogus. Hope you can keep it up.

    cheers

     
  • At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just received this mail from a friend in NZ in response to an analyis showing the USukIsrael will want to bomb/attack Iran to prevent oil being traded in Euros, by an independent bourse soon to be opened in Theran. He makes a couple of points relevant to your latest blog entry.

    "Ekk, I think this situation is even worse than you portray. How the hell can they do it without using nukes? Are they going to set up some event to pretend Iran used one first?

    This latest disgusting episode in border Pakistan shows that they haven't even got one small elite group of soldiers who could go into a village and take out one man. Three missiles, in the hope of getting him with one and the sure knowledge that at least the other two would kill civilians. No wonder our Vietnam vets. referred to them as the "world's worst".

    It hurts me to recognise that the northern hemisphere nation for which I have the most respect is now ruled by war criminals. And with massive debts, controlled media and a corrupt political system, what hope has the ordinary citizen there for doing anything about it? Nor do I think you should refer to it as being "American" policy, when it is obvious that its government does exactly what it is told by those behind the scenes.

    In passing, as the multinationals gradually supplant nation states, I wonder how long before they have their own armed forces to do the jobs for them? Perhaps even nuclear-equipped? It would, of course, pretend to be an arm of the United Nations, as the World Bank does."

    Regards.
    R. J.

     
  • At 10:33 AM, Blogger B said…

    "This then is not signified as an illegal and immoral act but as a "high tech mission" with all the connotations that high tech implies [enlightenment ideals of technology and progress].... And he was due to be "coming to dinner in a mud-brick house" signifying the primitive conditions in which these poor savages live. Yes yes I know "they" may live in mud-brick houses, but its inclusion here serves no purpose other than to expose the fact of their primitive [uneducated, technophobic] living, I can see no other reason for its inclusion in this context."

    See, I didn't interpret this in the same manner. To me, the implication of the hi-tech mission to eliminate Zawahiri was not based upon elightenment and progress, rather cowardice and brute force. The mention of the technology involved and highlighting the distancing of human involvement (from the point of the aggressor)makes for a very real and damning portrayal of the US attitdue to its "war on terror".

    The inclusion of the mud-brick houses in the description further highlights this interpretation. Far from mocking the villagers as uneducated and technophobic it disparages the American use of Predator (!) aircraft and precision bombing, which cannot help but overall demonstrate their lack of regard for human life.

    On another note, did you watch Colin Powell on Newsnight? Anyone spot that brief close-up on the giant Eagle?

     
  • At 1:10 PM, Blogger Chris R said…

    FAO Tjerk,

    Thanks for comments. Your points about economic language are well made i think. I hope i can keep up with the blog too. I am pretty sure I will always write *something*, even if it's not always regular, my own research is based on TV News so stuff will always be posted, but it may be sporadic...though I hope to keep it regular -daily/weekly?

    FAO b

    Interesting that the technology signifies cowardice for you. It can certainly be read this way [i too would perhaps read it that way "personally"] but in the context of the *assumed* benign and well intentioned motivations of this technologically brilliant state, it signifies a sense of superiority based on Enlightenment principles...it's just that the technology has some teething problems, "still, not to worry eh? There'll be another place in which we can experiment in a few days"
    Make no mistake, I think it's cowardly and brutal. It represents something horrific BUT the context in which this is put to work suggests a different *intended* angle.

    I did see the Colin Powell interview with Paxo. I made some hastily constructed notes and have just watched it agian on line. It is next to be blogged about...hopefully later today.

    Chris

     
  • At 3:05 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    I'm with B completely on this. I think you're demonstrating how much you're decoding much more than you're reading the encoding.

    I don't think "mud-brick houses" is being deployed to evoke "savagery" -- this is utterly wrong. When you say things like "its inclusion here serves no purpose other than to expose the fact of their primitive [uneducated, technophobic] living," the association, particularly, of primitive with "technophobic" seems to me pretty spurious. At no point does the Guardian give you any reason to think that Pashtuns live in "mud-brick houses" because they fear technology.

    And I think you're being disingenuous: its purpose could never be just to "expose," the exposition is a means to a rhetorical/political end. You seem to think that that end is to ridicule primitive living conditions. Given that this would be completely out of kilter with the tone and intention of the leader article, I think we might want to consider that, as Becky suggests, it is about technological warfare's lack of compassion.

    While I agree with your fundamental point: the principle rather than the practice of "targeted assasination" is the more compelling issue, I think your general reading of the representations is pretty unfair. And anyway, I don't care much if it is a technical argument if it works! If I tell my mum how much ID cards cost as a way of convincing her to oppose them, rather than using a civil liberties argument, what does it matter if, at the end of the day, she opposes ID cards? Is there not a place for being strategically technical?

     
  • At 3:36 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    Oh dear, I've done that thing again. Chris, please take into account that my comment wasn't actually meant to read as rudely as it clearly does!

     
  • At 5:19 PM, Blogger fatbongo said…

    if you do write a post about the colin powell interview please mention his role in whitewashing the Mai Lai massacre in vietnam. it's one of the things that gave him credibility amongst the us military establishment - he could be relied on to lie for power.

    http://consortiumnews.com/2000/121700c.html

    ps your slogan "Banging on about representation: The would be media lens" is really hard to read if , like me, you are colourblind. It would help if contrasted more with the background

     
  • At 8:41 PM, Blogger Chris R said…

    Right Rob, I've taken a deep breath....and another one! Thanks for the comments again, and thanks for the post post caveat. It does read as a *bit* rude, but then I know you well, so know that A] it IS rude cos you often are ;-) and B] that you probably just got carried away. That doesn't reduce the force of your rhetoric - nor does my anger [at The Guardian] reduce the force of mine. It does perhaps mean i overlooked *some* critical points, which I intend do deal with now.

    "I think you're demonstrating how much you're decoding much more than you're reading the encoding."

    This is perhaps true, but I make little apology for this, such are the techniques/flaws/dangers of representation[al] analyses...I do think though, that, given the nature of my critique, perhaps a burden of proof is on me. I try [and perhaps fail] to do this at all times. Which brings me to:

    "I don't think "mud-brick houses" is being deployed to evoke "savagery" -- this is utterly wrong. When you say things like "its inclusion here serves no purpose other than to expose the fact of their primitive [uneducated, technophobic] living," the association, particularly, of primitive with "technophobic" seems to me pretty spurious. At no point does the Guardian give you any reason to think that Pashtuns live in "mud-brick houses" because they fear technology."

    I am afraid i have to disagree with you here. In the context of this paragraph AND the overall feel of the piece, "mud-brick houses" when juxtaposed with "high tech operation" does position the Pashtun tribe as, if not savage, then at least unsophisticated. There is no other contextual reason for that phrase to be included. Maybe the Guardian were adding a little "local colour". Even so, local colour is not neutral. The term technophobic was, in retrospect, an error. But the lack of technology is still part of the narrative and when placed adjacent to the “high tech operation” it seems important. I have already conceded the point to B that it CAN look like an uncompassionate US military machine. I just did not read The Guardian's dealing with the issue in that way.

    Nor am I convinced of my disingenuousness. Given that the leader comment disgustingly asks us to "put our moral and legal considerations aside" and that there's an economic analogy suggesting the "cost" [of human lives] is not worth it, as it might recruit jihadi's, I think there's a case for The "Oh So Liberal" Guardian to answer.

    I did also say in my original post that "maybe this is unfair" but I am afraid I was/am angered by the article. Particularly "moral and legal considerations aside"...having read that, I began to "vent rage" :-)

    As for "strategically technical" certainly there's a place for this. However, the hypocrisy and downright murderousness of "our" governments needs to be written, and the ethical case needs to be made too. I realise that these points are frequently made on progressive blogs, media sites, occasionally on TV and in print. But SO rarely are these points made by "the best" of our liberal media. This is the focus of my critique [sometimes unfairly so - thanks for pulling me up on it] but it fucking angers me.

    Chris

     
  • At 10:32 PM, Blogger Rob said…

    I don't think we're gonna agree on this one, but that's a good thing. There is a world of difference, to me, between "savage" and "unsophisticated". Also, I think making an argument "aside" to "moral and legal considerations" is not the same as "putting them aside" in the sense of ignoring them. Finally, I wasn't suggesting that local colour was "neutral," in fact I explicity said it serves a "rhetorical/political ends" - but I think that ends is contrast different levels of technology in a way which is, after all, true to the facts, and an important comparison. Surely the technological inequality between Pashtun villagers and missile-bearing aircraft is a vastly important signifier of the global inequality at the heart of the "War on Terror"? By never figuring these realities for fear of othering, we neglect the fact that alterity is an important nay unavoidable aspect of the lamentable world-system being perpetuated.

     
  • At 1:19 AM, Blogger Chris R said…

    Hi, no we're probably not going to agree on this one, but as you rightly say, that IS a good thing. Besides, we're hardly poles apart. I only respond now in order to get the comments up to ten for one post...for the first time ever. Well, that and to have my *final* say on the issue as i see it.

    The only thing I wish to add is in response to:

    "Surely the technological inequality between Pashtun villagers and missile-bearing aircraft is a vastly important signifier of the global inequality at the heart of the "War on Terror"? By never figuring these realities for fear of othering, we neglect the fact that alterity is an important nay unavoidable aspect of the lamentable world-system being perpetuated."

    Yes yes and more yes. No disagreement there whatsoever. The technological disparities are a demonstrative signifier of difference. The ways in which this alterity is marked/nominated is my point [I know you know this, our disagreement, such as it is, refers to the fact that I think the Guardian and BBC are guilty of 'Othering' in this instance, whilst perhaps, you do not]. Anyway, I genuinely read this leader as a revering of the technology, and by extension, those that possess it. The narrative and focus WAS on the escape[d] Zawahiri which led me to conclude that the killed and injured "unsophisticated" 'others' were not top of their list of concerns.

    I'm done.

    Chris

     
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