Fake news, or ‘disinformation’ has been around for a lot longer than most MSM pundits would let you believe. And its impact has always been significant, sometimes making history change course.
The allied invasion of Northern France in June 1944 might not have been a success – contributing to the downfall of Hitler and the Nazis – if it were not for disinformation which British double agents fed to German agents, that the planned invasion was, in fact, going to be hundreds a miles away in another location along the French coast. Hitler swallowed it and therefore did not move tank units to Normandy, giving the allies a distinct advantage, even though they met with formidable resistance from German units.
In those days, of course, journalism itself was a respected profession with a clear outline of the required role of journalists who were expected to be non-partisan. Indeed, such a unique, enshrined role was evident in the Vietnam War where US generals saw how much damage could be done to the US propaganda machine, by allowing foreign correspondents absolute freedom, editorially and practically, reporting on the war. The payback from the powerful state was to be seen in the first Gulf War where ‘embedding’ journalists with US troops, resulted in gargantuan disinformation as even khaki clad big name journalists relied entirely on information presented to them via the military and never left their camps.
This year, there has been a record number of deaths of journalists around the world, leading me to believe that there is a distinct link between journalists’ murders and disinformation cabals which swallow them up and dictate their fetid copy. In the West, there has never been a more blurred line between journalists, spies and academics in Africa and the Middle East until now, while in those countries, what we like to think of as a pristine western model of ‘journalism’ actually never existed. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, the state does not ‘control’ the media. It doesn’t need to. It owns it lock, stock and barrel and the ‘journalists’ themselves – some of whom believe they are actually doing real journalism work – are so blinded by the indoctrination that they simply can’t even understand what it was in the West which we cherished so much in the so called Fourth Estate. Journalists in these countries do not see it as their role to hold their own state, or its players to account, but merely to parrot the messages from the elite and help them with spreading disinformation, often quoting other ‘outlets’ as genuine sources of valid information, aptly called The Echo Chamber.
Ignorance is the wholesale currency, and with it comes a heavy price for the naïve and deluded western correspondents, who wear PRESS on their outer clothes, foolishly believing that when they are caught reporting on a war, that they will be respected as neutral bystanders.
Sadly, because the propagandists who work high up in those countries’ hierarchies – even the ‘journalists’ and ‘editors’ – haven’t any idea what journalism is, they assume that all western journalists, covering the war in Syria, say, are foreign agents working for MI6 of CIA, masquerading as correspondents – and therefore need to be treated as such. Similarly, the state-run police and security services are spooked when western academics ask too many clever questions, like the case of Matthew Hedges, the British academic erroneously arrested in the UAE for spying. Police were unable to admit that they’d made a mistake with their initial arrest, so, typically, the case gets handed upwards, which only guarantees one thing in such a paranoid, monolithic society which also has a shocking contempt for media and western-style journalism: fake evidence, or fake news, if like, needs to be found.
The spooks are onto you. But that’s a good thing
But even if you can leave the salient fact that most western journalists covering the middle east tend to be biased, if not entirely partisan, in their reporting on the war in Syria or Khashoggi’s murder, we are starting to see western journalists operating under the influence, if not direction, of security services in a new media environment of farce, when we talk about journalistic standards.
In the UK, a Guardian journalist, Luke Harding is at the centre of a storm about a story claiming that Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2013, 2015 and 2016. The Guardian is currently being sued both by Assange and Manafort for libel as both parties strongly deny the meetings took place, leading some in the UK to believe that Harding’s sources – which the Guardian will not reveal – were UK intelligence operatives feeding Harding disinformation. To give you an idea just how sloppy and corrupt British media has become, the ‘accusation’ hurled at Harding that he is churning out fake news fed to him by Mi6 spooks actually elevates him in the newsroom. Clickbait is the new religion in a morally bankrupt newsroom where truth is a parenthesis, sometimes an obstacle, to a great headline.
Partisan journalism is a dangerous thing. It can start wars, bring down governments and infuse Arab uprisings. When the source becomes so powerful in its relation with the journalists – as it is in Brussels with 1,200 correspondents who parrot the propaganda of the European Commission each day – we can understand the journalists’ murders. But the gap between the West and the Middle East is closing.
Khashoggi has wrongly been presented by liberal western media as a sort of hero wanting to liberate his own country from the savagery of its Saudi elite. Conveniently, for leftish journals like the Washington Post this ticks a number of boxes, not least of all how it portrays Trump’s key ally in the Middle East – the house of Saud – as a brutal dictatorship. But you couldn’t find a better example of the personification of a fake news operative, who wasn’t even a journalist, than Jamal Khashoggi. The 59-year old columnist, we now know, was planning to create an opposition movement which would overthrow the Saudi rulers, the same rulers who paid him handsomely for over 30 years as one of their own ‘journalists’. He was a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte who was on the Qatari payroll, managed by an American lady, who assisted him with his vociferous, if not spiteful, attacks on Mohammad bin Salman. Khashoggi had big plans, with the help of Qatar, to bring down the House of Saud and he wasn’t particularly bothered about abusing the trust of that 30-year friendship, which trusted him and shared information with him. No angel, and certainly no journalist. Khashoggi in fact, was an intelligence officer, who worked under the auspices of being a journalist who loved the sound of his own voice, while he used his abused trust to win the respect of western journalists.
“Khashoggi was not even a journalist”
But the hypocrisy of the West to un-blur this line between security asset and journalist is astonishing. In the Middle East, the line is already blurred as people in Saudi Arabia consider both roles, working for the royal family, as intertwined anyway.
Western media’s conspiracy to canonize him is curious. I wonder if it’s a reaction of editors who feel guilty for operating their own newsrooms, based on working with ‘fake news’ as an alternative to journalism of years past. These days I have noticed a stunning lack of professionalism from journalists working for online departments, due, I believe, largely to the fact that their main source – the internet – is largely made up of false ‘news’. And they know it.
These days there is absolutely no shame or stigma whatsoever for running an article which is absolutely overloaded with mistakes. I often contact editors in the UK and prove to them their errors but my interjection is seen as a minor annoyance and one which threatens relations between editor and journalist. Newsrooms these days in London are non-confrontational arenas which accommodate a new generation of underperforming journalists which really knows no other trade than purveying fake news, like their colleagues in Damascus or Riyadh.
The newsroom has changed dramatically in 30 years
The journalist who broke the Hitler Diaries story – the forged volumes themselves purchased by the Sunday Times in 1983 from a German magazine – in today’s media environment would no doubt become editor-in-chief. When the scandal broke, Rupert Murdoch fired his own editor over the embarrassment. More recently, one of its own Middle East experts was let go though for being in the pocket of the Syrian dictator. Hala Jaber who won a number of awards covering the Middle East, gave us an insight into what is required to win such accolades, when she too was exposed as being a secret agent of the Assad government, helping the Syrian leader and his cronies with media advice, when needed. Many Beirut hacks wondered how Jaber got exclusive interviews with Assad (which were no doubt scripted), even though the Syria leader started one such interview with asking her about the health of her father.
In this part of the world, if you are prepared to surreptitiously help despots – by agreeing to being part of their fake news agenda and promotion of themselves as great leaders – you are not paid with cash of course, but access. That is how you win press awards in the Arab world, getting to people and locations which are shut off to the newsroom’s star who just flew in from London. Don’t bother trying to google articles from Jaber about Assad’s torture cells. That’s not part of the deal which keeps the lines blurred or the Echo Chamber running.