Monthly Archives: April 2011

Libyans welcome predator drones

Dear RTE Complaints,

Re: ‘US to deploy unmanned drones in Libya

It might be worth highlighting for readers that the US military’s unmanned predator drones are not simply “used to target militants along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan”, they are also one the major causes of civilian deaths in the region. According to a 2010 report by the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), which looked at a sample of drone attacks in 2009, there were an average of 3.33 civilian casualties for each drone attack.

Best wishes,

It’s a shame to have to link to a human rights organisation report such as this though. In the section on drone strikes at least (I only scanned the rest of the document) it seemed as if the interviewers – having collected data showing these people had lost partners, parents, friends and children – stood, head tilted to one side and asked, “but you’d have to acknowledge that these attacks have been relatively accurate wouldn’t you?

[“Civilians…acknowledge the relative accuracy of US drone strikes”, CIVIC, ‘Civilian Harm and Conflict in Northwest Pakistan’, 2010, pp 66]

Patrick Smyth: The power of narrative in war reporting

Irish Times Foreign Editor Patrick Smyth explains the power of narrative in war reporting. This time however, the ‘facts on the ground’ revealed just yesterday by the UK Independent challenge the moral authority of those who want to put ‘boots on the ground’.

[Image via ‘Activist Post’. Slightly modified]

In October 2010 Patrick Smyth wrote, in an article on EU militarism:

“[The EU] role which he argues should be expressed primarily, partly out of economic necessity, as “protection of interests”, including regional stability and economic interests – with more expensive “promoting interests” such as democracy and human rights, a secondary optional extra. Human rights, he says, from his “pragmatic, soldierly” perspective, are “not necessarily existential” to the mission of ESDP.

It’s some distance from Tony Blair’s “force for good” rationale for liberal interventionism, or the UN’s notion of a “responsibility to protect”. And it’s a mission statement that Ireland would find very problematic, if not impossible.

Arguably Blair and Bush lost the public argument about Iraq precisely when opponents succeeded in making the narrative one about it as a war for oil and business interests.”

And in March 2011, under the headline ‘Call me a warmonger when it comes to Libya‘, he wrote:

“FROM THE high moral ground the view is always much clearer: black and white, good guys and bad guys, pure and impure motives, hypocrisy and truth.

The beleaguered Libyan people may think, poor dupes, they want our help, but we know better what’s in their interest. Nothing good ever came from imperialist interventions. Better to die at Gadafy’s hands than rely on tainted western help. Things will work out for the best. Probably.

There you have it in a nutshell, the spoken and unspoken assumptions of our “anti-war” moralists for whom the UN- mandated operation in Libya is simply another manifestation of western hegemony, almost certainly driven by oil interests.”

In the first case Smyth seems to bemoan the (overstated) success with which opponents of the Iraq war managed to shape the narrative as one of ‘war for oil’, suggesting it was a failure on the part of Bush and Blair to adequately counter this that undermined the invasion as humanitarian intervention. This seems to be an implicit criticism of EU plans to change the +stated+ aims of military intervention, as if to say it is a gift to pacifists to begin from the base assumption wars are about power rather than compassion.

In the second Smyth revels in the fact that those who have promoted the intervention in Libya have succeeded in shaping the narrative as humanitarian. This success allows Smyth to say something as explosive as ‘Call me a warmonger when it comes to Libya’ while appearing righteous.

Smyth’s (simplified) retelling of the debate over the Iraq war suggests that opponents of the war in Libya are largely uninterested in the specifics. That theirs in a black and white view of the world, driven by conspiracy, where each war is the same. Which is exactly the same argument the dominant media took in the lead up to and, arguably, ever since the Iraq war.

With Libya, just as in 2003, the invaders narrative is the media narrative. What makes Smyth so angry, angry enough to declare himself a ‘warmonger’, is that it is not the public narrative. And the revelations in the UK Independent today and yesterday are an indication why. Yet Smyth, wise to the fact after Iraq, preempts this criticism:

“Yet all those fighting in Libya are doing so for different reasons: the rebels for their lives, human rights, democracy and, some maybe, an Islamic state; Nicolas Sarkozy perhaps for reasons of domestic self-aggrandisement; the US to defend oil interests or to usurp the leadership of a post-Gadafy regime”

So in Libya, unlike Iraq’s great altruistic motivations, humanitarianism is framed as a favourable +side effect+ of self interested military intervention. It does seem then that the EU’s plan to make the rational for war economic rather than humanitarian has given Smyth pause for thought. But not so much he can’t fail to relive 2003 all over again.

The fact is, when promoting war, warmongers can’t make their economic interests explicit, look what happened to Gerald Ratner:

Really Existing Capitalism is marked by the same division which characterized Really Existing Socialism, between, on the one hand, an official culture in which capitalist enterprises are presented as socially responsible and caring, and, on the other, a widespread awareness that companies are actually corrupt, ruthless, etc. In other words, capitalist postmodernity is not quite as incredulous as it would appear to be, as the jeweler Gerald Ratner famously found to his cost. Ratner precisely tried to circumvent the Symbolic and ‘tell it how it is’, describing the inexpensive jewelry his shops sold as ‘crap’ in an after-dinner speech. But the consequence of Ratner making this judgement official were immediate, and serious – £500m was wiped off the value of the company and he lost his job. Customers might previously have known that the jewelry Ratners sold was poor quality, but the big Other didn’t know; as soon as it did, Ratners collapsed.” (‘Capitalist Realism‘, Fisher, 2009: 46-47)

What does the Nyberg Report say about the media?

An email to the Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole regarding the recently published report on Ireland’s financial crisis.

Dear Fintan,

Hope you’re well.

I’ve just scanned the Nyberg Report and wanted to ask whether you are planning to write anything about what this report says about the media’s role in the economic crisis? Adding a little depth to the single sentence mention you gave it in your last piece on Sean Quinn.

Here’s a few choice quotes from the report that would be a great basis for a long over due bit of soul searching about journalism. Fisk has done it for war reporting, it’s about time someone did it for economics reporting.

““nobody told them” there was a potential problem” (pp iii)
“…(“media”) had a relatively large influence on how pre-crisis developments were perceived,discussed and acted upon” (pp 6)

Groupthink more likely where “the media and the political system take a supportive rather than a challenging role” (pp 9)

“much of the media enthusiastically supported households’ preoccupation with property ownership” (pp 50)

“Anglo was widely admired,and lauded (by […] the media) as a role model for other Irish banks to emulate” (pp ii)

Best wishes,

For more on this subject:

Favouring the Rich – A Media Prerogative? (Dec 2009)

The Elephant in between the property ads (Feb 2009)

The Media and the Banking Bailout (Oct 2008)

Sisters of the Blessed Moriarty Vocational School

In Sarah Carey’s final piece for the Irish Times she explains her role in the Moriarty tribunal, however, far from apologising for the acts she is criticised for in the report, she sought to trivialise them.

It’s been so long since the last post I thought I’d forget how to do this. But this very short piece had been sitting in draft form for several weeks now, as other ‘real life’ stuff took precedence. Having tidied it up, it’s now just about worth posting…

I had initially thought on reading Carey’s final piece for the Irish Times that it had been on her own initaitive, in fact I just presumed it. There would be nothing particularly surprising about Carey opting to use her column in the Irish Times to address the serious issues raised by the Moriarty tribunal and to talk about herself.

After all, Carey’s relationship with the tribunal and Denis O’Brien have over the years been the subject of a number of her Irish Times articles, 5 to be precise (out of a total of over 100). A search of her popular, now defunct blog, GUBU, reveals 80 entries relating to O’Brien (albeit some only raise his name in the comments section). Her relatively short spell as his assistant over 10 years ago clearly had a significant effect on her.

Yet this initial assumption was incorrect. It later transpired in her resignation statement that she was forced to make the tribunal the subject of the piece by the editor, which explains why she began with the line:

“Today I have to write about me and my mention in the Moriarty report”

And it is the first indication about how Carey intended to frame the story: as if she is a school child forced to write lines on the blackboard. Again, with ‘black spot on record’ Carey appears to be invoking the idea of a ‘black mark’ on a school record, a symbolic method of punishment. Again, when she reveals that she was responsible for the leak to her solicitor she says “I was the culprit”. A sort of faux seriousness, she obviously doesn’t consider it a crime, it was a ‘righteous leak’. So the idea of her being a ‘culprit’, plays into the frame of her as a child being reprimanded by a teacher.

But, going back to the editors role in this piece. Carey begins the piece with a long history about her role and the tribunal in general. It is not until the end of the article that Carey reveals the significance of the article; she is to reveal that she lied to the tribunal. Therefore whoever chose the headline wanted the article turned on its head. This was not the article the editor had requested.