As has often happened to progressive-minded people who’ve reached a more radical point in their political evolutions, I’ve become disillusioned with many organizations, leaders and media sources that I used to rely upon. One of these dubious sources is The Guardian.
At first, it seemed to me like The Guardian was a good alternative to the American mainstream media outlets. It often featured quality articles about subjects like climate change, and its columnist George Monbiot is the one who first taught me what the term “neoliberal” means. But this good material is what gives a feel of reliability to the misleading claims that The Guardian very often puts out.
And, Monbiot himself has been one of The Guardian’s main sources of these claims. In a 2014 essay, the journalist Jonathan Cook called Monbiot “the left’s McCarthy,” and wrote that Monbiot “is not a guardian of our moral consciences, as he likes to think, but a guardian of the outer limits of a corporate-sanctioned consensus.” Cook provided good reasons for these characterizations; when the scholars Ed Herman and David Peterson argued that recent conflicts in Rwanda and the Balkans have been falsely characterized as “genocides” to benefit Western narratives, Monbiot wrote a 2011 column in The Guardian denouncing these scholars as genocide deniers.
This was an accusation that lacked nuance since Herman and Peterson did not deny the deaths that had happened in the conflicts. And, the extreme nature of Monbiot’s intellectual attack on Herman and Peterson hinted at how Monbiot would approach similar issues in the future.
I’m referring to Monbiot’s coverage of Syria in the last eight years. In 2011, Monbiot used two expat businessmen and one British man as his personal consultants over whether the West should impose sanctions on Syria-while the opinions of the Syrian people were completely ignored. This journalistic practice was biased, to say the least, and it indicated that Monbiot would stay within official Western narratives in his reporting on Syria.
“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” – George W Bush
But, I’m not basing my overall judgment of The Guardian off of the behavior of just one of their columnists, nor off of the fact that I don’t always agree with what The Guardian publishes. The paper has not just featured material that’s biased towards Western pro-imperialist narratives, but has repeatedly featured material that uses dishonest framing or even outright misinformation in order to argue for those narratives.
One example of this is an article from last December by The Guardian’s Olivia Solon, titled “How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine.” As others have pointed out, the piece seems to be carefully crafted so as to influence readers’ beliefs without giving any real evidence for its claims. It starts with unsupported characterizations of White Helmets skeptics as Russian propagandists, only cites “positive international recognition” of the White Helmets as evidence for the White Helmets’ legitimacy, and uses several supposedly authoritative but actually unreliable sources to paint a vague picture of “agitation propaganda” in relation to the White Helmets.
The telling part of this article is that it deliberately doesn’t include the arguments of the people it accuses of being Russian agents. It doesn’t mention the fact that the White Helmets are shown to have recruited jihadist sympathizers in multiple instances, or that the witnesses to Syrian disasters have said that the White Helmets ignore most of the war victims while only saving people when it’s convenient for them to film it, or that terrorist leaders have openly praised the White Helmets as allies in the fight to overthrow Assad.
This omission of the larger picture shows the manipulative nature of the piece; someone who hasn’t heard about these problems with the White Helmets will very likely be swayed by this slickly presented assertion that the White Helmets are the victims of a smear campaign.
There have been many other instances of The Guardian engaging in similar kinds of disingenuous propaganda. So much that in 2015, a series of people around the world started an independent site named Off-Guardian.org that’s been mainly dedicated to exposing the false claims that the paper’s editors allow for.
Off-Guardian has been able to point out quite a lot of lapses in the paper’s journalistic integrity. For instance, The Guardian recently made a video wherein Owen Jones toured around London to point at properties that are owned by Russians. The message of the video is undeniably xenophobic and racist because it denounces the properties as “dirty” purely because they’re owned by people from Russia.
As Off-Guardian has also found, The Guardian’s recent coverage of Nicaragua has been deeply misleading. In a column from last month, the paper claimed that President Ortega had “expelled a UN human rights mission after it published a report denouncing government repression” when Ortega had done no such thing, and when he’d even invited the UN team. The article also claimed that the anti-Ortega Sandinista Renovation Movement has been “outlawed,” when it’s simply failed to gain enough votes to qualify for the legal status as a political party. These and The Guardian’s other misrepresentations of the events in Nicaragua have served to create public support for Western-led regime change in Nicaragua, not to report on the truth about the issue.
Out of these and still many other cases of dishonest reporting by The Guardian, there have been some which rise to the level of journalistic malpractice.
According to the journalist Craig Murray, The Guardian told “deliberate lies” about WikiLeaks in its piece from last September titled “Revealed: Russia’s secret plan to help Assange escape from the UK.” Whereas the article claimed that Russia wanted to transport Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy and Assange planned to live in Russia, Murray’s inside information about the affair tells us that The Guardian was outright fabricating its claims. Here are some of the statements from Murray’s resulting blog post:
I was closely involved with Julian and with Fidel Narvaez of the Ecuadorean Embassy at the end of last year in discussing possible future destinations for Julian. It is not only the case that Russia did not figure in those plans, it is a fact that Julian directly ruled out the possibility of going to Russia as undesirable. Fidel Narvaez told the Guardian that there was no truth in their story, but the Guardian has instead chosen to run with “four anonymous sources” — about which sources it tells you no more than that.
It is very serious indeed when a newspaper like the Guardian prints a tissue of deliberate lies in order to spread fake news on behalf of the security services. I cannot find words eloquent enough to express the depth of my contempt for Harding and Katherine Viner, who have betrayed completely the values of journalism. The aim of the piece is evidently to add a further layer to the fake news of Wikileaks’ (non-existent) relationship to Russia as part of the “Hillary didn’t really lose” narrative. I am, frankly, rather shocked.
Though after what we’ve also seen The Guardian do this year, this shouldn’t shock us at all. On April 19th, The Guardian published an article by Heather Stewart which included the following paragraph:
One account, @Ian56789, was sending 100 posts a day during a 12-day period from 7 April, and reached 23 million users, before the account was suspended. It focused on claims that the chemical weapons attack on Douma had been falsified, using the hashtag #falseflag. Another account, @Partisangirl, reached 61 million users with 2,300 posts over the same 12-day period.
Stewart mentioned these accounts because she claimed that they were automated accounts run by the Russian government. This claim, sourced from a supposedly reliable report by the UK government, was completely false. The day after Stewart’s piece was published, the man behind the Ian56 persona did an interview on Sky News to prove his humanity. Maram Susli, the woman behind the Partisan Girl account, has also been long known to be a real person. The Guardian has still not edited this part of the article, nor has it apologized to these people who it’s so blatantly slandered.
When The Guardian has carried out these many journalistic offenses, and when it has yet to walk back on them, the factual reporting that it does should not make us see it as a reliable source. It's a mix of truth and falsehoods. Click To Tweet It is essentially on par with the journalistic level as Alex Jones’ InfoWars, which also reports some facts but is nonetheless distrusted because of the dangerous disinformation that it also frequently puts out. It may be time to start treating these two outlets with the same amount of caution.
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