By Margo Kingston
February 19, 2003
Rupert Murdoch is pro-war, and thinks a lower price for oil after Iraq is conquered will be better than a tax cut. After those comments (see Murdoch: Cheap oil the prize), a reader sent me Their master’s voice by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian, which reports that all 175 Murdoch editors around the world just happen to agree with their boss. It begins:
‘What a guy! You have got to admit that Rupert Murdoch is one canny press tycoon because he has an unerring ability to choose editors across the world who think just like him. How else can we explain the extraordinary unity of thought in his newspaper empire about the need to make war on Iraq? After an exhaustive survey of the highest-selling and most influential papers across the world owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, it is clear that all are singing from the same hymn sheet. Some are bellicose baritone soloists who relish the fight. Some prefer a less strident, if more subtle, role in the chorus. But none, whether fortissimo or pianissimo, has dared to croon the anti-war tune. Their master’s voice has never been questioned.’
The reader wrote: ‘It is unrealistic to think that media owners do not influence media content and this article attests to an agenda beyond – and unfortunately more sinister than – objective news reporting (if there is still such a thing these days). You only have to pick up a copy of the Daily Telegraph to know that Murdoch’s papers are pushing for a war. On one hand, it astounds me that Murdoch is so unabashedly blatant about his pro-war stance as it relates to cheaper oil if the coalition of the willing is successful, and yet I find his honesty a breath of fresh air amid the pretences and lies of Bush, Blair, Howard.’
Jack Robertson was so incensed by yesterday’s Daily Telegraph that he penned a Meeja Watch on Murdoch’s war. Sue Stock in Nimbin, NSW recommends medialens for ‘critical reporting on the media’s role on the Iraq situation, particularly in the UK’. Veteran journalist Phillip Knightley’s speech to an Evatt foundation seminar I attended on Sunday on the death of investigative journalism and what to expect of the impending war coverage is at evatt.
After Jack, expat Kerryn Higgs reports on the rallies in New York and Barcelona. To end, Phil Clarke’s choice of Wilfred Owen’s WWI poems, which “might bring home the reality of war which seems to be missing from the debates”.
“Owen was killed in action 1918,and it is frightening to think that his poems are now nearly 100 years old and still so applicable”.
I’ve just published Harry Heidelberg’s column on Chirac’s untimely outbreak of French arrogance, Chirac blows it. Me, I remember a comment by the Herald’s then foreign affairs correspondent in Canberra, David Lague, when I asked if he was boycotting French goods in protest at its nuclear testing in the Pacific. “Think big picture, Margo. France is the only western nation prepared to take on the United States.”
The war is so dominant in people’s minds that the NSW election can’t get off the ground, but we’ll launch the election webpage next week regardless. I’ve just published the fourth article by our planning and development commentator Kevin Rozzoli, Community consultation: A plan of action, and commentator Noel Hadjimichael’s column on questions voters might like to ask before they vote, Labor’s lost years. He begins:
‘Given the informal acknowledgement by both sides of NSW politics that we facing a short three week campaign – during which time the caretaker Carr administration will do its utmost to play by the rules – voters should look back over the past four years and ask themselves three questions:
1. What has Bob Carr done to improve our lifestyle, job prospects or environment since 1999?
2. Who has performed best in their roles as Ministers over this period?
3. What does the next four years offer?’
I recommend In bin Laden’s Mind, a Good Start on Goals by James Pinkerton in Newsday, especially given some of the headlines coming out of the peace marches, such as the pathetic ‘Iraq Gloats’ in yesterday’sDaily Telegraph. And this from editor Campbell Reid’s editorial (my bold):
“Yet another fundamental truth also confronts us. Saddam Hussein heads a murderous regime and according to the most reliable evidence, he has an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, he is strongly suspected of sponsoring Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation. He has murdered hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of his own citizens and he remains in “material breach”, as the Americans say, of United Nations Resolution 1441.”
Campbell Reid is a a Goebbelian media processor. That statement (in my bold), is simply untrue. Saddam Hussein is NOT ‘strongly suspected of sponsoring Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation’, not even by Reid himself, I’ll bet (unless he has started to swallow his own tabloid propaganda). Every Muslim expert, every reputable scholar, every Middle Eastern historian and every terrorist-hunter would reject both that ‘strongly’ assessment itself, and also the piss-weak ‘passive voice’ way it is presented, even after all the fumbled attempts at such linkage. (They would ask straight off: ‘It is suspected strongly? By WHOM exactly, mate?”)
The truth is, even the most hawkish Pentagon, White House and pro-invasion representatives have only made such link attempts half-heartedly. In addition, the recent tape by bin Laden confirming that he still regards Saddam Hussein as an ‘infidel’ also exposes Reid’s line as the purest propaganda. Terrorism expert Clive Williams, for example, writing in Reid’s stablemate The Australian last week, said just that – that the tape rather strongly suggested, if not confirmed, a LACK of past link, not any bloody ‘sponsorship’ nonsense. He is only an Al-Qaeda expert, of course; Campbell Reid is a newspaper editor.
Today, of course, the PM has in fact been downplaying any future causal link between an Iraq invasion and Al-Qaeda terrorism. Although we must at the same time stop ‘terrorism-sponsoring’ rogue states, too. Lies, lies, lies and opportunistic twisting and turning; our leaders looking for any pro-war excuse when it suits, backing off from them when it doesn’t. This is NO way to justify an invasion and occupation of Iraq.
The Murdoch Press has of course been doing this stuff in the US for a long time; It’s no wonder that so many Americans now believe there were Iraqis among the S11 terrorists. I wonder how long before Australians start thinking the same way?
And you simply have to ask this critical question, more urgently every day: If the case to invade and occupy Iraq is so compelling, why do pro-invasion propagandists need to lie while making it? Doesn’t the truth matter anymore? Is that what you think our soldiers are going to be fighting for, Campbell?
Read Pinkerton’s ‘Osama’s memo on progress’ carefully, and ask yourself if it rings true or not. If those of us who oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq to ‘disarm’ Saddam are ‘Saddam appeasers’, then those like Daily Telegraph editor Campbell Reid who would lie to have us do what I think is Al-Qaeda’s most fervent hope – the West invading and occupying Iraq – are surely ‘Osama appeasers’.
Or maybe neither group are in fact ‘appeasers’ at all. Maybe there’s a smarter middle path to follow. Maybe it doesn’t have to be War, or No War. I’ve said what my middle path is (Looking for John Curtin). So have the French and the Germans. I wonder what Campbell’s might be. Or Rupert Murdoch’s, I should say, since that’s doubtless where Reid goes to do his independent editorial thinking.
Kerryn Higgs in New York
First, many thanks for Webdiary. I live in Syracuse, NY State for several months a year, so I read it every day and consider it a lifeline to Aussie debate and politics. I’ve never written to Webdiary before, but thought you might like to hear a bit about peaceniks in New York City and Barcelona on Saturday. (For Webdiary readers who like a good laugh, black comedy at its best is Bush’s “real” State of the Union address(http://downloads.warprecords.com/bushwhacked2.mp3) The mp3 file should automatically download from this link and play on Real Player.)
It was a great day in New York City, even if we weren’t allowed to march the way people nearly everywhere else could. It was a day of very cool conditions for standing around, about -4C when we got to our spot, -6C by 3pm, and with the “wind chill factor” (a crucial part of weather-speak here) it was the equivalent of -14C. At least 300,000 – and maybe a million or more – stood out in the freezing air for three or four hours, keeping their blood circulating by waving placards (of which my favourite said: “Empty Warhead Found in White House”, and pictured Bush’s hollowed-out head lying on its side, with the top sawn off.)
The official rally was supposed to take place in 1st Avenue north from 49th Street, just around the corner from the UN. My companions and I actually made it onto 1st Avenue and found a good spot near 64th Street. The stage was maybe a kilometre away, though we could see a screen on an overpass from there – sort of – and there was a sound system broadcasting the speeches at that corner, which was better value than the tranny we brought with us.
I think it was Desmond Tutu who suggested that the reasonably clement weather we got was a sign that god was on our side. The snow which had been forecast for Saturday didn’t come – and lucky it wasn’t a day or two later, when the biggest blizzard for 6 or 7 years is howling through the region. I read that people demonstrated in Augusta, Maine, on Saturday in “below-zero” (Fahrenheit) conditions, ie below -16C.
Out on these frigid streets, with hundreds of thousands of US people, it complicates a foreigner’s sense of what it means to be “anti-American”. More than 200 demonstrations took place, from New York to the dozens of smaller gatherings in towns and cities across the US, and culminating in the 250,000-strong march in San Francisco on Sunday. It cheers me to see that there is such a strong minority here which is deeply opposed to the war on Iraq.
Why New Yorkers got arrested
The reason it’s so hard to estimate the numbers at our rally in New York is that many thousands of people simply didn’t make it onto 1st Avenue. The march past the UN building (original plan of the coalition, United for Peace and Justice) was banned by Mayor Bloomberg for alleged security reasons. I couldn’t help thinking the “Code Orange” terror alert last week was especially convenient for anyone wanting to impede the protest in NYC. (It was revealed, on Friday morning here, that the alert had been based, at least partly, on information discovered to have been fabricated.)
This is a city that gets the jitters these days, understandably – duct tape and plastic sheeting sold out after the alert went orange and the government recommended them to citizens – and before more sensible voices pointed out the limited utility of a sealed room, when a chemical attack was more likely to occur in a subway or ventilation system and would tend to disperse fairly rapidly if launched in open streets. (Duct tape was a popular accessory at the rally, plastered on jackets and hats and, on posters, across the mouths of Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld.) But, whatever the real chances of imminent attack, it certainly seemed unlikely to me that Osama, even had he decided al Qaeda should target the UN, would choose the Feb 15 peace march as a cover or vehicle for attack. And, why hit the UN anyway, when it still stands in Bush’s way?
What was ultimately permitted by the court was a stationary rally in 1st Avenue, stretching north from a stage at the corner of 51st Street. The Avenue is fairly wide, maybe a bit wider than, say, Flinders Street – though the NYPD had the footpaths and intersections barricaded off. Those who made it onto 1st Avenue were directed into “pens” made of portable steel railings, which were helpfully provided for us so that cross streets could remain clear. A series of these enclosures extended over more than twenty-five city blocks. There were various attitudes to the “pens”. Many young anarchist types saw them as tools of police repression, though one of my companions, a radical in his mid-forties, confessed that – at his age – he appreciated a bit of order.
The court had allowed the organisers to set up dozens of feeder marches into 1st Avenue. Most of the designated assembly points for these were across Manhattan, to the south and west of the stage area, which meant that vast crowds converged from the south on the footpaths of 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Like us, they were herded further and further north before being allowed to get across to the rally in 1st Avenue. Conflict arose from a combination of people losing patience with being ushered so far north, a mile or more from the stage, and of the sheer numbers who were trying to reach 1st Avenue. People eventually spilled off the designated footpaths, turned round and began marching south looking for a shorter route to the action, with police ultimately resorting to riot gear and horses in an attempt to push them back.
Overall, it seems to me that the denial of the right to march lies at the root of the violence and 300-odd arrests here. In a march, you simply take your place, everyone goes the whole route and you end up wherever you end up, even if you are a mile or two from the rally stage. In the non-march situation, there were hundreds of thousands of people trying to break into the fixed rally and no unifying march to keep them together.
The feeling in Barcelona
When I got back to Syracuse late Sunday night, the water pipes had frozen and there was an email from American friends in Barcelona, where – on my reading – the biggest demonstration of all occurred, rated officially at 1.3 million. Here are their impressions:
Jacquie: We just walked in the door from the demo in Barcelona. I have never seen anything like this, over a million people. I really feel like people are saying that we want things done differently from now on. We don’t want to continue with the same rules as before, we want to find alternative peaceful ways to solve problems. It seemed like everyone in Barcelona came to this demonstration. It must have been nearly half the population! All of the streets of the centre of the city were closed. All of the streets were packed with people. The demo took hours because it was impossible to move along the route. We took a side street with the other throngs in order to arrive at the final point to see what was happening there. After a few talks and chanting and acting out in unison the role of victims of war rising up from its destruction, we were asked to leave in order to make room for the others to continue arriving at this point, in order for the demo. to even move. So then we walked back to where we had been before. This took about two hours. And we saw the group we had been with – they were just starting to be able to move down the wide avenue along the route. We stood there on benches watching as everyone passed. I felt like crying from joy at seeing this entire society saying we want something else. This war will not be in our name.
Jed: The demonstration here was amazing. Over a million people! Possibly twenty percent of the population of Catalunya was out in the street yesterday demonstrating. In Madrid there were over a million people, in Sevilla over 200,000, in other smaller cities tens of thousands also. Now we just have to wait to see what kind of phoney crisis or situation the US cooks up to justify a war that at the moment seems to be impossible for them to wage.
Margo: Associated Press reported, regarding the Orange Alert:
WASHINGTON (Feb. 14) – A senior government official said Friday the administration now believes some of the information which led to upgrading the nation’s terror threat level last week to orange, or high, was likely fabricated. Authorities drew that conclusion based on polygraphs given to terrorist suspects interviewed by the government, said this official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The apparent fabrication came from terrorists with ties to the duct tape and plastic wrap industry.
Move him into the sun–
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds,–
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved– still warm,– too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
— O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
At a Calvary Near The Ancre
One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, –
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
With a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
‘Strange friend,’ I said, ‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None,’ said that other, ‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot- wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now…’