"Address your remarks to Downing Street"
Nothing wrong with reprinting government claims as fact without verification
This article originally appeared at Media Lens
George Orwell once wrote:
'I really don't know which is more stinking, the Sunday Times or The Observer. I go from one to the other like an invalid turning from side to side in bed and getting no comfort which ever way he turns.' (George Orwell, quoted, Bernard Crick, George Orwell: A Life, p. 233, Penguin Books, 1992)
The competition remains fierce, but the Sunday Times edged marginally ahead with a recent front-page exclusive that stank to truly celestial heights. As we noted in our previous alert, the Sunday Times dramatically claimed that Russia and China had 'cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden'.
The 'exclusive story' contained precisely no evidence for its anonymous claims, no challenges to the assertions made and no journalistic balance. In a CNN interview the same day, lead reporter Tom Harper trashed his own credibility, and that of his paper, when he blurted:
'We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government.'
One of our readers, William Douglas, emailed a powerful criticism of Harper's claims direct to Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens, asking him to explain why anyone should take the article seriously. Douglas sent a blog piece by Craig Murray, the former British diplomat, who had offered five reasons for thinking the MI6 story was 'a lie'. Ivens' reply was astonishing:
'I think you should address your remarks to 10 Downing St. If you think they have lied to us then so be it.'
There was no attempt to respond to the challenge, or to answer Murray's serious objections; just a preposterous and insulting suggestion to contact the British government. Clearly Ivens is unaware of legendary journalist I.F. Stone's comment:
'Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.'
Ivens' response is the reality of media contempt for their supposedly valued readers, or 'partners' as the Guardian affects to call the people it deceives. The Sunday Times states heroically:
'The Sunday Times takes complaints about editorial content seriously. We aim to resolve your complaint efficiently, promptly and effectively by direct contact with you.'
Failing that, write to the government!
One might have thought that editors and journalists elsewhere would have leapt on Ivens' contemptuous response to a serious correspondent, condemning Ivens for dragging their supposedly noble 'profession' into further disrepute. But, according to our searches of the Lexis newspaper database, the email went totally unreported.
Last Sunday, the paper printed a tiny 'correction' to their front-page story beneath an even more pressing correction about iPads not being given to babies, as had been claimed:
'The article "British spies betrayed to Russians and Chinese" (News, last week) stated that David Miranda had visited Edward Snowden in Moscow. This is incorrect and we apologise for the error.' (page 24, bottom-right)
As Glenn Greenwald had noted in his comprehensive demolition of the article, the 'outright fabrication' that David Miranda had visited Edward Snowden was the key claim underpinning the entire piece – that Snowden had files with him in Moscow. A proper 'correction' would have seen the Sunday Times withdraw the article, admit to having published government propaganda, explaining how and why it happened, and apologising for the whole sorry affair.
Alas, clearly unrepentant, the Sunday Times has since published a follow-up piece claiming that Scotland Yard had been 'urged to investigate' Snowden (behind a paywall here; full text here):
'Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, has written to Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, asking his officers to examine the "great potential damage to the national security of the United Kingdom" caused by the former analyst.'
This is the same Liam Fox who resigned as Defence Secretary in 2011 over his close personal links to lobbyist Adam Werritty. As was reported at the time: 'detailed disclosures showed Mr Werritty's activities were funded by companies and individuals that potentially stood to benefit from Government decisions.'
Moreover, Werritty had dubious intelligence connections with Israel that went unexplored by almost the entire 'mainstream' media, the Independent being a rare exception. Craig Murray added that there had been:
'a huge government cover-up in progress over the Werritty connection to Mossad and the role of British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould, and their neo-con plan to start a war with Iran.'
Glenn Greenwald acerbically challenged the hapless Tom Harper, lead reporter on the Snowden piece:
'You should go back on CNN and talk about this new story of yours. You built such credibility last time.'
The Sunday Times follow-up also repeated the smear that Snowden 'fled to Moscow to seek the protection of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president'. No matter how many times the Sunday Times repeats this false claim, it does not become true. The fact is, Snowden was on his way to Latin America via Moscow when Washington revoked his passport, leaving him stranded in Russia.
'What Would Rupert Think?'
It is worth recalling that the Sunday Times has a long, shameful history of dubious 'journalism'. In the 1960s, the Sunday Times appointed journalist and author Tony Howard as its Whitehall correspondent, announcing:
'The job of a newspaper is to bring into public information the acts and processes of power. National security alone excepted, it is the job of newspapers to publish the secret matters of politics whether the secrets are the secrets of the Cabinet, of Parliament, or of the Civil Service.'
Media analyst Phillip Knightley reported:
'The then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, was having none of that. He quickly shut Howard down. Howard remembers: "He said he understood I was only trying to do my job but he had a job to do, too, and his was more important than mine. He made it very plain that all conventional sources of information would remain shut until I was willing to return to the cosy but essentially sham game of being a political correspondent." ' (Phillip Knightley, 'Of secrets and spies', The Independent on Sunday, August 17, 2003)
Since then, there has been little call for anyone outside the Sunday Times to shut down honest reporting. Harold Evans, a former editor working at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper, described to the Leveson inquiry how, in 1981, Murdoch rebuked him for reporting gloomy economic news and 'not doing what he [Murdoch] wants, in political terms'. Evans said that Murdoch came to his home and the two 'almost ended up in fisticuffs over a piece on the economy.'
'Murdoch would also haul in senior staff for meetings to tell them to alter their coverage, including the editorial line of the leader columns and telling the foreign editor to "attack the Russians more".'
David Yelland, former editor of the Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper, described how editors 'go on a journey where they end up agreeing with everything Murdoch says ... "What would Rupert think about this?" is like a mantra inside your head'.
Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, commented:
'If you want to know what Rupert Murdoch really thinks read the editorials in the Sun and the New York Post because he is editor-in-chief of these papers. He doesn't regard himself as editor-in-chief of the Times and the Sunday Times but he does regard himself as someone who should have more influence on these papers than anyone else.'
The record is grim indeed. Four days after Baghdad 'fell' to US tanks on April 9, 2003, the Sunday Times published these remarks by the BBC's John Humphrys, presenter of the influential Today radio programme:
'So maybe it's not being too naive to think America really does want to use its position as the world's only superpower to spread freedom and democracy. The truth is, it's a question of where. Only last week James Woolsey - who once ran the CIA and has been appointed to run the new information ministry in Iraq - claimed America had been actively promoting democracy for most of the past century.' (John Humphrys, 'Bush turns a blind eye to the wars he doesn't want to fight', Sunday Times, April 13, 2003)
The newspaper supported the subsequent phoney demonstration elections installing a vicious puppet government: 'The terrorists will do all they can to destroy democratic elections', the editors noted of Iraqis trying to rid their country of a mass-murdering foreign occupation. (Leader, 'Send more troops,' Sunday Times, October 10, 2004)
The Sunday Times, of course, supported Nato's catastrophic war on Libya in 2011:
'[T]here can be no accommodation with a man like Gadaffi or any of his family who aspire to succeed him.' (Leading article, 'Allies need a rapid victory to outwit Gadaffi,' Sunday Times, March 20, 2011)
In 2014, a Sunday Times editorial reviewed the life and career of former Israeli prime minister and general Ariel Sharon:
'His Unit 101 slaughtered 69 civilians in the Jordanian town of Qibya in 1953 and as defence minister he was blamed for the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Israel's Christian Phalange allies in 1982. He was forced to resign from his post.' (Leading article, 'The old warrior who turned to peace,' Sunday Times, January 12, 2014)
The Sunday Times editors described these atrocities as mere 'black marks'. Otherwise, Sharon was one of Israel's 'great nation-builders' and 'a military hero'. 'He leaves an important legacy.'
Earlier this year, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed reported that the Sunday Times had planned a big exposé on the HSBC consumer credit fraud. The story was 'inexplicably dropped' at the last minute. Ahmed wrote:
'HSBC happens to be the main sponsor of a series of Sunday Times league tables published for FastTrack 100 Ltd., a "networking events company." The bank is the "title sponsor" of The Sunday Times HSBC Top Track 100, has been "title sponsor of The Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200 for all 6 years" and was previously "title sponsor of The Sunday Times Top Track 250 for 7 years."'
Other ugly examples of Sunday Times journalism include its campaign against Thames Television's'Death on the Rock' documentary exposing the murder of three unarmed IRA members (two men and one woman) in Gibraltar by the SAS, the special forces unit of the British army; a long smear campaign against the BBC and ITV because they were regarded as obstacles to Rupert Murdoch's media domination; the fake Hitler Diaries; a character assassination of the author Salman Rushdie when he went underground following a fatwa that endangered his life; the smear claiming that former Labour leader Michael Foot was an agent of Moscow; and disgraceful coverage of the 1984-85 miners' strike that depicted the miners as the violent 'enemy within', echoing government propaganda. (For details, see John Pilger, 'Hidden Agendas', Vintage, London, 1998).
As Pilger noted almost 20 years ago:
'Once acclaimed for its journalistic and political independence, the Sunday Times was quick to reflect its master's view.' ('Hidden Agendas', p. 458)
Nothing has changed.
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