Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 14/05/06

Little Things Mean A Lot

Little words, for instance. Perhaps they don't mean much of themselves, but used in certain contexts they can convey a message, or a desired impression, far above the number of letters in them. Propagandists, politicians, advertising people and other professional liars have long understood this. Fortunately for them (and unfortunately for us), they know that the officially-encouraged semi-literacy of our times means that enough people can be gulled by them for long enough to enable them to get the 'message' or the 'product' into enough people's heads for them to get their jobs done more easily.

It doesn't help when journalists (if you'll pardon the language) give these peddlers of piffle a huge helping hand by writing articles which, while seemingly neutral, use these little words in order to invoke or encourage a particular viewpoint.

Two cases in point come from the last couple of days in the London newspaper The Independent. Both, uncoincidentally, concern the visit of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to England.

Now, the party line on Chavez in what is euphemistically termed 'The West' is that he is an extremist lunatic, hell-bent on becoming a vicious Stalinist dictator, and actually having the sheer nerve to try to put American corporate noses out of joint. After all, aren't these the terms used to describe him by such luminaries of contemporary political ethics as Dick 'Bang Bang' Cheney, Tony '45 Minutes' Blair, and that intellectual Whore Of State, Condoleezza ' High Scrabble Score' Rice? So it must be true then, mustn't it?

Chavez's crimes are legion: he has managed to get himself democratically elected to office - twice; he has reduced the illiteracy rate in Venezuela to a mere fraction of its figure under the benificent reign of neo-liberal economics; he has brought in thousands of doctors from Cuba to treat the sick; and, the most horrific crime of all, he has used Venezuela's oil revenues to pay for all this!

The man is, of course, sick and twisted. How dare a mere leader purloin profits which Almighty God (that's spelt '$$$', of course) intended for executives in Texas and New York, and use them for the benefit of millions of poor people! This menace must be eradicated!!

Indeed, this is one of the keystones (as in 'Kops') of current U.S. government policies in the region, and has been for some time. The attempted coup d'état of a few years ago was backed with American money, weaponry and know-how. It was only the intervention of the ungrateful millions which caused the coup to collapse in ignominy when they reminded the Venezuelan army that they were there to protect the constitution, not to eliminate it.

Now, there is an important factor to be considered whenever a government wishes to push a particular line, especially when it comes to foreign policy: create the 'correct' impression. Now it's quite likely that in the U.S., and here in its main European colony, a lot of people who have seen themselves serially screwed by neo-liberal economic quackery and its concomitant socio-economic authoritarianism would look upon the policies of the current Venezuelan government as being worth thinking about, or at least worth keeping a hopeful eye upon. These delusions must be stamped upon, of course. And that's where the media can play its part in the defence of Freedom™.

It never ceases to sadden me how ignorant people are about the nature of the media, both here and in the Land Of Liberty (© McDisney). The media comprise a number of large corporations, apparently in competition with one another, but inevitably cheerleading for the same team.

In the case of broadcasting, at least in this country, there is a requirement upon all licensed channels to present news which is deemed to be 'impartial'. This can be a problem, if only from the point of view of definition: 'impartial' is like 'virtuous'; how it is defined is always dependent upon who gets to define it, in the same way that the whole issue of censorship is bound up with the questions, "Who do you get to do it?" and, all too often, "How do you get them to stop?".

This may not be so true in the U.S., where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is far more likely to get agitated over a millisecond's flash of black woman singer's nipple than it is over the blatant partisanship and screaming brattishness of, say for the sake of argument, Fox News.

All that this supposed advantage we in State 51 enjoy usually means, however, is that the broadcasters have to be far more subtle in the way they go about pleasing their masters.

Back in March of this year, Channel Four News, the supposed choice of evening news programme for the liberals, broadcast a film report on, yes, that man Chavez again. The report, by one Jonathan Rugman, contained such examples of 'impartial' reporting as:

And all this in a medium which is bound by law to be 'impartial'!

The press, of course, is not bound by any such limitations. Only fear of having its arses sued off by millionaires seeking redress for slights (real or imagained) via England's lunatic libel laws can stay its inky hands...

...and yet...

...those in the know (such as Roy Greenslade, one time editor of the Daily Mirror, and so no slouch himself when it comes to anti-working-class bias when you recall his rag's vicious attack on the Mineworkers' Union in the mid-80s) have told us that there is a Secret Service presence in every national newspaper in England. Newspaper proprietors, too, will always know on which side their lettuce is oiled. Murdoch bought concessions on media ownership out of the Blair regime before it had even got into office, and two or three generations of Australian politicians have recognised that it is never a good idea to get on one of Rupe's bad sides.

The Independent, despite its title, is owned by Tony O'Reilly, a former rugby union player turned media magnate, firstly in his native Ireland and latterly elsewhere. If any class of person is likely to be dismayed not only by the policies of someone such as Hugo Chavez, but by the support they gain from the ordinary people of their countries, it is the owning class. They know they cannot allow such crazy notions as 'economic fairness' and 'social solidarity' to get as far as the underperforming, junk-food-addled brains of the 'lower orders'. But at the same time, they know that the peons are not totally stupid, so a more tangential approach has to be attempted.

I assume this consideration is what made The Independent publish pieces on two successive days which, by carefully-aligned language, created the message most desired by the proprietor and all that he represents.

Yesterday (Saturday), an article appeared under the by-line of Daniel Howden, entitled "Hugo Chavez: Venezualean (sic) leader divides world opinion. But who is he, and what is he up to in Britain?"

Note, firstly, that 'up to'. Good people, people of whom we approve, do not get 'up to' anything. Only bad, naughty people. After all, the question "What are you up to?" is always accusatory in tone, even when used facetiously.

I don't remember The Independent asking a few weeks ago, "Who is Condi Rice, and what is she up to in Britain?". "Running away from a group of elderly Muslims in Blackburn" might not have seemed very flattering to an ally, however, and so the gallant Indy held its forked tongue.

We go further into Howden's article, and find lines like this:

"Mr Chavez, the high priest of political theatre..."

So unlike, say, George Bush, touching down on an aircraft carrier conveniently moored just off San Diego in front of a banner reading 'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED'. This was a few weeks into his war on Iraq. That was three years ago. I suppose a sequel starring Tom thingy is in the offing now.

But then, that's not 'political theatre'; that's 'presentation'.

And there's more. A Greenpeace protestor at the Vienna summit, was treated by Chavez,

"...like a pop star indulging a fan."

So, one moment a dangerous menace, the next a frivolous egotist. But it doesn't take Howden long to get back 'on message':

"...his critics, who are legion,..."

Given that the critics quoted are Rice, Rumsfeld and John Negroponte (the 'facilitator' of Central America's death squads in the 1980s), one can only assume that this is the American Legion Howden is talking about.

But fret not: it's soon back to frivolous again:

"A poster boy for the international left..."

and references to:

"...a political project naturally suited to his talents: getting under people's skin."

Presumably, only oil barons, neo-conservative politicians and others who sponge off the current prevailing system are included in the term 'people' here.

And here again:

"Mr. Chavez has displayed a magpie's eye for the shinier ideas of revolutionary and social democratic thinking."

Again, how very different to our own delightfully consistent Prime Minister, whose mantra of 'whatever works' is confined totally to the narrow confines of globalised neo-liberal voodoo.

But then Howden commits a spectacular gaffe. Referring to other left-leaning leaders in the region, Howden whinnies:

"...and in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega. That's right, Ortega. the veteran of 25 years of left-wing politics who finally seems set to win democratically this November."

Now, I don't know Howden's age: perhaps he's only a kiddie. But I seem to remember Ortega winning democratically in 1984. The Sandinistas were in power for five years, before U.S. interference in its internal affairs, and its backing of the Contra terrorist gangs and their sabotage of the Nicaraguan economy scared enough people into voting the cipher Chamorro into power.

But, then again, when you're smearing an Enemy Of The (Right Sort Of) People, who needs facts? After all, I'm sure Chavez has weapons which could reach Miami in 45 minutes...

Then we have this rather bizarre remark:

"At home, Mr Chavez's achievements are equally confused...the basic staples of life are sold at cost price through subsidised stores..."

Nothing confusing about that - at least, not to me. He's making sure that the poor have enough to eat. I'm sure many in the slums of Washington D.C. would be envious - if the American corporate media ever allowed them to know about it, of course.

Howden concludes desperately with a quote from a man claiming to be Chavez's psychiatrist: and even this is a lift from an interview in the New Yorker. Chavez, he claims, is "unpredictable", "disconcerting" and "a dreamer". Quite apart from the breach of patient confidentiality, are we supposed to take this at face value?

So much for Daniel Howden, then. But then, today (Sunday), up pops the Indy with another piece, this one claimed not by one but by two scribblers, Stephen Castle (in Vienna) and Raymond Whitaker (in London).

First shot off the bat, Chavez is described as 'outspoken'. This, however, is standard journo-speak, and should neither surprise us nor detain us further.

We once again get the associations with other people who are 'not quite our class, dear':

"The Venezuelan leader, an admirer of Cuba's Fidel Castro..."

Again, run-of-the-mill stuff, I suppose. Nice to see that they spelled 'Venezuelan' right this time, though.

As in Howden's piece, so we once again see a reference to Chavez as:

"a former soldier"

At least that's one epithet Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair and Rice don't have to worry about having applied to them. But it is useful in reinforcing the stereotype of the Latin American leader as being a military strongman likely to start the mass murder of his opponents at any moment. Let's leave aside the inconvenient truth that Chavez hasn't had anyone killed in his time in office: not the leaders of the failed coup, nor the instigators of the strike at the oil facilities which crippled Venezuela's economy for months afterwards. Nor has he sought to rein in the power of his country's privately-owned television channels, which spew poison into the eyes and ears of the population 24/7. Not the way for a vicious, totalitarian dictator to go about things, is it?

In Vienna, says (presumably) Castle, Chavez

"...indulged in a final bout of extravagant rhetoric..."

Ah, well, he's 'unpredictable', see. His shrink told us so.

Chavez then went on to address a rally in Vienna

"...with the daughter of the revolutionary Che Guevara..."

I bet Howden kicked himself when he read that: how could he have missed Ernesto out of his list of fashionable bogeymen?

We are then told:

"...Mr. Chavez has taken the opportunity to raise taxes on foreign companies operating in his country."

The jade! Why couldn't he follow the example of those upright scions of The One True Way like Gordon Brown, and let the likes of Rupert Murdoch get away with paying virtually no taxes at all in the U.K., despite his companies' massive profits? And how dare this upstart use his country's oil revenues to help the poor, rather than doing what every right-thinking leader should do, namely the economic equivalent of pissing them against a wall by using them to finance high unemployment, a low-wage, low-skill, low-prospects economy and unsustainable hyperinflation in the housing market? I mean, will the wretched man never learn from his betters?

In Vienna, Chavez once again lambasted the egregious Vicente Fox, outgoing president of Mexico, whose latest contribution to freedom and democracy is to turn thousands of police loose on flower sellers trying to sell their wares in the town square in San Salvador Otenco (see here for details). Calling the oaf "the puppy-dog of imperialism" is rather giving Fox the benefit of the doubt, but the first reaction of the official media was to ask Chavez if he intended to apologise for his remarks. Chavez, understandably, declined.

Castle (Whitaker having possibly gone off to the bar in disgust at having little to do other than dredge up suitable demonising phrases from his newspaper's resident spook) concludes by describing Chavez's speech to the rally. Chavez, he tells us

"..denounced Mr. Bush in terms reminiscent of Mr. Castro's four-hour marathons..."

Ah, there's that name once more! Let's not see that photograph of Rummy shaking hands with Saddam again, then.

Today, as well, The O'Reilly Factor...sorry, I mean The Independent had a leader about Chavez. I can't read it all - you have to pay to view the whole thing, and I wouldn't give a used condom to read what I suspect the rest of it was like. Especially as the second paragraph began:

"Mr. Chavez has done some good for the people of Venezuela..."

How generous. But you can be absolutely sure that there's a 'but' lurking behind the subscription offer.

If this is the best we can expect to read in the so-called quality press, it's scarcely to be boggled at that even the British intelligentsia is so ignorant of the way the world is going.

When The Independent first appeared in the mid-80s, its television commercials ended with the voice-over saying:

"The Independent. It is. Are you?"

On the current showing vis-à-vis Hugo Chavez, perhaps they should repeat the campaign, but with just a slight change of emphasis in the voice:

"The Independent. It is? Are you?"