Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it's hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they've learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets "report," especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials -- laundered through their media -- as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.
We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined "British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese." Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article (behind a paywall: full text here) claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries "have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services." It continues:
"Western intelligence agencies say they have been forced into the rescue operations after Moscow gained access to more than 1m classified files held by the former American security contractor, who fled to seek protection from Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, after mounting one of the largest leaks in US history.
"Senior government sources confirmed that China had also cracked the encrypted documents, which contain details of secret intelligence techniques and information that could allow British and American spies to be identified.
"One senior Home Office official accused Snowden of having 'blood on his hands,' although Downing Street said there was 'no evidence of anyone being harmed.'"
Aside from the serious retraction-worthy fabrications on which this article depends -- more on those in a minute -- the entire report is a self-negating joke. It reads like a parody I might quickly whip up in order to illustrate the core sickness of western journalism.
Unless he cooked an extra-juicy steak, how does Snowden "have blood on his hands" if there is "no evidence of anyone being harmed?" As one observer put it last night in describing the government instructions these Sunday Times journalists appear to have obeyed: "There's no evidence anyone's been harmed but we'd like the phrase 'blood on his hands' somewhere in the piece."
The whole article does literally nothing other than quote anonymous British officials. It gives voice to banal but inflammatory accusations that are made about every whistleblower from Daniel Ellsberg to Chelsea Manning. It offers zero evidence or confirmation for any of its claims. The "journalists" who wrote it neither questioned any of the official assertions nor even quoted anyone who denies them. It's pure stenography of the worst kind: some government officials whispered these inflammatory claims in our ears and told us to print them, but not reveal who they are, and we're obeying. Breaking!
Stephen Colbert captured this exact pathology with untoppable precision in his 2006 White House Correspondents speech, when he mocked American journalism to the faces of those who practice it:
"But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works.The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!"
The Sunday Times article is even worse because it protects the officials they're serving with anonymity. The beauty of this tactic is that the accusations can't be challenged. The official accusers are being hidden by the journalists so nobody can confront them or hold them accountable when it turns out to be false. The evidence can't be analyzed or dissected because there literally is none: they just make the accusation and, because they're state officials, their media-servants will publish it with no evidence needed. And as is always true, there is no way to prove the negative. It's like being smeared by a ghost with a substance that you can't touch.
This is the very opposite of journalism. Ponder how dumb someone has to be at this point to read an anonymous government accusation, made with zero evidence, and accept it as true.