“Or Your Lying Eyes…” Truth and Fiction in the News Business

If you want a sense of what could well lie in store for Syria, go no further than Anthony Shadid’s report from Libya in the New York Times for February 9. Shadid, a good reporter, describes a dismembered country, rent by banditry:

“The militias are proving to be the scourge of the revolution’s aftermath. Though they have dismantled most of their checkpoints in the capital, they remain a force, here and elsewhere. A Human Rights Watch researcher estimated there are 250 separate militias in the coastal city of Misurata, the scene of perhaps the fiercest battle of the revolution. In recent months those militias have become the most loathed in the country.”

One martial enterprise of some of these Misuratan militias is to attack a refugee camp of 1,500 people they had previously driven from their homes in Tawergha on the grounds they had supported Qaddafy. Other militias from Benghazi and Zintan are trying to protect these refugees.

“‘Nobody holds back the Misuratans,’ said Jumaa Ageela, an elder there. Bashir Brebesh said the same was true for the militias in Tripoli. On Jan. 19, his 62-year-old father, Omar, a former Libyan diplomat in Paris, was called in for questioning by militiamen from Zintan. The next day, the family found his body at a hospital in Zintan. His nose was broken, as were his ribs. The nails had been pulled from his toes, they said. His skull was fractured, and his body bore signs of burns from cigarettes.

“They’re putting themselves as the policeman, as the judge and as the executioner,’ said Mr. Brebesh, 32, a neurology resident in Canada, who came home after learning of his father’s death. He inhaled deeply. ‘Did they not have enough dignity to just shoot him in the head?’ he asked. ‘It’s so monstrous. Did they enjoy hearing him scream?’

“The government has acknowledged the torture and detentions, but it admits that the police and Justice Ministry are not up to the task of stopping them. On Tuesday, it sent out a text message on cellphones, pleading for the militias to stop.

“‘People are turning up dead in detention at an alarming rate,’ said Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who was compiling evidence in Libya last month. “If this was happening under any Arab dictatorship, there would be an outcry.’”

It looks as though Syria might well be heading into civil war of a probable brutality and level of bloodshed far beyond what is transpiring in Libya – as veterans of Lebanon’s civil wars can attest. There are howls of outrage in the West about Russia and China’s vetoes of the resolution in the UN Security Council calling for Assad to step down. What did they suppose would be the consequence of the NATO powers’ interpretation of the UN National Security Council’s two resolutions on Libya, taken as the green light for heavy bombing and kindred military activities in the cause of regime change?

It’s clear enough that the Sunni alliance led by Saudia Arabia and Qatar has ensured that the insurgency inside Syria will countenance no ceasefire offers; and that the propaganda machine so well described by Aisling Byrne on this site will continue a non-stop flow of mendacious bulletins eagely seized upon by the western press.

As Byrne reported,

“Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the ‘regime change’ alliance.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams allocated US$130 billion to ‘palliate the masses’ of the Arab Spring).

What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, ‘facts’, and often exaggerated claims of ‘massacres’ and even recently ‘genocide’.”

Note that Byrne also wrote emphatically that:

“All this is not to say that there isn’t a genuine popular demand for change in Syria against the repressive security-dominated infrastructure that dominates every aspect of people’s lives, nor that gross human-rights violations have not been committed, both by the Syrian security forces, armed opposition insurgents, as well as mysterious third force characters operating since the onset of the crisis in Syria, including insurgents, mostly jihadis from neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, as well as more recently Libya, among others.”

Buttressing Byrne’s observations are some interesting passages in the final report of the Arab League’s team of observers in Syria:

“26.    In Homs and Dera‘a, the Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks. In certain situations, Government forces responded to attacks against their personnel with force. The observers noted that some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.

“27.    In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.

“28.    The Mission noted that many parties falsely reported that explosions or violence had occurred in several locations. When the observers went to those locations, they found that those reports were unfounded.

“29.   The Mission also noted that, according to its teams in the field, the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

It’s a sure thing the escalation will continue: attacks and bombings; heavy-handed government response, as with the shelling. Another country on the downward slide into disintegration, to the satisfaction of the Sunni alliance and the NATO powers.

Meanwhile, on another front, the networks are ready. A CounterPunch informant reports:

“I was visiting ABCNews the other day to see a friend who works on graphics. When I went to his room, he showed me all the graphics he was making in anticipation of the Israeli attack on Iran; not just maps, but flight patterns, trajectories, and 3-d models of U.S. aircraft carrier fleets.

“But what was most disturbing – was that ABC, and presumably other networks, have been rehearsing these scenarios for over 2 weeks, with newscasters and retired generals in front of maps talking about missiles and delivery systems, and at their newsdesks – the screens are emblazoned with “This is a Drill” to assure they don’t go out on air – (like War of the Worlds).

“Then reports of counter-attacks by Hezballah in Lebanon with rockets on Israeli cities – it was mind-numbing. Very disturbing – when pre-visualization becomes real.”

Another CounterPuncher emails us:

“Just a quick possible scoop for the news room – I have a neighbor who bounces for a Seattle bar, and he had some very rowdy US service men in the bar the other night. When he asked them what was up, they told him they were being deployed to the mid-east as a front-running group for an operation in Iran.”

Footnote: on the topic of manufactured news, if CounterPunchers missed it, I recommend Israel Shamir’s report from Moscow on this site last week on the two demonstrations held in Moscow on February 4 on Bolotnaya Heath and Poklonnaya Hill. The liberals mustered in Bolotnaya had to concede that the turnout at the “pro-Putin” rally on Poklonnaya far exceeded their own numbers and all previous expectations.

Shamir wrote:

“Echo Moskvy, the voice of the Orange, liberal opposition, gave 62, 000 Bolotnaya vs 80, 000 Poklonnaya. There’s the usual gap in assessments partly due to methods of counting. One can count how many people were located on the square at any given time (this will be a low estimate) but it is just a guess how many people came and went away; perhaps the flow was high. By this guess you can reach a very high estimate. I would guess that on Bolotnaya there was a considerable flow: it is a downtown place, easy to come, easy to go. Probably Poklonnaya would have less flow, as it is an out-of-town place, hard to get there, hard to leave. So my estimate would be 50,000 on Bolotnaya, and 110,000 on Poklonnaya. Though precise numbers are being argued over, the numerical victory of Poklonnaya was accepted by the Boloto people….

“This second and largest rally was not “for Putin” – there were many speakers known for their dislike of Putin and his regime, but they hated the “white” (or “orange” as they say) opposition of Bolotnaya Heath even more. If the West hates Putin, it should try the forces woken up by the rally. It became a rally against neo-liberals, against pro-Western policies, a rally of Red-Brown (or “patriotic”) alliance of statist, nationalist opposition of Russia-First. They out-Putined Putin in no time.”

An Associated Press story, picked up by hundred of news organizations round the world put the Poklonnaya demo at 20,000 – an estimate that is clearly ludicrous the moment one looks at any news photo, such as this one.


For further interesting photographs and comparisons I recommend  Patrick Armstrong’s amusing piece, “Who Ya Going to Believe, The Associated Press or your lyin’ eyes?

Incidentally, Shamir has some figures from  Moscow Underground: “Poklonnaya (Park Kultury) Station worked only one way and delivered 105,000 passengers. Provided that some people came by buses and cars, 140,000 sounds plausible.”

Tumbril Time!

A tumbril (n.)  a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotineiduring the French Revolution.

Back in the 1960s Herbert Marcuse pointed out in one of his books that the Pentagon had given up on verbs. Pentagonese, consisted of clotted groups of nouns, marching along in groups of three or four. Verbs, which connected nouns in purposive thrust, were regarded as unreliable and probably subversive. They talked too much, gave too much away.

Despite the Pentagon’s best efforts, linguistically the Sixties were a noisy and exhilarating era: “bitching”, The Seventies gave us the argots of feminism and queerdom and then suddenly we were in the wastelands of Political Correctness, where non-white people were described as being “of color”, cripples became “less-abled” and sexual preference (non-heterosexual) became LGBTQ, though another capital letter may have been added while my back was turned.

Where are we now? Irritating words and terms spread across the internet like plague through a European town in 1348. There’s something very passive about the overall argot and a look through one’s daily inbox is like walking along a beach piled with decayed words and terms. There’s much more ill-written prose than there was thirty years ago.

The following words and terms are under severe scrutiny by Prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville, renowned for his implacable fairness:

Reach out, discourse, “the Other”, massive and its associate “whopping.”

Next week I shall report on the decisions of the Prosecutor on the accused.   

From: kidpako@gmail.com

Date: February 5, 2012 9:21:16 AM PST

To: alexandercockburn@asis.com

Subject: The tomberelles

This is to congratulate you on your fantastic ‘dung cart’ section. Imagine how it gets, the manure from the ‘tomberelles’ gets translated, contaminating our spanish language with the worst crop of bad english. On TV or the written press, we listen or read translated idiot propositions alien to our language, like ‘all options on the table’ -why on the table I ask, while the image of a retarded fool comes to my mind wanting to put food on his family- or ‘the ball is on someone’s court’ while talking about life or death situations, peace or war if talking about nations, with the joy and relaxation of a ball game.

Keep your excellent work coming, it does not matter that it will not be translated, like the regular dose of crap we get. From south eastern Spain, my best wishes to you and your great site. Cheers. Francisco González.

From: thomas naylor <thomas.naylor@mcgill.ca>

Date: February 4, 2012 6:54:31 AM PST

To: Alexander Cockburn <alexandercockburn@asis.com>

Subject: to the tumbrils!

“Have a nice one…”

Nice what? Cheese, mushroom and pepperoni pizza? Hearty dump? Damn good f…? Well, you know. Probably the first – since most of those robotic sales types uttering that apogee of inanity have cheesey smiles on their faces and are programmed to masticate only sound-bite-sized slices.

From: “N Haiduck” <nhaiduck@verizon.net>

Date: February 4, 2012 8:50:43 AM PST

To: <alexandercockburn@asis.com>

Subject: the tumbril

Dear Alex,

I wonder if there is room on the tumbril cart for on(or off) the table? I seem to remember Obama saying that prosecuting Bush and Cheney were off the table. I’m sure I’ve seen it a number of times in the last few years.


Neal Haiduck 

From:     Edward Wall che7755@att.net

You are aware that this is a losing battle? It is fun though. Not having the list, here are some of mine: “even as we speak,” “terrorist” specially when uttered by supporters and officials of the empire and Israelis, “a class act,” “quality” as in “quality player” good, bad indifferent,? “Community” this that and the other in a nation whose only “community” in the Chamber of Commerce, “Issues,” “athleticism,” “defensing” and hundreds of others in any sports broadcast.

From: “Newman, Stuart” <NEWMAN@NYMC.EDU>

Date: February 4, 2012 9:55:47 PM PST

To: Alexander Cockburn <alexandercockburn@asis.com>

Subject: To the tumbrils…

…with “on the ground,” notwithstanding all the insights garnered there by guests of The PBS NewsHour and Charlie Rose.

Here, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june12/nevada_02-03.html, at 3:02, Judy Woodrruff asks a reporter what he has learned on the ground about Mitt Romney’s popularity among Nevada voters, and the reporter responds in kind (3:13), despite the fact that he is 100 feet above a fake cityscape of Las Vegas.

From: Bill Allen / Nancy Macleod <nancybill@mcn.org>

Date: February 5, 2012 1:13:40 PM PST

To: alexandercockburn@asis.com

Subject: For the Tumbrils!

Alex, A hearty ” I second!” to Doug Lummis’s call for “the bottom line” to be bound and dragged to the tumbrils!

Few other phrases are today so deeply embedded in the American psyche, and color our analyses of all manner of topics. It’s not quite “…for our freedom,” but close. What other phrase better illustrates intellectual laziness, or the sorry fact that “The business of America is business.” ?

It can imbue nearly every discussion of import, including matters of conscience, beauty, truth – even life and death.

“The artist ___ ___ uses short, elegant strokes and bold texture to draw the viewers eye across the expansive foreground. A chiaroscuro of ghostly forms then pulls one into the seemingly limitless distance of the background. The bottom line: it’s a nice piece of work.”

I guess we shouldn’t expect better from ” a nation ruled by shopkeepers.”



From: Bruce Anderson <ava@pacific.net>

Date: February 5, 2012 3:15:38 PM PST

To: Alexander Cockburn <alexandercockburn@asis.com>

Subject: tumbril alert

Hola, Alex:

Not much in circulation yet but spotted twice now in edu-prose: …..”a search firm dedicated to SURFACING (my emphasis) appropriate candidates for school district leadership positions.” I also nominate ‘appropriate’ as now applied to everything from mass murder to bad table manners.


Bruce at the AVA

From: Ed Szewczyk <ejs@callislaw.com>

Date: February 6, 2012 10:52:56 AM PST

To: “alexandercockburn@asis.com” <alexandercockburn@asis.com>

Subject: To The Tumbrils

I have some nominations for the tumbrils:  1. “Robust,” as in robust interrogation techniques, or robust Article II powers. Seems always to be used as a euphemism for the unconstitutional and/or illegal abuse of something… Ed Szewczyk, Granite City, IL ejs@callislaw.com

From: Troy Nichols <troygnichols@gmail.com>

Date: February 6, 2012 4:59:38 PM PST

To: alexandercockburn@asis.com

Subject: Re:Tumbrilling

Another proposition, let’s just permanently dispose of an entire class of obnoxious business speech: the made-up business gerund (Examples: “decisioning,” “bootstrapping,” “costing,” “tumbrilling?” New ones are being invented every day). These clunky mutations are often close to meaningless, and the rest of the world surely laughs when they hear us talking like that. At present these words are highly concentrated in corporate memos and various official statements, but they’ll soon leak into the public discourse if left unchecked. You see it every once in a while already. Proliferation is certain. Let’s preempt this danger and send them all to the tumbrils now. If there’s any doubt about a certain word, say it in its infinitive form (“to decision,” “to cost”). If it sounds ridiculous, off it goes…

From: joseph wiese <josephwiese@comcast.net>

Date: February 9, 2012 7:45:54 AM PST

To: counterpunch@counterpunch.org

Subject: tumbril time

Hey, can we please toss ‘takeaway’ into the bin ?

Our latest newsletter 

Fifty years ago a group of students in the American midwest issued a document rather portentously titled “The Port Huron Statement.” It was the founding manifesto of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and became one of the most famous documents of that momentous and creative decade.

Read any history of the upsurges in the United States in the 1960s written over the past three decades and you’ll at once encounter tributes to SDS as on the cutting edge of radical organizing – in the battles against racial discrimination, particularly in the South; in the protests against the Vietnam War; and more largely in the aim of young people in the 1960s to break the shackles of the cold-war consensus that had paralysed independent thought and spread fear of McCarthyite purges through the whole of what remained of the organized left in America, in the labor movement, the churches and in the universities.

SDS was founded in 1960 and in the summer of 1962 held its first convention just outside the Michigan town of Port Huron, on the US-Canadian border an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Presented to this gathering was a manifesto initially drafted by a former student at the University of Michigan – Tom Hayden – and revised by committee and finally delivered to the world as the Port Huron statement.

We are people of this generation,” it began, “ bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. When we were kids the United States was the wealthiest and strongest country in the world: the only one with the atom bomb, the least scarred by modern war, an initiator of the United Nations that we thought would distribute Western influence throughout the world. …As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss…”

I’m going to leave you hanging there, because the remainder of this essay on the Port Huron statement is to be found in our latest newsletter, being released to subscribers over this weekend.

Also in this wonderful newsletter: “Why Mormon men can’t be trusted — A ex-Mormon woman looks back at the Church.”

I’ve never met a Mormon man who has any real respect for women. First of all, if you’re a Mormon man, then you believe you’re going to have multiple wives [in the afterlife]. So, even though he’s not acting on the will of God at this point in time here, on earth, to have many wives, a Mormon will tell you that this will be a commandment again definitely in the afterlife. To Mormons, life on earth is just a twinkling of an instant in the rest of your life. If you’re a good Mormon, you can go on to become a God and have your own planet and worshippers. So, there’s no basis to really and truly love and respect your wife because there’s going to be another, or many more, in the afterlife.

So, Mitt Romney, clearly a devout Mormon, looks at Mrs. Romney and he’s thinking, I love Ann, but …

Yes, he might be looking at the Relief Society president of his ward and thinking, Wow, maybe she’ll be mine in the afterlife. It just doesn’t exactly lead to respect for women to have their husbands thinking like that.

Because here’s this wife you have just for the twinkling of an eye, and then, when you die…

Well, she’ll be your wife still, but maybe your sister-in-law will be your wife too.

For more, from the ex-Mormon woman, read the newsletter.

PLUS Two ounces of oil + a fishing boat + Homeland Security Incident #995038 = the onward march of totalitarianism in America. Read Captain Pete Knutson’s chilling story.


Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.