There’s some talk in the media about The Guardian at the moment. For obvious reasons. Like any other mainstream media outlet The Guardian appears to exist fundamentally to market to its readers what is an essentially orthodox Western line on world affairs. Even if, in this case, it is a predominantly middleclass and ostensibly ‘progressive’ group of people it has to sell this vision to. Not that this appears to pose any real problem. It’s just a question of playing with semantics. So blatantly obvious is this procedure, we can hardly even term it covert.
Similarly, the stepping down Editor-in-Chief, Alan Rusbridger, is far from some radical figure. His close dealings with the powers that be through such cosy powwows as The Ditchley Foundation (of which he has been a governor) are apparently no secret. Why should it be? We are used to such media people going to bed with the corporate/political elite. Guardian readers themselves, so caught up in the narcissism of celebrating their own values and lifestyles in the newspaper’s pages as well as in its endless webpages and blogs, probably wont notice either.
Nevertheless, The Guardian aside, it is a curious (if disturbing) experience in itself to take a glimpse into the cosy world of The Ditchley Foundation where the powers that be (spanning both sides of the Atlantic) have been getting together since 1958, along with some stalwarts of the establishment media, to the end of ‘help[ing] shape policy on the major international issues of the day’. The setting of these friendly reunions: an appropriate symbol of plutocracy in the form of a stately pile somewhere in the Oxfordshire countryside.
As for the members and participants of these gatherings, casting a weary eye down the list of their names is to discover a roll call of basically anyone who might have a hand in the world’s madness. Current chairman of the foundation is a certain Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, KT, GCMG, PC, Hon. FRSE. (I kid you not). Beside the distinction of having half the alphabet in his name (as do most of the members, by the way), he may also take pride in being Special Advisor to BP as well as having been NATO Secretary General from 1999-2003.
So, lets get a taste of some of the meaty offerings up for discussion.
Here’s a conference that dates back to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Rusbridger, himself, is cited as being a participent of this one). The scene is set. A ‘beautiful sunny weekend’ in May-June 2003, according to the breezy introduction to the Director’s notes on the conference. The topic at hand: ‘The Impact of the Media on the Politics of Our Time’. The Chairman of the meeting, a certain Lord Birt (in all seriousness) who, as former Director General of the BBC, was now ‘experiencing life on the other side of the divide’ as strategy advisor to then PM, Tony Blair. (How cosy).
The general tone of the conference was clearly one of deep concern. Both the politicians and the ‘established press’ were apparently losing their grip on that third player in the ‘eternal triangle’ – the public. This was not to be brooked at any cost. The new channels created by the internet were particularly worrying. These opened up ‘alternative avenues for political expression’ that bypassed the ‘intermediation of the established press’. Deeply concerning, obviously.
And what was driving the public into these dangerous alternative channels for political expression? It was all to do with a breakdown in the public’s perception of the ‘trustworthiness’ of the press and politicians. Leading, among other things, to a ‘public disengagement from the formal political process’. But this phenomenon was nothing to do, as you might think, with the fact that these two groups (political elites and the media) were generally perceived as working together towards the same end of domination. Not at all. In fact, it was apparently quite the contrary. The reason the public were losing interest in mainstream politics and media was because these two groups weren’t cosy enough with each other any more!
An idea which was brought home by a general sense of despondancy expressed at the loss of the ‘old style journalism’ in the US. Apparently, much to the gathering’s regret, everything had ‘changed’ with ‘Vietnam, Watergate, The Civil Rights Movement, etc.’ And here I quote in full:
‘The assumption had become that politicians were mendacious and that the task of the press was to get behind their defences to discover the truth.’
Unacceptable, clearly. However, there was some cause for optimism as:
‘notwithstanding this trend, it was suggested that in the US journalists were still fairly respectful of the White House’.
That’s a relief. No marks for the UK, however, where, apparently, the attitude was still ‘generally more contemptuous of politicians’. (We can only assume Alan Rusbridger was diligently taking notes here).
As of most of the conferences on this site, you could just dump the whole thing onto the page and let it condemn itself through its own unabashed nonsense. Through them we get a glimpse of the elite unbuttoned, speaking freely in a cosy unthreatening environment. And for that reason (as much as such a thing is possible regarding such far gone, cynical machinators) showing something of their true interests and agendas.
That said, at some moments while reading, you get the disturbing impression that they’ve actually started to believe their own nonsense.
A case in point. This one is a conference from last year, with the foreboding title ‘The Global Role of The United States’ (19-21 September 2014). It was, not surpisingly, in partnership with the American Ditchley Foundation. (Rusbridger wasn’t there for this one, apparently. Though The Economist Foreign Editor was).
The question was posed: ‘did the world want/need US leadership?’ And the response: ‘most around the table thought so.’ It was apparently the desastrous effects of an ‘absence of US leadership’ in Syria, the Ukraine and regarding ‘China’s assertiveness’, that had led many to be convinced that ‘a world without an active US was too dangerous’.
There was, of course, mention of criticism that the US had received in its capacity of ‘world policeman’. But this was a ‘cross to bear’, and though the US had often become a ‘reluctant leader’ it should not lapse into ‘cynicism’ in the form of ‘isolationism’ and ‘retrenchment’. The US should still ‘fix global problems’, for ‘ only the US had the capacity, belief, tradition and underlying desire to promote common goods’.
This will, of course, be enough to measure how far gone this crowd are. Again, you could just dump the whole thing and let it condemn itself. However, I’ll settle with some of the gathering’s deeper reflections.
On the Middle East, which they chose to term ‘this mother of all messes’. Conclusions: ‘no one had an answer to this’.
NATO. Here the group was apparently ‘encouraged by the signs of NATO reinvigoration’ (as displayed at the recent summit in Wales). All of which we can rest assured is ‘only the start’.
Finally, concerning what one writer recently accurately termed those ‘crappy trade deals’, and, in this case, more specifically, the TTIP. This was viewed as of ‘vital importance’. Though there was some concern that it ‘might not come to fruition’. Which would be a ‘tragedy’.
If all this hasn’t been enough to turn your stomach, by way of a final offering, just a few tasters from another conference of last year: ‘The Shale Gas Energy Revolution and Geopolitics’ (22-24 May 2014). Again, an eye catcher of a title, particularly considering the open economic/political warfare of recent months, largely aimed at Washington’s critics. Appropriately, the chair of this discussion is given as the writer of the Energy and Power Blog for the FT, as well as having formerly been Group Vice President for Strategy and Development at BP.
So, some conclusions of the powers that be on the matter.
Its negative consequences ‘have been exagerated overall’. As for local concerns, such communities needed to be ‘persuad[ed] of the advantages’. Though, by their own admission, there were ‘usually not many locally fillable jobs involved,’ nevertheless ‘financial incentives’ could be a ‘useful tool in moderating opposition’. Final word: ‘Overall it could not be reasonable that NIMBY-style objections simply prevented development of something in the wider national/international economic interest’.
We’ve been told, then.
On the broader environmental impact:
Despite arguments for possible positive effects (ie, cutting down reliance on coal) it was ‘also possible that its overall environmental impact would be negative’. Conclusion: ‘The availability of relatively cheap hydrocarbons on a large scale meant achieving [the target of decarbonising by 2050] would require an even greater degree of political will and radical action.’
Not too encouraging here, considering the current almost total absence of such a political will at the top.
And as a political Weapon?
After a self-congratulatory preamble on the apparent ‘positive effect on international relations’ this phenomenon would have, the participants were led into an ‘interesting discussion of the extent to which oil and gas could in fact be used as a political weapon or tool?’ However, rest assured, they were not talking about how they themselves might put this tool to their own use. Of course not. They were more concerned with how they had been themselves the victims of such manipulations by what are termed ‘resource nationalists’ through the unfair use of their ‘oligopoly power’. Which, it was assumed, would be reduced by the dropping of the price of hydrocarburants. This would, they concluded, also effect ‘other producing countries presenting high political risk (Venezuela, Bolivia…)’.
All of which, leading to a final reflection: ‘could this increase the risk of instability in some of the countries concerned, if they could no longer buy off their populations?’ Conclusion: ‘Quite possibly’.
Not at all a political weapon for the West, then. Not in the least…
A small indication of some of the cynical interests and agendas behind what we might expect the mainstream to be selling us. Through the prism of the semantics of marketing, naturally.
Adam Warren is a writer living in Paris.