Media Cleanse

How a group which claims to defend human rights turned into an apologist for genocidaires and ethnic cleansers.

By George Monbiot. Published on, 4th August 2011

Every few months, and in the best left-wing tradition of fighting those closest to your politics rather than those furthest away, an organisation called Media Lens launches an attack on me. It’s always off-beam, and always followed by a botswarm of almost-identical emails, accusing me of being a revanchist running dog of the counter-revolution, or something along those lines.

But this time, in falling over itself to denounce me, Media Lens trips into the weird and wacky world of politics usually associated with the far right. It abandons any pretence of neutrality and aligns itself with a blatant attempt to deny the genocidal massacres in both Rwanda and Srebrenica.

I won’t dwell on this at length: the editors of Media Lens appear to be a lot more interested in me than I am in them. But it’s plain that they’ve stepped into an arena they know nothing about, and have taken sides before they have assessed the evidence. There is a vast literature on both events, and they show no sign of having read any of it, with the exception of the books published by the genocide deniers Edward Herman and David Peterson.

It’s not clear that they have even read the two reviews of Herman and Peterson’s book The Politics of Genocide, which contain reams of devastating evidence, that I pointed them to. Had they done so, it’s hard to see how they could still maintain that Herman and Peterson are not engaging in denial. As a result, Media Lens is now supporting an attempt to whitewash two great crimes and to excuse and justify the killers.

How has this happened? I think it’s because the editors of Media Lens have based their view on identities, rather than evidence. The Lens through which Media Lens examines the world is the question of who is and is not an ally of the West. They rightly observe that the western media treats western allies more sympathetically than the West’s presumed enemies, and is more likely to cast them as victims and ignore the atrocities they commit. It seems that the editors have illogically extended this analysis to the point at which they deduce that if people are regarded as allies of the West, they cannot be victims, least of all the victims of people considered enemies of the West.

There’s a second sense in which Media Lens privileges identity over evidence. It is hard to imagine them endorsing the views of David Irving, who is infamous for his denial of the Holocaust. But Herman is the co-author, with Noam Chomsky, of Manufacturing Consent, the book which could be seen as Media Lens’s founding text. So, it seems, if Herman is saying something, however demonstrably false it is, it must be right. If someone is attacking Herman, that person must be an enemy of free speech.

In this case, even more buttons were pressed, because I also criticised Noam Chomsky for implicitly endorsing the contents of The Politics of Genocide, by writing the foreword, and John Pilger for writing the following commendation: “In this brilliant expose of great power’s lethal industry of lies, Edward Herman and David Peterson defend the right of us all to a truthful historical memory.”

Media Lens comments as follows:

“In a piece that recalled the iconic scene from The Usual Suspects, Monbiot lined up Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Peterson, John Pilger, and Media Lens as political commentators who ‘take the unwarranted step of belittling the acts of genocide committed by opponents of the western powers’.”

I didn’t line them up; they lined themselves up: I simply pointed out where they went wrong. Should I have overlooked their mistakes because of who they are?

Media Lens also goes into conniptions about the length of time it took the Guardian to publish Herman and Peterson’s response. I have no role in the Guardian’s decision-making, but the response submitted by Herman and Peterson was replete with claims that were blatantly false, as the Guardian’s reply explained. (I have reproduced its explanation, which I found on the Znet site, below*). Genocide denial is, of course, an extremely sensitive issue. Publishing blatant falsehoods in its defence, even in a response piece, puts a newspaper in a difficult position.

The second attempt by Herman and Peterson also contains a number of evident distortions, but it seems that the Guardian decided it was better to let them have their say, even if they were misleading people about a critically important issue. None of this, of course, has stopped Herman, Peterson and Media Lens from screaming censorship.

But, apparently unaware of the evidence, guided only by an assessment of who they like and who they hate, Media Lens is digging itself into one of the weirdest tunnels in which a left-wing group has ever found itself. It is becoming ever shriller in its defence of two men who deny great crimes, attack the victims and defend the aggressors. I wonder how this will play out.


*1. The passage George Monbiot referred to concerning your version of the 8,000 deaths at Srebrenica says nothing about executions:

“But the situation is more complicated than the public relations specialists would have us believe. That there were killings of non-combatants in Srebrenica, as in all war zones, is a certainty. And those who perpetrated them deserve to be condemned and prosecuted. And whether it was three or 30 or 300 innocent civilians who were killed, it was a heinous crime. There can be no equivocation about that. At the same time, the facts presented in this volume make a very cogent argument that the figure of 8,000 killed, which is often bandied about in the international community, is an unsupportable exaggeration. The true figure may be closer to 800. The fact that the figure in question has been so distorted, however, suggests that the issue has been politicized. There is much more shock value in the death of 8,000 than in the death of 800.”

2. Hadzihasanovic did not say that the men were killed in combat:, pages 9532 and

3. On the Sarajevo market shelling, ICTY examined the evidence and determined that it was the work of Serb forces:, paras 317-335

4. As for ICMP being “directly run by Bosnian Muslim officials”, the ICMP has two US and two European directors; only one of two deputy directors is a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And where you say that “it will not allow its results to be revealed and tested by any counsel for the defendants”:
In fact, the ICMP has testified in numerous cases and says it has recently “offered the defense in the case of Radovan Karadzic to make a representative selection of cases for review by the parties to that trial”. The ICMP says it is legally bound not to divulge the genetic information of family members without their consent, and therefore seeks their consent before submitting such data to the parties in criminal prosecutions.

5. On the issue of Rwanda, we noted these two reviews, which claim that your sources were misrepresented.

In addition, there is a weight of evidence of organised slaughter of Tutsis, which the international tribunal has confirmed in lengthy trials with masses of evidence.”