Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.George Orwell, Looking back on the Spanish War
When we think of poor press standards, we usually have in mind the sort of totalitarian states that Orwell described and denounced in the 1930s and 1940s, such as today’s North Korea or China. We may also think of mysterious and scary hackers, trolls and bots located in usual-suspect locations such as, at least as we are told, Russia or Venezuela.
But you would think that in supposedly “mature democracies”, such as France, there would be a bare minimum of fair and reliable information coming from mainstream media on significant matters, such as the ongoing political crisis in Catalonia : a significant matter because, obviously, any human right violation by any EU state is an internal and very serious EU affair for all EU citizens.
Well, as a matter of fact, this is not the case. And that definitely triggers now a whole range of concerns about French “democracy” and, beyond, the whole EU legitimacy if it’s not able any more to guarantee to its citizens a protection from state power abuse.
In twenty-first century France, it is indeed profoundly revolting and disturbing to observe how “eager intellectuals” posturing as « Spain experts » hand in hand with phony “thought leaders” have been carefully hand-picked and mobilized, night and day over the past few months, by the entire French media industry in order to :
- give credibility and even respectability to Rajoy’s government blatant lies and increasing violations of basic human rights and freedom of expression in Catalonia ;
- totally discredit Catalan’s independence movement, since it is indeed always very important in any state crime operation to demonize victims so they are perceived as deserving their sinister fate ; and of course
- ultimately legitimize a thoroughly shameful and unbelievable support of France and the entire EU to the ongoing political shame based on the Spanish “internal affair” charade.
The Catalan Papers are a series of articles aimed at investigating and deconstructing what is arguably one the most systemic case of organized journalistic fraud that has ever been perpetrated in France in order to very efficiently deceive and numb local public opinion.
Yet, as we will argue in this first episode, these Catalan Papers are meant to have more universal implications than “just” France or Catalonia, that you may, or may not care about.
These Catalan Papers are basically connected to any citizen’s most fundamental right in a real democracy to obtain, regardless of her or his political opinions, a reasonable amount of fair and reliable information from the press : including on non-political issues (if there is really such a thing), where similar journalistic frauds have long been routinely carried out in relation to tobacco, asbestos, pharmaceuticals, food processing or the environment. A basic right that the oligopolistic nature of the media industry, as the Catalan case brutally exemplifies, is silently shattered to pieces as a result of market forces. Here is a rather telling chart of the French media industry’s ownership structure, that we think speaks volumes about the very serious threats to actual democracy that we are now all facing :
In other words : 19 individuals, 11 families, 5 banks et 3 states (France, Allemagne, Qatar) – with remarkably homogeneous sociological backgrounds and ideological world views – control pretty much all French media. And of course they recruit and promote journalists who share such backgrounds and worldview, so they don’t even need to give phone calls from above to give editorial guidance. As any big corporation or totalitarian state, journalists perceive what is the party line and flavor of the month and act zealously upon it, with any dissenter rapidly hooved out of the system.
It explains very clearly how easy an organized journalistic fraud can take place these days, especially in a totally unregulated industry (apart in relation to basic libeling) where under the “freedom of the press” umbrella, and with the support of language and cultural barriers, virtually anything can be done by unethical media outlets, without any legal consequences at all : systematic omissions of material information, misleading contextualization, erroneous data and distorted facts, deceptive use of vocabulary, visuals and page layout, carefully selected “eager intellectuals” and phony “thought leaders” who are always conveniently protected from any meaningful interactions and debates with real ones.
What’s extremely worrying to observe in France is how easily blatant state lies produced by the Spanish government (including gross fake news retailed by proper tabloids such as El Mundo or El Pais, once a decent paper) are getting a broad, unchecked distribution channel in supposedly reputable French media, including state-owned TV and radio broadcasters.
This oligopolistic nature of the media industry, and its toxic effect on information quality, isn’t admittedly a groundbreaking revelation. Yet the Catalan Papers will closely examine how exactly this is done at a micro level, which is far less understood in the case of scientific journalistic fraud, where scientific theories are always debatable and difficult to assess even by experts.
The French media industry’s new clothes
The Catalan Papers, a citizen journalism project, are therefore a new and we hope democratically helpful kind of “whistleblowing” so to speak. Rather than using celebrity whistleblowers such as Wikileaks’ Assange as role models, they are inspired instead by the candid child of the lovely Andersen’s tale (one of Orwell’s favorite texts) “blowing the whistle” on the Emperor’s « new clothes ».
Indeed, a typical whistleblower is someone within an organization having privileged access to confidential or classified information, and finding a way to leak it somewhere, ideally anonymously such as the Panama Papers’ John Doe. However in our case, the evidence of this organized fraud is all over the place in the public domain, because this is where the action was to be, by definition. This is far more than scattered finger prints. We have forest-size amounts of paper and hundreds of hours of very official CCTV footage of the intellectual fraudsters. The beauty of it is that, conversely to scientific fraud, it is excessively easy to detect this one : it only requires a minimum of common sense, to speak Spanish, not even Catalan, to have a bit of time and an intellectual interest for hoaxes.
As you might have guessed by now, the Catalan “Papers” are a word play because this is on the press itself that this odd whistle is blown… something that by definition was not meant to happen, since they are supposed to be in monopolistic control of news production and have assumed that French people have become complete morrons. To be fair, a pretty reasonable assumption given our current president, himself a genuine artificial creation of the media industry and arguably a case of journalistic fraud too.
Clearly, the French media industry with the support of carefully selected “eager intellectuals” has been over the past few months literally “manufacturing consent” to use Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s powerful concept, in order to provide legitimacy to the French government and the EU’s alignment with Rajoy’s perfectly anti-democratic and illegal handling of the Catalan independence movement. Again the ultimate objective has been to numb the French public opinion and to keep under perfectly managed control the legitimate moral outrage that Rajoy’s methods should have triggered among fellow EU citizens and neighbors. Brilliantly executed for sure.
EU citizens are (theoretically, it seems now) all bound together by the same fundamental and constitutional human rights treaties. These treaties are, and for very good reasons, keeping Erdogan’s Turkey out of the EU. But they are also currently used under Article 7 for proper sanctions, with a remarkably enthusiastic humanistic zeal, against less geostrategic important countries than Spain, and therefore far more relevant bad guys, such as Hungary or Poland. The Spanish “internal affair” is of course not Spanish at all. It is a profoundly and excessively embarrassing EU affair : it is therefore absolutely crucial that French and EU citizens are taken for a ride to ensure the “internal affair” charade goes on unchallenged in most people’s minds.
You don’t need to be a Westpoint alumni to figure out that, for a number of very obvious geo-strategic and economic reasons, France and the EU – or rather the European self-serving power classes behind the various political puppets and wind bags who have hijacked the European project – have decided, no matter what, to align with Rajoy, the local oligarchy’s puppet and notorious (at least in Spain) embarrassing wind bag. Instead of, as you would have normally expected since the 1st of October, triggering Article 7 sanctions and asking Rajoy to immediately stop his outrageous political repression : a repression which he obviously unleashed in the first place, without any restraint, because he must had had the blessing of his new best friends in Paris, Berlin and Brussels to do so.
Perhaps Great Britain, after so much demonization and hate speech heard in France (where Brexit voters were systematically portrayed by the French media as vile xenophobic fascists) has made a pretty wise move after all.
Manufacturing consent in many ways
Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent was written in 1988, in the context of US dubious foreign policies, and so there is hardly anything conceptually new here per se, except the vast falsification opportunities provided by the Internet since. As a matter of fact, consent has been routinely and very efficiently manufactured for decades within “democracies” to legitimize, as we all know, diplomatic support, and above all juicy business dealings, with the worst possible tyrans, kleptocrats and mass murderers all over the world. And wars waged against countries with “arms of massive destruction” that nobody has ever seen.
France, always so keen to give democracy and humanistic lessons to the whole world, is no exception. It has been systematically involved for decades in post-colonial Africa – the so-called Françafrique – in horrific forms of economic predation and proper crimes against humanity by the local tyrans, kleptocrats and mass murderers appointed by ‘real politik’ French technocratic clowns to enable French corporate giants to plunder Africa and make a killing. They certainly do, literally, and Rwanda’s genocide was the very dark cherry of the disgusting French “humanitarian” cake.
In addition, consent has also been very sophistically crafted by “democratic” states and “socially responsible” big corporations, outside of international politics and very much at the center of our mundane everyday lives.
For decades we were told by the media industry that smoking was not only harmless but actually pretty sexy (current death toll is 7 million sexy people per year worldwide), that asbestos was supposed to be “a miracle material” that just required to be “properly managed” (100,000 French workers died of such “proper management” without a single legal problem for the asbestos French lobby). This is probably the sort of “proper management” speech being told by a similar kind of “independent” journalists in countries such China or India, with currently 125 million workers around the world still exposed to this “miracle material” every day.
With full media industry backing and “eager intellectuals” posturing as “scientists” appearing everywhere in popular talk shows, similar business-oriented silent mass murders are also carried out by arguably one the biggest criminal industry along with tobacco. Conversely to what the media-entertainment industry wants to us to believe, this is not drug-trafficking, at least in the conventional sense, but the pharmaceutical industry. There is countless evidence, properly documented by scholars and investigative journalists, of major frauds being perpetrated across the whole chain with : falsified clinical results, “unethical” animal and human experiments, corruption of public health officials and medical professionals, over-billing to patients and social insurance schemes, dodgy sales practices, deceptive advertising, creation of entirely imaginary new diseases to support super-profitable and equally super-toxic “miracle drugs”, gagging and persecution of whistleblowers to silence major scandals. Journalistic fraud is of course essential, with ghostwriting of supposedly scientific publications and phony scientific experts everywhere in the news.
Professors Even and Debré estimate that 30,000 people die in France every year from “therapeutic accidents”, which compares to about 800 annual deaths from regular street crime. Clearly drug-trafficking, that the media industry wants us to so passionately focus on, is in comparison a vastly more ethical business ; where clients and suppliers have at least the decency not to pretend to be “socially responsible”.
Of course all this is far less “interesting” – i.e. far more socially relevant and politically controversial – than Kardashian’s new ridiculously hot boyfriend, Ronaldo’s last brilliant galactic goal and, above of all, the tons of utterly pointless and nonsensical weather-talk kind of “news” that we are given to swallow every day. There is actually nothing to laugh about “ridiculously hot boyfriends”. As a matter of fact, they are quite sinister and pretty dangerous for democracy, as they are only there to divert our attention from far more serious issues, which are actually perfectly well-known by proper experts who are conveniently kept outside mainstream media.
This weekend in Paris for example, investigative journalists and whistleblowers will attend a very interesting “niche” book fair and present a number of books that cover pretty much the whole white-collar crime scene in our lovely French Banana Republic. This is perfectly doable in a “democracy”, as Chomsky insightfully pointed out. Some element of dissidence in the system actually gives a feeling of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The most efficient way to silence this dissidence in such “democracies” is to make sure that this kind of book fair receives absolutely no serious media attention over the weekend. This weekend will be flooded by the media industry, as always, by ridiculously hot boyfriends, magnificent galactic goals and utterly pointless chit chat from political puppets and “public intellectual” wind bags (a very prosperous industry in France, soon to overtake republican banana production).
As you might have realized by now, these Catalan Papers are about Catalonia, but not only.
There will be of course a substantial amount of information about Catalonia. And we hope they will contribute, however modestly, to a much-need public opinion awakening in France, and perhaps elsewhere in the EU.
But there are, above all, about a fundamental right for all of us, regardless of our political opinions, to proper and fair information to guide us in our daily citizen’s choices. If this right is abolished, so is democracy.
A good example perhaps of what is generally referred to as convergent social struggles, Turkey being another place where we EU citizens have a moral responsibility as neighbors and europeans.
2 + 2 will always equal 4, sorry
We shall not forget that George Orwell, famous for its dystopian novel 1984 and Animal Farm, was also a journalist and even a war-time BBC commentator. That’s certainly why he so insightfully and prophetically saw the close connection between propaganda and state crimes, since the latter always require some form of official discourse in order to be perceived as perfectly legitimate and necessary by most people.
This is precisely why the use and abuse of « eager intellectuals » is so crucial, in order to give a veneer of « scientific » credibility to the most blatant lies and legitimacy to the worst possible state crimes. That was the case for Martin Heidegger or Carl Schmitt for Nazi Germany, or Aragon and Sartre in France to support Stalinist Russia propaganda. The novelist Vargas Llosa, a good Spanish patriot who happens to appear in the Panama Papers (exactly the kind of patriotism that the Partido Popular promotes within its ranks) has been one of the rare well-known “public intellectuals” not ashamed to appear in the Spanish case. It would be very interesting to know why.
Orwell’s opening quote about the appalling newspaper reports in Great Britain regarding the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is easy to understand. It was just “technically” impossible for him to swallow such lies : for the very simple reason that he had had first-hand, ocular exposure to what was going on, something of course that an average citizen usually doesn’t have, hence the reliance on apparently trustworthy media. Along with a number of decent intellectuals and many simple citizens coming from all over the world, he went to Catalonia to fight the rise of fascism in Europe, in a brave attempt to counter-balance the unspeakable cowardice of French and British governments at the time. We clearly have the same kind of useless cowards right now at the top of EU states.
These governments did not only, as they do today, shamefully look the other way, despite the proper genocide being perpetrated by Franco next door, as the British historian Paul Preston clearly documents it. They also let Nazis experiment and fine-tune their sophisticated mass killing techniques to rehearse the big show they had in mind for the rest of Europe. Short-term political cowardice, as always, has disastrous long-term effects on populations. « Food for thought », certainly for us today. Because, however different the contemporary political scene is from the one in the 1930s, including in Spain, history is currently repeating itself right in front of the noses of the remaining EU citizens. And this is not great news for all of us, whatever we may think or even care about Catalonia’s possible independence.
If we let this happen – this being a EU state allowed without the risk of any international sanction to beat up peaceful citizens, send all major political opponents to jail or into exile before “free elections” (an interesting contribution of Rajoy to political theory) and gag freedom of expression when it yields inconvenient results and criminalize it as “hate speech” as they are now doing it – well, my very dear fellow EU citizens, please excuse my plain French : we are all f****, and it’s only a matter of time for any of us to be the next demonized beaten-up Catalan for one reason or another.
This is something that we have commented on extensively at L’impertinent on a number of occasions in French, with our usual pamphleteering style, in relation to the local breed of political puppets and wind bags. But this has also been commented on very insightfully in Spanish by Gabriel Jaraba. Honestly, don’t really bother with L’impertinent pamphlets if you don’t read French, unless you are really curious about the quirky functioning of this “romantic” country, well known for its “lovely” food (we will see how lovely it really is in our next article) which is surprisingly, given its climate one, of largest producers of bananas in the whole world. However, if you don’t read Spanish we would certainly recommend, for your own good, to get a translation of this very thoughtful piece. And to carefully ponder over it.
What makes Orwell’s opening quote about the media industry so relevant today, is in fact only very marginally linked to the Spanish war and the poignant account he gave of it in Homage to Catalonia. It is actually a sort of coincidence, because the political context is very different, but not entirely though. As we will discuss in following articles, a lot of “sociologic Francoism” is still very much present in contemporary Spain and Partido Popular’s personnel, ideology, popular culture and methods (i.e. corruption, political violence, organized crime, propaganda and lies). Needless to say, our French “Spain experts” are working excessively zealously on this, only to make sure that nobody knows in France about it. Obviously on that Francoist score nobody has ever heard in France of Ramon Cotarelo, arguably the finest Spanish left-wing intellectual and political scientist (from Madrid and yet a keen supporter of the Catalan Republic political project, that nobody knows about it either) since it would probably take him about 30 seconds to demolish, in any real intellectual debate, any of the « Spain expert » crooks and imposters that have contaminated French public opinion with their ghastly nonsense and abysmal ignorance for 3 months now.
Yet the main point is that, no matter how left-wing and anti-fascist Orwell was, he was still in a position to honestly see and report the imported Stalinism that crushed the anarchist Catalan social revolution. Ken Loach’s beautiful Land and Freedom is exactly about this.
That was excessively difficult, and brave, for Orwell to do because most British intellectuals back then were absolutely fascinated by Stalin. Therefore any criticism of Stalin was dismissed and demonized as fascist or “inimical to the people”.
Orwell was actually an excessively rare kind of intellectual. The kind of intellectual who has little fascination for power abuse and perks, and who firmly believes that when the government’s boot is on your throat, whether it is a left boot or a right, is of no consequence. The kind of intellectual, also, who will see that two plus two will always equal four, regardless of any ideologically-charged pressures or incentives you are receiving to forge the result into a more convenient five.
Currently recruiting for an intellectual international brigade
Whatever political opinions you may have, L’impertinent warmly welcomes volunteers to join the little friendly international intellectual brigade that we are setting up in order to properly document these Catalan Papers : public or private researchers, scientists, historians, sociologists, psychologists, white-collar criminologists, lawyers, architects, translators, hoax and fake news experts, and needless to say proper investigative journalists. Please do not hesitate to contact us here.
We can assure it is going to be a lot of intellectual fun, because it’s also about taking a serious piss at a number of intellectuals’ crooks and imposters. They will never go to jail but they can certainly be ridiculed.
In our next episode, we will for example analyze how in France Monsanto’s infamous Round Up is currently marketed in mainstream media as far less toxic than carrots, coffee or salt ; and how this nouvelle cuisine is very helpful to understand the mechanics of organized journalistic fraud. We will also travel back in time and space with Russian Empress Catherine II, and describe the entertaining Potemkin village of Spain that French media and a handful of “Spain experts” have carefully built out of toilet-roll paper to deceive, very efficiently indeed, French people. Last but not least, we will very seriously argue that the Prix Albert Londres, the French Pulitzer, should become the Prix Bernie Madoff and that a number of mainstream media would be fiercely competing for the award.
Post scriptum on December 12, 2017 :
Although probably containing a fair amount of truth regarding (poor, if not appalling) French media coverage on Catalonia in line with Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model (similar critical observations could be read on Enbata, a Basque digital media), we have finally decided not to pursue these Catalan Papers for the very simple reason that such an organized fraud would be 1) technically impossible to prove with regard to its organized form and 2) very difficult to establish as a fraud proper, with journalistic subjectivity, group think and confirmation bias equally possible and equally valid frames of analysis.
This article led therefore L’impertinent to reconsider its citizen journalistic practice towards greater standards as per the 1971 Munich Declaration of Duties and Rights of Journalists and to clearly make a distinction for its readers between ideologically-charged pamphleteering (a perfectly legitimate genre for political expression, with its own merits and limitations) and rigorous, fact-based/checked journalism : from this day onwards all publications by L’impertinent will be clearly labelled as either Pamphlet (such as this article) or Journalisme Citoyen (Citizen Journalism). Regarding the latter our ongoing project for a reportage in Jerusalem shall be the first attempt of L’impertinent to establish citizen journalism in accordance with the profession best ethical practices.