The powerful get an easy ride

Observations on media

''It is a bitter irony . . ." the historian Walter Karp once noted, "that the most esteemed journalists are precisely the most servile. For it is by making themselves useful to the powerful that they gain access to the 'best' sources."

The servility is hidden behind a specious presumption that prime ministers and presidents are to be afforded unlimited respect bordering on reverence. To raise their responsibility for mass death would be "disrespectful", even "irresponsible".

In his recent BBC interview, Bill Clinton told David Dimbleby: "The way I kept score in my presidency was: Did more people have jobs or not? . . . What was our record in the world? Did we advance peace and prosperity and security or not?" Dimbleby said not a word in response to the man who, according to 70 members of the US Congress, had presided over "infanticide masquerading as policy" in Iraq. Clinton explained his failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda: "Partly it was the preoccupation with Haiti at the time, where there was a lot of mass slaughter going on, and we were trying to get in there." Dimbleby might have pointed out that the killers in Haiti were US-trained and financed, slaughtering a democratic movement on US orders. He said nothing.

Clinton suggested the focus should be on whether, as president, he had "brought a million [people] home from Kosovo". In fact, the mass exodus from Kosovo began after Clinton and Blair began bombing on 24 March 1999. In the summer of 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal reported that 2,788 bodies had been found in Kosovo, including Serbs, Roma and combatants. Dimbleby said nothing.

In discussing Iraq, Clinton declared how, in December 1998, "Saddam kicked the inspectors out". Tony Blair made the same claim in a Newsnight (BBC2) interview with Jeremy Paxman in February last year. Unfortunately for Blair, MediaLens readers had bombarded the interviewer with scores of e-mails urging him to challenge Blair on exactly this issue. Paxman pointed out that the inspectors had been withdrawn ahead of the Desert Fox air strikes, not thrown out.

An aggrieved Blair responded that this was "ridiculous" because, anyway, the inspectors "couldn't do their job". In fact, in the weeks leading up to the withdrawal, deliberate US provocation caused difficulties with five out of 300 inspections, at a time when Iraq had been disarmed of 90-95 per cent of its WMDs. Air strikes began two days before the date scheduled for Clinton's impeachment vote in the Monica Lewinsky affair, and were called off two hours after the vote. Three weeks earlier, US government sources had told the chief Unscom weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, that "the two considerations on the horizon [are] Ramadan and impeachment".

Apparently innocent of these facts, Paxman, like Dimbleby, said nothing. Elite politicians are protected by elite journalists. Elite journalists are protected by a corporate media system locked into a status quo serving corporate interests - profit over people, profit over truth. Yet the Guardian's Martin Kettle accuses the press of becoming increasingly "strident and confrontational", while the Financial Times journalist John Lloyd charges it with constant "aggression" and "suspicion" towards politicians.

Thus, Iraq may be run by an interim government with zero democratic mandate in a country still bristling with US military hardware. The US may have lost 854 troops at a cost of $126bn (£70bn). But the occupation of Iraq ended on 28 June, leaving the country "sovereign and free", our media insist. If such claims were made of any other imperial power in history, they would be greeted with hoots of laughter.

David Edwards is co-editor of MediaLens (www.medialens.org)