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Killing the Story: Bakhmut, Nick Cohen, Kakhovka, Nord Stream, and Piers Morgan

The late writer, broadcaster and wit Clive James formulated what he called the ‘Barry Manilow Law’: ‘Everyone you know thinks Barry Manilow is absolutely terrible. But everyone you don’t know thinks he’s great.’ (James, cited Martin Amis, Inside Story, Vintage, 2020, e-book, p.74) A Media Lens version of this might read: ‘Everyone you know thinks […]

The late writer, broadcaster and wit Clive James formulated what he called the ‘Barry Manilow Law’:

‘Everyone you know thinks Barry Manilow is absolutely terrible. But everyone you don’t know thinks he’s great.’ (James, cited Martin Amis, Inside Story, Vintage, 2020, e-book, p.74)

A Media Lens version of this might read:

‘Everyone you know thinks BBC News is absolutely terrible. But everyone you don’t know thinks it’s great.’

The BBC wasn’t always quite this bad. When we started out in 2001, people like Director of News Richard Sambrook and Newsnight editor Peter Barron sent us long, respectful replies to our analysis. We were invited to appear on BBC One, BBC Two and BBC radio (we were interviewed by BBC Radio Five Live). Barron even blogged about us positively on the BBC website.

All of this has gone. Our criticisms, now, are met with paranoid silence. And there is much for BBC journalists to be paranoid about, for they are now clearly operating as de facto agents of state.

When the US targeted Syria for ‘regime change’ in 2011, a flood of anti-Assad atrocity claims and pro-‘rebel’ propaganda washed across the BBC’s news pages. The BBC’s campaign ended the moment the US campaign for regime change ended. When Iran, Venezuela and Libya fell under the US crosshairs, the same BBC propaganda machine cranked into action. Similarly, anyone measuring BBC performance 2022-2023, will find hundreds of reports and comment pieces favouring the Ukraine/Nato version of events, against one or two favouring the Russian version of events. This, even though our country is technically not at war with Russia – certainly Russia is not attacking us. It couldn’t be more obvious that when the green light for war and ‘regime change’ is on, the BBC is expected to host daily propaganda pieces to generate public support.

In his superb book, Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War, published in 1928, Lord Arthur Ponsonby analysed the key propaganda techniques that had been used to deceive the public during the catastrophic war of 1914-1918:

  1. We do not want war.
  2. The opposite party alone is guilty of war.
  3. The enemy is inherently evil and resembles the devil.
  4. We defend a noble cause, not our own interests.
  5. The enemy commits atrocities on purpose; we make ‘mistakes’.
  6. The enemy uses forbidden weapons.
  7. We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.
  8. Recognised artists and intellectuals back our cause.
  9. Our cause is sacred.
  10.  All who doubt our propaganda are traitors.

Most BBC, Guardian and other ‘mainstream’ war coverage is a cocktail of these ten forms of bias. As the renowned US economist Jeffrey Sachs said recently:

‘I used to read The Guardian; now I can’t even go to the website. By the way, that’s how our New York Times is: it’s unreadable, it’s phony. It’s propaganda from morning till night.’

Consider point 7: ‘We suffer small losses, those of the enemy are enormous.’

On May 20, the BBC tried mightily not to report that the long and bloody Battle for Bakhmut had ended with a Russian victory. The first BBC attempt to report the truth read: ‘Zelensky appears to confirm Russia controls Bakhmut’.

To control a city is not the same as conquering a city – had Bakhmut actually fallen? Was this a triumph for Russia? A day later, the BBC tried again: ‘Bakhmut is completely destroyed Zelensky says’.

Again, a city can be ‘destroyed’ without being conquered. Stalingrad was destroyed in 1942, but it never completely fell to the German army.

The New York Times did somewhat better:

‘What Does Russia’s Success in Bakhmut Mean for the War in Ukraine?

‘Moscow has declared victory in its long, bloody assault.’

Again, ‘success’ does not mean complete victory. And NYT readers aren’t going to believe a word that comes out of Moscow. But Bakhmut had fallen to Russian forces.

With point 7 still in mind, Lord Ponsonby would have enjoyed the BBC’s post-battle summary:

‘Western officials estimate between 20,000 and 30,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Bakhmut, while Ukraine’s military has also paid a heavy price.’

‘Their’ losses are enormous – ‘ours’ are vaguely indicated. Ponsonby would also have recognised this familiar theme: ‘Analysts say the city is of little strategic value to Moscow…’

Which analysts? Other analysts have argued that Bakhmut was important, even a lynchpin.

Offering further examples on Ukraine seems pointless – any reader can witness the bias for themselves on a daily basis. Not only is there no semblance of balance; it’s clear that such balance would be viewed as an outrageous capitulation to ‘Putin talking points’. Instead, there is a fierce determination to exploit the public’s trust in the BBC as a means of controlling public opinion. The impression given is of an essentially fascist media operating in plain sight in an ostensibly democratic society.

The FT’s ‘Rigorous Standards’ – The Nick Cohen Sex Abuse Claims

Equally disturbing is the BBC’s now reflexive habit of burying stories being buried by the Guardian.

Guardian editor Kath Viner buried the OPCW whistleblowers exposing the chemical weapons atrocity claim in Douma targeting the Syrian government. Why would the Guardian cover ‘alternative’ news reports by the likes of Grayzone? Viner buried Al Jazeera’s ‘The Labour Files’ documentary series exploding the anti-semitism smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn – Al Jazeera is deemed unbearably ‘biased’ by UK journalists. Viner also buried Seymour Hersh’s report blaming the US for the September 2022 terrorist attack on the Nord Stream pipeline – Hersh is now dismissed as a ‘blogger’.

But for UK journalists media don’t come much more ‘respectable’ or ‘credible’ than the New York Times. How, then, do we explain the fact that both the Guardian and the BBC buried a front-page NYT report exposing how Guardian newsrooms were afflicted by star, pro-war columnist Nick Cohen’s sex pestilence for two decades. In the NYT on May 30, Jane Bradley explained:

‘Inside the Financial Times newsroom this winter, one of its star investigative reporters, Madison Marriage, had a potentially explosive scoop involving another newspaper.

‘A prominent left-wing columnist, Nick Cohen, had resigned from Guardian News & Media, and Ms. Marriage had evidence that his departure followed years of unwanted sexual advances and groping of female journalists.

‘Ms. Marriage specialized in such investigations. She won an award for exposing a handsy black-tie event for Britain’s business elite. A technology mogul got indicted on rape charges after another article.

‘But her investigation on Mr. Cohen, which she hoped would begin a broader look at sexual misconduct in the British news media, was never published. The Financial Times’ editor, Roula Khalaf, killed it, according to interviews with a dozen Financial Times journalists.’

Seven women told the NYT that Cohen ‘had groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances over nearly two decades. Four insisted on anonymity, fearing professional repercussions. In each case, The Times reviewed documents or otherwise corroborated their accounts’.

The NYT added:

‘Mr. Cohen’s reputation was widely known in the newsroom, according to 10 former colleagues, both male and female. One former colleague said she and other female journalists had used a different entrance to a pub to avoid being groped by him.’

In 2018, Freelance journalist and BBC One Show reporter Lucy Siegle – who wrote an Observer column on ethical living and launched the newspaper’s Ethical Awards – reported Cohen to the Guardian for groping her in the newsroom, but ‘nothing had happened’. Siegle described her 1 February 2018 meeting with senior Guardian management as ‘aggressive’, an ‘absolute car crash’, in which she felt ‘gaslit’ and that they ‘basically spent half the time trying to diminish what I was saying and then the other half of the time sort of putting their fingers in their ears and almost going “la la la”.’

The Guardian finally investigated Cohen, but only after Siegle had written about her experiences on Twitter in 2021. The NYT commented:

‘Even then, it was a story that few in the British news media wanted to tell. The Guardian signed a confidentiality agreement with Mr. Cohen. The Financial Times spiked its story. Even the investigative magazine Private Eye did not cover his departure. When a reader emailed asking why, the editor replied: “Coverage of Nick Cohen’s departure from The Observer is obviously more problematic for The Eye than the others that you mention due to the fact that he used to write a freelance column for the magazine.”’

Cohen took ‘sick leave’ in September 2022 and resigned on ‘health’ grounds in January:

‘Secretly, the newspaper group paid him a financial settlement for quitting and agreed to confidentiality, according to three colleagues and an editor with whom Mr. Cohen spoke.’

If this scandal is unknown to our readers, it is because it has been censored by the UK press. The Guardian, Observer and the BBC have not reported it at all. The ProQuest newspaper database finds single articles in the i newspaper, the Independent and the Evening Standard, and a couple of pieces in the Telegraph. One of the Telegraph pieces cited this shameful comment from an FT spokesman:

‘We were dismayed by today’s article in the NYT. The FT has a strong reputation for exposing abuse of power and harassment…

‘Not all filed pieces meet the rigorous standards of the FT and/or move a story along significantly. These judgments are made daily by the editor and her team and never lightly.’

On Twitter, Susanna Richards, a senior sub-editor at the Independent, wrote of Cohen:

‘There have been a number of times since my encounter with him when I have been so overwhelmed by the knowledge of the potential repercussions that I considered ending my life.’

Richards added:

‘My family have suffered for him, my children have suffered for him. And I don’t know if he has any idea about that, about the panic attacks, the sleepless nights, the fear. I can only hope he does not know what his actions have done, because I want to believe he is not that bad.’

Responding to claims that Cohen’s abuse happened only when he was an alcoholic, and that he has since stopped drinking, Richards commented:

‘He had been “clean” for two years when he propositioned me. And he has never once apologised.’

In the age of #MeToo, how on earth could this story not be covered at all by the BBC? As Lucy Siegle said of the media more generally: ‘The silence on its own industry is just really conspicuous.’

The silence on Cohen makes for a shocking comparison with the vast coverage devoted to the sex scandal that has engulfed high-profile This Morning presenter Phillip Schofield. Schofield admitted to an affair with a much younger man and that ‘he had lied about the relationship to his employer, broadcaster ITV, and his wife, agent and lawyer’. Schofield has faced accusations that he groomed the younger man, having helped him find work in the industry.

The NYT’s report on Nick Cohen was published on May 30. Our ProQuest media database search (June 15) of newspaper mentions after May 29 gave the following results:

‘Nick Cohen’ = 9 mentions

‘Phillip Schofield’ = 1,419 mentions.

We tweeted Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, who worked overtime to incinerate Julian Assange’s reputation after he faced claims of sexual abuse:

‘Hi @MarinaHyde, as a perennial, fearless defender of women’s rights against predatory men, do you have anything to say about this from the New York Times? Anything at all? Are you actually *allowed* to say anything?’

We received no reply. The Guardian has since sent an email of apology to Lucy Siegle and other women who have accused Cohen of abuse. According to ProQuest, the apology has been reported only by the Telegraph and the NYT.

Disappearing Nord Stream

Censorship by omission extends down from Guardian editors to its reporters and columnists. In discussing the likely agency behind the 6 June demolition of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine last week, star Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland pointed towards Russia:

‘And there is the pattern of behaviour, the record of past crimes. Russia has scarcely restrained itself from targeting Ukraine’s civil infrastructure over the last 15 months: Kakhovka would just be the latest and most wanton example.’

Amazingly, the words ‘Nord Stream’ do not appear in Freedland’s article. This is remarkable because the attack on the ‘Nord Stream’ pipelines on 26 September 2022 was obviously a similar event to the destruction of the dam. So why did Freedland not mention it? Did it slip his mind? A likelier reason is indicated by a report last week in the Washington Post:

‘Biden administration officials now privately concede there is no evidence that conclusively points to Moscow’s involvement. But publicly they have deflected questions about who might be responsible. European officials in several countries have quietly suggested that Ukraine was behind the attack but have resisted publicly saying so over fears that blaming Kyiv could fracture the alliance against Russia. At gatherings of European and NATO policymakers, officials have settled into a rhythm; as one senior European diplomat said recently, “Don’t talk about Nord Stream.”’

If Freedland is deliberately not talking about Nord Stream because it undermines his effort to blame Russia for Kakhovka, then he is a propagandist, not a journalist. But even if that is the case, it does not necessarily follow that Freedland is operating as a conscious conspirator serving state interests.

Consider, after all, that last week Noam Chomsky was interviewed by Piers Morgan, who openly declared that Chomsky ‘is in my view one of the great minds of our generation’. Morgan even said to Chomsky:

‘I find it hard to believe you haven’t found the answer to everything, given how massive your brain is…’

The interview was notable for the extreme level of respect shown by Morgan, who was clearly in awe of Chomsky’s integrity and depth of knowledge. And yet, in February, the same Piers Morgan wrote:

‘Take Pink Floyd rock star Roger Waters, who inexplicably addressed the UN Security Council this week to condemn the “provocateurs in the strongest possible terms.”

‘He wasn’t talking about Vladimir Putin and his genocidal barbarians – he was talking about those who had supposedly “provoked” Putin into illegally invading a sovereign democratic country and slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent people… But what a fading nutty old musical has-been says about this war is of trivial irrelevance, moronic though Waters is.’

Morgan added:

‘The West cannot afford to let Putin win this war.

‘If we do, he will inevitably invade other countries to continue his plan to restore the former Soviet Union he believes should never have been broken up.’

His solution:

‘To borrow Churchill’s words, for Ukraine to succeed, we must do what is necessary.

‘Right now, that means giving them fighter jets, and lots of them.’

This is exactly the kind of mindless, World War Three-friendly twaddle that has been endlessly debunked by ‘one of the greatest minds of our generation’ – the linguist with the ‘massive’ brain.

Something doesn’t add up. How can Morgan be so impressed by Chomsky’s ability to find ‘the answer to everything’ and yet remain completely blind to his answers on the Ukraine conflict? US author Upton Sinclair said it best:

‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.’ (Sinclair, ‘I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked,’ Oakland Tribune, 11 December 1934)

On some level, Morgan knows that if he spoke out like Chomsky, he would go the same way as Chomsky, Hersh, Assange and others. He would no longer have prime-time access to millions of viewers – the salary, exalted guests, champagne dinner parties, awards and plaudits would all dry up. As Chomsky has written:

‘Fame, Fortune and Respect await those who reveal the crimes of official enemies; those who undertake the vastly more important task of raising a mirror to their own societies can expect quite different treatment. George Orwell is famous for Animal Farm and 1984, which focus on the official enemy. Had he addressed the more interesting and significant question of thought control in relatively free and democratic societies, it would not have been appreciated, and instead of wide acclaim, he would have faced silent dismissal or obloquy.’ (Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy, Hill and Wang, 1992, p.372)

An interesting conclusion emerges out of the mess – political views are often not impacted by hard fact and rational argument. As long as we continue to believe that personal fulfilment can be found in Fame, Fortune and Respect, we will remain slaves to our egos, and to the state-corporate organisations that indulge them.


This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Media Lens.


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