It must be hard, personally and professionally, to be John Pilger.
I mean, let us look at personally first. A while back, I described one of his Guardian pieces as “deranged”. A friend picked me up on it, and pointed out that we shouldn’t use such provocative language about someone who was a war reporter, as highly probably, he’s seen things neither you nor I would ever wish to see (as well as it being a slightly cruel description of anyone with mental health issues).
Fair dos, I thought, especially when said friend went on to admit that the piece in question didn’t precisely give a glowing advert for Mr Pilger’s mental state. I’ve been the subject of the odd violent interaction in my time, pure fisticuffs, and they left me somewhat shaken, so I can only imagine what horror Pilger has seen. It’d be imprinted on my eyelids while I tried to sleep, no doubt.
That point taken (which also, I would argue, applies to Robert Fisk, and separates them somewhat from the Lindsey Germans of the world, who pontificate from plush surroundings), and also, an unbearable sadness admitted that someone who has done such good work in his youth is churning out such material (and he may always have given me the slight air of a pompous blowhard, a humourless Assange style figure, but one can’t deny that his work on Vietnam and Cambodia and East Timor in the day was both vital and important), the point about it being difficult professionally hoves into view.
You see, when John used to jet from conflict to conflict back in the day, he was the heroic bringer of news to us. It must have felt a vital and important job, something to be justly proud and righteous about.
The problem is, however, that today, we don’t need John in the same way, and we can see when John is being – how to put this delicately? – a teensy bit partial.
Witness his latest piece in the Guardian. John begins with the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for – the coups and invasions of the Cold War. What’s rather telling about this is, well, when ever John writes a piece even vaguely connected to the US, he begins with, well, the usual litany of crimes that the US is responsible for, the coups and invasions of the Cold War. If it isn’t Vietnam, it’s Mossadeq (I mean, John, who are you left trying to tell about Mossadeq? Is there anyone with any knowledge of international relations – ie/ anyone who would read a John Pilger article- who DOESN’T know about the overthrow of Mossadeq? I’ve known about it for 30 bloody years, man). Or Allende. Or Lumumba. Et al.
The fact that the US has a lot of blood in its side of the Cold War ledger is indisputable. Often, and I will say this, often that blood was…well…not even spuriously justifiable. I’m with John on that. The overthrow of Allende, to take the last example, was brutal, criminal and underhand and I wouldn’t excuse it in the slightest.
What is interesting, however, is that John never really addresses the blood on the other side of the ledger. Not once. There’s nary a peep regarding Hungary or the crushing of the Prague Spring. We never get to hear about the slave state that North Korea became. Nothing about the brutal Marxist Leninist regimes in Africa, such as Mengitsu in Ethiopia. The brutal repression of Eastern Europe gets glossed over, the Cultural Revolution in China ignored. We don’t get the Eastern Bloc supplying the Baathist regime in Iraq with weaponry. Nope. We don’t get that at all.
Oh John *used* to mention – say – the Czech Spring quite regularly, back in those Charter 77 style days. He won’t talk about them now though, for the simple reason it takes the narrative of “evil USA rapaciously destabilising everything around the world” and adds a level of nuance, of balance. A real idealist should be able to stand up and say “both sides in a war did grubby and vicious things, I condemn them utterly”. But that’s what not what we get.
What we get is the bad of the West.
Anyone with any sense of history would accept that during the Cold War period – and indeed after – the US and its allies have often acted quite repugnantly. The fact that they saw themselves in a life or death struggle against an oppressive ideology shouldn’t – in the slightest – excuse the crimes, mistakes, cynicism, realpolitik and repression that the West aided and abetted and practiced at times. We know that, John.
How about today?
Ah, you see, today, the West – the US in particular – is gearing us up for a World War with Russia, John says.
Yeah, who knew, eh? The urgent scrabbling around for some sort of stability and compromise over Ukraine is, in fact, a deadly Western plan to provoke the innocent Russian nation.
John alleges that the EuroMaidan uprising was a “coup”, “masterminded” by the USA.
He’s obviously got a different definition of “coup”, here. A looser one, maybe. To most outside observers who don’t watch Russia Today religiously, it looked very much like a spontaneous national protest movement which, after bloody clashes, came to an agreement with the corrupt President of the country.
When said President scuttled overnight with dozens of trucks full of embezzled booty from his palatial mansion, he was impeached. A new government was chosen by a majority of the already elected Parliament. They put an interim government in place and called elections for May.
Never mind that, John calls them a “junta”. A pretty impressive word that, “junta”, to be honest. It smacks of generals in gold braid sitting around a table ensuring elections are never called for.
Maybe 30 years ago, you could have told us these things unchallenged. Maybe someone – one or two experts on the region – would have popped up to disagree, but unless they had a platform, a newspaper column in the Guardian, say, nobody could have really questioned your interpretation.
The thing is, John, now we can see the news. Not only can we see our news, but we can see Ukrainian news and Polish news, Russian news and Latvian news. We can see what happens and when. This is the information age. The world ain’t like that, anymore, John. We can see.
But of course, it gets better. The US masterminded the “coup”, to “encircle” Russia and to “seize” its “legitimate”, vital, warm water port in Crimea.
Only thing is, those of us who don’t have memories like goldfish can remember specific assurances being made to the Russians regarding the port.
We remember there being a lease that doesn’t run out for decades.
We recall that no threats were made towards the port in the slightest.
We also recall how Putin’s “defending themselves” involved invading the Crimea, and – at gun point – a minority of its Parliament voting for a referendum nobody hitherto had wanted, in the middle of the night, oh, and while we are at it? Electing as head of the provincial government someone who had hitherto received less than 5% of the vote. Lo and behold, the electorate voted 97% in favour of Crimea being swallowed by Russia (Russian Government figures), or, if you believe what the Russian Government accidentally put on its website and then hastily hid, 50% of 30-60% of the electorate voted in favour.
While under occupation.
With all Ukrainian news channels turned off.
And menacing noises being made towards the minority groups.
Hmmmm. Junta. That’s a fine word, isn’t it? You think the Crimean “leaders” may have been a little bit, well, Junta-ish? Junty?
Having failed in this nefarious plan to take over Crimea, John now detects that the entire of Ukraine has become, basically, a satrapy for the CIA. Sitting in Kiev, the CIA director, no doubt cackling and stroking a white cat, is terrorising the poor Russian speakers of Eastern Ukraine.
John touches on Odessa, and the – no arguments – horrible and violent clashes that led to a trade union building burning down with over 40 people inside. His version of events has the CIA inspired Neo-Nazi hordes stopping a doctor who come to rescue people and threatening him as a jew (how they knew he was Jewish, isn’t revealed).
Only problem with this narrative is, it was shared on Facebook by a gentleman claiming to be a doctor in Odessa. When the Odessa directory was searched? No such doctor existed. And, lo, his picture seemed to be that of a Russian dentist from thousands of miles away. When this information came to light, the Facebook page of said “doctor” disappeared. Never mind. 8000 shares later, and the story is still circulating, and John has gobbled it up as truth, and that’s all that matters.
It goes on and on, wearingly so, and throughout the piece, Putin is shown as a noble defender of his country, standing up to the evil US and their cackling Neo-Nazi henchmen. Putin keeps on offering “diplomatic solutions” (whilst his proxies on the ground run rampage, holding “referendums” that seem as believable as, well, John’s article) which the evil US dismiss out of hand.
Because the US wants war. And, yet again, to round off, he pulls out his Daniel Ellsburg quote (this seems to come out as often as Eisenhower’s – mistaken – warnings about the Military-Industrial complex), about a silent coup taking place in Washington and militarists running the show. And they are planning WAR, damn you, WORLD WAR.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Barack Obama flails around, somehow trying to work out what the hell is going on, whilst Putin takes Eastern Ukraine salami slice by salami slice.
And we can see it, John. I’m afraid your partial reporting won’t work anymore.