Can't See The World For The Trees

by Richard Hine

June 9, 2003


In a recent op-ed piece for the (London) Independent ("The danger of this infantile anti-Americanism," 15 May 2003) Gavin Esler [1] joins a growing chorus of prominent commentators decrying what they perceive to be an ever escalating "anti-Americanism in this country" (Britain).

Esler's argument is that the British are prey to a "catastrophic failure of understanding of the most powerful democracy in the world." But a closer inspection of the article reveals that the failure of understanding is Esler's and the catastrophe is that so many column inches are wasted focusing on a 'straw-man' whilst the US military invades and occupies another sovereign nation with impunity.

The gravamen of Mr. Esler's argument appears to be that "a profound British ignorance and intellectual arrogance towards the United States" is a major causal factor in our "creeping anti-Americanism." Undoubtedly there are those whose dismay at US foreign policy is coupled with anti-Americanism but these attitudes are different not in degree but kind. That many people are incapable of making such seemingly simple distinctions is not commendable but Mr. Esler should be wary of pointing the finger given the frequency with which he, and many of his colleagues, makes the same mistake.

For instance, George Robertson (NATO Secretary General) apparently relayed to Esler his belief that British and European anti-Americanism has moved beyond being "criticism of individual policies or even an individual president." The implication being that both are on a sliding scale of anti-Americanism with recent British views moving toward the more pernicious end of the measure. Unfortunately, Mr. Esler's inability to notice the difference in kind between these positions inevitably leads him to disregard the arguments of many anti-war protestors who have no such difficulty.

Indeed, Mr. Esler notes, with exasperation, that "[f]or weeks, radio phone-in shows have been full of people describing George Bush and the US military as being morally as bad as Saddam Hussein." Overlooked, by Esler in his rush to defend "the most powerful democracy in the world" from "trite anti-Americanism" (Jack Straw), is any notion that anti-war protestors might have a position worth engaging. Instead, it seems, they simply represent "the usual patronizing British attitude" towards Americans. The result? Another baby is thrown out with the bathwater.

Furthermore, one can't help but notice the striking functional similarities between this latest worry over anti-Americanism and the notion that to disagree with Israeli foreign policy is tantamount to anti-Semitism. Regularly overlooked in the latter case is the logical impossibility of being anti-Semitic, for opposing illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, whilst supporting the cause of the Palestinians, when they themselves are Semitic people. But shout "anti-Semitism," however false, loudly enough and the resulting tinnitus ensures that many mainstream journalists fail to hear subsequent arguments that could provide a balanced debate.

None of these points should be taken to suggest that racism is not a very real and present danger in all corners of the world, nor that we should waver in our to efforts to stem its flow. And of course, "infantile anti-Americanism [is] unjust, unreasonable and absolutely not in Britain's interest." However we would do well to remember what happened to the boy who cried, "Wolf!" too often.

In the meantime, journalists should direct their attention to the 'cries' of the overwhelming majority of the international community. A community that cannot understand how the leaders of an "almost entirely benign continent" like the U.S. can wage an illegal and immoral war on another nation with such limited condemnation by the mainstream media.

This serious shortage of adequate analysis by most mainstream media need not be seen as an intentional effort to stifle dissenting voices. Unfortunately, for anyone hoping that the 'corporate' media will be able to offer impartial examinations on issues as important as the 'allied' invasion and occupation of Iraq, or the Israel/Palestine predicament, the results, alas, are astonishingly similar.

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Notes and Resources

1.  [Ed. note: Gavin Esler is the main presenter on BBC News 24 and the presenter of Radio Four's foreign affairs series "Four Corners." Gavin writes a weekly column for The Scotsman and frequently contributes to the Independent and the Mail. He's the author of "The United States of Anger" (Penguin 1998).]  (back)

Main Media & Propaganda on Swans


Richard Hine is a doctoral student at King's College London (Philosophy). He is currently organizing a conference in London on the 'Propaganda Model' and mainstream media bias/self-censorship.

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Published June 9, 2003
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