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Private Eye: from satire to propaganda
If you had no access to electronic or printed news media, how would you know what is going on in the world? We depend so much on the Fourth Estate to act as our eyes and ears, and now many of us feel we can’t trust what they say.
Since 1961, the minority publication Private Eye has given us insider tidbits that don’t suit the editorial line of the big-circulation papers, and satirised public figures and popular fads - even, for some time, the gay and feminist movements. But there is a line between telling the truth with a satirical twist, and simply twisting the truth.
A particularly deadly form of the latter is graphic art, which has always been a powerful weapon for war propaganda: it pulls you into a fantasy universe and can make you not just jump to conclusions but pole-vault over reasonable doubt. PE has crossed that line, and it’s disturbing to see editor Ian Hislop let it happen.
See for example the recent shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh in the Palestinians’ Jenin camp on 11 May. Here is the take offered by cartoonist Graeme Keyes (issue 1574, p. 39):
In order to argue with a picture you have to make the effort to turn all into words. Verbalised, Keyes is saying ‘She was deliberately killed by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers, who could clearly see that she was a woman and part of the Press.’
All of that is very much open to dispute. Alternative claims are that having been caught up in a firefight between Hamas and the IDF, she may have been killed accidentally by someone on the Palestinians’ side, and that the latter arriving on the scene afterwards initially thought the body was that of a male Israeli soldier (see e.g. this, this and this.) The bitter mutual hatred and mistrust between the communities there mean that the initial Palestinian Authority (PA) investigation into the incident is dismissed as lies by the Israelis but as the former refuse to cooperate in a joint probe it is doubtful whether we will ever establish the truth of the matter. Does Keyes know it? Does he want to? Does anyone at PE?
Below this tendentious cartoon is a spoof report about the IDF investigating the murders of JFK, Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln, in each case concluding that Palestinians were to blame. The doubling-down on consciously biased presumption seems rather like ‘steering into the skid’.
We are in an era when many different claims of victimhood attract uncritical sympathy, occasionally with hidden agendas. For example, does pity for the Palestinian sometimes cover up hatred of the Jew? If blond, Aryan-resembling Jew Tuvia Tenenbom’s undercover work in Israel and Palestine is truthfully related, there are many liberals, activists, NGOs and especially Germans keen to be hoodwinked by skilful PLO and PA propagandists faking evidence of outrages and persecution by Israel.
As for Ukraine and Russia, here are some (only some!) relevant cartoons from PE issue #1570 for you to translate into words and re-evaluate:
Private Eye is far from alone in this. The position adopted in The Spectator, although more highfalutin’, seems similar, and the coverage in the Daily Mail (e.g. Ian Birrell’s) has been astonishingly gung-ho from the outset.
All this, when neither the UK nor the US is technically at war with Russia, yet we are subjected to censorship, propaganda and official misinformation as though we were. Russian news sources (e.g. RT) have been blocked from us and Google’s Adsense Team has even forbidden the expression of contrarian opinions (round-robin email received by this writer, 13 April 2022):
‘This pause includes, but is not limited to, claims that imply victims are responsible for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim blaming, such as claims that Ukraine is committing genocide or deliberately attacking its own citizens.’
When there is such a bonfire of objectivity ablaze we need the skepticism, analysis and wit of Private Eye more than ever. We must hope a time will soon come when PE finally does an in-depth on Ukraine, Zelenskyy and some of the racist, antisemitic and extremely violent people who - many suspect - have their President in thrall.