The Sunday Times has published an atrocious bit of journalism about the Edward Snowden revelations, alleging the whistleblower has “betrayed” British spies to the Russians and Chinese. The piece is an entirely unsubstantiated mishmash of unattributed sources who frequently contradict each other as well as many facts about the case which are already established.
While I was completely unsurprised to see the piece picked up and echoed uncritically by other components of Britain’s mainstream media, such as the BBC, I was heartened to see that the piece has already been comprehensively demolished online by just about every relevant blogger, news site and forum (highlights include Glenn Greenwald here and Craig Murray here; incidentally the Greenwald piece has already come under a spurious legal challenge from the Sunday Times, while Murray’s website has succumbed to a mysterious DNS attack) What an incredible display of the profound and innate difference between corporate and online media. But in America, the crucible of the Snowden story, even parts of the corporate media had a hard time swallowing this terrible, terrible piece of work – which the Sunday Times published as a headline, front-page story. Look, for example, at this interview between CNN anchor George Howell and one of the Sunday Times reporters responsible for the piece, “home affairs correspondent” Tom Harper (who is young Harper related to, I wonder?).
A common reaction to this story is to assume the piece is a result of government disinformation. After all, spooks and authoritarians everywhere are trying to vilify Snowden and cover up the extent of the illegality he exposed, and these efforts have always been fairly transparent and predictable. However, the Harper piece is even worse than that. As Craig Murray observes, the article contains so many operational misconceptions about gathering humint that I can only conclude that the disinformation is all on the part of the newspaper.
I have said it before now, and I will say it again here: corporate media is so lazy, venal and biased that it disinforms as a matter of course. It cannot always be the fault of the spooks when a newspaper or broadcaster lies. In this grubby scrape for a story I suppose that Harper may indeed have spoken to officers of MI5 or SIS, but only perhaps a recent graduate entrant, or a dim and distant retiree; someone who has basically no operational knowledge, and is keen to inflate their importance and the seriousness of their department (this is a trait of civil servants the world over). As for any non-attributable utterances coaxed out of officials at the Home Office or in Downing Street, well, they would know literally nothing about British agents in China or anywhere else.
This is story is so poor, its fact-checking and verification so shoddy, and its general thrust at such variance with the American version of events, that the blame must lie with the paper. It wasn’t just Tom Harper who wrote it, after all. The by-lines also went to Richard Kerbaj, the Sunday Times’ very own security correspondent, and Tim Shipman, its political editor. That’s how deep the rot is. And remember that the Sunday Times is not exactly short of cash.
How long can a major British newspaper get away with punting nonsense like this? The influence of the idiot box and the dead tree press must surely be diminishing at a yearly rate. There will surely come a day when people marvel that such things ever swung elections, and I hope very much it comes soon. Only one thing is sure: we won’t be reading about in the press, or hearing about it on the television. The more a rag like The Sun roars its relevance, for example, the more worried you know News International is.by