The internet never forgets. And that’s especially unfortunate for The Sun, whose recent big talk on Russia falls to pieces with a simple internet search.
Don’t you dare ask for evidence
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that experts have identified the substance from the recent Salisbury poisoning as “a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – who has consistently opposed chemical weapons and stood up for human rights – criticised the “appalling act of violence” on 14 March. He called for a response that was “decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence”, and for measures which would “secure a world free of chemical weapons”. Regarding Russia, meanwhile, he said:
We have a duty to speak out against the abuse of human rights by the Putin Government and their supporters, both at home and abroad.
But because he didn’t jump the gun and say that Russia was definitely behind the Salisbury attack, The Sun bellowed:
THURSDAY'S FRONT PAGE: Must've imagined him calling it a "dreadful appalling act which we totally condemn" and that "we have a duty to speak out against the abuse of human rights by Putin’s government" then pic.twitter.com/uCujDRQksY
— The Sun Apologies (@SunApology) March 14, 2018
What happens when you don’t demand evidence
The Sun‘s apparent dislike for critical thought in recent days seemed all too familiar to some people, however. And with a simple internet search, we can see why.
In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, The Sun was also jumping the gun. First, it fanned the flames:
Then, it called on its readers to “open fire on traitors” – i.e. on anyone who questioned the logic behind the invasion:
It even provided a dartboard for target practice:
(Note: it would later delete that article.)
Eventually, the paper would claim that Britain had ‘set Iraq free’:
The disaster that The Sun backed blindly
Later, Sun owner Rupert Murdoch openly admitted that his papers had supported the march to war. And it soon emerged that, in the week before the March 2003 vote on the invasion of Iraq, Murdoch had called prime minister Tony Blair three times, allegedly pressing him not to delay the intervention.
The manufactured war against a dictator who the West once supported was an absolute disaster. It reportedly killed at least a million Iraqis and left thousands of children with deformities and cancer. And amid all that death and destruction, the context of anti-occupation resistance and the dissolution of the Iraqi army (and state) gave the forerunners of Daesh (Isis/Isil) fertile ground to grow. The years since have seen global terrorism skyrocket (with Daesh and similar Wahhabi groups responsible for the majority of non-state terrorism).
The invasion also cost UK taxpayers billions of pounds.
But while The Sun might wish to put that whole episode behind it, the internet never forgets. And neither has Britain.
In 2016, veteran reporter Peter Oborne said that the “collusion between the political people and reporters” over Iraq was “part of the reason why the British public was so grievously misinformed about the nature of the threat from Saddam Hussein”. And as journalist George Monbiot said in 2004:
the falsehoods reproduced by the media before the invasion of Iraq were massive and consequential: it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job.
Now, in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning, he has called for the same caution, saying:
the public should also be able to expect calm heads and a measured response from their political leaders. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security…
By asking questions and calling for evidence, Corbyn is doing exactly what all serious media outlets should be doing.
The Sun, meanwhile, is just doing what comes naturally: stoking the flames of conflict, insulting its readers’ intelligence, and bringing shame to the word ‘media’.
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