Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John Pilger

I don't normally read John Pilger because I know I'm not going to discover anything by doing so. He is a writer for whom the world is known before it is encountered. He can, therefore, neither learn nor inform. That said, this article is such a fine piece of Pilgerism that it really has to be read. It has no substantial content other than the usual demand for action against everything. A few, dim students might be impressed. But it is the extraordinary madness of the thing that should be studied - not least because it makes one wonder why The Guardian feels justified in publishing such stuff. But I suppose he's box office and, as such, not subject to normal editorial standards of literacy and logic. In the first paragraph, for example, he says that Rupert Murdoch's empire is 'devoted to the promotion of war, conquest and human division' and that Britain is a 'murdochracy'. Hmmm, interesting, so convince me. But, no, Pilger drops that theme after the third sentence. He then issues a torrent of assertion about Blair-Brown illiberalism, much of which I actually agree with. But he destroys his case - for thinking people at least - by simply making a list in silly, Dave Spartish language. 'Britain is now a centralised single-ideology state, as secure in the grip of a superpower as any former eastern bloc country.' Again, hmmm, so we're as bad as Honecker's East Germany are we? But, again, no proper evidence or argument. Pilger has been spoiled by only ever preaching to the converted. All information that he absorbs is manipulated to stir the feelings of this paranoid, unthinking little band of neo-manicheans. He has become a parody both of the old left and of the worst kind of newspaper columnist. He  is, in every sense of the word, unbelievable... but also consolingly antique.


  1. Bryan, everything you say is wrong with Pilger is indeed wrong with him (and more besides) but your post contains a few unjustified assertions of its own:

    "A few, dim students might be impressed"

    I wish it were so, but (even allowing for what I suspect was hyperbole in your remark) I think that Pilger and his ilk have a much larger constituency than that. And while it would be nice to believe that they're all dim, I know too many people with high IQs who can read someone like Pilger and see nothing but a daring intellectual speaking truth to power. That's surely a sign that something has gone wrong with their education, but these people aren't all dim.

    "[Pilger is] consolingly antique"?

    Well, I can think of plenty of writers a generation of more younger than him whose writings are so mired in ideology that, as with the piece you linked to, even when they're right they're still wrong. And, by way of an anecdote, Pilger's writings are frequently reprinted in the progressive magazine of the North American campus where I study.

  2. Thanks, Peter. Sound corrections and modifications to my post. I suspect people find something rather relaxing about Pilger and others like him,. You can just relax and go with the flow. Mood music basically.

  3. I just can't read it. I've tried, twice. But then, perhaps, it's not meant for me. If you want a strong liberal voice opposing a surveillance state and the slow crumpling of human rights in this country read Henry Porter.

    Pilger's multi-hyphens remind me of the column in private eye with Brown as Stalin. Crypto-Blairite-Mendelsonianism...

  4. My comrade from the Euston Group Marko Attila Hoare -- crazy name, serious guy -- and a former war crimes investigator Fisked Pilge in front of an audience at Kingston University. The fearless speaker of truth to power -- er -- ran away.

  5. Oops. You can read about it here.

  6. "He is a writer for whom the world is known before it is encountered. He can, therefore, neither learn nor inform."

    That's beautifully put (I was going to write 'so that's why you're a successful journalist', but then I remembered that writing badly is no impediment to a career in journalism).

  7. Pilger's clout is such that he can get his ludicrous 'documentaries' on ITV, where they are handled with the utmost reverence. At least, this used to be the case - perhaps Michael Grade will put a stop to that. About time.

  8. You really have to encounter the Aussie Left to realise that our's is relatively benign. Peter W is quite right. I've met otherwise entirely sane people who devour tracts by Noam Chomsky too.

  9. This says it all: Unknown to either myself or Pilger, a forensic expert who had worked on-site in Kosovo examining the bodies was also present in the audience. After the meeting, she approached him, told him who she was, challenged his version of events and asked him to tell her who the alleged forensic experts he had cited were, because they were probably people she knew personally. Pilger’s response was ‘I have to go now’. Although when I passed him in the entrance to the auditorium, he was talking to someone else and did not appear in any great hurry to leave.

    Thanks Marko - an outsanding historian

  10. I read Pilger's Heroes as a young woman and was very impressed.
    I have to say, though, that since then I increasingly know what you mean, Bryan. I find him endearing, though -- bit like Chomsky - I quite like reading them both, from their parallel universe.

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  12. Pilger talks (a LOT!) for nobody but himself and his bank balance! He makes a good living (a very good living) by essentially writing crap! He doesn't represent any mainstream political view in the U.K. He is, unfortunately, one of the many ex-Colonials we have to tolerate here in the U.K!. His appeal is essentially to the fornhorn mouths of the extreme left and students! The river of time has passed these "champagne socialists"
    by - in fact it passed them by decades ago. But if the nasty little cliques of the Pilgers of this world want to waste their time looking for that crock of gold at the end of the rainbow then let them - they've failed and who the hell cares!

  13. How short sighted. A few dim students might be impressed? John Pilger is a hugely respected journalist and author and I have found his books and documentaries eye opening. Yes I am a student (an art student at that) but I am by no means ultra left. Oh and I don't consider myself dim either.

    How can a man who campaigns for human rights and transparent journalism be 'mood music'. His work is exactly that which fights 'relaxing and going with the flow'.

    I came across this because I was actively searching for criticism about John Pilger. I always want to know all about people who I find it hard to dis-credit and this has only strengthened my admiration for his work.