Russia Today and the new Information Wars

‘Information’ that supports your side; disinformation that invents, distorts or invents the truth or presents spurious allegations and assumptions as facts; outright lies and propaganda; controlling the flow of information through ’embedded’ reporters and hand-picked pools in order to eliminate ‘inconvenient facts’ or simply prevent journalists from ever seeing them   – all these techniques and methods have long been essential to modern war, and they have become crucial to the murky wars and armed conflicts of the early 21st century.

The essential purpose of such efforts is to attain ‘information dominance’ and make sure that your ‘narrative’ is the one that most people hear, that they keep on hearing it as often as possible,   that you can shape the ways in which these conflicts are represented and perceived by a global audience that now receives information through an all-pervasive mass media that includes 24-hour tv, the Internet, smartphones and tablets.

The best propaganda of all is the kind that you don’t even recognize as propaganda; you simply assume that what you see is what you get; that the journalists and pundits you see are independent of their governments and willing to hold their actions up to scrutiny and ask questions that they don’t to hear; that the journalists, newsreaders and pundits you are watching or listening to have any subjective perspective or ulterior motives or any interest in anything except the plain unvarnished truth.

In the West we often take it for granted that this is what we’ve got, and that our media would never and could never stoop so low as to transform journalism into propaganda.   That is something that other countries do.

The problem is that large sections of the world’s population don’t believe in our inherent truthfulness as much as we do or are tired of hearing our stories.     Now satellite technology and the worldwide web have made it possible for different voices to provide a different perspective,   and even to counter the stories emanating from CNN, the BBC and numerous other outlets, and when it happens our own masters of war are not happy about it.

Sometimes we respond by identifying the source of disinformation as a military target, as NATO did when it bombed Serbia’s television offices, or al-Jazeera’s offices in Afghanistan.     At other times we simply attempt to discredit them by comparing our own exemplary journalistic standards to the crude propagandising that other countries supposedly engage it.

The US did that with al-Jazeera on more than one occasion, and the British government did the same when it banned Press tv.     And now Russia Today is getting the same treatment, as the West moves ever-closer to an all-out war with Russia.   For months, Western media pundits have been shaking their heads in horror at the impact of the new international Russian media on non-Russian audiences.

Last month for example, that august bastion of the truth,   the Wall Street Journal criticized ‘Putin’s disinformation matrix’, which it described as ‘ merely one part of the Kremlin’s aggressive media effort’ that included ‘ mobilizing thousands of online “trolls,” cultivating sympathetic political cranks abroad, and exploiting Western freedom of speech and the Western model of public diplomacy to advance Moscow”s illiberal aims.’

This is a bit rich coming from the uber-conservative WSJ, which never saw an American neocon war that it didn’t like, and which never bothered to question the assumptions on which such wars were based, and which as late as last September had an editorial arguing that Dick Cheney was ‘right all along’ about Iraq and Syria.

These are not guys to speak truth to power – or to give others lectures for not doing so.   And that same month The Interpreter, a web journal run by the supposedly non-partisan   Institute of Modern Russia published a report entitled The Menace of Unreality, which accused Russia of having ‘weaponised information’ through its new digital channel.     The article claimed that

‘Since at least 2008, Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of “persuasion,” “public diplomacy” or even “propaganda,” but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert and paralyze.’

Goodness, can such evil stalk the world?   Indeed it can, because last week the US Congress approved Resolution 758,, which noted that

 ‘the Russian Federation has expanded the presence of its state-sponsored media in national languages across central and western Europe with the intent of using news and information to distort public opinion and obscure Russian political and economic influence in Europe’

There is a lot more where this came from.   Personally I don’t watch Russia Today enough to be able to make an overall comment on the quality of its journalism.   I have seen good things and bad.     Certainly I have never seen any program or report critical of Putin, though I do remember watching the Russian Foreign Minister getting a far tougher grilling from a journalist than I have seen any American or British foreign minister receive from any of our supposedly independent and fearless reporters.

I have also seen news reports that are ‘anti-Western’ insofar as they focus overwhelmingly on negative aspects of European and American society.   So I don’t doubt that such coverage is biased, or even that Russia Today has been conceived in part to project a pro-Russian view of world events to a Western audience.

I don’t see RT – or any other media outlet for that matter – as the ‘voice of truth’.   But it does have a refreshingly wide range of often critical pundits of varying quality,  who remind me what a narrow, limited and safe range of ‘experts’ and commentators the BBC, CNN or Channel 4 News draws upon say.       I have briefly appeared on Russia Today myself on three occasions, and I once appeared on Tariq Ramadan’s show on Press tv.

The Ramadan appearance was in connection with my book Blood and Faith.   I have no doubt that I was of interest to Russia Today because of critical pieces I have written here and elsewhere on Western foreign policy in Iraq and Syria.

Nevertheless   I didn’t say anything that I didn’t want to say or that I didn’t actually believe, and I didn’t see myself as a troll or a propagandist or a supporter of Putin – a politician who I have very little time for as it happens.

I certainly didn’t feel ‘weaponised’, and what I find laughable about the condemnation directed at RT is the assumption that Western governments would never themselves use the media to advance their political or foreign policy interests.     According to The Interpreter

‘Russia has hybridized not only its actual warfare but also its informational warfare. Much of the epistemology democratic nations thought they had permanently retired after the Cold War needs to be re-learned and adapted to even cleverer forms of propaganda and disinformation.’

Yes, how unfortunate that ‘democratic nations’ should now be forced by those sinister ghouls in the Kremlin to re-learn the ‘epistemology’ they had supposedly discarded out of the goodness of their freedom-loving hearts, er, when exactly?

As early as the 1989 invasion of Panama, the US military identified information as a crucial theatre of war, and sent only a handpicked pool of reporters to Panama City to report on the invasion – except that they spent most of the war locked in a room which Pentagon-approved video footage and briefings until major combat was almost over.

And it has continued ever since, in Kosovo, in Gulf Wars 1 and 2, in Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror.’   US military strategists have written dozens of articles on   ‘strategic communications’, ‘ public diplomacy’ and ‘information warfare’ and the Pentagon has also ‘weaponised’ information to achieve its aims.

Between 2002 -2008 according to the New York Times,   the Pentagon secretly infiltrated   more than seventy retired military officers into the tv networks to serve as media commentators and act as ‘ message force multipliers’ or ‘surrogates’ in promoting the Iraq War.

Most of these pundits, the Times reported at the time ‘ have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air’ and the fact that these connections were not mentioned when they appeared had created ‘ a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.’

The New York Times itself had experience of this kind of infiltration, when the pro-war journalist Judith Miller recycled false information fed to her from the Iraqi National Congress about Saddam Hussein’s weapons program.

Why is that not ‘propaganda and disinformation’?   Yet somehow we are now expected to hold up our hands in horror, because other countries who for one reason or another our governments have designated as strategic opponents,  may be using the media to promote their own foreign policy agendas or simply to counter our own ‘weaponised’ information.

And did I mention Fox News?   Oh very well, if you insist.

 

 

 

 

That Katie Hopkins thing that you do

I wasn’t going to write about Katie Hopkins, because I generally think that she is one of those people better off left ignored.   Nevertheless I just can’t help myself, because there are some individuals, who no matter how repellent and inherently worthless in themselves, are symptomatic of certain wider social or political trends, and Hopkins’s strange trajectory from reality tv star into the nation’s most notoriously hateful opinion-monger has a great deal to tell us about the kind of society we’ve become.

For those that don’t know, or perhaps have had loftier things to think about, Katie Hopkins is a former failed participant in the ghastly Apprentice show, in which a gallery of fairly unpleasant characters compete to earn the favour of Thatcherite icon SurAlan Sugar – a man whose massive ego is reflected in a curious and jarring tendency to refer to himself in the third person.

I watched that show once, and was so appalled by SurAlan’s unbelievable arrogance, and by the unctuous, grasping wannabes who were falling at his feet to get his cash, that I never watched it again.   As a result I never saw Katie Hopkins’s bid for fame and money, in which she apparently distinguished herself through her bitchy comments about her fellow-competitors.     She didn’t get SurAlan’s £100,000 job, but she did get a brief moment of fame that owed itself entirely to her capacity for nastiness.

Hopkins clearly saw possibilities in that outcome.   She went on to distinguish herself with an appearance in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, and then struck gold with an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, in which she told a gobsmacked presenter that she wouldn’t let her children play with kids with names like Tyler and Chardonnay.

So what, you might say, and you’d be right.     Except that the clip of that interview received thousands of hits and a lot of outraged comments, and it began Hopkins’s weird transformation into the nation’s most famous obnoxious media person, who routinely expressed spiteful and vindictive views that were regularly found in the danker regions of Internet comment forums rather than the public eye.

Hopkins’s initial forum was Twitter, where she issued a stream of spittle-flecked tweets that were clearly designed to be as offensive as possible, whether attacking vulnerable celebrities like Peaches Geldof, fat people or ginger babies ( yes I kid you not) or taunting the lower orders about their kids names.       Some say that 140 characters cannot express a coherent idea.     Maybe not, but they can project a bitter, publicity-seeking missive into public consciousness for at least three seconds, and Hopkins had a seemingly endless store of horrible opinions to draw upon.

Much of this had no obvious purpose except to make Hopkins rich and famous and promote her as a free-speaking, un-PC ‘conduit of truth’, as her website describes her. Hopkins specialised in gutter controversialism, not the more high-brow ‘contrarianism’ of journalists like Brendan O’Neil, but real scraped-off-the-pavement ordure that was designed to throw and to be seen to have been thrown.

But Hopkins also acted as a conduit for rightwing prejudices and scapegoating, whether attacking ‘benefit scroungers’, food bank users, immigrants, drug addicts or people with disabilities, or jeering at Bob Crow’s death.     All this was so completely in tune with that unique cultural swamp that is the British tabloid press that she might have been born there, and the Sun quickly scooped her up and gave her a column.

Her ‘motormouth’ persona also got her more tv appearances, where tv producers saw here ability to be offensive as a means of generating ‘good television’ regardless of its quality.   I saw her once on Channel 5’s benefits ‘debate’ and it wasn’t a particularly edifying expererience.   I couldn’t decide which was worse:   her obvious embarrasing craving to be on television or the hateful and dimly-thought out views that she was prepared to express in order to get there.

Watching her echo the Coalition’s ‘scrounger’ rhetoric with thoughtless zealotry, it was difficult to avoid the impression that there was   really nothing she wouldn’t say if it could help her get on.   She was given a great deal of assistance by the Huffington Post, whose readership is far more tabloid-oriented than one might expect, as I discovered when I used to write for it.

The HuffPost regularly promotes ‘Katie’ as if she were some kind of national treasure, and affectionately presents her as a ‘controversialist’ and ‘rent-a-gob’ with a kind of breathless ‘you’ll never guess what Katie’s said now’ enthusiasm, as if it’s all good clean fun.   But   Hopkins isn’t really much fun at all.   On the contrary, television and the Internet have transformed her into a living troll, who can be called upon at any given moment to say something ‘controversial’ about the issues of the day, regardless of whether she knows anything or has anything significant to say about them.

And this, readers, is where we have a problem.   Of course we might ponder about the psychology of a woman who attacks vulnerable people in order to become famous, and then seems to thrive on the hatred directed against her.     But Hopkins is also the product of an amoral media that will do anything to generate ratings; of a lazy public that prefers   instant opinions, prejudices, demagoguery and telegenic ‘entertainment’ to ideas that require more than a few seconds thought; of   a rightwing cultural revolution which presents even the nastiest and most vicious views as a triumph for free speech and a victory over the ‘PC brigade’ – and lastly, of a society in which certain minorities can be vilified with complete impunity.

This is why Nigel Farage has become the most influential politician in the country,   It’s why Jeremy Clarkson is regarded as a bit of a lad when he makes jokes about ‘slopes’ and lazy Mexicans,   and Kelvin Mackenzie is regarded as a serious television pundit as if Hillsborough never happened.   It’s also why we get a woman who can tweet things like this:

Ramadan typically brings a spijke in violence in Middle East,   I get grumpy when I don’t eat but I don’t blow things up.   Religion of Peace?

And this:

Father beats his daughter with an iron bar. But he is a good Muslim, prays in his cell & attends the mosque. So that’s all happy days then.

Oh, the searing wit.   And then there was this:

Palestinians busy knifing Israelis. 2 state solution my arse. Filthy rodents burrowing beneath Israel. Time to restart the bombing campaign

Pause for a moment and try to imagine what would be the reaction if a leading Muslim commentator had described Jews as rats and suggested that Hamas start carrying out a new suicide bombing campaign in Jerusalem.

I think one can safely say that it wouldn’t have gone down well, but ‘Katie’ appears to be getting away with these ‘un-PC’ observations that ought to be regarded as hatespeech.   And the fact that she is able to do so, and will probably go on doing so, suggest that Hopkins is not the only one down in the gutter, and that the UK has been ‘Hopkinised’   to the point when such views are no longer especially controversial.

 

A Cautionary Tale

Bear with me readers on what is an unusual and longish post, because I really think that this is something that needs a public airing.   The tale begins on Thursday morning when I was sitting at my desk and received the following comment on a blogpost which I posted on April 11 last year, entitled ‘Thatcher’s Golden Years: remembering the ‘Battle of the Beanfield’,   from someone called John Harris:

Great picture of the mounted police attack – who took it Matt?

 [stextbox id=”alert”]

Dear Matt,

A quick bit of research would tell you it is a very famous picture from the miners strike 1984/1985 and nothing to do with the Battle of the Beanfield…I own the copyright in this photograph, and you have neither sought nor obtained my permission to publish it. Accordingly, you have infringed my copyright under the terms of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

As a journalist and author your infringement is flagrant. You have also exposed me to further loss. Have you published it in any other form?

Please give me your address so I can invoice you accordingly, and we can bring this matter to a speedy conclusion. Please confirm you have removed my picture and destroyed any copies of it you have made.

Kind Regards
John

[/stextbox]

I love that ‘kind regards’, don’t you?   A few minutes research proved that Harris was right.   The picture was taken by him, and it was a picture of the miners’ strike – something that was immediately obvious when I saw the picture outside the ‘beanfield’ cluster where I had first encountered it.         I was nevertheless shocked by the tone of the email, with its suggestion of a ‘flagrant’ infringement of copyright and also by the demand that I should be invoiced.

I have never knowingly infringed anyone’s copyright and did not realise that including a photo that was readily available on the Internet could be regarded as such.   I therefore rang Harris up, since his phone number was included in the email, and tried to explain to him that I had made an honest mistake. No chance.     He immediately accused me of being ‘aggressive’ and said that ignorance was ‘no excuse’ and that I was ‘wasting his time’, before hanging up.     I then wrote him another email, in which I denied that I had been aggressive, and suggested that Mr Harris’s ‘ threatening email…was far more aggressive than anything that I said.’

I   told Harris:

[stextbox id=”alert”]The mistake in the image was clearly mine, and I have removed it and added a disclaimer. I do not understand why, when you realized the image was on my website, you didn”t simply inform me what it was and tell me to remove it. Had you done so, I would have reacted immediately, as I have now. I”d like to point out that my blog is not a commercial activity and that I would never in a million years use anybody else”s work for profit. [/stextbox]

I also wrote:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Of course I haven”t published it in “any other form”. It was merely there to illustrate a piece on the evils of Thatcherism, something that you yourself once powerfully photographed. Given these circumstances I simply don”t understand why you have taken the line you have, and why you appear to be so intent on taking me to the cleaners. Is it because you don”t like my political views as expressed in the blog? Is it a question of principle? Or do you simply regard me as a “journalist and author” and therefore who might be able to pay you?.[/stextbox]

Regarding the principle, I argued:

[stextbox id=”alert”]You say that ignorance is no “excuse” in legal terms. Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly ought to be in ethical and moral terms, particularly between individuals who at least at one time were singing from the same political hymn sheet. I myself have often allowed other people to use my work for free when it was for causes that I agreed with, and if I found out that they were doing so without my knowledge I would simply ask them to remove it.

I hope therefore, that you will do the same, and be content to let the matter rest at that.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Carr[/stextbox]

Harris was not content to let the matter rest at that.   Hardly had I sent the email than I received this:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Dear Matt,

I’m surprised you have phoned in such an aggressive fashion, it was most upsetting. A more apologetic tone would have been more appropriate, I’d not asked you to use my picture you know.

At this point it is really important to deal with this in a quick, timely and helpful manner please. You really cannot assume that just because you “found it on the internet” that you have permission to use others work to promote your own writing. [/stextbox]

As far I was concerned this was the classic response of the coward-bully.   It was apparently ok for Mr Harris to pretend to be a curious reader.   Ok to threaten me with legal action.     But it was not ok to question any of this.     As for the accusation that I used others work to promote my writing, this was a complete misrepresentation of my own motives in using the photograph, not to mention a wild exaggeration of the commercial impact of my blog.

By this time it was clear to me that I was talking to someone who was either tonedeaf or determined to misrepresent anything I had to say.     I nevertheless tried once again, and sent this reply:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Dear John,

You will have seen the email that I just sent you. I still do not understand why you thought I was aggressive, and I”m sorry that I upset you. That was not my intention. Misunderstandings can easily take place on the phone especially when emotions are heated. Of course I am sorry that I used your picture, but you should understand that it was a genuine error, not a deliberate attempt to exploit anybody or use anybody”s work for my own benefit something that I have never done and never would do.

But I genuinely wasn”t aware that posting photos on the Internet was a breach of copyright, and as you see from the image I sent you, there wasn”t an obvious name in any case. Obviously I will not assume that I can use photos in the future, but the images I used were not intended to “promote my writing” but to enhance the political points I was trying to make.

I hope that you can accept my apologies.

Matt[/stextbox]

Mr Harris did not accept my apologies.   Instead he sent this:

[stextbox id=”alert”]

Without prejudice save as to costs

Dear Matt,

I didn’t call you, you called me and immediately started saying that it was “unfair” that you couldn’t use my work for free which is why I really didn’t want to listen to you I’m afraid! It really is utter rubbish. What is unfair is 1) that you have used my image in this way, 2) that you are wasting my time with long emails about it, and 3) what would be really unfair would be if those diligent in arranging licensing & use in the correct way pay, whilst those using my image without license got away with paying nothing at all.

For your information the reason I saw your infringement was because you have been quoted as the source for a further and even more serious infringement by a third party in a hardback book who has repeated your mislabelling etc. & who appears to even claim copyright. Non bylined/non credited & mislabeled use has exactly that “knock on” effect… I don’t want to be dealing with any of it but have a responsibility to myself and others to do so.

I don’t like your “at least at one time singing from the same political hymn sheet” as if my standing up for my rights is evidence of my “selling out” – that is a cheap shot and untrue. That is the second time you have impugned my integrity. Furthermore, whether I charge for use for causes I agree with or not is at my discretion not yours.

I haven’t said anything about “taking you to the cleaners” for your use, albeit one which is clearly promoting your publishing work – and indeed all of your books do look very interesting. I am correct in the terms I use, infringement by someone who is in publishing/journalism/business will be held as “flagrant” in law and I may be entitled to claim further damages in this & other respects.

I require your contact details by return. In the interests of resolving this matter quickly and with good will for both of us I am, at this stage, willing to make a without prejudice offer to waive my rights to damages from you with respect to your breach for a payment of £120 incl VAT, provided that you accept this offer in writing within the next 7 days and provided that such sum is received on my account within the next 14 days. That is a very kind offer on my part. This does not grant any license to use the image.

Should I not receive notification of acceptance of this offer within the period described above and subsequent payment of our invoice I shall pass the matter into other hands. If I have to take this claim further, I reserve by right to add other losses resulting from the breach, the costs of lawyers’ fees, court fees, and other expenses will also be added to the cost of the claim. There is now a court set up especially for this purpose.
[/stextbox]

At no stage did I ever say that it was ‘unfair’ that I could use not Harris’s work for free.   This was a complete misrepresentation.   Nor do I have any idea what ‘third party’   he is referring to.     What I was trying to suggest that a) I had not profited from Harris’s work nor attempted to do so and b) that it was not necessary to force me to pay for what was essentially an honest mistake.

I did consider ignoring his threats, and I received various opinions suggesting that I should not give in to them, and that a court would agree that I acted in good faith.   But I have been sued before, and the risks to my family were too great if everything went pearshaped, so I was forced to accept his ‘kind offer.’

And that readers, concludes and ugly, nasty little tale which leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.     So writers and bloggers should take care.   Because just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean that it is public property, and there will always be someone out there willing to use the law as an instrument of extorsion, regardless of whether you acted in error or with malicious intent.

And I can’t help wondering at the bizarre irony in which a writer denouncing one of the most savage episodes of police brutality during the Thatcher era should have invited such a ruthless response from a photographer who once took pictures denouncing another.   Harris can proclaim his ‘rights’ all he likes, but he had other means of upholding them, and I am disgusted and appalled that he didn’t take them, and chose instead to target me as if I were some kind of thief.

 

 

 

The Strange Cult of Russell Brand Part II

I shouldn’t have been entirely surprised that my recent thoughts on the Russell Brand phenomenon have attracted far more comments on this site and on Facebook than my posts usually get – it’s in the nature of the Brand phenomenon that when you speak about him people sit up and listen.   I’ve written hundreds of pieces about what I consider to be far more important subjects over the last few years, yet now people who have never commented on any of them have roused themselves to counter or protest the criticisms I made.

Some of these criticisms have been of the usual personal kind; that i’m jealous, bitter, full of ‘hate’ etc.     No surprises there.     The left often reacts like this when its idols are held up to scrutiny.     When I once criticized the dreadful fraud Johan Hari I remember being described as a ‘bitter hack’ on the Medialens website.     When I said that I found the sexual allegations directed against Julian Assange ‘creepy’ in a piece that otherwise criticized the attacks upon him in the British press I was similarly accused of being ‘against sex’ and joining in the hate campaign against him.

Just to make it clear: if I see a person who I think is a fake or may simply have flaws I’m not going to not say so just because he or she is a ‘leftist’.     It seems that in some leftist circles that it’s fine to say what you like about Blair, Bush or George Osborne say, but say anything negative about one of us and criticism suddenly becomes ‘hate’ or ‘jealousy’.

Other critics have insisted that Brand is an invaluable asset to the cause and suggested therefore that criticisms of the man or the ‘caravan of change’ that he is supposedly leading are somehow reactionary, damaging to the ‘movement’ and perhaps ‘counter-revolutionary’.

These arguments tend to break down into the following general categories a) that Brand is ‘engaging’ people – particularly young people – with radical politics b) that the media attention that Brand is receiving will open the gates for the rest of us and therefore bring the revolution closer c) that Brand is acting as a celebrity-advocate for worthy causes that would otherwise receive little attention d) that Brand is a real threat to the system and that’s why he is being criticized.

Regarding a) I have not seen any evidence that Brand is ‘engaging’ young people – a suggestion that seems to assume that ‘young people’ are so stupid that even the most incoherent platitudinous gibberish will be enough to make them aware of inequality and lead them to join the ‘caravan’ or ‘Brand’s revolution.’

As far as b) is concerned, I can’t believe that anyone on the left takes this seriously for an instant.   Do people really believe that just because Brand gets on Newsnight, they will too?   Boy, let’s just dream on shall we?

I don’t have any problem with c) on one level, although I do think it raises the question of why these causes need a celebrity-advocate to bring them to public attention in the first place.

As for d), well I’ve already made clear that I don’t think that Brand represents any threat at all and that if he did, he would be as ignored as the causes that he now advocates.

Some people have asked me whether I want Brand to just ‘shut up’ and whether I think that ‘celebrities’ shouldn’t speak out on political issues.   The answer to both questions is no.   Because famous people are moral agents, who are as entitled as anyone else to have political views and speak out and campaign on them, and it’s rare and unusual for any of them to articulate arguments about inequality and social justice that have generally been a leftist preoccupation.

In this sense Brand could be considered an asset, if you ignore the massive ego and self-regard that seems to have accompanied his conversion to a ‘total revolution of consciousness.’   We are, after all, talking about a man who has written, ‘Capitalism has brought us many useful tools and systems: the laptop I type this on, the money I bought it with, the fame that means you”ve heard of me and are reading this.’

Well go ahead and call me counter-revolutionary, but it takes a real jerk to say something like that.   Or maybe it’s just some kind of postmodern irony that a staid old git like me doesn’t get, you know, like the fact that Brand once turned up to visit destitute asylum-seekers in a chauffeur-driven limousine.   Call me old-fashioned, but I have met men and women who have worked with destitute asylum seekers for years in complete obscurity, and I admire them a hell of a lot more than I admire Brand.

And I have also met people who really did lay their lives on the line for the causes they believed in, so forgive me if I feel just a little bit sceptical when I hear a celebrity millionaire saying that he is willing to die for a revolution that he compares to a post-addiction recovery process.

Some people have asked me if I have read Brand’s book.     The answer is no.   I was leafing through it the other day in Housmans, wondering what I might have missed, and a quick browse made it clear that I was missing nothing at all.

Oddly, I’m not galvanised by observations such as ‘The significance of consciousness itself as a participant in what we perceive as reality is increasingly negating what we understood to be objectivity’? Or ‘ Revolution is change. I believe in change, personal change most of all. Know, too, that I have seen what fame and fortune have to offer and I know it is not the answer. Of course, I have to change as an individual and part of that will be sharing wealth, though without systemic change, that will be a sweet, futile gesture.’

And you actually expect me to take this guy seriously and read the WHOLE BOOK?   When Johan Hari is cited in the acknowledgements and may even have contributed to writing it?     When the same creep produces his Trews show, on which Brand has invited the warmongering archthug Alistair Campbell to analyse the media for him as if he was a legit guy?

Yet such is the hero-worship that Brand   has accrued on the left that   none of this even seems to matter.     Last week the millionaire activist/revolutionary got his solicitors to threaten Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore with libel because she suggested that his book was ghostwritten – presumably by Hari –   but   I have yet to hear any of Brand’s defenders (worshippers?) suggest that using the rich man’s libel laws to silence a critical journalist might not be a particularly revolutionary thing to do.

Hey, it’s just Russell being Russell, innit?   And mention those things and you must be part of the gatekeeper/Oxbridge/counter-revolutionary/corporate-funded and corporate-loving elite.   At least that’s what Neil Clark seems to think, in a spectacularly dim piece criticizing the media ‘blood sport’ that has led to criticisms of Brand’s book.

According to Clark, these criticisms have nothing to do with the fact that his book might be rubbish; it’s all an expression of ‘middle class’ snobbery from an ‘Elite Journos Club’, made up of ‘Oxbridge’ journalists resentful of an ordinary self-educated working class bloke who has crossed media ‘red lines’ in opposing ‘ the elite’s policy of endless war’ etc, etc.

This is a travesty of an argument.     Anyone who has read this blog will know that I hold no brief whatsoever for Nick Cohen, Aaronovitch et al, but I don’t really care what university they went to.     And criticizing someone in print is not a ‘blood sport’ and Brand is not a victim.     Clark wilfully misrepresents the criticisms directed at him, using the well-worn trope of inverted snobbery that has been endemic amongst the British left for a very long time.

If the ‘elite’ is so afraid of Brand, then why is he a regular guest on Newsnight and Start the Week?    Never mind.     As far as I can see, the criticisms of Brand’s book have mostly been aimed at the manifest stupidities, shallowness, narcissism and absurdities of a book that deserves everything it got.

So to repeat, I have nothing against Brand’s activism.   As far as i’m concerned he can say what he wants as loudly as he wants, and he may even do some short term good.   But he is ultimately a sideshow.     And it seems to me that in its determination to ignore his contradictions, hypocrisies and absurdities and transfrom him into some kind of lodestone of revolutionary integrity, the left does itself no favours whatsoever, and actually exposes itself to ridicule.

And I can’t help feeling that, whatever short term publicity ‘Russell Brand’s revolution’ may have attracted to the cause, it is ultimately a sign of political desperation and intellectual bankruptcy rather than a confident and revitalised movement that knows where it is going and how to get there.