My name is Emerson, Steve Emerson

Many of the inhabitants of Birmingham were surprised to learn from Fox News yesterday that their city has become an ‘entirely Muslim’ city which non-Muslims ‘simply don’t go in.’ But no one familiar with Steven Emerson, the pundit who expounded these views, will be surprised at all.     In the United States Emerson is one of the most prominent members of that highly-dubious breed known as the ‘terrorism expert,’     whose expertise consists of an ability to offer up interpretations of terrorism that certain governments and media want to hear.

Emerson’s particular forte has always been ‘Islamic terrorism.’   Like many American terrorism experts, he has close ties to Israeli intelligence and Israeli security thinktanks, but even more than most he has always shown a remarkable ability to make fact-free and often nonsensical statements and assumptions that invariably conflate Israel’s enemies with those of the US.

Emerson has been in this game for a long time.   In 1994 he made a documentary called Jihad in America, which claimed that the US was riddled with jihadist sleeper cells. In the immediate aftermath of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the Alfred Murrah building in Oklahoma City he famously told a CBS interviewer that the bombing was carried out ‘with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible.   That is a Middle Eastern trait.’

Emerson played a key role in the US government’s 11-year persecution of Palestinian academic Sami al-Arian in Florida, that began in 2003 when al-Arian was arrested on charges of assisting suicide bombings in Israel, and ended last July when all charges against him were dismissed.       After the 2013 Boston marathon bombings,   Emerson claimed that a Saudi national was responsible, though it subsequently turned out to be Chechens.

None of this has prevented the former sociology graduate from doing very well for himself, because ‘experts’ like him will always be in demand in certain circles regardless of their insight, analytical ability, or the accuracy of their information.   Emerson is the director of a tax-exempt ‘non-profit research group’ called the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), whose finances have come under scrutiny for channeling funds into another for-profit company that he himself controls.   In 2010 the Nashville newspaper the Tennessean described Emerson as ‘ a leading member of a multi-million-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.’

This is exactly what Emerson was doing yesterday, and that was what Fox News interviewed him for.   Emerson has since issued an apology to the ‘beautiful city of Birmingham’   for his ‘mistake’ and declared that ‘ I do not intend to justify or mitigate my mistake by stating that I had relied on other sources because I should have been much more careful.’

But his ‘mistake’ was only one component of an interview that was steeped in Islamophobic fantasies and deliberate lies.       The interview took place only the day after Rupert Murdoch tweeted that all Muslims must be held responsible for the ‘growing jihadist cancer’ in their midst, and Emerson and his interviewer were both singing loudly from the same hymn sheet.

The interview was part of a post-Paris report on the   ‘terrorist sleeper cells’ and the ‘hundreds of no-go zones’ across Europe that according to the stunningly witless interviewer were ‘off-limits to non-Muslims.’

If you’re going to make nonsensical assertions like this you need to have a certain kind of expert that you can rely on, and that’s why you call Steve Emerson. Yesterday he  rose to the occasion. Emerson described these ‘zones’ as ‘amorphous.  They’re not contiguous necessarily. But they are safe havens’,  where governments ‘don’t exercise any sovereignty’, where the police don’t enter, where Shar’ia law holds sway, and ‘Muslim density is very intense.’

Not as intense as the density emanating from Emerson or his interviewer’s face, whose stupefied expression of gormless horror is worth the price of admission, as Emerson tells her that these ‘zones’ are ‘like a separate country almost, within a country.’

How does Emerson know this?   Well he doesn’t ‘know’ it exactly, but he doesn’t need to, because his ‘no go zones’ concept comes straight out of the ‘counterjihad’ Eurabian playbook, as written by Bat Y’eor, Melanie Phillips, Robert Spencer et al.       Emerson’s interviewer laps this up and even makes a ‘point’ of her own, observing ‘ You know what it sounds like to me Steve?   It sounds like a caliphate within a particular country.’

Yeah, it really does, doesn’t it?   Well it does to our ‘terrorism expert’ anyway, who agrees wholeheartedly and adds ‘ It’s almost like what they’re asking Israel to do, which is to set up a separate state within their own state.’

Huh?     Oh never mind.   Because the great problem, according to Emerson, is that European governments are not ‘dealing with it’ and are in active denial about these zones, even though the   ‘French official website’ says that they do exist and ‘actually has a map of them.’

I’d like to see that map, wouldn’t you?   But I doubt if I could find it, and in Britain it’s even worse, says Steve, because ‘it’s not just no go areas, there are actually cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims simply just don’t go in, and parts of London there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim religious attire.’

Crikey, bet you didn’t know that, did you readers?     Well now you do, thanks to Steve Emerson, terrorism expert.     By this time the presenter looks so shocked that you wish someone would give her medication as she breathlessly asks if there is any way to ‘get these zones back’ and worries that they are ‘metastising into a simple takeover’.

Steve, not surprisingly, isn’t optimistic, because every counterjihadist worth his salt knows that European governments are just too hidebound by political correctness to recognize the threat.   So the sage concludes that ‘ Europe is finished, because if you extrapolate the number of Muslims, and I’m not saying that all Muslims are terrorists, far from it, but the leaders of the Muslim organizations in Europe deliberately don’t want to integrate, and so they establish these zones which refuse to integrate and use them as leverage against the host country, as political and military leverage, so will these countries take it back?   I don’t see it happening at this point.’

So it looks like we’re doomed, doomed I tell you, because Muslim ‘leaders’ have deliberately turned Birmingham into an all-Muslim city whose inhabitants refuse to integrate, and they are using it as ‘political and military leverage.’ Steve still has one last nonsensical touch to add to this already remarkable achievement.   Asked about ‘these female terrorists’ like Hayat Boumedienne, he tells the interviewer ‘ there are many of them, well not many, well I can’t give you a specific number’.

Our expert may not be certain whether there are many or not many, but he does know that these female terrorists can be found in Britain, ‘where women wear burkhas to hide their identities.’

Phew.   If there was any intellectual activity going on in that interview I sure didn’t see it, but thought and intelligence are clearly not the priority here in an interview whose essential purpose to inject a massive dose of bigotry and propaganda into the minds of its credulous audience.

That was why Steve Emerson was there.     And regardless of his little faux pas about Birmingham, the ‘terrorism expert’ didn’t disappoint.




Rupert Murdoch’s Little Shop of Horrors

Facing commercial disaster and the prospect of a criminal investigation in the United States,  the carnivorous plant that is News International is in deep trouble, and the master florist is coming out fighting in an attempt to save his creation.   Yesterday Rupert Murdoch’s testimony at the Leveson Inquiry was very different from his appearance in parliament last year.

Gone was the faux-humility and contrition.  Instead there was faux modesty, cynicism and disdain, broken by convenient attacks of amnesia.   Asked  by QC Robert Jay whether his newspapers exercised undue influence over British politics to the point when they might even be considered ‘anti-democratic,’ Murdoch dismissed such suggestions as ‘myths’ propagated by his commercial rivals and played down the significance of his political interventions over the years.

Nor had he sought to trade off his political influence for commercial advantage.  Asked by Jay whether his desire to improve the commercial position of his newspapers had led him to overlook ‘the ethical side of its product’ he replied:

[stextbox id=”alert”]A. No. It was always to tell the truth, certainly to  interest the public, to get their attention, but always    to tell the truth.
Q. So the touchstones are: truthfulness and write that
which is interesting to the public. Is that it?
A. Yes. I have great respect for the British public, and
I try to carry that through it.[/stextbox]

And again:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Q. I think your evidence is this, Mr Murdoch. You are
completely oblivious to the commercial benefits to your
company of a particular party winning an election; is
that really the position?
A. Yes, absolutely[/stextbox]

You at the back there with the popcorn: stop sniggering or you will be ejected from the auditorium.  For Murdoch is not the only one who is lying or trimming the truth at the edges, and even as the News International plant wilts, it continues to sprout new buds containing the faces of those it has devoured.

Yesterday there was Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt,  shifty, evasive, and utterly unconvincing as he read out a statement that was surely intended to protect his boss as much as himself.    For all his arrogance and bluster,  David Cameron is sounding increasingly shrill and desperate these days, and his attempts to play down his connections with News International are no exception.

Cameron would undoubtedly have preferred Murdoch not to have told the Leveson Inquiry that they met privately on seven occasions – five more than he himself has  publicly admitted to.  But Murdoch is a man who likes his revenge served up cold, and he has lots of dishes waiting in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, outside the parliamentary theatre, Hunt’s special advisor  Adam Smith, the sacrificial offering  could be seen, being  driven away in a car with the sombre demeanour of a man who has just been selected as a participant in  The Hunger Games.    Then there was the loathsome toady Michael Gove, defending Hunt’s honour and probity on television.

Gove has also defended Rupert Murdoch’s honour in the past, as well he might, since his wife is a Times columnist and News International is keen to take advantage of his academies programme and take advantage of the potentially lucrative market in digitalised classrooms.  

And further north, we find Alex Salmond, denying any political quid pro quo in his attempts to lobby on behalf of Murdoch’s BSkyB bid.    Labour are relishing all this for reasons that are entirely due to opportunism rather than principle, given the number of Labour politicians who also appear in the News International tendrils.

All honourable men no doubt.  But it isn’t a pretty sight, this morbid overlap between a ruthless rightwing media baron and the craven and self-interested politicians who have alternately feared and pandered to him over the years.

All of them have played what Murdoch refers to as ‘the game’ and used each other, or tried to, for their own purposes.   And now the feds broken into the florist’s and they the clientele is trying to get out the back door or pretending it was never there.

But Rupert’s Shop of Horrors is easier to enter than it is to leave, and the plant may still have a lot of political blood to drink and more reputations and careers to shred before it expires.

Morbid symptoms


As was to be expected, there was a lot of strategic humility on display in Parliament yesterday by both the Murdochs and la Brooks –  replete with softened curls to remove any unfortunate associations with Medusa or a Harry Potter witch.   The arrogance was mostly absent from all three, and there was a great deal of shock, moral indignation and regret at the NOTW’s decision to listen in on Milly Dowler’s phone – a decision that needless to say, was nothing to do with any of them.

The political implications of this scandal are clear: the inordinate influence of the Murdoch press over the two main parties; the overlap between his newspapers and the Tory party in particular; the corrupt relationship between News International and the Met; the implications for democratic practice of newspapers listening in on politicians’ phones.

But there is another dimension to the whole affair which has sometimes been overlooked.  The original cause of the phonehacking scandal concerned the revelations of NOTW’s hacking into the phones of celebrities such as Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant, not politicians or murdered schoolgirls.   The motive behind this behaviour was absolutely straightforward: to sell newspapers by giving its readership an exclusive – the sleazier the better.

It can’t be said that the NOTW was performing a public service through such activity, but it was certainly giving its readership what it wanted, nor was it the only tabloid for whom peering into the intimate lives of famous people – particularly their bedrooms – has been a source of profit.

Even the Daily Mail, for all its repressed Middle England morality, can rarely hold back from examining the sheets of  the rich and famous.  Today’s Mail contains the crucial information that ‘loverat’ footballer (C)Ashley Cole has just ‘bedded’ a lingerie model, accompanied by a photograph of said model with very little lingerie.

It has always been thus.   Gossip, let’s face it, is often tempting and sometimes irresistible, particularly when sex is involved.   But we now live in an age in which the boundaries between private and public have been trampled down, and celebrity has become a neurotic and  pornographic public obsession, driven by an unhealthy combination of adoration, desire, envy, wish fulfilment – and hatred.

Newsagents and supermarket magazine racks are filled with stories about dumpings, ‘romps’ and shaggings, with photos of bleached and pallid stars in sunglasses going shopping or captured on beaches by remorseless paparazzi with the eyes of executioners, who focus in on every sagging buttock, wrinkle,  blemish or roll of fat to show that these gods and goddesses are really just like us – and sometimes worse.

Celebrities sometimes play this game too, flogging their intimate revelations to the gossip magazines or alerting the press to their presence in order to keep themselves out there,  boost their image, get a makeover, take revenge on a cheating partner or simply make some more cash.

If the media has been intrusive, such intrusions have sometimes been welcomed – and not only by A list celebrities.   Reality tv programmes like Big Brother in which ‘ordinary people’ humiliate themselves and invite viewers to peer at aspects of their lives that would be better kept hidden; the dysfunctional people and borderline psychotics who participate in the bearbaiting spectacles of Jeremy Kyle, are all testaments to a ubiquitous  media-drenched culture, in which fame – however obtained – has become an ultimate aspiration, and those who achieve it are simultaneously adored,  envied and held in contempt.

This love/hate relationship is evident in the bizarre but almost certainly iconic I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, in which B list celebrities subject themselves to ritual humiliation for the delight and titillation of their viewers – and reboost their celebrity status in the process.

The underlying bitterness and contempt that so often underpins the cult of celebrity was visible once again during Steve Coogan’s hilarious ‘you come across as  a risible person’ assault on the former NOTW Features editor Paul McMullan on Newsnight last week, which you can enjoy here:

Amoral doesn’t even begin to describe McMullan, who is clearly the kind of character that most of us are only likely to come across accidentally by lifting a rock and would prefer to leave there.   But what was striking about his ridiculous defence of his ‘journalism’ was his obvious loathing for Coogan, and for all the celebrities that his paper had once exploited – and sometimes been exploited by.

McMullan clearly did not see Coogan or anyone else in his position as individuals with a right to privacy, and took it for granted that his newspaper was entitled to  pore over every aspect of their lives, as he accurately and shamelessly admitted, to titillate his readers, and many of his readers undoubtedly felt the same way.

So let us by all means share in the delight at the downfall of what Coogan rightly described as a ‘ misogynistic, xenophobic, single parent hating, asylum seeker hating’ newspaper like the NOTW.  Let us denounce  News International, and the bent politicians and the bent cops who colluded with them.  But we might also remember, when we watch the ‘darkest recesses’ of the Murdoch empire ‘laid bare’,  as the Newsnight interviewer put it, that the public also bears some responsibility for its decadence and amorality.

The NOTW and its competitors gave their readers a product that they wanted, or at least which they could not be bothered to find an alternative to.    In doing so they transformed their readers into permanent gawkers,  staring at celebrities like bystanders at a car crash, whether it was Princess Diana, Max Mosley or Jade Collins, whether they were famous for being famous,  famous for fifteen minutes, or famous for nothing at all.

Milly Dowler and now, it seems, the 9/11 victims,  were famous for being dead, but they were still ‘celebrities’ and that is why News International believed that it had the ‘right’ to follow them even into the afterlife – all in the public interest of course.


Partying with the Murdochs like it’s 1999

The Mail on Sunday has published the guest list for Elizabeth Murdoch and hubby Matthew Freud’s  summer party, which took place at the Oxfordshire village of Burford on July 2, exactly twenty-four hours before the Milly Dowler phonehacking story went viral.

The Mail rather primly describes the ‘Chipping Norton Set’s last hurrah’ at Burford Priory as a ‘ party of decadent opulence and excess’ as though it were reporting on a gathering of the Hellfire Club.  But regardless of the moralising, the guestlist does provide an interesting snapshot of the overlap between politics and the media in contemporary Britain and the various moths who hovered in the dimming light of a criminal media empire, some of whom would turn into its most vociferous critics a only a few days after basking in its hospitablity.

This fascination happily crossed party lines.   Michael Gove, our intellectual Education Secretary and habitué of Annabels nightclub was there, which was only natural, since Gove likes hanging out with rich people and his wife Sarah Vine writes for the Times.  Nor can anyone be surprised by the presence of ‘Lord’ Mandelson, a politician who has rarely been able to contain his childlike awe of the wealthy, regardless of how such wealth was acquired.   Or Labour’s would-be welfare ‘reformer’ James Purnell, head of ‘left-leaning thinktank’ Demos, whose expenses scams as an MP once included   £247 expenses for 3,000 fridge magnets.

The guests also included Tessa Jowell, Shadow Minister for Olympics, accompanied by her crooked lawyer husband David Mills, Berlusconi’s former crony, from whom she was supposedly separated in 2006 – a separation that the more cynical attributed to a desire to salvage her own political career from her husband’s dodgy dealings.

In January this year,  the Guardian reported that Jowell had asked the police to investigate 28 occasions on which her phone had been hacked by the News of the World, and one can only assume that she was diplomatic enough not to raise these allegations with Elizabeth Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks and supped with a long spoon.

On the celeb/media side there is the brutish Jeremy Clarkson, an established member of the Chipping Norton set, and the equally ghastly Piers Morgan, a member of the Piers Morgan set.   Robert Peston,  the BBC’s well-connected business editor, is there of course, cutting a dash in his open-necked blue shirt – clearly unaware of the gathering storm that will lead some commentators to mutter darkly about his ‘inside track’ to News International.

It’s somewhat more surprising to find Jon Snow, Channel 4’s fearless interviewer and truth-seeking investigator, ligging it with the Murdoch/Freud set, but on second thoughts, maybe not.    And what has brought BBC director-general Mark Thompson and former director of programmes Alan Yentob to venture out from the metropolis to get on down with the Burfordites?

It presumably  wasn’t James Murdoch’s savage attack on the ‘dominant’ BBC in a talk at the Edinburgh Television Festival back in August 2009, in which the pot could be heard positively screeching at the kettle,  as he railed against the  BBC’s ‘chilling’ scope and media ambitions.

Thompson and Yentob would certainly have been aware of the irony – and indeed the laughable hypocrisy and absurdity – in Murdoch’s declaration that ‘The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision’, and we can only assume that they were polite enough to control their guffaws on the night.

And then there are the women, the icing on the cake at this glittering Oxfordshire Versaille, in which politics, television, business, media, restaurants and celebrity effortlessly permeate each other in the new aristocracy of money that presides over the Big Society.   Kirsty Young, she of the faux-sincerity/pseudo-intimacy of Desert Island Discs, whose restaurateur husband did the cooking.  And the ineffable Mariella Frostrup,  the BBC’s voice of kultchah, who makes this listener at least want to reach for his revolver whenever he hears her smug, self-satisfied purring.

A good time was had by all.  There was dancing and brunching and joyriding the E-type Jag round the grounds, and no doubt a lot of networking, though Rebekah Brooks was apparently a little restless.  According to the Mail:

One witness said: ‘Usually, Rebekah flits around having a word with everyone. She loves being the centre of attention. But that night she spent nearly all her time with News International people.’

Unlike the other guests, Rupert Murdoch’s  flame-haired avatar clearly had other things on her mind.