Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dan Plesch

How an Internet Myth Is Born

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Read Less

Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Read Less




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