Murdoch's Media Rewrites Stories After Furious Calls From Prime Minister's Office
Howard : I Didn't Say What I Just Said
By Darryl Mason
The phone calls from John Howard's office to the head office of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited in Sydney yesterday were less than pleasant.
The News.com.au website, the main portal for Murdoch's network of Australian newspaper websites, reaching some more than 1.5 million Australian readers per day, ran a number of headlines claiming John Howard had said that oil was now a key reason to stay in Iraq. Some of the headlines said the Iraq War was a war for oil. Just like all those protesters back in early 2003 claimed it would be.
By the time Howard moved to deny he said anything such thing, it was too late. The story was out, columns and articles had been written and sent to the printers for today's news racks, and there was no going back.
The furore started early yesterday morning when online news stories began appearing claiming that John Howard was going to unveil a new defence strategy for Australia, and mention would be made that we had to secure oil supplies in Iraq, as part of that strategy.
Yesterday morning, before flying out for a visit to Indonesia, defence minister Brendan Nelson did a radio interview where he reacted to the headlines hitting news stands :
"...obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq but the entire region, is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world, and Australians and all of us need to think well what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq."The two words "oil" and "Iraq" in the same sentence were enough for Nelson's few words to become the main, and most controversial, story of the day.
By the time John Howard delivered his speech, shortly after Nelson's interview, the thrust of the story for most of the media, including the Murdoch media, was already fixed.
Howard's speech only added to the furore :
It was on for young and old. First Nelson, then Howard, had admitted that Australia was in Iraq for the oil.
Addressing an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference, Mr Howard said events in the Middle East had long been important to Australia's security and its broader interests.
"Many of the key strategic trends I have mentioned, including terrorism and extremism, challenging demographics, WMD aspirations, energy demand and great power competition, converge in the Middle East," he said.
"Our major ally and our most important economic partners have crucial interests there."
Most Australian newspapers are still written in the late afternoon, early evening, of the day before they're published. The front pages, the editorials, the letters, were all set down before Howard's retraction of his own words, and Nelson's words, could impact. No doubt some editors chose to ignore Howard's ridiculous quibbling and denials that he said what he said, barely a few hours before.
After all, when it comes to the Middle East, "energy" is "oil" and everybody knows it.
Howard tried to roll back the unexpected emergence of some hot truth about the Iraq War late yesterday afternoon, but it was pointless. Clearly the word "energy" had disappeared from his vocabulary, now he had become obsessed with the word "oil" :
“We are not there because of oil and we didn’t go there because of oil,” Howard protested. “We don’t remain there because of oil. Oil is not the reason.”
And then it was on to defending America :
“Are people seriously suggesting that it won’t matter to Australia if America is humiliated?” asked Howard.It's sad, indeed it's horrifying, to think that the prime minister of Australia doesn't grasp that the US has been steadily humiliated in Iraq, month in, month out, for at least two years, if not longer. There are few military analysts or historians of any credibility who would even think of trying to deny the very clear fact that an insurgency that didn't exist, according to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, has all but laid waste to the most powerful military machine in the world.
The United States is now spending an estimated $20 billion on a program to replace all their armoured Humvees with the new, supposedly bomb proof, MRAP vehicles, because the Iraqi insurgency has been so effective at using World War 2 guerilla technology - IEDs, or improvised explosive devices - to disable, literally, thousands of Humvees and trucks in the past three years. 17,770 MRAP vehicles are on order to fight the Iraq War for the next decade.
John Howard's office knew there was little point trying to get Fairfax newspapers to retract their stories, in print or online. Howard Admits War For Iraq's Oil was the story many journos for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age had been waiting more than four years to write.
But Howard knew the Murdoch media were likely to play ball. If not in print, then at least online, where news.com.au now reaches more Australians than the same company's newspapers do, in print.
But even until the early afternoon today, almost 24 hours later, some of the Murdoch websites were still carrying 'Howard Says Iraq War For Oil' headlines and stories, even though the main news.com.au site had rewritten headlines and stories, inside its own archive, and published the following correction....oh sorry, clarification :
An earlier version of this story from the Australian Associated Press incorrectly reported the Prime Minister as saying oil was a reason for Australia's continued military presence in Iraq.He said "energy", but as we all know, "energy" is "oil" when it comes to the Middle East, unless Howard is thinking about cutting natural gas deals with Iran sometime soon.
The phone calls from Howard's office to News Limited HQ clearly worked.
News.com.au chose to blame Australian Associated Press for supplying the wire news story that claimed Howard had admitted to a war for oil in Iraq.
Here's the pre-furious phone calls from Howard's office Uncorrected Version as it appeared online yesterday :
And here's the spiffy new Corrected Version :
Note that the sub headlines now put the words relating to 'Iraq War For Oil' squarely in the mouth of defence minister Brendan Nelson, when it was also Howard who publicly talked of needing to "secure" energy resources in Iraq and the Middle East.
The sub headlines were also edited to remove the dead giveaway line 'Another Reason Is To Uphold Prestige Of US, UK', to be replaced with the far more Freedom And Democracy Agenda-friendly 'We'll Stay Until Iraq No Longer Needs Us, Says PM'.
But perhaps more importantly, note that on both the 'corrected' and 'uncorrected' stories above, the byline clearly reads "By Staff Writers And Wires".
AAP may have supplied a story that claimed Howard said Australia had an interest in staying in Iraq to secure future oil supplies, which is, of course, exactly what he said, but unless the byline is a total lie, more than one journo rewrote or added to the text and headline and sub headlines before it went online. Hence "by staff writers and wires".
But to Howard's utter horror, that correction, sorry clarification, only made it onto the story on the main news.com.au site.
The calls for clarifications to the story must not have gotten through to other city newspaper editors and staff in Murdoch's network. Unless, of course, they chose to ignore the clarifications because the story didn't need any clarifying at all. It was true.
And if that was the case, then good on them for not following directions from head office, via the Howard office.
story continues below....
From other blogs by Darryl Mason :
Go Here For The Latest Stories From 'Your New Reality'
Go Here For The Latest Stories From 'The Last Days Of President Bush'
Go Here For The Latest Stories From 'The Fourth World War'
The below pages were all still online through the Murdoch online stable at 10-11am today, and later.
You will notice that the headlines and intros are almost riotously scathing for the Murdoch media's notoriously pro-Iraq and pro-Howard coverage, especially considering the absolutely vile smears these very same newspapers spewed onto the more than 600,000 Australians who marched in opposition to the Iraq War, many of whom, including thousands of World War 2, Korea and Vietnam veterans, claimed it was going to be a "War For Oil."
From the Adelaide Advertiser :
Australia's biggest selling daily newspaper, The Herald Sun, ran the following editorial today, hitting the presses before it could be pulled, and staying online, unchanged, well into the late morning :
The Tasmania Mercury still had this up on their site at midday :
And the Murdoch site in Perth still had this posted after midday today :
Even though the story of Howard's Iraq Oil Slick was running up hundreds of comments an hour on websites around Australia, any mention of it was gone from the news.com.au front page by 10.30am this morning.
Over at Murdoch's flagship 'The Australian' newspaper website, at least three key columnists weighed in supporting Howard's claim that he didn't say what he said, and it really didn't matter even if the prime minister and the defence minister did say what they said. Which they did.
Columnist Matt Price even went so far as to write that Nelson was wrong, dead wrong :
"I don’t think oil plays any remotely significant role in the government’s Iraq strategy."Hell, clearly a newspaper columnist would know more about Australia's reasons for staying in Iraq than the defence minister. Right?
By 9am, more than a hundred people had hit Price's blog to castigate him for spinning on behalf of the government, and most of the commenters mocked him soundly.
Just to jog your memory, here's a reminder of what John Howard had to say about claims that the, then still coming, war on Iraq was about something other than WMDs and deposing Saddam Hussein back in February, 2003 :
And here's what the Murdoch media's favourite political whipping post, Greens Leader Bob Brown had to say in that same week, in 2003 :
"No criticism is more outrageous than the claim that US behaviour is driven by a wish to take control of Iraq's oil reserves."
This is not Australia's war. This is an oil war. This is the US recognising that, as the economic empire of the age, it needs oil to maintain its pre-eminence.Back then, 76 percent of Australians were opposed to a War On Iraq.
By midday today, the Australia In Iraq For The Oil scandal was making international news, in a big way.
And the hundreds of headlines from around the world were immune to Howard's attempt to reframe his own comments, and those of his defence minister. They went in hard, using Howard as the first leader of a Coalition Of The Drilling country to finally admit the truth about a war so blackened and poisoned with so many lies :
Herald Sun, Melbourne : PM's war for oil
Daily Times, Pakistan - Oil key motive for Iraq involvement: Australia
The Scotsman, Scotland - Oil keeps Australia in IraqThe Independent, UK : Australian troops 'in Iraq because of oil'
RTE, Ireland : Mideast oil priority for Australia
The BBC : Australians 'are in Iraq for oil'Turkish Press, Middle East : Oil a factor in Australian role in Iraq: minister
Voice Of America : Australia Says Oil Key Motive for Involvement in Iraq
The Guardian, UK : Oil a factor in Iraq conflict, says Australian MPXinhau, China : PM: Australian troops to stay in Iraq for oil
Aljazeera : Australia admits Iraq war about oilForbes : Australia says securing oil supply means no Iraq withdrawal
Press TV, Iran : Aussies in Iraq for Oil
Gulf News, United Arab Emirates : Oil 'key factor for Australia's role in Iraq'Stratfor (key military intel site) : Australia: Oil A Reason For Iraq Presence
Alsumaria, Iraq : Oil supply is an essential factorZee Tv, India : Mid-east oil crucial to our future: Australian PM
Alalalam News Network, Iran : Australia: Oil Means no Iraq Pullout
Some of those same news sites ran Howard's attempts to deny that he said what he said, but his retraction was given mostly backwater coverage. Those international editors knew, like some editors of Murdoch's Australian newspapers knew, that Howard was trying to scam them.
Like he scammed the entire back in late 2002 when he said he hadn't decided whether or not he would send troops to Iraq, when they were already in the Gulf. And in early March, 2003, when he said he hadn't decided yet whether or not commit troops to the coming war, when some of those already deployed troops had already written letters to their children in case they died during their war.
Howard's complete failure to keep the 'Iraq War For Oil' controversy in check couldn't have come at a worse political time for him. Today and tomorrow, the dreaded Newspoll surveys are taken, and Howard was counting on the poll, published early next week, to show the Liberal Party that is still a viable, respected, trusted and popular party leader and prime minister.
The rumours a few months back were if Howard didn't snap the polls back up in his favour by late July, his career was over. He would be rolled, and the federal election would be delayed until early 2008 to give time for a new leader to try and make his mark, and chase away some of the foul stench of the Howard years. If that's at all possible.
After 11 years as prime minister of Australia, John Howard stands today a doomed man. And he knows it.
And early next week, terrible poll numbers, and sweeping rumours of a leadership challenge, will confirm it for the entire nation.
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