This is a twist in an old story. In June, shortly after I had started this blog, I received a mailshot from an anti-war organisation called Our World Our Say. I wrote about it in two separate posts. As the permalinks on my old blogger site are not reliable, I'll quote both posts in full in order to fill in the background. Here's the first:
"Were we lied to?": This unbiased and non-leading question is the title of an email that has arrived this evening. It comes from an organisation called 'Our World Our Say - Action Against Global Conflict', which placed numerous full-page advertisements in the British press a few months ago to lobby against the war in Iraq. These weren't especially persuasive, as I recall, consisting mainly of the names of supporters, but they did include a coupon on which you could record your own opinion of the war. I ticked the box for 'I support war regardless of what the UN decides', returned it in the Freepost envelope, and amid a virtual blizzard of emails enjoining me to protest against the warmonger Blair have ever since been regretting my participation in this civic exercise. I hesitate to say or even think this, but it's almost as if 'Our World Our Say' hadn't really been interested in ascertaining the opinions of members of the public in the first place but had merely used the appearance of a polling exercise in order to arrive at predetermined conclusions.
Today's message complains:
"It is absolutely scandalous that an illegal war - which has caused loss of life, immense misery and destabilisation - has been justified on the basis of half-truths and deception. We must not forget that it has also made Britain one of the most hated nations on Earth. Now there is to be a further whitewash about the war."
Deception is indeed a serious business, as I reflected when I read the penultimate paragraph in this long and urgent missive:
"US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq. He candidly said: 'Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.' "
Well, well, well, as the stuttering water-diviner said: it's the very same egregious fabrication that The Guardian was forced to withdraw well over a week ago. It now turns up presented as a factual account in the tendentious propaganda of an anti-war group under the title - allow me to relish the irony by repeating it - 'Were we lied to?'
I think that's very funny. Tomorrow I shall telephone the gentleman whose name appears under the 'Our World Our Say' message, one Gerard Rosenberg, to share the joke with him.
And here's the second, written a couple of days later:
'Our World Our Say': Having emailed its supporters with the 'Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil' hoax, the anti-war group 'Our World Our Say' (OWOS) is Not Saying.
Gerard Rosenberg, of OWOS's Management Committee, and under whose name the email was sent, phoned me back today after I had left a message for him at the organisation's offices. I pointed out that the story was false, and that The Guardian had withdrawn the relevant article and published a correction 10 days earlier. Mr Rosenberg responded by asking, a tad suspiciously I thought, what my 'interest' was and where I was 'coming from'.
It's at times like this that a strictly factual answer - "I am an independent campaigner against the spread of nuclear weapons to countries that evidence an unseemly interest in annexing neighbouring states in order to appropriate their oil wealth and augment an already powerful military machine" - is liable to be misconstrued as evasive. So I explained that I had filled in the coupon in a newspaper advertisement in order to register with OWOS my support for war, had since then received various missives giving detailed instructions on how to lobby my MP to oppose my view, and that I wrote a daily web log.
Mr Rosenberg kindly expressed an interest in seeing the blog, so I gave him the address. Unfortunately I proved unsuccessful in eliciting from him in return information on when or indeed whether OWOS would be correcting its remarks. Mr Rosenberg first had to discuss the matter with his colleagues.
So having possibly acquired a new reader, let me address him directly.
Mr Rosenberg, the email you sent your supporters contained a serious falsehood about US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Those who have received and read that email in good faith supposing it to be a source of reliable information about US and British policy on Iraq have therefore been misled. They have so far received no indication from you either by email or on your web site that that is the case. They are entitled to accurate information - especially as many of them will have sent you money to produce campaigning materials (I did not) - and an explanation for why you promulgated a story that your source had already disowned. Indeed, given that the story appeared only on The Guardian's web site and not in the print edition, that it was removed from the site 24 hours after it had first appeared (though several hours after it had been refuted by bloggers willing to do what you haven't done and check the sources), and that The Guardian published in both its print and its Internet editions a prominent correction, you will appreciate the irony that the title of your message was "Were we lied to?"
Having put a false claim in the public domain, you do need to issue a correction. I undertake to do all I can to assist you by referring to this episode repeatedly and often in my blog, but I cannot be certain of reaching all who might have read your original message. The most economical course would be for you to send another email to the same circulation list. You could give it the title "'Were we lied to?' Funny we should have phrased it like that...."
I have now to report that no such correction has ever been issued. I know this because, despite what I had intended to be - and still believe must have been - a clear message to Mr Rosenberg that I was unsympathetic to his cause, I have found it impossible to escape from the organisation's mailing list. Today I have received a further duplicated letter, allegedly from the office of Mr Rosenberg, that begins: "Dear Mr Kamm, I am enormously grateful for the support that you have given to Our World Our Say...." The rest you know: it consists in the conceit that President Bush and Tony Blair committed troops to Iraq after having lied to their electorates. Its only distinctive characteristic is that it is written in prose of surpassing incompetence ("you and me and millions of others marched and campaigned for peace" - well, me certainly did, because me supported the removal by force of the tyrant who had launched three aggressive wars in the region in 17 years).
The purpose of the letter is to solicit contributions for a new campaign of newspaper advertisments, and a mock-up of the advertisement is enclosed. It shows two smudges, which I must assume to be pictorial representations of Blair and Bush, with - consider this, for profound social criticism - long noses. There is also a pre-printed postcard addressed to President Bush at the US Embassy, presumably in order to spare anti-war campaigners the rigours of having to find ways of expressing their views coherently. The message on it reads in full:
Dear President Bush,
Please be advised that Prime Minister Tony Blair does not represent my views of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Millions of British people are deeply concerned that the series of claims that you and Tony Blair made to justify war with Iraq have [sic] proved to be inaccurate or untrue.
I believe that America can still be a force for good but on your current path you are making the world a profoundly more dangerous place. Given that the US has the most sophisticated intelligence capability in the world, could you explain to me how you got so many basic facts about Iraq wrong?
Delicious, isn't it? Here is an organisation that complains with a straight face about intelligence capabilities, having shown itself unable to check a claim that had been withdrawn ten days earlier in the pages of a national broadsheet newspaper.
President Bush and our prime minister are good and honest men who have done a brave and noble thing in removing a gangster regime that possessed documented chemical and biological weapons programmes, and had proven links to terrorism. The world is a safer place, international law is more secure, and the Iraqis are an immeasurably freer people than they were only a few months ago.
Here, on the other hand, is an organisation that is neither honest nor brave, and that certainly isn't noble. Our World Our Say not only managed to get its 'basic facts wrong' but also resolved to brazen it out, not to admit its error, and not to indicate to its supporters that it had deceived them. This is an organisation that is well-funded, and whose sole rationale is propaganda. It has funds to tell lies, but apparently it has none to withdraw those lies when called on them. Yet there would have been no budgetary constraint on them had they done the proper thing and corrected their claims; all that was necessary was to send an email to the identical circulation list that had received the initial false message. We must conclude that Mr Rosenberg and his associates consciously chose to leave in circulation a falsehood because it served their propaganda purposes.
Look out for the newspaper advertisements of Our World Our Say, recall its sponsors' elastic regard for truth and accuracy - and treat the organisation with all the respect it merits. In the meantime, I can but say, and will do so with as many of us as can gather on that day: "Welcome, Mr President."