The Walled Guardian

This is a guest post by AKUS
There may be some reading this who remember the endless debates at the end of the 1990’s about whether media should use the Internet as an “open platform” or create “walled gardens” in which users would have access to material served up to them by the website run by the particular media outlet. The premier “walled garden” site was AOL (America On-line). The idea was that users would pay to have the convenience of a consistent experience and content selected for them, much as a newspaper or magazine presents selected material. It was also assumed that users were not technologically savvy enough to navigate the vast territory of the untamed Internet unassisted. Thus, it was seen as a way to help users, and, coincidentally, get them to “stick” to a website, thereby attracting advertising money and user fees. Some may remember the term “sticky eyeballs” as a measure of a site’s success.
Of course, over time, the idea collapsed, especially after Netscape provided a browser that made it easy and possible for users to navigate the web, followed by the browser wars led by Microsoft who also made unavailing efforts to tie users to their sites.
Now, open your browser (in a different window or tab so as not to navigate away from this article!) and take a look at an article on CiF. For example, look at the following article, written by Austen Ivereigh, The separation wall.  I’ll come back to the article in a moment or two – first let’s look at it through the eyes of someone interested in creating a “walled garden” to direct your web browsing mainly to related articles that reflect the GWV (Guardian World view) – a “Walled Guardian”, so to speak.
Helpful links are included in the following “walls”:

  • Adjacent to the right side of the article we have links to other articles on related topics, but only those from the Guardian’s website. (The double reference may be an editorial error rather than a deliberate attempt to increase the width of the “wall”). Here’s a screengrab of what it looks like:

  • On the far right of the page, we have a column that walls in the current CiF article. In addition to carrying advertisements, it helpfully lists the columns from the Guardian that are “Most viewed, “Latest”, Most commented”, “Bestsellers from the Guardian shop”, “Latest posts” (on CiF), “Most viewed on”, “Free P&P at the Guardian bookshop”. Here’s a screengrab:

Notice that all of the above keep you firmly attached to the Guardian website.
However, that still leaves a potential escape route at the bottom of the current article, so that loophole is closed with some ads served up automatically via Google, which does its best to provide a changing set of ads related to the content of the article. Often the results can be quite amusing – for example, when an article critical of Israel is followed by an ad that offers special deals on trips to Israel. In this case, I can see the following, and note that the server is smart enough (or sneaky enough, if you prefer) to read my IP address even though I am not signed in, in order to serve up ads directed to a US reader in the Washington-Baltimore area.
So, if you are still with me, you will find that you can quickly and easily click through to other articles the Guardian’s editors have found for you, and “planted” in their “garden” – for example, you can click on “Palestinian Territories” to conveniently get a long string of CiF articles on “the Palestinian territories”, most derogatory of Israel. Under “most viewed”, as it happens, #5 is Jimmy Carter’s on “Gaza must be rebuilt now” after a piece on religion, one on rape, and someone raging on behalf of ordinary Joes.
But what is more interesting, however, is what is NOT permitted in the walled garden.
There is not a single link to articles from outside the Guardian’s “walled garden”, nor to any articles even from their own paper that might shed a different light on the topic of the article they have posted. Any dissenting opinion, or alternative view, is ruthlessly weeded out by those wielding the editorial keyboard.  The reader is kept firmly in the little world created by the Guardian, his or her opinions deliberately molded by the selectivity of the “plants” allowed to thrive in their walled garden. Only the more determined and critical readers will venture outside by seeking more information than is provided in the article itself or the conveniently placed links.
So, having established where we are, and what the Guardian’s world looks like as we are asked to view it, we are ready to take a look at Ivereigh’s credentials and the content of his article.
One of the common features of many CiF articles is that the moment you begin to dig into the author’s background and the opinions he or she presents as facts, two tendencies often appear. One is that the author has a history or associations and biases that the Guardian is not anxious to reveal. The second is that arguments presented by the contributor start to crumble as their ignorance, superficiality, lack of research into their topic, and often plain fabrications are revealed. So it is with Ivereigh’s article about the Separation Barrier on the West Bank.
It turns out that the author himself has some interesting history not reported on his mini-bio at the head of the article, and the article has a definite bias and contains deliberate falsehoods.
This is what his CiF profile has to say about the contributor under his name:

Austen Ivereigh is a Catholic writer, journalist, commentator and campaigner

What a noble fellow! He punches all the right tickets (“campaigner” – sends a little frisson of delight down the spine of the armchair Israel basher – it’s like being “a human rights activist”), and he must surely be a writer whose commentary on matters of religion are well-founded, and worth reading.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Austen Ivereigh has had an interesting prior life as a Catholic. One which speaks to a set of double standards that were resolved in court in his favor yet may leave the less legalistic observer with questions about the high level of moral indignation he displays when it comes to describing  Israel’s separation barrier (which he mis-characterizes as a separation wall) even though it has been so effective in reducing terror attacks and deaths in Israel. A little research provides volumes of information about Ivereigh’s travails on the Internet, but why stray far from the “walled garden” when the information is so embarrassingly provided by the author himself in a CiF article titled An ordeal – but worth it – if only the editors cared to draw our attention to it?
Here is a Catholic who managed, by his own admission, to get two women pregnant out of wedlock, but launched a successful lawsuit that he claims cost £3 million against the Daily Mail for its article  I’m not an abortion hypocrite, insists Catholic adviser accused by girlfriends,  accusing them libeling him– with “lurid untruths that had been originally hurled at [him]”.
In the Guardian article he wrote about the case, a “weed” carefully kept out of the “walled garden” of this article about Christmas and “one of the world’s great monstrosities” – a wall that has saved countless lives –   he wrote:

“the Mail said [he] manoeuvred a woman into having an abortion”.

What he objected to was the charge of manouvering a woman into having an abortion (the second woman miscarried), not the fact that despite the Church’s strictures against pre-marital sex he twice impregnated two women.  He does not dispute the charges which his Church regards as almost as serious, of actually getting the women pregnant. In an article titled  Bishops rebel as cardinal defends aide over ‘affairs’ the TimesOnLine reports that several Bishops called for his sacking after accusations of “heinous hypocrisy” were leveled against him. Note that the article points out that this man, responsible for two out-of-wedlock pregnancies, was “credited with being the architect of the cardinal’s drive to demand tougher laws to curb abortion!!”
Finally, before turning to his article about the separation barrier, on CiF on December 19th 2009, it’s worth noting that this paragon published On condom use, the pope may be right:

On condom use, the pope may be right
A western attitude to sex, encouraged by only the promise of contraception, has caused an Aids boom in Africa

Well, there seems to be some consistency in his attitude to condom use, at least, and, of course, blaming the West for what Africans do is a sure-fire entry ticket to an article on CiF.
In his article about the Separation Barrier, Ivereigh strives to give a number of false impressions. First, he refers to it as “one of the world’s great monstrosities” when in fact, it has been responsible, with other defensive measures, for reducing the number of attacks on Israeli citizens to almost nil on the Israeli side. Coincidentally with his article, a settler was murdered two days earlier driving on the West Bank shortly after a checkpost near his settlement had been removed. One would expect that a person as respectful of human life as Ivereigh claims to be would be willing to accept that a barrier that saves lives, even if they are not those of unborn fetuses, is serving a worthwhile purpose.
Moreover, of course, this is by far not the only “separation wall” in the world, and by far not the longest nor the highest. We can cite for example:

Northern Ireland “Peace Line”

Then Ivereigh claims that Bethlehem’s economy is in ruins due to Israel and its “Separation Wall”:

“Bethlehem is shuttered and depressed not because of Koran-wielding thugs but because the wall has smashed its economy.”

This, of course, is false on two counts.
One is that, in fact, “Koran-wielding thugs” HAVE been driving Christians out of Bethlehem (and Gaza) for decades, as this article from the WSJ reports, using names and dates rather than the two “I”s of innuendo and invention that are the hallmark of most articles about Israel on CiF

The Forgotten Palestinian Refugees

Even in Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians are suffering under Muslim intolerance.

… In 2007, one year after the Hamas takeover, the owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was abducted and murdered. Christian shops and schools have been firebombed. Little wonder that most of Mr. Khoury’s Christian friends have also left Gaza.
….The other truth usually ignored by the Western press is that the barrier helped restore calm and security not just in Israel, but also in the West Bank including Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002 to escape from Israeli security forces, is now filled again with tourists and pilgrims from around the world.


Bethlehem’s exodus
….Christians are fleeing the town of Christ’s birth, and the much-reported hardship that Israel inflicts on residents of the West Bank town has little to do with it. It’s the same reality across the Arab world: rising Islamism pushes non-Muslims away.

Islamists frown on real-estate ownership by non-Muslims — Christian, Jew or anything else. And though the secular Palestinian Authority still controls the West Bank, the clout of groups like Hamas is growing: Even in Bethlehem, where followers of history’s most famous baby once thrived, Christians are ceding the land.
As for smashing its economy, you may as well blame Israel for smashing Ireland’s economy, or that of Iceland or the UK.  In this year of international financial crisis, Bethlehem is doing quite well economically and Joseph and Mary would have had no chance at all of finding a room there. 70,000 tourists headed into town for Christmas with the overflow housed in nearby Jerusalem. Yes, it may not have been the best year for shopkeepers we’ve ever seen at Christmas, but neither is it for shopkeepers in the USA, UK, or Europe. Or Jerusalem, for that matter – lots of grumbling there about hard-up tourists not buying the usual knick-knacks.
But it was in the commentary to this article that the full nature of Ivereigh’s callousness towards the deaths of others and his hypocrisy was revealed. He is the author of the following comment, which I will nominate for the most horrifying comment, among the many contenders for the title, to have appeared on the CiF threads:


23 Dec 2009, 12:06AM
And obviously (yawn) I abhor suicide bombings.

Need more be said?
And (obviously) I am left wondering how this monstrous hypocrite sleeps at night.
PS: A more recent example was the article by Brian Whitaker that curiously mimicked an earlier article by Ben Popper on Slate – perhaps Whitaker was hoping, or expecting, that his readers would not stray outside the walled Guardian to find a similar article elsewhere.

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