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Thursday January 01 1970
Propaganda in 1920 in Ireland – Bloody Sunday & Kilmichael - the origins of 'fake news'
history and heritage |
Wednesday February 22, 2006 11:15 by Niall Meehan
How the 'official' version found its way into the media and into the history books
THE ORIGINS AND ORGANISATION OF BRITISH PROPAGANDA IN IRELAND IN 1920, by Brian P Murphy. Published by the Aubane Historical Society and Spinwatch
Book Launch: FRIDAY MARCH 24 - 7.45pm Teachers Club Dublin
IRELAND & IRAQ
From Ireland to Iraq governments attempt to control and to direct the media in order to disseminate the 'official' version of the facts. Brian Murphy shows how the British government did it in Ireland. This important work details how the British propaganda machine in Ireland was organised in 1920. Murphy's original research illustrates the power of, and the origin of, 'spin'.
Murphy's research has been praised widely, and this is reflected in comments on the back cover of the book from Edward S Herman, Mark Curtis, Meda Ryan, Ruan O'Donnell, John Borgonovo and Farrel Corcoran.
Book Launch Friday March 24 Teachers' Club Dublin - All Welcome
In the 100-page book (part of a larger projected study) packed with detail, Murphy contrasts the widely differing Irish and British approach to information provision. He also outlines the extent to which modern historiography is still affected and distorted by the ‘spin’ disseminated by Basil Clarke, Charles Foulkes, Hugh Pollard, Major John Street and their colleagues operating from within Dublin Castle. In particular, Murphy mentions the work of Roy Foster and of Peter Hart as being distorted by over reliance on apparently factual information that was in fact designed to mislead. The work of Peter Hart came in for sharp criticism in the pages of History Ireland last year and within the pages of the Indymedia web site. 
That misinformation should have a ‘shelf life’ long after its original political and military purpose had passed indicates why historians should be ever skeptical of apparently pristine and original source material. It also indicates that readers should be ever vigilant and not take historical research itself at face value. Finally, this work will reinforce the need for journalists to be wary of the information machine that governments have at their disposal, used to define and to distort information in the interests of the status quo.
In his extensive foreword, David Miller, Professor of Sociology at Strathclyde University and author of ‘Tell me Lies: Propaganda & Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq', outlines the links between what happened in Ireland in 1920 and events in Britain and elsewhere later in the Century. He indicates how Clarke and Admiral Reggie “Blinker” Hall, who was centrally involved in blackening the name of Roger Casement when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others were seeking clemency, were involved in subversion of left wing and industrial politics in Britain after World War One.
The following excerpt from the extensive foreword by Miller indicates how Murphy’s research resonates with an examination of the development and organisation of British imperialist propaganda during the 20th Century and up to the present day.
“Contaminating The Historical Record
The use of some of these propaganda documents as genuine historical sources by pro-British historians, as exposed by Murphy, is a testament to the power of propaganda as well as of the extent to which official historians are capable of fabricating history in the interests of great power.
“Unfortunately for those historians who have made their living trotting out history which allows the powerful of today to rest easy, Murphy’s research exposes to the light the dubious empirical basis of some of their work. Murphy is one actor in the vigorous historical debate on the Rising and the War of Independence. The “revisionist” school has tried to bury the achievement of the struggle for Irish independence. Ireland was the first British colony to throw off the shackles of British rule. It was the culmination of a long struggle carried out in the last instance by an armed revolution after the British state had emphatically rejected the overwhelming majority for independence at the 1918 election. The revisionists instead want contemporary elites in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere to be allowed to paint the Irish revolution as a dirty sectarian affair springing out of the special ethnic hatreds so well incubated by the Catholic Irish.  Murphy undermines this lie by showing the process by which these historical account emerged in the propaganda dens of some of the most vicious British imperialists and racists.
“Murphy quotes one of the more restrained propagandists, Major John Street, who had conducted propaganda in the 1914-18 war as saying “the IRA rank and file” were “poor dupes of the designing criminals who pose as their officers”. His views are positively civilised besides those of his colleague Hugh Pollard, who hated the Irish with a passion. “The Irish problem is a problem of the Irish race, and it is rooted in the racial characteristics of the people themselves” wrote Pollard in 1922. The Irish he thought were “racially disposed to crime”, have “two psychical and fundamental abnormalities… moral insensibility and want of foresight” which “are the basic characteristic of criminal psychology”. Furthermore, noted Street, warming to his theme “the Irish demand for an independent Irish Republic is… a purely hysterical manifestation”.
“Pollard, Street and Clarke also worked closely with the head of Special Branch in London, Basil Thomson. Through him they were connected to the key imperialist lobby networks in London. These individuals were not abashed about their politics, describing their network as the “diehards” and the “London Imperialists”. Central to it and very close to Thomson was Admiral Reggie “Blinker” Hall, who was the director of Naval Intelligence in the 1914-18 war. Together with Thomson, Hall interrogated Roger Casement in 1916 and personally leaked his “black diaries” to the press in order to ensure that Casement would not be reprieved as a result of the campaign being run by Arthur Conan Doyle. According to historians of the period, Hall’s victory in ensuring Casement was hanged, “was all very gratifying; an object lesson in secret service power which Hall… was never to forget”. 
“The Rise Of Public Relations
This was the milieu which produced the public relations industry in Britain. Its lineage can be traced right through to the rise of Thatcher in the 1970s. Clarke left government service in the early 1920s and set up one of the first PR agencies: Editorial Services. By the end of the 1920s this was a significant operation with 60 staff. During this period (1929-31) Clarke worked as an early PR man for the Conservative Party. 
“A year before Clarke was posted to Ireland, Hall, by then a newly elected MP, convened the meeting which led to the creation of National Propaganda: the first business-wide propaganda group in Britain in 1919. It engaged in very similar techniques to the British propaganda operation in Ireland. Amongst the tactics were the hiring of former “black and tans” from the Irish conflict to conduct what they called a “crusade for capitalism”. This involved propaganda, intrigue, subversion and violence, taking the fight to the factory gates all over the UK from 1920 right through to the 1950s and 60s. Today National Propaganda is better known by the name it adopted in 1924, the Economic League, as an organisation which blacklisted workers for its big business clients. For at least half of its history until its dissolution in the 1990s, the Economic League’ primary role was propaganda. 
“Colonel Hugh Pollard, as he became, turned up again in “diehard” circles in 1936 when he flew from Croydon airport on a Dragon Rapide light aircraft to the Canary Islands. They brought General Francisco Franco back to Spain to launch his murderous coup against democratic Spain. Accompanying him was one of the leading lobbyists, and an early Conservative party spin doctor, of the post-1945 period, Toby O’Brien. 
“In other words the link between what happened in Ireland in 1920 and in Britain afterwards is real and direct, featuring the same people, linked over the generations by a shared hostility to democratic politics. Linked also to the rise of the spin industry which is now an attendant feature of every political controversy and which uses and develops techniques intended to ensure that democratic politics cannot function effectively to implement the will of the people. This is a long and involved story, but the work of Brian Murphy has a lot to teach us about its origins.”
[END foreword excerpt]
"FAKE NEWS" TODAY
David Miller’s research indicates how propaganda was part and parcel of the preparation of the public mind for war in Iraq. Recently he wrote on the development of a “fake news” operation by the British government, that permits of “some critiscism” of the US, so as to add verisimilitude to the enterprise – this is straight out of the propaganda manual of Basil Clarke and his colleagues. 
Miller adds the international dimension that links Ireland’s War of Independence with contemporary events in both Ireland and in the wider world. Brian Murphy’s research widens our understanding of historical events such as the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence. It will place these events in the international context of the fight for democracy and the end to colonial rule.
The narrowly introspective and conservative parameters of revisionist historiography will continue to be found wanting in this exercise.
MILLER & MURPHY SPEAK
Both Brian Murphy and David Miller will speak at the launch, which will be chaired by newspaper columnist, author and playwright, Danny Morrison, formerly Sinn Fein Director of Publicity.
Signed copies of the book will be available at the launch.
This is sure to be a very interesting discussion about a very important piece of research – all those interested in the relationship of the past to the present should be there. All are welcome.
 See History Ireland 2005 Vol 13, Nos 2 to 5 (www.historyireland.com/magazine/features/featlist.html).
 For a discussion of the inability of mainstream academia to take on empirically based independent line on Northern Ireland see D. Miller (1998) 'Colonialism and academic interpretations of Northern Ireland' in Miller, D. (ed.) Rethinking Northern Ireland, London: Longman. For a discussion of revisionism more generally see Ciaran Brady (Ed.) Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism, 1938-94, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994. (Contains “The Canon of Irish Cultural History: Some Questions Concerning Roy Foster’s ‘Modern Ireland’” by Brian P. Murphy).
 Bernard Porter, Plots and Paranoia: A history of political espionage in Britain, 1790-1988, p141
 Alan Clarke 'The life and times of Sir Basil Clarke, PR Pioneer', Public Relations, 1969 Vol. 22(2) p. 9-13.
 The best existing account is Mike Hughes Spies at Work, 1 in 12 publications, 1994. http://www.1in12.go-legend.net/publications/library/spi...s.htm
 Graham Turner and John Pearson, The Persuasion Industry, London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1966 p. 177.
 See The Guardian, Wednesday February 15, 2006 (media.guardian.co.uk/site/story/0,,1709959,00.html).
Book Launch: FRIDAY MARCH 24 - 7.45pm Teachers Club Dublin