I recently caused something of a stir here on the disinformation® site when I posted a New York Times book review of David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.
I actually didn’t write anything to suggest how I felt about the book, and indeed I hadn’t laid hands or eyes on a copy at that time. The next day however, his publisher messengered over a great looking hardcover, so I cracked it open.
Imagine my surprise at learning, on page 3, that it was us, The Disinformation Company, that was (at least partly) behind his animosity to so-called conspiracy theories. He writes:
“… in music and DVD chains across the United States and Britain, among the limited number of books on sale, the young browser is likely to come across oversize paperbacks with titles such as Abuse Your Illusions, You Are Being Lied To , and Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies.
“Checking in at a rather substantial thirty dollars each, these books consist of bite-size essays by different authors dealing with myriad (and, frankly, random) subjects, from the oil industry to crime, via geopolitics. Their avowed purpose is to ‘act as a battering ram against the distortions, myths and outright lies that have been shoved down our throats by the government, the media, corporations, organized religion, the scientific establishment and others who want to keep the truth from us.’
“Browsing through one of the books in the Disinformation series (published by countercultural tycoon Richard Metzger), I came across a chapter titled ‘The European Union Unmasked: Dictatorship Revealed.’ In it, a Lindsay Jenkins—formerly a civil servant in the British Ministry of Defense—details the Eurocratic plot to destroy nation states.”
He sums up his sarcastic review on the Jenkins essay as “A theory that I suppose could be summed up as ‘How the Welsh Destroyed the United Kingdom.’”
Mr. Aaronovitch certainly hasn’t missed The Disinformation Company’s success with issue-oriented documentary films either. A paragraph later he writes:
“Ideas like this may also be observed in television and, latterly, in factual movies. Documentaries are increasingly partisan and liable to include material that suggests conspiracy on the part of someone or other. …And such works are given the same treatment as major exercises in historical analysis or substantial pieces of investigative journalism. In fact, they are often given a better billing. Uncountered, their arguments enter popular culture.”
In case you were wondering about Mr. Aaronovitch’s rather perturbed tone, he is indeed a bona fide establishment journalist, with his own column for Britain’s once-prestigious Times (actually it’s still prestigious, but much less so since it was dumbed-down by current owner Rupert Murdoch). Does one sense frustration that a film such as Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, attacks his employer in the same ‘fair and balanced’ manner that the film’s main target, Fox News Channel, employs, with similar outsize success?
Well regardless, Mr. Aaronovitch has clearly been paying attention to what we’ve been publishing at Disinformation as he aims his investigative journalist’s shotgun at a broad swathe of the authors and filmmakers that we have worked with.
Of Jim Marrs, he writes: “The accolade of most ubiquitous writer across conspiracy genres has been earned by an American, the ‘award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author’ Jim Marrs…” He then lists some of Jim’s books and concludes: “Here is a man who must think very deeply before taking a decision about whether to cross the road.”
He is even snider about Graham Hancock, to whom he devotes two pages of skeptical mockery. The best he can do though, is to cite anonymous reviewers on Amazon.com: “A quick look through Hancock’s Amazon reviews shows how few purchasers seem inclined to doubt Hancock’s ‘research,’ but those few who do track down his claims discover basic errors in archaeology and astronomy.” He then goes on to cite a very unconvincing post from someone who attended a Hancock lecture in the ’90s. Come on David, can’t you do better than that?
He does try. He reports that “At the end of 1999, two BBC Horizon programs demolished Hancock comprehensively … The BBC giveth ground to the pseudo-historians, and sometimes later taketh it away.”
I have to take Mr. Aaronvitch to task here, because shortly after those programs aired, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, an organization appointed to uphold standards and fairness in UK broadcasting, found the BBC guilty of unfairly representing Hancock and co-author Robert Bauval.
The BBC program, entitled Atlantis Reborn, claimed to provide a balanced and objective “testing” of unorthodox theories relating to the development of human civilization. The Broadcasting Standards Commission judged that the central part of the BBC’s attack on Hancock and Bauval was unfair.
The program was re-edited, I am told for the first time since the BBC began showing television programs, and the corrected version was aired a month after the verdict.
Now here’s the funny thing: Mr. Aaronovitch knew all of this. He wrote about it for the Independent in 2001:
“Angered, Hancock took his case to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, arguing that he had been unfairly treated. Its conclusions led him to post on his website: “If one good thing has come out of this affair, it is that the BSC has delivered a complete vindication of Robert Bauval’s Giza-Orion Correlation Theory.” This is a distortion of vast dimensions. In fact, the BSC found overwhelmingly in the BBC’s favour, but was critical of editing and a minor editorial decision.”
Leave it to another alternative Egyptologist, the famously sharp-tongued John Anthony West, to eviscerate this argument (actually in the context of correspondence with BBC executive John Lynch):
“The Standards Committee’s adjudication that obliged Horizon to publicly acknowledge unfairness on one out of eleven counts and apologize on that count. I understand that Horizon has tried to exonerate itself or at least minimize its guilt by maintaining that, since it was indicted on eleven counts, but only found guilty on one, it is therefore innocent of the other ten, and that the judgement is, in effect, no more than a Pyrrhic victory for Hancock and Bauval.
This of course will not wash. Anyone (from the rice paddies of Bangladesh to the rain forests of Rwanda) who has experience of the workings of the law knows it is routine for ax murderers, serial rapists, mob bosses, child molesters, scam artists, con men, frauds and other societal scum to get indicted on multiple counts but convicted only on one. This is no proof of innocence on the remaining counts. It just means that the one count was so obvious and undeniable that even a biased court could not help but acknowledge it. And since that one count is often enough (in criminal cases at any rate, unfortunately not in this one) to put the miscreant out of the way and prevent further damage to society, nobody makes an issue out of it.
Anyone who reads the transcripts of what was actually said by Hancock et al. in interviews, and what was actually shown by Horizon, knows very well that Horizon is grievously guilty on most, if not all remaining counts.”
Well enough about that, but suffice it to say that Mr. Aaronovitch really doesn’t like Graham Hancock, so much so that he’ll leave out information that doesn’t support what he presumably feels is a “comprehensive demolition” of Hancock’s research (and I leave out the quotation marks around “research” intentionally, while noting that Mr. Aaronvitch does the opposite). I can personally attest that Graham researches the topics of his books first hand, to the point of exhaustion.
Other authors and filmmakers published by disinformation® who come in for a tongue-lashing by Mr. Aaronvitch include Dr. Hugh Schonfield, Henry Lincoln and Alex Jones.
He reserves a special bit of vitriol for poor old Henry, who was something of a boyhood idol of Mr. Aaronovitch’s: “When, as a teenager, I first saw him on the BBC Chronicle program in the early 1970s, I was both convinced and fascinated by him.” He was sorely disappointed to find out that:
“There were things, however, that I didn’t know about him … [he] was not, in fact, in any proper sense, a historian, but an occasional actor and a successful scriptwriter…. So Lincoln was, in his working life, a moderately successful storyteller.”
He then layers further sarcasm over a very selective reading of Henry’s work. I won’t defend Henry here, but let’s just note that as with Graham Hancock, if Henry Lincoln’s career as broadcaster and author is “moderately successful,” then one would not wish to describe Mr. Aaronovitch’s for fear of coming off as mean to the point of libel. Not that libel seems to be something that our dear author thinks about too much.
So, should you buy this book? Actually, if you have the $27.95 needed for a copy, yes, I think you should, just to see what the critics are saying about the authors and filmmakers whose work we publish on this site, in our books and in our films. And I should note, Mr. Aaronovitch, that those weighty disinformation® anthologies you cite at the beginning of your book, are actually only $24.95, not the thirty bucks you mention.
On second thoughts, take advice from Mr. Aaronovitch, who, writing of Lincoln, Leigh & Baigent’s Holy Blood, Holy Grail, says: “On the first day of publication in Britain, 43,000 hardcover copies … were sold. I waited for the paperback.”