The Ideological War (On Cycling) II

Hitmen and Hasbara

World War II never ended it just became the motoring industry. The ministries of propaganda each faction had never dissolved but morphed into a complex of advertising, government and corporate media. Propaganda became public relations. The war for minds became the war for custom, mechanisms of misinformation turned inward to target civilians. The factories that built tanks repurposed to build cars. Military convoys became goods vehicles, industry increasingly linked by rubber on tarmac not steel on tracks. Tens of thousands may have been killed during the Battle of Britain but hundreds of thousands have been killed since by motorists, many driving German and Japanese imports. Didn’t you hear? The BBC called it back in 2012, there is a War on Britain’s Roads but only one side knows they are involved. Why would you be surprised that industrialists of the time who lusted after interstates, motorways, and autobahns in a genocidal frenzy would birth a class so indifferent to a transport system now killing millions each year? Collateral damage became collateral damage.

The Creepy Uncle

If there was a system in place that caused the deaths of three-hundred-thousand people and seventeen million injuries — a veritable genocide — one would expect outrage and this reflected in journalism. One would think if a business was causing the death or maiming of one person a day the operation would be shut down and someone would be asking hard questions. These are not hypothetical scenarios, the direct human impact of motoring collisions in the UK over the last 50 years or so is indeed measured in millions and Transport for London’s bus system is lethal daily. The journalistic record of the BBC is awful, noticing WMDs where there are none, ignoring them where they are, not noticing a serial child-abusing necrophiliac across many decades; misleading the UK on the NHS, austerity, immigration, and is a main reason why the british public is wrong about everything. Maybe ignoring road violence can be explained by sheer incompetency. However, I’m inclined towards the idea that when you have selected for obedient politics then top-down hard editorial policy or direct military censorship aren’t going to be needed too often, but they will definitely be used.

The BBC is seen as some beacon of integrity by many even affectionately called “Aunty Beeb”. However, many will not be aware that employees especially for senior positions were screened by MI5 for decades to exclude pacifists, communists, anarchists, anti-monarchists and other ‘deviants’. A surprised (and vetted) John Humphry without irony would report how this militarised system of social engineering had to be exposed via outside researchers. Humphry’s guest would only refer to targeting “fascists and communists” and how the BBC needed censorship to remain “impartial”. Vetting would include Paxman, it probably includes Owen Jones and Russell Brand but we’re told black-listing opinion ended during the 80s. When the BBC is heckled or cheered for having a “left” bias this is provably misguided or a lie. Just as Murdoch is going to have a hiring policy that aligns with a certain politics so will the BBC. Platform especially seniority is given to those that leave executive interests alone and any distasteful prejudice also becomes conscious choice. Ugly opinion challenging power would not persist. When a journalist asserts some orthodoxy it may be the case that they believe everything they are saying, to have thought differently would mean exclusion at some earlier time. There are no imams in the Catholic church. There are no investigative journalists at the BBC but there are plenty of news actors engaged in public relations.

This is the crucial lens through which to analyse any BBC action and in November 2013 this machine of misinformation was mobilised for a particular cause.

On November 5th 2013 Hospital porter Brian Holt 62, is killed by a HGV driver on Mile End Road. Later four miles away esteemed architect Francis Golding is killed by a coach driver.

On November 8th the passionately self-interested and perhaps useful idiot Bradley Wiggins has an earlier opinion piece agitating for compulsory helmets regurgitated by online seller of helmets, Wiggle. (It has since been deleted.)

On November 12th IT consultant Roger De Klerk 43, is killed by a bus driver near Croydon railway station.

On November 13th Verena Minakhmetova 24, is killed by a HGV driver on Bow roundabout in east London. (At the time she would be the third person killed at the junction with in just 2 years.) Later two miles away another London bus driver kills 21 year old Khalid al-Hashimi.

London bus drivers on cyclists: “They’re unbelievable”.

On November 14th the BBC airs it’s first content deviating from passive reporting sending an agent to the scene interviewing bus drivers. (Could you imagine any other scenario where the BBC would platform the killers first rather than the victims? The obvious one is Israeli attacks on Palestine but I digress.) We have a ‘journalist’ deliberately poisoning the well long before any jury has been convened. There is no controversy regarding which class is most negligent, risky cycling is rarely ever cited by police as the cause of death or injury, it is the driver that is usually to blame (but alarmingly not prosecuted). However, BBC editors are deliberately continuing a meme where London is plagued by bad cycling and their solution is mandatory tests, licensing and registration as reaction to the deaths.

Concern troll Boris Johnson delivers a personal warning via LBC radio for people cycling not to make ‘risky decisions’ and removes responsibility from those building the killing fields. His message is clear: “cyclists stop breaking the lawyou are killing yourself.

Some of the cases we’re seeing in the past few days, they make the heart bleed, because you could see people have taken decisions that really did put their lives in danger. When people take decisions which are very risky — jumping red lights, cycling across fast-moving traffic to get to somewhere in a way that is completely unexpected by the motorist, and without looking to see whether traffic is coming — it is very difficult for the transport engineers to second-guess that.

(Bear in mind these deaths have yet to complete police/coroner investigation and there would be more carnage to come. Johnson did not issue the cliche of not being able to comment on incomplete legal proceedings.)

November 18th, a man in his 60s is crushed by yet another tipper truck driver taking the heartache to six extinguished lives. The BBC hold a brief TV interview in which Leon Daniels, managing director of Transport for London and former long standing director of UK Bus Board, successfully avoids giving any meaningful answer. Daniels would include reference to a new police crack down on “all road users”, however focus was harassing people cycling with the non-laws of high visibility clothing and helmets.

On November 19th the BBC does more ‘investigation’. (This is literally the second earliest content promoted on their website venturing into active ‘journalism’.) If it comes across as a promo-piece for the haulage industry that’s what it is. Again viewers are to empathise with killers and associate victims with low status, negligence and criminality. The lorry driver complains that he’d rather the person cycling “be in his cycle lane”, yet the video shows a rider dealing with a complex junction with no cycle infrastructure. The driver exclaims how a man just spat at him but we aren’t given details — it was “a man” not “a cyclist” — and the myth of HGV blind spots is propagated. The journalist brings up the canard of people cycling forever jumping red lights which is as true but barely registers as cause of injury as recorded by London police.

November 21st during a parliamentary debate on street littering, Tory peer Baron James of Blackheath claims people cycling in London with cameras are “longing to be run down” so they can have it on film.

We need to have that sort of behaviour included in some exclusion because it is going to lead to their demise and our persecution, and it’s ridiculous.

(James was and is chairman of Henlys Group, a car dealer that has major bus and coach operations in North America and England including manufacturing.)

On November 22nd Boris Johnson is suddenly “very, very alarmed about cyclists wearing headphones”. He thinks it is wrong and certainly would seek to ban the activity. (This became a persistent national talking point covered in the Telegraph, Independent and elsewhere. Lord Scott of Foscote — Judge of Civil and Commercial Court of Qatar — renewed calls for the ban in March 2015) Not one November death has been attributed to poor hearing. London Met Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe says he would not cycle in London.

November 29th sees the beginnings of mass protest.

Some say there is a bike boom, all I can hear is a steady thunder of wheels and a smooth effluence of shots fired from the media aimed to protect business as usual. Johnson is an overt antagonist to cycling but no one with platform, not even the few cycling oriented publications have the balls to say the Emperor has no clothes, instead they provide a supporting cast.

Media Hitmen

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community believing that solutions emerge from judicious study but that’s not how the world really works anymore. We’re an empire and when we act we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating another which you can study too. We’re history’s actors and you will be left just studying us.”— Karl Rove (?), 2002

Focus has been on the BBC and Johnson so far, but a broad spectrum of antagonism exists across the media. It’s got to the stage where The Dailymail will even make a story of a person cycling causing minimal damage to a stationary taxi. All will likely know of hate monger types like Katie Hopkins who interestingly signed a 35 year contract with the british army to work in Intelligence before ill-health intervened. Later in life seemingly by chance she would build a career working for Rupert Murdoch fostering hatred aligned with foreign and domestic policy showing a love of Israel, gunning down refugees and a loathing for welfare. Fat people hate and name snobbery would give plausible deniability. Outside the BBC exists more ad-driven pressure for views but permissible ugly opinion still has a tendency to align with power. There is enough scandal in the Windsor family with narratives of racism, child abuse, corruption and benefit scrounging that could drive a career of clickbait fueled by regular scandal. Strangely for some, there are key individuals that attack cycling, faces come and go but hostilities persist.

Angela Epstein

Mouth for hire Angela Epstein has become the latest celebrity opinionist attacking cycling with appearances on ITV and in the Telegraph. Graduating with an English degree Epstein has no expertise in law, road safety, engineering, policing or neurology to explain why periodically she is given a platform to agitate for cycle licensing, insurance, testing and compulsory helmets. There is one point where Epstein junctions law and motoring, ghost-writing a book teaching dangerous drivers how to exploit loopholes. When not attacking cycling she declares in the Jewish Chronicle that receiving the first British national identity card as a “historic moment for democracy”. It is a career of ugly opinion: strikes should be illegal, feminists should stop provoking men, and on the Nolan Show harmless cannabis use should remain criminalised. Her expertise is not even journalism but public relations, selling training to “PR professionals who want to get coverage for their clients”.

“What would YOU print? And what would YOU spike? … We teach you how to write press releases, keep a tight focus on your message, rework past stories you haven’t been able to place, and make editorial opportunities in print and broadcasting work for you.”

To give a story maximum broadcast it isn’t feasible to be a resident employee of a particular publisher — it limits ones career and in this respect Epstein is unremarkable, just one of many in a cottage industry of journeyman propagandists. Her management resembles a castings agency where editors have a veritable catalogue of news actors from which to pick prejudice of choice. Something about Epstein’s ability to deliver ugly opinion with a sweet face has gotten work at the BBC, ITV, Telegraph, Cosmo, The Times, and as a “regular” on the Jeremy Vine Show. So regular are her appearance that famed “cyclist” Vine never used his platform to put up a defense, not even a tweet.

On the 7th of July the Telegraph would have her back to attack cycling: “Cyclists think they own the road. They do not”. The payload of the article is a lobbying for licenses, insurance, bike MOTs, registration and testing whilst character assassinating all that cycle. By sheer coincidence self-hating ‘cyclist’ Sarah Caden would also run with this meme in the Irish Independent, cheering a legistlative crackdown aginst the “terrors on two wheels”. That echos the hyperbole vomited into the media by general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association Steve McNamara who liken people cycling to “the ISIS of London”. The same oustider threat was astro-turfed by Epstein in the Manchester Evening News from 2011:

[There is] a lawlessness and recklessness that prevails amongst those Lycra-clad pedal pushers who fly by, music pumping. Surely cyclists who use our roads should be made to have insurance and a registered plate on their bikes.

Matters of road moralty are a clear topic of concern for Epstein. In 2012 during a national debate on childhood obesity she would appear in the Mirror, introduced not as a journalist, not even publisher, but as a “mum who for years has driven her four kids the five minutes to school”. She also has written for Telegraph Cars. No mention of her other line of work and a social pathology is presented as a social good:

“I drive my children half a mile to school… but that doesn’t make me a bad mother. Why should I be made to feel bad for driving my child to school, whether it’s around the corner or down the lane? Those five minutes in the car are a lovely cosy, quiet way to start the day.”
Epstein using her child as a media prop.

Anyone being honest knows the school run is hellish and sometimes the Mirror can be, having covered road raging school run mums. Last month Epstein appeared on ITV’s This Morning along side kooky and not the most eloquent nor telegenic of cycle-cam carriers, Dave Sherry. Over the last year or so Sherry has been made infamous by the likes of RT news and the BBC always to play the role of “cyclist vigilante”. The award for kookiest goes to the heavily exploited Traffic droid, having appeared on various TV programming across the years as the butt of everyone’s jokes.

ITV convened the pair, Sherry and Epstein, because days earlier the UK’s free press had found a driver filmed eating cereal extremely important and the incident made national news. Sarah Vine, wife of former Tory MP Michael Gove, was quick to the Dailymail trivialising the use of helmet cameras with a viciousness. I could take time to parse the language, like how she is transfixed with “buttock grinding buttock [as] sweat gathered in disturbing pools”, or how she tries to drive a wedge into the cycling community claiming people with cameras are not members but a foreign “new breed of Lycra-clad moral vigilantes”. Instead I’d like to play spot the difference.

At a cost of 150£ someone purchased a stock image to add a camera. This is how stereotypes are weaponised and Epstein would sit with hers on This Morning’s couch as the visual aid to pin the usual cliches denigrating cycling. In contrast to her polished presentation, bus driver Sherry sat haunched stumbling over words in a thick-ish London accent, gangsta shades propped on shaven head, stripped of status as some other being. Propped indeed — ITV had asked Sherry to come dressed as “a cyclist” which is a clear indication of a desire to manage the visual stereotype of this “vigilante”. There is a looming “Stasi” claims Vine but only one London bus driver gets dressed as a bin man and picked to go on TV. (The historians reading may see more than just a visual resemblance to Aleister Crowley. He was a British citizen picked to pretend to be pro-German for the US media during WW1.)

Repetition, repetition, repetition. Central is an image taken from the Dailymail, published 6th February 2015 but intially circulated to the press via SWNS. (Astute readers may remember the company from part one in this series — South West News Service was the same company behind celebrity cycle victim/villian pair: toddler Lucie Wilding and the “most callous” man on two wheels, Andrew Holland.) It is indeed the case that Sherry is being worked by SWNS but did they find a story and sell it to the press, or do they respond to the editorial class wanting a prejudice to sell to the public? I tried to talk to Sherry about his “rise” as a cycle vigilante. He confirmed his associations as described but the conversation has since been deleted.

In September 2013 SWNS put together a piece NOT calling Sherry a cycle vigilante which was circulated by the Dailymail and probably others — bus driver sacked after using mobile device.

A year passes and in October 2014 The Times now headlines the new “Dashboard sleuths” that are on the scene and are first to my knowledge that misappropriates “vigilante”. A week later Sky News has Sherry headlining as the “video vigilante chasing down drivers”. Another week and the Dailymail calls him the “bicycle vigilante”. As new year broke another syndicated article gets put out in the Business Times, Malaysian Insider, IOL Motoring, iAfrica, and perhaps more — to the world now Sherry is the “carriageway vigilante”. For the rest of January Dave takes a seat back on the bus at his day job but come February 1st and the BBC are asking the hard questions: how did Harlow bus driver Dave Sherry become a ‘driving vigilante’?

“If people want to play with snakes, they have to accept they might get bitten,” says Mr Sherry, who has filmed both drivers and other cyclists [but] balks at the vigilante label.”

He balks, okay? So stop it, stop being mean. On February 5th,, Mirror, the Dailymail have yet more headlines…

“A vigilante says he is “Britain’s most hated cyclist” after using hidden cameras.

Minor credit goes to The Times, Dailystar, Express, Telegraph and Independent for noticing the unsubtle head piece but still are ‘confused’ about vigilantism. As quoted in the Times and Telegraph poor Sherry now seemed resigned to his fate.

“If they want to call me a vigilante then fine, you have to play the bad guy sometimes, but I don’t commit offences I just record them,” he said.

Website Unlock The Law would cover the story but with a curious unsourced analysis: apparently “many believe the rise of the vigilante is in response to police cuts or a rising number of bogus insurance claims”. Nothing more was said. So enamoured were the Dailymail that on the 6th they regurgitated the story about the sacked bus driver they first printed in 2013 but with a key difference: they now call him a “vigilante”. The media frenzy around Sherry is bizarre and producers loved him appearing on the BBC, Channel4, RT, Sky News and even german TV. Whilst covering this hot topic, news actor Jon Snow and no freind of cycling, would shame advocate Nicola Branch with talk of red lights and riding on pavements. Wardrobe again seems to seek fancy dress.

June 20th, we’re now at that point where every one is still calling Sherry a “vigilante” even to his face on national TV yet still no “balk” in sight. ITV would go far inventing a #cyclingvigilante hashtag that went nowhere. Quite how he restrained himself on This Morning from throttling Philip Schofield or Angela Epstein maybe we’ll never know. Perhaps it’s because ITV are the first organisation to have paid him for use of his time and video, or at least this is his claim despite all the appearances. One would think with all the English degrees involved some ‘journalist’ could tell the difference between a “vigilante” who enforces law outside legal process and a witness with a camera. Both had clear scripts, Sherry would take a breath and look to the ceiling to recall his: “Recording it, exibiting it, sending it to the police. Helping make the streets a better place”. Epstein would robot on about “kangaroo courts” repeating the phrase twice but the contents of her introduction graphic — that she is someone who wants to ban cycling — would never be discussed.

“The thing is cyclists are HORRENDOUS on the roads… They’re abosolutely shocking — they just don’t care… Cyclists can be even worse than motorists!”

On a TV feature focusing cycle cameras Epstein would steer the topic offroad and deliver her talking points: cycling should be MOTed, licensed, insured and taxed. This Morning’s production team would help her cause by following her demands with footage taken that day of people harmlessly cycling through red lights. “Wow! Look at that!” she would exclaim. Doesn’t this feel familiar?

“We teach you how to keep a tight focus on your message, rework past stories you haven’t been able to place, and make editorial opportunities in print and broadcasting work for you.”

Occam’s razor suggests that the simplest explanation of why Epstein sounds like a janky politician representing some special interest is that she is a janky politcian representing some special interest, where the difference is a mercenary politics by TV not House of Commons. So who’s driving Anglea Epstein? So far Epstein has declined to comment. Her career, her news-acting as a mum driving her child to school and neighbours mad presents an obvious candidate; not a specific company say Audi, but some organisation that represents motoring as a whole. It’s possible that she is just responding to editors wanting someone to put a face to ugly opinion but to assert this denies a larger complexity of a media gunning for cycling.

Simon Heffer

Waddling cliche and Tory mouth piece Simon Heffer hates people cycling or maybe he’s just paid to do so. Last autumn he would put his considerable weight behind police commissioner Katy Bourne demanding a cycle crackdown. He would write: “Louts in Lycra MUST be made to have licence plates: the more numerous they become, the more essential it is to control them.” Perhaps all Tories MUST be made to wear belled-collars so children can at least have a few moments warning to make an escape. Elsewhere he lobbies against the NHS, rages against Putin, writes apologetics for British war crimes, and eulogises the late disgraced Leon Brittain whose death came most fortuitously.

Matthew Beard

Another beligerent voice of recent time targeting cycling is Matthew Beard. His career starts at the Independent as a senior “journalist”, then to its child company The London Evening Standard with ownership split with the Daily Mail Group. There he transitions to transport editor, before passing through the revolving-door to Four Communications making explicit what he always was: a director of public relations. He would also run public relations for the Olympics. A comprehensive expose of Matthew Beard is already written from September, 2014. To summarise Beard was headlining ridiculous claims based on anonymous opinion about how London’s few cycleways will cause the end of the world… revolting business leaders, upturned sewers and roads grinding to a halt. It’s as if he had some business interest close to heart.

Beard’s legacy continues as The Standard is still churning the animus. Yesterday the death of a kitten claimed to have been struck by someone cycling alongside the canal made front page news. I don’t believe any columnist has yet demanded that felines be licensed under leash at all times, nor complain about how helmetless cats tend to dress in black only to dart out in front of you and only ever equipped with front facing reflectors when they really need something shining out of their arse, which is where The Standard is coming from most of the time. They now “urge” all people cycling to slow down but to put that into perspective five people were killed today and everyday by motorists. 100m£ is spent today and every day on removing twisted metal and fixing bone. One-million mammals are killed or wounded each and ever year by British motorists, and if that isn’t topical enough, two drivers from market favourite Uber knocked down people cycling the evening before. The only coverage thus far seems to be angry cabbies who have momentary set aside grievances againist cycling leveraging the victims to attack a bigger rival. Über alles, über alles in der welt.


March 2014, Australia saw a transport crisis similar to that in London. A Brisbane driver deliberately endangered then ran over some one cycling. Six people were driven from the road whilst on a group ride in Sydney. In Melbourne a woman was doored by a group of men getting out of a taxi then abused by the assailants trying to flee the scene. In response The Austrailian would publish anonymous editorial:

THE arrogant sense of entitlement in our inner cities is also evident in the ever-growing number of cyclists snaking their way through pedestrians on overcrowded pathways, darting between cars and clogging-up lanes on our congested roadways. […]
Cyclists, including the one “doored” this week, are using cameras to film such incidents so they can make insurance claims. The Victorian government imposed even tougher on-the-spot fines in 2012 for people who opened car doors in the direct path of cyclists.
For too long, authorities have bowed to the demands of selfish cyclists and their lobby groups. Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling. We have no equivalent of Amsterdam and should stop pretending we do.

Here is another case were journalistic conservativeness was aggressively run over in favour of de facto vehicular lobbying at a time where there were high profile cases perhaps all with ongoing court cases. What decides when these checks and balances are removed so opinion and editorial can be weaponised?

Late last year there was another high profile cycle related death that left New York for global attention. A woman was killed in Central Park by Jason Marshall whilst he was cycling and media coverage at the New York Post was ferocious spanning months, and again weaponised for a broader agenda. To my knowledge it was never proven who had priority. On the day reporting was so target fixated that basic fact checking didn’t exist. They exclaimed how the bike was ‘brakeless’ yet were completely undermined by their own photographs. The NYPost took a frenzied interest:

Not in the list is Nicole Gelina’s opinion piece New York’s cycles of death: Our arrogant-biker nightmare written three days after the death. Peak cyclophobia was reached months later when the Post had a team stalk Marshall as he moved about the city by bike, filming him whilst he took his child to school and more headlines: Killer Cyclist Gives Son Lesson in how to Break the Law. They would print pictures of both including the name of the school attended. I’m sure the deceased’s marriage to a CBS executive helped mobilize media hitmen creating this celebrity victimhood, but replace the ‘villian’ with a driver and I suspect the story would have been car-washed with the usual liberal hand-wringing.

This effect just cannot be driven by columnists alone and to explain away these patterns as stupidity is stupidity. Believing media empire to be a fluke is a pernicious vanity where in the all-knowing-know-nothing asserts himself as being smarter than those controling editorial policy across nations. There is a highly complex but mostly vertical junction of interests where decisions at any level must conform to those above in the hierarchy. No major narrative or persistent trend happens without having passed a multi-level filtering. No peasant journalist conscious or otherwise speaks without being the mask for their owner’s key business interests and in the process neoliberalism and crass petrol-driven politics is passed off as objective reality.

Rupert Murdoch [owner of the New York Post and the Australian] was once asked in an interview: “You’re considered to be politically conservative. To what extent do you influence the editorial posture of your news papers?” He responded with refreshing candor: “Considerably… my editors have input, but I make the final decisions.”
“Norman Bauman did a study and he quoted Sulzberger as saying that for years the New York Times could not write a story that was critical of the automotive industry. About 30 years ago, a young lawyer did an investigation of automobiles and he wrote a whole exposé on how dangerous they were — everything from dashboards to visibility. He could not get that story published in a single major medium. His name was Ralf Nader, he went on to write a book called “Unsafe at any Speed” which Congress couldn’t ignore prompting hearings and investigation. Sulzberger was a typical example and had a rule: “Nothing in the New York Times that is critical of the automotive industry, ever!” Why? He was very clear, “They are our biggest account”.

Not much has changed. For the year 2012 General Motors was the second largest spender on advertising at 3.1b$, Ford was sixth. Fiat, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda tail the caravan with budgets north of one billion. Even if we look to the future there is no end in sight. Google has an income of 66b$ much from advertising and are a major player in the development of the auto-automobile. Millions are hoped if not expected to be driving themselves out of the factories by 2021. However, this again would be a dumbed down theory because it doesn’t account for how the BBC and politics are geared up to rush to the defense of motoring and attack cycling as if some sort of national security threat. Literally the same propaganda machine mobilized in times of war is mobilised in times of peace but should this be surprising? Probably not because both tanks and Toyotas run on oil which requires giant military and ideological support.

The Ideological War (On Cycling)

  1. How does the media pick a victim?
  2. Hitmen and Hasbara
  3. The Enemy Without (unwritten)
  4. The Enemy Within (unwritten)
  5. …?