Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1948

Did you hear the one about Al Qaida’s plot to smear ricin on door handles?

This article is over 17 years, 2 months old
The conviction last week of Kamel Bourgass for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance using poisons sparked a media frenzy over "ricin conspiracies" and "Al Qaida cells".
Issue 1948

The conviction last week of Kamel Bourgass for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance using poisons sparked a media frenzy over “ricin conspiracies” and “Al Qaida cells”.

By the weekend, senior policemen were boasting about foiling “our September 11”. Yet the truth was there was no ricin, no Al Qaida cell and no ring of conspirators. Bourgass was acquitted of the most serious charge of terrorism and his co-accused were all cleared of involvement in a terror plot.

David Miller from SpinWatch spoke to Socialist Worker about the case

This so called “ricin plot” is the greatest hoax since WMD. It shows up the distorted parallel universe, the “Matrix world”, that the police, government and media live in.

When this story first broke even I thought that something must have been going on. I realised that what we were being told was dodgy and that there wasn’t any Al Qaida involvement.

But I assumed that they had actually found traces of ricin, even if all the rest was propaganda. It turns out I wasn’t sufficiently cynical.

It was only when I read Duncan Campbell’s article in the Guardian that I found out there was no ricin, that government scientists had discovered nothing, and that all the other defendants had got off.

Apparently the scientists sent a message to the government telling them there was no ricin, but the government ignored this.

Channel 4 News was particularly bad. It’s supposed to be the most progressive news bulletin in the mainstream media, but its reporting was so distorted it bore no resemblance to reality.

They used hammy actors to “reconstruct” the alleged plot, with sinister characters smearing a dark substance on door handles.

Other outlets did report the flaws in the prosecution evidence, but things were put in the kindest possible way for the authorities. Jason Burke in last Sunday’s Observer ends up by saying, “In a sense it doesn’t matter who’s telling the truth.”

The problem goes to the heart of what mainstream journalism is about these days. It’s all about reporting what important people say, what official sources have told you.

And it often crosses the line into endorsing those official sources. That’s why the mainstream press all got it wrong about WMD, and when they did admit they had got it wrong their defence was, “We thought the authorities would know what they were doing.”

This whole episode shows how little we can rely on the mainstream media. It’s imperative that we build up alternative media sources and get them distributed.

David Miller is professor of sociology at University of Strathclyde and a member of SpinWatch’s editorial board. Go to for more

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