Wednesday, 17 September 2008

How Not To Win At Politics (2)

2: Irk The Purists

Bringing the focus back across the Atlantic again, it is worth contrasting the ways in which people in the USA receive their information about the political sphere with those that are strongly influential in the UK.

The power of the broadcast media in the USA in shaping political opinion has been the subject of countless editorials and much hand-wringing takes place over "those people who watch Fox and listen to Rush (Limbaugh)".

However, strangely, the same concerns are seldom raised over here - it seems to be taken as read that our broadcast media, dominated as it is by a state broadcaster paid for by what is in effect a tax on owning a television, is somehow clean as a whistle. We're supposed to believe that it isn't acting as any kind of propaganda vehicle, insidiously (for it is not upfront about it in the way Fox is over in the US) promoting its own centre-left, statist, pro-EU values. By subtle slanting rather than outright lying, by omission rather than overt promotion, but the end result isn't much different.

'Hold on, Ian', you might be thinking, 'but people in the UK are clearly not being taken in by this. Aren't a majority against the EU? Don't people hate the Nanny State? Didn't the polls just show the Tories taking a 26% lead?'.

You'd be quite right to be thinking that. Here is where another aspect of the UK media landscape which does not have an equivalent in the US comes in - our national press, and in particular the Daily Mail, The Sun, and perhaps also the Daily Express*.
We have these newspapers to thank that the BBC's propagandising is not more successful.

Many on the left realise this, hence the existence of several blogs dedicated in whole or in significant part to pounding these three newspapers. There's Daily Mail Watch, Enemies Of Reason, Five Chinese Crackers, and now also Tim Ireland's latest project The Sun - Tabloid Lies. Without the Sun, the Mail and the Express, there would be no bulwark in this country against the social democratic, EU-federalist line of the BBC - it's no wonder the leftists behind these blogs want to throw everything they have at the tabloids.

Of course, the tabloids are far from perfect. In some ways their editorial lines aid an authoritarian state, maintaining a state of fear of terrorism and crime. However, I strongly believe that we are better off with them than without them. Without them, the social democrats would have free rein, with nothing having any sort of mass circulation able to challenge their worldview. Therefore, as an EU-sceptic and an opponent of the social democratic ideology of 'progress' by expansion of the state and disempowerment of the voter, I consider that - despite its flaws - the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

Just as there is no room for idealism in on-the-ground politics, as I discussed in Part 1, there is no room for purism either. Sometimes you have to take your allies where you can find them. Tim Worstall gets it, as this timely post makes clear, but many others don't...

* For the purposes of this discussion, we can roughly consider the Mirror and Telegraph to cancel each other out, and the other 4 have too low a circulation to worry about.
** The title of this post was inspired by this song, by Half Man Half Biscuit.


septicisle said...

You seem to have completely missed the point. I and the others behind such blogs have no quarrel with said newspapers existing; what we object to is the outright lies and distortions that they use day in and day out, whether it's on politics or involving celebrity. I won't even bother arguing the toss with you about the BBC and its sinister conspiracy to turn us all into leftists.

What I do find odd is that you consider the Sun especially as a bulwark against the EU-federalist line. The only reason that the Sun is against the EU is because Murdoch hates it - not because of any the reasons you hate it, but because of mindless anti-Europeanism. At the same time, the Sun and New Labour have been absolutely hand in glove, and as I've argued before, without the support of the Murdoch press, it's likely that Blair and Labour might well have been kicked out far earlier. It isn't interested in libertarianism or being a bulwark against us evil social democrats, its interest is purely its own, same as Fox News's is. Your enemy's enemy is not your friend.

QT said...

Sure, there is plenty of spin (I think it's rare that they actually flat-out lie) in the tabloids, but this is not something the BBC are innocent of (as I discuss a particular flagrant example here), and they tend to get a pass whereas the tabloids get hammered.

As for the 2nd paragraph, you noticeably don't deny that the Sun is a bulwark against the EU-federalist line. As I said in the discussion at B&D that led to this post, I don't really care why they are anti-EU, just as long as they are and they are getting the message out. This comes back to what I was talking about in the first part of this.

Again, in the last part I realise that they're not actually libertarian, and aren't consciously trying to be that bulwark. They're basically trying to sell newspapers - its just fortuitous that it works out this way.

Tim said...


"You seem to have completely missed the point."

Possibly by skipping detail.

Ian_QT also had a go here, clearly without first reading Sim-O's job description.


Had you checked your detail this time around, you would've understood that it might have been more to the point and more topical to have a go at me over what is actually my latest project; the new and improved Daily Mail Watch.

I'd go on to further explain (beyond thse links) where you might be wrong in how you perceive/portray my position regarding the BBC and other media bodies, but again we come back to your distaste for detail.

QT said...

Uh, I linked to Daily Mail Watch as well as the Sun one.

Tim said...

And yet somehow managed to miss this. Yes, I know.

QT said...

WTF is your problem? You don't like the fact that I didn't mention your name next to the link to 'Daily Mail Watch'?

Tim said...

No, it's just that many people will have difficulty understanding how you could have seen the prominent announcements about the *new* DMW and (a) failed to correctly identify that as my latest project, and (b) failed to spot this statement that clearly explains that the point is not to destroy the Daily Mail or even change the politics of its readers:

"Ideally, the broad aim of the new Mail project will be to waste less time barking at the liars, by instead reaching out to the readers who are subjected to their lies on a daily basis. Those readers will probably never change their politics or stop worrying about young people causing cancer and affecting house prices, but they may calm down a bit and they might even stop buying the Mail every day if they realise that a lot of the stuff in it has been invented, misrepresented, or blown out of all proportion." (source)

Unless of course you're deliberately setting out to distort my position, in which case you can probably guess WTF my problem is.

Cheesy Monkey said...

Bias? Prove it! If the BBC is biased, it would be to the centre ground and/or to a government's position if it thought that would guarantee its existence. In the run up to the Iraq war, the BBC were the most on-message broadcaster, remember. Why? Perhaps they were more than a little perturbed by a Government that continuously wanted to be seen as neoliberal and pro-(big) business might privatise it or shut it down. Didn't do them any good... but one things for sure: if the BBC is biased to the Left, they're doing a bloody poor job about it - most lefties believe that the BBC is biased against them.

Now for some gossip from my friend at the BBC:

1) The BBC believes that if Labour remain in power to 2016, the BBC Charter will not be renewed. As such is is privately preparing for part- or whole-scale privatisation

2) The BBC's editorial policy is deliberately being moved to be more in-line with Cameron Conservative thinking. This is because a) they are convinced the Tories will win the next election, and win well; and b) Cameron's Tories may be less inclined than Labour to sell it off/close it down.


QT said...

Obviously I cannot 'prove' that its biased - it is a matter of perrception. The closest I can come to hard evidence of a problem is this Times article.

I have come across people on the left (usually pretty hard left) arguing that the BBC is biased the other way, but their arguments tend to be pretty flimsy (see here).

Like I said in the post, a lot of it is omission and slant, such as reporting on Government initiatives without providing an anti-statist balancing voice, rather than a full-on in-your-face promotion of an agenda.

Finally, the argument isn't about Labour vs Conservative.

Jamie Sport said...

"Sure, there is plenty of spin (I think it's rare that they actually flat-out lie) in the tabloids"

What an ironic time to make such a statement, just as the sheer level of misinformation peddled by the tabloids reaches the point where even Tim 'Web Daddy' Berners-Lee feels the need to vent his frustration publically.

Some of the lies of one newspaper in particular (about the LHC, about MMR, about immigration etc etc.) have had a regrettably enormous effect on the attitude of the general public towards important social issues.

Here are five of the best:

As for "the enemy of our enemy is our friend"...doesn't that seem a little short-sighted to you? Fair enough, you're anti EU, but do you really agree with the rest of The Mail's, The Sun's, and The Express's xenophobic rage pieces? Advancement of a cause can't be worth it if it brings with it a multitude of other problems.

Anton Vowl said...

Ha ha. Total bullshit. I do like the HMHB reference, mind, so swings and roundabouts.

sb said...

The closest I can come to hard evidence of a problem is this Times article.

Honestly. Who owns the Times? Have you really not figured this out yet?

QT said...

@sb: Did you actually read the article (Hint: The report discussed wasn't commissioned by the Times - they just reported on it)?

@jamie: "As for "the enemy of our enemy is our friend"...doesn't that seem a little short-sighted to you?..."

Well, no - hence the post.

So, this is the "blogosphere", eh? said...

Perhaps I'm missing something, Ian, but if I'm reading this article correctly, you seem to be saying that people who consider themselves of "the left" or "progressive" who dislike the content of downmarket right-wing newspapers do so because the likes of The Sun and The Mail form a bulwark against the BBC, which pumps out leftist propaganda all day long in an attempt to turn us all into drones for an soon to come Stalinist nightmare-the secret dream of all these "leftists."

In other words, given that the overwhelming majority of the progressive half of this country finds, to some degree or other, The Mail and Sun's politics distasteful, your argument is based on the following assumptions:

1. "Lefties", who, naturally dominate this country and all of it's institutions, make up a giant conspiracy to deprive the everyday right-libertarian in the street of his hard won freedom. :-)

2. The BBC, a tool of this lefty elite, produces not a balanced mix of news and entertainment, but instead churns out propaganda for this Socialist conspiracy. :-)

3. Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere are fighting a noble rearguard action against this Red tide. :-)

4. Members of the left-wing conspiracy object to the tabloids, not because they often find them sexist, reactionary or crass, but because they know that they are all that stands between the British people and the Gulag. :-)

This all seems to me to be so utterly, spectacularly wrong that one wonders if you've ever actually spoken to any of these "leftists", read any of these newspapers, or indeed, watched the BBC.

If you'd only read a little deeper, you would've found that the right-wing press is controlled by the Left as well and that what we on the left are actually doing is keeping the proles sedated with their diet of tits, bingo and having a pop at Johnny Foreigner so they don't notice the labour camps until it's too late....

Or maybe that's nonsense as well.

No offence, mate but Worst.Post.Ever. :-)

QT said...

I took an idea and ran with it here, and it looks like this element of the post (the part beginning "Many on the left realise this..." has attracted all the attention.

I did not write this post with the intention of winding up leftists, but to pitch a rarely made argument in defence of the tabloids at right-libertarian readers. The post was inspired by this comments thread debate at Boatang & Demetriou. As it is not one right-libertarian has responded to it, whereas just about every left-wing reader I have has had a pop!

I stand by the central argument of this post, and that of part 1. It was intentionally written in a polemical style.

Incidentally, if you're interested in my worst post ever, I'd say that by a considerable distance it is this one.

BTW (I know who you are): You don't have to put smiley faces in your blog comments!

cabalamat said...

Your thesis, as I understand it, is that The Sun is on the side of rationality and truth.

That's laughable bollocks.

QT said...

That's a laughable misrepresentation of the argument I'm making here.

Tim said...

That's a laughable misrepresentation of the argument I'm making here."

I agree. It's not just unecessary, it's also unfair, counter-productive and potentially damaging.

Unless you're trying to make the point that Ian_QT is tolerant of wilful distortion only when it doesn't happen to him or his 'side', in which case:

[golf clap]

Five Chinese Crackers said...

I'm a bit late to this party, but I'd like to sort of echo what Tim has already said.

I don't blog about the tabloids simply because I don't like their politics. I do it because they lie through their teeth in order to take people along with them.

George Smiley said...

That's a laughable misrepresentation of the argument I'm making here.

Some might say that the thrust of your argument is a bit of a laughable misrepresentation itself, mate!

crumbs said...

"I think it's rare that they actually flat-out lie [in the tabloids]"

Do you actually believe that crap? If so, you are eminently qualified to work alongside the other chimps at The Sun.

The Sun and other tabloids lie all the time. They've been at it for years. To think otherwise is about as rational as ordering the sun not to set.