What’s wrong with the Guardian?

14 Feb
Update 31/12/16. See also Smoke & mirrors: the war on ‘fake news’

Like many others I’ve shifted in the last year from irritation to disgust at the Guardian’s growing reluctance to act as a reliable and fair provider of news and comment. I’ve written to that effect several times now, though tangentially and never in a dedicated post. I’ve grown dismayed then angry about this trend, manifested in lightweight, ill informed and at times hatchet-coverage of events on which fair and accurate news and analysis could hardly matter more – Corbyn, Syria, Putin, Russia and Ukraine being some of the more obvious cases in point.

Update 31/12/16. I’d now cite Guardian coverage of the US presidential election, with its uncritical support for Hillary Clinton, as a major addition to the list.

I’m grateful to Geoff and Sam for alerting me to two sites, Media Lens and Off-Guardian, set up with the express intent of putting the Guardian and other once liberal organs under scrutiny. I recommend both. The rightward realignment of media once centre-left is pulled by that of the centre ground itself: a consequence both of the end of the USSR – and with it of any need for western capital to ‘pamper’ its own labour sellers – and of the neoliberal reshaping of Britain by Thatcher and Blair. A society accustomed now to jails for profit and emasculated unions .. to zero hour contracts and creeping privatisation of the NHS .. to bank bail out and bedroom tax – such a society has made a drastic turn from mixed economy and welfarism to capitalism with the brakes off. The Britain of Beveridge is dead or terminally ill, replaced by one of ‘Business-Friendly’ indulgence to the tax dodger and asset stripper, to the gleeful beneficiary of state fire-sales and the third highest income gap in Europe, one whose ‘trickle down’ rationale was blown away long ago by big data. This is a Britain whose revolving doors spin ever faster as boundaries between government and Big Money dissolve in a moral haze through which the venal politician is presented as responsible and realist, the principled one as dangerously out of touch. With the centre ground of this new Britain so far to the right of its pre 1979 forms as to be unrecognisable, how could those media which have always sought to locate themselves there do other than transform themselves in ways equally stark?

Note also that while more people than ever, on both sides of the Atlantic, read the Guardian, fewer are paying to do so. Advertising revenue, ever the bigger part of the income stream for newspapers, has risen even more in relative terms – and it too will have done so on both sides of the Atlantic. That too increases the rightward influence.

Last October, shortly after Corbyn’s election, readers’ editor Stephen Pritchard made a defence of Guardian/Observer coverage of ‘Corbynia’. (That Guardian Newspapers saw fit to make any such defence is revealing.) Few found Pritchard convincing, with two below the line comments drawing hundreds of ‘likes’ for their withering accuracy. One, by forthestate, was replicated by both Media Lens and Off-Guardian, where I found it this morning. Here it is in full: red text by forthestate, green where he quotes Pritchard:

While broadly sympathetic to Labour, the Observer has never slavishly attached itself to any party or political philosophy.

That isn’t the issue.

I share the view of some readers that the paper and the media in general misread the depth of desire, particularly among young Labour voters, for the change that Jeremy Corbyn represents, but time (and the parliamentary Labour party) will tell if that flood of goodwill will be enough to carry him to electoral victory.

And neither is that.The issue is that you chose, along with the Guardian, right from the outset, before he had been elected, to take an aggressive stance against Corbyn, which you pursued as his increasing popularity led to the biggest upset in modern British politics. That was a phenomenon you ignored. It was an astonishing indication of political sentiment in this country. You may say that time will tell if it’s enough to carry him to victory, but you don’t really have a clue one way or another, and in the meantime, you let down not only your readers, but your function and role as a news outlet to acknowledge the sudden outpouring of a political sentiment in your nation of which, as journalists, none of you had any inkling, as you yourself admit.

You’re out of touch, not just with a large section of your readership, but with what is probably a large section of public sentiment. It’s the inevitable consequence of a Westminster bubble inflated by over thirty years of political and economic ‘consensus’ that has seen political debate reduced to the imperceptible ideological difference that lies in a NewLabour politician voting for the welfare bill as opposed to a Tory one. This is Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, in which we don’t need political debate since we arrived at the final synthesis of all political thought, which would appear to be neoliberal, free market fundamentalism. Fukuyama is an imbecile. Anyone peddling the end of ideological thought hasn’t the first clue about human behaviour, and history is littered with the busted theories of these idiots, but when the public has been given no political choice for over three decades, you shouldn’t mistake the ensuing political constipation for consensus. You have done, though, and in the process you have grown out of touch with the mood of intense frustration in your country; because it has had no outlet for expression, you have not so much ignored it, as failed to recognise its existence. That’s what slapped you in the face when politics which you had assumed were dead returned a man to the leadership of Labour with three times the number of votes as the candidate who came second.

The least you could have done was to acknowledge the phenomenon, and, given you were clueless about it up until then, to engage in what was once considered the very height of journalistic endeavour – an investigation into it; some analysis, some attempt to understand it, some attempt to show some respect for a movement you had missed, which had, in the space of a little over three months, returned the Labour party to some of its core values, and left you all astounded. Here were ideas being put forward which challenged ‘consensus’. Where was the informed political debate over the policies he was proposing? You didn’t have one; we had an opportunity to discuss, atl, the only ideological challenge to the status quo in decades, an alternative idea to the one that you lot have adhered to for thirty six years, slavishly, which broke our economy, and you dismissed it. You chose not to debate it. There was next to no analysis of the policies. It was your job to conduct one, assuming you hold to higher standards than the tabloid press, which I don’t.

Instead, you chose attack, a campaign of smear and vilification, with the odd article by people like Ed Vulliamy to afford you the necessary cover of ‘balance’, the weasel get out clause for right wing outlets masquerading as ‘liberal’. And in choosing to do so, you didn’t just let down your readership, or pour your disdain all over those finally finding expression for sentiments you clearly want stifled – you let down the standards of journalism in this country even further.

Your reputation has suffered significantly, and you deserve it. An awful lot of people, as evidenced by comments below the line, and the very fact that you’re taking time to respond, have seen through your veil of liberalism, and had their eyes opened to what is in fact a thoroughly establishment, right wing outlet, and one which, incidentally, whilst I’m about it, has supported every neoconservative foreign policy intervention that has led to the disaster that is the ME.

It’s about time your bluff was called, and it was you that called it, by a concerted smear campaign against democratic choice in this country in favour of the status quo, which blew up in your face when democratic choice proved far more resilient than your attempts to suppress it.

Well said, forthestate. Well and truly said.

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