I’ve had readers sympathetic to my writings ask if my posts on last week’s Hamas attacks may have overegged their swipes at our systemically corrupt media. Two directed me to Sarah Helm’s piece in today’s Guardian; some cite such Palestine-friendly voices as Owen Jones.
They are right of course. I don’t always have space to set out in full the case against liberal media but, for the record, here’s what I think.
It’s vital for two reasons that upmarket liberal corporate media make a show of willingness to take on power. One is the boardroom reality that they must avoid losing market share to more daring media – or to put it another way, losing more readers than they draw in. (Did Guardian Media Group calculate that its trashings of Corbyn and Assange passed this test?) The other is the more diffuse reality that a hallowed ideal, which does hold a grain of truth, of media able to hold power to account despite an advertising and sponsorship model at least as corrosive as oligarchic ownership, is vital to the appearance of democracy.
In balancing the chimera of feisty watchdogs with the reality of being co-opted by a corrupt status quo, media criticisms of power must be made from time to time – while steering clear of anything truly damaging to that same power where it most hurts.
This applies not just at the level of liberal media like the Guardian, but when we drill down to left figures like Owen Jones and George Monbiot. Both have been atrocious on Syria and in Jones’ case on Russia too. Their willingness to speak out on causes more popular on the left, like ecocide and Palestine, gives them the kudos to be believed on Assad and Putin. In this they are their employer in miniature.
I need not suppose these writers, or most of their colleagues, to be subjectively dishonest: just self-servingly credulous. I doubt either man sees himself as providing the Guardian with left-cover; or that GMG sees itself as contributing – not least by constantly bragging that it has no billionaire owner while staying silent on its dependence on corporate advertisers and oligarch sponsors like Gates and Soros – to the myth of democracy informed by independent media.
Media are large corporations selling privileged audiences to other large corporations. Now the question is: what pictures of the world would a rational person expect from this set up?
Moreover, the quantitative trumps the qualitative. A content analysis of Guardian coverage of Palestine this past week will show the Sarah Helm piece to be the exception proving the rule – that for every Guardian word in support of the Palestinian case there’ll be a thousand trashing or covertly denying it. What’s more, even her piece largely (not entirely) lets the apartheid state off the hook by focusing its fire on a man, Benjamin Netanyahu, detested by the centre-left. Like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, he makes an excellent whipping boy.
I rest my case.