All News Is Propaganda

James Murdoch Closes News of the World after Phone Hacking Scandal

It is not new that both progressives and conservatives think the media is not on their side.

In the earliest days of the printing press in Britain news and ideas hostile to whoever was in charge were understandably censored, except when civil wars generated bouts of adversarial propaganda.

Later on politicians and pressmen were often one, with the Walter family behind The Times sitting in Parliament while reporting on current affairs. Likewise, The Daily Herald (later The Sun) was closely tied to trade unionism and the Labour party.

Even as many newspapers escaped direct political control, the burgeoning corporate interests represented by Rupert Murdoch have given progs little joy. The “free press”, they say, is really owned by fat cats, and Australian ones at that.

At the same time, media types living in London are stereotyped enough for the phrase “liberal media elite” to roll off the tongue, it being assumed a nefarious cabal of Islingtonians spend the week eating sushi, sipping lattes and plotting the downfall of civilisation.

Yet despite the chaos that the Internet’s democratisation of the printing press has wrought upon privileged political views, few seem sold that the Dirty Digger or the Graun might actually be more favourable devils to deal with.

To summarise the media’s last year: the growth of Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube and the other media giants of Silicon Valley has allowed any crank with a keyboard to say mostly what they like without interference from the old gatekeepers.

So-called “fake news” – some of it untrue and other bits merely dubious – is being spread by all manner of scribblers.

The trend, as exemplified by the conspiracy theories Alex Jones, is like a scratch that has developed gangrene.

Ever since the Internet blossomed, dissidents and loonies have been soapboaxing on subjects like the death of Kurt Cobain (murdered, they allege, by his wife); the 9/11 attacks in New York (orchestrated, obviously, by president George Bush); and, naturally, the Jews.

As the Guardian journalist Jon Ronson put it in a recent book, what changed is that Jones’ ilk have gone mainstream, with their man Donald Trump having blagged his way into the White House.

In Britain and America alike, the established media is not impressed. Ronson’s paper, the house journal of progressive Britain, only last month wrote: “Fake news is a lie designed to control public opinion, and it’s allowing far-right opportunists to seize power.”

But all news is propaganda, even if only some of it is true. The variously attributed quote that “news is what somebody does not want you to print; all the rest is advertising” acknowledges that the best journalism tends to stir someone’s shit.

It is probably better that people make decisions on the basis of accurate information rather than the false sort. But at the heart of this debate is a plain struggle for control of a resource: the media space.

The reason that progs have forever been pissy at conservative editorials is that they are concerned that the reader may be persuaded by the opposing argument, because they are thick.

It is the same reason why conservatives gripe at gays appearing normal in soaps, or teenagers enthusiastically fucking on screen, or any sympathetic portrayal of deviant behaviour. Indeed, it is the reason for all suppression of information, for all time.

For progressives, both the vote for Britain to quit the European Union and the election of Trump have flipped over a creeping political correctness that was being ever more keenly rejected by – to use phrase of failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – “deplorables”.

Many of these people, represented by Ukip in Britain, are indeed the worst sort of reactionaries: racist, sexist and homophobic. Many of the slurs against this “basket” as small-minded, anti-intellectual oafs were offensive precisely because they were true.

The political correctness complained of must have evolved both as a symptom of eased attitudes towards outsiders and as a clutch of new taboos to enforce a progressive consensus on race, sexuality and gender.

This is not the same as “institutionalised politeness”, to take the comedian Stewart Lee’s line. Organically or otherwise, it has grown as a means of socially stigmatising people’s speech, in an effort to stigmatise people’s ideas.

One can take this line even if they dislike the ideas that are being suppressed through social pressure, just as one might think heroin is a bad habit to get into and still not want junkies to be locked up in jail.

Where once hate speech – bigotry, more or less – was widely practised, it is now widely criminalised. Plenty of states in Europe prosecute people for publicly denying that the Holocaust happened – or being publicly mistaken about history.

Even where political incorrectness is not criminalised, there have been various movements to shut people up by getting them fired or put them out of business if they say something out of line.

Among the most infamous of these incidents in recent years was the resignation of Brendan Eich, then the chief executive of the open source software company Mozilla, in connection with his opposition to gay marriage.

In the same vein, the ex-footballer and sports presenter Gary Lineker has been lambasted by The Sun for expressing political opinions about the migrant crisis, the paper recruiting Tories to call for his resignation.

Some of this may merely be a matter of political tolerance. Just as some feel uncomfortable interacting with gays, blacks or women, others feel uncomfortable interacting with conservatives or progressives.

The point is that many of the arguments addressed above, be it about fake news, political correctness or silencing public figures, are fundamentally about political control.

While there may be principled and unprincipled reasons to censor things, much of the “ban this filth” mentality comes from a desire to win the debate by silencing the opponent.

Which is to say both conservatives and progressives are probably right on that media thing.

Image credit – James Murdoch Closes News of the World after Phone Hacking Scandal by Surian Soosay

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