Corbyn’s biggest vice? Media-bashing

Jeremy Corbyn: The Outsider, Vice’s new fly-on-the-wall documentary, follows the embattled Labour leader in the run-up to the May local elections, and through the anti-Semitism scandal that preceded it. Needless to say, it’s not a cheery watch.

The film begins with presenter and Corbyn-supporter Ben Ferguson talking about his hopes for a new politics within the Labour Party. In the opening scenes, as we follow Corbyn on his constituency rounds, the new leader is presented as approachable, authentic and humble. He’s greeted warmly by his supporters, one of whom slips in a kiss on the cheek.

In sharp contrast are Corbyn’s frosty gatherings in Westminster with his team, with gloomy strategist Seumas Milne always lurking in the background. Much of the media coverage of the film has focused on Milne’s revelation – or, more likely, paranoid delusion – that top Labour staffers are setting Corbyn up for defeat at PMQs by leaking his questions to the Tories. In truth, a palpable sense of defeatism already hangs over every meeting.

The gloom only spreads. Ferguson, who begins as a starry-eyed Corbynista, is disappointed with the local election results, and puts some tough questions to Corbyn over his handling of the anti-Semitism row. Even Corbyn’s events manager muses that the leader’s critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party should ‘let him fail on his own terms’.

In their despair, Corbyn and his team find a scapegoat: the media. First, there’s the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland. ‘He’s obsessed with me’, reckons Corbyn. Later on, it’s the BBC, who he thinks is ‘obsessed beyond belief’ with his leadership woes. Clearly, it’s an obsession that cuts both ways. 

Corbyn is right to say that political debate in the media is often ‘baseless and narrow’. It’s also true that the political and media establishment has closed ranks against him. As soon as he was named Labour leader, media types declared him ‘unelectable’, purely because he didn’t resemble the faceless Blairite and Cameroon non-entities in whom they see so much of themselves.

But Corbyn’s obsession with the media is just as myopic. At one point, Corbyn claims that the entire anti-Semitism row boils down to ‘disgusting behaviour by the media’. Every small victory is followed by the phrase ‘despite the media’. This speaks not only to a distrust of the media, but also a distrust of the people who consume it. The public are seen as passive receivers of messages, mediated by the newspapers and television. 

Corbyn’s obsession with the media fuels his team’s sense of despondency, with each public appearance followed by a frantic check to see what journalists have tweeted in response. All of this begs the question, who is Corbyn trying to engage? The public or the media?

Fraser Myers is a producer at WORLDbytes.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

comments powered by Disqus