What has happened to the media?

Brexit has brought the biases of allegedly impartial journalists to the fore.

Ben Cobley

Topics Brexit Politics UK

‘Boris Johnson will not abandon his culture war to secure Brexit’, ITV political editor Robert Peston tweeted on Tuesday as the government gave its response to the Supreme Court decision.

The idea that Boris Johnson is waging a culture war might raise a few eyebrows. There is a decent case for saying that he is a protagonist in one, however, largely against his own will. Witness the constant attacks from his opponents, who now routinely – and ludicrously – lambast him as far right, fascist, racist, misogynist, and as part of a criminal administration – all of it bound up with his support for Brexit.

Peston’s view rather plays off that narrative – suggesting as if those attacking Johnson are only responding to the war that he is waging.

Anyone active on political Twitter will surely be aware that this sort of editorialising, aligning with the standard progressive liberal-left line of the day, is common practice for Peston and many other senior political journalists. So is the relentless hype-mongering, with repeated breathless invocations about how ‘This is huge’, ‘This is big’, ‘Massive story’.

Twitter is not a great place to hide our political commitments, especially if we are tweeting immediately following highly charged, polarising events, as Peston and other senior reporters are. In these circumstances, our own biases are much more likely to come through than if we were taking a few hours to consider what to say and having it vetted by others who have standards of impartiality to uphold.

But the extent to which our major broadcast journalists and presenters are showing their colours nowadays is remarkable. This extends to issuing instructions on how people should respond to political events. Take this, from Lewis Goodall, political correspondent for Sky News and a former Labour Party activist, after the Supreme Court decision:

‘It’s far too easy to become inured and immune to massive news; but we shouldn’t. We should take a moment to step back and reflect that the PM advised the Queen to act unlawfully, to “change the fundamentals of our democracy” as the SC put it. I can’t think of a moment like it.’

Then we have the BBC 5Live, Newsnight and Woman’s Hour broadcaster Emma Barnett, who tweeted this about the same events:

‘Regardless of your political view – most regular people would expect there to be consequences if they had been found by the highest court in the land to have behaved unlawfully. At the very least – an apology to be issued.’

Here we have the common tactic of presenting one’s own view as a variant of knowledge: that it is how most regular people, of all political persuasions, would regard something. This would tend to suggest that you are not normal if you have a different interpretation of how Boris Johnson should respond to the Supreme Court decision against him.

How did we get to this point?

Obviously the medium of Twitter is a major factor, exposing the everyday biases of senior people in our society like never before. There is also the matter of journalists promoting themselves and their stories.

However, the Brexit wars have clearly been a major catalyst too: bringing out a rush of public commitment from broadcasters as from within other elite professions, almost all on the Remain side of course.

Progressive identity politics has played a major part in this as it has in the rest of the Brexit wars. Take, for example, another tweet from Peston in relation to the Supreme Court decision, referring to how, ‘A trio of extraordinary women have today changed the course of British politics in a fundamental way: Gina Miller, Joanna Cherry and Lady Hale. Wherever you stand on Brexit or Johnson, you’ve got to be impressed.’

Again, we have that element of instruction, of imperative: that we must be impressed by these women’s actions. But we also must gather our praise around the fact of them being women.

This is the politics of identity – and its power lies largely in how it has become established in our major institutions, like the media. Advocates have succeeded in presenting it as a moral necessity, as above politics, as apparently independent and beyond contest.

In this way, progressive identity politics has become a main route for advocacy to enter our broadcast media. And progressive identity politics is almost completely aligned against Brexit, waging that culture war with Boris Johnson as its primary target.

Ben Cobley is author of The Tribe: the Liberal-Left and the System of Diversity, published by Imprint Academic.

Picture by: Getty

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Amin Readh

26th September 2019 at 10:31 pm

Ah! It is Ben Cobley. Another one who decries ID politics whilst at the exact same time playing White ID politics. The number of these tits that gather here to post is amazing.

Janet Mozelewski

27th September 2019 at 11:29 am

And what ID politics do you play? Clearly you have a problem with tits. Now the question is…too big or too small?

Amin Readh

30th September 2019 at 2:42 am

Clearly LGBTQ+. Now how big is your penis?

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 6:37 pm

Reply to Jane 70 re: independent thought.
I think that people educated in the 60’s and 70’s were a bit of an exception to the rule. What tended to come before…at least in terms of state education….was largely learning by rote. Pupils were not expected to think and if you did you were ridiculed as a trouble maker. The learning by rote involved the three R’s, a fair dose of C of E religious education, and to respect authority and the ‘betters’.
With the chance to go to ‘the Grammar’ being open to all, and a grant system helping poorer student go on to further and higher education came a flowering of free thinking. We were taught to question, examine both sides of a debate, question the sources. Thinking outside the box was encouraged. Dangerous, wasn’t it? They soon put a stop to that. Indeed, I saw no evidence of those qualities being encouraged by the time my son was a student. We are, effectively, back to rote learning again. It tends to be called ‘Coursework’ but there it is.

Jane 70

27th September 2019 at 2:01 pm

How right you are Janet; my grammar school , A level and subsequent university experience as a mature student were challenging but worthwhile-even though the school was pretty awful and subsequently became a comprehensive.

I recall having a conversation with a young woman who was doing the equivalent to my degree -in terms of ultimate degree award-but with an entirely different and far less rigorous course structure.

Hers entailed modules, self assessment and few exams, whereas mine was rigorous: yearly exams, essays, practicals, end of term tests and talks which had to be given to fellow students on one’s selected subject.

Before the final degree exams we were required to submit a properly bound, annotated and self produced research project, which ran to many pages and which had to include all relevant references using the standard Harvard reference convention.

Exhausting but invaluable.

What saddens me is the lack of curiosity, the willingness to think the unthinkable and to use english grammar correctly.

You are so right: politically correct course work-aka-rote learning -has returned.

cliff resnick

26th September 2019 at 12:26 pm

twitter is all about self-love

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 12:33 pm

Exhibit ‘A’ being that jug-eared ex-footballer. If you work at the BBC and you are not ‘diverse’ in terms of skin colour, sexual preference or regional accent you absolutely HAVE to be firmly on the Remainer band-wagon to have any chance of keeping your job (as a stale pale male particularly so). So you have Chris Packham on Spring Watch playing the ‘aspergers’ and ‘depression’ card for all he is worth…while polishing his credentials as an eco-warrior. Its quite amusing to see them all scurrying around to find an identity that will save them their over-paid jobs.

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 12:22 pm

One of the key aspects to this is where the media is recruiting from. As an example, the University of Sussex proudly boasts that many of its media students go on to take jobs and internships at the BBC, the Guardian, and Brussels. It will not come as a surprise that the bias of the faculty at the university is pro-remain and pro-left. You can fill in the rest.
It is probably why I have read so many reviews of the BBC recently which complain about bias. Or more accurately the flaunting of bias. In fact it is presented as NOT biased because their opinion is the ‘correct’ one and any other viewpoint is morally wrong. It is also why so many people are now refusing to pay the license fee.

Jane 70

26th September 2019 at 12:58 pm

My niece graduated from Exeter in the summer, where Remain = the acceptable status quo.
Her entire social network comprised affluent privately educated kids and the academics in her faculty are all of the lib/ left persuasion.
She was incredulous when I explained my support for Brexit at a family gathering a couple of years ago, never having encountered such an infra dig opinion before.
Fortunately she was open minded enough to accept the legitimacy of support for Leave, but she exemplifies the youngsters with good connections who are now doing internships in the media, business, arts, politics and fashion worlds.

H McLean

26th September 2019 at 1:58 pm

To be honest finding a university that isn’t stridently ‘pro-remain and pro-left’ seems like an impossibility these days.

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 3:57 pm

Indeed so. Of course it is Tony Blair who is responsible for announcing the replacement of ‘education’ with edjucashun edjucashun edjucashun. The process was well under way long before that. My son did media studies at Staffs Uni. I met those responsible for delivering his course. They couldn’t check his grammar, spelling or structure but instead spent time ‘correcting’ his opinions. (It didn’t work) The senior lecturer was a go-to specialist expert on Political issues for the BBC.

Jane 70

26th September 2019 at 4:13 pm

True and independent thought is back in the long grass.
My niece chose to do a final year project on the role of women in the middle east: a puzzled silence met my suggestion that she might start with that pesky democracy Israel: not on the agenda.
She also showed me an essay which was replete with rogue apostrophes, not corrected by her tutor.

Steve Saint

26th September 2019 at 5:41 pm

All that you say may be correct, but the mainstream “news” media in this country is NOT guided from the bottom up.

I was rather impressed with Nick Boles demand from.scruitmy of government. I am all for that. I have long held the view that we need a Nuremberg style tribunal packed with prosecutors and judiciary selected with impeccable soveriegn nation state views.

Its should be given full access to all government records (and politucal party records too) going right back to the 1950s to see just just how deep the rot goes.

I suspect Nick, and quite a few other pro EU renegades, when he he takes the stand to defend himself might not be so keen on that scrutiny after all.

As a result of these investigations would be amazed if we didnt find that the model that our “news” media operate doesnt share very similar characteristics to the one employed by Goebbels.

Its 24/7 from many different outlets but saying more or less exactly the same thing. And I’m not a big believer in coincidences.

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 6:23 pm

Of course you have hit at the precise reason establishment remainers are so desperate to stop Brexit. With regime change (and that is what Brexit comes down to) comes a robust scrutiny of the one that went before. The present establishment have a lot to lose.

Jane 70

26th September 2019 at 12:18 pm

Reply to Chris Peacock; yes indeed,but didn’t they hate it? The papers are full of shouty headlines condemning the AG for his unusually candid words.

H McLean

26th September 2019 at 11:24 am

Journalists were never impartial. Go back 30-odd years and Spitting Image wese portraying Sun journalists as pigs, literally. In the pre-internet era the media bias was present even in the broadsheets and the BBC but they were more subtle about how they pushed opinions and narratives. The advent of intersectionality in the mid-2000s was the turning point and by, say, 2012, newspapers like the Guardian were going super all-in with identity politics ideology.

I can still vividly remember reading a piece on their website and realising with disbelief and utter disgust that the writer was openly pushing for people to view, think and behave in a certain way, and making it clear that not agreeing with her made you a bad person. It wasn’t long after that it became clear that, for example, when a story broke about racism then the writer would always be black or POC; or something overtly impacting women would always have a female writer. As if any other identity would lack legitimacy. It was the beginning of the end for me and I was soon banned for voicing my objections. Looking back I can’t believe I used to read the Guardian almost daily and considered it my primary news source.

Of course, Trump being elected signalled a major shift in media bias. Google, sitting on reserves of $300 billion and thinking they could do literally ANYTHING they wanted, realised that Trump ‘won’ the internet campaign for the 2016 election and decided to interfere, big time. And of course, Trump did win the online debate, because voters had full online access and – just as Trump does with his Twitter account – they bypassed the mainstream media to voice their displeasure with the two-sides-of-the-same-coin-it-doesn’t-matter-who-you-vote-for-you-still-get-screwed sh!t-show that was US politics.

The media bias began in earnest almost immediately but it wasn’t until the midterms last year that all pretence of neutral reportage was completely dropped. Just as with the anti-Brexit MPs, the subterfuge started mildly, where ‘Yes we fully support the will of the people but we NEED to get a “fair deal”‘ had a transatlantic counterpart of ‘Fake news from dodgy websites is unfairly misleading voters’ fully transmogrified within a couple of years to ‘Brexit must die’ and ‘Being Conservative makes you a Nazi’.

I think they want a war, to be honest. Liberalism leads to progressivism leads to socialism leads to all sorts of tyranny. And in saying that it’s important to note that I’m not even a conservative, I’m a filthy centrist.

Chris Peacock

26th September 2019 at 11:15 am

Reason 1001 why I cannot stand these pontifs of identity politics, you cannot go a day without hearing someone blathering on about ‘privilege’, yet these same gits, see nothing wrong with ‘money’ privilege when it comes to Gina Miller and the obvious wealth that affords them to challenge Brexit in a way us ordinary plebs cannot, we are powerless to do anything at all, nothing can we do about the speaker of the house breaking rues of impartiality and about him getting ‘creative’ with laws. I mean that is the epitome of PRIVILEGE, you absolute swines, roll on a General Election.
On a positive note, no one outside their bubble has be persuaded to join their cult, it must be so infuriating for them.
Andrew Neil remains the gold standard, watching his show last night, he literally just reported what has happened over the past few days, on all sides, it was almost troll-like in his delivery, he ‘gets’ what is happening, and knows he has to be so careful at the BBC. I thought it was brilliant

Michael Lynch

26th September 2019 at 10:24 pm

Neil has a wise old head. His situation reminds me of the writers and commentators during the Stalinist era. They adopted a technique employed by Russian play-writers of 19th C; that of the double meaning. Bulgakov was a notable practitioner; his satirical ‘The Heart of a Dog’ is a great example. Ironically, Stalin liked him even though he banned a lot of his stuff and so he survived the endless purges. Stalin enjoyed his work figuring that the vast majority of Plebs wouldn’t get the coded criticisms within the writing anyhow. He was wrong however, it was the so called intellectuals of the Party Elite who didn’t get it (probably a combination of fear and indoctrination). The Plebs understood it fine, however!

Steve Clothier

26th September 2019 at 9:21 am

Its all right. Really. We have the “independently edited” Guardian to fall back. Whatever that means. Surely!

Philip Humphrey

26th September 2019 at 8:51 am

I’m just listening to BBC Radio 4 today program, and the liberal bias is in nearly everything. These journalists live in a liberal/leftist bubble and they just assume that is the norm. They really have no idea. It’s even worse since John Humphrys left. He had his faults and his biases, but at least he was intelligent and could think outside the liberal box.

John Millson

26th September 2019 at 8:34 am

Self-promoting, idiosyncratic opinionists aren’t new – just much more output of course. Most people know who they are and either avoid or stay with. People top up with Opinion from someone they trust.
Re the Prorogation ruling, the Pestons and Barnetts would be as equally excited had it been Comrade Corbyn attempting to shut down Parliament.

adrian lord

26th September 2019 at 7:17 am

Beth Rigby on Sky News itself last night, let alone on twitter, was absolutely clear about her own opinion.

Michael Lynch

26th September 2019 at 10:29 pm

I find her so tedious. She can’t pronounce her ‘ings’ and it drives me insane to listen to her. How she managed to become Political Editor is beyond me.

A Game

26th September 2019 at 5:00 am

I watched the press preview (this morning AEST)… last night UK?… with some domineering boor from the Daily Mirror. I’m not familiar with its efforts, its front page, however, ran hard on “Evil Boris, poor females, Jo Cox”. Right, they’re toeing that narrative dutifully. Then the chat heats up. Turns out the boor is an ardent, aggressive Remainer. (You know the type, can’t bear to let a person disagree with them for longer than half a sentence before they MUST leap in and set the record straight.)
Then they got to the cover of… can’t remember which paper, but it was a pro-Boris front page… he starts sneering about how they’re just “pro Brexit”, shaking his dead, dismissive of them.
Huh? Got a lack of self awareness at all? Maybe?
Pro Remain journalism masquerading as facts based journalism but wrapped in an EU flag, cause that’s still objective, is okay.
The Burley woman. She let that showboating old chav Sheersh*t walk us through a break down of his speech, moment for moment… on and on, cause it was fascinating enough to warrant a post performance analysis (not)and finally fought to ask a question…
Peter Bone on, suddenly its waspish time. He pinned her about whether Boris is a liar (she turns it into a fact that he lied to the queen on an hour to hour basis… meh.) and she backed down. But completely different person. Willfully twisting known facts to suit bashing Boney.
You wonder… are you this thick or are you this jaundiced?
Back to the Daily Mirror Moron… he likes to sit us down for story time so he can rewrite history, you know… what rejecting May’s WA in the Commons was about. (Nothing to do with it being a massive white flag of defeat being waved.)
You just wonder, over and over… deliberate or they are this bad at their jobs?

Watching Parliament then seeing the “breakdown” of what’s happened, you definitely see the fact mincer has been on overdrive. And a big component is definitely, what you are to think about the event/information.

Philip Humphrey

26th September 2019 at 8:59 am

Would that be Kevin Maguire from the Daily Mirror? He appears regularly on Sky New’s Press Preview. I don’t like him either.

Ven Oods

26th September 2019 at 11:23 am

The guy he appears with is no better. It’s like ant’n’dec without the substance problems.

Jane 70

26th September 2019 at 4:17 am

A Game

26th September 2019 at 5:14 am

Yeah, its cool as reading the legal purists swinging into action. They are horrified and see it as the power grab that it is. Strange that the Leave plebs got it so right, straight away without a letter of law to their names.
Blind Freddy can see its a stitch up, steered by a an EU loving ideology.
Good read. The Daily Mail also had an Oxford Law Prof lay out a very clear, simple case for why its wrong. It matches this one, obviously.
The biggest point and thus the biggest flaw is how both leagles go straight to the heart of the Supreme Court’s self aggrandisement.
The parliament didn’t need rescuing. They could have passed a no confidence motion or voted for an election or used a backbencher statute. They were not helpless in the face of this fascistic executive, poor things, stealing their voice, their rights. They owned the tools to emancipate themselves at any time.

Its a miserable experience reading people break it all down. We all know its a travesty. Now we REALLY know how much of a travesty. Another reason for a GE. That supreme court needs going after.

Jane 70

26th September 2019 at 10:20 am

And now they’re all wallowing in their default mode of carefully constructed outrage.

The Attorney general has been lambasted by the usual suspects for his incendiary and truthful speech yesterday,and so it goes on.

This lot won’t rest until the PM, his cabinet ,the BP and Leave supporters are in the stocks-whether literally or metaphorically.

I’m so sick of this.

Chris Peacock

26th September 2019 at 11:18 am

Whether people like it or not, the AG spoke as though he was directly channeling the thoughts of the electorate, pundits and outrage seekers can live in denial if they want, makes no odds.

Steve Gray

26th September 2019 at 2:34 am

I would suggest that the root cause of the problem with the media is that they want, or need, to ‘be someone’ in the politcal landscape.

This means that they have to live in that political landscape : set up shop in the ‘Westminster Village’, learn its ways, drink its wine, talk its talk.

Other journalists are, ultimately, rivals – behind backs, such-and-such is too light-weight ; someone else, too sensationalist ; another, too pally with their sources. But, ultimately, it’s all just variations on the same, common, theme.

They inhabit a bubble of news and PR, in which everyone they talk to : journalist, think-tanker, politician, all their mates and their enemies, has a living to make out of this – a message to push, an agenda to serve.

The viewing electorate aren’t really involved. These folk are just talking to each other – they get to do it in print or on tv because they’re Someone Important. Why have a shitty little tweet, when you can have a big tv show?

Janet Mozelewski

27th September 2019 at 11:38 am

Very true. It is, of course, why they have been getting things so horribly wrong when those pesky proles are given a vote at the ballot box.
I remember how aghast the Twittersphere was when UKIP got so many votes in the previous EU elections. ‘But this wrong?’ they wailed in unison. ‘Everyone on twitter say so! The result is wrong!’
They were not implying a miscount or actual mistake. What they were saying was that it was the duty of the electorate to comply with the Twitter consensus.
We have seen that phenomenon repeated since on a regular basis and still the cry is the same. Outrage, disbelief that their bubble has burst and the consensus they lorded over (and imposed on pain of ridicule) was not adhered to be the great unwashed outside. It was natural progression of that idea to put the idea that the uncompliant voters who didn’t stay on message should have their vote ignored, be disenfranchised or die.

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