Oz Blog News Commentary

Bring On the Clowns

March 28, 2019 - 20:47 -- Admin

By selecting obnoxious twerps as its contributors, the media is changing the character of the nation

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian,
23rd March 2019

If our politics is becoming less rational,
crueller and more divisive, this rule of public life is partly to blame: the
more disgracefully you behave, the bigger the platform the media will give you.
If you are caught lying, cheating, boasting or behaving like an idiot, you’ll
be flooded with invitations to appear on current affairs programmes. If you
play straight, don’t expect the phone to ring.

In an age of 24-hour news, declining ratings
and intense competition, the commodity in greatest demand is noise. Never mind
the content, never mind the facts: all that now counts is impact. A
loud-mouthed buffoon, already the object of public outrage, is a far more
bankable asset than someone who knows what they’re talking about. So the
biggest platforms are populated by blusterers and braggarts. The media is the
mirror in which we see ourselves. With every glance, our self-image subtly

When the BBC launched its new Scotland channel
recently, someone had the bright idea of asking Mark Meechan – who calls
himself Count Dankula – to appear on two of its discussion programmes. His sole
claim to fame is being fined for circulating a video showing how he had trained
his girlfriend’s dog to raise its paw in a Nazi salute when he shouted “Sieg
Heil” and “Gas the Jews”. The episodes had to be ditched
after a storm of complaints
. This could be seen as an embarrassment
for the BBC. Or it could be seen as a triumph, as the channel attracted massive
publicity a few days after its launch.

The best thing to have happened to the career
of William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose magazine, was the scandal he caused when he
sent a highly unprofessional, juvenile email to a freelance journalist, Selene
Nelson, who was pitching an article on vegan food. “How about a series on
killing vegans, one by one. Ways to trap them? How to interrogate them
properly? Expose their hypocrisy? Force-feed them meat?”, he asked her. He
was obliged to resign. As a result of the furore, he was snapped up
by the Telegraph
as their new food critic, with a front-page
launch and expensive publicity shoot.

In June last year, the scandal merchant Isabel
Oakeshott was
for withholding a cache of emails detailing
Arron Banks’s multiple meetings with Russian officials, that might have been of
interest to the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the financing of the
Brexit campaign. During the following days she was invited
onto Question Time
and other outlets, platforms she used to
extol the virtues of Brexit. By contrast, the journalist who exposed her,
Carole Cadwalladr, has been largely frozen out by the BBC. This is not the
first time that Oakeshott appears to have been rewarded for questionable
behaviour. Following the outrage caused by her unevidenced (and almost
certainly untrue
) claim that David Cameron put his penis in a
dead pig’s mouth, Paul Dacre, the then editor of the Daily Mail, promoted
to political editor-at-large.

The Conservative MP Mark François became hot
media property the moment he made a
complete ass of himself
on BBC News. He ripped up a letter from the
German-born head of Airbus that warned about the consequences of Brexit, while
announcing “My father, Reginald Francois, was a D Day veteran. He never
submitted to bullying by any German and neither will his son”. Now he’s all over
the BBC

In the US, the phenomenon is more advanced. G
Gordon Liddy served 51 months in prison as a result of his role in the
Watergate conspiracy, organising the burglary of the Democratic National
committee headquarters. When he was released, he used his notoriety to launch a
lucrative and enjoyable career. He became the host of a
radio show syndicated to 160 channels, and a regular
guest on current affairs programmes. Oliver North, who came to public attention
for his leading role in the Iran-Contra scandal, also landed a syndicated radio
programme, as well as a newspaper column, and was
employed by Fox as a television show host and
regular commentator. Similarly, Darren Grimes, in the UK, is widely known only
for the
£20,000 fine
he received for his activities during the
Brexit campaign. Now he’s being used by
as a pundit.

The most revolting bigots, such as Tucker
and Donald Trump, built their public profiles
on the media platforms they were given by attacking women, people of colour and
vulnerable minorities. Trump leveraged his notoriety all the way to the White
House. Boris Johnson is taking the same track, using carefully-calibrated
outrage to keep himself in the public eye.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the unscrupulous,
duplicitous and preposterous are brought to the fore, as programme makers seek
to generate noise. Malicious clowns are invited to discuss issues of the utmost
complexity. Ludicrous twerps are sought out and lionised. The BBC used its
current affairs programmes to turn Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg into
reality TV stars, and now they have the nation in their hands.

My hope is that eventually the tide will turn. People will become so sick of the charlatans and exhibitionists who crowd the airwaves that the BBC and other media will be forced to reconsider. Maybe, one day, expertise in complex matters will again be valued. But while we wait for a resurgence of sense in public life, the buffoons who have become the voices of the nation drive us towards a no-deal Brexit and a host of other disasters.