Posted: 16 Sep 2014 12:27 PM PDT
How the media shafted the people of Scotland.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 17th September 2014
Perhaps the most arresting fact about the Scottish referendum is this: that there is no newspaper – local, regional or national, English or Scottish – which supports independence except the Sunday Herald. The Scots who will vote yes have been almost without representation in the media.
There is nothing unusual about this. Change in any direction except further over the brink of market fundamentalism and planetary destruction requires the defiance of almost the entire battery of salaried opinion. What distinguishes the independence campaign is that it has continued to prosper despite this assault.
In the coverage of the referendum we see most of the pathologies of the corporate media. Here, for example, you will find the unfounded generalisations with which less enlightened souls are characterised. In the Spectator, Simon Heffer mainatains that “addicted to welfare … Scots embraced the something for nothing society”, objecting to the poll tax “because many of them felt that paying taxes ought to be the responsibility of someone else.”(1)
Here is the condescension with which the dominant classes have always treated those they regard as inferior: their serfs, the poor, the Irish, Africans, anyone with whom they disagree. “What spoilt, selfish, childlike fools those Scots are … They simply don’t have a clue how lucky they are,” sneered Melanie Reid in the Times(2). Here is the chronic inability to distinguish between a cause and a person: the referendum is widely portrayed as a vote about Alex Salmond, who is then monstered beyond recognition (a Telegraph leader last week compared him to Robert Mugabe(3)).
The problem with the media is exemplified by Dominic Lawson’s column for the Daily Mail last week(4). He began with Scotland, comparing the “threat” of independence with the threat presented by Hitler (the article was helpfully illustrated with a picture of the Fuhrer, unaccompanied in this case by the Mail’s former proprietor). Then he turned to the momentous issue of how he almost said something wrong about David Attenborough, which was narrowly averted because “as it happens, last weekend we had staying with us another of the BBC’s great figures, its world affairs editor John Simpson”, who happily corrected Lawson’s mistake. This was just as well because “the next day I went to the Royal Albert Hall as one of a small number of guests invited by the Proms director for that night’s performance. And who should I see as soon as I entered the little room set aside for our group’s pre-concert drinks? Sir David Attenborough.”
Those who are supposed to hold power to account live in a rarified, self-referential world of power, circulating among people as exalted as themselves, the “small number of guests” who receive the most charming invitations. That a senior journalist at the BBC should be the house guest of a columnist for the Daily Mail surprises me not one iota.
In June the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston complained that BBC news “is completely obsessed by the agenda set by newspapers … If we think the Mail and Telegraph will lead with this, we should. It’s part of the culture.”(5) This might help to explain why the BBC has attracted so many complaints of bias in favour of the No campaign(6,7).
Living within their tiny circle of light, most senior journalists seem unable to comprehend a desire for change. If they notice it at all, they perceive it as a mortal threat: comparable perhaps to Hitler. They know as little of the lives of the 64 million inhabiting the outer darkness as they do of the Andaman islanders. Yet, lecturing the poor from under the wisteria, they claim to speak for the nation.
As John Harris reports in the Guardian, both north and south of the border “politics as usual suddenly seems so lost as to look completely absurd.”(8) But to those within the circle, politics still begins and ends in Westminster. The opinions of no one beyond the gilded thousand with whom they associate are worthy of notice. Throughout the years I’ve spent working with protest movements and trying to bring neglected issues to light, one consistent theme has emerged: with a few notable exceptions, journalists are always among the last to twig that things have changed. It’s no wonder that the Scottish opinion polls took them by surprise.
One of the roles of the Guardian, which has no proprietor, is to represent the unrepresented – and it often does so to great effect. On Scottish independence I believe we have fallen short. Our leader on Saturday used the frames constructed by the rest of the press, inflating a couple of incidents into a “habit” by yes campaigners of “attacking the messenger and ignoring the message”, judging the long-term future of the nation by current SNP policy, confusing self-determination with nationalism(9).
If Westminster is locked into a paralysing neoliberal consensus it is partly because the corporate media, owned and staffed by its beneficiaries, demands it. Any party that challenges this worldview is ruthlessly disciplined. Any party that more noisily promotes corporate power is lauded and championed. UKIP, though it claims to be kicking against the establishment, owes much of its success to the corporate press.
For a moment, Rupert Murdoch appeared ready to offer one of his Faustian bargains to the Scottish National Party: my papers for your soul(10). That offer now seems to have been withdrawn, as he has decided that Salmond’s SNP is “not talking about independence, but more welfarism, expensive greenery, etc and passing sovereignty to Brussels”(11) and that it “must change course to prosper if he wins.”(12) It’s not an observation, it’s a warning: if you win independence and pursue this agenda, my newspapers will destroy you.
Despite the rise of the social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist. It is one chamber of the corrupt heart of Britain, pumping fear, misinformation and hatred around the body politic.
That so many Scots, lambasted from all quarters as fools, frauds and ingrates, have refused to be bullied is itself a political triumph. If they vote for independence, they will do so in defiance not only of the Westminster consensus, but also of its enforcers: the detached, complacent people who claim to speak on their behalf.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Economist - the famed international magazine that is an inveterate cheerleader for global capitalism and the concept of neoliberal "free markets" - was recently forced by public pressure to remove a book review that posited that slavery was not all bad. Ironically, it ended up apologizing for the unsigned piece (review columns are normally not attributed in The Economist), yet paradoxically including a copy of the original repugnant review in its explanation of why it was no longer posting it.
The target of the review was the book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist, an associate professor at Cornell University.
The Economist asserted:
Mr. Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.
Baptist offered a lacerating response in a September 7 commentary in Politico:
In the last couple of decades, the Economist and its suspender-wearing core readers have usually been reliable allies of market fundamentalism—the idea that everything would be better if measured first and last by its efficiency at producing profit. I, on the other hand, argue in the book that U.S. cotton slavery created—and still taints—the modern capitalist economy which the Economist sometimes seems to prescribe as the cure for all ills. I’d like to think we all agree that slavery was evil. If slavery was profitable—and it was—then it creates an unforgiving paradox for the moral authority of markets—and market fundamentalists. What else, today, might be immoral and yet profitable?
It is not the first time that the noted publication has shown a soft side for slavery. Greg Grandin, a professor at New York University, wrote scornfully in The Nation on September 9:
So a pattern is detected.... In the 1860s, The Economist stood nearly alone among liberal opinion in Britain in supporting the Confederacy against the Union, all in the name of access to cheap Southern "Blood Cotton" (ironically, the title of the Baptist review) and fear of higher tariffs if the North triumphed. "The Economist was unusual," writes an historian of English public opinion at the time; "Other journals still regarded slavery as a greater evil than restrictive trade practices."
Grandin understandably expresses disdain for The Economist's claim of a need for "balance" in understanding slavery: "The review itself was written in that smarmy style that makes US corporate managers and hedge funders swoon, identified some time ago by James Fallows as 'colonial cringe.'"
In fact, Grandin's book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, released earlier this year was also criticized by The Economist for being too "one-sided." The Empire of Necessity recounts the horrific slave trade and how US Northerners - not just Southerners - economically benefitted from the iniquitous system. Grandin sardonically noted:
Slavery might not be black or white, but bravery and morality apparently are: Whites possess those qualities, a possession that merits historical consideration; blacks don’t, at least according to The Economist.
The Economist, as Baptist noted, appears to have a problem reconciling the profitability of slavery as a trade and production system (primarily of cotton) with its moral debasement. One of the magazine's criticisms of Baptist's book was that it didn't acknowledge that the increase in southern cotton output prior to the war could have been attributed to plantation owners treating their slaves better (although this appears to be a theory limited to The Economist and Southern revisionists). This, The Economist proposed, could have been done by making the field slaves "fitter" and "stronger," as if they were livestock.
In its contemporary hedging on slavery, The Economist reflects the inherent conflict in advocating for a free market position in which the universal rights of people are secondary to the sacrosanct rights of property and asset consolidation. That position is reflected in the publication's support of the Confederacy during the Civil War - as well as its critique of books published in 2014 that expose the facts behind the horrifying industry of enslaving people for profit.