A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE GUARDIAN
The Guardian newspaper is a limited company and has been since 2008 when the Scott Trust was wound up and replaced by The Scott Trust Ltd, which appoints a board comprised of bankers, management consultants, venture capitalists and other classic left-wingers. The paper itself is written nearly exclusively by elite-educated members of the upper middle class. The viewpoint you would expect to come from this privileged set-up is what you do get. 1
Murray McDonald, in his Hidden History of the Guardian, explains that The Guardian was launched to undermine working-class leaders of the early 19th century reform movement (whose members were massacred at Peterloo), and during its 150 year history has denounced Ireland’s freedom fighters, Women Suffragettes, Abraham Lincoln’s campaign to end slavery, third world nationalism and pretty much any kind of genuine independence from the system. It supported Tony Blair, even when the worst of his crimes were known and continues to give him uncritical space, it regularly presents official pronouncements as news, regularly disguises adverts for its corporate sponsors as news and regularly finds time to pour bile on Jeremy Corbyn, Julian Assange, Media Lens and Noam Chomsky, who was so appalled by Emma Brocke’s infamous and outrageous distortions he forced them to print a long retraction.
In short, The Guardian is far to the right — just read a few articles by Nick Cohen, Jonathan Freedland or Michael White (with whom I had some correspondence with a few years ago about thought-control in his paper) if you doubt where on the actual political spectrum the UK’s ‘leading left-liberal newspaper’ is situated — although they do employ two journalists who are slightly to the left of the rest, namely Owen Jones and George Monbiot. These two (there was a third, Seumas Milne*) appear in order to pull the actual left into The Guardian’s adverts for tech products and spa treatments and to give the paper the appearance of range that it must have to perform its function. Jones and Monbiot never venture beyond the unspoken limits of acceptable corporate thought, never seriously criticise the media (except to take pot shots at The Mail, Murdoch or CNN) and never support any genuine critics of the system.
Why is this? Clearly Jones and Monbiot have some kind of conscience. Yet, somehow, this conscience never seems to get them in trouble at work. Jones offered a clue to this mystery in a public tweet; on discovering who his new boss was to be:-
Incredible news that @KathViner is new Guardian editor! Nearly whooped in the quiet carriage. That’s how excited I am.
I once had a twitter exchange with Jones (on an old account of mine, now deleted) which he began by defending his elite education, prominent connections and corporate employment as ‘socialist’ and concluded by mocking the fact that I had fewer followers than he does. This juvenile snidery is a typical response of Jones — and Suzanne Moore, Hadley Freeman and co. — when faced with criticism from the actual left, no matter how courteous and reasonable.
Jones’ shabby opportunism, his adroit capacity to regularly offer staunch endorsement of the mainstream narrative from what he calls ‘the left,’ his chumming up with Alastair Campbell, his refusal to condemn those who supported military intervention in Libya, his underhand support for the state of Israel — indeed his general underhandedness — are, along with the astoundingly right-wing beliefs of the blatantly imperialist Paul ‘Russia wants to destroy our democracy’ Mason, well documented here (although, nota bene; I do not endorse the communistic bent of this article).
I also had a brief email exchange with Monbiot not so long ago. I asked him why he never criticised the systemic bias of the Guardian, and he replied:
There’s a whole bunch of us working independently for the Guardian (I go into the building once or twice a year) who never get a steer from anyone about what we should be writing and what line we should take. I have used the Guardian as a platform for continued attacks on corporate power and the system of totalitarian capitalism.
Monbiot has made one tame request to have fossil fuel ads removed from his paper, quickly forgotten. He complains about vested interests controlling right-wing think-tanks, media outlets and so on, yet is curiously silent about Shell sponsoring branded content in the Guardian or the vast editorial-shaping advertising revenue it receives from HSBC, or about this kind of thing, or about the indirect effect elite ownership has on his paper, or about the indirect effect earning £67,000 a year has on his journalism. He refuses to understand that he doesn’t need to ‘get a steer from anyone’ because only those who can be trusted not to go near genuinely system-threatening subjects will get a prominent column in a national newspaper, or succeed in any branch of the institutional world (‘you say what you like because they like what you say’, explained here).
Monbiot and Jones’ absence of integrity then is not so much in what they say (e.g. Monbiot’s shameful smearing of just about every genuine voice on the actual left), but in what they don’t say. On criticism of the ‘left-liberal’ end of the media spectrum, on opposition to criticism of the genuine left (particularly from their own paper), on the propaganda model, the Overton Window and Huxleyan thought-control, on Clinton and Obama (socialist Jones actually endorsed Clinton), on the inherently destructive nature of professionalism, on their own paper maligning Jeremy Corbyn, Nafeez Ahmed and Julian Assange, on the ruinous horror of wage-slavery, on the denial of death, on the reality of the coming collapse, on the inherently reality-warping nature of market-driven journalism — nothing, or next to.
The reason I pick out Jones and Monbiot from their ‘mainstream’ colleagues is not just that they are corporate men (see edit, below), but for the same reason I pick out The Guardian from its ‘mainstream’ rivals. The Guardian represents the limit of sanity within the slit-wide media spectrum and Jones and Monbiot represent the same limit within The Guardian spectrum; and it is that limit which must be broken if actual sanity is to prevail. It’s why I often visit their site — not to read their articles on why it’s a good idea to obliterate Libya or a bad idea to wee in the shower or the difficulties of living in a $7000 a month New York apartment — but to do my best, in the comments, to expose this insane limit, not just in the news, but throughout the paper.
Because the fundamental ‘limits of sanity’ in the Guardian (and the BBC, the Independent, Washington Post, Le Monde and so on) are not just in its reports on politics, but in its reviews of art-exhibitions, teevee shows and video games, in its comments on fashion and literature, in its opinion pieces on feminism and mental health and in its extraordinarily vapid reflections on living and loving. It is here that you see The Official World, in all its colourless banality. To be sure the distortion of political or historical truth in the news section is horrific and noteworthy, but the distortions of artistic and psychological truth in the ‘arts and lifestyle’ sections actually go far deeper than politics; normalising, as they do, ego, personality, virtual reality and an entire constellation of foundational myths concerning ‘gender equality’, ‘mental illness’, language, artistic truth, sex, love and pornography.
I’ll be addressing all these things in due course, but I’ll finish with some of my comments in ‘comment is free’…2
About forty or fifty years ago, around the same time as women, ‘people of colour’, the disabled, members of the ‘LBGTQ’ community and so on began to gain important social and ethical advances, the middle and upper classes realised, with great moral-delight, that the previously excluded could be put to professional work, in upper management, and that ideological conformity is far more important than racial or sexual equality anyway. Totalitarian corporate organisations and media outlets could then proudly proclaim themselves to be feminist, pro-gay, equal-rights and so-on, coating themselves in a lovely veneer of equality and open-mindedness and appeal to the ‘left-liberal demographic’, while pursuing precisely the same corporate-establishment goals as before – perpetually expand, honour corporate clients and profits above all else, kow-tow to upper and middle-class groupthink, deprive ordinary people of their intellectual, social and aesthetic autonomy in the name of ‘professional’ care, police the eradicated commons and so on.
In other words institutions, corporations and elite-run organisations (like the Guardian) use race, gender, civil-rights and so on as a smokescreen for systemic totalitaria, which is what all feminist viewpoints and all LGBT articles in the ‘mainstream’ end up promoting.
On Video Games
I’m looking forward to ‘Unreality 7’, the latest VR immersion suite from Ersatz. Unlike the games listed in the video game section of the newspaper it doesn’t hide from its status as a narcotic and actively pumps your veins with neurotransmitters, stimulants and personality-deforming hallucinogens. Of course it still involves sitting, sense-dimmed and immobile in a dark room, communicating through the mediation of a vast corporate machine, using crude digitised imagery and even cruder appeals to fear and desire in order to move the deathless narrative along, but this is no problem for me as I live an entirely mediated life of subservience to enormous mechanisms and systems beyond my power to meaningfully change, with an indirect relationship with my fellow dependants, motivated by nothing finer than a need to acquire credits and avoid crude monsters in my ever more meaningless dreamlife.
Thank God for all this money spent on ‘defence’. I mean, if we weren’t so well ‘defended’ we might all be living in a kind of prison, under constant surveillance, having to obey arbitrary orders from unaccountable organisations that control the minutest details of our lives. Everything we do might be subordinated to the overarching objective of making a profit and protecting those who benefit from a system that leaves everyone else living atomised, alone and in territory owned by others. Dissent might be severely punished or simply not have the opportunity to be heard, as freedom of the press would be entirely limited to those that own one.
And while we’re on the subject, thank God we defeated those bad old Nazis, eh? Because if we hadn’t we might be living in a society built on slave labour, using resources stolen from obliterated vassal states, constantly under surveillance and blaming all our problems on immigrants.
On ‘What the NHS needs’
What the NHS needs is this: more managers, more paperwork, less contact with patients, the front line staff to be ignored more often, more bullying by people who reached their position through calumny, nepotism and greasing up, loads more policies, more advertising, more meetings, more closures, particularly of smaller day hospitals and units, more centralisation, more technology, higher registration fees for nurses, fewer nurses (by cutting staff and cutting bursaries), more power to consultants, and much much more change.
What the NHS really needs – as all public-owned services have needed in the past – is to be completely bollocksed up so that privatisation can be justified on the grounds that the system as it is, is ‘inefficient.’
The soldier thinks he is defending people, the doctor thinks he is saving lives, the teacher thinks he is educating his students and the manager thinks he is leading his people to success. What people think about their jobs is not the same as what they actually do in them. What is the advertiser actually doing when he asks himself ‘what will catch their attention?’ or ‘what words should I use?’ or ‘what image would be most appropriate here?’ In that moment he is not looking for a way to ‘encourage people to buy one product instead of another’ (as the article suggests), he is looking for a way to excite their interest, move them emotionally and touch some kind of urge, instinct or reality inside them. People are interested in security, sex, love, truth, quality, beauty, power, nature, union and passion, and so the advertiser uses these words and images. Why? to sell a product. The result is that these words and images become cheapened, their meaning hollowed out and people cease to believe they refer to anything meaningful, which makes them frustrated and dissatisfied.
On Empathy and Caring
Empathy is routinely confused for caring. Women are regularly determined to be more empathic than men and adults more empathic than children. This is true, but what is overlooked is that men and women, and adults and children, tend to care about different things. Women, for example, tend to care more for real things (children, animals, clothes, bedrooms, bodies) and men tend to care more for unreal things (chord patterns, maps, archetypical plots, circuit diagrams, risky futures), and this has nothing to do with empathy, quality or morality; it is possible (indeed very common) to selfishly care.
It is also possible to get exhausted caring; the so called ‘compassion fatigue’ of people who spend a great deal of time around pain and suffering, while empathy, being a natural state, never runs out (see Matthieu Ricard, Altruism, although Ricard calls empathy caring and compassion empathy).
Empathy is not a value or an interest, but an experience of unself—childlike immersion in what I am not—of the quality-of-suchness in the morning light, of the hum and hue and tone of a friend’s gesture, of the deep, inviting vibration of this cup (and not that one), of the ineffable character that makes one performance electric and another flat, or of what it is to be a cow; all equally available to men, women and children. There could be no great works of art without this me-less experience, no miraculous communion between parents and infants, no heart-rending offers of help from toddlers, and no self-detonating mutual-merge during love-making (you, me and the centre of the universe), but for selves to become soft enough to feel what they are not, they either have to be raised in a room of liquid vibe or, more often than not, pummelled by the horrors of life, death, loss, so-called ‘mental illness’ and profound sorrow, into literal tenderness.
This pummelling helps explain why the poorer classes, who are routinely subject to self-softening pressures (physical work, reliance on others, uncertainty, discomfort, etc.), along with the disabled, tend to be more empathic than the middle class and elites. See Michael Kraus et al, Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy, Gary Sherman et al., Perceiving Others’ Feelings: The Importance of Personality and Social Structure, and Paul Piffa et al., Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior.
On the Media
Imagine if the news section of The Guardian was written by genuine journalists and academics (like John Pilger, Mark Curtis, David Graeber and Jonathan Cook). Imagine if the director general of the BBC was Ken Loach (and our generation’s Mike Leighs, Dennis Potters and Alan Bleasedales worked there). Imagine if actors who could express artistic truth were identified and supported (rather than, for example, tall, confident elites with deep voices). Imagine if newspaper columns were written by philosophers, comedians and essayists who actually had something to say. Imagine if genuine artistic potential was detected, encouraged and was given complete artistic freedom to express itself. Imagine if great artists had the same resources and access to public space as advertisers. Imagine if we had an independent media — independent not just of the market, but of the mediocre ego which fuels it.
It could happen in a heartbeat. The media is the weakest link in the entire system and the balsa-wood foundation upon which all the others gain and maintain their legitimacy. Snap the supports of the media, and the whole pyramid of evil falls.
This article explains pretty much all you need to know about the Guardian and Israel. It also includes a good outline of the Guadian’s attacks on grassroots activism and the Stop the War movement.
MONBIOT EDIT 1 (12th March): This article spread pretty far. A few people were unhappy with my criticism of Monbiot. His principled truth-telling only ever goes so far; the limits are as clear and bounded as those of the system itself. His belief in civilised middle-class institutions, particularly the one he belongs to, the middle-class ‘liberal’ press, is an invisible screen surrounding his entire output. He doesn’t believe that the propaganda model applies to The Guardian, for example (like Jones — who actually believes his presence at the Guardian refutes it!) and he never highlights his paper’s part in the system (compare Monbiot’s non-existent defence of Corbyn against The Guardian with Ken Loach’s — which, incidentally, demonstrates that it is just about possible to appear in The Guardian and keep your integrity intact). There are criticisms, but tame and focused on error (as criticisms of ‘our guys’ normally are) not on systemic bias.
A few days after I posted this essay, The Guardian published an extraordinary editorial praising, of all people, George W. Bush! What was Monbiot’s response? The Guardian offers a range of views (he’s actually praising their diversity) and I disagree with their line. That’s the best he could do apparently (nothing from any of his colleagues). In the ensuing twitter debate with Media Lens he deflected attention away from his astonishing subservience by bringing up the ‘genocide denial’ of Ed Herman3 and finished by accusing Chomsky, Pilger and Media Lens of groupthink. That George Monbiot for ya.
MONBIOT EDIT 2 (4th May): Monbiot is now using Syria as a pretext to discredit those on the genuine left. The issue here is not that he is right about who is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Idlib earlier this month (although it seems, given that weapons experts such as Postol, Blix and Ritter all disagree with him, pretty unlikely), but that he is automatically coming down on the side of the official narrative. See Jonathan Cook’s summary of the situation here and here, and Media Lens’ response to Monbiot’s outrageous — although now entirely predictable — support of the establishment here.
FINAL EDIT: THE GUARDIAN AND THE ELECTION (18th June): One last comment before I stop updating this post. I’ve mentioned Jeremy Corbyn a few times above because, while I am far to the left of him, he represents a genuine alternative to neo-liberalism and, even more extraordinarily for a mainstream Western politician, is clearly a human being. No surprise then that, since his astonishingly unlikely election to the leadership of the Labour party, the Guardian has poured non-stop bile on him; article after article after article despairing over his ‘destroying’ the Labour party, criticising his cowardice, his unrealistic plans, his unelectable suit, his socialist footwear… on and on and on it has gone, with Jones and Monbiot offering, at best, the faintest, gentlest support imaginable, but more often than not this kind of thing.
Then the election was called, Corbyn gained direct access to the media and his ratings began to rise, so much so that the week before the election he and May were more or less level in the polls. The Guardian’s reaction? Why, they all came out for Corbyn of course. No mention that just a few weeks before he was the red devil. Nope, he’s our man now. Jones was singing his praises, Monbiot was applauding, Lucy-Cosslett came out of the closet; even ultra-Zionist Jonathan Freedland and Blair groupie Polly Toynbee were half-heartedly waving their little Corbyn flags (Nick Cohen and Michael White didn’t get in on the act, but they were curiously hesitant about upturning their weekly bucket of Corbyn scorn).
Weird, no? And now, after the election, in which Corbyn successfully ‘overturned all expectations’ and the Labour party won thirty odd seats, the Guardian and everyone else in the ‘mainstream’ are falling over themselves to fess up, admit they were wrong and offer mea culpas. Honesty? Humility? Or shameless opportunism and the terrifying groupthink of the professional liberal class? You decide; but do consider what journalists mean when they say ‘I was wrong’ — do they mean ‘I was wrong about Corbyn’s criticism of the arms industry, his opposition to trident, his commitment to wealth-redistribution and his refusal to accept the validity of everything I have built my career on?’ or do they mean ‘I was wrong about how many people are able to think for themselves without having to check their opinions against the corporate media first?’ Dunno about you, but I’m going for option b.
Incidentally when Jonathan Cook exposed the hive-mind of The Guardian to Lucy-Cosslett, and gently suggested she might have been a teeny-weeny bit cowardly to suppress her opinion during the Freedland-led excoriation, she responded by pulling the misogyny card! Shameful, but predictable.
Anyway, the next stage will be for The Guardian and the liberal elite to worm their way back in. Paul Mason last week called for Corbyn to make the new shadow foreign minister a ‘soft’ or ‘centre’ member of the party — i.e. someone who voted for the destruction or Iraq (such as Barry Gardiner) and Libya (such as Emily Thornberry). Such calls for ‘moderation’ will continue until the Labour Party is back in the Blair mould (oddly silent he’s been recently, ne? Don’t worry though, he’ll be back). If — as seems likely — the doors to power and influence remain closed to Guardian types, or if Corbyn refuses to fundamentally compromise with the PLP, Goldstein will once again become the enemy of the people and it will always have been that way, and you will always have been the caretaker, and I should know sir, because I’ve always been here.
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- After publishing this piece I had Guardian journalist, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, tweet to me: I was unaware that George and Owen were the only true leftie colleagues I have [emoji with rolling eyes]. Dunno if she’s referring to her own articles about how sexist Trump is, or how ‘we need feminism’, or how great clubbing in Budapest is, or about her timeless experiences as a student — or about the radical articles of Paul Mason perhaps? Or Ed Vulliamy? Not sure, but my my point was that that Monbiot and Jones are slightly to the left of everyone else. I agree though, it is debatable. Cosslett, Mason and Vulliamy could well be classed as equally stagversive.
Incidentally, I mention in the first paragraph that most Guardian journalists are elite-educated. I don’t, of course, believe that a fine degree automatically makes someone a corporate stooge or mediocre systems-man. Ken Loach was Oxbridge, as was Dennis Potter, as were the Pythons, as were many others with (at some point) integrity. I need hardly point out though that genuine class-conscious consideration for the poor, a genuinely radical outlook or genuine creativity are developed despite elite education, not because of it. The overwhelming majority of Oxbridge, Ivy-league and grandes écoles graduates are domesticated and domesticating dystopians to the bone.
- Edited somewhat now I have time to ponder.
- I don’t know much about Rwanda and Srebrenica, but I have read Herman and Peterson’s book, The Politics of Genocide and it is clear, reading Monbiot’s furious criticism of it, that he deliberately misunderstands H&P’s main point, which is that facts are warped in the service of an ideology which deems some atrocities ‘genocide’ and some (e.g. the mass-murdering sanctions against Iraq and the invasion of Vietnam) not. Chomsky attempted to point out to Monbiot his selective understanding of the issue in their exchange of emails on the subject, but to no avail. For some reason Monbiot is unwilling to accept that, by his own standards, he is guilty of ‘genocide denial’. The really amazing thing though, I think, is how Monbiot managed to sweep Media Lens into his attack. No doubt if Monbiot (or his allies David Aaranovitch and Oliver Kamm) were ever to read this paragraph, it would be enough to convince him that I too am a ‘genocide denier’.