Monday, 20 February 2017

After a severe Trumping, the "free" BBC says: "We don't like being quite so much the centre of attention" - better get used to it

President Trump's recent, notorious press conference, in which he handed out what I believe Americans call "an ass-kicking" to the assembled representatives of the left-wing mainstream media - most notably CNN and the BBC - was maddening and exhilarating.  Four factors made it maddening. First, Trump's limited vocabulary, his inability to speak in complete sentences, and his array of speech mannerisms and tics make him quite painful to listen to, because you find yourself simultaneously translating everything he says into proper American-English: that makes it hard to concentrate on what he's actually saying rather than the way he's saying it...

 ...Sounds snobbish, I know, but all those things would be absolutely fine if we didn't know that the man with the orange barnet didn't come from a privileged background: it's the gulf between his raising and his ability to express himself clearly which exasperates. “Lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things” made Dubya sound like an orator in comparison.

The second maddening thing is the sense one gets that Trump's still in full electioneering mode. He won, he's doing pretty much exactly what he promised to do (makes a nice change), and he really doesn't need to fight that battle any more: he can;t spend four years telling everyone what a great job he's going to do.

The third irritation is his tendency to tell pointless lies about things which are easily checkable online. Who cares how many people attended his inauguration? He won. And why pretend his margin of victory over Hillary was greater than it was? He won. Children tend to do this sort of thing until they realise they can't get away with it, and that being found out makes them look foolish. Why didn't Trump learn this lesson in childhood?

The fourth thing that maddened me was the Jon Sopel describing the BBC as "impartial, free and fair." While all of those adjectives strike me as questionable, it was the word "free" that really annoyed me. The claim that the BBC is "free" is as pointlessly mendacious and as patently untrue as Trump's claim that he won the electoral college vote by the widest margin since Ronald Reagan.  If you pay £145 a year for a service - and can be sent to prison if you don't - in what sense could you possibly describe that service as free? (Ditto the NHS, of course.) We seem to have strayed into left-wing "magic money-tree" territory here.

I also found the presser oddly exhilarating because I've waited almost 30 years for another Republican President or Conservative Prime Minister to tear the biased left-liberal media a new one for their relentlessly partisan political coverage. At a joint press conference in 2000, George W. Bush informed Tony Blair that the reporter asking a question was Adam Clyner of the New York Times, and added, "Major League asshole". His opinion of Mr. Clyner was inadvertently picked up by microphones. With Trump, there are no accidents involved - he just gives his media enemies both barrels: “I’m not ranting and raving. I’m just telling you, you’re dishonest people.” And the snarky aside when Sopel revealed identified himself as a BBC reporter - "Here's another beauty!" - was particularly enjoyable. Hell, why not? Whatever Trump does or says, these intolerant lefties are going to savage him anyway, so he might as well get his retaliation in early. No, he isn't behaving like a president, and it's unlikely that he's capable of ever doing so, even if he wanted to. But, then, if he had behaved presidentially during the election, he'd have lost it, bigly.

What's so fascinating about all this from a former journalist's perspective is seeing disintermediation at work on an international scale (disintermediation is a fancy term for cutting out the middle man). In the fairly recent past, when I was working in news, the near-death of the traditional public meeting meant that politicians and political parties had to rely on the mainstream media - broadcasters in particular, but also mass-circulation newspapers like The Sun - to get their message across. The internet has destroyed that near-monopoly: the Brexit vote and the Tory victory in 2015 demonstrated that even the mighty BBC - the country's biggest supplier of news - couldn't persuade Britons to vote the way they'd been ordered to. Of course, this has happened in the past - as four Tory election victories in a row between 1979 and 1992 demonstrated. But I suspect that the rise of social media and the weakening of the MSM's stranglehold on our national narratives mean that the days of people being shamed into voting against their beliefs and intuitions by a bunch of intolerant, morally preening left-wing journalists/political activists are well and truly numbered.

Newsnight's Evan Davies interviewed Trump aide Sebastian Gorka a few nights ago - you can watch it here:
Davies asked some reasonable, pertinent questions. But the language he employed was, I thought, telling: unhinged, busk it, completely false, mistake, bang on, narcissistic, childish, constant confusion, someone has to go around with a bucket and shovel picking up the pieces, worrying and confused, utter shambles etc. Quite a contrast to the oleaginously admiring tone Newsnight presenters employed when interviewing members of the Obama administration. When Gorka charged Davies with being biased, he stopped trying to be Jeremy Paxman and switched into self-pitying, spluttering, exasperated, injured innocence mode. At one stage, Gorka - who was clearly enjoying himself - explained why Trump was attacking the media:
...To break you sense of monopoly on the news. The mainstream media no longer gets to monopolise news and we are going to go straight to the audiences - whether it's through Twitter, whether it's through YouTube, it doesn't matter.  We are not going to put up with distortions and people who believe they have a monopoly on the truth simply because they have 60 years of a letterhead above them...."
You don't have to be a Trump fan - I'm not - to enjoy that. Right at the end, a slightly frazzled Davies admitted: "We [i.e. the BBC] don't like being quite so much the centre of attention." I was reminded of Malcolm Tucker in an episode of The Thick Of It desperately trying to fob off the media by repeating the Alastair Campbell line, "I am not the story here" - when he clearly was. I'm not sure where Trump's full-scale assault on the mainstream media leads - but it'll be fascinating to find out. It looks as if Evan Davies and his ilk will just have to get used to being the "centre of attention" for a while yet. And - who knows? - maybe some younger journalists will begin to wonder whether their older colleagues really are just "asking the questions people want answered", or whether they're actually using their power to peddle a threadbare, discredited and increasingly unpopular political narrative.

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