“The ‘societal purpose’ of the media is to inculcate and defend the economic, social and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state.” (Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky – Manufacturing Consent)
Highly-paid presenters have privileged access to ‘respectable’ mainstream politicians which they are very keen to maintain. It is vital that such high-level sources not be seriously alienated or offended by pertinent, but potentially damaging, questions. Overlooking obvious truths about mass violence conducted by western governments, media professionals are expert at cultivating a veneer of dogged commitment to truth.
Even when being questioned sharply, leading politicians are treated respectfully with no insinuation that the interviewee is despicable or malevolent. No such considerations apply, however, when the media confront “rogues” or “mavericks” who represent a challenge to established power and the ideology underpinning its brutality. In these special cases, the doctrinal system requires that threatening figures be dealt with aggressively, typically with ridicule and contempt.
Thus, in the early hours of the morning after Britain’s May 5 general election, viewers were treated to a remarkable exchange between the BBC’s principal ‘rottweiler’, Jeremy Paxman, and George Galloway, the former Labour MP now with the anti-war Respect party. Galloway had just deposed the Blairite Labour MP, Oona King, in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency of East London.
Galloway’s victory was remarkable, overcoming a 10,000 majority in the face of the full might of New Labour’s political machine. His success surely reflects the extraordinary level of anti-war feeling in the country, two years after two million people marched in February 2003 – the largest political protest in UK history.
The BBC exchange began thus:
Jeremy Paxman: “Mr Galloway, are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?”
George Galloway: “What a preposterous question. I know it’s very late in the night, but wouldn’t you be better starting by congratulating me for one of the most sensational election results in modern history?”
JP: “Are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?”
GG: “I’m not [pause]. Jeremy, move on to your next question.”
JP: “You’re not answering that one?”
GG: “No, because I don’t believe that people get elected because of the colour of their skin. I believe people get elected because of their record and because of their policies. So move on to your next question.” (Broadcast BBC Election Night Special, 6 May, 2005; video and transcript available at: www.informationclearinghouse.info/article8763.htm)
Paxman’s feigned concern for diversity actually rests on the racist and sexist assumption that candidates should be given special consideration on account of their colour or gender.
Moments later, Paxman said: “I put it to you Mr Galloway that [former local government minister] Nick Raynsford had you to a T when he said you were a ‘demagogue’.”
As far as we are aware, Paxman has never “put it” to any leading government minister that he or she is a “demagogue”, despite an abundance of evidence that media-amplified propaganda and demagoguery enabled the war on Iraq, as well as earlier attacks on Afghanistan and Serbia. We look forward to Paxman suggesting to Tony Blair in a future interview: “I put it to you Mr Blair that George Galloway had you to a T when he said you were a ‘war criminal’.”
Perhaps other BBC presenters and journalists will also take up the cause of due impartiality. BBC political editor Andrew Marr will then confront Blair at his next press conference: “Are you proud to have won this election on the back of outrageous lies, and an invasion-occupation in violation of the UN Charter, as suggested even by your own advisors?”
BBC Radio 4 Today’s John Humphrys will no doubt ask Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: “Are you proud to have won this election at the cost of 100,000 dead people in Iraq and countless hundreds of thousands of injured, malnourished and diseased civilians?”
His colleague James Naughtie will repeatedly press Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown: “Are you proud to have won this election after funding a war that was belatedly declared illegal by Kofi Annan and that has led to a major increase in terrorism?”
Expensively Dressed Loudmouth – The Media Go To Work
Over on ITN, European correspondent Juliet Bremner described how Galloway had secured victory with the use of “virulent anti-war views” – an interesting concept. (ITN 22:30 News, May 6, 2005)
Prior to the election (12:30 News, May 3), ITN had ambushed Galloway in a 6-minute interview ostensibly intended to allow the public to pose questions on Respect party policies. News anchors Nick Owen and Katie Derham began by asking about the “I salute you” comment Galloway is alleged to have made to Saddam Hussein in 1994. Anticipating Galloway’s rejection – he claims he was saluting the Iraqi people, not Saddam – ITN had a pre-prepared videotape on hand to show the clip in question.
Whereas establishment politicians are to be afforded appropriate courtesy and respect, the press find it almost impossible to mention Galloway’s name without employing adjectives like “controversial” and “maverick”. The consistent focus on personal foibles and alleged faults also contrasts starkly with coverage afforded to more ‘serious’ politicians.
Thus the Daily Mail noted “the expensively dressed political maverick’s Respect Party snatched the seat which Labour has held since 1945 with a 26.2 per cent swing”. (‘Electrifying moments that lit up the small hours,’ Daily Mail, May 7, 2005)
The Express reported how “the maverick left-winger clashed with Paxman”. (‘Winner George loses it again,’ John Chapman and David Pilditch, Express, May 7, 2005)
The Sun noted in an article with the breath-takingly ironic title, ‘Maverick “Stirred up racism”:
“Loudmouth George Galloway was accused of stirring up racial tensions to scrape back into Parliament.” (The Sun, May 7, 2005)
The Times observed: “The latest chapter in the turbulent parliamentary career of George Galloway, newly elected MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, began yesterday in the maverick style that is his trademark. He stayed in bed.” (‘Galloway sleeps on his victory after an incendiary campaign,’ Sam Lister, Sean O’Neill and Giles Whittell, The Times, May 7, 2005)
The article concluded: “Asked what she thought of her new MP, one drinker in the Coborn Arms opposite Respect’s headquarters said: ‘I want to move house.'”
The Guardian noted: “The most extraordinary result was secured by the maverick former Labour MP George Galloway.” (‘London delivers bloody nose as Galloway wins bitter fight, Hugh Muir, The Guardian, May 6, 2005)
Elsewhere, the media reflexively describe Galloway as “flamboyant” and “controversial”, descriptions which express proper ridicule and contempt for the “Rogue MP”. (The Sun, ‘Not a shred of remorse,’ Trevor Kavanagh, July 2, 2004)
The smears are repeated around the world. The Jerusalem Post notes:
“‘This defeat is for Iraq. All the people you have killed, all the lies you have told have come back to haunt you,’ declared maverick lawmaker George Galloway following his tight election victory… But Galloway’s electoral success has been met with alarm and disdain across Britain.” (‘Galloway win causes alarm,’ Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2005)
In fact, right across the spectrum, “rogue” thinkers, politicians and parties are relentlessly smeared and mocked by the elite media. The effect is as inevitable as it is intended – to persuade the public to revile and turn away from radical voices threatening established privilege and power.
The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. When writing emails to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.
Write to Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight presenter:
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Write to Helen Boaden, BBC news director:
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