Last week, Jeremy Corbyn humbled the entire political and corporate media commentariat. With a little help from Britain’s student population. And with a little help from thousands of media activists.
Without doubt this was one of the most astonishing results in UK political history. Dismissed by all corporate political pundits, including the clutch of withered fig leaves at the Guardian, reviled by scores of his own Blairite MPs (see here), Corbyn ‘increased Labour’s share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945′ with ‘the biggest swing since… shortly after the Second World War’. He won a larger share of the vote than Tony Blair in 2005.
Corbyn achieved this without resorting to angry lefty ranting. His focus was on kindness, compassion, sharing, inclusivity and forgiveness. This approach held up a crystal-clear mirror to the ugly, self-interested cynicism of the Tory party, and transformed the endless brickbats into flowers of praise.
On Twitter, John Prescott disclosed that when Rupert Murdoch saw the exit poll ‘he stormed out of the room’.
As ever, while the generals made good their escape, front-line troops were less fortunate. Outfought by Team Corbyn, out-thought by social media activists, outnumbered in the polls, many commentators had no option but to fall on their microphones and keyboards. LBC radio presenter Iain Dale led the way:
‘Let me be the first to say, I got it wrong, wholly wrong. I should have listened more to my callers who have been phoning into my show day after day, week after week.’
The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff, who had written in January, ‘This isn’t going to be yet another critique of Corbyn, by the way, because there is no point. The evidence is there for anyone with eyes’, tweeted:
‘This is why I trust @iaindale’s judgement; he admits when it was way off. (As mine was. As god knows how many of ours was)’
‘Like everyone else who didn’t foresee the result, I’ll be asking myself hard questions & trying to work out what changed…’
Annoying as ever, we asked:
‘But will you be asking yourself about the structural forces, within and outside Guardian and corporate media generally, shaping performance?’
‘Is a corporate journalist free to analyse the influence of owners, profit-orientation, ad-dependence, state-subsidised news? Taboo subjects.’
Presumably engrossed in introspection, Hinsliff did not reply.
‘I was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn – The Labour leader did much better in the election than I expected. I need to understand and learn from my mistakes’
Channel 4 News presenter and Telegraph blogger, Cathy Newman tweeted:
‘Ok let’s be honest, until the last few weeks many of us under-estimated @jeremycorbyn’
Translating from the ‘newspeak’: many corporate journalists waged a relentless campaign over two years to persuade the public to ‘underestimate’ Corbyn, but were wrong about the public’s ability to see through the propaganda.
‘I think Mr Corbyn has proved a lot of people, including me, completely wrong.’
In a typically dramatic flourish, Channel 4’s Jon Snow’s summation was harsh but fair:
‘I know nothing. We the media, the pundits, the experts, know nothing.’
‘Fair play to Jeremy Corbyn and his team. They have done a lot of things I confidently thought they – he – could not do. I was wrong.’
In March, Observer columnist Nick Cohen graphically predicted that ‘Corbyn’s Labour won’t just lose. It’ll be slaughtered.’ In an article titled, ‘Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn’, Cohen indicated the words that would ‘be flung’ at Corbynites ‘by everyone who warned that Corbyn’s victory would lead to a historic defeat’:
‘I Told You So You Fucking Fools!’
Apparently frothing at the mouth, Cohen concluded by advising the idiots reading his column that, following the predicted electoral disaster, ‘your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind’.
Awkward, then, for Cohen to now ‘apologise to affronted Corbyn supporters… I was wrong’; presumably feeling like a fucking fool, having changed his fucking mind.
Tragicomically, Cohen then proceeded to be exactly as ‘wrong’ all over again:
‘The links between the Corbyn camp and a Putin regime that persecutes genuine radicals. Corbyn’s paid propaganda for an Iranian state that hounds gays, subjugates women and tortures prisoners. Corbyn and the wider left’s indulgence of real antisemites (not just critics of Israel). They are all on the record. That Tory newspapers used them against the Labour leadership changes nothing.’
Former Guardian comment editor and senior columnist Jonathan Freedland spent two years writing a series of anti-Corbyn hit pieces (see our media alert for discussion). Last month, Freedland wrote under the title, ‘No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown’, lamenting:
‘What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require?’
Freedland helpfully relayed focus group opinion to the effect that Corbyn was a ‘dope’, ‘living in the past’, ‘a joke’, ‘looking as if he knows less about it than I do’. Freedland has also, now, had no choice but to back down:
‘Credit where it’s due. Jeremy Corbyn defied those – including me – who thought he could not win seats for Lab. I was wrong.’
Like Freedland, senior Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has relentlessly attacked Corbyn. On April 19, she wrote of how ‘Corbyn is rushing to embrace Labour’s annihilation’:
‘Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Was ever there a more crassly inept politician than Jeremy Corbyn, whose every impulse is to make the wrong call on everything?’
This week, Toynbee’s tune had changed:
‘Nothing succeeds like success. Jeremy Corbyn looks like a new man, beaming with confidence, benevolence and forgiveness to erstwhile doubters…’
Apparently channelling David Brent of The Office, Toynbee added:
‘When I met him on Sunday he clasped my hand and, with a twinkle and a wink, thanked me for things I had written.’
With zero self-awareness, Toynbee noted that the Mail and Sun had helped Corbyn: ‘by dredging up every accusation against him yet failing to frighten voters away, they have demolished their own power’.
Former Guardian political editor Michael White, yet another regular anti-Corbyn commentator, admitted:
‘I was badly wrong. JC had much wider voter appeal than I realised’
Former Guardian journalist, Jonathan Cook, replied:
‘Problem is you *all* got it wrong. That fact alone exposes structural flaw of corporate media. You don’t represent us, you represent power’
‘You’re not still banging on, are you Jonathan. You do talk some bollocks’
Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and New Statesman contributor Abi Wilkinson tweeted:
‘Don’t think some of people making demands about who Corbyn puts in shadow cabinet have particularly earned the right to be listened to…’
‘Any hope I once held about Corbyn’s ability to steer the party in a more positive direction has been well and truly extinguished’
‘The Labour reckoning – Corbyn has fought a spirited campaign but is he leading the party to worst defeat since 1935?’
In March, Cowley opined:
‘The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming – Speak to any Conservative MP and they will say that there is no opposition. Period.’
Like everyone else at the Guardian, columnist Owen Jones’ initial instinct was to tweet away from his own viewspaper’s ferocious anti-Corbyn campaign:
‘The British right wing press led a vicious campaign of lies, smears, hatred and bigotry. And millions told them where to stick it’
And yet, as recently as April 18, Jones had depicted Corbyn as a pathetic figure:
‘A man who stood only out of a sense of duty, to put policies on the agenda, and who certainly had no ambition to be leader, will now take Labour into a general election, against all his original expectations. My suggestion that Corbyn stand down in favour of another candidate was driven by a desire to save his policies…’
Jones has now also issued a mea culpa:
‘I owe Corbyn, John McDonnell, Seumas Milne, his policy chief Andrew Fisher, and others, an unreserved, and heartfelt apology…
‘I wasn’t a bit wrong, or slightly wrong, or mostly wrong, but totally wrong. Having one foot in the Labour movement and one in the mainstream media undoubtedly left me more susceptible to their groupthink. Never again.’
We will see!
To his credit, Jones managed to criticise his own employer (something he had previously told us was unthinkable and absurd):
‘Now that I’ve said I’m wrong…so the rest of the mainstream commentariat, including in this newspaper, must confess they were wrong, too.’
Despite the blizzard of mea culpas from colleagues, George Monbiot also initially pointed well away from his employer:
‘The biggest losers today are the billionaires who own the Mail, Sun, Times and Telegraph. And thought they owned the nation.’
After receiving criticism, and having of course seen Jones’ mea culpa, Monbiot subsequently admitted that anti-Corbyn bias is found ‘even in the media that’s not owned by billionaires’:
‘This problem also affects the Guardian… Only the Guardian and the Mirror enthusiastically supported both Labour and Corbyn in election editorials.
‘But the scales still didn’t balance.’
This is a change from Monbiot’s declared position of three years ago, when he rejected the idea that the Guardian was part of the problem. This week, he recalled his own dumping of Corbyn in a tweet from January: ‘I have now lost all faith.’ The full tweet read:
‘I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, but it has been one fiasco after another. I have now lost all faith.’
Monbiot blamed media bias on the way journalists are selected – ‘We should actively recruit people from poorer backgrounds’ – and wrote, curiously, ‘the biggest problem, I believe, is that we spend too much time in each other’s company’.
We suggested to Monbiot that this was not at all ‘the biggest problem’ with ‘mainstream’ media, and pointed instead to elite ownership, profit-orientation, advertiser dependence and use of state-subsidised ‘news’, as discussed by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky in their ‘propaganda model’.
Jonathan Cook responded to Monbiot, describing the limits of free speech with searing honesty:
‘This blindness even by a “radical” like Monbiot to structural problems in the media is not accidental either. Realistically, the furthest he can go is where he went today in his column: suggesting organisational flaws in the corporate media, ones that can be fixed, rather than structural ones that cannot without rethinking entirely how the media functions. Monbiot will not – and cannot – use the pages of the Guardian to argue that his employer is structurally incapable of providing diverse and representative coverage.
‘Nor can he admit that his own paper polices its pages to limit what can be said on the left, to demarcate whole areas of reasonable thought as off-limits. To do so would be to end his Guardian career and consign him to the outer reaches of social media.’
The same, of course, applies to Jones, who made no attempt at all to account for corporate media bias.
Media grandee Will Hutton, former editor-in-chief of the Observer, now Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, wrote of ‘How the rightwing tabloids got it wrong – It was the Sun wot hung it’. On Twitter, we reminded Hutton of his own article, one month earlier:
‘Er, excuse us..! Will Hutton, May 7: “Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressives”‘
Tragicomically, given the awesome extent of his employer’s anti-Corbyn bias, John Cody Fidler-Simpson CBE, BBC World Affairs Editor, tweeted:
‘I suspect we’ve seen the end of the tabloids as arbiters of UK politics. Sun, Mail & Express threw all they had into backing May, & failed.’
‘Likewise the “quality” press and the BBC, which has been so biased even a former chair of the BBC Trust spoke out’
Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC trust from 2007 to 2011, commented on the BBC’s ‘quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party’:
‘I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.’
Conclusion – The Corporate Media Monopoly Is Broken
One week before the election, the Guardian reported that ‘a new force is shaping the general election debate’:
‘Alternative news sites are run from laptops and bedrooms miles from the much-derided “Westminster bubble” and have emerged as one of the most potent forces in election news sharing, according to research conducted for the Guardian by the web analytics company Kaleida.’
These alternative articles were ‘being shared more widely online than the views of mainstream newspaper commentators’. Remarkably, ‘Nothing from the BBC, the Guardian or the Daily Mail comes close’ to the most-shared alternative media pieces. The Canary reported that it had doubled the number of visitors to its site to six million in May. A story by Evolve Politics, run by just two people, was shared 55,000 times on Facebook and was read at least 200,000 times. These websites ‘explicitly offer a counter-narrative to what they deride as the “MSM” or mainstream media’.
Indeed, the evidence is now simply overwhelming – the 100-year big business monopoly of the mass media has been broken.
It is obvious that the right-wing press – the Daily Mail, the Sun, The Times and Telegraph – play a toxic role in manipulating the public to favour elite interests. But many people are now realising that the liberal press is actually the most potent opponent of progressive change. Journalist Matt Kennard commented:
‘The Guardian didn’t get it “wrong”. It is the mouthpiece of a liberal elite that is financially endangered by a socialist program.’
In truth, the Guardian sought to destroy Corbyn long before he became Labour leader (see here and here). This means that it did not target him because he was an ineffective leader imperilling Labour. And this hostility was no aberration, not a well-intentioned mistake that they got ‘wrong’. To this day, the Guardian remains Blair’s great cheerleader, despite his awesome crimes, just as it was Hillary Clinton and Obama’s cheerleader, and just as it was Bill Clinton’s before them.
While employing a handful of compromised fig leaves, the Guardian has ruthlessly smeared anyone who has sought to challenge the status quo: Julian Assange, Russell Brand, Hugo Chavez, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, John Pilger, George Galloway and many others. It has also been complicit in the great war crimes of Iraq, Libya and Syria – accepting fake government justifications for war at face value, ignoring expert sources who made a nonsense of the claims, and propagandising hard for the West’s supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ the nations it so obviously seeks to destabilise and exploit.
In our view, the corporate journalists who should be treated with most caution are precisely those celebrated as ‘dissidents’. Corporate media give Owen Jones, George Monbiot, Paul Mason and others immense outreach to draw 100,000s of progressives back to a filtered, corporate version of the world that favours established power and stifles progressive change. Above all, as Jonathan Cook says, the unwritten rule is that they will not speak out on the inherent structural corruption of a corporate media system reporting on a world dominated by corporations.
This is crucial, because, as last week confirms, and as we have been arguing for 16 years, if change begins anywhere, it begins with the public challenging, exposing and rejecting, not just the right-wing press, but the corporate media as a whole, the ‘liberal-left’ very much included.
In the last month, we witnessed astonishing numbers of people challenging all media, all the time on every bias – we have never seen anything like it. The young, in particular, are learning that they do not need highly-paid, privileged corporate employees to tell them what to think.
We don’t need to tolerate a corporate-filtered view of the world. We can inform ourselves and each other, and we can do so with very much more honesty, courage and compassion than any corporate journalist. If there is one message from last week, it’s a simple one – dump the corporate media; all of it.