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| Post subject: The figleaf question
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the fig leaf question
Posted by Alex Doherty on February 16, 2012, 10:42 am
The criticism of leftists who write for the Guardian and other mainstream venues made by the Medialens eds has me in two minds. I think they may well be correct that in writing in such venues these writers are providing a fig leaf (even in the case of writers who write for the guardian et al but also support alternative media). However I'm not convinced that the eds can conclusively demonstrate their claim and so it seems to me the criticism ought to be cautious and combined with realistic proposals for media reform. Also the criticism ought to be consistent - two lengthy pieces by Noam Chomsky have just appeared in the Guardian. Will the eds be encouraging ML readers to write to Chomsky to criticise him for being a fig leaf for the mainstream?
Re: the fig leaf question
Posted by The Editors on February 16, 2012, 3:05 pm, in reply to "the fig leaf question"
‘I think they may well be correct that in writing in such venues these writers are providing a fig leaf (even in the case of writers who write for the guardian et al but also support alternative media). However I'm not convinced that the eds can conclusively demonstrate their claim…’
We don’t think there’s any real doubt that radical writers do provide a ‘figleaf’ service for corporate media. By which we mean they help present corporate entities as neutral and even radical, when in fact they (of course) overwhelmingly promote corporate interests and state interests rooted in corporate interests. There’s no serious doubt about that. It’s a bit like the monkey trap that contains rice in a jar of a particular shape and size. When the monkey tries to take the rice, she closes her hand, making a fist, and is then unable to remove her hand from the narrow neck of the jar. For many potential progressives radical writers are the rice, the jar is the narrow, 99% mainstream bilge that keeps our minds (the hand) stuck in the jar - the presumption of a benevolent, mature, responsible West seeking to do good things to stop bad people in places like Iraq, Libya and Syria, and so on.
Our position for a long time has been that it’s probably positive to appear in the media if you draw attention to the corporate media’s failings in general (so dissipating the ‘figleaf’ effect). The point about Chomsky and Pilger is that they have actually led the way in media criticism, which almost always features strongly in their work. Chomsky with Manufacturing Consent, of course; Pilger with The War You Don’t See, which made heavy use of our research (Pilger has been an incredible ally for media activists like us). Mainstream material that introduces readers to their work is introducing people – indirectly or directly – to some of the finest media analysis around. So, for us, their work passes the ‘figleaf’ test. By the way, it was Pilger himself who used the ‘figleaf’ metaphor in describing his own role at the New Statesman.
By comparison, Monbiot, Milne and Fisk have very little to say about the media – maybe about the right-wing press, maybe in vague terms, but very little structural analysis, particularly of the ‘liberal’ press by which they’re employed. And as Joe says, to reiterate, they of course are bona fide corporate employees – constant, high-profile, in-house standard bearers for the radical claims of their brands. Chomsky and Pilger are not. Indeed, they are honest about the Guardian and Independent in a way that corporate employees can never be in any industry. So yes, why not encourage readers to challenge the media employees, to try and get a debate going? We’ve been trying to break the silence. We’re aware that criticism of host media is career-suicidal. As we wrote to Milne recently: ‘It’s pretty clear why, as a Guardian regular, you’re not at liberty to criticise your own paper’s dismal record’ (http://tinyurl.com/7re2ssz). We've never said to people like Milne: 'You should be criticising your paper and its advertisers all the time.' We've said: 'You can't criticise the product in front of the customers, can you?' We've been highlighting that huge problem, its implications for freedom of speech across the industry. The important thing, for us, is to get people thinking about these issues.
We have ourselves challenged Chomsky – maybe you should do the same. A few years ago, with characteristic humility and honesty, he told us he wasn’t sure whether it was right to boycott the liberal media. He said he guessed the fact that he did appear meant he probably sided with not doing so. But he certainly agreed we had a point. We’re also not sure a boycott is right. We’ve made no effort to appear in the mainstream for several years now. Our fear is that, at this stage of the internet’s development, we may all be missing an opportunity to abandon the corporate media and build something genuinely alternative. It’s an opportunity that may be fleeting; it may pass.
Should we write actual media alerts encouraging people to email Klein, Weisbrot, Greenwald, Goodman, Chomsky, Pilger and co? We’ve thought about it and we might. Of course it would be damned as a classic example of left infighting.