Friday, February 29, 2008

seeing the media wizard

The almost interesting hoo-hah about the Speaker of the House of Commons allegedly falsifying his expenses has brought up something more worthy of our attention. As he entered the House of Commons on Monday he was enthusiastically greeted by MPs from all parties. Normally any knock is a chance for the other team to throw a punch. So what's different here?

This cross-party support is understandable when you see it from the MPs perspective; they all enjoy the opulence of their position, and it's a fair bet that even if they're not outright crooks then most, if not all, have had personal benefit from some dubious gratuity.

But more than that, as Simon Hoggart observed, 'there is something queasy-making about journalists complaining about other people fiddling their expenses'.

Because we all know that reporters are in the main liars by trade, uninterested in truth or integrity, only in making their story please their even more snidey editor.

When Heather Mills-McCartney made a pro-vegan speech saying drinking cows' milk was as unnatural as drinking rat or dog milk, she was clearly implying we should drink none of these things. However, it was reported as 'Drink rats' milk, says Heather Mills'.

Juliet Gellatley, founder & director of veggie pressure group Viva! explained

The reporters who filed this story about Heather advocating rats’ milk knew it was untrue because I amplified on what Heather had said. One actually admitted that he understood precisely what she meant but the ‘drink rats’ milk’ claim made a damned good story. What this reveals is an utter lack of any integrity in most of the Press – sadly not just the tabloids but the so-called quality papers, too.

Every event I have attended with Heather has been grossly misreported by the Press and has involved spiteful and vicious personal attacks on her integrity and her sanity. The irony is that one of the most common accusations about Heather is that she is a fantasist and a liar – by people whose stock in trade is fantasy and lies.

That this was part of a wider campaign against Mills, (the media never forgives anyone who marries a Beatle and speaks), in itself highlights the deliberate twisting or ignoring of facts.

This week saw Greenpeace activists do a banner-drop on top of a plane at Heathrow, followed the next day by people from Plane Stupid on top of the House of Commons labelling the hallowed building as 'BAA HQ'. The actions were timed with the government's consultation on whether to expand Heathrow.

Underneath the activists, Gordon Brown told MPs decisions had to be made 'in the chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House'.

Yet the point the protesters were making was that the decisions were not being made in either place.

They threw down paper planes they'd made of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act proving that airport operator BAA wrote parts of the consultation document. This should surely be a big story.

The reporters mostly concentrated on the security at parliament aspect, but the corruption is a clearly story for a proper political reporter to get their teeth into. Especially if, as with the Daily Mail's Political Editor Benedict Brogan, it falls literally at your feet. Yet he said

I picked up one of their 'planes': it's a photocopy of an email from someone at BA to a Dept of Transport official about something complicated that I can't be bothered to read.

It's a real dilemma for climate change activists. The issue is so urgent that there isn't time for the whole world to find its information from SchNews. There has to be a large element of spectacle and engaging with the mainstream media. Yet they invariably write the story to fit their idea, rather than report what you say or what happens.

It's even worse when our glimmers of hope, such as The Guardian and The Independent, take hours of your time and really understand it all then, as we saw at the Camp for Climate Action last summer, just go and file some shit about Swampy (Independent) or about how it's OK because you can offset your flight's emissions (Guardian). Even ignoring the depressing element of such deliberate misreporting, as a simple cost/benefit sum it can feel like there's more useful things to be doing.

The one true spark of hope is that people are increasingly media-savvy and know how to read through the lies and get to the core of truth.

My first real political awakening was seeing Greenham Common women on the news. The story was all about what a bunch of irresponsible de-domesticated feral mothers and/or deranged lesbians they were. (These days I count several irresponsible de-domesticated feral mothers and deranged lesbians as personal friends, but that's another matter).

It was plain that the Greenham women were making an informed intelligent choice and were heroes, and that the media were just lying. They're so cynical and self-interested that anyone who takes an idealistic stand or makes a personal sacrifice for a political cause freaks them the fuck out and they respond with ridicule.

As we live under an ever increasing weight of mass media information it can feel like we're being taken over by their perspectives, but maybe it's teaching us how they work so we can see through it. We're so close in we can see that the daunting Wizard of Oz is in fact a deceiving charlatan behind a curtain.


UPDATE: How weird, Jim Bliss posted a really similar post less than half an hour before this!


Anonymous said...

The rat's milk thing comes from The Simpsons (hence the Murdoch press were probably using an excuse for a little self-reference) in an episode called Mayored to the Mob and the school milk is revealed to come from rats:
But apparently there really is rat's milk cheese (although possibly even this is a hoax)

merrick said...

astvinr, whilst there is a rats milk thing in a Simpsons episode, very few of the Heather Mills articles mention it. Also, there's no dogs milk thing in the Simpsons. As such, it's not journos making a comic connection, it's straightforward lying.