I was somewhat amused to read that Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader, was going to “investigate” fake news sites. I was even more amused when I discovered that he’d appointed Michael Dugher, a man who has already penned articles for The S*n to lead the, er, inquiry.
Like many other Twitter users, I asked Watson if his investigation was going to look at the production of fake news stories in The S*n, The Daily Mail and the Daily Express. I have yet to receive a reply.
It is also claimed that The Canary carries links to conspiracy theories but after a quick look around the site, I have failed to find any. However, it would be fair to say that The Canary is rather pro-Corbyn. Perhaps this is what Watson hates the most about the site. But being pro-Corbyn doesn’t mean The Canary is guilty of producing ‘fake news’ stories. Yet, this question of informational fakeness begs the question regarding the conspiracy sites run by Alex Jones. These include Prison Planet and Infowars. What about them? Aren’t they guilty of producing ‘fake news’? Watson and Dugher may find it harder to pursue Jones because he lives in the United States. The Canary is based in Britain.
So what about the fake news produced by official news outlets? The BBC has also produced fake news stories. Take the Battle of Orgreave, the BBC stitched together footage to give viewers the impression that the militarised police were being charged by a violent mob of miners. The reverse was true.
British newspapers routinely make up news stories and some are more guilty of this than others. This infamous front page appeared in The Sunday Sport in 1988.
Two years ago, The Daily Express published a fake news story that claimed that “half of all British Muslims supported ISIS”. The story was later pulled from its website. In 2011, its sister paper, The Sunday Express claimed that the EU wanted to “merge the UK and France”. This prompted Roy Greenslade to write in his Guardian column that “nothing could be done” about these stories. Why not? Aren’t these papers equally as guilty of misinforming the public as the supposedly fake news sites?
Like the Daily Express, The Daily Mail is a tireless publisher of hate stories and has spent the best part of its history stirring up hatred of minorities. Last year, it printed a story that claimed Ralph Miliband “hated” Britain. There was no evidence to support this claim and even in the face of criticism from many quarters, it was unrepentant and even went so far as to repeat its spurious claims.
It would also appear that some people are unable to tell the difference between satire and fake news. The Daily Mash, Newsthump, The Onion, Waterford Whispers and other sites produce satirical stories that resemble news stories. There is a point to this: to satirize the so-called ‘free press’ one needs to adopt its motifs and ridicule them. Will Watson and Dugher pursue them too?
Media Studies is often derided by its critics as an “easy subject” that permits students to “ponce about with video cameras”. The real reason its detractors in the press and the political world hate the subject so much is because it provides students with the tools to analyse and critique the media. The last thing these two groups of powerful people wants is a media savvy public that calls out bullshit when they see it.
So Fidel Castro has died at the age of 90 and while tributes are being paid to him by many on the Left, the capitalist media has gone full throttle with its “He was a brutal dictator, who repressed his people” schtick. It was inevitable. The commentators on the Right on both sides of the Atlantic will wilfully overlook the many brutal dictators their countries supported to advance a particularly weak argument about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. If we take Cuba’s neighbour, Haiti, we can see that for the much of the 20th century, the United States has interfered in the country since the end of its occupation (1915 – 1934). Later, the bloodthirsty Duvalier family was kept in power with the United States’ connivance since the 1950s until Jean Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier was deposed in a popular uprising in 1986. Even today, the US continues to interfere in that country and its people continue to suffer high levels of poverty, infant mortality and illiteracy.
In the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States propped up a series of dictators, most notably Augusto Pinochet and the Somoza family of Nicaragua. The US invaded and occupied Nicaragua in 1909 and installed the Somoza dynasty, which it kept in power until the Sandinista Revolution of 1979. Even then, the US supported an insurgency campaign led by the so-called Contras, who were funded with money from the sales of arms to Iran, a country that the US was ostensibly hostile towards. In Chile, Pinochet was assisted by the CIA’s efforts to destabilize the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Thousands perished or were ‘disappeared’ at the hands of the DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. Today, that country continues to feel the effects of the Pinochet era, particularly in the fields of education and public services.
This morning on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, they presented a predictable one-sided narrative of Fidel and Cuba. Invariably the Cuban Missile Crisis was brought up but not the actual cause. Instead, listeners were simply told that Castro had allowed Soviet missiles on Cuban soil and how these missiles were only a mere “60 miles from the United States”. The BBC News Channel later repeated the same narrative. What the BBC failed to mention is that the US had sited missiles on Turkish soil years before the USSR began building missile silos on Cuba. So much for facts, eh?
Perhaps the most bizarre moment on the Today programme was when Mishal Husain suggested to Ken Livingstone (via a question) that it was better to live in a supposedly democratic country with poor rates of literacy than in Castro’s Cuba where literacy rates are high.
In Africa, it was Castro’s intervention that stopped the advance of CIA backed thugs of UNITA, who were supported by Britain, South Africa and the US, who sought to extend Western hegemony on the continent. Castro also opposed the apartheid regime of South Africa, while Thatcher and Reagan provided it with unqualified support.
As for repression, it is worth remembering that during the 1950s, 60s and the early part of the 1970s, African-American voters were prevented from exercising their democratic rights in the US Deep South. The Black Panthers and other groups were routinely harassed by COINTELPRO and many were imprisoned on trumped up charges.
Yes, there are human rights abuses taking place on Cuban soil… in a place called Guantanamo Bay, which is run by the US military.
Fidel Castro wasn’t perfect but he was, by no means, the world’s worst dictator.
I often use the film, The Matrix (Wachowski Bros., 1999), as a way to introduce students to postmodernist ideas and how they dominate contemporary political thinking, and also to illustrate the hyper-reality that permeates the social space. The Wachowskis, who directed The Matrix claimed to have been inspired in part by Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation (2008). Baudrillard, for his part, scoffed at their claims.
Baudrillard himself was influenced by the Situationist International and, in particular, Guy Debord’s seminal Society of the Spectacle (2005) and we can see trace elements of his work in the book’s first chapter ‘The Precession of Simulacra’. This is Baudrillard’s starting point on a bewildering journey of that takes in counterfeits, illusions, superficiality and the collapse of meaning. As Debord (2005) himself said:
The spectacle grasped in its totality is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production. It is not a supplement to the real world, an additional decoration. It is the heart of the unrealism of the real society. In all its specific forms, as information or propaganda, as advertisement or direct entertainment consumption, the spectacle is the present model of socially dominant life. It is the omnipresent affirmation of the choice already made in production and its corollary consumption. The spectacle’s form and content are identically the total justification of the existing system’s conditions and goals. The spectacle is also the permanent presence of this justification, since it occupies the main part of the time lived outside of modern production.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, The Matrix is about a computer-generated world that resembles a computer game in which the rules can be bent, subverted or ignored. In gaming parlance, these are ‘cheats’ that can be unlocked through a combination of gaming knowledge and shrewd game play. Such things as ‘invulnerability’ and ‘extra body armour’ aren’t available to those going about their everyday lives. Instead, we can only challenge the falsehoods and deceptions by using critical thinking and gaining as much insight as we possibly can through reading critical theory.
However, many of those who inhabit the hyper-real space of The Matrix are so distracted by what they see, they are either incapable of seeing through it or choose not to question it. They are, as Morpheus tells Neo “so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it”. The postmodern problem with politics can be illustrated in the way in which Westminster’s establishment politicians will speak only in slogans and soundbites but it can also be seen in the way they have constructed an alternative universe from tropes, myths, lies and fragments of memories. Many people will accept these things as faits accomplis and will refuse to question the alternate reality that’s been constructed by postmodern politicians with the collusion of a supine media.
An example of this alternate universe can be seen in the recent Labour leadership election, in which the media believed it had more of a say than the members themselves. In one corner, we had Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent leader. In the other corner, was Owen Smith and behind him were ranged most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, the media and those supporters who subscribed to the secondhand, moth-eaten TINA philosophy of New Labour. Their notion of being on the political left went no further than supporting a woman’s right to choose and equal marriage. Beyond that, their views intersected with the socially liberal sections of the Conservative Party. They were, for all intents and purposes, counterfeit Labour MPs. Beneath the slogans and PR gimmicks lay the dark heart of nothingness.
And so it is with those who can see no other kind of Labour Party but a right-wing one that offers nothing but watered down Tory policies. Even those who claim to be on the Left fail to see how far to the right the PLP has shifted over the course of 30 years. Their approach to their members and the electorate-at-large is both contemptuous and patronising. This shift was is best illustrated in the figure of Rachel Reeves, who casually announced last year that Labour “wasn’t the party of benefit claimants”. In this statement, she inadvertently revealed what many of us knew already: that the Labour Party under successive right-wing leaders has been more interested in cultivating relationships with people with 6, 7 and 8 figure incomes than the poorest in society – the ones who have pinned their hopes on Labour to ameliorate their dire circumstances. But aren’t benefit claimants, many of whom are in work, voters too? Not in Reeves’s alternate universe.
Yet Reeves recently topped that by channelling Enoch Powell to claim that continued immigration would ultimately lead to violence on our streets. In this, her rhetoric is little different to that coming from the mouths of UKIP politicians. Instead of challenging the right-wing populism of UKIP, politicians like Reeves pander to it. Moreover, Reeves and her fellow right-wing Labour MPs can only view the working class – the very people her party was created to represent – through the lens of a Punch caricature. For her and her fellow travellers the working class are universally ignorant and xenophobic. In this, she and they are little different to the Tories, but tell them that and they’ll get offended.
Instead, Labour has abandoned people like these to the clutches of the UKIP and the rest of the far-right rabble. Indeed, the current upsurge in racist attacks is partly the fault of the Blairite-Brownite-Milibandian Labour Party that was more concerned chasing Tory votes by announcing it was “getting tough” on immigration during the 2015 General Election than facing racism head on. Instead, we have Labour politicians telling us that they “got it wrong” on immigration and speaking in such a way as to reinforce the beliefs of the xenophobes and racists, all of whom have been emboldened by Brexit referendum. The mass media joins the chorus by claiming “immigration is the single biggest issue in the minds of voters”. Yet for many people, the housing crisis, the continuing privatization of the NHS and wage stagnation are much bigger issues.
Let’s return to the Labour leadership contest and, in particular, the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were “thugs” and “bullies”. This was constructed almost entirely from the notion that popular movements are, by themselves, dangerous and this led to the propagation of ahistorical narratives that were based on little more than loosely connected fragments of memories of the 1980s and 1930s. Thus frequent and rather slippery comparisons were made between Momentum, The Militant Tendency and the Nazi Party. None of these comparisons were in any way valid and yet the press accepted these claims as truths. Take this article in The Daily Mail written by Michael Foster, a Nu Labour donor and former failed candidate. He opens by telling readers:
Saturday of last week in my home town of Camborne, the Corbyn Circus rolled into town. A crowd of 2,000 disciples came from all over Cornwall to cheer and clap and worship. One after another, Momentum speakers praised ‘Jeremy’ and spoke of the hope he gave them, the socialism he would bring to Britain.
I’ve emboldened the keywords in this extract because they set the tone for the rest of the article, which claims the Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum are cultists and as dangerous as the Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts. This ignores the fact that Tony Blair has attracted a near cult-like devotion among his followers, who sing his praises and ignore his many failings.
In this extract, Foster makes a lazy connection between his Jewishness, Blairism and anti-Semitism.
If you are like me, a Jewish donor to Labour, you are smeared as a Blairite conspirator, plotting to falsely use the accusation of anti-Semitism to damage the Left.
He segues this into the brick that was allegedly thrown through Angela Eagle’s constituency office window (sic).
It matters not whether you are Angela Eagle with a brick through a window, Stella Creasy with a mob outside her constituency office, or Labour general secretary Iain McNicol with a letter threatening court action unless he secured victory for Corbyn at an NEC vote.
Again, my bold. The brick incident was one of the biggest anti-Corbyn stories in the press during the leadership election, and was used to construct the narrative that Momentum were in fact Nazis in disguise, rather than people who wanted to see a move away from the managerialist politics of Nu Labour and the perpetuation of austerity economics. This was alternated with the claim that Momentum was a throwback to the 1980s and Militant, who have been wrongly maligned by the media as a some cancerous force that ate the right-wing Kinnock-led Labour Party from within. Historical materialism was cast aside to produce this ridiculous narrative, which was repeated ad infinitum and ad nauseum on television and in the press. The simple facts that Kinnock refused to support the miners’ strike and told people to pay the much-hated Poll Tax were simply ignored. So much for facts or anything like them. So much for history.
Perhaps the worst part of Foster’s article is the fact that he chose to write it for The Daily Mail, a paper with a long history of anti-Semitism and unqualified support for Hitler. As for the brick through the window, it landed in a communal stairwell. Moreover, it couldn’t be proven that the brick had been thrown by a Corbyn supporter. Yet the mass media, the Tories, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Labour Right repeated the narrative uncritically as though it was an open and shut case of Nazi-style political thuggery.
The penultimate paragraph in the Foster article makes this historically ignorant claim:
Britain is not a land of extreme politics. From the Reform Acts of 1832, 1868 and 1884 and even the Attlee Government of 1945, Britain’s people have always rejected extremism.
None of the things he mentions were a rejection of “extremism”. The Reform Act of 1832, for example, extended the franchise to all men and abolished the rotten and pocket boroughs. How he manages to squeeze the Attlee Government into this is beyond me. The Tories saw many of the Attlee’s reforms as extreme, especially the creation of the National Health Service, which they bitterly opposed.
David Cameron’s Tory government was run along the lines of a slick public relations outfit. One example of this can be seen in Jeremy Hunt’s insistence on wearing an NHS lapel badge in spite of his continuing evisceration of the health service.
So-called ‘health tourism’ and its companion ‘benefits tourism’ are repeated constantly by the Conservatives and UKIP alike to support the narrative that the country is “full up” and people come here to claim our “generous benefits”. Such narratives are constructed to further bolster the Tory, UKIP and Labour Right claim that “we” need to limit immigration. Yet without EU immigrants, the NHS would most likely collapse.
The splits in the Conservative Party over Brexit are routinely covered up while splits in the Labour Party are highlighted. As I write this, Tory MP, Claire Perry, is in the Daily Politics studio denying the splits in her party and instead shifts the focus onto the Labour Party. She isn’t challenged by Jo Coburn, who simply nods in agreement.
In the weeks leading up to the EU referendum, television news programmes continually broadcast vox pops interviews, many of which repeated internalised national myths and politicians’ soundbites. Some of the most common claims were “We stood alone during the Battle of Britain we can do it again” and “We can stand on our own two feet because I believe in the inventiveness of the British people”. Neither of these statements are based on facts or truths. The first claim is based partly on myths and mostly on lies: during the Battle of Britain, airmen from Poland, The United States, Canada and the Caribbean came to this country to fight the Nazis. Such historical facts have been wiped from the memories of many British people and replaced by myths imparted to them by the tabloid press. The second claim is based on nothing more that wishful thinking and wild-eyed romanticism. Yet these myths persist in the public domain because the media refuses to challenge them. I was watching BBC News yesterday, when they conducted vox pops interviews in Berlin on the subject of Angela Merkel’s announcement that she would stand as her party’s (CSU/CDU) candidate for Chancellor in the forthcoming elections. Each person offered a view that was well-informed and which contained some degree of analysis. In this country, vox pops interviews will often contain no analysis and a great deal of ill-informed opinion.
Opinion has been substituted for hard news and informed analysis. Once respected news programmes like Newsnight have become little more than an outlet for state, and by extension, Tory propaganda. According to a poll conducted by Ipsos-MORI, Labour had closed the gap with the Tories by nine percentage points. This was a cue for Newsnight to run this bizarre and somewhat short interview with Yair Lapid, the chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party.
What’s so odd about this interview is the fact that it wasn’t actually mentioned at the top of the programme.
Nigel Farage and UKIP have, for the past 10 years or more, cast themselves as anti-elite and anti-establishment. The mass media, for the most part, has accepted this without question and have even referred to UKIP and the politics they represent as “anti-politics”. This is a curious formulation that has been coined by the mass media to describe a form of political expression that supposedly opposes mainstream politics. Yet it overlooks the fact that politics is more than stuffed shirts speaking in soundbites and platitudes in the Daily Politics studio. It takes place in everyday life and can be encapsulated in the maxim “The personal is political”.
Guy Debord (1957) observed that the mass media refuses to allow any space to contradictory or marginalized ideas. This almost always means that left-wing ideas are effectively excluded or are otherwise ridiculed. The mass media has thus constructed a simulation of anti-establishment politics in place of genuine anti-establishment politics. The anti-EU ranting of Farage, Evans, Nuttall, et al is seen somehow as having greater legitimacy than the Nordic-style social democracy that is proposed by the Corbynite faction of the Labour Party, which is characterized by the media, The Tories, UKIP and the Labour Right as “dangerous”. The only danger posed by Corbyn’s Labour is to the establishment that has shoved neoliberalism down our throats for the last 35 years.
As I pointed out in this blog from 2014, UKIP’s anti-elite and anti-establishment credentials are entirely bogus. This is a party that is led by former Tories, billionaires, City traders and other bourgeois types.
UKIP and parties like it provide a receptacle for voters’ grievances against the establishment. They divert their energies to the dead-ends of xenophobia, bigotry and hatred of the Other, rather than towards the structural problems that have been created by the establishment that keep people in their place or otherwise divide them. At the risk of contravening Godwin’s Law, even Hitler and his Nazi Party cast themselves as anti-establishment and anti-elite by appearing to oppose moneyed interests. We know how that ended.
I’ve lost count of the times someone on Facebook or Twitter has told me that I should “respect” their opinion. I always tell them, “I don’t give a fuck about your opinion” and they, like some needy child, will always wail, moan and stamp their feet and accuse me of all kinds of things. As someone once said “Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one”. Those who offer their opinions en lieu of a reasoned argument need to bear this in mind.
Opinions also tend to be confused for coherent and well-constructed arguments. There is nothing well-constructed about opinions, they are the product of an emotional reaction to someone or some thing, or they’ve been produced by the media and repeated without question . Yet, if you use the word ‘argument’ in your response, these people will confuse it with the word ‘quarrel’ or ‘disagreement’. An argument or a thesis is based on reading/study and is supported by the production of evidence. Opinions require no evidence. Hence, they are useless in a debate.
So what’s the difference between an opinion and an argument?
An example of an opinion is “I like McDonald’s burgers because they’re nice”. That statement is based on how a person feels about McDonald’s in relation to Burger King or any other fast food outlet. It is entirely subjective. There is no evidence to support the statement.
An example of an argument is “I hate McDonald’s because they refuse to recognise unions on their premises and have sacked unionised workers. Therefore, I boycott them”. Here, I have not only made a statement, but I have supported it with some evidence in the form of a link and given you my reasons for disliking McDonald’s. If I wished I could have added more evidence to support my thesis.
Recently, anti-Corbynites, Tories and Kippers have shouted in near unison that “Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. There is no evidence offered and the opinion is based almost entirely on narratives produced by opinion-formers in the mass media. If you attempt to press them to offer an explanation for this narrative, they will almost always mention a recent poll. But are polls evidence? No. Why do I say that? Because polls are not peer-reviewed and those who interpret the data aren’t self-reflexive. Moreover, the way in which respondents are led to a conclusion is rarely, if ever, discussed. Polling companies will preface a question with a statement like “It has been said that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. Already, the notion that Corbyn is “unelectable” has been fixed in the respondent’s mind and they will offer a Pavlovian response on cue. Remember, these are called opinion polls for a good reason.
Polls don’t exist to measure public opinion. On the contrary, they exist to shape it.
The Labour Party now has over 500,000 members, many of whom have joined since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. Most politicians would chew off their right arm to get these kinds of numbers joining their party but not the Blairites. Indeed the most common response from them and their allies in the right-wing press is “the members aren’t the electorate” or “members don’t matter”. Sometimes this is qualified with “Labour needs to win over Tory voters”. Let’s take each of these in turn.
To the first two replies, I always offer the following response: “When was the last time a party in the contemporary era with fewer than 100,000 members last form the government or the official opposition”? The silence to the question is always deafening. More members mean more people to argue the party’s case on the streets, in the workplaces, the pubs and other social spaces. Party members are also part of the electorate. This is something the Labour plotters and their allies in the right-wing media have consistently ignored. They ignore it, not because they are blind, but because they know it’s the truth. Hundreds of thousands of newly politicized people scares the living bejesus out of the establishment.
This leads me on to the claim that Labour “needs to win over Tory voters” in order to win a General Election. There is no evidence to support this claim. When those who make this claim use the Nu Labour landslide of 1997 as their only mitigating response, it tells us only one thing: they haven’t paid attention to the fact that after 18 years of Tory rule, people were fed up and wanted something different. They’d have voted for anyone as long as they weren’t Tories. But those days are long behind us and the world has changed. The Third Way fails to meet the needs of the millions of people who have seen their incomes stagnate and the cost of living rise exponentially. People want hope and they want change. To tell them that “we must live with the world as it is and not how we’d like it to be” is no better than saying “tough shit”.
During the Blair-Brown-Miliband years, Labour lost 5 million voters and thousands of members. When I put this point to the Blairite MP, Jamie Reed on Twitter, he replied somewhat cryptically with “3 million dead”. Such a flippant reply reveals the arrogance of politicians like Reed, who are only in Parliament to feather their nests and satisfy their egos. I mean, how dare you question them on their lack of vision or their contempt for their members? You should be tugging your forelock and lavishing praise on them.
Here’s Reed speaking to the Huffington Post. He claims that “Corbynistas (sic) hate humour”. I can remember the racist and sexist comedians of the 1970s brushing off criticisms of their humour with “it’s just a joke”. Reed’s defence is no less dishonest.
“There’s nothing like getting told to die by an anonymous egg,” says Jamie Reed, the Labour MP and lightning rod for Twitter abuse from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.
He knows why he gets it in the neck, but refuses to curb his criticism of his party leader on social media to pacify the “trolls”.
Remember even the slightest criticism is considered as either “abuse” or “trolling” by these oh-so-sensitive people.
The Huffington Post takes him at his word and gushes.
By contrast, Reed is playful, owing as much to Viz comic, the Beano and Carry On … as the tenets of the 1997 general election landslide. His Twitter avatar has been the British actor Andrew Lincoln in zombie series The Walking Dead. It is currently the leader of the Rebel Alliance starfighter corps from Star Wars.
“Playful”? He’s poison.
More telling is this:
He says former Tony Blair adviser John McTernan put it best: the hard Left hates humour. “It can’t co-exist with it. Just treating people who are clearly incensed – and in some case for reasons they don’t know why – with a light touch is something they hate.”
Reed even thought that Miliband was too left-wing and worked to overthrow him.
Reed played a central role in the failed attempt to oust former Labour leader Ed Miliband before the general election, and is angry about him distancing the party from New Labour.
So there you have it. Unless the leadership gets a grip and moves to jettison these Blairites, then the Labour Party is doomed to go the same way of the US Democratic Party or Spain’s PSOE. Labour leadership, take note.