Tuesday, July 11, 2006

That's another fine mess you've got me into

Yup, the much trailed result of the emails to the Today programme up on Dave's blog.

The first half of the piece – more or less totally unrelated to Aaro's actual theme – is very revealing of the kind of thinking that has gone into Aaro's analysis of the relationship between the media and the political system. Which is to say, not much. It looks like half-remembered John Birt and the "bias against understanding", tagged onto the whingeing pukery of John Lloyd and the "alternative establishment". But look what Aaro is actually saying. The Media became outraged because the Home Office was not monitoring dangerous felons. In response to the criticism it received, the Home Office decided to deport largely harmless immigrants. And this is the media's fault? If Monday at the Home Office is laxity, incompetence and media criticism but Tuesday at the Home Office is authoritarianism, incompetence and media criticism, then there are two common factors but the problem is the incompetence, not the media. Blaming the media for correctly pointing out what a dog's breakfast the Home Office has become is childish - it's like Stan Laurel whimpering "but you said when you nodded your head I had to hit it".

Moving on from there, it is not clear what Dave's point is. Is it that the BBC shouldn't talk about Prescott's sex life, or that if they do, the source shouldn't be blogs? It can't be the first; as Aaro admits, sex has always been on topic at least since the sleaze years. And there weren't many blogs around when Aaro was a lad, so I don't see why he rather than Ceri Thomas should have the last word on when it was that they became acceptable. It is certainly the case that politicians can be asked to comment on rumours.

I think Aaro is wrong on this one and Ceri Thomas is right. The whole point about Prescott is that, like Mellor, Tim Yeo and Charlie Kennedy before him, he is currently engaged in a death spiral. That is the story with respect to Prescott, it is the BBC's job to report it. Which answers Aaro's rhetorical question; the reason why it's Prescott who's getting monstered rather than John Humphreys, Ceri Thomas, Michael Grade or for that matter me, is that only one of us has, by his own behaviour, created grounds for suspicion. Prescott has repeatedly shown himself not to deserve the benefit of the doubt, and this is what happens when that benefit is absent. It was not the whim of fashion or capricious fairies who singled out Prescott for this pressure; it was the fact that everyone wants him to resign. The entire point is that politicians ought to be worried about what will happen if the media turns on them, because we are no longer able to have them shot since the Human Rights Act was passed.

The fundamental mistake that I think Aaro (and John Lloyd and Lord Birt) are making is to ignore the distinction between "media power" and the real kind. When Aaro says "the media cannot be criticised", all he means, all he can mean is "if you criticise the media, they will defend themselves". This is because the media only have the power to control what is printed in the media. Contrast this with the power that politicians have; if they think that you can't do something, they have the means to make it happen. It is not particularly edifying to see the BBC sniffing through John Prescott's underwear (haha made you think about that), but how else are we going to get the bugger to resign? In an earlier era, the only thing one would have had to print to get rid of him would have been the factual statement that his handling of the ODPM was shambolic and numerous appalling policy failures were his fault. The fact that we are no longer in such an era looks to me to be not so much the fault of the BBC and to a very great deal the fault of the Birt/Lloyd/Aaro axis.

Aaro trivia watch: His local paper is indeed the Ham & High; it is as far as I'm aware the only local paper which comes out on Friday. I am not sure what his point about parks and libraries is, since money is fungible.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I wish people would keep their eyes on the domes rather than the dames a bit more, though the latter are surely more fun. On the other hand it gives Dave the opportunity to continue to divert the issue to the BBC's reporting.

Dave's a kind of natural born democratic centralist, isn't he? the harder he looks at the government, the more he sees the folly, hypocrisy and cynicism of the public and the media it consumes. It's almost anglo-catholic high Toryism sometimes.

7/11/2006 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

John Lloyd wrote a long piece a few weeks back saying it was a disaster the British media didn't print the Danish cartoons. I emailed him to ask him what steps he, as the Editor of the Saturday FT Magazine or as an FT contributing Editor (he was one or the other at different times) had made to get them published, and at what level were his efforts blocked. Apparently the answer is 'I have no idea. I am not concerned with the editorial decisions at the magazine or paper".

7/11/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still think that a lot of the rumours come from Millbank. I think Prescott as a symbol and Prescott as a minister have both reached the end of their useful lives and the party wants rid of him. However he is quite popular (mostly as an emblem) among the grassroots, and therefore they don't want to be seen to get rid of him. (No greater love hath Gordon Brown than to lay down his friends for his career, etc.) And they don't want Prescott coming back like Mandelson.

The Telegraph hates Prescott the way the IRA hate Ian Paisley. The rancour may be genuine, but the man's a gift to propaganda.

So, what's wrong with DA's analysis? He cites David Mellor, but the Mellor affair had two noticeable differences: Antonia de Sancha was attractive enough to interest picture editors in her own right, and she was self-employed. Newspaper interest was mostly in Mellor's hypocrisy (always fun with the Tories) and getting more or less gratuitous shots of a pretty girl on the news pages. A far better comparison is with Cecil Parkinson, who behaved disgracefully (IMO) to a former employee. I hate to come the old unreconstructed lefty here, but that's the part which angers me. DA's deluding himself if he thinks that power is incidental to office amours. If Prescott had other affairs with women whose careers he can affect then it damn well is in the public interest.

The only thing I disagree with you on is your playing along with DA's reification of 'media'.

This is because the media only have the power to control what is printed in the media.

This is true, but the BBC is 'media' and it doesn't have the power to control what is printed in the Times. The thing about the media as we know it is that it pretty much is a product of the Enlightenment. It's part of the argument; but it is only speech. It's a way of taking powers away from government and distributing them among the people. DA's response seems to be to use force when you don't like speech.

That last para just came out like that. I'll have to think whether I agree with it or not.

7/12/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have a look at Geras and Cohen interviewed by Frontpage Magazine. Comedy Gold.


7/13/2006 03:24:00 PM  

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