Media Lens, the British media watchdog group, finally draws a conclusion that I figured out for myself a long time ago: that while the British media may be slightly more liberal than their Yank counterparts, they’re still piss-poor at doing their actual job–that is, if you consider said actual job to be informing the public of what is really going on in the world, so that the public in turn can do its part and change the world. And also, that they’re a bunch of snot-nosed toddlers with gargantuan egos:
Undoubtedly the redoubtable Mr. Rentoul thought he was being witty by saying that. Well, he’s half right–but only half. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt about the morpork thing, but by uncritically repeating, for paid publication, what the neo-cons say, he is in fact making himself into their paid agent. It is only a question of whether they pay him directly or indirectly. By the bye, Mr. Rentoul, blowing snot all over your readers is no more mature than trashing a really serious peer-reviewed medical publication, like the Lancet, for having the temerity to contradict you. I expect that of freepers, not real journalists doing real work in the field.But maybe I’m being unkind. Perhaps Mr. Rentoul just didn’t understand the question? If so, he’s not the only one:
Since starting Media Lens in 2001, we have learned that corporate journalists are very often ill-equipped, or disinclined, to debate vital issues with members of the public.In 2004, the esteemed Lancet medical journal published a study showing that 98,000 Iraqis had most likely died following the US-led invasion. John Rentoul, chief political correspondent of the Independent on Sunday, responded with sarcasm when we challenged him about his dismissal of the peer-reviewed science:“Oh no. You have found me out. I am in fact a neocon agent in the pay of the third morpork of the teleogens of Tharg.” (Email, September 15, 2005)
I do hope the reader in question replied to the oh-so-civilized Mr. Alton, something along these lines: “I, sir, do not recycle garbage…but you, sir, DO. It’s nice to know that you are so environmentally friendly. From now on, sir, I will follow your example, and recycle your not-so-hard work forthwith as fish-wrap. It’s more useful that way than if I actually read it, as I know full well you have not done with anything you got from Downing Street.”But even when the British media decide to get all Web 2.0 (or is it 3.0 by now?) and offer their readers an “interactive” space to opine in, a double standard still prevails:
In 2003, Roger Alton, then editor of the Observer, also did not take kindly to a reader accusing him of peddling Downing Street propaganda on the eve of the invasion:“What a lot of balls … do you read the paper old friend? … ‘Pre-digested pablum from Downing Street…’ my arse. Do you read the paper or are you just recycling garbage from Medialens?” (Email, February 14, 2003)
Strange. I receive Media Lens e-mails from time to time, and I do not receive “directives” via them, let alone ones I follow “mindlessly”. At the bottom of every one are suggested actions the readers can take, but these are only suggestions. Not all readers take them; certainly not I, because I’ve actually got a degree in journalism, have met a number of pros from various media, and have seen for myself what a load of monstrous egos and midget minds inhabit the field (yes, even here in nice, liberal, socialistic Canada). A few are as nice as they come (Ron MacLean of CBC Sports is one of those good eggs); others, many more others, are rude and downright nasty even if you ask them for nothing more than the time of day. I really don’t feel like writing to those people, because I know in advance that it won’t make a difference. I wouldn’t get a satisfactory explanation, let alone a “gee, I never thought of that”; I’d count myself lucky to get snotty responses like those catalogued above. No, I’d rather write of them than to them, and expose them with mockery here, because here, they can’t cow or intimidate or (here comes a big bad word, kiddies) CENSOR me. This is my space, and if they ego-google themselves and happen to come across what I say about them, they get what they deserve. So far, not one of them has done so–or at least, not that I would know, because not one of them has expended the very minimal effort (a gentle fluttering of fingers over a keyboard) to say something back. Hey media types, here’s a little free advice for y’all: If you want to be taken seriously, start by taking your work seriously. Don’t get all caught up in what Media Lens rightly criticizes as “professional navel-gazing, ego-burnishing and insider gossip.” When you sink to that level, you are taking yourself seriously and your work lightly. The public does not benefit from this, unless perhaps you’re thinking to cure our collective insomnia that way. (Melatonin works better. Try it sometime.)If you’re going to have a media section, put it to good use and do some real self-criticism once in a while. It may seem painful at first, it may even seem a little Marxist, but it won’t hurt you to learn to take your work more seriously and yourselves more lightly. I do it all the time in my own writing, because I feel that I owe it to my readers, as many or as few as they may be. I do it in my poetry, my fiction, my essays, and yes, this blog. Even the silliest stuff, like my satire and my limericks, gets worked over until I feel it will pass muster and make somebody else’s day. The very least you “serious” journo-types can do, if you want the public to respond to you in kind, is to give some evidence that you are capable of independent thought. You can’t do that if you recycle blatant nonsense, or praise it (like so many of you did with the Euston Manifesto, a self-congratulatory non-manifesto if ever there was one)–or if you’re all wrapped up in cotton balls, insulated by self and station against what you perceive as the rabble. Hello, you’re only human, you’re a member of it too–get over it, and more importantly, GET OVER YOURSELVES!And if you want to convince us that you are Serious Cats, don’t lose the serious thread. Report the issues honestly–don’t just play back what he said, what she said, what they said. Unless you have the nerve to examine what made them say it, you have no business being in the business. You may as well just hunch on your perches, fluff up your feathers, and say “Polly want a cracker”, for all the serious difference you make.
Last week, Matt Seaton, editor of the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, was asked why he dismissed readers of Media Lens as a mere “lobby”, but not readers who post comments on his website. Seaton replied:“because, unlike MediaLens readers, users of Comment is free are not given directives to spam journalists and others – and would not mindlessly follow such directives if they were” (Email, October 15, 2008)