Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Media: 'Feral Beast' or Pussycat?

Yesterday Tony Blair made a somewhat odd speech at a Reuters event about the media. Echoing John Lloyd's 2004 critique, What the Media are Doing to our Politics, he argued that the constant competition for sales in the 24 hour media context had led it into a form of 'impact journalism' in which truth and balance gave way to eye-catching stories to boost sales. In pursuit of this the media often hunted in a pack:

"In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits, but no one dares miss out...something few people in public life will say, but most know is absolutely true: a vast aspect of our jobs today - outside of the really major decisions, as big as anything else - is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity. At points, it literally overwhelms."

He went on to suggest that such behaviour sapped national self confidence, destroyed morale in the public services and trust between politicians and the media. Responding on various television channels the Daily Mail's Peter Oborne, spoke up for the media by suggesting that Blair had enjoyed an amazingly good press since 1997 and that the media had mostly acted like a pussy-cat in relation to him(yes, that's my silly cat, Tess, in the picture).

It's true, as Blair admitted in his speech, that New Labour's obsession with the media had encouraged this process as this articleelaborates, and it is scarcely surprising that media sages should politely put the boot in. Matthew D'Ancona sees an attempt to exorcize an obsession- 'New Labour was very happy to tango with the media until it went wrong'; Trevor Kavanagh judged it an 'extraordinarily ill judged speech by a prime minister in the fag end of his tenure'; Nick Robinson reminded him of "the impact of his promise to be 'purer than pure' and of those missing weapons of mass destruction."

It does seem as if Blair has wanted it both ways: he wanted the media to dance to his tune which it initially did but found it overwhelmed him in the end. Just like any celebrity he has learnt that those who live by the media are, in the final analysis, often consumed by it. His talk of further regulation of the media deserves to and will be ignored.

Seems to me Blair is setting out his stall as a controversial speaker here ... there's money out there and whacking the media will be a good theme in many contexts.

There may be some further samples of his prowess as a shit stirrer over the next fortnight ...
Blair only criticised one newspaper by name. Was it The Sun or The News of the World? Nah! It was The Independent. In any case, is someone who employed the services of Campbell and Mandelson really in a position to make these comments?
Yes, I think he is. Apprent hypocrisy - if that's what it is - doesn't negate the force of his argument.
I agree. Blair is almost certainly right in his criticism of the media; his hypocrisy vitiates the strength of his critique but does not invalidate it.
OK I concede the point: the (logical) force of an argument, and the truth-status of the premises on which it is based, do not depend on who makes it (the ad hominem fallacy). But Blair is certainly guilty of (a) cowardice (in naming only The Independent and not his pal Murdoch's debased scandal-sheets), and (b) hypocrisy (given his own relentless media manipulation, from the lies over Ecclestone to the dodgy dossier and beyond). Since not everyone is a logician I think in reality this will weaken the impact of his argument. Imagine Bill Clinton lecturing on the merits of marital fidelity. He may (or may not) be right; but it would be risible coming from that source.
I like the Clinton idea and agree he'd convince no-one. I suspect you are right re Blair and the force of his argument too, but see my post yesterday in which I discuss Polly T's article on media.
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