by Samuel Hooper
The fearless and forensic New York Times continue their penetrating post-mortem investigation into the causes of Brexit. This week’s scapegoat – the Evil British Tabloid Press
Fresh from speculating about how the impact of Brexit on London will equal the fall of Babylon in terms of destruction and woe, the New York Times is back with another self-exonerating tonic for the global metro-left, reassuring them that Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union in no way reflects a serious failing on their part, but instead is entirely the result of sinister machinations by evil outside forces.
In the crosshairs this week: Britain’s tabloid press, led by The Sun newspaper, everybody’s favourite bogeyman. The strong implication of the New York Times article is that Britain’s tabloids are powerful and nefarious, exerting great sway over the political leanings of their simple-minded, provincial readers. The natural inference is that it is a worrying phenomenon when Evil Tabloids “influence” their gullible readers in a populist direction, but entirely laudable and unremarkable when the prestige media – outlets like the New York Times and the Guardian – serve their wise readers up with a consistent globalist, elitist worldview.
One can imagine the tone and content of the piece – sanctimonious, condescending and displaying a stunning lack of self-awareness – without even reading a word, but below are a few choice quotes:
In Britain after the so-called Brexit vote, the power of the tabloids is evident. Their circulations may be falling and their reputations tarnished by a series of phone-hacking scandals. But as the country prepares to cut ties with the European Union after a noisy and sometimes nasty campaign, top politicians court the tabloids and fear their wrath. Broadcasters follow where they lead, if not in tone then in topic.
Of course, when the Times talks about a “sometimes nasty campaign”, they are alluding exclusively to supposedly nativist and anti-immigration rhetoric, and not the hatred and contempt frequently pored on people who campaigned and voted in good conscience for Brexit. This becomes clear through all of the campaign incidents cited in the article, culminating in an attempt to link the murder of Jo Cox MP directly to pro-Brexit rhetoric.
Their readers, many of them over 50, working class and outside London, look strikingly like the voters who were crucial to the outcome of last year’s referendum on membership in the European Union. It is these citizens of Brexitland the tabloids purport to represent from the heart of enemy territory: Housed in palatial dwellings in some of London’s most expensive neighborhoods, they see themselves as Middle England’s embassies in London.
In the campaign leading up to a snap election on June 8, most tabloids can be counted on to act as the zealous guardians of Brexit and as a cheering section for the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May — even though the city that houses them voted the other way.
This is actually true. And the reason that many of the tabloids are bastions of working class populism surrounded by a sea of metro-leftism is that these are national newspapers, not city-specific or regional publications.
One has to take issue with the Times’ reference to “Brexitland” though, as if despite representing a majority of voters, Brexit supporters are somehow strange and exotic creatures whose behaviour requires analysis and interpretation by the prestige media – which, of course, is exactly how the New York Times sees them.
A more worthy article would turn the gaze back toward “Remainland” or “Europeland” and seek to understand how 48 percent of the country managed to drift away and treat the concerns, fears and aspirations of the 52 percent with such complete indifference. But this is the New York Times, and they have no interest in turning a forensic gaze on people like their own reporters, editors and readers – the “good people” whose behaviour needs no explanation or introspective analysis.
The article then takes a divergence to discuss Boris Johnson, even though the Foreign Secretary’s execrable journalistic career was spent at supposedly prestige broadsheets, not tabloids:
In the marble-and-glass lobby of the 17-story News Building, home to Mr. Murdoch’s British media empire, there is a small plaque that commemorates the building’s 2014 opening by Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London and now the British foreign secretary.
Mr. Johnson, wild-haired and witty, became a chief architect of Brexit when, four months before the referendum, he threw his weight behind a cause until then most closely associated with the populist U.K. Independence Party. But his main contribution to Brexit may go back more than two decades.
A correspondent in Brussels for The Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s, Mr. Johnson was credited by fellow reporters with pioneering the euroskeptic coverage of the European Union that has since become the default setting for much of the British press. With little regard for the truth — he was previously fired by The Times of London for making up a quote — Mr. Johnson wrote about a Europe scheming to impose standard condom sizes and ban his country’s beloved prawn-cocktail-flavored chips (both untrue).
“Boris invented fake news,” said Martin Fletcher, a former foreign editor of The Times, who was in Brussels shortly after Mr. Johnson. “He turned euroskepticism into an art form that every news editor in London came to expect.”
Ah, so the reason for bringing up Boris Johnson in an article supposedly about tabloid journalism was in order to shoehorn “fake news” into the discussion. Well, while nobody would seriously defend the quality of Johnson’s Europe reporting for either the Times of London or the Telegraph, these stories were primarily consumed by broadsheet-reading elites, not the oafish, Sun-reading working classes held in such contempt by the New York Times. And it should be noted that whatever the failings of the British newspaper media with regard to Brexit – and they are many – serious journalists like the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker have contributed consistently powerful analysis and criticism of the EU, shedding far more light than heat (unlike Johnson).
Besides, as this blog has previously discussed, focusing exclusively on “fake news”, much of which is so obviously hysterical and false as to be unbelievable to all but the most swivel-eyed of social media sharers, ignores the far more pernicious impact of ideologically skewed mainstream news, which is read by elites and decision-makers, often actually driving the political debate.
The example I always return to is the fact that nearly all prestige American news outlets have stopped referring to illegal immigrants as such, referring to them euphemistically as “undocumented” or “unauthorised” immigrants instead. Similarly, when an American politician seeks to crack down on illegal immigration they are nearly always described as being antagonistic toward the “immigrant community”, suggesting a deep-seated conservative antipathy toward all immigrants, making them seem far more extreme than they really are.
This linguistic trickery, common throughout the American mainstream media, seriously impacts the way that people view the subject of immigration. Read about Donald Trump’s hostility to “immigrants” often enough and you could be forgiven for thinking that the American president is actively plotting the deportation of law-abiding, visa or green card-holding immigrants, when this is simply not the case. American news outlets know that they are misleading their readers and viewers by stoking these alarming fears but do so anyway, purely in order to push a certain political outcome (acceptance and normalisation of illegal immigration).
All of this should be borne in mind when the New York Times article goes on to discuss tabloid treatment of immigration in the Brexit debate:
Britain makes many of its own laws, of course. But it is an interesting choice of example. A more obvious one might have been immigration.
Research by a former Times journalist, Liz Gerard, showed that tabloids pounded the immigration issue, with at least 30 hostile front-page splashes in The Daily Mail in the six months leading up to the referendum, and 15 in The Sun. The headlines — “Britain’s Wide Open Borders” The Daily Mail shouted — often tended toward histrionic. The Sun insinuated that child refugees arriving in Britain were lying about their ages and should have dental X-rays.
“Tell Us the Tooth,” the headline read.
A week earlier, I had met Kelvin MacKenzie, a former Sun editor and a columnist who was subsequently suspended for referring to a mixed-race soccer star as a “gorilla.” He said that the paper still reflected the “beating heart of Britain,” and that Brexit was won on immigration “by a thousand miles.”
Has the British tabloid media focused heavily on immigration, and often covered the subject in a crass and obnoxious way? Yes, of course – both news reporting, editorial lines and political commentary in the tabloids have been troubling at times. But one must remember that left to their own devices, the prestige media would hardly cover the issue at all. Newspapers like the high-minded Guardian have zero sympathy for those who object to uncontrolled mass immigration, and even more supposedly conservative outlets like the Times or Financial Times would happily ignore the subject altogether were it not for the tabloids keeping the issue on the national agenda. One cannot examine the sins of the tabloid press while pretending that the prestige press is somehow faultless.
Or can we?
Well, the New York Times certainly seems capable of obsessing about the mote in their British cousin’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own. As far as the New York Times is concerned, Brexit is purely the result of rabble-rousing tabloids (with an assist from glib superficial coverage in the prestige conservative press) whipping up xenophobic feelings among their working class readership. According to this self-exonerating narrative, Brexit has absolutely nothing to do with the prestige media failing to hold politicians to account for progressively signing away sovereignty and governing competencies to a barely accountable supranational government, or helping to make a nuanced conversation about immigration impossible.
No, instead we are expected to believe that the earnest saints of the prestige media and their establishment readers and cheerleaders are totally blameless. We are expected to close our minds to the possibility that more people might have heeded some of (say) the Guardian or the New Statesman’s more accurate concerns and reporting during the EU referendum if those publications had not conducted themselves for years in such a screechingly, stridently blinkered pro-EU manner.
And even now, after the New York Times managed to cocoon its own readership in such a self-reinforcing ideological bubble that almost none of them saw Donald Trump as a potential threat to their world order, in examining Brexit America’s newspaper of record is unable to question whether producing news and commentary almost entirely of the elites, by the elites and for the elites might not be the smartest way to approach journalism.
For God’s sake, New York Times, wake up. Turn your concerned gaze around 180 degrees and question the assumptions, biases and blind spots in your own reporting. Stop worrying about the evil tabloid press and its hold over the impressionable British working class mind for two seconds, and spend at least a moment considering how your own prestige journalism has unhelpfully perpetuated and reinforced failing globalist shibboleths for years, leading to these harsh instances of political correction in domestic and world affairs.
Because if the unexpected election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit (different though the two phenomena are) have taught us anything, it’s that blue-collar, working-class folks are far from being the only people who can be plausibly accused of being brainwashed by the news media that they consume.
What do you think? Are the tabloids the guilty ones? Please leave a comment below.