The last 10 days have not only exposed the shambolic state of UK politics (or at least, English politics), but also the dire state of UK mainstream media. But on Monday night, there was a moment that summed up just how ludicrous things have become.
Throughout the #ChickenCoup of Blairite Labour MPs revolting against the left-wing leadership and membership of the party, mainstream media journalists have been responsible for amplifying gossip, lies and rumour – and repackaging it as credible information.
On Monday night, they were caught out spectacularly, when Huffington Post Political Editor Paul Waugh made claims that a Corbyn ally was ‘nodding along’ to Neil Kinnock speaking against the Labour leader. Reading the tweet, you would assume Waugh was in the room, watching events unfold and reporting them as they happened. Except he wasn’t.
Sorry @paulwaugh you are not in the room and your information is wrong.
— Barry Gardiner (@BarryGardiner) July 4, 2016
So where did Waugh get this information from, if he wasn’t in the room?
Waugh was simply passing on gossip.
The moment was caught by Twitter users, who took their chance to call ‘bullsh*t’ when they saw it – pointing to a whole string of falsehoods perpetrated (and later quietly recanted) in recent days.
What’s worse, is that Waugh is far from alone – and far from the worst. That crown goes to a chap called George Eaton, Political Editor of the New Statesman who seems to have abandoned journalism entirely. Instead, as his Twitter account testifies, he seems simply to loiter in Westminster bars retweeting any old piece of gossip he overhears as if it were a Walter Cronkite-style scoop.
Just one example was the Tom Watson debacle.
Labour MPs tell me that they expect Tom Watson to tell Corbyn that he should resign.
— George Eaton (@georgeeaton) June 27, 2016
This never happened. However, the BBC picked up the story and ran with it, alongside much of the mainstream media. Retractions came later.
Eaton was also the muckspreader-in-chief of the false allegation that Corbyn had voted to leave the EU.
I'm now near-certain that Corbyn voted Leave. Hear papers have more tomorrow.
— George Eaton (@georgeeaton) June 27, 2016
Except those papers never came. This was all, again, just gossip.
One Twitter user kindly provided a list of 8 such moments from the week, which sum up the sloppiness and bias being applied by our mainstream political journalists.
— for love of foxes (@AgainstHunting) July 4, 2016
But thankfully, there is an increasing awareness, and rising contempt, for this ‘boy’s club’ school of journalism.
Apparently this isn't true and your story about him voting leave was't true.
So you're just smearing him now, standards = 0%
— Lorenzo Rasputin (@r_aspu) June 28, 2016
— Andrew Brown (@abaloo) July 4, 2016
All this might be funny, if there weren’t such great issues at stake.
The role of these Westminster-based lobby journalists should be to act as a filter, sifting through the detritus churned out by the rumour mill, to find nuggets of truth to share with the public.
They should be taking the time, and exhibiting the editorial maturity and patience, to research the credibility of their sources and the information they present.
The whole thing is reminiscent of the annual Gloucestershire cheese roll. Every year, they hold this competition where a ball of cheese is flung down Cooper’s Hill, for the villagers to chase after. They go careering hell for leather down the hill, falling over themselves, each other, breaking bones. This seems to be basically the same principles applied by our mainstream media in chasing Westminster gossip.
It’s hilarious when the end result is a battered piece of cheese. It’s not quite so funny when the result is a battered democracy – where decent people are character assassinated, and where the public is consistently misled in a time of great uncertainty and worry.
It’s times like this the public needs a media it can count on: a Fourth Estate holding power to account, fact-checking the Westminster whispers and exposing the whisperers. Instead, they are in cahoots. This slapdash, Twitterati generation of mainstream hacks have have reduced our media to a flock of rabid seagulls regurgitating gossip into the mouths of their readers. It is lazy, cynical and an absolute dereliction of duty.
At the same time, incredible new media organisations like Novara Media, Media Diversified, Media Lens, CommonSpace, Bella Caledonia, Real Media and many others are taking the fight to the establishment. They have been ably assisted by an array of skilled and committed bloggers like Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Pride’s Purge and Politics and Insights (Kitty S Jones) to name but a few.
The established media and certain members of the political class are now engaged in attempts to undermine those efforts. But we expected this. We brought the fight to them. And this fight is bigger than pitch forks, witch hunts and personal attacks.
There is a widespread hunger for a school of journalism which does not rely on the establishment, or replicate its mistakes; that tells truth to power and speaks in a human voice; that wears its opinions openly and distinguishes them from arguments of fact.
This is why The Canary exists. We lay out our mission in our Values section, for all to see. We believe a free, fair and fearless media is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, because for democracy to work, it requires informed consent from its citizens. We intend to help generate that informed consent by providing our readers with high-quality, well-researched and incisive journalism.
We are as flawed and imperfect as any group of individuals. But someone needs to start this fight, and those who are, have seen their work rewarded with millions of new, switched on, and passionate readers. As I have said before, it has felt as if during the last decade, we have all been witnessing the demise of politics, the welfare state, the NHS and the media in gradually escalating horror. We have been looking over our shoulder to the hills, asking: ‘Where is the cavalry?’
But the cavalry isn’t coming. We are the cavalry. Parents, teachers, plumbers, engineers, scientists, junior doctors, sick and disabled people, people of colour, students, working and non-working people, activists – and it is the responsibility of the new media to promote those voices where the established media has failed.
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Featured Image via The Columbus Dispatch