Thursday, 26 March 2009

Demagoguery 2.0.

Charlie Brooker's Newswipe - a Daily Show-esque look at both news and its programming - was predictably good last night. If you missed it, you can catch it here: particularly good is his comparison of the coverage of a) 20 violent Islamist protesters disrupting a soldiers' welcome in Luton and b) 1000s of marchers coming out for peace in N. Ireland.

As always, it's easier to go with the simple and the shocking if you want people's attention. The Northern Ireland march might have got more coverage on a slow news day, but somewhere in Germany an idiot teenager shot up his school, and that obviously demanded hours of coverage. (The clip from Newswipe of a psychologist explaining to an interviewer the media's role in these recurring shootings is pure gold.)

Not every story is violent or catastrophic, but it's better if you can make it so. Hence, we all know now that a government gilt auction FAILED yesterday morning for the first time in SEVEN years. This is a BLOW FOR GORDON BROWN and clear evidence that the MARKETS FEAR GB DEBT. Given that the media's narrative on Brown is now "What a loser", this story fits quite well with a) what they want to tell us and more importantly b) what we want to hear.

Niggling little details about the term of the debt, it's relationship to QE policy, the amount actually sold or the current state of the gilt markets, which by adding context and information detract from the simplicity of the story, are downplayed or ignored entirely. The point, after all, is not to keep the viewer/reader informed about the state of the economy. It's to let us know who's winning.

Mr Eugenides quotes an instructive comment from the blog of Daniel Hannan MEP, regarding a much-viewed clip of him excoriating the PM:

The days when a minister gave briefings to a dozen lobby correspondents, and thereby dictated the next day's headlines, are over. Now, a thousand bloggers decide for themselves what is interesting. If enough of them are tickled then, bingo, you're news. Breaking the press monopoly is one thing. But the internet has also broken the political monopoly. Ten or even five years ago, when the Minister for Widgets put out a press release, the mere fact of his position guaranteed a measure of coverage. Nowadays, a politician must compel attention by virtue of what he is saying, not his position.

It's all a bit unsettling for professional journalists and politicians. But it's good news for libertarians of every stripe. Lefties have always relied on control, as much of information as of physical resources. Such control is no longer technically feasible

Yes, yes. No doubt, people who already don't like Brown are tickled to watch someone have a go at him. It's good old-fashioned entertainment. It's not really political news though - Hannan was after all, merely rehashing the Tory line on Brown, somthing that is getting pretty regular coverage as is. A press release from a Minister might well be pointless fluff - or it could detail actual policy. Which might be quite boring and technical, and not use any nautical metaphors at all . But just giving people the fun bits isn't news. People with an interest in politics (by which I mean, voters in a democracy) need to get the boring nitty-gritty as well as the theatricals. The news machine and it's audience are collaborating to avoid that, in much the same way that a stressed-out mother might ask the kids if they want to just get take-away tonight. But pretending that news-as-entertainment is a vital step forward to freedom and prosperity is like claiming KFC is diet food.

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