Friday 6 October 2017

John Harris' foot-stamping tantrum about independent media

The Guardian columnist John Harris is the latest mainstream media journalist to launch an attack on independent media in a column in which he disparages non-mainstream media sources for supposedly committing the crime of confusing "advocacy" and "analysis" as if mainstream media journalists are righteous and broadly unbiased commentators trying to paint a fair picture using "analysis", while non-mainstream journalists are dangerous rabble-rousing usurpers peddling a dangerous form of radical "advocacy".

It's easy to see how mainstream media pundits like Harris are so terrified of independent media. People like him have deluded themselves into thinking that they're the righteous gatekeepers of public discourse, so it enrages them to see social media providing a platform to political outsiders to say things that fall way outside what they consider to be the spectrum of acceptable political opinion.

They preferred it back when people like me were pretty much voiceless because people from unremarkable working class backgrounds would never ever have been handed lucrative newspaper columns or invited on TV politics shows to air the kind of political views that were considered to be shockingly heretical by the political pundit class until the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

They're furious because the rise of Jeremy Corbyn has proven there is actually a strong public appetite for once-heretical left-wing stuff like public ownership and a more humane welfare system that doesn't treat the most vulnerable people in society as vermin to be trampled all over to satisfy the blood lust of Daily Mail columnists.

Harris exists in such a bubble of delusion that he even quotes the Times hack and Twitter bore Hugo Rifkind to attack social media, as if a Rupert Murdoch employee and privately educated son of a government minister in the Thatcher regime is somehow a natural authority on unbiased journalism!

The fact is that all political commentators are biased. Mainstream media journalists all too often promote the biases of the newspaper they write for like a pack of amoral mercenaries, or push the groupthink of the Westminster political class that they've allowed themselves to get way too cosy with.

I've never been afraid to admit that I'm politically biased (
against ruinous hard-right economic dogma, warmongering, profiteering, and corruption and in favour of social justice and democratic accountability), but I've also repeatedly warned my readers that the ones to really watch out for are the commentators who pretend that they're neutral and unbiased observers, because they're lying to you.

Even if they've managed to create a convoluted self-justification for having appointed themselves the gatekeepers of public opinion, they're deluding themselves if they pretend to that they're trying to be unbiased because the only true form of political neutrality is complete and total apathy.

If they can report on stuff like the systematic Tory abuse of disabled people, the appalling humanitarian consequences of Britain's catastrophic foreign policy interventions in Iraq and Libya, or the ideologically driven Tory assault on workers' wages, labour rights and working conditions, yet not advocate for change to prevent the suffering, death and impoverishment of their fellow human beings in future, then these people are callous and complicit monsters, not noble impartial journalists they see themselves as, which is exactly the point that Harris used his column to condemn the Labour veteran Dennis Skinner for making.

Harris' retort is based on the incoherent argument that somehow only dispassionate observers are capable of holding the powerful to account, and those who actually advocate for change when they witness corruption or injustice are somehow guilty of creating a world where the powerful are not held to account for their actions!

Another major flaw in Harris' self-aggrandising posturing as some kind of more-or-less neutral analyst is belied by his enthusiastic support for the Anyone But Corbyn coup last summer, followed by his lazy recycling of the pessimistic pre-election Guardian trope that Jeremy Corbyn would lead Labour to a historic hiding, rather than the the vibrant renewal of the party and the first increase in the Labour vote since 1997.

During the spectacularly failed Anyone But Corbyn coup last summer Harris wrote an anti-Corbyn Guardian column in which he bitterly prophesied the end of the Labour Party, cluelessly decried social media as "probably the worst thing that ever happened to the political left", and hysterically accused left-wing independent media of "grinding the Labour Party to dust".

In his naval-gazing worldview this kind of extreme rhetoric in his own column wasn't a display of intensely biased advocacy against Jeremy Corbyn that it so clearly was. It wasn't an effort to manipulate the reader against the Labour left and left-wing independent media either. In his mind it was common sense analysis, because this kind of intensely biased fearmongering groupthink nonsense was absolutely rife in the Westminster bubble and the chattering classes with which Harris and his Guardian mates associate.

Just a year ago Harris was actually deriding social media as some kind of terrible curse that the left would never recover from, but the public didn't heed his fearmongering diatribes, and left-wing activists absolutely trouncing the Tories on social media turned out to be a decisive factor in the UK Labour Party's 10.5% increase in vote share against a backdrop of other democratic socialist parties capitulating all over Europe (Greece, Netherlands, France, Germany and soon Austria).

Harris considered his often intensely biased and delusional diatribe last year to be analysis rather than advocacy because it chimed with the groupthink of his peers, and he considers the output of non-mainstream media to be advocacy rather than analysis because it so often contradicts the myopic groupthink of his fellow mainstream media mates.

It was the same story again with the General Election. Harris and his groupthink riddled peers in the mainstream media predicted doom for the Labour Party, but the Corbyn surge resulted in the biggest surprise result in decades.

At first mainstream media pundits were flabergasted and unable to explain how the Corbyn surge had happened. But now they're increasingly furious because it's dawning on them that millions of people just ignored their lazy groupthink rhetoric in defence of the orthodox neoliberal consensus because social media has empowered a new generation of independent journalists to attempt to describe what people are actually feeling, rather than trying to manufacture people's political opinions for them to match whatever the mainstream media groupthink brigade have decided the public should be thinking.

Harris and his ilk see it as their job to guard the boundaries of public opinion, and they hate the increasing amount of influence over public discourse that social media is affording to outsiders like me. That's why he describes Facebook journalism as polemicists, without a hint of self-awareness about the fact that his column about the horrors of Jeremy Corbyn, the labour left and social media last year wasn't just polemical, it was downright delusional too.

To get an idea of how mainstream media groupthink leads to highly selective accusations of bias, take the power and influence of JK Rowling on social media, especially Twitter. How often have you heard mainstream media journalists pointing out that her political views are intensely biased (which they obviously are), or complaining that she repeatedly uses her huge social media power to promote vile misogynistic British Unionist troll accounts like Brian Spanner, and to bully people who disagree with her views?

You don't ever hear about Rowling's bias and bullying tactics in supposedly left-liberal mainstream media publications like the Guardian because Rowling's brand of bitter anti-Corbyn rhetoric and intense British nationalist bias chime perfectly with their own worldviews, so it's sites like The Canary and Evolve Politics who keep getting it in the neck for being biased and having too much influence, while Rowling's bias and levels of influence go totally unremarked upon by Harris and his ilk.

Aside from the hypocrisy, the self-aggrandisement and the very one-sided accusations of bias, another of the worst things about Harris' is that it's so unoriginal. There have been several concerted mainstream media attacks on independent media sources like the Skwawkbox and The Canary since the election, The BBC's Nick Robinson had a foot stamping tantrum about independent media last week, and now Harris is just lazily rehashing the mainstream media groupthink on the terrifying threat of independent media, just like last year he was lazily churnalising the intensely biased negative mainstream media groupthink on Jeremy Corbyn and the revival of the left.

Harris' latest attack on independent media is little more than a toddler tantrum. He knows that he's been proven spectacularly wrong about social media being some kind of deathly curse on the Labour Party. He knows that the fearmongering anti-Corbyn rhetoric that he and his fellow Guardian columnists concocted last summer is now about as appealing as a bucket of cold sick to anyone but Tories and the obnoxious trolls who populate the Guardian comments section after the exodus of people fleeing their anti-left bias, toxic comments Below-the-line atmosphere, and desperately deteriorating journalistic standards. And he knows that the mainstream media establishment club are badly losing control of the vice-like grip they've had on the boundaries of public debate for decades. 

He's furious about all of this, but it's telling that all he can do about it is write an impotent and unoriginal foot stamping column that demonstrates his total unwillingness to accept the changing mediascape.

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