Archive for June, 2008

How mainstream media got it wrong over David Davis' resignation

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Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University and one of the most astute commentators on the direction of journalism today, called the blogosphere – news’ ‘Court of Appeal’ (link here). By this he meant that a news story can have a second – often larger – life if bloggers pick it up, chew it over, and generally pay more attention to it than mainstream media did the first time around.

I’d like to add to Rosen’s analogy and suggest that as well as gaining a second life from the public ‘Court of Appeal’, that court can also overturn mainstream media’s original judgment.

This is certainly what’s happened with David Davis’ resignation. After Davis made his surprise announcement that he was resigning his Parliamentary seat over the issue of 42 days detention, mainstream media leapt immediately over the principles for which he resigned and focused entirely on the political implications for Brown and Cameron. ‘Tory shock turns to anger over one man’s 42-day crusade’, said The Guardian. The Times said Davis was on a ‘disastrous ego trip’. The Sun called him ‘a quitter’.

Mainstream media’s attitude was best captured by the rush to judgment of the BBC’s political editor, Nick Robinson, who in a piece to camera and in his blog, talked about Davis’ actions being a ‘nightmare for the Conservative party’ and a gift to Brown.

But then a funny thing happened. Something that couldn’t have happened a couple of years ago. The public responded. People told Robinson he’d got it wrong. And not just a couple of renegade Conservative supporters either. There were 275 comments beneath Robinson’s initial report, 175 on his follow-up, and 555 (to date) below his defense. And the same was true elsewhere on the BBC, and in response to the pieces in the press. A torrent of people reacting against the knee-jerk cynicism of mainstream media and its unwillingness to accept that any politician could do something simply because s/he believed in it.

“This is about a man of principle fighting for what he believes in” SimonofOxford wrote beneath Nick Robinson’s blog, “David Davis deserves plaudits for taking a stand”. “If only all MPs had the guts to stand by their principles we would have a much better and more honest parliament”, commented mikepko.

Climbsforfun reflected the views of many commenters when s/he said “I am pleased to see that I am not alone in being astonished at your [Robinson's], and the media in general’s reaction to this. It seems to fly in the face of how the public feel”.

“Perhaps this is the first sign of public revolt against the mass media”, Vastiriner wrote. “People are so fed up of being spun (or lied) to that they literally do not believe what the mass media’s interpretation any more”.

The effect of this public revolt against cynicism is already apparent. Mainstream media are starting to take Davis’ stand seriously, journalists are pushing Gordon Brown to engage Davis in debate (or at least James Landale from Newsnight is) – even The Sun has become supportive (see Fergus Shanahan). It’s difficult to imagine that this will augur a wider sea change in the media’s attitude to politics, but it might make journalists pause the next time a politician does something for the sake of principle.

Mind you, Nick Robinson remains unrepentant – see his 10 reasons why this will be bad for the Tories. Ironic – and perhaps fitting – that his first should be media related, ’1. It will pit the Tories against the paper whose support they most want to win – The Sun’.

Written by Martin Moore

June 18th, 2008 at 9:55 am

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Intermittent posting

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My blogging’s been a little intermittent of late and will be for a little while longer, because a member of my family has just passed away. But I’ll be writing again shortly.

Written by Martin Moore

June 11th, 2008 at 12:01 pm

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What next for political spin?

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Vincent Cable, whose rhetorical skills won him admirers during his short stint as caretaker Lib-Dem leader, writes today that the current government’s ‘PR skills rival those of Marie Antoinette during the Paris food riots’.

Oh how the worm turns. It really wasn’t long ago that politicians and the media were welcoming the end of Blairite spin with open arms. Finally, they said, we can look forward to politics without endless media manipulation, without constantly trying to distinguish between the surface and the substance, without Alastair Campbell and his proteges.

And now? ‘Bring back spin!’ They cry. ‘Bring back manipulation!’ Simon Jenkins was probably the most direct in the Guardian a couple of weeks back when he wrote that Brown ‘would be better advised to cheer up, stick to his guns and attempt some charisma implant’.

But the implications of Brown’s administration failing to present itself well go beyond the Prime Minister cheering up and showing a bit more charisma.

Many politicians will conclude that Blair was right. That one cannot be a modern day politician without being versed in the black arts of spin. That “not to have a proper press operation nowadays is like asking a batsman to face bodyline bowling without pads or headgear” (from Blair’s “feral beast” speech). That perception is indeed as important as reality.

David Cameron arguably made this conclusion some time ago – perhaps even before he appointed the apolitical Andy Coulson (recently fired from the editorship of the News of the World), to be his director of communications.

Many journalists will become yet more disillusioned with politics. Still furious with the machinations of Blair they will be unable to forgive the failure of no-spin Brown to resuscitate their belief in democratic politics.

Of course there is another way (though let’s not call it the third way). Politicians and the media could both decide to be more adult. Both could conclude – rightly – that democratic politics is inherently bound together with mass communication (note this does not necessarily mean ‘spin’). Politicians have a need – and an obligation – to tell people what they’re doing. The media need democratic politics to give them both the parameters and the space to report freely and critically. The two could do worse than recognising their mutual needs and seeing how they can best be fulfilled in interests of society.

Written by Martin Moore

June 2nd, 2008 at 7:10 pm

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