Friday, 28 August 2015

Mark Steel, alas, blocking debate on liberal media and its attack on Corbyn

Alas, I've been blocked on Twitter by Independent writer and comedian Mark Steel. Ah, well, so it goes. 
It's a shame, as I have great respect for Steel as a journalist and artist. It's all the more disappointing given that my questions and observations to him were offered in a spirit of fair engagement, a civil invitation to debate, albeit in the cursory way debate can ever be conducted on Twitter.

But the subject of such debate is no small matter, concerning the appalling performance of the Independent and Guardian, alongside the right-wing press, in their relentless campaign to smear and demolish Jeremy Corbyn.
Here's the exchange, in response to Steel's Independent piece headlined 'Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be':
Mark Steel @mrmarksteel
My column has arrived, I bring news of Labour jollity

John Hilley @johnwhilley
.@mrmarksteel Love your stuff, but why just right-wing press, ignoring Indy/Guardian's dark part in warning us about the #Corbyn 'disaster'?

Mark Steel @mrmarksteel
@johnwhilley AAAAAAAAAAAGH A) I don't write the headlines B) Do you want me to write an article called 'why this paper is shit'?

John Hilley @johnwhilley
.@mrmarksteel Ok, what about a comment on this headline and the message it sends out? And is the Indy's output on #Corbyn beyond criticism? 
A previous observation was also made in a comment to a retweet:              
It says so much that such a sharp writer fails even to intimate the Indy/Guardian's appalling treatment of
It's worth noting here that while Steel may be correct in saying the title wasn't written by him, whoever did write it at the Indy was only reflecting, quite accurately, the actual media - Telegraph and Mail - Steel himself was targeting in his piece. So if he has an issue with the headline, why not say so?   
Media Lens were also blocked by Steel for posting a few similar civil questions and observations, as in: 
Media Lens @medialens @johnwhilley
@mrmarksteel Fine, but what's to stop you mentioning Guardian alongside the Mail and Telegraph? Has Guardian not been awful?
Media Lens @medialens
@mrmarksteel According to Lexis, you have criticised Guardian a total of 3 times, twice in passing, most recently 2001. Almost faultless?
Ironically, as Media Lens tweeted, Steel can resort to blocking commentators while denouncing Labour's purging of those it deems 'unfit' to vote in the leadership contest:
Media Lens @medialens
Irony: Steel lampooning Labour's blocking of applicants. He blocked us this morning for sending a couple of questions
A deep irony, indeed. 
Sometimes we find ourselves in times of real progressive potential. This is one such promising moment. And, as Jonathan Cook suggests in a fine blog comment, the Corbyn phenomenon is "a prospect terrifying our supposedly liberal media." 
We've seen the massive shift in public politicisation during and after the Scottish independence referendum. Now we're seeing a similar exciting surge of movement politics from the Corbyn campaign. In both cases, and many others, a liberal establishment media, notably the Guardian and Independent, have played a vital part in trying to halt or undermine that progress.
And, as Media Lens have helpfully documented, leading writers and observers can have no excuse for claiming not to see the extent of that 'stop Corbyn' campaign. 
Should we sit back and ignore this? Should we pretend it's all just an attack from the right-wing media? Should we turn a blind-eye to those leftist writers at the Indy and Guardian who, while putting out good articles, are still unwilling to address the kind of hatchet journalism and editorialising the liberal establishment media are engaged in? 
Some argue that we shouldn't 'alienate' those on our own side, or that we're 'expecting too much' of such writers, or that we're 'diverting attention' from 'real enemies' like Cameron and the Tories. Yet, should we simply dismiss how such media serve to contain, dilute and moderate debate on meaningful change, keeping us safely dulled on what's 'achievable'? 
Some say such media are relatively unimportant, that more of the public are exposed to and influenced by tabloid-type media. But that's to dismiss the central role of the liberal media in shaping safely-moderated narratives like 'sensible Labourism'. Hence, the gravitas writers like Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland are treated with.
If anything, beyond what many disregard as virulent Sun/Mail-speak, their kind of 'sober' and 'balanced' viewpoints, as with 'respectable' anti-Corbyn Guardian/Indy editorials and news, carries even more influential weight.  
This requires a more critically challenging view of such media, a realisation that this is not a time for using the Guardian, Indy and other liberal places as an 'opportune platform' for defending Corbynism, but as an opportune moment for highlighting the very forces serving to suffocate it and other promising progressive movements.
This is the very terrain of political action. It's not a time or place to placate, appease or make excuses for such liberal-left media. If we want serious progress, there has to be a real effort to expose and transcend the hegemonic power of the whole establishment media, not some faux pretence and mitigation that it's still a 'useful' space within which serious change can be made. 
It's no big deal to be blocked by big names on the ego-driven Twittersphere. But such actions do help illustrate the deep avoidance of this key issue, and the extent to which even highly-admired journalists will go in evading discussion of it. 


'Don't turn your back' said...

It's not clear any more which side of politics you're on, but how good it would if you focussed some of your obsessive energy on the wrecking-ball Tories. I suspect youve 'done all that', found it not easy and turned your frustration on soft targers like Monbiot and Evans. I personally asked M Steel not to engage with you as its clear you have completely unrealistic expectations and just relentlessly badger the few friends we have in the media. Your effort seems so counter productive.Sorry John, but for gods sake appreciate what we've got. Lefties in the media are under enough pressure without being kicked from behind.

John Hilley said...

Be assured, I know which side I'm on.

Nor is it useful to personalise discussion with smear terms like "obsessive energy", "turned your frustration" and "relentlessly badger".

"Lefties in the media" are not beyond scrutiny or civil challenge over such vital issues.

Rose said...

Love the royal "we" implied by the lefties in the media phrase. This is exactly the crux of the criticism. Come into the tent and piss out - don't stand outside and piss in. Sorry for the crudity but sometimes it's all that can be mustered.

Power to your elbow John - or any other part of your anatomy that fits that particular figure of speech.

John Hilley said...

Thanks for your supportive words, Rose.

John Hilley said...

Writer Joe Emersberger has also now been blocked by Mark Steel:

Joe Emersberger ‏@rosendo_joe
@johnwhilley now blocked along with U John

following this comment/retweet:

Joe Emersberger @rosendo_joe
U can block who U want @mrmarksteel obviously, but this was totally ridiculous gate keeping on your part.

Media Lens @medialens
Hilley could hardly have been more polite in challenging Steel. But that line of questioning is just not tolerated. …

John Hilley said...

A few of the responses posted at the Media Lens message board:

Posted by Ed on August 28, 2015

Nicely put, John. Another one bites the dust, imho (nm)


Posted by Myers on August 28, 2015

Well engaged, and well written up, commendable work John.

This is so important. I agree with GR that no serious political commentator can still be considered credible when remarking on the Corbyn campaign, without mention of the liberal media's role (or rather its 'unmasking'). How can such writers continue to work at these anti-democratic publications? If they knocked their heads together they could make an independent online platform within a couple of weeks and crowd fund it from readers. Then Steel could write and article about 'why the Indy is shit'; and what a good read that would be if it ever happened.

I can only think that Steel is in a corner, he must surely see what is going on. How sad.

Posted by John Hilley on August 28, 2015

Thanks, Myers.

"I can only think that Steel is in a corner, he must surely see what is going on. How sad."

Yes, he must surely see it. I can only presume it's largely rationalised as this supposed need to maintain the 'all-important platform'. It's significant that while hostile attacks from the right can be tolerated, even welcomed, polite enquiry on this kind of issue can't be accommodated.


Posted by emersberger on August 28, 2015

Great question. Would an abusive right-winger have been blocked as quickly? I really doubt it.

Posted by The Editors on August 29, 2015


'By conventional measures, the Harvard faculty is much more liberal, in fact left-liberal. MIT faculty are very conservative often, even reactionary. I get along fine with the MIT faculty, even when we disagree about everything (which is the usual case). If I show up at the Harvard faculty club, you can feel the chill settle; it�s as if Satan himself had entered the room.' (Chomsky, quoted, Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000 p.14)

It's all about ego. Steel's is deeply invested in an idea of himself as a courageous truth-teller - people adore him for that, they've been building him up years with that idea; he's a hero to many. And he has done a lot of tremendous work. These very polite, rational questions challenge this idea of himself in a way he just can't answer. That's incredibly painful. When the basis of your self-esteem is under attack, it feels like a threat to your very existence, almost to your life; so the anger is very intense. The irony is that cynical right-wing journalists - who are invested in the idea of themselves as crafty manipulators rather than as courageous truth-tellers - may react far less aggressively to criticism from the left, as Noam noted.

So when you look at the issue of free speech, open debate, media criticism - indeed, at the way liberal gatekeepers protect the liberal press from any serious criticism - the supposedly mystical, navel-gazing issue of the ego - what it is, why it's a problem, what to do it about - is very, very important. But the left is stuck in the Stone Age on these issues. Well, the 18th Century European Enlightenment.


Posted by gloriousrevolution on August 28, 2015

I think the over-reaction, which is what it is, is sign of how much the truth hurts and a troubled concience.

Vegetable Man said...

Mark Steel was treated very shabbily by The Guardian when he was sacked by them in 1999. Perhaps he just doesn't want to lose his gig at the Indy?

Harry the Piano said...

You make your points in a calm and rational way but when you talk of Steel's ego has it ever occurred to you that it may be your own ego that is at play here? That actually he might be...y'know...busy. Perhaps he is just prioritising his energies on the main target and even though there may indeed be culpability from the liberal media he is focussing elsewhere on what he considers to be primarily important. You might have boundless hours and energy to devote to your not insignificant but, realistically in the scheme of things, smaller gripe. Perhaps he simply doesn't. And by blocking you it simply clears the path for him to pursue his career path as he sees fit. It is your prerogative to criticise of course; it is also his not to engage. Sometimes life is too short.