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 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/thank-god-we-have-the-rightwing-press-to-tell-us-what-a-disaster-jeremy-corbyn-as-pm-would-be-10475557.html …
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?
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?It says so much that such a sharp writer fails even to intimate the Indy/Guardian's appalling treatment of
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?
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@mrmarksteel According to Lexis, you have criticised Guardian a total of 3 times, twice in passing, most recently 2001. Almost faultless?
Media Lens @medialensA deep irony, indeed.
Irony: Steel lampooning Labour's blocking of applicants. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/with-hundreds-of-thousands-of-new-supporters-labour-is-on-the-verge-of-something-big--what-a-complete-disaster-10454504.html … He blocked us this morning for sending a couple of questions
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.