Saturday, 25 April 2015

The Press Let Liars Get Away With It

"COME ON YOU YOU VILLAS!" screams Dave Cameron, every Saturday, on the terraces of the OLD ANFIELD ROAD. He's a massive fan of the WEST VILLA, better known as the MIGHTY CHERRIES! Also - did he mention - he can see off a can of FOSTER'S SPECIAL BREW in 2 seconds and his wife's got TRIPLE D BOOBS. Not to mention, his dad used to be in The Who, and he can do a wheelie on his BMX with NO HANDS. He's brilliant. A totally ordinary bloke's bloke who is definitely a person.

Grant Shapps, on the other hand, is not any of these things. He is "elsewhere" when these things happen. Elsewhere? Elsewhere from reality? Elsewhere from this dimension? Inhabiting a shady dimension of multiple shifting identities, as the many-headed dragon who owns a number of plastic surgery and identity-changing businesses.

It is absolutely hilarious that the liar Grant Shapps edits the Wikipedia entries of his rivals, and even more hilarious that he's been caught. When trying to deny it, he is so bad at it that he very,very unconvincingly repeatedly tells us he was "elsewhere at the time". He thinks we are genuinely so stupid that we will believe there is one, single, magic portal in the countryside through which Wikipedia can be accessed - and that slippery Shapps was several miles away from it.

It is even more hilarious that someone in Conservative HQ spent a whole day trying to decide which football team they would make David Cameron pretend to support, and decided Aston Villa would win him votes. Then, today, he tried to keep up the ridiculous pretence that he's a FOOTY BLOKE  - and got the team wrong, accidentally pretending to support West Ham instead.

One of the many murky identities of Grant Shapps, who - on this occasion - was not elsewhere

They are both massive liars. But it is not surprising. We already knew many politicians lie (but not all). It is a systemic, inherent flaw of representative democracy that it encourages and almost requires lying. Our electoral system gives power to the winner of a popularity contest; winning the favour of voters becomes the first and main skill of any politician. Chicanery and exaggeration are important parts of this. There is every motive to 'lie'.

Our democracy is also a massively unfair playing field, in terms of controlling discourse and opinion. Politicians, who are very well-informed, and for whom politics is a full-time job, have to to persuade and convince voters, who are less well-informed, and who cannot make politics their full-time job. This is an unfair advantage, and leaves all the resources needed to control popular opinion (time and political insight) controlled by a few. This gives them the opportunity and means to bend the truth to their advantage.

Representative democracy encourages truth-bending. 

Moreover, when we hate politicians for bending the truth, we are barking up the wrong tree. "Democracy can only work if all the parties are telling the truth", says one online commenter. "They should be forced to tell the truth", agrees another, suggesting they should be hooked up to a lie detector by their "knackers". 

But it is a mistake to believe there is only one objective "truth". The topics politicians talk about are political history, sociology, philosophy, ethics, demography and geography. All of these are areas in which disagreement and debate flourish at academic level. These issues are open to interpretation.

It's futile to try and view, or discuss, matters 'without any bias'. We're all, always, interpreting something 'with a slant'. We all have to be selective in the evidence we bring to bear on our interpretation, even if only because if we used all the available evidence on a topic we would be reading, and writing, all day. 

The fact an analysis comes with a perspective does not make it any less true. It just means that the analyst is engaged, and has made the effort to find an interpretation for the facts he examines. As Zizek says, "truth is partial - accessible only when takes sides, and is no less universal for this reason".

All we can do about bias is be aware of it and interrogate each other's interpretations, so that biased views do not become mistaken for and accepted as objective truth. This is the principle behind the idea of academic peer review and the legal system.

It would be ridiculous to chastise a prosecution lawyer for only offering a selection of evidence which suggested the defendant was guilty. That is the prosecution lawyer's necessary job. But the prosecution lawyer operates within a carefully constructed framework of antagonistic forces. The defence lawyer will interrogate the prosecution lawyer's interpretation of the facts, and ask whether it is a reasonable one, given the evidence. He may offer an entirely different interpretation of very similar facts, or offer an interpretation using different facts.

It's the same with politicians. It's ridiculous to expect David Cameron to tell us every minute detail, in everything he says. He tells us that the economy is 'back on track'. What he doesn't says is "the economy is now back on track, 7 years after the crash, after a double-dip recession, and after we suffocated the burgeoning 2009 recovery". See? There I go, doing it again. Offering a partial interpretation of the facts. I can't help it. Impartiality is impossible.

Because politicians, like all of us, are always biased, it is very important that what they say is rigorously interrogated. Most of us are too busy to do this full-time, because we have jobs to go to, friends to have fun with and football teams to support LIKE THE MIGHT WEST VILLA, AMIRIGHT DAVE! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OOOOONN YOU REDS!

Therefore it's very important that a thorough, investigative media do the interrogation for us. And yet they are tragically supine. A politician says something and they slavishly report it, as though it were automatically a valid and reasonable opinion. Journalists report tantrums of politicians as if these tantrums are news. Far too many 'news' stories go:

Immigration is a problem...(says Farage). 

Yesterday, the Evening Standard reported that Ed Miliband was in a "storm" over comments he made about drowning migrants. "Ed Miliband was today accused of trying to "weaponise drowning migrants" in a row". Accused by who? David Cameron, it turns out. A row between who? The Tories and Ed Miliband, it turns out. 

Well there's a surprise. What you're reporting there, Evening Standard, is that the Tories criticise Labour. Well noticed.

HORROR as man says people drowning is a bad thing

This is not journalism. Journalism would have been asking whether Ed Miliband's comments were flippant and offensive or not. It was a good opportunity to ask another good question, too: which issues are so grave that should politicians give up debating, and unite together in agreement on? Remembrance Day and the World Cup seem to be the main ones; are there any others?

Journalism should be at one remove from the politicians' messages - it should examine them, not just repeat them. The journalists should be doing the defence barrister's job, or that of the peer reviewer: hold up one interpretation to scrutiny, and see if it withstands criticism. Instead, they allow one version of the truth - one necessarily partial interpretation - to become widely accepted as though it were objectively true. It is not the politician's fault that their interpretation is partial: everyone's is. It is the journalist's fault, though, for making that one opinion become common currency, without a challenge.

When David Cameron says Ed Miliband is a dick, this opinion is not examined, but is passed onto us, as though it were fact. The same vice versa. We end up thinking they are all dicks. Politicians have negative opinions of each other, and these are fast-tracked down to us, as facts, without any filtration.

No wonder people have no faith in politicians. As well as stoking up hatred of politicians, the press have totally failed in their duty to interrogate the messages emanating from Westminster. This means we have all believed total nonsense, and then later found out it was nonsense, and felt disillusioned. It also means - since political rivals necessarily have to bad-mouth each other a lot - that we end up hearing a lot of uncritical, unexamined character assassinations of politicians, and consequently 63% of us think they'd all "do anything to get into power".

It also means that liars (Cameron) and idiots (Farage) have been able to disseminate total nonsense. And, because of that, voters have no clue about the issues they are supposed to be voting on.

The public to, on average (out of a sample of 1015 in a 2013 Ipsos Mori survey) think that 24% of benefits are fraudulently claimed, rather than the reality: 0.7%. They also thought 31% of us, on average, were recent immigrants, rather than 13%. Laughably, they believe on average that 15% of girls under 16 become pregnant every yearThat’s 4-5 in every single year 11 class, every year! Can you imagine?

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