Winner of the 2014 Editorial Intelligence Independent Blogger of the Year award

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

How much longer will it take?

This is a message to everyone who works with Donald Trump. 
How much more of this are you prepared to take? 
How much longer will you stand at the side of a President who watches anti-Nazi protesters resist neo-Nazi and white supremacist  thugs in Charlottesville, Virginia, and says 'There are two sides to this'? 
How much longer are you prepared to give your support to a man who says there were 'many very fine people' among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists? 
Was one of those very fine people the man who organised the protest, Jason Kessler, 'to show that folks can stand up for white people'? Who a local Republican congressman, Rep. Tom Garrett, called a 'racist ideologue'? Was he one of the 'many very fine people'? 
Jared Kushner. Ivanka Trump. How long will you stand at the side of a man who defends racists shouting anti-Jewish slogans? 
General John Kelly. General James Mattis. General H.R. McMaster. How long will you serve a commander-in-chief who sees no difference between Nazis and anti-Nazis, between racists and anti-racists, bigots and anti-bigots? 
America's former presidents. Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama. How long will it take for you to publish a joint statement, signed by each one of you, denouncing the bigotry of your successor? 
America's archbishops, cardinals, rabbis, imams -- how long will it take for you to denounce, together, with one powerful voice, a President who espouses causes that run counter to everything you believe in? 
All US presidents pledge at their inauguration to 'preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.' How long will it take for you to acknowledge that this President is doing none of those things? 
That this President neither respects nor understands the US constitution. That he is leading your country towards the abyss, both at home and overseas. 
And that you are standing by. Watching.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Diana's death: why the media got it wrong

The text that follows is taken from my memoir, 'Is Anything Happening?', published by Biteback, and available from them half price between now and the end of August. Click here for this unbeatable offer. 

It was the start of one of the weirdest weeks in my professional life – and, I think, one of the weirdest weeks in modern British history. At one point, we seriously began to wonder whether the British royal family could survive what seemed like a vast wave of public hostility, sweeping tsunami-like towards Buckingham Palace. I began to ask myself if I understood anything at all about the country I lived in ...

I remember three remarks made to me about Diana’s death by three different interviewees in the hours and days that followed. The first was the journalist and political historian Anthony Howard. At some point on that Sunday morning, I asked him what he thought her death would mean for the royal family. ‘I know this might not be a popular thing to say,’ he replied, ‘but it’s the best thing that could have happened for them. She represented a huge problem following her divorce from Prince Charles, and now she’s gone.’

The second was the novelist Linda Grant, when I asked her to explain why Diana had attained such an extraordinary level of adulation. She replied: 'Even though she was a princess, she represented something that every woman in Britain could identify with. She was a mother of young children who had struggled with bulimia and post-natal depression. She had been trapped in an unhappy marriage. Her husband had been unfaithful to her. She didn’t get on with her in-laws, and she fell in love with someone she shouldn’t have. So she became a clothes horse on which a great many women could pin their own unhappiness.'

The third was the Scottish political theorist and republican Tom Nairn, who said in response to the public reaction to Diana’s death: ‘The people of Britain have this week elected their first president. The trouble is she’s already dead.’

... There has been a great deal of debate over the years about whether the media over-reported – and misrepresented – the public reaction to Diana’s death. My own belief, in retrospect, is that we did, but for understandable reasons. It was not because somehow the media were in awe of royalty (although large sections of them were certainly in awe of Diana), but because they were genuinely taken aback by the vast piles of flowers that were left outside Kensington Palace and the rising tide of anger among some exceedingly vociferous Di-admirers and Charles-haters.

On the Tuesday after her death, I went to Kensington Palace myself to talk to some of the people who had gathered there. I was so shocked by the vehemence of the anti-royal family sentiments that I advised my editors not to broadcast them. They were unlikely to be typical, I said; I was worried that I may have just found the angriest and most vocal people in the crowd, attracted by the sight of a BBC microphone. But by the following day, those same sentiments that I had heard, but not broadcast, were on several newspapers’ front pages. Not for the first time, or the last, my judgement had been less than perfect.

... The media had been madly in love with Diana, and the reason was obvious: she was the best guarantee of reader interest in decades. Put a picture of Di on the front page and you sold more papers. It was as simple as that. (The Daily Express thinks it is still true, twenty years later.) So there was a natural tendency to exaggerate the reaction to her death, which in turn fed back into public sentiment. It was a perfect emotional feedback loop, increasing in intensity with every passing day.

Second, TV cameras love crowds, again for a very simple reason: you can see them and film them, and they look suitably dramatic. What the cameras don’t see, and therefore don’t show, is all the people who have stayed at home and gone about their everyday business dry-eyed. It is the same with mass demonstrations: no matter how big the crowd – for example, the estimated 750,000 to a million people who protested against the imminent invasion of Iraq in February 2003 – there will always be many more people who did not bother to leave home. But you will not see them on the TV news.

So yes, I do think we got it wrong at the time of Diana’s death, but I do not think it was a deliberate conspiracy. I know there were anxious debates, especially at the BBC World Service, about how much time to devote to the story. I argued, and I still think I was right, that there was immense international interest both in her and in the British royal family and it would have been crazy not to have reflected that. The same applied when Michael Jackson died in 2009 – some public figures really do have a global reach, even if they are not world leaders or Nobel Prize-winners.

I finally realised that we had probably overdone the Diana story on the first anniversary of her death. It passed virtually unnoticed. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Trump White House: not a fandango! Fake news!

Let's get one thing clear: President Trump's newly appointed director of communications is called Anthony Scaramucci. He is not called Scaramouche, who figures in the Queen anthem Bohemian Rhapsody.

It follows, therefore, that any reference to 'doing the fandango' ('Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?') is clearly FAKE NEWS from the LYING PRESS! Scaramucci is not Scaramouche.

He is, on the other hand, His Master's Voice to a T. He is even better at 'locker-room talk' than the man he now serves. If you have a strong stomach, no objection to obscenity or gross sexual imagery, click here to read how he talks about his senior White House colleagues.

With a reporter. On the record. And then remind yourself: this is the director of communications for the President of the United States of America.

Like his boss, Mr Scaramucci (known as 'The Mooch') is a devoted user of Twitter. And he thinks that deleting from Twitter all the rude things he used to say about Donald Trump falls into the category 'full transparency'.

What he actually said (on Twitter, naturally) was: 'Full transparency: I'm deleting old tweets. Past views evolved & shouldn't be a distraction.' Translation: 'I am being fully transparent by concealing the truth about what I used to think.'

George Orwell, thou shouldst be alive today. Remember 1984? In Newspeak, the word 'blackwhite' meant to believe that black is white, to know that black is white, and to forget that one had ever believed the contrary.

So, in the spirit of Newspeak, you know, and I know, that Anthony Scaramucci is a Trump loyalist, has always been a Trump loyalist and we have never in our lives believed anything different.

We have never believed that in 2008 he donated to Barack Obama's election campaign. (OK, the donation is on record, but so what? FAKE NEWS!)

We never heard him describe Trump as a 'hack politician' and an 'inherited money dude from Queens County'. (OK, the TV clip is still available online, but hey, FAKE NEWS!)

And we never even saw, let alone remembered, his quickly deleted tweet in which he appeared to accuse his colleague, the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, of a felony by leaking his (Scaramucci's) finances when in fact they were publicly available to anyone who knew where to look. MORE FAKE NEWS!

Unlike the unlamented Sean Spicer, Trump's former spokesman who has tumbled back into the black hole from which he should never have emerged, Scaramucci can be suave and silver-tongued. He also looks a bit like a younger version of Paulie Gualtieri from The Sopranos.

Perhaps you take the view that all this is simply an embarrassing sideshow. I'd be tempted to agree. Much more worrying than Mr Scaramucci is how the President will react to the humiliation just heaped upon him by his fellow-Republicans in the US Senate, three of whom refused to back his last-ditch attempt to roll back Obamacare and torpedoed one of his most dearly-beloved policy objectives.

Take a bow Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona. Millions of Americans who would otherwise have lost their health insurance salute you.

Those of us who do not live in the US can also spend the rest of the summer worrying about Mr Trump's continuing forays into foreign crises about which he appears to know nothing and understand less. Reports from Washington this week, for example, suggest he's hoping to provoke Iran into what he will seek to portray as a reneging on its obligations under the painstakingly-negotiated nuclear deal (in fact, it will be Washington doing the reneging, but hey, FAKE NEWS!).

And don't even mention the way he embarrassed himself and his entire administration, in the presence of the Lebanese prime minister, no less, by claiming that the Lebanese government is in the frontline of fighting ISIS, al-Qaeda and Hizbollah. (What do you mean, Hizbollah is in fact part of the Lebanese government coalition? FAKE NEWS!)

Do I sound as if I'm laughing? If so, I apologise. It is the terrified laughter you hear when a prisoner is blindfolded and led out of his cell with his hands tied behind his back. 'Hey. Are we going for a walk? Great!'