A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hooptedoodle #31 - The News of the Bloody World

Thank you - now piss off

I don't buy a daily newspaper. I listen to the daily news programme on BBC Radio 4 before I get up each morning, and anything I need more detail on I can get from the Internet. I do not buy a newspaper because I am too stingy, and because I live some distance from the nearest newsagent, but also for the following set of personal requirements.

(1) I need to be told what is going on in the world. I do not want lies, or wild rumours, or politically biased misrepresentations.

(2) I can use a little contextual or reference material to help me form opinions or judgements, but I'd like it factual, please.

(3) I have no wish at all to be told how I should react to the news, or what I should be thinking about it, especially if there is an attempt to involve me in some phoney community-spirit collectiveness - "our boys" - all that.

With a very few exceptions, newspapers do not seem to be able to handle my requirements, so I reject them. In the days when I really did need to be very well informed, I used to read the Economist regularly, and I still buy it when I need more insight - mainly because I think it is outstandingly good, but also because it is a weekly publication, which gets you away from all the daily yes-he-did-no-he-didn't nonsense which passes for up-to-the-minute reporting. I guess a good Sunday paper might achieve the same objective, if you can find one, but I am put off by the excess and the waste of trees.

I make occasional reference to the sayings of my grandmother - she was not actually a village witch or anything, she was a very intelligent and well-read lady, but she also had a wonderful collection of North-of-England pithy sayings and proverbs - mostly rather disapproving in tone, to be sure. She used to say, "Fools may dance, but bigger fools look on", which does not preclude the possibility that the bigger fools may actually have paid to commission the dancers in the first place. She also used to say, "Them as canna do nowt will tell tales about them as can". I find that interesting - where is the real world, then?

I wonder how The Press (a strangely anachronistic term these days) evolved from being the man who stuck bulletins up in the town square to being the multi-billion, multinational monster of today - an industry which devotes untold resources to spreading salacious gossip about the people whom it has created as celebrities, which engineers and sponsors its own stories, which sets public opinions and tastes and - so they claim - wins elections and dictates national policies. The papers will claim that they are merely feeding public demand, but they themselves have mostly created that demand. I do not spend a lot of time worrying about this - it just seems to be one of the inescapable ills of modern life - but occasionally things happen which make me wonder why there is no backlash.

I was not a particular fan, but I never understood why, when the late Princess Diana was literally hounded to death by press photographers, the public outpouring of emotion did not include a greater revulsion against the newspapers. On a more trivial level, there seemed to be a strange disconnect during the last football (soccer) World Cup when the purportedly patriotic English press did their very best to destabilise the English team with lurid revelations about their private lives, while (presumably) preparing outraged reports in anticipation of the team's inevitable failure. This sex-scandal stuff, by the way - who is it that actually wants to know this stuff? - it isn't me - is it him/her? - is it you? I just shrug and get on with it - one more incomprehensible element of life among so many.

Waving the Watergate banner when necessary, the great cause of investigative journalism is used to justify all sorts of unlikely revelations about all sorts of rubbish. The people have a right to know, the papers have a right to do (and spend) almost anything they can think of in support of this. Well, maybe - but you would hope that at some point the same people might tell the papers this is out of order, and that they should try to come to terms with some sadly outmoded concepts such as public decency.

What has struck me in the last few weeks is that there really does seem to be some unspecified public view on what is acceptable. Out of the blue, we have widespread outrage because the phone-tapping, memo leaking, information stealing world of hypocrisy which feeds public appetites for unconstructive gossip and sleeze has overstepped some unstated limit. The private telephones of dead soldiers and murdered children, apparently, are out of bounds. They have gone too far this time - it seems that there was a limit, after all. There may be some hope out there.

We have to be aware, of course, that this is all being reported by - well, the press, in fact - but something may have changed. Maybe the backlash is coming. Don't hold your breath, but that really would be something.


  1. What irritates more than anything else is the CONSTANT focus on bad news - it's as if every journalist in the whole world - print/radio or TV - has a personal agenda that involves inflicting depression on all of us!