July 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
There is no more certain a betrayer of the truth about the condition of the working class under capitalism than the political journalist. And nowhere is this more true than of those writing for the ‘quality’ newspapers: The Guardian, The Observer; the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.
This is not to suggest that journalists (or any others) who support the capitalist system should be denied a hearing. What is at issue is the exclusive nature of ‘editorial discretion’ and, consequently, the whole tone and content of the ‘serious’ newspapers — as contrasted with their loudly-trumpeted, clearly hypocritical posture as defenders of free speech.
The ‘heavies’, far from being the instruments of unfettered free speech their proprietors and editors would have us believe, are in no way different in their main aims and purposes from their bedfellows, the tabloids — blowzy tarts though they are. As with those publications, they must produce a profit; promote as assiduously as they can the political and economic interests of their owners; and fight off their increasingly carnivorous competitors. And to help readers swallow their capitalistic medicine, they must ensure that is is well sweetened. Hence the liberal supply of advertisements and features tailored to their ‘up-market’ requirements. (To go through The Observer's colour supplement is — for this ‘down-market’ contributor at least — a bit like window-shopping around Harrod’s with empty pockets on a wet Sunday afternoon.)
Long-standing familiarity with some of the ‘heavies’ has confirmed an unshakeable conviction that, considered as an exercise in democratic open-handedness, their political and economic ingredient constitutes a pitiful sham. It is the inevitable result of editorial policies as prohibitive as anything offered us by that other tightly controlled and highly effective filter of news and views, the BBC.
To take just one well-known political columnist (who can serve as a typical example of all practitioners of that mercenary art): Peter Jenkins, of The Guardian. What he consistently offers us, however elaborately, is a hollow apology for all the crass inefficiencies of an outdated and corrupt system in decline, coupled with an ill-concealed attack on millions of ordinary wage-earners who are struggling to maintain a falling standard of living. In short, Jenkins’ efforts over the years have proved to be no more than a dismal and manifestly bankrupt attempt to convince us that the symptoms of capitalism can be cured while ignoring the disease the capitalist system itself.
Then we have capitalist politics as expressed through editorials. An amusing example was provided by The Observer during the recent general election campaign. Condescending to present us all with a breakdown on any and every issue relating to the struggle of British capitalism to survive its own inadequacies, The Observer had earlier pretended to coyness as to what it intended to exhort us to do at the polling booths. (We were expected, no doubt, to hold our breaths.) As if it made a scrap of difference to the working class what The Observer thought; or, come to that, which of capitalism's would-be executives formed the next government. As the election has once again demonstrated, capitalist politics has reduced itself to the level of a Whitehall farce in which the participants share the same bed.
Should you - knowing your place - consider yourself a member of the self-styled middle classes (you are a grocer’s daughter, perhaps), you will probably prefer to slum it with Peregrine Worsthorne and the Daily Telegraph. That organ’s correspondence columns can read like a page out of Mary Whitehouse’s diary. And should you feel like indulging your more voyeuristic inclinations, then its super gossip columnist, who displays his shoddy merchandise over the pseudonym of Peterborough, is very definitely your man. Never a one to deny himself an opportunity for sycophantic name-dropping or sly innuendo, this urban scribe will happily conduct you around the world of the well-heeled: the current ‘in’ people, the power-holders and seekers, Belgravian socialites, senior churchmen, royal personages, and other parasites having no visible means of support. (It is instructive to note how few of Peterborough’s subjects are without that instantly recognisable imprimatur of the capitalists and their hangers-on: the ability to live high-off-the-hog without the need to resort to so sordid and time-wasting an activity as work.)
From the foregoing it may correctly be deduced that we cast a jaundiced eye over the ‘serious’ press. This is born of many years of critical observation, years during which ‘responsible’ journalists have consistently demonstrated, through wordy outpourings, their servile conformity to the requirements of their owners and the capitalist system in which they operate. And all this in the name of democracy and free speech.
Of course, such dogged loyalty must not be allowed to go unrewarded. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. One of them springs immediately to mind. By the time this article appears in print the recent general election campaign will have become history. Capitalism’s executive committee will have settled into its pile carpets and its chauffered limousines — all ready to dispense the inevitable patronage in one form or another to its more effective and obliging friends. We may be confident that among the earliest recipients will figure not a few of the most diligent of them all: those drawn from the upper echelons of Fleet Street.