I can't help thinking that there's a whiff of "news is sport, sport is news" about the Obama-bashing in the papers, especially in the run-up to the England v USA World Cup match at the weekend. You might think that the Express's effort
was the worst of the bunch - it's certainly less mature than the little fella in the St George flag on the right of the page - but it bears comparison with the Telegraph's fear-dripping bogeymanification of Obama yesterday
Really? Really Obama's boot on the throat of British pensioners? Is it really his fault that BP and their subcontractors created an enormous oil disaster? Should we all just forget about it because BP has (had) the word "British" in its company name, even though a rather large proportion of its shareholders are not British, and actually - well what do you know? - American.
But no. This must be about the big evil American bogeyman battling against our brave British BP boys. This must be "news is sport", so there can't be anything remotely complicated or nuanced about the situation. Therefore: Obama is the villain of the piece, wrecking 'our pensions' because he's a nasty man; and poor old BP were just trying to do their best, and if they created a massive slick that's wrecking wildlife, well who cares about that; these are OUR PENSIONS for God's sake!
This, to me, is the kind of patriotism I feel uncomfortable about. As you know from previous posts here I'm made up and excited about the World Cup - I love seeing the England flags everywhere and even as a bleeding heart liberal-left do-gooding bastard I feel excited about the prospect of people getting together and enjoying the forthcoming World Cup, particularly the support of my home country. I know that patriotism is a daft an inexplicable thing; but then the feeling of joy when your team scores is something incredible, even if you just happen to follow them through an accident of birth, with your national side or club you love. It's all about a shared feeling, and nowadays I feel football is much less about the chippy little thugs chucking coins as it is about families and mates meeting up and sharing a fun sporting event together as part of a community.
If you've ever been to a large sporting tournament - as I have, lucky enough to attend a World Cup and a European Championship - you'll know the exhilarating feeling of people of different backgrounds and nationalities all mingling together, all wanting different results, all hoping for different outcomes for all of their teams. But no nastiness, not that I've ever seen - no trouble and no hostility; it's even in a place nowadays where you can feel quite relaxed as an England fan in that you're not seen as being the scum of the earth any more, and you're not expected to throw tables around a town centre square and be watercannoned into oblivion. Those days are, I think, pretty much gone. And good riddance.
That's the kind of 'patriotism' I can find myself a part of - a benign sporting event that brings people together in friendly rivalry. Not taking sides between BP and Barack Obama, because one is apparently British and because my pension might be a little bit better off if a giant multinational corporation were not to be clobbered too severely for fucking up the ocean. But it would appear that I'm out of step, on this one, with the press. A lot of them seem to be backing the "Barack vs BP" idea:
Is that really what I want from David Cameron - that he should "stand up" for "my country"? No. Not in this instance. BP isn't my country, and yes, one of my pensions probably might suffer a bit if it invested too much in oil (the other fund I have is 'ethical' so I'm feeling quite smug about that, ho ho); but then that's their fault for investing too much in oil, and, at the risk of wearily repeating myself, the oil company concerned for being responsible for a massive environmental disaster.
This is the simplistic level at which newspapers appear to be operating. It's England v USA in the football, so it's Britain v USA in the oil spill. Boo hiss nasty Barack Obama, daring to hold a (partly British but privatised and actually multinational) company responsible for creating havoc! How dare he! Doesn't he know OUR PENSIONS might be KILLED? Why should he put HIS BOOT onto THE THROAT OF OUR PENSIONERS? Of course, it's a distraction from the world of pain that Cameron & chums are about to inflict on Britain, so it's understandable that his cheerleaders might want to portray our nation as being under attack from outside, rather than within.
It's a funny old world in which the sports pages reflect a sense of national pride that I can identify with, whereas the news pages reflect an outdated, ridiculous notion of patriotism towards a faceless environment-wrecking corporation. The England team and BP are both a bunch of millionaires, but at least the footballers don't do very much harm to anyone. I know who I'm supporting, and it isn't BP.
As I understand it - although I am not a financial expert - the new treasury top bod Danny Alexander didn't pay tax when selling his home, and he didn't have to. And yet:
Now you may say that avoiding something is avoiding it, whether you do it deliberately and on an Ashcroft-sized scale, or whether by simply doing what you're doing you happen to fall into the category of avoiding.
However, if Mr Alexander had wanted advice on how to avoid capital gains tax, he could have used this newspaper's handy guide entitled "Home sweet second home":
Thank goodness for that 10-point plan to minimise the pain for those of us lucky enough to be able to have two homes! And as you've already guessed or already seen, you'll know the name of the newspaper which printed that handy guide - the Telegraph.
You could also point out that not everyone involved with that newspaper - I'm thinking of David and Frederick Barclay - pays as much tax in the UK as they might do if their financial arrangements were different. Is that 'avoiding', or is that 'minimising the pain'?
But leaving all that aside, what's going on with the Telegraph? Is there an agenda against the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition, as some are (quite understandably) claiming? Or is something else going on? After the David Laws story (about which Matthew Parris has written an excellent piece - he's of the few things I'll miss about the Times when it pulls up the drawbridge) it's as if there was a desperate search for more - whether it was entirely justified or not.
You can look back to election time, when there was another story about a Lib Dem - this time the leader, who was riding high in the polls - which seemed to be a fuss about nothing.
This was a story about 'payments into his private account' which were completely accounted for and which went to pay staff, and which weren't - not that this was even claimed - benefiting him personally at all. Just as with the Alexander story, there didn't seem to be a huge justification for the front-page prominence of it.
So what's going on? Are the Telegraph out to undermine the Coalition Government, by selecting Lib Dem targets and attempting to pull the rug out from under them, even when the content of the story doesn't warrant a front page lead? Are they out to undermine capital gains tax changes from David Cameron? Are they out to get him, for what they see as a small-l liberal agenda?
I have a more prosaic theory, I'm afraid. As the Times pulls down the shutters, I think they're aiming to position themselves in the marketplace as the home of the breaking story and investigative journalism. Whether they're going about it the right way is open to question, though.
What we have no way of knowing, of course, is what other stories the Telegraph has tucked away for a rainy day. Does it have tales to tell about Tories, which it has decided not to reveal (for now)? Has it got one on whichever Miliband wins the Labour leadership election? Is that evidence of an agenda, or just a tabloidish desire to pounce whenever someone gets to a high enough level of prominence?
While there was some sliver of justification you could just about grasp about the Laws story, the Alexander one - like the Clegg tale - appears to be nothing more than 'here's something that might appear slightly naughty in a certain light, even though there's nothing wrong with it really'. It looks a little desperate and I don't know if it really does make the Telegraph look like a beacon of investigative journalism, or a trashier type of broadsheet. I guess that's for the readers to decide.
As David Cameron dashes around our septic isle in one last push for votes, he'll be delighted if one of his skivvies brings in a few newspapers for him to read. Up until now, the papers have all been pushing him and his agenda, but they've been just that little bit too subtle. Headlines such as "DAVID CAMERWON" or "CAM THE MAN" or "YES WE CAM" or "DAVID CAMERON IS ACTUALLY THE BLOODY MESSIAH"* might have led readers to think that their paper of choice might have backed the Conservative Party, but apparently that wasn't enough. So today's leave us in no doubt at all.
The Telegraph are, with others, going for the 'bandwagon effect' - the idea that if you present someone as a winner, or the winner-in-waiting, people will want to pile on to associate themselves with success and victory, to pick fleas out of the silverback's fur. Their endorsement is inside, but we've seen this kind of thing throughout the election - presenting the Tory win as a likelihood if not an inevitability, but constantly pushing the idea of a victory. You can see that pretty clearly in this kind of thing:
where the 'Tory win' is taken for granted, and Cameron is presented as the fit, athletic, dynamic personality that he's desperately trying to portray himself as as I write this with his 36-hour publicity stunt so he can avoid tough questions from Radio 5 listeners and Channel 4 News brilliant campaigning marathon that shows what a good egg he really is. Is it coincidence that the Tory presentation dovetails so nicely with the Telegraph's? I don't really think so.
But then that's the most subtle example today. The others have thrown it right out of the window.
I'm pretty sure the Express has used almost exactly this front page before. Let me have a look... ah yes.
So now it's just a question of reinforcement. The Express has told you again, and again, and again, and now it wants you to know that it's telling you the same thing again. While the Telegraph just gives you a wink and a nudge, and points you in what it thinks is the right direction, the Express doesn't trust you. It needs to shout at you and order you to do the right thing; it needs to tell you that Britain needs to be SAVED and that only THIS MAN WITH THE BIG FACE can do it. And it needs to tell you again and again.
The Mail are even less subtle, mind.
Vote DECISIVELY. As if we go into the polling booth and put half a cross because we're not sure. Again, it's that didactic attitude. Readers are juveniles and need to be told what to do IN CAPITAL LETTERS because otherwise they'll just do something stupid like think for themselves, and that would never do. If you don't do what we tell you, Britannia herself will WALK OFF A CLIFF and we're all DOOMED. It's classic Mail territory, but it takes something to be even less subtle than the Express. At least they assumed that their readers might understand 'save Britain' - the Mail has to draw you a picture because it thinks you're too fucking stupid to get even a blunt instrument in the face like that.
I'll do more on the Sun later, because it's dredged up one of its hoariest old chestnuts today, but for now, here's their celebrity endorsement. Sun supremo Rebekah Brookes's ex-husband Ross Kemp was on telly the other night promoting Labour - another one of the awful celeb attachments we've seen during this campaign, which have added nothing and persuaded me of nothing - so today they've wheeled out their own national treasure: Simon Cowell.
I don't know about you, but Simon Cowell wouldn't convince me to do anything. Here's a man who's been on a one-man mission to destroy popular music and turn it into McDonald's; here's a preening fake-toothed smarmer in an overly tight t-shirt manipulating people on TV every Saturday night for the forseeable future. Do I want the creator of Robson & Jerome telling me how to vote? Maybe I'm wrong though, and maybe he's hugely admired and loved by everyone in Britain - maybe Ross Kemp is equally seen as not "that spamheaded bloke off the telly who goes around pretending he's a soldier" but a dignified and respected figure. Maybe I've got this whole thing wrong.
Anyway, it's not just the right-wing papers who've abandoned all subtlety in these final hours, as you can see from the Indy
There's a myth going around at the moment that goes like this: "We were all told this campaign would be won on the internet, but actually it's the mainstream media who are shining." Which is drivel. No-one seriously said this campaign would be won on the web, and if they did, they were insane; this is the first campaign where social media and the web have played a significant minor role, but no-one ever thought it would be the web wot won it. And besides, while the leaders' debates have been a touchstone for the campaign, they've only served to make the dead-tree papers even more obsolete, reduced to a level of telling you that what you saw wasn't what you saw and looking more ridiculous than ever.
No, this isn't the election where the MSM bravely fought off the internet and proved they'd be around forever. It's considerably more complicated than that, and probably for another time to analyse. But what you can say is that for the next day or two, our dead-tree inky friends are more shrill, more obvious and more blunt than they ever have been. They're telling us what to think and how to vote. It's come to that point - and we should bear it in mind in a few weeks' time, when all this is over, and they go back to pretending they don't have agendas, and they're just there to report the facts, and they're asking for our trust. Let's not forget days like this.
* Not all of these are exactly true.
At the start of the election, the Telegraph said this:
At the time, I thought they were wrong; now I'm not so sure. For this election really does appear to be about hope and fear - though the messages of hope and the messages of fear aren't coming from the places that the Telegraph said they were. They said it was the Tories who were all about positivity and hope, and New Labour who were all about fear. Now the fear seems to be coming at us from everywhere.
Narratives of fear are something that tabloid newspapers do very well of course - though at a price. We are told to fear by them every day - about cancer, about immigration, about our children going online, about Muslims, about paedophiles, about political correctness... all those dangers out there. The nine-bin nightmare, for Christ's sake. A nightmare about nine bins! Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, terrified by the thought of nine wheelie bins sitting in your driveway like ecological plastic Daleks? No...? Of course you haven't. You've got worse things to worry about than recycling. And that's kind of why these fear messages are less and less effective. You read these terrifying things every day, about how you're going to get cancer from this, that and the other; how Muslims are going to take over British culture; how your children are going to be robbed from you by Facebook, and so on... but of course none of these things ever actually happens. You're being told to be scared, and you may well be, but the truth is that no matter how scared you are, reality doesn't live up to those scare stories.
So when your newspaper of choice tells you that you should be scared of the Liberal Democrats, or a hung parliament, or proportional representation, or the Tories not being in power, how scared are you? Are you as scared as when they tell you that if you do/don't eat X it will/won't give you cancer? Are you as horrified as when they tell you to have nightmares about recycling bins? Are you as frightened as when they tell you that political correctness means you can't be racist any more? They've tried to make you scared so many times - pretty much every day, in fact - so how much more scary can any of these things be?
A bit of cold weather was set to kill 60,000 people back in January, according to the Express - except that never happened.
So why choose to believe this?
When you've been sold a pup so many times before, I think it's stretching the truth to think that people will put their faith into the tabloid front pages come election time. And while it's easy to pick on the Express, as they're the most transparently awful example of the tabloid press, they're not exactly a whole planet lower than the rest of them. The others are doing the same - pumping out the same fear messages: fear of a hung parliament, fear of people voting how they want to vote, fear of their chosen candidates not falling over the finishing line before all the others.
It's all about fear. Even when you're not being told to fear one thing, you're being told you should vote one way for fear of the person you don't want getting in. You see bar charts in your election leaflets from the three major parties telling you that certain rivals 'can't possibly win here', even when that's not quite the truth. Don't vote for them, they say; vote for the people who can win. Why waste your vote voting for who you want to win? Vote out of fear of the people you fear most, not out of conviction. It's so relentlessly negative, it's depressing. I'll vote for who I want to vote for, and that's that. I'm fed up with being told to be tactical, or to vote out of fear. I'll vote out of hope, I think; I've heard too much fear already from everyone else. If I had no hope, then I wouldn't be voting at all.
And so the attacks will be refocussed this week by the tabloids. I'm going to miss it all, because I've chosen a delightfully good week to be on holiday. I'm not disappointed. There won't be any newspapers; there will be no internet, and not very much TV, I hope. Jealous? You should be. We'll see more attacks, more pressing of the fear button. Don't do this if you don't want that to happen, they'll say. Don't do what you want, because then the thing you fear most might happen, they'll tell you. Don't do what you want - let us put that X in the box for you, they'll suggest.
But their powers are fading. They're not gone altogether, and the power of the internet is not so great that it completely dilutes the value of the front pages of newspapers... but then they have done their best to discredit themselves, without even being held up to scrutiny. Just as people don't trust politicians, they don't trust the people who tell us stories about politicians, either. And I find that reassuring. The messages of fear will keep on coming, because everyone has something to fear. The newspapers fear not being influential, or at the very least being seen to be influential, which is possibly just as important; if they've backed the wrong horse, they'll end up looking very foolish. But then, why did they have to go and choose a horse to back at all? They did it to themselves, and it's hard to rouse any sympathy.
By the time I come back, of course, it could all have changed. Doubtless you'll have been told that David Cameron had a brilliant comeback in the third televised debate; the headlines have probably already been written and are just waiting for Thursday to come and go before they can be printed. You'll have been told that the Conservative Party is the only option. You'll have been told to fear everything else. Fear, fear, fear. But are you afraid? That's the question.
Yesterday it was me who was hung over - a few too many beers while avoiding the election debate (and the 'arseoisie') while on a night out in Bristol. But a look at today's front pages makes me think it's our friends in the inky press who are hung over. The stories are lame, unappetising, bland. Dry white toast news. They overdid it a bit the other day in the Get Clegg frenzy, and now the dead-tree screamsheets are licking their wounds, nursing a headache and feeling pretty sorry for themselves.
So much has been said already about the astonishing events of Thursday. But read Tabloid Watch for a good summary, and this article by Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism, who compares and contrasts the tabloid frenzy with the built-in fairness rules of broadcast:
I am writing this after reading most of this morning's election press online and while watching party news conferences and interviews on live and continuous TV - I cannot reconcile the two.
They are glimpses of different universes.
I think the problem, the terrifying problem for the dead-tree press and the 'Murdochracy', is that this election has been electrified by the television debates in a way that no-one could see coming; the expectations were that smooth operator David Cameron would blow everyone away, but it hasn't quite worked out like that. So now the press are reduced to trying to tell you that what you saw on television wasn't what you saw: yesterday David Cameron's cheerleaders on the news-stands claimed he had clearly won the second debate, despite viewers not seeing it that way. Who do I believe, my own eyes, or what someone else is telling me I saw with my own eyes? Newspapers have been reduced to someone standing in front of you while you're watching a film or a football match, telling you what to think about it; all you want to do is shoo them out of the way - you can see for yourself.
Today, then, in the wake of all that, and seeing that a four-pronged attack on the Lib Dem leader failed to produce a significant dent to his popularity, the papers have crawled back into their kennels. The Daily Mail has written so much about Lib Dems recently that even their own readers are starting to wonder if he's the messiah; today they go back to an old classic, and a time-honoured bogeyman: the wheelie bin.
There is a 'Cameron in surge past Clegg' attempt on the right-hand side*, but largely this front page is about bins. Let's get panicked about teh evilz of recycling, and it's a shoddy shambles of a campaign that they've been cranking on about for an awfully long time (see 'Bin there done that', 'Oh fucking grow up' and 'It's wheelie bin a shit campaign' for the backstory). You could be forgiven for thinking, as this blogger did, that there are more important issues in the world than wheelie bins, but not if you're the Mail. When in doubt, go for the bins! If making Clegg the bogeyman didn't work, then bring back one you know and love: the horrors of having to sort out your rubbish and wheel bins out to the kerb! Wasn't it better when we had massive dustbins to lug around, or you could just chuck your bin bags all over the place and get them ripped up by foxes? Those were the days!
And, yet again, from the newspaper which criticised Clegg (in 2002) for saying that the British had some kind of obsession with the Second World War, is a massive advertisement for a Second World War 13-DVD set. Obsessed much?
Though it still can't resist a bit of a scare story about how a hung parliament will cost 'you' £5,000 (it won't, you'll be utterly unsurprised to hear). It's very downbeat though, almost waving the white flag for their chosen candidates. That massive front page the other day about a rather unexciting expenses story on Clegg which had been blown up and puffed up well beyond what it actually was seems such a long time ago already. This is more gloomy, reflective, still trying to scare you away from a Conservative overall majority, of course, but starting to wonder if that's really going to happen, preparing themselves and their readers for the possibility of Tory defeat, or at the very least a lack of Tory convincing success. Which for me makes the 'relax... it's going to be a beautiful day' all the more delightful a juxtaposition. But that is a long, long way away and I am sure that a lot of things may change.
The Express, meanwhile, have abandoned politics altogether and have gone for the ashpocalypse.
The trouble is, what are readers going to think about that front-page headline? Are they going to think: "Yesterday you told me that David Cameron had won the TV debate, when most people I'm talking to, even among Conservative Party supporters, think he didn't win it. So why am I meant to believe this stuff today?" - or are we meant to think that Express readers are credulous ninnies thinking "Oh, OK Mr Express, whatever you say!" - who knows.
The Sun, meanwhile, has turned its fire from Lib Dem to Labour. Having failed to sink the Clegg battleship, they're now trying to blow Gordon Brown out of the water. Oh, the irony, the irony, of the DON'T STOP DECEIVIN' headline, on the Sun of all places; the double irony of attacking someone else for printing lies; the triple irony of attacking someone for saying that printing lies is OK. Maybe it isn't a headline at all, but the Sun sub-editors misunderstood the memo they'd been sent.
It's the Mirror I feel for most in all of this really. They've had to try and convince their readers that Gordon Brown has been performing best in the TV debates, when even the staunchest of Labour supporters must have suspected that wasn't really the case. They've also got to try and reconcile the fact that their chosen candidate is being abandoned by many people on the political left for someone else. No wonder they can't be bothered to keep that pantomime going this weekend, preferring instead to tell you that, in a television programme, something will happen, and it will be on TV. Thank goodness for that exclusive! Of course, they could well be judging - accurately perhaps - that many readers are fed up with the election now, and simply want the vote to happen as soon as possible. Even so, you could have hoped there might have been some kind of news-style story to present, instead of a "Wuurghgghh, telly" effort. No...? No, apparently not. Sigh.
So are they running out of steam, or are we? Have they decided that we've made up our minds and there's no point in trying to influence us any more? Or are they redoubling their efforts for fresh salvoes to be launched in the direction of their opponents next week? I would imagine it's probably the latter - but the good news is I'm on holiday next week, and I intend to have no contact with newspapers, or television, or anything. Which makes me very lucky, and means you're going to have to suffer, I'm afraid.
* I don't think they're referring to the poll on their website which was pulled down when it showed Nick Clegg winning, then reinstated with a sudden and mysterious lead for David Cameron, but you never know.
At the last general election, the Liberal Democrats pursued a strategy of 'decapitation' against the Tories. It failed. Now it's the Lib Dems who are under attack from those who would seek to decapitate their hopes by killing off their leader's credibility; however, this time it isn't their political rivals in the main who are launching the assault, but the dead-tree press.
Whether the Mail, Telegraph, Sun and Express are doing this because they think it's right; or because they want to ally themselves with the Conservatives in return for favours somewhere further down the road if they are successful; or because the Conservatives have fed them these stories to attack the rival they fear could see their support crumble, and the newspapers have agreed; or because these papers have nailed their inky colours to the mast of the Good Ship Tory and don't want to be made to look like mugs for getting it wrong; or for any combination of these is a bit of a mystery for we mere punters perusing the papers at the news-stand or seeing their efforts online.
But what's clear is the overwhelming impression you get from it all. As I said yesterday, there's a whiff of desperation, of hysteria, of readers being told that they are wrong and that they should jump into line, rather than reflecting their mood and writing for them. Is it crossing a line from seriously covering the election and putting the Lib Dems under the correct amount of scrutiny, to an out-and-out "Get Clegg" campaign? If it has crossed that line, that might reflect badly on those who are doing it. We've seen this level of personal attack before, against Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot, but that was during a time when there were fewer competing sources of information, when newspapers had more clout - and more readers - and when the internet wasn't there to hold the scrutineers up to scrutiny, watching them, watching us.
Are these front pages, then, the death throes of our inky friends at the national newspapers, desperately trying to wind themselves up for one last big swing at power, doing everything they can to bring the Conservatives to power, hoping they might get something in return one day somewhere along the line (or possibly even having been promised something in return)? Who's listening? And is there a danger that this could all backfire, and create a recalcitrance among their readers, who are fed up with being told what they should and shouldn't think?
If you look at the individual attacks, it's perhaps only the Telegraph's that appears to be a story at all - and even then, it's a massive amount of coverage for money that has been dealt with and accounted for, and where there is no suggestion that the money was 'resting in the account' of Clegg, or had been used in any way improperly. It's a tale, of course, and something worth telling; but it's not a killer blow, much as roaring Tory cheerleaders might try and tell you it is. Is it worth as much of the front page as it gets? I'm not so sure. Which makes you wonder why it has got so much. Did the Tele put this together ages ago, and have it ready as a hand grenade for election time? Or did they go back through their expenses stories with a fine-tooth comb to find something to launch at the Lib Dem leader? If it's something they've been storing up, that doesn't reflect well on the Telegraph at all; it smacks of them trying to influence an election then claim credit for the result afterwards rather than tell stories when they're relevant - though of course there could be similar front-page massive stories about the Conservative Party that they've been holding in reserve until now - but we'll see about that.
The Sun's is simply a representation of Clegg making mistakes - though it's hard to overestimate, when you look at the detail, the seriousness of these supposed errors or how gravely they will really damage the party. Again, it's a front page story about something less than consequential. The Express, meanwhile, is of course obsessed with immigration, as it has been for some time, but that counts against it in the final analysis - we've seen so many immigration lies down the months and years, and so much rubbish spoken about it, that it's hard to take them seriously now, even if they had a point. Besides, there's nothing wrong with allowing asylum seekers to work, in my opinion - but it's nice for the Express to admit this, for once, when it usually claims asylum seekers are 'spongeing' and fails to mention that they're not permitted to earn a living.
And so to the Mail. If you haven't read the perfectly justified and well written Nick Clegg piece from November 2002 that's supposedly the cause of the 'Nazi' business, then read it here. I find it hard to argue with anything he writes there - or to be more specific wrote seven-and-a-half years ago, despite the Mail giving the impression in its headline that this has all happened recently (not that they cared at the time). And as Chris pointed out, it's a bit daft of the Mail to say Clegg's words about WW2 obsession are wrong on the same page as giving away a DVD of the Second World War - In Colour*. You could also say it's a bit rich for the Mail to say Clegg was wrong when one of its own writers has a rather unhealthy obsession with 'Nazis' and 'fascists''.
This isn't the first time the Mail has attempted a 'Nazi' slur on a Lib Dem. Last year I wrote about how the paper had launched an attack on Lembit Opik for his great uncle's' alleged collaboration during the war - though of course they didn't mention Mail owner Jonathan Harmsworth's grandfather, a friend of 'my dear Fuehrer' Adolf Hitler, or the 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' heritage of their own publication - funny that.
None of which is to say that there shouldn't be due scrutiny of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, because of course there should. But fair scrutiny and real stories, not just smears and mud-chucking, hoping that some of it will stick, which is what appears to be happening at the moment. There's a real chance that the right-wing press are going to dig their own graves with this one, either way - if they appear to influence the election and destroy a candidate, what does that say about our press, and about them? But if they are shown not to have any influence, what then? And of course there's another possibility - it's possible that they are already so discredited, these attacks only serve to make people decide that whoever they are attacking deserves to be taken seriously. Whatever happens, it's a fascinating time.
* In colour? In colour. The black and white bits have been shoved in a bin. Colour war only! Or 3-D! Now, the Boer War, in HD!
News is sport. Sport* is news. Wayne Rooney tweaks a tendon, but it's all right after all, and 'a nation can stop praying' according to Sir Alex Ferguson. I wasn't praying. Were you? Maybe Sir Alex meant the nation of Scotland, praying that Rooney had buggered his foot up in time to see England get their traditional dunking in the World Cup 'perennial underachievers' paddling pool of poo. But anyway, this story involves two of the three verbs that make sports journalism the awful bowl of sick that it is:
Sir Alex Ferguson Admits England Fans Can 'Stop Praying' After Confirming Manchester United's Wayne Rooney Is Only Out For Two To Three Weeks With Ankle Injury
Yes, the first verb in question is 'admits'. Why is he 'admitting' it? Did the reporter tie him to a chair and beat his balls with a bamboo brush until he tearfully confessed the results of the scan?
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that Wayne Rooney's ankle ligament injury will keep the striker sidelined for no longer than three weeks.
He's 'revealed' it? Revealed how? Did he stand up at the Blankety Blank board with a bit of cardboard covering up the state of Rooney's knee? Did he pull it out of his sleeve? Did he open a pair of curtains, and there it was? Pah to your sport verbs. The other one that you'll see all the time on the back pages of your paper of choice is 'insist'. Usually it's in this context: "Dave Manager insists that getting three points would be considerably better than not winning the game, he reveals and then admits."
Something like that. The point being, we all know that Dave Manager wants to win his football match. It's not really news, but this is sport - the only time something happens is when something happens and a match takes place, so you have to fill in all that space between things happening with Dave Manager insisting, revealing, admitting and confessing exclusively that he'd rather like to win the next game if it's at all possible, and that losing it would be a bad thing, and of course drawing it would be better than losing, but not as good as winning.
In the run-up to the election, you're going to see more and more of the transformation from news into sport. The thing that's happening is still weeks away, but there's going to have to be several pages of election coverage every single day, whether you like it or not. It's like the build-up to a football match, when there's bugger all to say about it, and the only exciting thing will be when the ball actually gets kicked around and ends up in a net and so on - you know the kind of thing - but you have to have endless analysis and guesswork and possible team selections and players talking about how they'd quite like to win, managers talking about how they'd quite like to win rather than lose, and pundits telling you who might win and who might lose.
Here we go. You're going to be sick of this by Tuesday afternoon, let alone by May 6, if that indeed is when we're going to be voting. But you're going to get a hell of a lot more like this, news becoming sport:
EXCLUSIVE: I want to win election, says leader of political party. Wow, the other papers must be kicking themselves that they didn't get that one, mustn't they? Surely it's not really exclusive that we find this out from Cameron, and not that interesting either. What would have been newsworthy would have been if he'd said: "Do you know what? I think I might not be good enough. People don't warm to me; they probably think my skin is grey and putty-like, maybe even clammy." But this is news = sport. This is what we're going to get more and more of, until we're sicker of it than chocolate eggs by the end of this weekend. And it's not the first front page of that type that the Telegraph has had in the awfully long and tedious run-up to this forthcoming election, or Morton's Fork as Justin describes it:
Same same, no? Cameron: I'm quite good! Cameron: I want to win! Cameron: I think I'm better than the other fella. Cameron: I like chips. Cameron: I'm quite good. Cameron: I think I might be all right at this lark. Cameron: Yes, vote for me please. It's the same as the "Dave Manager admits he wants to win match" headdeskingly repetitive and tedious gubbins that you get in the back pages. Nothing is happening. Therefore: I want to win, says man. You don't say? Who knew? Who knew that David Cameron wanted to win the election? I was kind of thinking he was hoping someone else might come along and win it instead of him.
Steel yourselves, friends. Choppy waters ahead. And it's not going to get any better.
* Sorry** about the SPORTS vid earlier by the way but it cheers me up.
** I'm not sorry at all. Not in the fucking slightest! But you knew that already, didn't you?
A story about a TV show:
Jeremy Paxman's image as the all-knowing host of University Challenge has been dealt an embarrassing blow after it emerged that he regularly mispronounces the questions.
Oh noes! You mean to say a television presenter sometimes makes mistakes reading unrehearsed stuff out? Christ, who knew? Who knew this kind of thing went on? Has Ofcom launched an inquiry? I think we need to know the truth.
The presenter stumbles over names and is forced to re-record the questions at the end of the show, according to Alexander Guttenplan, the Cambridge University contestant who has become an unlikely television hero after refusing to be cowed by Paxman's withering put-downs.
So let me get this right. On television programmes they sometimes have to re-record things because they didn't quite come out perfectly the first time around...? Good God. That's shattered my illusions. I genuinely thought that Jeremy Paxman was the cleverest person in the entire world ever, and that he would never need to repeat anything because he's such a fucking brainbox. What am I going to do with this new-found knowledge? I think it's broken me. I've lost my innocence.
"As far as the results and the buzzing goes, the match goes all the way through but then occasionally either Paxo will pronounce something wrong or the cameraman will get it wrong and zoom in on the wrong contestant and that has to be refilmed afterwards."
Well fuck me sideways. Thank goodness we have this person to blow the lid off the biggest crime in BBC history since BrossRandSachscurve. Imagine if we didn't know that recordings of television programmes were slightly scratchier than the finished product, and that TV shows re-did bits to make them look smoother and more professional. Imagine that! We would all be in the dark thinking that everything's completely perfect. Next you'll be telling me that John & Gregg are making those nodding and wincing faces when people aren't actually cooking, and they're doing it to an empty kitchen! That'll really break my heart because I thought there were 500 fucking cameras in there at any one time!
When the natural sciences student correctly gave the answer as "WH Auden" following a few moments' thought, Paxman told him: "Good guess." Mr Guttenplan calmly replied: "It wasn't a guess."
The teenager from Hampstead, north London, now has an enthusiastic female fan base – known as "Guttenfans" – and several Facebook groups created in his honour, including one entitled: "Alex Guttenplan: very clever, very nice". He is also endearingly modest, attributing his success to having "a memory for interesting but useless facts".
That's all very well, Guttenplan, but you try having a crack at the Wednesday night quizzer down my local. If you get more than 3 out of 10 in any round, you're taken out round the bins out the back and beaten to death with a plank of wood for being too clever.
Responding to the comments, a BBC spokesman said: "In common with most pre-recorded programmes, minor reshoots do occasionally take place. These in no way affect the end result."
I would have preferred to have seen this:
Responding to the comments, a BBC spokesman said: "The Telegraph? The Daily fucking Telegraph? Ringing me the fuck up and asking me about how television works? Haven't you got a fucking clue about anything, ever? Hey guess what - the fucking Tardis can't travel in time. Football games on Match of the Day weren't actually five minutes long - we edited them and took stuff out. Has that made you cry as well? Do you not understand it? You fucking dillon."
But unfortunately, as ever, the BBC have to be polite about these things. One day...