In the past month and a half or so, both the Guardian and the Observer have come under sustained criticism for their extraordinarily hostile (as well as highly misleading) coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party. Last Sunday, in an attempt to defuse that criticism, Observer published Stephen Pritchard’s The readers’ editor on… the Observer and Jeremy Corbyn, which attempts to absolve the papers of biased, tendentious and indeed partisan reporting on Corbyn.
Here’s Forthestate, the CIF participant who alerted us to the article and the readers’ reaction to it, quoting from Pritchard’s piece and then commenting on it:
While broadly sympathetic to Labour, the Observer has never slavishly attached itself to any party or political philosophy.
That isn’t the issue.
I share the view of some readers that the paper and the media in general misread the depth of desire, particularly among young Labour voters, for the change that Jeremy Corbyn represents, but time (and the parliamentary Labour party) will tell if that flood of goodwill will be enough to carry him to electoral victory.
And neither is that.
“The issue is that you chose, along with the Guardian, right from the outset, before he had been elected, to take an aggressive stance against Corbyn, which you pursued as his increasing popularity led to the biggest upset in modern British politics. That was a phenomenon you ignored. It was an astonishing indication of political sentiment in this country. You may say that time will tell if it’s enough to carry him to victory, but you don’t really have a clue one way or another, and in the meantime, you let down not only your readers, but your function and role as a news outlet to acknowledge the sudden outpouring of a political sentiment in your nation of which, as journalists, none of you had any inkling, as you yourself admit.
You’re out of touch, not just with a large section of your readership, but with what is probably a large section of public sentiment. It’s the inevitable consequence of a Westminster bubble inflated by over thirty years of political and economic ‘consensus’ that has seen political debate by the press reduced to an invitation to mine what it insists is the rich ideological seam that distinguishes a NewLabour politician voting for the welfare bill from a Tory doing the same. This is Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, in which we don’t need political debate since we arrived at the final synthesis of all political thought, which would appear to be neoliberal, free market fundamentalism. Fukuyama is blinkered. Anyone peddling the end of ideological thought hasn’t the first clue about human behaviour; history is strewn with crumpled theories announcing its arrival, over which it has rolled unaware, and his is just one more, but when the public has been given no political choice for over three decades, you shouldn’t mistake the ensuing political constipation for consensus. You have done, though, and in the process you have grown out of touch with the mood of intense frustration in your country; because it has had no outlet for expression, you have not so much ignored it, as failed to recognise its existence. That’s what slapped you in the face when politics which you had assumed were dead returned a man to the leadership of Labour with three times the number of votes as the candidate who came second.
The least you could have done was to acknowledge the phenomenon, and, given you were clueless about it up until then, to engage in what was once considered the very height of journalistic endeavour – an investigation into it; some analysis, some attempt to understand it, some attempt to show some respect for a movement you had missed, which had, in the space of a little over three months, returned the Labour party to some of its core values, and left you all astounded. Here were ideas being put forward which challenged ‘consensus’. Where was the informed political debate over the policies he was proposing? You didn’t have one; we had an opportunity to discuss, atl, the only ideological challenge to the status quo in decades, an alternative idea to the one that you lot have adhered to for thirty six years, slavishly, which broke our economy, and you dismissed it. You chose not to debate it. There was next to no analysis of the policies. It was your job to conduct one, assuming you hold to higher standards than the tabloid press, and I’m not.
Instead, you chose attack, a campaign of smear and vilification, with the odd article by people like Ed Vulliamy to afford you the necessary cover of ‘balance’, the weasel get out clause for right wing outlets masquerading as ‘liberal’. And in choosing to do so, you didn’t just let down your readership, or pour your disdain all over those finally finding expression for sentiments you clearly want stifled – you let down the standards of journalism in this country even further.
Your reputation has suffered significantly, and you deserve it. An awful lot of people, as evidenced by comments below the line, and the very fact that you’re taking time to respond, have seen through your veil of liberalism, and had their eyes opened to what is in fact a thoroughly establishment, right wing outlet, and one which, incidentally, whilst I’m about it, has supported every neo-conservative foreign policy intervention that has led to the disaster that is the ME.
It’s about time your bluff was called, and it was you that called it, by a concerted smear campaign against democratic choice in this country in favour of the status quo, which blew up in your face when democratic choice proved far more resilient than your attempts to suppress it.”
Judging by the number of people who identified with Forthestate’s critique (240 “likes” on CIF), his comment clearly struck a chord with many other regular Guardian and Observer readers. For a view complementary to Forthestate’s, there’s also SuffolkJason, another CIF participant, whose equally popular comment itemizes in some detail what it was the Guardian and the Observer had neglected to do in their reporting of the election campaign for the new Labour leader. You can find their and other reactions to the Observer article here.