Socialist Worker

The political peacocks who call the shots

by Mike Rosen
Issue No. 1867

ONE OF the sideshows to the Hutton inquiry is how the press report what's going on.

But first, a sideshow of my own. Many years ago I was employed by the BBC as a trainee producer. I was allotted study days when we could go and see what was going on in, say, News.

Once I found myself sitting in a gallery watching an interview. The interviewer was the man who at the time was regarded as the most abrasive, trenchant, incisive (you get the point) questioner of the time, Robin Day.

The interviewee was someone who was regarded as the most intelligent, insightful, thoughtful (you get the point) Tory politician of the day, Iain Macleod.

I watched as Day did what such interviewers usually do to give the appearance of being tough: picking up on single words and shouting them back at the interviewee, reporting rumours of promotion and demotion and interrupting.

Macleod, who wasn't a fool, batted Day aside, and pressed on with sounding thoughtful and frowning sincerely.

Interview over, I naively expected the two to retreat to their separate tents. Not a bit of it. The moment the cameras were off, they fell on each other's necks like long lost pals.

Day put his arm round Macleod and ushered him off the set asking him how he felt about the leadership of the Tory party-which he had just lost.

It's a moment that has stuck in my mind ever since. Robin Day, the Paxman of the 1960s and 70s, was paraded in front of us as our spokesman.

The suggestion was that he would be grilling and roasting his interviewees on our behalf, ruthlessly unmasking here, pitilessly exposing there.

Away from these battles, we never had any idea that this process could possibly be undermined by anything like, say, an old boys' chumminess, a howzyerfather familiarity.

And yet here they were, the two of them, marching out of the studio arm in arm like the fox and the cat in Disney's Pinocchio.

Reading newspaper write-ups of Hutton, I was reminded of this moment.

As this parcel of rogues has been filing through the court, the fearless fighters for freedom in the press have been describing them as 'assured', 'professional', 'robust', 'convincing', 'forthright', 'plausible', 'skillful', 'authoritative', 'confident', 'impressive'...

Every time I read one of these slavering, toadying adjectives I find myself yelling at it, 'Of course they're bloody well assured and professional! 'What do you expect them to be? Feeble, abject, amateur and pitiful?' These people have spent 20 years or more trained in the art of presentation and twistification. They have armies of researchers and grooms who rehearse them and brief them through every possible nook and cranny of questioning.

In their years in the committee rooms of power they have learnt how to cover each other's backs, and how to avoid anything that might incriminate an ally.

The sickening side to this is that journalists, many of whom would have liked to have been lawyers or politicians, find these displays impressive.

They become dazzled by shows that they themselves would love to be able to put on.

The Nazi Hermann Goering at the Nuremberg trials was a man with the death of millions on his hands who could (and in historians' accounts often does) earn every one of those fawning adjectives.

But so what? He was a mass murderer who happened to be an intelligent aristocrat.

Our press boys should remember-politicians who are mass murderers don't usually sound like thugs in thrillers. They sound educated and intelligent.


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Sat 6 Sep 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1867
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