Socialist Worker

The media's two minute hate

The mainstream media has always reserved its strongest bile for leaders of radical movements, writes Michael Rosen

Issue No. 1951

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders


In the gallery of public figures there’s a special place for the person who dares defy the way things are. I can remember sitting in a cafe sometime in the late 1960s. Round the table were, among others, Tariq Ali and the Marxist commentator and historian Perry Anderson.

Tariq at the time was one of the leading figures in the worldwide student revolt.

This had dared to oppose the ways in which universities were deemed to be neutral places of study, unimplicated in the policies and actions of the governments that funded them.

Most of the public media of the time found this too repulsive to cope with and presented Tariq as a mixture of devil, clown and alien.

Perry Anderson was warning Tariq to watch his back — there were loonies who could easily use this atmosphere as an excuse to take a pot shot at him.

Since then, I’ve noticed how the public media repeat themselves by opposing the leaders of movements that they perceive (usually quite rightly) as a threat to their position. I’m thinking of, say, Bernadette Devlin, Arthur Scargill and now George Galloway.

Each of these people are not simply or only people who oppose the authorities, as someone like John Pilger, Harold Pinter, or the poet Tony Harrison might.

They emerge as leading figures in political movements and, for this reason I think, have this special place in the gallery. Because they have been selected and elected by movements that are on the march and drawing in new areas of support, they become the most hated hate figures of all.

Bernadette Devlin was belittled and insulted for being some kind of hooligan and hussy. Her act of clocking the Tory front bench crook Reginald Maudling was taken to be much more of a crime than the acts of brutality and murder that the British Army and the secret services were up to in Ireland. Sadly, it was these very same powers who engineered the terrible attack on Bernadette and her husband.

Her crime in their eyes was not only to have exposed the true nature of the British statelet in Ireland, but also to have inspired thousands of people to oppose it.

Arthur Scargill dared to show how the Thatcher government had plans to destroy the British coal industry as part of its overall plan to weaken the labour movement as a whole.

The only way this kind of attack could be defied was for first the miners and then the rest of that labour movement to withdraw their labour.

For leading this movement Scargill was ridiculed and caricatured as some kind of crazed dictator. Again, the secret services, with the collaboration of the Daily Mirror, tried to frame him as a corrupt embezzler of union funds.

Now we have George Galloway, who has emerged as both a leader and now a parliamentary representative of the anti-war, anti-inequality movement that has grown in the wake of the lethal Iraq adventure. Once again, the old levers of abuse and frame-up are pulled.

Anyone staying up late enough to watch the Bethnal Green result coming in on election night would have witnessed a three pronged attack on Galloway coming from Tony Banks, David Lammy and Jeremy Paxman.

Banks is the cheerful chappy who is retiring from his job of representing the working people of east London while Lammy is the rising star in north London.

Utterly uncomfortable for both is the idea that anyone might not only expose each of them as time servers in a corrupt governing party, but also win a seat bang next to their own patch.

Their abuse of Galloway was then capped by Paxman, who demanded over and over again that Galloway should answer the insulting and unanswerable question — was he proud to have unseated a black woman from parliament?

(It’s unanswerable, by the way, because if you answer either yes or no, you are stuck with accepting the argument that defeating someone of colour, no matter what their politics is, is somehow wrong.)

What followed revealed exactly how media and government are cemented together in the face of their hate figures.

George refused to answer, mocked Paxman for running a ridiculous interview and invited Paxman to congratulate him for having won an election.

Paxman was clearly and visibly enraged that Galloway wasn’t playing by the rules of such interviews, and tried to buttress up his position as the country’s inquisitor general by citing Tony Banks.

Meanwhile, others have Galloway as Stalinist, Baathist, communalist, thug, embezzler, anti-Semite and someone with marital problems. Each one of these can and will be dealt with elsewhere, but in reality it’s not the substance of the accusation that is the point.

Galloway as an elected representative of the anti-war, anti-inequality movement has dared to expose the false left-ness, phoney radicalism and corrupt militarism of Labour yoked to US power.

For this audacity, even his moustache will be judged as criminal.


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Sat 14 May 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1951
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