MITCH BENN: The shared partisan tendencies of the UK and US

PUBLISHED: 09:00 08 May 2020

Protestors take part in a

Protestors take part in a "reopen" Pennsylvania demonstration on April 20, 2020, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Picture: Getty Images

Archant

While our TV news is still fairly responsible, according to MITCH BENN, our newspapers are even worse for bias and recklessness than their American counterparts.

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There’s a sort of numbness setting in now, isn’t there? A hollow, aching, weary resignation punctuated by periods of gnawing dread (and perhaps searing grief) when the virus’s crosshairs hover for too long over someone we love.

I myself, having last week watched my partner Leslie ‘attend’ the funeral of her beloved grandpa via video-link (see my column of two weeks ago), seem to have arrived at what I guess bereavement counsellors would call a preemptive version of the “bargaining” phase but which to an Orwell nerd like me feels more like the Room 101 “Do it to Julia” moment. Okay, whatever, but just not my mum, please? Not my mum.

And there’s anger, too, of course. Anger is toxic at the best of times but Covid-19 anger is especially corrosive as it has nowhere to go; it just boils in the guts of the angry, there being no obvious target at which to spew it.

So it’s inevitable that, almost as a psychological immune response, people are finding targets for that anger, even if they’re having to stretch or bend the available facts in order to do so.

I’m sure you’ve all seen the (sometimes armed) protests by ‘Covid-19 truthers’ in the US over the last week or so, some of whom, as evinced by their (interestingly spelled) placards, simply refuse to believe that the virus exists. Either it’s a front to disguise mass radiation poisoning by 5G masts or nothing’s happening at all save for “crisis actors” pretending to die at the rate of two to three thousand a week.

But we limeys shouldn’t watch this spectacle with any sense of smugness; ‘5G truthers’ have been burning down cellphone towers in the UK (just the thing we need during lockdown, nice one boys) but we’ve yet to see the sort of mass rejection of reality we’re observing in the States.

It may yet be coming; because the reality-deniers are the direct inheritors of the decision made in the US in the 1990s that TV news didn’t actually have to be, well, news anymore.

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You could still call it news, of course, but it was perfectly okay and ethical for a ‘news’ channel to consist entirely of propaganda, invective and weaponised confirmation bias because that’s what people wanted.

There was more money – so much more money – to be made from telling people what they wanted to hear (that they were right, that they were correct to suspect and fear everything they suspected and feared and that they didn’t ever need to examine their own actions or attitudes) than there was in telling people things that maybe they didn’t want to hear, like, you know, facts and stuff.

This has led to a situation in which everything must be perceived through a partisan prism. Does something make our side look bad? Then it’s a hoax, perpetrated by the other side! And while even president Trump stopped referring to the virus as a hoax a few weeks ago (although he did use those precise words relatively recently) his supporters, in great numbers, believe that since the virus is making Trump look bad, the virus itself is a liberal hoax.

But while our TV news is still fairly responsible – although the BBC is sliding back into the timidity in the face of authority which it so depressingly displayed during the Brexit fiasco (and while I’m here, bet you never thought you’d feel nostalgic for those days) – our newspapers are way worse for bias and recklessness than their American counterparts.

In particular, the apostolic levels of obsequiousness being shown to the prime minister by even the hitherto relatively sane end of the right-wing press is truly disturbing.

One can’t help but suspect that the Tory press is canonising him in this fashion in order to shield him from criticism when this crisis abates (and, by extension, themselves, since Boris Johnson comes from their ranks and is, to a degree, their creation).

Now while I don’t wish the PM ill, to trumpet his own recovery from the virus as “the nation restored”, when we’re burying hundreds of ordinary citizens a week, is at best tone deaf and at worst grotesquely insensitive.

And while I wish his new partner and baby nothing but the best (and if nothing else, you have to admire Carrie Symonds’s optimism), presenting their new arrival as “the heartwarming story the country needed” strikes a similarly jarring tone.

That partisan prism which is so distorting American discourse is being polished up over here too.

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