Politisplaining, Alt-Rightsplaining & Mediasplaining

Because mensplaining and womensplaining are old hat — sexism, like racism and other type of bigotry, is apparently mainstream again — I figured I’d introduce the new concepts that I think are (unfortunately!) going to be all the rage in 2017: politisplaining, alt-rightsplaining and mediasplaining.

I don’t intend to do any whateversplaining myself, but rather I want to expose and, if I can, challenge what I see, hear or read that qualifies for any such label.

There is no shortage of inspiration, and I doubt there will be any time soon. Personally I am struggling to think of a current politician in the Western world who doesn’t appear disingenuous, or a serious, conventional media outlet — they hate to be referred to as mainstream media — that doesn’t appear as utterly failing the public in terms of quality (even if they’re not failing their shareholders, or the public overall).

When it comes to politics and media, every new day brings an overwhelming amount of fresh inspiration for me to potentially write about, while lack of time prevents me from writing much if anything at all. Therefore, for this piece, I am focusing on only one political direction and concentrating much of my piece on one press article in particular.

I’ll be the first to admit that this going to be a tad unfair, but, time permitting, I have every desire to write further pieces in future with neologist labels like (far-)leftsplaining, or centre-rightsplaining.

I will also freely admit that I hold no formal qualifications or professional experience when it comes to politics or media, and I claim no expertise, but that doesn’t make me entirely unqualified to pass judgement on them at all; I will get back to this point near the end of this post.

Finally, I must concede that some of the language I use, specifically the names that I use to refer to certain individuals, may seam condescending. I’ve done this on purpose, because I have every intention to strip away at least some of the veneer these people are currently allowed by media. I have not changed any names (or other details) when quoting from other sources.

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With the introduction and disclaimers out of the way, allow me to now draw your attention to an article in the New York Post from 30 November 2016:

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The article opens with an illustration and a caption:

«The British politician Nigel Farage is riding a wave of good fortune with the success of Brexit and Donald Trump’s triumph in the Presidential election.»

While I do agree that Nige indeed appears to be riding a wave of good fortune, I disagree the New York Post’s assertion that this is down to Brexit and Drumpf’s election victory. Instead I would like to argue that this wave of good fortune appears to be mainly that, ever since visiting with Drumpf right after the US presidential election, Nige has had the chance to be ‘interviewed’ by major press and media outlets without actually being asked any challenging questions in any of those supposed ‘interviews’; instead he has simply been allowed to spout his rhetoric and get the coverage for himself and his personal agenda.

This New York Post article is the latest in a wave of publicity in which Nige effectively held all the controls. For someone who enjoys the limelight like he does, that’s good fortune, indeed.

Fancy a quick look at Nige’s supposed successes?

Drumpf’s victory isn’t his work, he is merely riding on its coat tails. Brexit has yet to prove a success. It’s been a success for Nige in the sense that the outcome of the referendum last June was the one he wanted. He campaigned hard for it, but on the ‘wrong’ side: because Leave campaigners had been unable to agree on one unified campaign, there were two: the official campaign lead by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and the unofficial leave campaign headed by Nige. This meant that, although he could claim his influence on the referendum result, he couldn’t officially claim the victory as his.

Nige being Nige, he claimed the victory as his, anyway, uttering the words “without a single bullet being fired”…a week after Labour MP and Remain campaigner Jo Cox had been shot and stabbed to death by a right-wing neo-nazi terrorist. Moreover, pretty much all of the claims Nige had made during the campaign were proven factually incorrect. Nige was essentially exposed as a liar who had tapped into anti-immigration sentiments.

Still, on the back of the chaos that erupted post referendum within the UK’s main political parties, and with no one in government or opposition seemingly aware of wat this Brexit actually meant or how the government was supposed to go about it, Nige could have jumped at the chance of filling the gaping voids left by both Conservatives and Labour. But he didn’t. Instead he stood down as leader of the UK Independence Party and disappeared.

Here was the man who, in 1993, had been one of the founding members of a political party entirely built on the ambition to get the United Kingdom to leave the EU. He had been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999. He had had 23 years to become an expert on all the rights, wrongs, ins and outs of the EU and use that expertise to come up with all the answers no other British politician appeared to have. He could have devised a detailed plan outlining what it would mean, how the UK should go about achieving it, and in what timeframe. But he didn’t. Because, as it turned out, his rhetoric had had no substance and Nige proved himself to be as clueless as his political opponents. And then he turned his back and left.

He reappeared as interim leader of UKIP in October, when his original successor Diane James decided to resign within three weeks of assuming the position. At the start of November the High Court ruled that the UK government would not be able to invoke Article 50, the procedure to initiate the country’s departure from the EU, without debating and voting on the invocation in parliament first; bypassing parliament by implementing the outcome of an advisory referendum would go against the British constitution. Nige responded angrily and announced a “march to the Supreme Court” in protest. This march was later called off, officially for fear it might facilitate extreme right wing fanatics, though my personal reading was that surely not even Nige would want to be seen to protest against the British constitution which guarantees the country’s parliamentary sovereignty (regardless of EU membership). Besides, Nige already seemed to have moved on from project Brexit to project Drumpf; to him, his succession as leader of UKIP by Paul Nuttal probably couldn’t come soon enough.

Didn’t Nige have any actual successes? Of course he did. He may have attempted and failed to win a seat in the British House of Commons on seven occasions, he did win four consecutive elections to the European parliament, and has as such been a member of that parliament since 1999. Only, aside from gaining internet fame through a few speeches there that went viral, he doesn’t really appear to have achieved much. This may be because (allegedly) he doesn’t turn up for his job very often. And yet he gets to hold on to the position till the next elections in 2019. So that’s some success.. I guess?

Clearly, very recently, things have started looking up for Nige, because he got in with Drumpf, and he’s getting requests for ‘interviews’ to talk about it. Befriended by Drumpf, courted by media, flattered by Republicans… success!

«“They say, ‘Oh, Governor Phil Bryant just loves you, Nigel! He watches all your videos,’” Farage recalled.»

This sums up what I said before: Nige is (internet) famous for his rhetoric, however unsubstantiated that rhetoric may be. There really isn’t much (if anything) more to him.

«“Donald says a few words,” Farage recalled. “And he says, ‘Where’s that? Where’s Nigel? Where’s the Brexit guy?’ So I go up. He gives me a big hug, and he says, ‘This guy is smart. This guy is smart. We’ve got to do what he does.’”»

Do what he does? What Nige does is very little, at least in terms of what he is supposed to do. Like his job as a member of the European Parliament. Or his job as interim leader of UKIP, even though his recent appointment was only for a few weeks and has now ended. Nige gets the job, holds on to it to collect the pay cheques, then goes on to spend most of his time doing other things that get him more attention — vanity! — and of course additional money to add to his already substantial wealth.

It’s no surprise Drumpf considers the Nige to be smart and suggests following his strategy. It’s very beneficial, just not to anyone except the protagonist and whoever gets to ride his or her coat tails.

«Publicly, at least, Farage had expressed reservations about Trump’s candidacy until this moment, but in Jackson any doubts disappeared. “I was very, very flattered, actually, by the way he treated me,” Farage said.»

This of course appealed to his vanity. Moreover, until then Nige and Drumpf had been on separate bandwagons — actually, they’re only bandwagons for the followers, those at the helm of them are one gravy trains — but when Drumpf invited Nige to hop on over to his, Nige didn’t hesitate to switch from supposed reservations about Drumpf to loud vocal support for him. Populism and opportunism go together perfectly, regardless of which side you’re on.

In all his excitement of jumping at this chance to speak at one of Drumpf’s rallies, Nige instantly seemed to have forgotten that he’d ever berated President Obama for voicing an opinion on Brexit, his reasoning being at the time that the serving President of the United States of America had no right to interfere in other countries’ matters. Hypocrisy? Irony?Of course not, they exist in Nige’s world; after all, this is the very Nige who earlier this year took to the stage of his pro-British, anti-EU party’s event to that sweeping song The Final Countdown, by that band called… Europe. Who are as British as knäckebröd.

«Farage demanded that a bust of Winston Churchill be returned to the Oval Office, following its removal by President Obama, which was interpreted as a slight.»

The story at the heart of this demand was actually a complete fabrication courtesy of the Daily Heil newspaper. When Barack Obama took office in 2008 and moved into the White House, one of the tasks his newly appointed staff will have had, was to make an inventory of what was there and who it belonged to — pretty standard stuff when you move into a new property, just a lot more complex when moving into place like the White House — for instance, any items that had been gifted to Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush as personal gifts would need to be forwarded to Mr Bush, while items that had been formal gifts from other countries to the USA would not.

The bust of Winston Churchill that was in the Oval Office had not been a gift of any kind. In fact, it was on loan from the UK to the US (similar to how museums lend works of art to other museums). Barack Obama’s staff therefore politely returned the bust to its owner; Obama himself may not even have had a say in that or known of it at the time. The Daily Heil spun the non-event into a salacious but entirely made-up story claiming President Obama had ordered the removal of the bust because his Kenyan father had suffered under the British Empire. Other media outlets may have picked up the story, because, hey, great story right? Serious media folks may pull serious faces and call it speculation, but that doesn’t make it any less of a fabrication.

Anyway, the fabricated story stuck and eight years later here was Nige demanding the owner of a thing to return that thing to their mate who didn’t own the thing but had borrowed it in the past.

Knowing the Daily Heil, had President Obama’s staff not had the decency to return the borrowed bust in 2008 and had they instead left it where it was in the Oval Office, the tabloid would have come up with an equally made-up story from the opposite perspective — “CHURCHILL HOSTAGE IN THE WHITE HOUSE!” — about Obama refusing to return the work of art to its rightful owner in a slight at the British government over his Kenyan’s father’s suffering under the British Empire. And knowing Nige, he would have been here eight years later demanding the borrower of a thing to return the thing to its lender and rightful owner. Strangely, that would have made a lot more sense…

«“Trump and I have probably been the most reviled people by the liberal media in the world,” he told me.»

Which is exactly how they both want it. It’s how they purposely positioned themselves, among the ‘common men in the street’ they claim to represent, despite the affluent, privileged upbringing each of them enjoyed, despite their ongoing wealth, and despite the fact that beyond lectures, rallies, speeches and photo opportunities, they don’t ever mingle with the very people they claim to represent. It’s something they have in common.

Another thing they appear to have in common is their reluctance to pay tax and their refusal to publish their tax records when running as candidates in elections. But none of that is mentioned in the New York Post article or in any of the other media coverage Nige has had since meeting with Drumpf.

«“I am not a threat to him, am I?” Farage said. “Everyone who comes into that room is looking for something, aren’t they? I am not threatening in any way at all.»

Indeed Nige is not a threat to Drumpf in terms of his position in business and politics. At worst, Nige could end up doing something that might embarrass Drumpf. But when Nige says that “everyone who comes into that room is looking for something” I suspect he means to everyone but himself, when in reality he’s probably talking about everyone including himself. I agree that that’s not threatening — to Drumpf — but I would contend that it’s opportunist to say the least. It’s no different than when Nige tapped into anti-immigration sentiments in his pro-Brexit campaigns. Drumpf is no stranger to that as he applied similar tactics in his own presidential campaign. And that bit is threatening. Not to Drumpf or Nige, but to the common men (and women) in the street.

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, the number of hate crimes in Britain rose. In the aftermath of the presidential election, the number of hate crimes in the US appears to be rising too. The way men like Nige and Drumpf tapped into particular sentiments appears to have changed certain people’s attitudes, and led those people to believe they are justified in their bigotry and hatred towards certain others; people who, since the votes went their way, think it’s perfectly acceptable to express their bigotry and hatred, or even go beyond merely expressing them and act on them in violent or other dangerous ways.

That’s… threatening. Not just to the people targeted. In the end, no one gains — well, not any of us common folks. That’s threatening to all of us.

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Now, more than ever, do I feel that we, the people, need quality media. We need press who report facts and investigate events. We need journalists who do their research and interviewers who won’t shy away from asking difficult questions, even if that puts them at risk of falling out of favour with people in high places; personally I wouldn’t want them to be particularly friendly with anyone in power anyway, as that — to me — could lead to potential conflicts of interest on either side. And yet it seems the opposite is happening. Press have started courting the likes of Nige of Drumpf when they should be challenging them.

The article from which I have quoted here is reflective of much of the current media coverage of people and events, and I find that seriously worrying.

I read, watch or listen to interviews and I increasingly notice how questions aren’t being asked and falsehoods aren’t being challenged (let alone corrected). My elaborate comments above underneath specific quotes from one article serve to flag up just of few of the difficult questions that aren’t being asked and falsehoods that aren’t being challenged.

Newsflash: Fake news doesn’t just come from dubious websites, it also comes from serious media outlets enabling or even facilitating the perpetuation of baseless claims and outright lies. This isn’t helped by journalists and other media professionals regurgitating each other’s work without checking (“Speaking to [other newspaper], [interviewee] said…” etc.)

I get that, to a lot of members of the public, facts no longer seem to matter, but shouldn’t those professionals tasked with informing them take the moral high ground here? Is there no longer a greater good to serve that goes beyond sales, profits and shareholders?

And I get that politicians, journalists and other professionals in public life can get seriously offended by ordinary folks like me criticising their work — there are few things I hate more than people ignoring my twenty-something years of office and IT experience and start explaining basic Microsoft Word functions to me — but I am their (prospective) customer and sometimes I am right.

Let me ask you this: If a stranger approaches you just as you park up somewhere, and (s)he warns you your car’s exhaust appears to be hanging off, do you go check your exhaust (and fix it/have it fixed), or do you ask the stranger for his or her car mechanic’s qualification?

Moreover, when media outlets increasingly shift from reporting facts and investigating events to providing little more than opinion and speculation, I too wonder: what qualifies them to tell me how to think or what to expect?

Further questions on my mind include these:

  • Which of their formal professional qualifications justified newspaper editors to berate High Court judges’ knowledge of constitutional law?
  • Why did journalists who had experienced how the polls had been wrong, both on last year’s UK general election and on this year’s Brexit referendum, blindly follow polls predicting Hillary Clinton to win the recent US presidential election?
  • And why, afterwards, did those journalists once again put out headlines asking “How did the pollsters get it so wrong?” and yet no headlines asking “Why did (we) the media trust the poll(ster)s again?”
  • What qualifies ‘expert’ political commentators to be so damn convinced of the outcome of any vote before the results are in?
  • And what, then, qualifies those very same ‘experts’ to get it wrong yet come out mere hours later either ignoring or swiftly glossing over how they got it wrong, and provide the public with their ‘expert’ analyses of how the actual results came to be, their ‘expert’ speculations on why what happened, happened, and their ‘expert’ opinions on what should happen next?
  • How exactly are the aforementioned experts-getting-things-wrong more qualified to pass judgement than I or anyone else may be?

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That’s not all. There are other things I have to ask:

  • If UKIP are so anti-EU, why did they, together with other anti-EU parties, claim 1.3 million euros in EU subsidies?
  • Why, out of this 1.3 million, did they misappropriate 500,000 euros?
  • How much of this amount is UKIP liable for?
  • Are they going to pay any of it back?
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, when?
  • Why, when Nige — while still interim leader of UKIP — gave his recent series of interviews to popular media outlets, wasn’t he asked any of these questions?
  • Why wasn’t the (partly misspent) EU subsidy to Nige’s anti-EU party even mentioned in articles such as the one referenced above?
  • How did Nige get away with that?
  • Why did interviewers let Nige get away with that?
  • Why doesn’t any interviewer appear to have challenged Nige’s successor about any of this since his appointment as UKIP leader last Monday and subsequent interviews in that capacity?

Just asking…

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Finally, let me tell you something funny: once upon a time, on Twitter, I defended Nige.
I dislike him and everything he stands for, but… I felt he had been treated unfairly. In the morning I had listened to the radio and heard him being interviewed. I heard the full interview. One subject that came up was breastfeeding, and I don’t think that was a subject Nige seemed particularly interested in… so he made a throwaway remark… a pretty stupid throwaway remark.

Later that day, a different presenter on the same station brought it up as topic of conversation. This only featured a snippet of the actual interview (the bit where Nige said the stupid thing) — a soundbite — followed by the presenter explaining Nige’s stance on the subject of breastfeeding, as interpreted and retold by said presenter. It was, I felt, a misrepresentation of what Nige had actually said, and however my personal dislike of him, that’s unfair.

Nige thought so to, but he was given a chance to come on air again to explain himself. Was that the end of it? Not quite. Not long after Nige’s on-air reappearance to clarify his stance, the radio station sent out an automated (presumably scheduled) email reiterating its earlier misrepresentation of Nige. So I tweeted.

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I am mentioning this because I want politicians and other public officials to be monitored, scrutinised and challenged, but never misrepresented. I want loudmouths without substance like Nige exposed for who, what and how they are; I believe that can (and should) be done without distortion, misrepresentation or lies.

I am also mentioning this because the radio station concerned have since hired Nige as a presenter. I take issue with that, too. It’s one thing to get an elected official in as a frequent interviewee, but this is something else: the station is paying him to be a presenter and putting him in control of who and what he allows on air; if he wants a caller to stop talking, he will be able to fade them down or cut them off, and if anyone says anything he doesn’t want to go out on air he’s got a dump button at his disposal to delete it before it is broadcast.

Nige now gets paid to create self-serving and/or party-political broadcasts with the option to censor other (opposing) views. I don’t have a problem with that in relation to presenters on commercial radio stations in general. I do have a problem with that when the presenter is an elected official, paid by and answerable to the electorate: no public official should be allowed this level of freedom and control to broadcast as they wish. I have no issue with Nige making frequent media appearances, but as long as he holds a position as an elected representative he should only be allowed to do so with other people moderating the conversation and operating the studio controls.

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Individuals previously vilified by media now find themselves feted by those very same media. No amount of public support or formal qualifications justifies either extreme.

In desperation for better politics and better media I wrote the lengthy rambling post above and I make no apologies for that.

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