Fisking Nick Margerrison on Iain Dale's Blog

To be fair Nick Margerrison makes some worthwhile points here, which makes arguing against his overall piece a little bit difficult, so I felt a bit of gentle fisking over his piece on Steve Coogan and the Daily Mail was  ded to be conducted carefully. I hope I have been able to do that.

First of all he states that:

“Is it a co-incidence that when he’s not working with you, Steve Coogan’s, not as funny?” I asked, Armando Iannucci, when interviewing him on a radio show a few years back. Despite having performed some of the best TV comedy I’ve ever seen it has become noticeable that Coogan seems to require the guidance of someone like Iannucci. Without him he seems more miss than hit and often lacks the intelligence of “Alan Partridge” or “The Day Today”. Well spoken and diplomatic, Iannucci, laughed this question off a bit, joked about calling Steve live on air and then defended him by saying he thought the TV show “Saxondale” was quite good.
I recalled this during the comedy actor’s aggressive and bullish performance on Question Time. Newspaper columnist, Dame Ann Leslie, was the one who mentioned “Saxondale” when she described it as being underrated. This came as she explained to the audience she’d made a point of saying hello and praising the ‘star’ backstage before filming. Even so, Coogan, and his mate Alastair Campbell’s, belittling and derogatory remarks for the ‘crime’ of writing opinion pieces in, The Daily Mail, said more about them than it did her"

For a start Steve Coogan was not there to be funny, as a friend of mine on Facebook has pointed out, he was there because he was invited and to make points. Unlike Nick, Steve Coogan and Alastair Campbell have been given a pretty rough ride by the Daily Mail and it is a marmite paper in that many who do not buy it on a daily basis for pleasure loathe it. Part of the reason it is loathed is because it gets personal, it is bullying, and it can be hypocritical in it' in the way it conducts it's stories (I could go on here about what is wrong with the way tabloids are laid out in general but that would detract from the main points). Coogan and Campbell may well have over-reacted, it's not for me to judge on that, but I honestly cannot blame them for doing so and neither can many others.

"From my point of view it’s at moments like this their kind reveal themselves. The truth is, self declared left wingers absolutely love the idea of censorship but practice it so religiously you're unlikely to hear them admit it. They won’t say they’re advocating it because they know there's something "bad" about it. This makes their game quite complex when trying to argue in favor of a controlled media, as both of them did on, Question Time. It was in the jeering and booing that Mr Coogan and his lefty sympathizers, both on the panel and in the audience, made their censorial urges most apparent."

To be fair Nick, you are right but only up to a point Lord Cooper, as a well known executive sates in Evelyn Waugh's "Scoop". There is censorship and censorship. Many on left and right are aware of the need for a regulatory body where the media is concerned and many agree, on left and right, that the PCC has lacked fangs when it comes to this. Even Iain Dale had problems when complaining to them about the Mail some time ago! Most people are liberal, most support censorship, usually the same people. The call for censorship is when those in positions of power are constantly and wilfully abusing that power to the detrement of others.

"It’s a strange fact that you can guarantee the audience of Question Time will shout and jeer at the mere mention of The Daily Mail. "

I wonder why! I myself dislike pitchfork mobs but sometimes one can greatly empathise and given that papers like the Daily Mail, Express, and The Sun have enjoyed whipping up pitchfork mobs it is a bit rich if they complain about being on the receiving end.

" Alister Campbell’s heckling of Leslie’s opinion he’d damaged the country received seven seconds of enthusiastic applause from the audience “for God’s sake, 40 years on The Daily Mail and you talk about damage to the country?”. "

Again, clearly we have different views about the abuse of tabloid papers.

"All this is unusual because we know that Question Time audiences are strictly cleansed and vetted demographically by the BBC beforehand in the name of “impartiality”. "

I trust you were being ironic here! The times I have seen right wingers in the audience shout out opinions. In fact I recall one elderly lady a year or two ago, come across as borderline racist a la Express reader from the Home Counties, to use a crude stereotype.

"I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the unsanitised real world, people seem to usually quite agree with that newspaper’s editorial line, even if they’re not keen on the title itself. I’ve always thought this was because it obviously pays close attention to the movement of its reader’s opinions. Successful newspapers more frequently mirror attitudes than shape them. Whether you agree with it or not the fact is The Daily Mail’s business model requires it to sell opinions people want to read."

This is another area where we disagree at ground level. Newspapers and tabloids need to be sold I agree, knowing your audience is valuable and critical I agree. But equally newspapers and tabloids have a moral duty to be fair, to tell the truth, to educate, entertain and inform (to quote Reith), not (to quote Northcliffe) to give the people what they want (in terms of whatever that may be). To fully embrace the latter is not to be a Journalist, it is to be a tacky hack who is the equivalent of a second hand car salesman. Selling what is on the surface enticing, but is otherwise useless scrap. Morality does have a vital part to play in tabloids and newspapers, just as it does in Westminster and just as it does in the Banking Sector.

"No one forces you to pay for it. As Leslie herself said, “the reason I’m going to get on with it is because, I think my views actually do represent what most people in this country feel”. "

Sadly I agree. These papers would have been a bit better well behaved had it's readers been a bit more discerning in their choice and aware of what they were helping to encourage. Reform of the Press will only really happen if the hearts and minds of it's readers can change and that will be the hardest job of all

"Regardless of your political persuasions defending a free media includes defending The Daily Mail. We are on safe ground if we say that some people on the panel, and in the audience, would cheer if it ceased publication. Those same people will have cheered the demise of The News of The World and they will be relishing the trouble that The Sun newspaper is currently in. They do not understand why censorship and media control is wrong. They seem to be actively against freedom of speech. They’re part of a herd of yahoos I describe as the “blame the media brigade”. "

Yes and no. Given the spite The Sun and The Daily Mail can indulge in can you blame it's detractors for wanting to see it go to the wall. As for censorship and media control, yes it is wrong except for where people need a right to reply and I right to redress wrongs. In any case I mentioned my views on media censorship a short while ago.

" Ironically this culture of ‘blame the media’ is damaging to those who indulge it and actually empowers the media it’s supposed to be attacking. Firstly, if it’s ‘not your fault’ you can’t be bothered to get a job and it turns out it’s all the fault of a rapper who told you not to bother in one of his pop songs, that paints a picture of you as a pretty pathetic powerless person. Although it might seem sympathetic in the moment, those excuses are a very expensive empty meal. Truth is: it’s not anyone else’s fault you’re an idiot, it’s yours. The irony is that the media requires your attention in order to be powerful and there’s a kind of feedback loop where people who believe you should “blame the media” make it more important to them by virtue of their focusing on it. The more people think the media must be very powerful the more powerful it becomes until in the end politicians, such as Gordon Brown, end up holding sleepovers for those who work in it. In other words the perception becomes reality.
A good metaphor for ‘the media’ is in the final scene of, The Wizard of Oz film. In it the Wizard obscures the fact he’s a slight and powerless figure by hiding behind a giant machine which projects a terrifying version of his image out to Dorothy and her friends. Only the ingenuity of Toto the dog, pulling back the curtain to reveal The Wizard’s puny reality, ends the charade. At its worst "the media" is in part the machine that distracts Dorothy and her friends. When used by the likes of politicians or big business it allows them, the real villains, to hide behind a curtain of confusion. Furthermore once your focus is upon the machine, there's an all powerful version of these characters projected at you which frightens anyone but Toto. Thus, in one sense it’s a distraction made more powerful by your attention. However, this isn’t the fullest picture and those who think it is have merely been successfully distracted. "

Agreed to a point, it is a loop. Politicians need the Media, become scared of them, feed them, media becomes powerful, self-fulfilling prophecy. Will be extremely hard to break though unless there are clear and significant changes. Also don't dismiss how nasty the media can be when attacking, many use the Goebbles maxim where if you repeat a lie enough times it's readers will believe it. I'd hate to be on the receiving end of that among other things so who can blame people for initally being afriad!

"The UK’s media machine is not under the control of one all powerful Wizard, though it would be if Campbell and Coogan got their way. The complete picture of our media landscape is only fully described if you include, Toto the dog, who pulls aside the curtain to reveal the truth. He’s an essential part of it. What is Toto if not a fearless newshound who sniffs out an incredible story?"

If you mean a la Woodward and Bernstein then yes, but most scoops are more on intruding on celebrities private lives than fearlessly exposing corruption among senior politicians. I doubt Campbell and Coogan want to see a full control of the media anymore than you do, they just want accountability. Just as controlling a child's every movement is wrong, so is letting that child always get away with bad behaviour.

"I don’t know if Coogan understands these arguments but he made it clear on Question Time that he’s unlikely to accept them. As a BBC Television ‘star’ he comes from the world of state funded media so it might be hard for him to comprehend why The Daily Mail’s editorial line is more to do with market forces than personal whim. However, Alister Campbell, as a former commercial media man himself has no such excuses. I presume he feels morality should provide a barrier to one doing something as ‘heinous’ as writing for the Daily Mail. After all he thinks it’s a way of doing “damage to the country”. Think about that for a moment. Think about who he is and what he does and what he did. Now try to put into perspective his belief that the key issue for 2012 is to censor the press."

Clearly you have different views about the BBC to me, but  I think what Alastair Campbell is getting at is that expects morality in all tabloids and newspapers, something the Daily Mail lacks when it plays pharissee. As for past behaviour, Campbell has had regrets and said so publicly. Is a person not allowed to change for the better? Unless of course he or she is a political opponent and therefore not convenient?

"It’s hard not to dismiss Steve Coogan’s contributions to Question Time as nothing more than those of a harmless performing clown. That’s because compared to some of the panel that is what he is. He might be responsible for largely forgotten un-funny characters such as ‘Tony Ferrino’ or ‘Gareth Cheeseman’. He might also have abused his power and enjoyed a bit of fun with cocaine and prostitutes here and there, but that’s the worst of it. Let us be brutal here, he’s not even slightly responsible for a war that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Over a million people did not march on London because they felt comedy character, Pauline Carr, wasn’t funny these days. If the likes of Campbell abuse their power the consequences are horrific. Rather than “blame the media” lets instead blame the likes of him."

Fair enough, why don't we talk about the harm the Sun and the Daily Mail have caused if we are going to be consistent. For example I am sure the people of Liverpool would happily tell you what damage they think The Sun has caused. Yes, I'd rather listen to a harmless performing clown myself


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