The problem with Corbyn and the media isn’t just that they are right-wing ‘biased’, for a start it’s more nuanced than that. In terms of politics and economics the media is a committed part of the global neoliberal hegemony that believes that ideology is dead, politics has to be corporately managed, leaders should lead, private is good, public is bad and most importantly that there-is-no-alternative. BUT ‘the media’ is also overwhelmingly urban, metropolitan and in terms of identity politics ‘liberal’. Hence the BBC can piss off both the left and the right.
But the media problem with Corbyn is more personal than a belief in neoliberalism, because for our political journalists and commentators Corbyn’s success is a personal humiliation. The raison d’etre of political pundits is prediction based on inside knowledge. The success of Corbyn repeatedly emphasis that these pundits actually know fuck all about politics. They think they know a lot about professional politicians and the politicking of parliament but they forget that even in our debased form of representative democracy the ultimate success or failure of politicians is determined by… the electorate!
And the problem for the media is that with regards to Corbyn voters have repeatedly and impertinently insisted on thinking for themselves and subverting the expectations and predictions of the professional pundits. The coverage of this weeks elections was not ‘reportage’ it was about trying to justify the media’s pre-election predictions. Before the election the media was convinced Corbyn would crash and burn and said so repeatedly. He didn’t and they are clearly incredulous, baffled and pissed off. Time after time on all TV channels you saw reporters trying to spin the results to confirm that their predictions had been correct. They hadn’t though and this constant attempt to prove that the pre-election predictions of Corbyn’s failure had come to pass made the political coverage of all the channels appear as if it was purposefully biased in favour of the Tories. But I think the journalists and commentators were/are actually trying to justify themselves, not the Tories.
Since Corbyn got on the leadership ballot the media have got just about everything wrong. They are clearly struggling to make sense of what is happenning and in a deep psychological sense simply don’t believe it is happenning, despite the evidence. And the problem for the media is that Corbyn isn’t speaking to them, he is talking directly to the electorate. For 40 years the political wisdom has been that the electorate gets ALL their political information through the lens of the mainstream media and hence it is actually the mainstream media perception of politics that determines elections.
This idea was at the core of Blairism. Blair purposefully courted Murdoch and The Sun to the extent that The Sun claimed responsibility for the 1997 Labour victory. So in this world of pundits policy should not be devised based on what is best for the people and the country, but on the basis of what it is thought by ‘expert PR advisers’ ‘will play well in the media’.
Thus the media has become increasingly an active participant in politics, rather than an outside, impartial observer and increasingly journalists like Boris Johnson actually become politicians.
And these media pundits are making a similar mistake to economists, i.e. viewing the rules of human behaviour as ‘scientifically’ predictable just like the rules of physics. We KNOW that if we heat water to 100 degrees it will boil, but we can make no such deterministly secure predictions about human behaviour but economists and increasingly political pundits try to do this. In politics focus groups, polls, psychological analysis are attempts to securely predict human behaviour, notice the competetiveness at election times of the various polling organisations and broadcasters with regard to their ability to predict accurately.
This professional, corporate, managerialist view of politics has hugely informed the cynical relativism of contemporary politics whereby it is seen as disastrous for professional politicians to believe in anything. This in turn has given rise across the world of a reaction as distinctly right wing and left wing political organisations – UKIP, Corbyn, Trump, Sanders, Podemos, Syriza – become hugely succesful. And this is an indication that whether or not this moderate, middle-ground, corporate politics WAS an effective modus operandi in past decades it no longer is.
And this is deeply disturbing to our professional commentariat because if you are journalist whose entire career has been in the post Kinnock era it simply doesn’t make any sense. UKIP is sort of understandable to the commentariat because they can ascribe it to the ‘ignorance’ of white, working class voters, but the supporters of Corbyn tend to be educated and articulate and should know better! There also seems to be a bafflingly huge number of them! Suddenly nobody in the commentariat knows anything, suddenly the ‘common sense’ of the self interested, right of centre voter, the TINA narrative and the end of history, is being challenged by a committed left winger who doesn’t dress correctly and doesn’t show appropriate ‘respect’ to the institutions of the nation. It doesn’t make any sense and it must be very disorientating and distressing for these men and women. Corbyn has turned their comfortable world view upside down and undermined their status as highly knwledgeable ‘experts’ and they hate him for it.