As an Irishman living in America, I thought I would try to get a better understanding of Jeremy Corbyn ahead of this week’s Labour Party leadership election. I came across an episode of Panorama on YouTube and thought this would help me understand why there was such a controversy.
At first, I dismissed the unusual emphasis placed on certain words by the presenter, Mr. John Ware as the shrill affectation of one endeared with the sound of his own voice. As he persisted, I could no longer dismiss it as mere pomposity. To my mind, it was very much part of the narrative Mr. Ware was trying to convey.
Knowing that this was an actual BBC broadcast, and under the banner of Panorama no less, I felt the need to watch it a second time. I wanted to see if the feeling I had of witnessing a deliberate hatchet-job was a concoction of my own making. Or was there anything in the way that journalistic standards were observed or ignored that actively contributed to it? So I began to take some notes of what was said as the piece progressed. I list below the times into the piece where I feel any fair-minded viewer could legitimately take issue, and have capitalized particular words that Mr. Ware stressed heavily for emphasis.
0:57: “… and the influence of his KEY supporters”, which by the tone makes me think that those supporters must include the dregs of humankind; people like Bashar Al-Assad or Katie Hopkins (for Americans who don’t know who that is, imagine Donald Trump and Sarah Palin had a baby. And yes, keep picturing the act that produced that baby. You’re welcome.)
7:55: “What about people who say you’re a serial rebel…” Mr. Ware employs a classic Fox News device to disguise an insult as an apparent quote. Wonderfully passive aggressive for those who don’t have the cojones to say “I think you’re a serial rebel…”
9:13: “It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s REBELLIOUS TALK…” – an explanation of the reasoning behind one of his parliamentary votes is considered rebellious talk?
10:02: “A lover of UNFASHIONABLE causes…,” as an old interview is played mocking his sweater (homeknit by his Mum) and cheap shirt (bought from a thrift shop). So his sense of fashion is the first thing that needs to be brought up to form a complete picture of a man looking to win a democratic election and represent the membership of his party? Part of me was actually rejoicing that this kind of drivel is no longer reserved for female candidates. But make no mistake, it is meaningless tosh, and serves only to distract from the substance of the candidate. It is the journalistic equivalent of an Ad Hominem attack, but again without the testicular fortitude on the part of Mr. Ware to say it outright.
10:35: “The serious point is this…” Mr. Ware interjects to quickly dismiss a tale of Corbyn’s decency as irrelevant to the topic at hand (funny that, when his fashion sense apparently is an issue)
10:40: “… do you see him as electable as a Prime Minister?” I thought the office he was running for was leader of the Labour Party? I didn’t know it was a poll about a hypothetical situation, one that may well be answered very differently after a track record in opposition to inform the general electorate before they have to make that decision. But keep an ear out for the tone used later when that same question is asked of an activist in Camden.
11:01: “…. civil wars in which JEREMY CORBYN played a leading role, and which kept Labour out of power for almost a generation.” Was it Jeremy Corbyn’s leading role that kept Labour out of power for almost a generation, or Labour’s inability to rally behind his vision? I accept that it could be either one, but the construction of the narration leaves no doubt as to the correlation between Labour failure and Corbyn’s activism.
11:24-12:30: Charles Clarke, a representative of the party establishment during the glorious Kinnock years of Labour leadership, was allowed to opine without interruption or being challenged, other than having to endure the fawning smirks of support beaming from Mr. Ware from somewhere near the constituency of Cheshire.
12:57: “Hope rather than reality?” Mr. Ware pitches as a more plausible explanation than the one simply of hope that a young supporter attributes to the popularity of Corbyn. This leaves no doubt as to Mr. Ware’s predetermined position that Corbyn is unviable. What a dreadful question from a journalist.
13:00: “Do you think he’s electable?” “Definitely,” replies the girl. Yes, let’s move along quickly without touching that one.
13:38 “All the fervor of a revivalist rally…” Mr. Ware conflates Corbyn’s appearances with American evangelism and the disdain he hopes his viewership will associate with those tawdry events, the charlatans on stage and the generally pitiable people who attend them. It’s an insult that takes aim at all involved.
14:49 “But it’s a feeling? Not policy? But feelings don’t get you into power.” Mr. Ware continues to make this last statement over the person who is trying to correct his “Not policy?” question by telling him “Policy is a MASSIVE part!” Continuing to talk over her as she actively tries to correct him shows Mr. Ware’s level of interest in capturing her actual point of view.
15:28 “Just about ANY ONE could vote provided you paid just £3 and ticked a box to say you support ‘Labour values'”. Again, the tone, head-shaking and practical eye-rolling leaves no doubt that this election should be seen as a coup and a hostile takeover of the Labour Party rather than a democratic election that deserves to have its winner recognized as legitimate.
16:20 The deferential tone given to the government’s “tough new trade Union bill” makes the government sound like conscientious trustees of the public good without any ulterior motives (*cough* corporate interests *cough*), whereas opposition to the bill is characterized as “threatening all-out resistance.” Shouldn’t Mr. Ware be wearing a blue rosette by now?
17:50 Mr. Ware badgering Corbyn into admitting he condones disrespecting a law which doesn’t yet exist. I will resist the urge to provide the Strawman riposte this kind of tactic deserves.
18:30 The histrionics of Mr. Ware while listing off what he clearly believes are hare-brained schemes to improve social services and nationalization of energy companies are not worthy of a journalist. But I suppose we’ve passed that point already, haven’t we?
19:50 “He has some -UNUSUAL- friends”. Nelson Mandela and the ANC would have been considered unusual friends once upon a time. Mr. Ware comes at the Middle East with an apparent clarity of understanding and neat categorization of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ that can’t help but make one wonder what exactly has befuddled countless statesmen over the last half century or so? It all seems so black and white.
20:53 “That wasn’t a peace conference, that was a rally! There were people there carrying banners saying ‘We’re all Hezbollah’.” Has Mr. Ware considered that protests against Israeli aggression in the West Bank and Gaza might be the protests of people interested in a more peaceful Middle East? I wouldn’t normally even ask that as it invites a degree of subjectivity that isn’t helpful. But I feel it is deserving as Mr. Ware has shown little interest in objectivity in his framing of Corbyn as a threat to all things noble. Like capitalism.
22:00-23:20 Mr. Ware’s attempted ‘gotcha’ of Corbyn supporting attacks against British troops did its best to ignore his rather significant footnote that he wouldn’t have put British troops in harm’s way in the first place.
24:49 “That may make you feel better, but it may not get you into power. That’s the point.” Mr. Ware has decided that the entire Labour Party Membership does not understand what is the point of their party’s election. Again, this is a journalist, right?
28:05 “… Her Majesty’s official opposition will be singing to a radically different tune,” Mr. Ware narrates over a subtitled rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ showing Corbyn singing with gusto in some pinko-Johnny Foreigner language. Mr. Ware might as well have just said it was an act of sedition and that Corbyn should be taken immediately to the Tower of London. But how radically different would it be for Corbyn, or indeed any new leader of Labour, to be caught singing ‘The Red Flag’? Let’s ask Wikipedia:
“The Red Flag” is a song associated with left-wing politics, in particular with socialism. It is the semi-official anthem of the British Labour Party, and the official anthem of the Northern Irish Social Democratic and Labour Party and Irish Labour Party. The song is traditionally sung at the close of each party’s national conference.” Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Flag
This entire piece went in with an agenda to breath new life into ‘the red scare’. Mr. Ware conducted his interviews to generate the material that would match the story he wanted to tell, rather than to learn what the actual story was by listening to those he interviewed. Wouldn’t a far more interesting approach to the earthquake of Corbyn’s election be to focus on the emergence of “a British Spring” where democratic socialists regained control of their party from the New Labour Blairite Tory clones that have hijacked the party? How Corbyn’s candidacy has provided an avenue for the grassroots to rise up and take back their party? That is the real story here, not the lazy assumptions of some well-heeled journalist who is doing just fine, thank you very much, and his pleadings of “please don’t rock the boat with all this populist agita!”
The fact that the national broadcaster would allow such a piece of propaganda to be aired under its flagship news program of ‘Panorama’ is a disgrace. I used to think of the BBC as a brand of integrity, a place where I could watch programs with an expectation of impartiality, and actual reporting, not editorializing. The more I look with a curious eye, the less faith I have in her journalistic bond fides. Please do better, BBC. A nation, perhaps even a world, needs you to do better.Follow @TeflonDub